Tatooine was a stubborn planet. Its stretches of sand and stone, studded with settlements, seemed to go on forever, unchanging. The sand and stone, at least, resisted every effort of man and beast to subdue them. The settlements were more mutable. The people put up walls and paved streets and birthed children in defiance of the planet's smoldering suns and scouring sands; in the eternal eye of time, though, they were no more permanent than the sand flies that lived and breathed and died roaming the desert.
The sleepy settlement of Anchorhead had little to offer that was out of the ordinary, much less entertaining. Yet the general store on its main street, with its windowless walls and shelf on shelf of pungent spices, vivid cloths, shiny spare parts, and all manner of power sources, held entertainment enough for a four-year-old farmboy on an errand with his aunt.
It was especially exciting on this day, as a scruffy-looking Rodian strode confidently to the counter, drew a blaster, and growled,
Luke couldn't move. Aunt Beru was holding him so tightly he could hardly breathe either. She spun away from the Rodian and put Luke between herself and the wall so he could not even see what was going on. He struggled in her grasp and managed to poke his head around her leg.
"All the cash you've got in the store goes in this bag, now," said the Rodian, producing a burlap sack and thrusting it across the counter.
"P-p-please, I haven't got much," stuttered the clerk, a short, nervous Weequay.
"Now! Or I shoot everyone in this store," said the Rodian. He fired two shots in the air, knocking out a pair of fluorescent lights in a clatter of glass. All the shadows in the shop suddenly shifted. The Rodian's skin took on an eerie glow.
Luke felt Beru stiffen and draw him even closer. He squirmed indignantly. He wanted nothing more than to break loose and bite the Rodian on the ankle, but he was pinioned to his aunt. Searching for an escape, he spotted the room's only other occupant, a bearded man dressed head to toe in dark brown robes. Luke wondered that he had not noticed him before. The man stood in the opposite corner of the room and blended into the shadows. Luke's eyes met his, and locked.
Do something, he pleaded silently.
To his surprise, the man nodded, slowly and deliberately. Then he turned and fixed his gaze on the robber. At first, nothing seemed to happen. Then Luke saw that the robber was having trouble controlling his weapon. No sooner had he realized this than the blaster flew out of the Rodian's hand and skittered across the counter.
The clerk snatched it up and leveled it at the now-defenseless Rodian.
"G-get out of my store," he said.
The would-be robber held his hands in the air and backed slowly towards the door, boots creaking with every footstep.
"Now," said the clerk, gaining confidence.
The Rodian turned and ran.
The bearded man was not far behind him.
The clerk let out a deep breath and set the blaster down.
"You all right, ma'am?" he asked, turning to Beru.
"Yes," she said, nodding swiftly. Luke found himself scooped up off the floor and hugged tight. "Thank you, and good day to you, sir."
They left the store quickly and were soon in their speeder, heading home. Luke craned his neck in every direction, hoping all the way for a glimpse of the bearded man, but he did not see him again.
Ben followed the Rodian long enough to ascertain that he intended no more mischief that day. He then returned to the shop to finish purchasing supplies.
The clerk gave a little start and tugged at his braids when Ben entered. The smell of blaster fire hung in the air and the blaster lay still on the counter. The Weequay put a cautionary hand on the handle, as though he were afraid it might move again.
"You needn't worry," said Ben, moving to a wall shelf to select the things he needed. "He isn't coming back."
"That's a mercy," the clerk said flatly, not moving his hand.
Ben approached him, his arms full of dried vegetables. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
The clerk licked his lips. "You moved this blaster with your mind, didn't you? You can move things just by looking at 'em."
"The blaster moved from the thief's possession to yours." Ben set the vegetables on the counter. "Does it really matter how it got there?"
The clerk wrinkled his flat nose and took a step back as though the vegetables were contaminated. "Don't try none of your mind tricks on me, mister." He wagged a finger at Ben. "You're a Jedi."
Ben paused to make sure his features did not betray how the Weequay's tone of accusation provoked him. "The Jedi Order no longer exists," he replied carefully.
"That's not what I said." The clerk waved his finger about like a weapon, his dark eyes wide and excited. "You're a Jedi. I know you. You're the devil that caused that trouble four years back. The one what used to live here."
"I live alone," said Ben, pulling coins out of the pouch at his belt to pay for the vegetables, "on the edge of the Jundland Wastes. I mean no harm to anyone."
"Put it away," spat the Weequay, pushing the vegetables back across the counter. "Take what you need. I don't want your money, and I don't want no Jedi. Get out of my store."
Ben swept up the vegetables and left before the clerk could reach for the blaster again.
Still afraid, he mused, after four years. Must my every attempt at a good turn meet with this sort of gratitude?
Most of the people of Tatooine faced too many hardships to dwell on them for long. They were willing to forget that Ben had ever caused them distress. But those who remembered feared him, and their spite stung.
Once he had been a highly respected member of a highly respected Order. Now with the Order a memory and its members lost or dead, Ben received no honor from anyone.
It was not only the petty resentment of the locals that troubled him. It was the fear that word of a resident Jedi would leak out beyond Tatooine's sphere and reach unsympathetic ears in the Empire. His executioner might arrive any day.
