A/N: I have to admit, though I'm well aware my grammar is not up to scratch, I really enjoy writing this fanfic. It's so easy and fun to write! There are a great many things which prevent me from updating my fanfiction as often as I should, and I can only beg forgiveness and offer to buy you a pint down at the King's Ransom :D
The Giant and the Warren
"What business does a boy have skulking in the dead of night?" the giant spoke. "Gone to refill his Master's cup, I suppose."
Anakin found that he could not reply. Terror had an icy grip on his heart and rendered his limbs utterly useless. His every sense was overflowing with the power protruding in great waves from this man – this giant.
"If you were to take some advice from an old drifter such as myself I would not deliver the King's Ransom this night, Master Skywalker."
Life quickly returned to Anakin's arms and legs and at once he took up a menacing stance, glaring spitefully at the man half hidden in shadow. "Who are you that knows my name?" he demanded. "And explain your following me? I warn you'll have a hard task capturing these!"
"I have no desire for two drums of ale." The giant began to advance towards him.
Anakin stood his ground though fear gripped his heart like a vice. Who was this vagrant that knew his name and able to change his very form at will? In his bones Anakin knew what he was of course - a Sorcerer and conjuror of dark arts. He looked just like the sort to have a Dark Tower on a high hill somewhere in the wild woodlands beyond the Backwater plains. He shivered at the thought. 'This must be the fellow in the tavern Watto spoke of'.'
Anakin staggered backwards. "What do you want then?"
"Seems to reason the lonely rover boasts fools' nerve," the giant's voice was as calm and cool as the breeze, "and yet fear consumes him."
Anakin could see the man's warm breath rise up into the cool air. "I'm not afraid," he bit back, though the courage behind his words seemed to drift away with his breath.
The giant ignored him. "A little courage and a lot of fear is barely a defence against the wolves when they run," he sighed, his tone sad and regretful. "And I'm afraid the tick of the hand has beaten your green tailed friend, for they are already in the village." Now it seemed as though the stranger were talking to himself.
"Stop your bloody riddles and tell me what you're on about!" Anakin cried angrily before the stranger's description of the Nautolan clicked in his head. "Wait, Kit? Do you mean Kit? Kit was too late for what? Tell me who is in the village?" Anakin flustered. "What wolves? And who are you!"
The giant's laughter was low and hollow. "Forgive me young Master, but when you wander alone for so long you forget that time and tide wait for no man and age makes the wheels creak." His blazing bright eyes flashed in their sockets. "But you must fly tonight Master Skywalker, for time and tide won't slow the run of the Mare."
Anakin thrust his chin out and scowled fiercely. The twin barrels were quickly forgotten and fell to the ground with a thud as he clenched his fists together.
"No, please, Sir," he bit, venomously. "I won't be flying anywhere, whoever you are."
The giant allowed himself a second dry chuckle and replied, "Perhaps you would delight in a test of strength against the Mare Esque, young Master?"
"I would better enjoy a test against you first!" Anakin exclaimed and leapt recklessly towards the giant, but before he could even raise a fist he connected with an invisible wall which threw him from his feet and sent him crashing into an undignified heap on the ground.
"Perhaps," the stranger spoke softly, "we will gather our thoughts?" He did not wait for an answer. "My name is Qui-Gon Jinn and I am a friend."
Anakin rubbed the base of his skull, trying not to ponder too much on what had just happened. "And do you always greet your friends like this, sir?" he spat scathingly.
Once more he went ignored. "I am a Jedi Knight, travelled from the Great Temple on the far skirts of the southern quadrant." The elder man bent towards him and for the first time Anakin could see his features. "You must accept my help Master Skywalker, for we need yours."
With those words Anakin's boyish curiosity was instantly ensnared. "My help? What could Jedi possibly want my help with? And anyway I thought the Jedi disbanded years ago. The Guardians were run out of Naboo, weren't they?"
