There were still some of the people who had used to point and whisper about him around, but their number had been steadily decreasing since the Sith attack, and those who hadn’t had changed how they treated him even more. Had done so already, but it was only with Padmé gone that he really started to notice. Word of the prophecy related to him was hardly news to all of them, but Anakin was starting to realize there was a difference in being related to a prophecy about destroying the Sith when not all the Initiates even entirely believed the beings who had attacked the Temple before most of the them were even old enough to remember had even really been Sith, and being related to that same prophecy when not only was the existence of the Sith confirmed, but they had only recently attacked, and were expected at some point to attack again. All the younger Initiates now looked at him like he was some sort of savior in the making, and even the older ones seemed more reluctant to boss him around.
Sometimes it made him miss Padmé even more, but at least she turned out not to be absolutely the only one who treated him normally. Ellé started to too, and she was eventually followed by another Initiate his own age: Tru Veld.
Anakin had known Tru, of course, and even before the attack, they’d sometimes shared study materials or practiced katas together. So it wasn’t that much of a surprise, or any new thing at all, when about a week after Padmé’s departure, when Ellé ended up paired off with Donnie Briggs during one of the sparring sessions they’d started having the last two months, Tru stepped in front of him and asked, “Want to face off for this one?”
He wasn’t the easiest opponent to deal with. Although his species didn’t look that different from humans, expect in skin color, he could do things with him arms and legs that made Anakin’s joints hurt to try. And for this session Master Yoda, though he wasn’t allowing them to do aerials, he was allowing them to move about, enough so that Tru kept bending around and attacking Anakin from unexpected angles. Two minutes in and Anakin was dizzy, frustrated, and all too aware that if was an actual fight he probably would be in about twenty pieces by now. It was especially hard when he hadn’t lost that many fights since they’d started.
And yet when Master Yoda called a stop, Tru stepped back and exclaimed, “Wow! You’re the hardest opponent I’ve had yet!”
“I am?” was all a shocked Anakin could get out.
“Yeah,” said Tru. “I think once we all know more you’ll probably win-I mean, Master Yoda’s told me I’m not going to be better than everyone else forever.”
Then Master Yoda called for them to change partners, and they didn’t get the chance to talk to each other again during the class. But Tru joined him again as they walked back to the dormitory, and said, “If Master Yoda ever does ask us to practice on our own time, would you practice with me? You’re the only one where I didn’t go crazy having to restrain myself. I mean, I know if won’t be much fun for you, but please? I’ll do something else for you in return if you want.”
Be responsible, Anakin reminded himself. He was supposed to spend his life doing good for others. He hadn’t even needed Padmé to teach him that one. But it was still with her voice in his ear that said, “Okay, if I’m still here then.” Then, out of what impulse he wasn’t sure, he added, “You want to eat lastmeal together, maybe with Ellé?”
Which was how the three of them ended up not only eating together that evening, but spending nearly an hour afterwards just sitting together on Tru’s bunk, talking about nothing and everything. It was that night that Anakin learned that Tru had no memory of his family, but vague images of his homeworld, that two Masters has visited him but neither seemed that interested in taking him for at least a couple of years, and that both of his best friends among the Initiates had been killed during the Sith attack. From Anakin and Ellé he learned their own histories, though he almost seemed more awed by hers than his, maybe because he'd known the basics of his already.
But even if Tru had lost his two best friends, he had other friends, and as his friendship with Anakin grew, he found himself getting to know them better too. He spent more time with the other two Initiates who had arrived with Ellé, and he also got to know better a certain Darra Tel-Tanis, another Initiate their age, who like Padmé was a very kind person.
When their friendship really started, there was also Relll’o Tork. He was one of the older Initiates left, and was always up for showing the younger ones where to learn about various topics, although he sometimes looked haunted, especially if someone brought up anyone who had been killed in the attack. However, a month later, early in the morning, a hooded Master Anakin couldn’t tell anything about walked into their dormitories, woke Relll’o up, and went off with him. It was at breakfast that they had his having become a Padawan confirmed.
