A/N: I can't believe it's over! My deep thanks to all those who reviewed, and read; you kept me going. Really, you did. The fragment of poem - and the story's title - from Rainer Maria Rilke's "First Elegy," of his Duino Elegies, which you should try.
*For those who have been following the story - I'd love to hear from you! Please take a minute and tell me what you liked and didn't like.*
Epilogue: Nowhere To Remain
Is it not time
To free ourselves from the beloved
Even as we, trembling, endure the loving?
-Rilke, First Elegy
Sister Sabé was old by the time I joined the Nunnery in Ranneth. Not ancient, certainly, but no longer middle-aged, and she was often ill. The door to her kuti was almost always closed, and none of the novices saw her for days at a time, not at morning meditation, or the afternoon service, or even mealtimes.
She had been Abbess once, years ago, but gave up the position because of her increasing bouts of illness. When I arrived I only knew that she was well-respected, deferred to, given the most comfortable kuti – which, in all fairness, wasn't saying much among the Sisters of Ailla. But it was her own space, where she could shut the door and stay in her room for as long as she liked, and everyone else tiptoed past it in fear of disturbing her meditation, or her sleep. And we, the novices, were still too well-behaved to do anything else but inch past that shut door; no one had the nerve to knock, and ask her in person if all the stories were true.
Ranneth was a small village nestled into the foothills of the Jinarres Mountains of Naboo. Rain came every week without fail during the year, and there was a three-month stretch from April to July when it would rain without stop. Taking advantage of the weather the Sisters conducted their annual Rains Retreat for the duration of one hundred days, coinciding with the endless downpour.
It was to be my first Rains. Indeed it was said to be the test of a novice, to withstand the hundred days' silence, the long sitting meditations that connected night to morning, the week-long beginning fast.
The evening before it began I had gone out into the courtyard, the small exercising ground maintained by the sisters. The night air had the heft of dampness, and the gray flagstones gleamed faintly, wetly, reflecting half-fingernails to the moon. A desolate loneliness fell on me; I sneezed, sniffling not entirely from the cold I'd gotten sleeping in the thin blankets, and tried to compose myself. Right on cue the working remnants of my head presented me with fantastic visions of the soft pillows of home, the warm hearth, the holovid. None of it would go out of my head. I sneezed again, and that's when a window opened. The window was not transparisteel but the old glass-hybrid that had been cheaper back in the Dark Days. It slid back from the nearest room on my right, and I heard the Sister Sabé call me by name.
I had never seen her before, Sister Sabé. She waved an impatient hand at me.
"Come on, Novice. Come inside."
Sister Sabé held the door open for me. Her hand was very small, blue-veined, but still well-shaped and strong. There was a callous on her thumb and middle finger, and the latter was stained black with ink. She was taller than I had expected for a Naboovian, darker as well. Her hair was shorn, as the custom, and the grey stubbles caught he lamplight, glittering.
She motioned for me to go into her room, and I could see she had some trouble trying to rotate her neck to speak to me, since she looked at me incessantly from the edges of her large brown eyes. The ring around her irises had faded to blue with age, but she must have been very striking in youth, in the way that delicate features can mingle and form a face of surprising strength. The broad forehead sloped down to a short, pointed nose. Wide brows, still thick, emphasized the deep eyes which sat like two hololights atop the sharp cheekbones. She had the face of a small bird of prey, sharp, dignified, and proud.
A rumor circulating about Sister Sabé to account for her non-presence said that she was in fact an Attained One, and that she was always meditating her way into the blissful realms of oceanic wisdom and peace, and needed no food or water for days on end. But I was not to have much time to reflect on how her first words embodied the Ideal of Perfect Enlightenment, for a hot cup of tea was thrust under my nose, and the scent of it stung and made my eyes water.
"The best tea from Coruscant," Sister Sabé said, lifting a slow smile to my incredulous grimace at the taste of the stuff. It was color of mud and tasted vile beyond imagining – but I barely managed to choke it down before my sinuses steamed open as if commanded.