"Not entirely," Qui-Gon Jinn drew away from the boy, heaving a heavy sigh. Anakin turned to take a proper look at the man. He definitely had the look of a hero from his chiselled features, protruding brow and strong nose, to his towering height and broad shoulders. He briefly wondered if the man really had giant blood in him. Everything about him spoke strength but for his eyes, which showed the tiresome stress of battles long fought and inner scars yet to heal.
Anakin's eyes widened as they caught sight of a small, hand-carved object hanging from the man's belt.
"Could it be a...that couldn't be a..." he stuttered incredulously."Why it's a lightsaber! Wizard..." For a tech-minded youth as he was the intricate mechanisms of the legendary sword of light fascinated Anakin to no end, as it had countless others for centuries.
But as Qui-Gon's hand fell upon it, he quickly shook himself out of his reverie.
"Well, you could have picked that up anywhere." Dusting his hands off, Anakin picked up his fallen barrels and began to stride away. This was all too good to be true and there were journeys waiting to be ventured with Kit Fisto; exploits and adventures he would never see if he did not return with Watto's ale in time.
"Master Skywalker," the giant called.
"Look, I'm very sorry," Anakin interjected, though his tone was somewhat softer as his opinion of the vagabond had turned from wicked sorcerer to that of a wandering Showman left out in the cold one night too long. "But I'm afraid other business ventures have opened up for me and I have no more time to listen to tall tales," he said turning on his heel haughtily and marching down the sloping field. "I get enough of those from Watto."
When he received no reply Anakin threw a subtle glance over his shoulder, surprised that the professed Jedi Knight had stopped in his pursuit so soon. He was even considering inviting the old man for a swift draught at the King's Ransom, for by his ramblings Anakin guessed he had been a common patron of theirs. But his gaze was met with naught but the field – no standing stone nor self-proclaimed Jedi in sight.
Anakin sincerely hoped his earlier excitement hadn't driven him round the bend.
Obi-Wan Kenobi stopped at the bottom of a narrow flight of stairs, his eyes searching along the dimly lit corridor. The White Rabbit appeared to be a warren of twisting tunnels and secret lairs, its lower levels, lit by rush lights glimmering softly in their gold-plated stands, fulfilling the more carnal desires of its customers. The sound of skin smacking against skin followed him up the red-carpeted corridor, made the colour rise in his cheeks.
Obi-Wan stopped by a door at the foot of the hall, pressed his ear against it to make doubly sure he wouldn't be interrupting one of Jettster's customers, and hoped against hope that no one would see him.
"Obi-Wan?" a familiar voice queried.
Obi-Wan spun around, a guilty look on his face. "Astri!" he exclaimed in alarm, then cleared his throat and inclined his head toward her. "Madame Divian. I'm sorry, this isn't… I realise what this may look like, but I can assure you it's nothing of the sort. I was merely -"
"Obi-Wan, if I believed for a moment that you were doing what it appeared you were doing, I would surely have died of a heart attack," Astri replied, her smile as bright and vivacious as it had appeared in her photograph upstairs.
Obi-Wan's face brightened. "I only wanted to make sure I wasn't about to interrupt any of your customers," he said raising his eyebrows, "who sound quite satisfied, if it should please you to hear."
"All our customers are satisfied here, Master Kenobi," Astri replied and ushered him into his designated room. "Come, this is hardly the place for old peers to rekindle a friendship."
Once inside the room Obi-Wan settled himself on a pile of luxuriously soft cushions situated by the hearth, while Astri set about lighting the fire and preparing the tea.
"Madame Divian, there's no need to busy yourself with supper. Dexter saw to it that I was adequately fed and watered earlier."
Astri's eyes sparked with amusement. "No decent conversation can be executed without the aid of tea and cake, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan conceded. "You've grown into quite a lady, Madame."
"Please stop addressing me as such, Obi-Wan. All these formalities!" she huffed indignantly, "they have no place amongst friends."