It made Tru sad, especially, that in his case they hadn’t been allowed to say goodbye. “I wanted to thank him,” he said to Anakin afterwards. “You owed him thanks too.”
“If we see him again ever,” Anakin shrugged.
Two more Initiates went in the following weeks, the first not much older than Anakin. Though the number of Initiates left did not stay shrunken for long; shortly after the second one was taken, the first group of newcomers from the crèche joined them, a group of eight younglings between three and four. It was then that they first learned how the attack had affected the crèche, how they’d taken all the crechelings to the downlevels, or at least all those who had survived the first bombardment. But some of them had been killed before they could be evacuated. Possibly a lot of them; when Master Yoda gave them this explanation, he didn’t give them exact numbers, but he looked and sounded very grief-stricken. That was strange to see for the Initiates, who had never seen him be anything but perfectly calm and composed.
The survivors showed the scars of it. Everyone had had nightmares after the attack, of course, and some even still had them occasionally, but the eight of them had them constantly. For the first few nights after their arrival, no one slept much, because one of them was always waking up screaming. Special Healers came in to work with each of them two hours a day, and a collection of ear stops found their way into the dormitory. Also, during the day, when there was an unexpected loud noise, or someone approach them unexpectedly, they’d sometimes jump. That, too, they were assured, the Healers were working with them on.
Darra wanted to help too. She often got Tru and especially Anakin to go with her when one of them was reported as having a particularly bad dream, especially because being in Anakin’s company made a lot of them feel better. Anakin supposed it made him happy, if he could help in that way. Their reactions to Darra herself ranged from Orion Canne, who never wanted to talk to her, to Flick Wozir, who would sob out to her every detail about her dreams she could remember, often thinking of new ones just as her account was nearly ended. That tried Anakin's patience a little. But it was from her that they all learned the names of many of those who had been killed, names that would’ve been forgotten otherwise, and they all tried to remember them instead.
On the day that Master Nu, after giving them another history lesson, escorted them to lastmeal, about four months after Padmé has left, Anakin, in contrast to the old days when he had eaten with only Padmé as a companion, ended up sitting with not only Ellé, Tru, and his three friends, but also two more younger Initiates and also Sticky Seirr. The last one looked hopefully at the elderly Master as she sat down next to Anakin, although that seemed kind of weird, since he had plenty of Masters looking at him by now. Although it didn’t matter much anyway, because by the way she looked at him, Anakin was pretty sure she had come for him, and he was finally going to learn more about his mother.
Obviously it wouldn’t be here, though. Instead, Anakin ate and smiled and tried not to let his impatience show, as she asked all of them in general how her studies were going. Sticky told her about Darra’s going around to the new arrivals when they had nightmares, which got the girl praised, but Master Nu’s main reaction seemed to be concern that they were still having them. “It’ll be a year soon,” she commented. “Jedi cannot linger over the past too much, and especially not over old pain. They must let go. And while it’s not a bad idea to remember the names of those killed, as you say you’ve been doing, you shouldn’t linger over thoughts of them. Those that pass into the Force cannot come back, and no one can do anything about that. It is the living whom we must think on, for them we can act for.”
“But how are they to stop?” asked Tru. “I’m sure they’re trying. I doubt any of them likes having such horrible dreams. And I know you Masters are trying everything, and so are the Healers.”
“I don’t know,” said Master Nu, every word slow. Anakin doubted she liked having to say that.
She escorted everyone back, then said, “Anakin, with me.” There were a few amazed murmurs that passed through the crowd; they must have thought she was taking him as an apprentice. He saw Ellé even look at him sadly, causing him to say quickly to her, “It’s all right.” He wished he could say more, but he didn’t want Master Nu disapproving of him, at least not until after she’d told him at least a little more about his mother. He was very relieved when she said, "Not what you think, Younglings. I'll bring him back."
