The stone amphitheatre, which had been packed with lounging diners the evening before, now took on a more formal appearance. The tall terrace-like steps were occupied by passive-faced elders, whose veiled expressions were matched by their guarded Force signatures. According to Master Yoda's report, the Synod was comprised of male and female elders from each of the 12 Bayir cities. Gaudan was the ruling seat, and always had been. In the centre of the first row, Qohel and Qohelya sat, their hands folded neatly in their laps as they looked down to the Jedi standing on the ground.
When he reached the natural focus point of the semi-circular structure, Obi-Wan faced the two Bayir leaders and knelt, this time without a moment's hesitation, and lowered his head in respect. Anakin knelt slightly behind him and to his left, a typical position for Padawans while their masters faced reviews by the Jedi Council.
After a few moments had passed and their reverence of the Synod had been duly demonstrated, Obi-Wan glanced up. His expression was serious but neither demanding nor anxious. If there was one thing he'd learned from meeting with the Jedi Council, it was to keep quiet and impassive until spoken to.
But of course, the Council also demanded openness not merely in attitude, but of the mind. A gently probing glance from Qohelya told him the Synod would expect no less. Obi-Wan obediently, if a bit reluctantly, lowered his mental shielding. He turned back to Anakin and gave the young man a slight nod, indicating that he should do the same. Anakin looked a little surprised, but did not hesitate to obey.
Qohel gave them a small but warm smile, seemingly satisfied by their compliant behaviour. He motioned for them to stand up. "Master Obi-Wan, Anakin," his tone was kind but with a more professional edge than usual. "We have been discussing the offer of the Jedi." As far as Obi-Wan knew, the Synod had been meeting since the morning. Interviewing Dagan had been their last task. It was now mid-afternoon, and he was sure they had a number of questions formulated for the Jedi.
The statement about the Jedi "offer", however, caused Obi-Wan a bit of trepidation. He hadn't really yet had a chance to make any such offer, and was slightly worried about the conclusions the Bayir might come to on their own. The Jedi were unfortunately used to some of the stigmas attached to the Order's manner of acquiring new initiates, and Obi-Wan had hoped to make a different first impression here.
"Perhaps," Obi-Wan offered, "some clarification of the Jedi proposal would be helpful." He hoped that had sounded more like an amicable offer rather than guilty back-peddling. He could practically feel all of Qui-Gon's eloquent negotiations attempting to form themselves into useful words in his mind.
Unfortunately, Qohelya remained unmoved by the attempt. "I believe we understand," she replied, not unkindly, but with a cautious edge. As Obi-Wan subtly scanned the faces and Force signatures of the Synod, he recognized this sentiment cropping up among a good number of the elders. It was not quite suspicion, but was uncertainty at best. A natural sentiment, perhaps, but one that could quickly make such a meeting into an uphill battle if not handled carefully. Thankfully, Qohelya did not seem to think it her place to make her personal judgment the final word. "But, you are entitled to make your own case, if you wish."
Obi-Wan knew she could sense his gratitude, but he thanked her anyway before continuing. As he spoke, his eyes passed over all the members of the Synod, attempting to engage and evaluate each of the 50 or so elders. "The Jedi Order recognized our similarities to the Bayir in our affinity for the Force some time ago. Some of you may have been here when Master Yoda made his visit." He hoped that by invoking the almost universally venerated old Master, he might earn himself some credit with the elders. "Having witnessed this personally, I believe the Jedi Council is right in judging this connection as the will of the Force."
"And you want to take Bayir children to be trained as Jedi?" Qohelya said, a bit accusatory not in her tone but in her gaze. Obi-Wan saw several elders shift forward, a silent show of agreement with her.
Obi-Wan instinctively choked down his natural, irritated reaction to the allegation. "The Jedi do not take children," Obi-Wan replied, his tone firm but explanatory rather than defensive. "Initiates are given by those who choose to consecrate their children's lives to the Force." Persuasion was not an art of deception, but rather one of presentation. Unlike politicians, a Jedi truly believed in what he was trying to accomplish, not merely scheming to gain prestige. Obi-Wan earnestly hoped the Bayir would feel the purity of his intentions.
Qohelya's long cheeks tightened, and it seemed she was about to deliver an objection to Obi-Wan's explanation before Qohel gently interceded. "We do not know much about how the Jedi accept children into your Order," the old man said, hitting a middle ground.