But if all that is true, he thought, then why did I stop the Rodian from robbing the store?
The trek back to his hut was long and monotonous. By the time he topped the last moonlit rise, Ben had churned through all his old fears and resentments and resolved to meditate on them later that night.
He stepped into the hut and inhaled deeply. The stale, dry air brought him little relief.
It looks nearly as abandoned as it did when I found it four years ago, he observed as he scuffed his way across the ubiquitous sand to the raised kitchen. I suppose it takes more than living in a place to make a house a home. What "more" consisted of he hardly knew. He found he did not particularly care. Instead of pondering the question, he set about unpacking his supplies from town and preparing his evening meal.
The evening meal was noisier than usual at the Lars homestead. Since Beru and Luke had spent the day in Anchorhead, Owen prepared the food and had it waiting for them. Luke generally preferred his aunt's cooking to his uncle's, but the smell of well-roasted meat drifting up the stairs to meet them was inviting.
"You're back late," Uncle Owen remarked when they walked in. "What kept you?"
"There was a little disturbance in one of the stores," said Aunt Beru.
"A robber!" Luke piped up, determined not to be left out of the conversation.
"What?" Uncle Owen looked as though he did not trust Luke's powers of observation. "Beru, what happened?"
"A man did try to rob the store," she admitted, setting their purchases down with what Luke thought was a little too much noise and bustle, "but he didn't succeed."
"His blaster flew out of his hand!" said Luke, climbing into his chair.
"Really?" asked Uncle Owen, raising his eyebrows.
"The shopkeeper did get hold of it rather quickly," said Aunt Beru in a light voice. "He must have activated a magnet, or something."
"No, he didn't!" protested Luke. "It was the man across the room!"
"The man across the room had a magnet?" asked Owen.
"No, he- he..." Luke's finger paused in mid-point as he tried to explain what he'd seen.
Aunt Beru sat down with a sigh. "He was Ben Kenobi," she said.
"You know him?" asked Luke in surprise. "Do you know how he does that?"
Aunt Beru poked at her meal. Uncle Owen cleared his throat and looked at Luke.
"Ben Kenobi is a wizard," he said.
"What's a wizard?" asked Luke.
"A wizard is someone who can do things that ordinary people can't," said Uncle Owen, reaching for the pitcher of blue milk.
"Like move things without touching them?"
Uncle Owen set a cup of milk in front of Luke with a thud. "Now, Luke, I don't want you to get too excited about Mister Kenobi. He's lived alone past the Dune Sea for, oh, four years now. And he wants to be left that way. Alone."
"Where did he live before that?" Luke persisted.
Uncle Owen paused, then answered, "Anchorhead. Eat your dinner."
After three successive weeks of meditation, Ben had finally reached a conclusion. Several conclusions, really.
First, he was doing a rotten job of watching over Luke. He had been forbidden to enter the Lars homestead barely a month after his arrival on Tatooine. Certainly he had not anticipated the events leading to that unfortunate state of affairs, but he could see now that he should have. His reports to Padm? Amidala concerning Luke's well-being were sporadic precisely because they depended on chance sightings of the child in town. More to the point, even these few transmissions must leave Luke open to discovery. They could not, must not continue.
Second, his own attempts to avoid discovery were woefully inadequate - laughable, really, if he'd had the spirit to laugh. It was not enough to change his name and live apart from others. Every demonstration of his Jedi abilities was an opportunity for someone who did not trust him to spread the word. Even those who found his skills useful (though he'd met no one here fitting that description) might be careless and tell someone less friendly. He must refrain from using the Force in any tangible manner. He must make it forgotten that he was or ever had been a Jedi.
Third, it struck him that this must be what the Force had been telling him all along. Such fear, such animosity, such continual rum luck as he had met with could not be natural. It must be a warning from the Force not to use his abilities. What a fool he had been not to see it sooner!
Early in the morning, as faint red light crept through his east windows, Ben composed a transmission to Padm? Amidala detailing his intentions. He spoke of his regret at ending their correspondence. He acknowledged the pain she must suffer at not receiving periodic updates of her son's welfare. He emphasized that it was in the best interest of his and Luke's safety, as well as her own and Leia's, that he no longer contact her.
Satisfied with the recording, Ben pressed the button that would scramble and transmit it to Dantooine. From there it would be rerouted to Bail Organa's palace on Alderaan and unscrambled by the twin of his own holo unit. The two units were designed to transmit only along this specified path to one another. Four years ago it seemed a safe system. Now Ben feared it was a foolish risk.
His task complete, he threw a blanket over the holo equipment and stepped outside for his morning exercise. It was still cool in the shadow of the hut's west wall. Ben reveled in the roughness of solid stone as he eased his way to the ground. He began with a series of stretches. His limbs protested loudly, creaking as though their joints were full of sand. Ben ignored them and spread his legs as far as they would go, an arm on each, his nose to the ground. He forced himself to disregard his environment.
When he looked up again, a tiny bright figure in white with a head of golden hair lit by the morning suns was looking at him uncertainly.