As Astri busied herself about the fireplace, Obi-Wan took the opportunity to make a study of the face he had missed so dearly. The stress of juggling business, a family and Dexter Jettster, who had a penchant for befriending the seedier walks of life, had not taken its toll on her beautiful bright eyes he was delighted to see, for he had always favoured her smile above everything. Sturdily built, Astri was not stout rather than pleasantly plump and she carried her weight well, her rosy cheeks adding to her overall youthful prettiness. In his eyes, she had only grown more beautiful.
Easing his cramped muscles into the piled cushions, Obi-Wan continued to observe her beneath half-lidded eyes as she pushed back the curling ends of her brown hair and kneeled back on her heels to evaluate the fire's slow progress.
Madame Jocasta, after learning from Dexter who Obi-Wan was, had at once ushered him into a hot bath, promising that his steed and belongings, what meagre possessions he owned, would be taken care of. The sensation of the soft hooded robe he now wore against his skin was quite soothing. Obi-Wan soon felt himself begin to doze off, but was awakened by Astri who had reached up to curl her hand tenderly over his cheek.
"Would you prefer it if we talked later?" she asked, smiling gently.
Obi-Wan at once sat up. "No, of course not, Astri. Forgive my discourtesy."
Her warm, enthusiastic laughter filled him more completely than Madame Nu's celebrated Bantha stew.
"Obi-Wan, you've become so proper! Even now as you lie across the floor, you look like a Coruscanti aristocrat or a Prince of Alderaan! Surely this cannot be Qui-Gon's doing?"
"No indeed, but you aren't too far off the mark with the Prince of Alderaan, I confess." He responded with a broad smile, which lit the blue in his dark eyes. "For the past three years I've been working undercover with the Loyalist Committee in Capital Alder. My dealings brought me into partnership with Bail Organa, who acquired an alias for me by name of 'Earl of Crebasse'." He took the offered cup of tea from Astri's hands, grinning. "No doubt you'll find that amusing."
"I will treasure the image of you, frilled, high collared and painted like a doll, 'til the day I die," she assured him and her playful eyes sparked with merriment.
They talked for a while, Obi-Wan inquiring into Astri's new family and carefully avoiding the subject of her marriage, which she seemed perfectly happy to comply with. Her long, curly hair hung loose around her shoulders as she leant into him, relating stories of her energetic son, Lune, who Obi-Wan could tell she loved dearly.
The scent of her hair and skin, and the full smile of her lips captivated him completely, and more than once he found himself lost in their conversation. Astri, naïve as she was, appeared completely oblivious to the affections he held for her.
"Well I am completely impressed," he said using a break in their conversation as an excuse to break their nearness.
"At my great parenting skills?" she asked him.
"At your great ability at keeping our dear Dexter away from the Hangman's noose," Obi-Wan replied, stroking his short beard. "It amazes me that the Inn has escaped the notice of the constabulary for so long."
Astri took a breath and continued, carefully. "The law in these parts is somewhat unlawful, Obi-Wan. These days the Magistrate is as corrupt as the condemned man frogmarched to the gallows. Naboo's current lack of an authoritative figurehead, the Separatists, the Hutts – it seems there is no room for rules or regulations in today's world."
For a second, Obi-Wan glimpsed the light in her eyes fade a little and his heart sank. There was a change in Astri after all. She had lost much hope in the years following King Amidala's death and the Guardian's disbandment.
Astri glanced up into his eyes, found the sadness and regret there. "I am sorry Obi-Wan. I shouldn't trouble you anymore than you already are. I hate to think of you out there, running and hiding like a crook." She laid a hand on his arm and squeezed it affectionately. "You should get some rest now before more of your unruly sort come traipsing mud into my clean hallway."
"Yes, I think perhaps you are right."
She smiled and he answered likewise. Then he lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it tenderly.
Astri allowed him to hold her hand there a moment longer than was necessary. She, in the years they had been apart, may not have changed much in physical appearance, but Obi-Wan certainly had. His eyes were deeper set and now teal in colour and his short, straw-coloured beard could not hide the strength in his chin and jaw line. From the thin, scrawny apprentice of Qui-Gon Jinn, had emerged a Jedi Knight.