Obi-Wan was glad to be getting to the practical aspects. Perhaps now he would be able to deliver the proposal the Synod had made so many assumptions about. "There are tests we can administer to help determine a child's abilities in the Force. The Council requests permission to administer these tests to Bayir children under the age of three, if their parents are willing, of course." Actually, nearly every Republic planet had laws for mandatory testing. Obi-Wan had little experience with recruitment, but he knew enough to realise the Jedi were making a kind exception in the case of the Bayir, whether they recognized it or not.
"And what happens if a child is qualified and her parents decide to give her to the Jedi?" a female elder asked. Apparently the question was important enough to her that she wanted to make sure it was not overlooked by the Synod's leaders. When she had Obi-Wan's attention, she added, "When will she see her parents?"
The grip of phantom hands tightened on Obi-Wan's empathetic link with Anakin. It was a much more familiar sensation than Obi-Wan would have liked. The boy was attempting to hide his distress rather than deal with it. Of course, Obi-Wan didn't see what good it did for Anakin to hide something from him when Obi-Wan knew precisely what he was hiding. His padawan sometimes seemed unable to do anything but metaphorically squeeze his eyes tightly shut and wait for unpleasant things to go away. When Obi-Wan glanced back over his shoulder, Anakin quickly looked away. Had the circumstances been different, Obi-Wan would have said something, but as it was, his duty lay with answering the Synod's questions.
"If requested, reports on a child's well-being and progress are sent twice every standard year." Obi-Wan replied, knowing full well the Bayir were not going to like it.
"And visits?" Qohel asked, seeming more concerned than he had before.
Well, there's no way around this, Obi-Wan thought. He knew this subject would come up eventually, but his time with the Bayir only made him more certain that they would not take this bit of information well. There's nothing you can do about it, Obi-Wan reminded himself. It was up to the Force and the Bayir themselves. It took him a lot of willpower to breathe out, but he did, and stated steadily, "The Order has found it best for a young Jedi's development if he does not have direct contact with his birth parents, should he so desire it, until Knighthood."
The murmuring that followed for several moments was as he had expected. Obi-Wan remained silent and unperturbed by the negative response. He awaited what he was sure would be a pressing question.
"But this Knighthood," Qohelya said, taken aback, "it is not granted until very late."
"A Jedi is not usually knighted until his early twenties." To the Bayir, Obi-Wan was sure this qualified as "very late". The Jedi timeline for adulthood matched fairly well with most other human cultures in the galaxy; the Bayir clearly expected maturity more quickly. It would be difficult to explain to them that someone Anakin's age, as he had been raised, was not yet ready for the responsibilities of adulthood.
Arguing generations of different, ingrained coming of age traditions would be pointless. All Obi-Wan could do was to explain the importance of Knighthood. "Passing the Trials to become a Jedi Knight confirms the stability of character and skills essential to being the kind of Jedi who can work on one's own and truly benefit others." Thankfully the Synod members had fully quieted down and Obi-Wan could see that he had their attention once more. "For a Jedi, too much distraction in the formative years can cause..." He had been about to subconsciously look back at Anakin, but his better wits had made him conscious of it in time. It was not Obi-Wan's intention to make the boy feel more uncomfortable than he clearly already was on the subject at hand. Obi-Wan continued, looking straight ahead. "We have found that it is best if avoided."
Qohel pressed his knuckles together, looking as though he wished he hadn't had to hear what he had. He seemed to want whole-heartedly for the Jedi and Bayir to be able to reach common ground. "You understand, family is very important to the Bayir." He held his hands palm-up on his lap as if begging comprehension. "Relationships with family and our towns are part of relationships to Il Ahom."
Obi-Wan thought he understood more than the Bayir realised. "The whole purpose of the Jedi community is to provide an atmosphere suitable for and helpful to growth in faith and knowledge of the Force," he explained.
Qohel stared at him in silence, rubbing at the white stubble of his dark chin slowly with one hand. He seemed at a loss for what to say or, Obi-Wan sensed, to feel.
"Master Obi-Wan," a new councillor spoke up. Obi-Wan was mildly surprised to see that this individual was younger than some of the others, perhaps in his mid forties. The man fixed the Jedi in his dark gaze and spoke frankly. "You speak of these things like you were reading them from a book. If we wanted to read about the Jedi, we would have asked for a book about them, not invited you here. What are your experiences?"