She led him to one of the nearby rooms, where they’d often had lessons. The desks had mostly been folded up, and she sat down on the floor, and gestured for him to do the same. It felt kind of weird to see her do that; some of the Masters would, but she had never been one of them, always choosing to tower over them all instead, or at least sit all dignified in a proper chair. It was awkward, sitting with her, feeling closer to her, somehow, even though the physical length of space between them was no less than it had often been.
“When I had my first meeting with your mother, we sat like this,” said Master Nu. “She was a little older than you, but she was much shorter. When she was standing up and I was sitting down, I was still taller.”
“What was she like?” Anakin asked. He wasn’t sure if this was the story she was planning on telling him or not, but if it wasn’t he’d like to here about this and the story.
“Very inquisitive.” She must have seen his confusion at that second word, because she explained, “That means she asked a lot of questions. That was hardly surprising; I’d only done a handful of lessons with her, but I’d noticed her as someone who asked a lot of questions there too, someone who always wanted to know more. That was what had piqued my interest in her. I like a Padawan who wants to know more. I’m someone particularly suited to being the Master to such a Padawan as well, being the Director of the Archives and in charge of the library.
Which brings me to my story. As I assume you know, I finally officially took her as a Padawan when she was eight years old, though I had privately decided to some months prior.”
“Why’d you wait then?” Anakin blurted out. She’d said she liked questions, after all, and he really wanted to know about this. “Did she know you were planning to take her? You didn’t leave her to worry, did you?”
“Worry?” Master Nu looked stunned. Then she said, “Ah, you are thinking about Initiate Naberrie. Rest assured that had she been twelve, I would have not only told her, I would have taken her sooner. I waited because she was so young. There was less I could do for her until she was old enough to understand and receive it.” She didn’t sound upset at the question though.
“Indeed,” she continued, “before I even took her to our new quarters, I first took her to Archives. The Initiates had heard of the place, but she didn’t even know how to search for information there, so I showed her that. At the time Master Yoda had recently traveled to a planet called Ollon, and mentioned this to his students, and she was able to look that planet up and read about its history.
Shmi loved the Archives from the start. And we weren’t sent off planet that much during that first year, so almost every day she was there for at least an hour. I trained her further how to use them, making up lists of things I sent her to find out, so she would get practice in doing different kinds of searches and going through different kinds of databases. Sometimes I thought she might even succeed me one day as Archives Director...I suppose it’s still not impossible she someday might." Her voice turned a little more soft, but it was only for a moment before she resumed:
When she was nine, a certain Master Nino Sigmet started a lengthy research project into a war that took place on Malastare about a thousand years before the Dugs there had first contact with the Republic. Most visitors to the Archives usually only came in for a week or so at a time, so when Shmi noticed he was constantly there for much longer, naturally she became curious, and though politeness, and I think shyness, kept her from approaching him for a while, eventually he noticed her too, and they became friends. She even helped him do his research, and he told me when he was done that she probably saved him a week’s work, maybe longer.
Now, he had been doing this research because he was about to go to Malastare to mediate an internal dispute between the Dugs. They had specifically requested we do it, and that the Gran who came to Malastare around the time of the Ruusan Reformation and became the planet’s ruling class not be involved. About two weeks after he was done with his research he went off. Naturally Shmi was very interested is his progress. This was a long-term affair; he was on Malastare for nearly five months. But finally he had success, the dispute was solved, and we all thought it a matter settled and settled well.”
“But it wasn’t, was it?” asked Anakin, betraying his fascination with this story. He’d heard of Malastare, with Ellé saying it was a planet not that far from Naboo. He’d only heard vaguely of the Gran, though, and nothing of the Dugs. But to hear of his mother being involved, if only in this tiny way, with the fate of such planets…it dazzled him a little.
