The dojo was no refuge.
"Not like that, Anakin. You're leaving too much space for an opponent to come under your guard. The blade comes here- right next to your body. Sweep straight, not out, like this."
"But…won't I cut off my own head if I do that?"
Obi Wan snorted. "First rule of lightsaber training: do not hit yourself."
"I thought it was do not fall down," the young Padawan grinned.
"That would be good, too, yes."
They both turned as the far doors opened to admit a newcomer – Jorus C'Baoth. He had discarded his robe in the anteroom and held a training saber loosely in his right hand.
Obi Wan bowed, stiffly. "I am sorry, master. This salle is not available at present."
C'Baoth smiled grimly. "I know that," he replied. "I would be honored if you would allow me to practice with you, Master Kenobi. Yoda holds you in such high esteem…as a swordsman." There was the slightest emphasis on the last phrase.
"Alas, I am occupied with my Padawan at present. Perhaps on another occasion? As you say, it would be an honor." Obi Wan was not about to rise to the bait. How often as a youngling had he been reprimanded for taking out personal tensions within the confines of the dojo? Such behavior was highly reprehensible.
But C'Baoth was nothing if not overbearing. He turned to Anakin, indulgently. "I am sure this young man would benefit immensely from a display of advanced techniques. How would you enjoy a demonstration, Padawan?"
The boy looked form his teacher to the silver haired master and back again, clearly torn between loyalty and curiosity.
"Good," C'Baoth declared. "Stand over there – against that wall – and don't get in the way." He ignited his own weapon and made a formal salute to Obi Wan, who remained motionless, not returning the gesture, his own saber powered down. Anakin skittered away to the corner of the room, eyes wide and wary.
"Master C'Ba'oth," Obi Wan began firmly.
But the older Jedi had sprung into motion, into an attack, one it would be difficult to dodge. Without thinking, before he could think about thinking, Obi Wan's saber was ignited and sweeping into a parry. The two blades sizzled as they slammed together, and the loud buzz echoed off the walls and smooth floor.
And that was all the more reason he needed. In an instant they were fully engaged, fighting hard in Form IV, a difficult and beautiful discipline which focused on the use of concentrated power, subtle enhancement of skill with the Force. This was no practice session, obviously. C'Baoth was determined to display the full extent of his strength and skill – and not just to Anakin. Obi Wan felt himself slip into the tension of the moment, into full combat mode. He answered C'Baoth's display with his own, relying on speed and accuracy to compensate for his towering opponent's sheer size and height.
A few hard minutes later, C'Baoth finally scored the hit he wanted – a grazing strike across his opponent's left shoulder. Not more than a scratch in real combat, but by the rules of scrimmage, enough to count as a hit. They stepped apart, heartbeats and breath quickened.
"Thank you," Obi Wan said, adding the requisite bow. He switched off the training saber.
"Now, now," C'Baoth protested, casting a quick glance at Anakin, watching awestruck in the far corner. "That hardly counts as a hit. A lucky accident, I would say." His eyes were dark and glittering. The contest had been too even for his taste; though he had managed to land the first blow, it had been nothing serious, and their skills had appeared for the most part evenly matched. He wished for a more emphatic testament to his superiority.
Obi Wan stood immobile. "Not at all," he said, voice low and controlled. "I am sure you have other matters to attend to, master."
C'Baoth raised both eyebrows. "You wish to set an example of timidity to your student?" he asked, disapproval and contempt ringing in his deep voice.
Anakin's face went still.
"Best two of three," the Jedi master continued, raising his blade into ready position once more.
Obi Wan looked at Anakin. Seeds of doubt flickered behind the boy's eyes. Blast it. What would Qui Gon have done in this situation? Walk away? Use diplomacy? Argue? Or let the arrogant, aggressive Jedi standing before him stumble on his own overconfidence?
He saluted, and they began the next bout, harder, faster, more intent than before. C'Baoth fell upon the younger Jedi like a lightning storm, raining down blows from every direction and forcing a steady retreat backward to the wall. Obi Wan let him come, blocking, parrying, and evading, inviting further and further extension, more furious energy. C'Baoth lunged, leapt, struck and Force-pushed, to no avail. His desire to teach a lesson to the young Knight who had publicly defied his wishes sharpened to a painful intensity.
Obi Wan struck, backflipping away form a high blow and landing in a crouch, cutting at C'Baoth's legs and burning a line across both the older Jedi's shins. The strike would have taken off both legs had the sabers been real weapons and not low-powered training versions.
C'baoth stumbled back in surprise. His brow furrowed into many deep grooves. Anakin whistled under his breath somewhere behind them. A warm flash of admiration swept through the Force. The corner of Obi Wan's mouth tweaked upward.
"Best two of three," C'Baoth repeated, striking down almost immediately, without warning or salute. Obi Wan had to roll to evade the hit, and then defend himself from a blinding series of attacks aimed at his head and shoulders. He found his feet eventually, and retreated again, still working to regain perfect balance, stepping backward slowly…
..until he hit the wall. C'Baoth leapt in ferociously, seizing the younger Jedi's sword arm wrist in a crushing grip and pinning it against the wall. Obi Wan in turn gripped C'Baoth's right arm with his free hand. They grappled, both calling on the Force. C'Baoth slowly pushed his blade closer and closer, forcing the burning line of light toward his opponent's neck. There was no escaping the powerful Jedi's crushing grip. Obi Wan summoned his saber out of his right hand into his left, releasing his own hold on C'Baoth's sword arm and ducking aside in the same spilt second. C'Baoth's saber slammed into the wall behind them, leaving a scorch mark on the smooth white surface. Obi Wan twisted, reversed his grip and caught his foe's arm on the inside with his blade.