Obi-Wan was a bit offended by the man's brash tone, but did not allow it to faze him. "I have been with the Order since I was a little over a year old; longer than I can remember. The Jedi community may not resemble many ways of life, but it has been all the 'family' I needed. It may seem strange, but to me, it is as normal as your way of life is to you."
"But what of your parents?" Qohelya asked. "Did you contact them when you became a knight, Master Obi-Wan?"
It was as though they kept digging the hole deeper, then giving him no other options but to step into it. His birth parents had been little more than names and a few holos in his file. They did not mean to him what 'parents' meant to the Bayir. Of course, if he said that, it would likely be enough to shock them into stopping negotiations right then. Instead, Obi-Wan answered simply, "No, I have not contacted them."
Qohel and Qohelya exchanged pensive glances, and no doubt a few thoughts. It seemed as though they were likely to question Obi-Wan further on the matter. He hoped they wouldn't. What little he knew of his natural family would not have been helpful to his present cause.
After a few moments, the Bayir leaders seemed to withdraw their interest in that particular subject. Perhaps they sensed Obi-Wan's feelings on the matter. Or perhaps they merely sensed a more relevant line of questioning. Qohel looked past Obi-Wan to his padawan. "Anakin," he said.
Obi-Wan felt his padawan start slightly. The boy was unaccustomed to being addressed very frequently, especially not during negotiations. A padawan's job was mostly to stand quietly, watch, and learn. Comments were more appropriate from older padawans, but still infrequent. Anakin took a moment to reply, "Yessir?"
"You have been quiet," Qohel observed. The Bayir had mostly respected the nature of the master/padawan dynamic, but Obi-Wan sensed that the old man had deemed it a needless barrier at the moment.
"I didn't really have much to say," Anakin said, sounding unsure but managing at least not to stutter. Obi-Wan had remained facing away from his padawan, not wanting to add to his stress. In truth, he was quite curious and a little bit nervous as to how Anakin would handle the situation. He felt it better not to intervene. Finally, Anakin opted for, "I agree with what Master Obi-Wan said."
"Yes," Qohelya said, seeming as though she were trying to keep exasperation at bay. "But we wish to hear your thoughts and experiences, too. You are here to represent your Order. Your Council would not have sent you without reason, would they?"
"No," Anakin admitted, though it was clear at least to Obi-Wan that the boy still had little idea of the Council's reasoning. In truth, Obi-Wan was not quite certain either, but had resolved to take such things on faith. "Well, I didn't join the Order until I was nine," Anakin explained. "That's not what usually happens. Usually Jedi join the Order as infants, like Master Obi-Wan did. I don't know what it would be like for people who haven't known anything different." He halted and seemed to consider whether or not to say something else, but apparently decided on it. "I don't quite understand them," he admitted, sounding both chagrined at the admission and helpless in his confusion. This subject was one Obi-Wan and Anakin had been over countless times, but to little avail.
The members of the Synod seemed intrigued and perhaps, Obi-Wan thought, somewhat sympathetic to Anakin's story. "So the decision was yours?" Qohelya asked.
"Yes, I guess it was," Anakin replied.
"What did your parents think?" Qohel asked.
Anakin's voice tightened along with his chokehold on his link with Obi-Wan. "It was just my mother." He hesitated, and now Obi-Wan could only guess at the young man's thoughts. Anakin had shut them away. But if the Synod noticed, they neither seemed offended nor pointed it out. "She told me that I could choose… but I think she wanted me to go." That admission appeared to cost the boy quite a bit to make. "I think she thought I'd been given the chance for a reason," he finished quietly.
Obi-Wan very much wanted to turn around and reassure his apprentice, perhaps even to take a chance to reach out through their bond and ask Anakin to release his grip. It was what the boy needed, but it was better left for meditations. Obi-Wan had a feeling that Anakin was in a delicate state, and unbalancing it right now would only produce embarrassing results for both of them. Instead, Obi-Wan clasped his hands behind his back and held them there, attempting not to ring them.
"You miss her," Qohelya stated, with sympathy and without any trace of doubt in her voice. Apparently even with Anakin's elevated shields, his feelings on the matter were clear. The whole Synod appeared sympathetic. Perhaps, Obi-Wan thought, simply because they could imagine Anakin's position.
The young man breathed in slowly, holding it, seeming unable even to let air escape his grasp. "Yes," he finally said quietly.
