Archive: Ask me, please. Just so I know where it's going. :)
Disclaimer: I'm not making any profit off of this story; Star Wars and anything recognizable belongs to George Lucas, I guess.
I deal in books. Not your typical, run-of-the-mill data readers, mind you, but real books, the hardcover kind with pages that turn under your fingers and tickle your senses with either the smell of newness or the musty odor of a title that's been shelved for awhile. I'm also a writer, but I'm not a very good writer so we won't go there.
I own a little bookstore on a tiny side street in Atha, a bustling city near Atho's only major spaceport. Atho itself is an out of the way type of planet, but with scenery you wouldn't believe. Rolling green hills, fog-shrouded highlands – the entire planet is a lush emerald hue spotted over with deep blue lakes. Many was the day I'd closed down my small shop and taken a stack of books into the highlands
to read the day away. I'm my best customer.
Now, that's not to say that books are totally a thing of the past, but there just isn't much of a market for them here – or any place even remotely technologically advanced. Not with data readers being so efficient; but like I said, we are next to a busy spaceport, and a lot of Coruscant wealthy people come to Atha to vacation or practice their folg game. So, besides me, my customers consist mainly of the
intellectual crowd or senators who think a few hardcovers might look good on a shelf the next time the Supreme Chancellor comes calling. And there are a few – but not many – loyal customers who make keeping my tiny shop open worth the while and supply the
few credits it takes to keep the lights on.
So one day I was sitting behind the register counter working on my novel. As I said, I'm not a very good writer, but one of these days I'll have a whole series to put on my shelves and I'll be fabulously wealthy and married to the man of my dreams who will read to me in that soft, rolling voice and will pretend that he actually likes my novels. That'd be good.
But I hadn't gotten very far on my maiden novel – in fact, I was still assembling my cast of characters. All the little details had to be in place before I could start writing, and I was having a lot of trouble coming up with names for my dramatis personae. I had once heard that – as weird and morbid as it may sound – death records were a good place to find names, so I had the daily paper loaded into my data reader and was scrolling through the obituaries scanning for names that just jumped out at me. So far, no luck. "Lapuerta, Calios?" I tried it aloud. Hmm, no. "Kalen, Pati?" Perhaps the Kalen part. I made a notation with the stylus.
The door chimes sounded suddenly, and startled, I nearly dropped the reader. A customer?
Indeed. And quite a customer, too, once he pulled off the hood that obscured his face. Humanoid, tall, and well built, with sharp, leonine features that suggested this was not a man to be trifled with – and yet, I felt completely safe with him. I placed his Standard age quite near mine. Grey-streaked mahogany hair framed his intense gaze, and I found his demeanor to be tired, sad, and desperate all at once.
"I'm looking for a book." He stated his mission without preamble, but he said it in the apologetic way that one uses when they absolutely have no time for normal pleasantries but would use them if they could.
I put my data reader aside. "I'm Kepi, proprietress, clerk, and office help. If it's here, I'll know."
He smiled at that, and though it didn't touch the heartache in his cobalt eyes, I could sense his gratitude. He handed me a slip of paper upon which had been scribbled a title with the author's name. I frowned. It was a book I was unfamiliar with.
"I'm sorry," I said, and I truly meant it. "I don't have it."
I wondered then if I had just personally re-broken the man's heart. He stumbled a little and leaned a hand against the counter to brace himself, and when he looked at me again, his eyes were awash in tears. "I have to go," he said abruptly, and I was surprised to see an emotion in his face that hadn't been there before: fear. It seemed that all of the life had been sucked out of him in that moment.
"Wait!" My hand darted out and snagged the one he was just pulling away from the counter. "I – I can try to get it for you, if you'd like," I offered hastily. "I know people who … or I could order it … " I trailed off somewhat sheepishly as I realized I still had his hand in a death grip. "It could be here in a couple of days," I finished, somewhat subdued. He turned back to look at me, and the gratefulness in his eyes was measure enough to inspire me to action.
"Ma'am, I couldn't thank you enough if you could do that. It's for … " he hesitated, "someone very important to me."