Master Nu sighed, then. “We thought it was for about a year. Perhaps we were blinding ourselves, at least a little. The agreement only lasted until those who were unhappy with it accused Master Sigmet of secretly consulting with the Gran, and steering things so that the agreement would suit what they wanted. There was no reason to believe the accusation true, but too many of the Dugs believed it anyway.”
“But why?” demanded Anakin. “Were they stupid?”
To his surprise, Master Nu paused, as if she wasn’t sure of the answer. Then she said, “You must understand, Initiate, not everyone has lived the life and had the upbringing you have. The Dugs are, I’m afraid to say, a race that have not been treated rightly for much of history. They, unlike the Gran, are native to Malastare, and it was their home when the Gran invaded. The Gran took their lands without having a right to it, but the Gran were powerful within the Republic, so with the forces of the Republic against them, the Dugs were unable to stop them.”
“Then why didn’t the Jedi do anything about it?” Anakin demanded, absolutely shocked to hear they would allow something like that.
Again the pause, though from the way the way she looked down, Anakin didn’t think it was because she wasn’t sure of why. “We couldn’t,” she said, and there was a bitterness now. “We must obey the dictates of the Republic and the rule of law, even when sometimes the rule of law is wrong. Violating that, even with good intentions, would keep us from being at all answerable to the people we are sworn to serve.”
“But,” Anakin protested, “aren’t we supposed to listen to the Force, and know what it right to do from that? And if we’re still doing what we know is best for people, how can that be wrong?”
“A good question,” she said, in a way that made Anakin know she wasn’t going to answer it, though. “And one that is debated within our Order, by the way, to this day. It is also one that I understand Master Qui-Gon Jinn, whom I believe has shown interest in taking you as a Padawan, happens to have very strong opinions about, and I am sure you will learn a lot from him about it. Indeed, I am not sure he would be pleased with me if I affected you too much with my own opinions. In any case, I must return to my point. That being that people who live lives where they are made miserable, or even threatened, by higher powers they can do nothing about, and kept in a state of relative ignorance about the universe outside their own immediate surroundings, which the Dugs also often are, will often suffer from paranoia, and that there had never been anyone they can trust makes it hard for them to trust a newcomer. So it was hard for them to trust Master Sigmet.
This was unfortunate enough, but things got worse. He went back to Malastare to try again, which seemed logical enough to do at the time, since no one understood their issues like he did, though in retrospect, perhaps we should’ve considered the consequences of them being as angry at him as they were. They kidnapped him.”
“How?” asked Anakin. “Surely he could’ve stopped them. How many Dugs would it have taken?”
“Actually,” she said, “from what I always understood, he didn’t put up much of a fight to stop them. He was hoping to still salvage negotiations, and feared if he harmed any of them it might be unsalvageable. Which he should be honored for, by the way. I’m sure Master Jinn will be very quick to tell you a good Jedi will always put even his or her safety aside if there is the hope of accomplishing enough good by it.” Anakin wasn’t sure about that one, but he didn’t argue.
“I’m afraid it all failed; in the end, we were lucky to get them to release him after half a year. He dealt as best he could with the captivity, but they had kept him underground and very isolated, and with few enough living things around that the Force was not very strong, and though Jedi will withstand blows that would break the common man, even they cannot come out of that kind of ordeal unaffected. When he returned, it was a few months before he was deemed fit to go out again. During that time Shmi continued to seek him out. I encouraged it at the time. I thought it good for her to have that experience, and really learn to emphasize with someone who had been hurt. The two of them ultimately remained friends, too, until he was killed in the first Sith attack, the one that happened while she was in captivity.
I didn’t realize it had caused a problem, either, for six whole years. Until then, whatever attachment Shmi felt to Master Sigmet had never affected her behavior in any way. I suppose he wanted to see to it that it did not, and did so. But then when she was fifteen we were sent to Malastare. At that time, it was the Gran who were having a dispute among themselves. But we still met plenty of Dugs, most of whom were servants of the people we were meeting with.