"Hello there," said Ben, concealing his surprise. There was no one else, not even a droid or a speeder, in sight. The boy must have walked here by himself. Amazing.
Guided by the Force, said a voice. Ben chose not to answer it.
Luke did not return the greeting.
"Will you come fix my Aunt Beru?" he asked.
"Fix her? Is she broken?" asked Ben.
Luke's lower lip began to tremble, and he broke into tears.
Ben rose from his stretched position and dusted himself off.
"You'd better come inside."
Ben ushered Luke indoors and into a chair. He refused refreshments but did accept Ben's proffered handkerchief. By and by the tears abated enough for Ben to gather that Beru was very ill, that Owen had taken the speeder on a four-day trip to the Darklighters, that Luke had walked by himself all the way to Ben's hut, and that he expected Ben to come home with him and make Beru well again.
When he was sure he had all the details, Ben pressed a mug of warm milk into Luke's hands and set about packing a pouch with what medical supplies he had on hand.
"What do you need those for?" Luke asked sleepily. "Can't you fix her without medicine?"
Ben said nothing, only spoke a silent prayer that the medicine would be enough.
His preparations complete, he scooped up an unprotesting Luke, whose head nodded against Ben's shoulder, and stepped out toward the Lars homestead.
They arrived just as the white sun was passing its zenith. Luke tumbled out of Ben's arms into his aunt's bedroom, Ben close on his heels.
Ben's first impression was that the bedroom was too small for two. The head of the bed and the table beside it took up the entirety of the far wall. One side of the bed and a dresser filled the wall to his right. A simple chair sat next to the table on his left. The only decorations in the little room were the faded paintings on the ceiling and the coverlet, obviously handmade, on the bed.
At last Ben allowed himself to look at Beru. The young woman lay motionless on the bed. Her face was flushed. Her hands, resting on the coverlet, were puffy and swollen, as were her elbows. Sweat trickled down her brow.
"Aunt Beru!" cried Luke, dashing to her side. "Mister Kenobi's here. He's here to help."
Beru stirred slightly and rolled her head to face Luke. She blinked her eyes once, twice, then lay still again. Ben saw a flicker of her tongue behind her cracked lips, but no sound escaped them.
Luke turned pleadingly to Ben.
"Why don't you go fetch some water," suggested Ben, "and I'll see what I can do."
Luke hurried away, and Ben turned his attention to Beru. Gently he pulled the coverlet back and winced. Her knees, ankles, and feet were in even worse condition than her arms. It would clearly be painful for her to move. Ben seated himself in the chair and gingerly brushed back the hairs sticking to her forehead. She was running a very high fever. Continuing to stroke her hair, Ben closed his eyes to think.
The inflamed joints, the parched mouth, the high temperature - all the symptoms pointed to crazed bantha fever, a disease carried by the sand ticks common to some parts of Tatooine and other dry planets. But crazed bantha fever had an incubation period of at least four days, and Beru could not have been bitten before Owen left or he would surely have seen her to a doctor. The bite of a sand tick was painful and impossible to miss. Nevertheless, Ben opened his eyes and bent down to examine Beru's body for a tick bite.
Her left ankle revealed a dark red ring about the circumference of Ben's thumb. He frowned. It looked like a sand tick bite, certainly. Could it really have affected her so quickly?
Luke came into the room then, walking slowly so as not to spill any water out of the pitcher he carried. Even here on a moisture farm, water was precious.
"Thank you," said Ben, relieving Luke of the pitcher and setting it on the bedside table. "Tell me, young Luke, do you know what a sand tick looks like?"
Luke shook his head.
"It's a little round yellow-brown creature about this big," Ben explained, indicating his balled fist. "Their bites are very painful."
"Ohh," said Luke, "one of those bit Aunt Beru yesterday. I squished it."
"Good lad. There shouldn't be any more around, but if you see one, be sure to kill it immediately."
Luke nodded solemnly.
"Now," said Ben, "do you think you could find me a soft cloth or rag of some sort?"
Luke ran off on his new errand, and Ben returned to his musing.
In just one day, then, the fever had been incubated and attacked Beru's body. A mutated form, perhaps? He didn't like that idea at all. Normally, the diseases carried by sand ticks were not fatal, but this was a very aggressive strain. He did not think that any of the medicines in his pouch would do much good.
Luke returned, at a run this time, bearing what looked like a clean white washcloth.
"Do you have a comm unit in the house? Some way to contact a doctor?" Ben asked him.
Luke shook his head. "Our comm unit broke. Uncle Owen said he'd pick up parts to fix it on his way home."
Ben sighed and nodded. He took the cloth from Luke, wrapping it around two fingers of his left hand and dipping it into the pitcher. Then he placed the damp cloth at Beru's lips. She licked up the moisture feebly.
He repeated the motion, again and again, until Beru had drunk a third of the pitcher's contents and lapsed into fitful sleep. Ben reached out a hand to soothe her, but pulled back just in time.
No Force use. None. Best to get in the habit now.
"Is she going to get better?" Luke asked from the vicinity of Ben's elbow.
"I don't know," replied Ben. "She will have to heal on her own. There isn't any more I can do."