She had never studied him in such a way before and felt quite suddenly overwhelmed by a queer and unfamiliar flurry of emotions.
"Astri, you look quite perplexed," Obi-Wan said his tone humorous.
"For all your questions, Obi-Wan, you have carefully avoided the topic of my former occupation," she replied, her tone almost stern.
"I saw no need to." Obi-Wan looked at her intently. "I don't recall ever taking advantage of that particular talent, Madame."
They exchanged a long, thoughtful look.
"No," she replied, pensively. "You never did."
The rain had cleared, replaced by a thick, ghostly mist, which settled around the village at the bottom of the dale. The temperature had dropped so suddenly that Anakin could already begin to see a light frost creeping over the slippery tops of the cobblestones and crooked rooftop slates. There was no friendly orange lamplight glow, nor a sound to be heard from the surrounding neighbourhood, which made his way through the winding streets, thick with the gathering fog, considerably more difficult.
Anakin cursed as he skidded on the slippery stones for the umpteenth time. Why was it taking so long to get back? Surely he couldn't be lost. He knew these streets as well as he knew his mother's face.
When at last he stumbled upon the steps of the King's Ransom, no welcoming curses of intoxicated patrons, waiting in anticipation of his arrival, came to greet him. Anakin sighed irritably and blamed his misfortunes and tardiness on the would-be Jedi Sorcerer. He set one keg down on the narrow pavement to knock on the door of the Inn, only to find it had been left ajar.
Confusion scrambled his thoughts. Watto was usually very careful when it came to locking up the tavern. In fact, the Toydarian's anxiety had verged on paranoia.
Blood drained from Anakin's face when his wandering gaze caught the broken window through the silver haze of mist. He dropped the second keg and burst through the open door with such force that it swung around to hit the wall where the bells fell to the floor with a dull clang.
The room was in upheaval. Plates and mugs of ale, tables and chairs and food; all had been tossed and hurled across the room amidst four bodies lying cold and still upon the bare floorboards. The last glowing embers in the fireplace tinged their expressionless faces with red.
Fear gripped Anakin's throat like a clammy hand as he crept closer to inspect the bodies. He recognised each of them, could even call them by name: two of Watto's sabacc cohorts, Aldar Beedo and Ben Quadinaros; Kitster's father, the large and silent Corellian trader Rakir Banai; one of the pretty waiting girls, Aimee, who had had a growing crush on him for two years. Slowly, he bent down to touch her shoulder gently. There was a little dried blood on her forehead and a darkening bruise on her cheek. Otherwise she looked fine. But he did not have to search for a pulse to know she was dead.
Anger saturated his blood like poison.
"Boy?" a familiar raspy voice called out, breaking the empty silence. "Boy? Is that you?"
Anakin leapt to his feet, his eyes searching the large room frantically. "Watto!" he cried anxiously. "Where are you? Where is my mother? Where's Kit!"
"I'm behind the bar," Watto paused a long moment. "I don't know where your mother is. Kit went after them."
Anakin grimaced. It shouldn't have surprised him really. At the first sign of trouble Watto would more often than not turn tail and hide. When he came around the side of the wooden structure, however, his heart lurched at the sight of the Toydarian. Watto lay in an awkward position on the floor. His wings were broken and one of his long yellowing tusks had been severed. His skin was pale and tinged with a white, powdery substance and anger brewed in his shrewd, yellow eyes.
"What happened?" Anakin asked, struggling for breath as he knelt down beside the Tavern Keeper.
"What does it look like 'appened, uh?" Watto snapped irritably. "Don't just stand there boy, help me up."
Anakin knelt at the ill-tempered Tavern Keeper's side, sliding one arm under his shoulders and another under his back - quelching the alarm and fear that flooded him at the touch of Watto's cold skin - so he could carry him safely without fear of injuring him further. Carefully, he moved back around the bar to the main room where he laid his Master down on one of the two upturned armchairs beside the fireplace.