I could tell he was still in a hurry to leave, so I procured from him his name and the address of where he was staying so I could notify him when the book had arrived. He handed me a credit chip and disappeared out the door. Resettling myself at the computer, I first made a note of the order – "Jinn – Draigonslayer," and then I set to work actually locating the title. It took me nearly an hour of searching, manipulating, and outright wheedling, but I managed to get a copy of the old book ordered for a low price and a promise of delivery within three days. Something about Jinn's demeanor had encouraged me to take a slightly higher price on the book to have it delivered faster.
The book was waiting for me two days later when I arrived in the morning to open the shop. I set it on the counter as I wandered around, turning on lights and flicking dust off of the shelves. This was actually my favorite part about owning a bookstore: roaming the aisles, just breathing in the scent of books. When I returned to the counter, I pulled up Jinn's order and took note of the address. He'd left a number as well, but when I commed to let him know the book was in, I was greeted by a recording informing me that he was currently out. I disconnected the call.
The day seemed to drag on with no one in or out, so about midday I decided to close up and literally head for hills to do some reading. I tried to comm Jinn again, but was once more met with a recording. The address, however, was located on a street that was just a slight detour from my usual route to the highlands, so I took Jinn's book along with my own with the intention of dropping it in his mail slot.
The sun was still high in the sky and the air was warm and invigorating so I decided to walk. The scribbled address led me to a tiny block of housing nestled at the base of the hills – it was an incredibly beautiful area, and I was momentarily envious of the beings fortunate enough to live in that place. It was one of Atha's wealthier urban areas.
The house itself was neat and well tended, if a little small. I pressed the chime and the door slid open, revealing a small hallway with doors leading off both sides. There wasn't a table upon which to lay the hardcover, and the door had been opened, so I followed the short hall to a modestly decorated, brilliantly sunlit front room. The soft white of the walls and furniture bathed in the light gave the room a warm glow that was immediately inviting.
I peered into the room hesitantly, nearly dropping Jinn's book in startled surprise when I was greeted with a quiet "hello."
I didn't mean to gasp, but I know the individual who watched me with knowing eyes had heard the horrified breath that left my mouth and hung in the stillness of the room. I hadn't realized that this stately room was being used as an infirmary.
He was curled in one of the large, plush chairs by the immense picture window that gazed out upon the mountains, and covered by a thick, warm-looking throw despite the warmth in the room. Medical tubing ran from his left wrist to an intravenous feed that was attached to a monitor behind his chair and the sophisticated medical equipment neatly stowed beside it slowly tracked his vital signs. He himself was quiet, but he had a resigned air about him that I had come to know quite well the year the Gevenian Plague had swept our city and resulted in a temporary quarantine of our planet.
Staring at him, I was certain that my heart had lodged painfully somewhere between my ribs and my throat, and I blinked back the emotion that swelled in my eyes as I realized something: he was dying. This room wasn't a hospital – it was a hospice.
His face scrunched in an embarrassed, unhappy frown. "I'm so sorry," he apologized, chagrined, and though his voice was whisper thin, it still carried undercurrents of melody and strength. "I – I thought you were someone else. I couldn't tell …" He seemed particularly distressed by that last, though I didn't know why.
"I own a bookstore," I said slowly. "I've, um, brought a book for Master Jinn, that he requested. I'm sorry to have disturbed you," I felt compelled to add, but his face lit up at the mention of the book and he lifted a pale, disease-spotted hand and waved me in eagerly. I obeyed unthinkingly, struck by the tragic beauty that was still possessed by a bright spirit encased in a crippled, dying body. He must have at one time been strikingly attractive, for everything from the high forehead to the cleft chin seemed perfectly proportioned, and his glowing eyes, shining in their obvious blindness, were an entrancing mixture of blue and grey and green and everything lovely I'd ever imagined. Short ginger hair tapered gently into a scraping of afternoon stubble, and an odd, trailing braid sloped over his right shoulder and lay across his chest. I put him around twenty-five standard years – far too young to be preparing to leave this life.
"He's out at the moment, but he should be back soon. May I have the book?" he asked gently, and hastened to add, "It's all right. To come in, I mean. I'm not contagious or anything. It's, um, hereditary."