C'Baoth let out his breath in a hiss. "Well done," he admitted. Then, without warning, he flicked his still-live blade to the side, planting the burning line across Obi Wan's open right palm, still pinned against the wall by the silver haired Jedi's unrelenting grip.
Anakin gasped aloud.
The two Jedi fell apart. C'Baoth shut down his training saber and bowed. Obi Wan stepped shakily away from the wall and switched off his own weapon, mouth set in a hard line. His bow was much abbreviated. Master Jorus C'Baoth swept his imperious gaze over master and Padawan, bushy eyebrows drawn together in a single imposing line. He turned, long hair brushing over his wide shoulders, and strode out of the room at a furious pace.
Anakin ran over to his teacher. "Master! Are you all right? Your hand!"
"It's nothing a little bacta won't mend," Obi Wan said tightly. His eyes rested on the doorway through which Master C'Baoth had just retreated.
"What was that all about?" Anakin asked in a hushed tone.
But he got no answer.
"Master? You summoned me?"
Yoda turned halfway round on his meditation pad and motioned the visitor to sit opposite him. Obi Wan crossed the small chamber's floor, patterned with light and shadow cast by the partially blinded windows, and folded himself onto the flat circular cushion. Outside, the endless streams of traffic wove a tapestry of light across the indigo blue of the night sky.
"Meditated on this request of Master C'Baoth's, I have," the ancient Jedi stated without preamble. "Most unusual it is."
"Most unusual young Skywalker is also," Yoda added, hands folded thoughtfully.
"Indeed." Obi Wan watched the small, wrinkled and white haired Jedi master carefully. Yoda's eyes gave nothing away; his expression was as inscrutable as ever. "Does my statement to the Council displease you, master?" he said, surprising himself with his own daring.
Yoda broke into a long wheezing chuckle. "Easy to displease is old Yoda," he chortled. "Worry not about that, should you."
Obi Wan looked down at his own hands, folded in his lap. He did worry about it, nonetheless. Yoda had taught him as a toddler and youngling, had taken a special interest in him all his life, had been a source of counsel and comfort since Qui Gon's death. How could he not care about the ancient and wise Jedi's opinion?
"Hhhhmmmph," Yoda snorted. "Your lightsaber show me."
What? Silently he unclipped the weapon from his belt and held it out. Yoda used the Force to lift it from his outstretched hand and levitate it into his own gnarled fingers. As he did so, his keen eyes flashed over the younger Jedi's open palm.
"What is this, eh?" he demanded, catching sight of the not-quite-healed burn, the line of scarlet and white left by C'Baoth's training saber earlier that day.
"A saber mishap, master. Nothing of importance."
Yoda eyed him curiously. "An old custom it was, centuries ago, to strike with a saber the hand of one who flagrant disrespect showed to his superiors. A warning, that he who does not learn with humility, burned shall be by his own actions. Such punishments- no longer deemed appropriate are they."
Obi Wan felt his face color. So C'Baoth had been making a point, had he? More of a point than he had initially guessed. "I did not know that," he answered flatly, closing his hand and looking instead at the saber he had given to Yoda for inspection.
The old Jedi grunted. "Qui Gon Jinn's saber, this was," he noted.
"Yes, master. I have carried it since Theed."
"Defeated Darth Maul with this weapon, you did."
Yoda turned the beautiful artifact over and over, running a clawed finger along its polished hilt, its smooth pommel. "Carried this with honor, you have. Now is the time to let it go. Build your own again, you must."
Obi Wan took a breath, caught off guard.
"Yes," Yoda agreed with himself, on the other Jedi's behalf. "Yes. To Ilum you will go. Find a new crystal there. Build a new saber you must, of your own design."
"I – but master, I cannot take my Padawan to Ilum. He is not yet ready to –"
"Know this I do. Take another Jedi to Ilum with you, yes. Choose someone to accompany you. Your Padawan safe here in the Temple will be."
A thread of suspicion ran through his mind, as swift and fleeting as a water snake breaking the surface of a pond. "Who will oversee his training? I might be gone a few days."
Yoda's eyes narrowed. "Master C'Baoth an opportunity to train with your Padawan desires. Have it, he shall, in your absence."
Obi Wan's back went rigid. "Master!" he objected. Yoda was sending him to Ilum to get him out of the way while Jorus C'Baoth made a move to take over Anakin's education himself? Had Yoda decided that the old, imperious Jedi master had been right: that Obi Wan was too young, too inexperienced, too weak in the Force, too unreliable to accomplish the task?
Yoda watched him, with no apparent sympathy. "Do this you must, Obi Wan," he said severely. "Now."
"Yes, master." He bowed his head, knowing that it was useless to hide his sense of defeat and shame from the ancient master, but wishing to preserve a semblance of calm. "I will go first thing in the morning. But, may I ask….is this a trial period? Is Master C'Baoth to have a chance to make the arrangement permanent?"
"Hm. A trial period, yes. Very perceptive that is," Yoda mused.
"I am truly sorry, master. I –"
"No!" Yoda huffed, grumpily. "Enough apology. Already made one without due cause, you have. Compound not that error with another."
He left feeling stunned and confused – a common enough state of mind after an interview with the ancient master, but still an unpleasant one. Was he under censure or not? Was his apology to the Council earlier unnecessary? What did that imply? But then, why was C'Baoth being given this chance to have what he wanted, a trial run with Anakin? What had motivated Yoda's sudden decision to sever his last material attachment to Qui Gon? And whose trial was this to be, anyhow?
Suddenly miserably aware that his hand was still throbbing painfully and that he was bone weary, in body and mind, he made his way in a daze to his own quarters – and slept dreamlessly until morning.