"But who did this?" Anakin pressed gently as he noted the great gashes in the seat of the chair.
Watto's eyes slid towards the youth's face with a strange look, somewhere between relief and puzzlement, as if he'd found the answer to a riddle that didn't quite satisfy him.
"I knew you'd be a handful boy. When I took you in, I knew it wasn't worth a half-penny. What profit could I gain from a no-talent runt?" He muttered disdainfully and Anakin got the feeling he was talking to himself. "But I did, an' that's what counts. Hope the gatekeeper keeps that in mind when I greet him," Watto added gruffly and closed his eyes.
Anakin's heart stopped. "Watto!" he grabbed the creature's shoulders and shook him frantically. "Don't go to sleep, you must stay awake. You must tell me where my mother is!"
"What isa wrong with you boy?" Watto spat suddenly in half-disgust. "Ah'm a dyin' here! Can't you see that, you muskrat of a cheese-block?"
A deep frown creased Anakin's smooth features. "You're not dying," he stated, quite sullenly.
"That isa news to me." Watto retorted, coughing feebly. "Thoughtless boy. Reckless boy. What time do you call this anyway, ah?"
"Won't you tell me happened?" Anakin repeated.
"Isn't it obvious what happened? Doesn't it look like Tusken-work?" Watto said, sweeping the ransacked room with one frail arm.
But somehow Anakin got the feeling his master wasn't telling him the whole truth. Very little had been stolen. The moneybox had not been touched and neither, he noticed uneasily, had the beer supply. He gave Watto a long, scrutinising look. The Toydarian did not meet his gaze.
Anakin's fingers dug into his thighs and he heaved a sigh of frustration. "I'm going to look for my mother."
"No you won't boy."
"And why not?"
"What am I ah to do? Am I expected to share my deathbed accompanied by three stiffs, ah? You ungrateful trouser-ferret," Watto argued, his tone indignant.
"There are four. And if you won't tell me what happened to my mother and Kit, then I'll have to find them by myself." He stood at once to his feet before hesitating and turning around to face his master. "And you're not dying!" he added crossly.
"Annie," Watto desperately grabbed Anakin's trouser-leg as he stood to his feet, "you cannot follow them."
"Why not?" Anakin demanded, his tone more harsh than he had meant.
Watto's feeble grip loosened on the fraying hem of the trouser-leg, his expression pained. "Stupid boy. Thoughtless boy. That is precisely what they want you to do."
A/N: Guys, I would so appreciate feedback from you! It's all I have (sob)
dmitchell: Thank-you, as I live in Scotland (and study History), my writing tends
to be influenced a great deal by old folklore and Scottish history. Although,
Legend's not meant to be too serious and doesn't follow the wars of
independence as strictly as it probably should. Really I'm just writing a
good ol' fantasy romp!
ShalBrenfan: Sweet! Thanks for the comments and for being such a loyal reader!
ScrewtheJediCode786: Hehe, sorry again for the lack of updates. Hope this one pleased you, cheers mate!
Mmfcfa: Thank-you! …uhm, hope seven months wasn't too long a wait…
Tamara: Cheers! Hehe, the man watching Anakin in the tavern was actually Darth Maul (head of the Mare Esque). I wrote that scene as a deliberate reference to Lord of the Rings. A lot of people have questioned me about Hermione (thought they might). Fortunately to some, unfortunately to others, the story is not a Harry Potter & Star Wars crossover. Hermione is the official name of the blonde waitress you see in Dexter Jettster's café on Coruscant, in AOTC. I looked her name up on the Star Wars. com databanks. I'll see if I can do anything with Siri, but for now I don't really have a place for her in the story. Anyways, thank-you so much for your lengthy review! I'm very glad to hear you're hooked! Hope you enjoyed this chapter )
Erianna Abyss: Have already chatted away to you, but I'd like to say thanks again for the fab review!