"That's all right," I replied, and it truly was. There was something about his nature, something quiet and tender that was so rarely discovered in a galaxy that these days was fraught with the stirrings of war and greed, that I realized that even had I been at risk around this young man, I would have chanced it anyway. And I hadn't known him more than two Standard minutes. I shook my head with a short laugh. Perhaps I was just a fool of an old woman longing for the days of chivalry and brave knights that I had read about so many times. "Of course you may see it."
I approached him with the book and he slowly and delicately uncurled himself from the chair and stretched out slender, grasping fingers, which I caught and, ignoring the raised red inflammation that skittered across the back of his hand, carefully guided to the hardcover and closed his hands about it.
"Thank you," he breathed as his long fingers gracefully turned the slim volume. He looked toward me with a question that died on his lips as he somehow picked up on the utter pity and near-antipathy I was contemplating his state with. His mouth tightened into a narrow, humiliated line and I realized with a flash of insight that he must have at one time been a proud, confident young man. I was instantly mortified.
"I'm so very sorry," I apologized, laying a hand against his cheek. He looked startled at first, but a frail smile graced his wan features. "Please forgive my rudeness. Not only have I intruded upon you, I have also displayed very discourteous behavior and I would ask your forgiveness."
"Lady, no apology is necessary," he demurred kindly. "I've been told that I'm not exactly … pleasant to look at just now." His mouth twisted again into a harsh, mocking smile that had a fatalistic tint to it, and I knew that I couldn't allow that. Not after the mistake I'd just made.
"That's enough of that, young man," I said firmly, taking hold of the trailing braid and giving it a light yank. "Don't be taking blame upon yourself for an old lady's faults, do you understand?"
His eyes widened and the self-degrading sneer dissolved into an 'o' of surprise as his mouth rounded in sudden astonishment. He laughed unexpectedly, and it was a beautiful sound that was undercut with sorrow and heartache and pain of loss.
"Thank you," he managed after a moment, and his bright eyes glimmered with a sheen of tears that brimmed on the long lashes but didn't fall. "No one has done that in ages."
"Done what?" I asked, somewhat confused. "Scolded you?"
"No. Pulled my braid," he clarified, and the light in his eyes danced. "I used to get in trouble rather frequently and a good yank was the preferred method of punishment. But that's not been in quite awhile," he sighed. "Perhaps they think I'll break."
I still didn't know what illness he was afflicted with, but I wasn't sure I wanted to find out. "And will you?" I ventured cautiously.
"No," he replied mechanically. "I've got a little time yet," he answered in response to my unspoken question. "Not too much, but a little."
Silence hung heavy in the room after that as I pondered what it would be like to face your approaching mortality with such a calm grace as this young one bore.
Abruptly, his face contorted and he gasped faintly. Concerned, I put my own stack of books down on a low table beside the couch, nudging aside a cluster of medication bottles to make room for the novels. Then I knelt beside his chair, placing a hand against his warm forehead. "What can I do for you?" I asked, trying to quell the panic in my throat and keep my voice level. He shook his head and his eyes remained closed as he slowly battled the anguish that his stricken body besieged him with. Not knowing what else to do, I gently stroked the side of his face and down the long braid. After what seemed like an eternity, the lines in his face eased and he slumped wearily against the thick cushions.
"I'm okay now," he murmured hoarsely, and his sightless eyes slowly opened. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, young one," I replied quietly, continuing to brush through his short hair. Suddenly the thought of an afternoon of reading seemed repugnant in the face of leaving this young man alone in his ill state. Where was Jinn?
"He'll be back soon," I was assured, and I was so relieved to see a little color already returning to his pale face that it didn't register to me that he had effectively read my thoughts. "Especially so, now."
"Would you like me to stay with you until he comes?" I offered, though of course I would anyway.
He allowed a tiny half-smile. "I wouldn't want to be a bother to you, ma'am."
I scoffed at that. "I wouldn't worry about that, young one." We sat in a companionable silence for a few minutes, he evidently intent on gathering his strength, and me trying to think of something to fill the companionable silence. "Is the book for you, then?" I finally asked.
His brow scrunched in an incredibly adorable way. I smiled. "I think so," he answered hesitantly. "What's the title, please?"
"It's actually a children's novel. It's called, "The Draigonslayer, and other tales"."
A smile broke across his face, so pleased that I immediately felt guilty for inadvertently denying Jinn the opportunity to deliver this evidently much-prized possession.