And I am sorry to say that during that first visit we paid to the planet, my Padawan behaved very badly to them. Those they served were not kind to them, barking their commands, treating badly those whose work or even whose speed they found fault with, often forcing them to work extra hours without extra pay or even denying them regular pay on very unreasonable grounds. I pointed all this out to Shmi, specifically telling her to treat them with compassion, as it was bad enough we could do nothing else for them. But unless I had literally just given her the reminder, she inevitably spoke to them with the same rudeness as their masters. I suppose I should consider it fortunate from a practical standpoint that this did not seem to influence the Gran’s opinion of her any, but even so I was thoroughly ashamed.”
There were a lot of questions Anakin wanted to ask, such as did the Gran not like it if Master Nu herself was nicer to the Dugs, and were they *all* behaving that badly to their servants? But since the story was supposed to be about his mother, and he didn’t like her being spoken of badly by her former Master, he asked, “Did she think any of them might have actually been involved in Master Sigmet’s imprisonment?”
“That ought not to even matter,” said Master Nu sharply. “And I told her that. Although as far as we could tell, none of them were, and it seemed unlikely also because these were Dugs that had lived among the Gran all their lives, while the Dugs Master Sigmet had negotiated with all lived on the other side of the planet. I told her that too. Surely you see, Initiate, that she was behaving in the absolute worst way, not only letting her attachment to her friend get the better of her, but taking her anger out at certain members of a race on other, innocent, members of that race.”
It did sound like a very bad thing for her to have done. It made him think, too, of what he had read about her doing while escaping captivity, though he still felt that was very different; she had been horrifically tortured herself, after all. Still, he could see where this story was going, and he didn’t like it at all.
And even though he didn’t say anything, Master Nu could still tell. “I know this is hard for you to hear about,” she said, more gently. “But it is a lesson any good Jedi must learn, sooner or later.
I hope it will make you feel better to hear there’s a happier ending to this story. When we got back to the Temple, you see, the first thing I did was take Shmi back to the Archives. I found for her every piece of information we had on the history of Malastare, and especially the plight of the Dugs, I could find. It took her two weeks to read it all. She did not shirk, however. She made no protests. Every free moment she had, she read. The only times she paused for anything other than a task to do or a meal to eat or to sleep was twice when she read about something particularly horrifying, and she stopped and cried then. But when she was done, I would say she knew more about the Dugs than anyone else in the galaxy, even me or Master Sigmet.
About a year later we were sent back to Malastare to continue on negotiations; there had been a snag in what we had worked out the first time. By then my greatest worry was that Shmi would be rude to the Gran instead of the Dugs, but she was mature enough not to engage in that kind of fallacy. The ones she instead offended were a handful of the worst of them who were upset by her kindness to their servants. She even stayed up two nights in a row with a Dug who suffered an injury while we were there. I was proud to be her Master then, Initiate.
And she went back there twice more by herself after she was knighted, before her capture by the Sith, and made levels of progress made by no other Jedi. After she was sent to Dantooine, we had high-level Dugs and even the Gran asking where she was, and expressing great concern when we told them she had been captured and tortured and would take years to recover-that was all we were able to tell them, of course.”
Silence fell, it seemed the story was over. Anakin had to admit he’d liked the ending, but the lesson was another matter. He tried to ask something neutral then, “Will we Initiates ever see the Archives?”
“It usually hasn’t been the custom,” said Master Nu. “But the customs are all changing now, so perhaps it is not impossible. However, it is usually the purveyance of a Padawan’s Master when they see and learn about that environment. I am sure Master Jinn will bring you early enough.”
“I wonder if she still reads,” he said, as they rose and headed out of the room. “On Dantooine, I mean.”
“I’m sure she does,” said Master Nu. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of her therapy. Though probably the things she reads now are the things she found most boring when she was my Padawan, as do most Padawans at that age, but what she now needs to find herself and her peace back.”