There was an anticipatory silence as everyone seemed to wait for someone to ask what the Synod was truly interested in. It came from a small man with still-dark red hair but deep lines on his wizened face. "Do you think it is worth it?"
Anakin seemed to consider before replying in a near-whisper, "I hope it will be."
"Giving yourself to the service of Il Ahom is noble," a soft-spoken councillor consented, "But how can we give the life of someone else away?" he seemed deeply conflicted about his own question, and addressed it as much to his fellow leaders as to the Jedi. The other Synod members began nodding thoughtfully. Obi-Wan was pleased to sense that they were not only thinking about it, but were also actively contacting the Force for guidance in the matter. For him, that was the ultimate reassurance. The wisdom of man could fail, but the Force would lead them in the right direction if they listened, whatever that direction might be. It was the same principle behind the supremacy of the Jedi Council.
"We understand that this is not something to be taken lightly, nor do we wish it to be," Obi-Wan assured them.
"In our discussions, we all agreed that your intentions were good, Master Obi-Wan," Qohel said. It was meant as a bit of good will, but the measure was hardly necessary. The Bayir certainly hadn't been behaving as though the Jedi were an evil force bent on domination, which was more than could be said of some people's opinions on Jedi.
Still, Obi-Wan realised that the statement carried with it an unspoken and perhaps unintended 'but'. Knowing the Jedi meant well was not enough. Obi-Wan could tell the Synod was still not sure how to respond to the Jedi offer.
The two Bayir leaders glanced at one another, a silent question passing between them. Qohel eyed Obi-Wan briefly, presumably sizing up his willingness to answer the next question. Whatever it was, it must have been something the Synod had discussed before the Jedi had been called. The old man looked down in thought for a moment before giving his associate a nod. "We have another question for you if you do not mind," Qohelya said.
"Certainly," Obi-Wan replied, hesitant but seeming entirely willing. He recognized the question as not really a question, but as a polite way of coercing someone into a discussion they might be otherwise disinclined to enter. Unfortunately, that was how these situations worked when one lacked the upper hand.
"Why did the Jedi Council not send one of their own members?" Qohelya asked.
"The head of the Order came before," an elderly council member chimed in.
Obi-Wan felt himself tense a little, immediately dreading having to answer this question. He had wondered the same thing himself. For one thing, he was afraid the Bayir might take it as an offence that the Order had sent someone who was not only not a member of the Council, but who had not even attained the rank of Master. Thankfully, the leaders seemed more inquisitive than perturbed. Still, Obi-Wan wished he had an explanation.
"You said this was not your normal kind of assignment," Qohel said. "It is unexpected to both of us."
"Yes, it is unusual," Obi-Wan replied, unable to think of anything else to say. It was indeed an unusual assignment for him and Anakin as well as an unusual choice of Jedi for such a high profile mission. It was fortunate that the Bayir were not offended. Or perhaps it wasn't such a turn of chance at all, Obi-Wan reminded himself.
"I am uncertain as to the Council's reasoning," the Jedi Knight admitted. "But I am certain that their reasoning is sound and based upon the will of the Force." Of course, Obi-Wan realised there might be more specific justifications than simply vague premonitions. Perhaps his and Anakin's brief separation had given Yoda an opportunity to discern a path to solving the boy's problems.
Apparently, Obi-Wan's unspoken reasoning with himself did not go unnoticed. "You are not sure, but you have an idea," Qohelya noted, her dark eyebrows twitching in interest.
Obi-Wan wasn't quite sure what use any of this information could be to the Bayir, but there seemed no way of dodging it now. "Master Yoda has recently expressed the opinion that Anakin and I require some less stressful missions."
"Stressful in what way?" Qohel asked.
"The Council believe that constantly being engaged in defence and combat is not healthy. To understand the Force fully, a more balanced approach is needed." It was a sentiment Obi-Wan had shared, especially after the skills Anakin had quite suddenly manifested on their recent mission to Cravos. Behind him, Anakin shifted his weight uncomfortably, but held his tongue.
"And what of the promise of the Jedi to send their most qualified representative?" Qohelya asked.
It was not quite a challenge to Obi-Wan's abilities, but Anakin perceived it that way. Apparently his supply of restraint and submissiveness finally ran out. The young man took a half step forward as he spoke up. "Master Obi-Wan is more qualified than most of the Council, even some who are twice his age. He's a great Jedi."