"Yes, it's for me, I think," he said delightedly. "I used to own a copy – a real book copy – of this when I was a child. It was my favorite book, all about heroic knights and brave deeds; I would spend hours upon end buried in it. He remembered."
"Yes, I did," spoke a voice from behind me, and I didn't have to turn to know Jinn was standing there. That accent was unmistakable. I hadn't heard the door, but I hoped he'd been there long enough to see the joy on the young one's face. A large hand touched my shoulder with surprising softness. "Thank you, Mistress Kepi, for delivering the book."
I turned to face him and was unsurprised to see the emotions he had borne previously – pain, sadness, and fear – still etched into his lined face, but there was a quiet calm in his nature that I suspected had to do with the presence of the young man whose upturned face had focused blindly on Jinn's voice and the fact that the young man was evidently successfully past his latest struggle with his rebelling body.
"That's all right," I allowed a smile. "But I should be going." I could tell that I was now unnecessary to the situation and reached out a hand to grasp the young man's fingers in a goodbye. "Thank you, young one, for allowing me to be with you today."
He smiled, and I tried to commit it to memory. "Ma'am, thank you, for the book and the company."
"Goodbye, young one." I touched his cheek, offered Jinn a smile, and retrieved my small stack of books from the end table. By now there wasn't much daylight left for reading … but that was all right.
As I left, a brief conversation ensued between the two and just before I passed out of hearing, there was a rustling of paper and Jinn began speaking in a low, mellow tone. I realized that he was reading aloud from the book. I paused in the hallway, listening.
"A long time ago, in the days of knights and draigons, there was a young boy who wanted nothing more than to grow up and be a knight one day." Jinn's voice cracked and I swallowed hard, but there was a murmur from the young one and Jinn began reading again. "The boy was loyal and brave and true, but he despaired of ever becoming a knight because he was an orphan and there was no one to take care of him and teach him how to be a knight … "
I glanced back for a moment. Jinn, his strong, proud features etched in grief and pain, sat in front of the chair with tears streaking down his cheeks as he read a child's book to a young man whose name I didn't and would never know, who was far too old for such things but listening with a small smile on his drawn face and even mouthing the words as Jinn read. His bright blue eyes glittered and he was crying, too, quietly, and his hand rested on Jinn's shoulder with one of Jinn's larger ones covering it protectively and hiding the diseased skin from my view.
Father and son, I realized, and Jinn, without pausing in his reading, looked up at me with a small, secret smile that confirmed my unvoiced observation. Without thinking, I brought a hand up to my right ear and made a tugging motion. Jinn looked confused for a moment, but a light dawned in his eyes and during the next sentence about the young boy's dreams to be a knight, he reached up and lightly pulled the young man's braid. The young man's eyes lit up as he grinned, elated, and Jinn whispered something too low for me to catch, though it made the young man's smile widen and the two shared a quiet laugh.
I gave Jinn a final smile before I left.
Some weeks later, I was sitting in my shop, reflecting over Jinn and his son. I had to push the thought of them aside though, because recalling those expressive, laughing, unseeing eyes never failed to bring a hint of sadness to my own. The boy was a knight for our times – and Jinn as well.
I pulled out my data reader because I hoped that working on my novel would direct my attention onto other things. I'd not gotten any farther on my cast of characters, but that was all right because a new story had implanted itself in my mind. As I said, I'm really not a very good writer, but now I had an idea. The obituary notices were, as usual, the first thing I turned to. I'd not made it very far down the list when I stopped to stretch the kinks out of my old bones.
A figure walking down the street happened to catch my eye. He was as tall as Jinn had been, but a heavy brown cloak enshrouded him so I couldn't tell anything more about him. What netted my attention was the way he walked, as if his whole universe had come crushing down on him and he had absolutely no idea where he was going or what he was doing. My heart went out to him, but he soon trudged out of my line of sight and I returned to my scrolling.
A name jumped out at me. It was a weird, off-worlder type of name, but it was perfect for my new story. I'd have to change a few letters so I wouldn't feel like I was blatantly stealing someone's name, but "Kenobi, Obi-Wan," fit absolutely perfectly.
I took out my stylus and began to write a story … about a young knight with eyes the color of the sea, his loving father, and a draigon.