“I don’t know when I’ll come back to tell you another tale,” she said when they got back to the dormitory. “I would like you to think a little about the one I’ve just told. You don’t have to spend much time each day doing it, just a little bit, maybe, just after you wake up, or before you fall asleep.”
“I will,” said Anakin. He wasn’t sure he’d think about the lesson, which was what he thought she probably wanted him to think about, but he didn’t tell her that.
Meanwhile, that evening, he ended up telling the whole story over, because Tru and Ellé and all their other friends wanted to know what Master Nu had talked to him about, and when Anakin said she’d told him a story about his mother they wanted to hear it. He also had to explain to most of them where she was and how she had ended up there; only Ellé and Tru had known that already. That wasn’t easy to do, especially when during the story, three of Tru’s friends got up and left, and they were looking at Anakin the way they’d used to once upon a time, before the Sith attack had happened. He doubted they’d be the only ones with that reaction once his mother’s history was spread around.
But when everything had been told, Tru commented, “I’m with you on the problems on Malastare. We ought to do something to stop that kind of thing. And if the Senate stops us, that’s horrible of them, and I kind of think of us too. How could people want that kind of Senate?”
“I don’t know,” said Anakin. He thought of Chancellor Valorum, and what he had said to them. At the time, it had seemed to him to be a wonderful thing, but now he wasn’t so sure.
“Maybe we should ask more than one Master,” suggested Ellé. “Maybe next time Master Yoda comes to teach us, we should ask him. He would have to know why, right?”
“But would explain it to us?” pointed out one of Tru’s friends, an older girl named Sjolle. “Or would he just say something mysterious and weird, and expect us to figure everything out on our own?”
“Oh, yes,” agreed Octus Kon. He squatted until he was about Yoda’s height, and said, “Easy I don’t want to make this, Initiates. Round and round your thoughts must go. Explode, your heads must.”
That got them all laughing, a couple of people so hard they ended up sitting down on the floor, including Sjolle. She was still giggling, as were a number of others, when they heard the door to the dormitory open and someone else come in, and then a deep voice ask, “Excuse me, Initiate, but do you know where Initiate Sjolle is?”
As they heard the response telling the newcomer where she was, everyone looked at Sjolle, and instantly they all knew. It was clear from her reaction that she recognized the voice, and that she was very happy to hear it.
She was scrambling to her feet when a bearded human male knight Anakin had seen once or twice but didn’t know the name of came in. “Initiate Sjolle,” he said. “If you could come with me?”
Barely had she gotten her, “Yes, Master,” out than Tru had taken hold of her hands. When she looked at him, he said simply, “Goodbye, Sjolle. May the Force be with you.”
“And you, and all of you” she said, and as she turned and follower her new Master out, she let her hands spread out on both sides. Those within range reached out to touch them. When her fingers brushed Anakin’s, he thought he felt a little sweat on them.
It was strange. This was something they ought to be glad about, that another one of them had found her Master and was taking the next big step towards becoming a Jedi. And it wasn’t like with Padmé, where she’d been the one taking care of everybody, so she had been a loss to them all, not just those who were her immediate friends. But when Sjolle walked out, she took the cheer with her. For a minute or so after they heard the door close behind the duo, nobody said anything; they just sat there, thinking about her, and where she was going, and how they might never see her again.
Then Tru said, “Do you think maybe our own individual Masters will have answers for these questions? If they don’t, I don’t think anyone will have them.”
“Maybe Sjolle’s asking right now,” said Darra. “I think when I get my Master, I’m going to ask him or her on the first day.”
“Why wait until then?” asked Anakin. “I think I’m going to ask Master Jinn next time he comes here, whether he takes me as a Padawan then or not.”
“Wow,” said Flick Wozir. “You’re very brave.”
“Jedi should always be brave,” said Octus. “But you’re right, Flick.”
Everyone else agreed with it too, but Anakin supposed he was lucky, that he knew Master Jinn was almost certain to take him unless he really messed up, and he figured asking a few more questions wouldn’t stop him. He was even hoping his Master to be would like it.