A handkerchief was proffered. I accepted gratefully and blew into it. The headachey feeling disappeared entirely. Sister Sabé smiled at my surprise. She had a disarmingly sweet smile, for one who seemed so sharp. Crinkles fanned out in wheels from her eyes, rippled like a wave over the surface of her face. It was as if she had been smiling that same way all her life.
Her robes were the standard stone-wash gray, patched over many times through the years, brown patches for the first five years, blue for the next ten, deep green for the decade after that and deep purple for whatever remained. Through the thin fabric of a purple square I caught the shadow of a pointy elbow. She bade me sit, graciously, that though her face was crafted to shine in concentration, in intensity of joy and sorrow, for the moment there was only a relaxed welcome, a serene slowness that for her probably came with age. For in the lines of her shoulders she still showed a faded copy of the wiry strength of years past, fast reflexes and snap and verve. Age had softened her manners, as long peace of weather settles the face of a lake, to reflect.
"Make your self comfortable, Novice," she said.
I settled myself down on the visitor cushion, and looked about. The room was something of a disappointment. No exotic items collected from distant galaxies were allowed to the past Abbess, no fancy rugs or decorations, only the standard pallet (same as the novices') lying in a corner, three blankets – blue with white patches – stacked neatly in a pile with a flat pillow on top. A poem was tacked onto the wall. The spiky handwriting read:
Is it not time
To free ourselves from the beloved
Even as we, trembling, endure the loving?
As the arrow endures the bowstring's tension
So that, released, it travels farther.
For there is nowhere to remain.
More interestingly, there was a collection of irregularly-shaped stones on the window sill, and a low-kneeling table with a stack of blank parchment and a stack of filled ones, and one very old, worn datapad. Sister Sabé saw my incredulous look at the paper.
"Ancient stuff, isn't it? You don't see much of it. But there's permanence to the feeling of ink on paper. A sense of There. I've said it."
"Is this for the Abbey, what you are writing?"
She laughed merrily, a strong laugh. "No, it's not my collected sayings and wisdom if that's what you're implying," she said, "It is my memoir – not even that. These are only notes."
She handed me a few pages.
We became good friends over that Rains Retreat, Sister Sabé and I. While I held quiet under the constraint of silence it was her company in the evenings that was my true education. Always over a cup of tea she would inspect me, and then hand me her notes, to be transcribed onto a datapad. While I typed, she wrote with furrowed brows. And as I read what was contained in these notes I could not help but be astonished at who the sister had been during her life – the people she knew, the things that she had seen and done. I resolved that once the Rains were over I would ask her all the questions about to burst from my lips.
But Sister Sabé would not see the end of that Rains Retreat alive. And the papers were only so many notes, not a narrative. She bequeathed them to me, who could not hope to do them justice – not as a speaker of the truth. So I can only tell lies, and tell her story as I envision it, from what I know of her, from what I can delve from the silences between the spaces of the world.
For a historical account of Sabé's efforts for the Rebellion during the darkest days of the Empire, the reader may go to my book A Nunnery in Ranneth: How a Rebel Base Flourished in the Heart of the Galactic Empire. But this story that you have just read, this story of lovers in a time of war, this is the story that had my heart. This is the story that must remain unfinished. For lack of time, or perhaps for the painfulness of some memories, Sister Sabé never completed her notes about the period between the Invasion of Naboo and her return to the Sisters of Ailla nearly two decades later, after which, due to her extensive participation in rebel activities, the records are restored again.
We have only the bare facts:
Though the records no longer exist, there was extensive communication and correspondence between Sabé and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the decades following their first meeting on Naboo. The correspondence ends with his disappearance at the Rise of the Galactic Empire and the execution order Sixty-six.
Following the outbreak of the war, Senator Amidala's death, and Obi-Wan's disappearance, Sabé can be found in the records of the planet Soccoro, under an alias. After settling there through connections of Dengar Duel of Coruscant, she married one of its prominent smugglers – and rebel sympathizers – Rainer Calrissian. It was said that she was a widow with one infant daughter already by the time she married Rainer. The husband of her first marriage and the parentage of her daughter remain unclear.