Luke's expression altered from anxious to angry in a heartbeat.
"But you're a wizard!" he cried. "You have to!"
"And who said I was a wizard?" asked Ben, though he knew the answer already.
"Told you that, did he?"
"Yes! So you have to do something!" Tears loomed again in Luke's eyes, now accompanied by determination and all the outrage the four-year-old could muster.
Ben raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. Luke's faith in his uncle was touching, as was his concern for his aunt. His anger was a little disturbing, though it seemed only to affect his words and not his actions.
I wonder what Anakin was like at his age?
It was the wrong thing to wonder, for it brought back every painful memory of Anakin - his stubbornness, his passions, his rebellious streak - and with them, the reminder of Ben's own failure.
If I had not failed to save Anakin, I would not be here today. Hundreds of Jedi would not be whispers in the Force today. The Emperor would not hold total sway today. If I had saved Anakin-
Then a new voice broke into his thoughts, a voice not unlike his own, but distinctly different from the voice in which he had been thinking.
What if your task was not to save Anakin? it asked. What if your task is to save Luke?
The thought was so new that he responded to it immediately.
If my task is to save Luke, then allowing his aunt to suffer and possibly die will ensure my failure. Using the Force is risky, but not using it...what if Luke reacts to losing his aunt the way that Anakin reacted to losing his mother?
"You're right," he told Luke. "Now that you've reminded me, I think there is something I can do."
Luke's scowl faded immediately.
"It may take some time," Ben continued, "and you will have to look after yourself for a few days. Can you do that? Feed yourself, dress yourself, keep the place clean?"
Luke nodded eagerly.
"Very good," said Ben. "I'll begin at once."
Ben ushered Luke out of the room with an admonition not to disturb it except in the case of an emergency.
He smoothed the sheets on the bed and arranged Beru as comfortably as possible. Knees creaking, robes rustling, he knelt at her side. With practiced care he rested one hand on the fevered curve of her forehead and the other on her abdomen. He closed his eyes and let himself be swallowed by the Force.
He could feel the barely present breeze like a mighty wind on his face. It was rough, unyielding, full of the sand it picked up everywhere. The suns outside and the illness inside had made it almost too warm to bear. Ben tuned his senses till he could bear it. He did not need to be aware of the wind today; it bore him no messages.
As he lowered his sense of touch, he heightened his sense of sight. Soon he could see everything more clearly than if his eyes had been open. There was Luke, burning brightly nearby. Every spider and fly and dust mite in the room was revealed to him. There were, he noted thankfully, no sand ticks.
Then there was Beru on the bed. Her normally serene presence had become a battlefield, and every hardy and brave and peaceful and kind thing that belonged to Beru Lars was losing the battle against the ugly disease. Ben was glad he had not waited longer or it might have been too late. As it was, her body would need strong convincing from the Force, through Ben, to rid itself of fever.
This is it, he thought. Surely this is why I was exiled to the desert, so that I would be close enough for Luke to find me when he needed me. Surely this is my redemption.
He eased both himself and Beru into the trance that would allow the healing process to take place without the need to stop for food or water. Then he set to work.
Luke swung his legs idly at the kitchen table. He was hungry again. It was no good, though. He did not know how to prepare anything, and he was sick of raw mushrooms and blue milk. How much longer would it be till Aunt Beru got better? He felt as though he had already waited ages, though judging by the fact that he was not sleepy yet, it had probably only been a few hours.
He sighed and rested his chin on his hands. Normally, the prospect of taking care of himself would be exciting. Now it was worrisome. He wanted Aunt Beru. What if she never got better? But she had to. The wizard had to fix her.
The wizard, now - that was something Luke could think about without being sick to his stomach. The wizard had a funny way about him. No one else Luke had met was like that. When he talked, his voice sounded like it was coming from long ago and far away. When he looked at you, his eyes looked like they saw inside you and clear through you. And when he was silent, he seemed always to be listening for something he couldn't quite hear.
Luke had faith in Mister Kenobi's skills. Scary situations were always less frightening when he turned them over to a grown-up. It was the waiting all alone that made him worry.
Oh, no. He'd drunk too much blue milk and needed to use the refresher. At least it was something to do. He slid off the kitchen chair and froze.
The temperature in the room seemed to drop sharply. A coldness attacked Luke from all sides - a strange, moving, clawing coldness that ripped through him and took a piece of him with it. Then, suddenly as it had come, it was gone, leaving Luke gasping and shivering in the middle of the floor.
Something was horribly, horribly wrong. As soon as he could feel his feet again, Luke tore across the house to the sickroom. He halted in the doorway. Aunt Beru was not dead, as he had feared she might be. She was red and puffy still, breathing shallowly in her sleep, but alive.
It was the wizard who looked odd. He was hunched over on the chair, his face bowed to his knees. With his two hands he clung to the edge of the bed. He was quite still. For a moment, Luke feared Mister Kenobi was dead, but then the wizard lifted his head.
His face looked suddenly, shockingly old. Bleary blue eyes struggled to focus.
"Anakin?" croaked the wizard.
Luke shifted uncomfortably in the doorway, fairly certain he should not be seeing this.
