by ardavenport

*\\o *\\o *\\o *\\o *\\o Part 11

"Well, that was unfulfilling." Xanatos hefted his travel pack as they trooped through the courtyard of the Sludo Hostel for the last time. The ceremony was done; they had just been ferried back to pick up their things before leaving.

Their part in the ceremony had been uneventful. There was the long wait in the back-stage areas with other functionaries and their service droids. Those utilitarian spaces had been hastily spruced up and paneled over for the luminary participants who pursued their political angling in jovial groups while the Jedi mostly stayed together, though a few of them paused to speak to Master Rancisis. Xanatos played a few rounds of 'Spot the Suck-up' with Bruck, predicting which politician in the crowd would approach the Jedi Council member.

There was some hiccups in the otherwise orderly proceeding. The timing that the directors of the ceremony had insisted was so vital was completely thrown off by the last-minute addition of an announcer reading the thirty names of the Jedi who had served the local systems in the past. Noeris jumped in and directed their entrance herself and Xanatos was impressed. She had obviously followed their directions from the day before more closely than he had cared to.

He noticed his Padawan and Noeris exchanging only looks before the ceremony. She was too busy herding them, presenting credentials and otherwise keeping their participation running on time. But afterwards, Xanatos spotted them sitting together and talking in low voices on the transport.

It had been a good thing they were able to talk on the ride back to the hostel. As soon as they arrived an agitated droid and a hand-wringing woman from the front desk greeted their minder with a new problem to be handled.

A man named Minosly, apparently Noeris's superior, had arrived to deliver Master Craglar's cremated remains to them. But he had collapsed from what the hostel med-programmed droid said was exhaustion from his duties preparing for the ceremony. Otherwise, his health was good and Noeris was busy getting a room for the semi-coherent man to rest in.

Zereid Kah had taken possession of the box of ashes, but Xanatos himself would personally pour the remains into the recyclers on the lower levels of the Temple, one last rite of letting go. It was a secondary ceremony that so many Jedi never even realized happened. The bodies of those who had passed into the Force could be ritually cremated for the attending survivors in the Jedi Temple in a solemn funerial. But after everyone left, there were still ashes that needed to be swept up and finally disposed of. The droids did most of the physical work, but Craglar (and Xanatos, back when they were working together) oversaw the activity. Xanatos could feel himself tearing up just thinking of that last duty, but he felt quite sure that Craglar would understand, and even be sympathetic – for maybe five minutes. After that, he would flick his whiskers at him and tell him to move on.

"The crowd was pleased," Qui-Gon observed. 'Crowd' was an understatement; the population of a small moon would have been more accurate for the new prefect's audience. When they emerged into the sunlight, the shouts and screams of hundreds of thousands of voices erupted. It had been oppressive and exhilarating at the same time.

Xanatos shrugged. "We did our duty, I suppose."

Others in their group were leaving, going out the main entrance. He noticed Padawans Dwani and Dezrote following their Masters and chatting amiably as they headed out the exit.

A touch on his arm from Qui-Gon diverted Xanatos's attention. He looked to where Qui-Gon pointed. Bruck and Obi-Wan were loitering on the far side of the courtyard, deep in discussion.

"Comparing notes?" he wondered aloud.

Qui-Gon tilted his head. "Perhaps. They are at least friendly with each other now."

"That is an improvement, I admit. And last night would have been an education for them."

"Indeed." Qui-Gon folded his arms into the sleeves of his robe. "I did not know that you and Zereid Kah were so familiar with each other."

"We weren't. At least not before last night." He sighed. "It was an acceptable encounter for both of us. But not one likely to be repeated. Just as the Council would approve." He grimaced. "And we were hardly the only ones."

"No, you were not," Qui-Gon agreed. "You should speak with your Padawan. This sort of awareness is disturbing when it is first discovered."

Xanatos waved him off. "I have. He and Zereid Kah's Padawan's told us both that they needed more time to absorb our last lesson and would appreciate it if we did not disturb their meditations by making so much 'noise'.

That got a genuine laugh from his former Master.

"I see that you did not disturb your Padawan's meditations," Xanatos observed.

Qui-Gon shrugged. "Age diminishes desire and interest, though I have found it sensible to exercise the appropriate muscles, every now and then."

Now Xanatos laughed. "You and your Padawan need more exercise."

Across the courtyard Noeris suddenly appeared. She gave Bruck a kiss on the cheek and a hug. Obi-Wan got a bow and a bright smile before they parted.

"Bruck did not rejoin Noeris last night," Qui-Gon noted.

"Her task-masters, the ones who rehearsed us so relentlessly yesterday, kept her hostage in a late-night meeting, reviewing whatever pointless details they ended up changing at the last minute for today's political ritual." He shrugged. "It is just as well. Another coupling would just be something to compare their first one with.

"Now the time they did have together will always be perfect in their memories." He spread his arms wide as their apprentices approached. "We depart, Padawans!"

Bruck grimaced and rolled his eyes. Obi-Wan gave him a sympathetic look. This did not diminish Xanatos's enthusiasm at all. He put his arm up over Bruck's shoulders as they all departed together with the other stragglers.

"Thirty Jedi in one hostel! Look what happened!"

*\\o *\\o *\\o *\\o END *\\o *\\o *\\o *\\o