Rainer Calrissian and his connections were heavily involved in rebel work; nearly all of their smuggling missions went into building a rebel base in Socorro and elsewhere. Merely two years into his marriage with Sabé, he and others at their compound were attacked by the agents of the Galactic Empire. None were left alive. Sabé had been off-planet at the time, consulting with off-world clients and connections. She returned to find her home in ruins, her husband and friends dead. Her daughter, name unknown, was not listed among the dead; she went missing and was never found. Of Sabé's despair there was no account. But less than a year later she returned to the Nunnery at Ranneth, where the extremely aged Abbess Mabela passed on her title to Sabé, mere days before Mabela died.
Then, slowly, mysteriously, unthinkably, the numbers at Ranneth began to grow. No longer a Nunnery; during the Empire's rule Ranneth became a secret retreat. Those who knew of the brilliant wife of Rainer Calrissian, who spearheaded most of his operations and was tireless in her work to support the rebel cause, began sending stragglers to her. They followed a hidden beam, a homing beacon directed toward Naboo herself, so far within the Empire's grasp that it would have seemed an impossible place. But the Empire had underestimated Naboo; they never thought to look closely, among the mountain retreats of the Naboovian hermits, for a rebel hideout.
The Nunnery of Ranneth became one of the only rebel bases located within the core planets. All those who strayed too close on a mission, who found themselves stuck, had the codes and were told to go for refuge in the mountains of Naboo's outerlands. And, having landed in one of the makeshift helipads hidden among the greening hills, they would find waiting for them a tall, slim woman with closely cropped hair and a pack full of mechanical supplies, who stayed on to work on their craft even as she sent them down the river to the Nunnery itself for refreshment and sleep.
It was in this endeavor that the lovers met again, once more and only once. In the logs Sabé kept of those pilots who came to her, seeking respite, there was a brief entry under 7 BBY: Obi-Wan Kenobi, of Tatooine. Shield repairs and hyperdrive tune-up. September 4-6.
And last night, after writing this I remembered that in the days of the new Jedi Order, a woman came once, a woman with flaming red hair. I remember she walked arm in arm with Sister Sabé in the garden, weeping together. And after she left, Sister Sabé began to write.
It rained steadily and without cease for eighty days on that Rains Retreat. On the eighty-first, the sky was clear, a glowing blue. White clouds were thickly stacked, like cities upon the air, and sunlight poured down like cool water. Sister Sabé had a slight cough and so she sat outside that day by the two trees she had planted at the door of the Nunnery many years ago. Now their shade covered the sun and the sky. Even from the windows of the kitchen where I prepared the evening meal, I could see that she was smiling.
That night she died, and the pair of peregrine falcons she kept shrieked and cried from the trees outside the window, then were never seen again. The stray black Labrador that she loved huddled outside her door, whining. And I could have sworn I saw a faint blue light under the thin door, glowing nearly all of night. The next day they found Sister Sabé sitting in the posture of meditation, but with one hand extended, laid open on her right side, as if waiting for someone to take her hand.
So much of that long and rich life is lost to silence. But I wish to end with the sister's own words; a brief fragment discovered among her papers, dated in the year when Obi-Wan Kenobi returned to Naboo once more.
He said that couldn't trust anyone. Things were dangerous, secret, hidden. His very existence was a threat that must be eliminated by the Emperor, and by he who had been Anakin. But as we pulled out into the river at night on my watercraft, with the eddies falling in silent folds behind us like curtains drawing close the end of a play, I heard his breathing grow even, deep and smooth. He sliced through the surface of sleep like a blade. And I thought– silly woman that I am – that though he knew he could trust no one, knew it for an absolute fact, I was still in that circle with him, enclosed in an invisible web, even after all these years, even though we have grown old so far from one another. Still here, that bond: delicate as the gossamer web of the White Spider; stronger than chains of durasteel. For some part of him knew that it was safe here; even in these dark and hopeless days, there was safety enough to be vulnerable, to be loved, to be content, in a vessel guided by my hands as we sailed through ocean and night.