"No," he said, "I'm Luke."
When Mister Kenobi next spoke, he looked a little more like himself.
"Luke. Of course you are. Forgive me." He paused in thought, and his eyes narrowed. "Did you feel something?" he asked.
"I- I felt cold," replied Luke. "Did something go wrong?"
Mister Kenobi glanced at Aunt Beru. "No," he said, "your aunt is no worse. No, something - else - something elsewhere - disturbed me." He looked searchingly at Luke. "I do not think it will happen again. You may leave."
"Have no fear, little one," said Mister Kenobi, a tired smile cracking his wrinkles. "Your aunt will recover with my help. I am confident of it."
That sounds like a good promise, thought Luke. He left the bedroom and went to the refresher, then back to the kitchen to see if he could find something other than mushrooms to eat.
Ben blinked and yawned. Looking up, he spotted Luke hovering anxiously in the doorway.
"How long has it been?" asked Ben.
"Two days," said Luke. "Can I come in?"
"You may," replied Ben.
Luke tiptoed into the room and stopped a few feet away from the bed. He looked well-fed enough, Ben observed, but his hair was in need of a good combing.
"Is she better?" asked Luke.
Ben considered the sleeping woman on the bed. Already the swelling had reduced noticeably, and her color and breathing were much improved. The Force had done its job.
"Yes," he said to Luke, "and she will be better still in a few days. Why don't you get her something to eat? I'm sure she will be hungry when she wakes."
Luke nodded, eyes bright, and tiptoed out of the room as quickly as he could.
Ben sighed in relief and settled himself in the bedside chair. The Jedi healing process was exhausting for the healer, especially in a case as extended as this. Perhaps one of the Temple healers would have handled it better-but then, he reflected with a pang, there were no Temple healers left in the galaxy.
Movement from the bed ended that sober line of thought. Beru's blue eyes blinked open and looked about hazily.
"Owen? Luke?" she whispered.
"Luke is fixing you something to eat," replied Ben, leaning over the bed so she could see him. "Your husband is still away from home."
Her eyes widened.
"Mister Kenobi?" she whispered. "How-why?"
"You were very ill," said Ben. "Young Luke had the presence of mind to fetch me rather than trying to walk to Anchorhead. Someone had told him I was a wizard," he added wryly.
Beru smiled weakly at that. "Owen-we had to explain what happened in town somehow."
"Of course." Wizards were not unheard of. He had met one or two in his time. They were usually Force-sensitive to a degree, and self-trained, because they had no allegiance to the Jedi Order. He would not be surprised if several had survived the Purges for that reason.
I should have thought of that long ago. Why didn't I?
Because you were too proud to call yourself a wizard rather than a Jedi, said the voice that was his own, yet not his own.
Can I really have been so foolish? asked Ben.
There was no answer, only a smug silence in the Force that was an answer in itself.
Beru struggled to sit up. Ben lent a steady hand to help her into position.
"Thank you," she sighed.
"Don't overexert yourself," he told her. "You are still recovering. You were in a rather precarious position-alone with no means of transportation or communication."
Beru smiled ruefully.
"Owen tried to tell me that," she admitted. "He wanted to take Luke and me along with him. I wouldn't have it. I told him it was nonsense to leave the farm unattended for so long. I told him Luke and I would take care of each other."
"And so you have." Ben smiled. "All the same, I wouldn't risk it again."
"I won't." She took his right hand in her own and pressed it to her heart. "You were very kind to come. Thank you very much."
The wizened wizard and the young farm wife sat in companionable silence for several moments. It was broken by a voice from the center court.
"Who's been cleaning the vaporators? They're covered in mushrooms! Luke, where's your aunt?"
Luke's reply was inaudible.
A long shadow fell across the bed as Owen appeared in the doorway. He took in the scene in a blink.
For a moment, Ben hoped that all would at last be well between him and Owen Lars. The Force had guided him this far. Surely it would help him now.
Owen drew in a deep breath.
"Kenobi," he growled, obviously struggling to keep his voice low for the sake of Luke, who was peering around his knee, "I told you never to set foot in my house. This is your last reminder. Get out."
The flicker of hope died swiftly.
Ben rose and bowed stiffly even as Beru began, "Owen, let me explain-"
Before she could finish, Ben was out of the room and up the stairs.
The knots in Luke's stomach, so recently loosened, tightened again on his uncle's arrival. He did not understand why Uncle Owen was angry, and he did not like it, though he was sure Aunt Beru would soon straighten everything out. In the meantime, he did not want the wizard to leave.
He pounded up the stairs as fast as his short legs would carry him and stood, panting in the night air, at the entrance to the house. The robed figure stood still perhaps ten paces away. He'd probably heard Luke coming.
"Mister Kenobi," called Luke.
The wizard turned slowly and looked Luke in the eye.
"Don't go," Luke pleaded.
Mister Kenobi knelt in the sand before him. "You heard your uncle, Luke," he said. "It's best I go home."
"He said you couldn't come in the house," Luke replied stubbornly. "You're not in the house. Please stay?"
He thought he saw a small smile slip across the wizard's face before he answered.