Obi-Wan waved his padawan down, giving him a look that said I'm flattered, but this really isn't the time. Turning back, he gave Qohelya an apologetic expression. "My padawan speaks too highly," he said. "I expect our assignment has more to do with Anakin than with myself. The serenity of Gaudan is good for him, and in turn his unique experiences help him understand your situation better."
Several Synod members gave each other nods. Apparently, that answer made sense to them and set them a little more at ease on the matter.
Qohel, however, seemed newly intrigued. "Anakin," he asked, his tone full of curiosity, "what do you think about this?" He always seemed to want the boy's opinion, which worried Obi-Wan, especially when it came to the boy's opinions on the Council. Anakin had a tendency to let unsavoury thoughts leave his head too often.
"The Council is always concerned with how I'm doing. Sometimes too much." Obi-Wan was sure the boy was about ready to burst into a speech on the Council's meddling and unfair interferences. But Anakin pleasantly surprised him. "I don't know why they decided we should have this mission," Anakin admitted, "but I'm glad that they did."
"And we are glad you are here," Qohel said, a warm smile and his more familiar manner returning. It was clear that putting on a business-like front was difficult for the highly sociable old man.
Qohelya, however, maintained the same regal, commanding presence at all times. Nothing seemed to escape her. "They are concerned about you more than other apprentices?" she asked Anakin.
Obi-Wan automatically took the liberty of answering that one himself. "Some aspects of Anakin's training have been… unorthodox," he said, wondering as an afterthought if the euphemism was cross-cultural. It may not have been, but the perceptive Synod members managed to realise Obi-Wan must actually mean more than he said. Unfortunately, he hadn't exactly intended to reveal that there was more to the story than he was letting on.
"There is a reason for these exceptions for Anakin," Qohelya observed plainly. She directed her question at both Jedi, at whoever was willing to answer. "Why do you hide it?"
Obi-Wan could feel Anakin's eyes on him, waiting intently to see how Obi-Wan might respond. It was understood between them and even amongst other Jedi that Obi-Wan did not like to discuss the prophecy. Anakin's more and more frequent ponderings about it only made matters worse. But if they were going to mull over it some more, this was certainly not the situation Obi-Wan would have chosen to do so in. "There are certain things expected of Anakin due to his high Force affinity." He attempted to phrase it in an uninteresting way, hoping futilely that the subject might be passed over. "Each Jedi has unique abilities and that happens to be one of Anakin's."
"What kinds of expectations?" Qohelya asked, unwilling to let the subject drop. Obi-Wan's attempts to dodge it seemed to have backfired.
Obi-Wan let out a slow breath that was not quite a sigh. He really hadn't wanted to say anything, but there was no way to avoid it. He failed to see why the Bayir should care. It was hardly the sort of thing that usually came up in negotiations. Obi-Wan was even sure that, had Qui-Gon been alive, his old master would not even have wanted to go around telling everyone that Anakin might be the Chosen One.
It was with great resignation and a hint of dubiousness that Obi-Wan explained. "There is a certain prophesy concerning the destruction of the Dark Lords, who abuse the Force, twist it to unnatural purposes. They use what I believe you call ra'ah," He was proud of himself for remembering the Bayir word Dagan had associated with "evil", and the way he had perceived it, with the Dark Side. "The prophecy says that an individual with extremely high Force abilities will be the one to accomplish this." The last part he spoke so slowly that it seemed forcibly ripped from Obi-Wan's mouth. "There are some in the Order who believe Anakin to be that individual."
The whole energy of the forum abruptly shifted. The Force aura of the Synod snapped to attention, like a rope unexpectedly pulled taut. The amphitheatre had been quiet, but it suddenly grew deathly still. Every bit of movement in the Synod ceased, and all eyes shot to Anakin. It was not what Obi-Wan had expected in the least, and was such a sharp change in atmosphere that he himself had a peculiar urge to turn and stare at his padawan.
The silence broke with an awed whisper from Qohel: "Avsilom."
Now Obi-Wan did turn to his padawan, but to exchange looks of equal confusion rather than to marvel. Anakin shook his head slowly, glancing around the room a bit uncomfortably at all the suddenly watchful eyes.
Obi-Wan must have looked as perplexed as he felt, because Qohelya explained, "It is a name for 'the One who Brings the Peace of Il Ahom'."
"You see, Master Obi-Wan," Qohel explained, "we too have this prophecy."