"All right," he said, glancing at the doorway behind Luke as if to make sure that Uncle Owen was not following him, "for a little while, if you will sit with me. One last time."
The sentence ended in a whisper. Luke was not sure what the wizard meant by it, but he was satisfied. They took up cross-legged positions side by side and stared at the stars. Luke pointed out constellation after constellation to Mister Kenobi, who seemed impressed. Luke did not see why. To him, the constellations were intimate friends. At last, though, he gathered the courage to say what he'd been meaning to say all along.
"I'm glad you moved to the Jundland Wastes."
The wizard looked surprised. "Who told you I moved?" he asked.
"Uncle Owen," said Luke with confidence. "He says you used to live in Anchorhead."
"So I did, for a time," said the wizard softly. "I thought it would be - convenient - to live in town."
"Then why did you move?" asked Luke.
"The townspeople did not find it so convenient," said the wizard wryly.
"Why not?" Luke persisted.
"Ah, Luke," he said, and was silent for several minutes, staring into the folds of his robe as though trying to pick out the individual grains of sand caught in them. When he looked up again, he reminded Luke of Uncle Owen about to tell a story.
"A long time ago," said the wizard, "just after you were born, I was renting an apartment in Anchorhead. It happened one day that a party of sand people came to attack the outskirts of the town. I was with the men who gathered to resist them, and I frightened them away before anyone could be hurt."
"How?" Luke asked in astonishment.
"I can do a fair imitation of a krayt dragon," said the wizard. "They ran away soon as they heard it, and we thought all was well. But they were soon back, and in greater numbers. They would not be frightened away the second time. We were no match for them. They fought until they had all the goods they wanted. Many men died that day."
The wizard paused, and looked into the sky as though it were less painful that way.
"The townspeople that survived were very frightened and upset," he said. "They wanted someone to blame. Eventually one of them said that if I had not frightened the Tuskens off to begin with, the damage would not have been so great. Others agreed with him. They made it clear that I was no longer welcome there."
The wizard looked down at Luke again.
"Your uncle was there that day, helping to defend the town," he said. "He was angry and frightened, as all the people were, and has a special dislike for Tuskens. He thinks I bring trouble with me. That's why he doesn't want me in your home. And perhaps he is right."
"But it isn't true," cried Luke, unable to contain himself. "You didn't bring trouble. You're a good wizard. You frighten off sand people, and get rid of robbers, and heal sick people. You do things that ordinary people can't do."
After his outburst, Luke saw that the wizard was giving him one of his odd looks, seeing past Luke's eyes right inside of him.
"I could teach you, Luke," he said slowly. "You could learn to do things like that."
Luke's heart leaped up in his chest. He opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off.
"No, he won't," said Uncle Owen, crossing the sand to where they sat. "And you won't be putting any more ideas of that kind into his head, Kenobi."
"But Uncle Owen-" protested Luke.
"No buts." Owen knelt until he could look Luke in the eye and rested a firm hand on his shoulder. "The things Mister Kenobi wants you to learn are dangerous, Luke. I'll tell you what you can do, though. You can come with me to buy another speeder, so you and your aunt never get stranded again. And I'll teach you to pilot it."
Luke had been set to be stubborn and sullen, but he felt his eyes grow wide at the mention of flying. "Really?" he whispered.
"Really." Uncle Owen pulled Luke to his feet and gave his shoulder a pat. "Run inside now. It's late, and your aunt is asking for you. I'm going to have a talk with Mister Kenobi."
Luke turned back to see the wizard rising from the ground.
Go on, he thought he heard the wizard say, though his lips did not move.
Luke turned to the house and ran into the welcoming light.
Even receding into the house, Luke's tiny figure was painfully luminous. Ben forced himself to tear his eyes away and focus on Owen. The farmer's rough and weathered face, lit up as it was in the starlight, was no match for his nephew. Ben was a little surprised that Owen wanted to talk to him, though he supposed it would be another warning to stay away. He braced himself for the younger man's wrath.
"My wife," Owen began clumsily, fiddling with his sleeves, "she'll be all right?"
Ben relaxed a little. Strangely, he felt more anxiety from Owen than anger.
"Yes," he replied. "She needs plenty of water and plenty of rest, but she will be good as new in a week."
"Good." Owen looked up at the sky, unwilling to meet Ben's gaze. "I'll be repairing the comm unit, so you won't need to come here again."
Ah, thought Ben. Here's the warning. But it did not feel like a warning. Ben explored the words for the meaning behind them.
"I'll be buying a second speeder, too," added Owen.
At last Ben understood. Owen did not want Ben to think that he was incapable of caring for his family, incapable of raising Luke. He feared that Ben might ignore warnings altogether and take Luke away "for his own good".
But there's no call for that, is there? I had hoped that if Luke was eager, Owen would be willing, but he is not. It would be the lowest low thing I could do to take Luke away and train him without everyone's mutual consent. It would ruin everything.
He could not train Luke. He could not do anything. Owen's fears were baseless - but they still needed assuaging, and Owen was waiting for a response.
"Luke will be pleased," said Ben.
Owen accepted this with a nod.
"Well, then," he said, "good night."
"Good night," said Ben. For the second time that evening, he turned his footsteps towards home.
When he arrived, he found a transmission from Alderaan waiting for him. He turned it on and was surprised by the figure of not Padm?, but Bail Organa.
The interruption of the healing process two days ago came back to him in a flash. He'd forgotten about it in his exhaustion. The tatters of his old training bond with Anakin had screamed back to life, and he had felt the full force of his padawan's anger and despair. Something terrible must have happened to elicit such a reaction. Then, too, young Luke had seemed distressed, and now here was Bail instead of Padm?. Could the three be related? He gave the transmission his full attention.
"Master Kenobi," said Bail, "we received your transmission yesterday, and respect your decision to cease contact. You will receive no more messages from Alderaan. However, recent events - quite recent - have transpired, which you ought to be aware of.
"Three days ago, we were informed that the Emperor and Lord Vader intended to pay a visit of state to Alderaan. Amidala was convinced that she would be discovered, and rather than put the lives of her daughter, myself, and my people at stake, she took action.
"She boarded a shuttle offplanet, and then approached Alderaan as though she was traveling there from Coruscant, just as the Emperor and Lord Vader were arriving. She hailed Lord Vader's shuttle and asked permission to board. Her hope, she had told me, was to reach what was left of her husband. She believed that at the very least, he would take pity on her and not ask too many questions. At best she hoped her sudden presence would bring about the full return of Anakin Skywalker."
Bail's image flickered, and his normally steady gaze faltered.
"She was a courageous woman," he said lowly.
His use of the past tense was not lost on Ben, who felt it like a vibroblade in the throat.
"She was granted permission to board," Bail continued, his composure regained. "However, before she reached Lord Vader's vessel, she was fired on by one of the ships escorting the Emperor. She died immediately. The Emperor is presently making his address to the galaxy concerning the incident.
"For the safety of all concerned I will destroy this transmitter as soon as this message is sent. If I need to contact you, I will find other means. Farewell, Master Kenobi, and may the Force be with you."
The transmission ended in a blip of blue.
Ben repeated the last words of the message to himself.
May the Force be with you. Does Bail Organa still believe the Force helps its servants, then? He would not be so confident if he could see me now. A fine example of those who try to carry out the will of the Force, I am. I am alienated from the natives, banished from the sight of the one I came to protect. The woman who was quite possibly a dying man's last hope is dead, one more good soul lost to the Empire. Why am I still alive?
As for the will of the Force - surely for all my efforts I have failed to carry it out. What was my task? To save Qui-Gon? To train Anakin? To protect Luke? What does it matter? I have done what I thought was demanded of me, and made a mess of it all, and the Force has discarded me. I may as well sit here and die. Or perhaps I should follow Padm?'s lead and deliver myself to the Emperor.
I'll look into getting a shuttle off this rock. Soon.
Too tired for more, he fell asleep.
Ben pretended he had not heard the voice and went back to sleep. Bed seemed the best place for him to be. It had been a week since he had left the Lars homestead and learned of Padm?'s death; in that time, he'd ventured into Anchorhead and made discreet inquiries about the price of passage to Coruscant. There were no transports that he could afford with the remaining cash Bail Organa had given him before he left Alderaan. Briefly, Ben had considered selling Anakin's lightsaber, but decided against it. Not only would selling it give him away, it was, on reflection, a sick thing to do.
No, the Force seemed determined not only to give him no useful task on Tatooine, but also to prevent his escape. In response he slept as much as possible. Sleep was the only escape granted him.
Now the Force wanted to take that away, too.
Get up, Obi-Wan.
"Ben," he mumbled, and rolled over to find a more comfortable position. "My name is Ben."
No, it isn't. You've only forgotten.
"Forgotten the name of the man whose pride was his downfall? Who was too concerned with being a Jedi to take the precaution of posing as a wizard? Who was too full of being the perfect Master to save his own Padawan? Well forgotten, I say."
Think again, Obi-Wan. Or have four and a half years in the desert so clogged your brain with sand that you cannot?
Suddenly, the voice of the Force did not sound like his own voice at all. It sounded, in fact, very like his old Master.
Invisible fingers tugged at the corners of his mind, gently but firmly. Obi-Wan thought.
A not-too-distant memory came, of a voice saying What if your task was not to save Anakin? And he thought of his own words just then, lying in bed, claiming responsibility for Anakin's fall. He groaned.
"All right," he said, "I see now. Taking the blame for the greatest evil the galaxy has ever known - claiming that kind of influence - that's a kind of pride too, isn't it? Very well. There was nothing I could have done. Are you satisfied? I've no pride left now."
Perhaps now that you've no pride, you will listen to me.
It sounded like "me" when the voice spoke, but it sounded curiously like "us", too, and afterward Obi-Wan was never quite sure which word the Force had used.
He allowed his eyes to slit open. "What do you want of me?" he asked.
I want you to use the mind you were born with and the wisdom you've earned. Get up.
"For more torture? I thank you, no."
Someone is coming to see you.
The invisible fingers pulled at him from the inside, urging him to sit up. Obi-Wan remained still.
"I have strength enough in me yet to resist you," he said, and he knew it was true. He could break the hold of the Force, shut his ears to its voice, stay in bed, ignore the visitor, and sleep away the rest of his days.
But deep within, he knew he did not want to resist.
Get up, said the Force, and Obi-Wan got up to greet his visitors.
Obi-Wan peered out his window. A dark speck against the pale sand grew larger as it approached the hut. Obi-Wan hurried to wash and dress. He finished just as the landspeeder arrived, glinting in the midafternoon suns. A man and a small boy disembarked.
"Mister Lars, Master Luke," Obi-Wan greeted them with a bow.
"Mister Kenobi!" Luke ran to him while Owen hung back. "Look at my speeder! It's new, and I can fly it!"
"Can you?" Obi-Wan said with a grin, picking up on Luke's enthusiasm. "I'll wager you're quite a pilot."
"I am! Watch!" Luke turned and ran to his uncle. "Can I show him, Uncle Owen?"
Owen hesitated, then nodded. "But go slowly, and don't stray too far."
"I won't!" Luke hopped into the speeder and was off.
At length, Owen approached Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan realized he was holding a small and somewhat bulky package in one hand, which he proffered.
"Sweet cake," said Owen, "from my wife."
Obi-Wan accepted it with a nod. The two men grew silent again, watching Luke fly.
"He insisted on seeing you," said Owen at last. "Kept going on about how you were a good wizard." He snorted softly. "I'm afraid he's been telling his friends about your escapades. Cassia Westerse wants you to take a look at her bad ankle."
Obi-Wan felt the tugging again, as though the Force were urging him to make a connection.
So much for alienating the natives, he said silently. Is that it?
"If I'm to keep up the charade of a crazy old hermit-wizard, perhaps she'd better come visit me," he said aloud.
Owen looked at him with something resembling approval.
"Maybe," he replied. "I'll tell her, next time I see her." He glanced at Luke again. "I may not always be able to keep him away from you." When Obi-Wan was silent, he continued. "But if I hear so much as one word of Jedi out of him or you, you will hear it from me, Kenobi."
Obi-Wan acknowledged the outburst with a nod. Owen had cooled down, but there was still to be no training for Luke.
"He flies well," remarked Obi-Wan. "He has an instinct for it."
"He does," Owen replied. "I wish he had such an instinct for farming."
Obi-Wan dearly wished to use the opportunity to point out that Luke was more Jedi than farmer, but was prevented by Luke circling near the two of them. As he passed, he raised one tiny hand in a wave.
"Use both hands!" Obi-Wan and Owen called out simultaneously. Luke snapped his hand back to the steering controls. The two men eyed each other, sharing the smallest of smiles.
"See here, Kenobi," Owen said suddenly, "I don't have the money to pay you for taking care of my wife. But-" he paused, seeming to struggle with himself, "-but, look, we're closer than Anchorhead. If you ever need food, or supplies, or repairs in a hurry, you come to our place first."
Obi-Wan was astonished. This was not forgiveness, or an apology, or even gratitude-but it was hospitality, and with it, tacit permission to see Luke, which was more than he had ever expected from Owen Lars.
"Thank you," he said gravely, and bowed. "You are very kind, Mister Lars."
"Yes. Well." Owen looked at his feet, half-buried in sand, and said no more.
So much for banishment, thought Obi-Wan. So am I to protect Luke, after all?
You will, while you can.
And will I be given opportunity to train him? Will he defeat Darth Vader and the Emperor? he asked.
Do you need to know that?
I- the thought remained unfinished. He had no answer to the question.
His destiny lies along a different path from yours, said the Force.
That is no answer, either, thought Obi-Wan,] but I will seek no more. He sighed. Every time I rage against the Force, or try to understand its motives or predict more of the future than it is willing to reveal, I stumble and fall. When I give in and rage no more, all is well. Not as I would have it, perhaps, but well still.
Well done, said the Force. You will be a Jedi yet.
Obi-Wan did not get a chance to reply, because Luke was coming in from his third circuit of the hut, a brilliant smile on his tanned face.
"Did you see me, Mister Kenobi?" he asked eagerly.
"I did indeed. You are a fine pilot, young Luke."
Luke beamed. "Uncle Owen taught me. He knows how to do everything."
Owen looked pleased and a little embarrassed. "Sure, Luke. Like I know it's time to get back home before we're late for dinner. Say goodbye to Mister Kenobi."
"Goodbye!" said Luke cheerfully. "See you!"
"See you." The words caught a little in Obi-Wan's throat, and he raised his hand in farewell.
Luke pondered the wizard while he scooted over to the passenger seat and waited for Uncle Owen. There was something different about him. He didn't have the far-away look on his face anymore. He looked, in fact, like he had finally heard what he was listening for.
Uncle Owen arrived at the speeder and climbed in. The wizard turned and walked to his hut.
Then the wizard went inside and the speeder took off, leaving only two diverging sets of footprints to show they had been there; when the wind picked up and tossed the footprints away, there were no signs that they had ever met at all.
Original cover by Wilhelmina. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.