Chapter 15

Even Piell folded his arms across his chest and chuckled low in his throat. The Jedi had been given a private cabin aboard the passenger transport heading directly for Coruscant; they had departed from the Bograashi medcenter before dawn local time, and had a lengthy stretch of journey still before them. Anakin Skywalker sat across the small space, looking as tired as a young boy who had spent the last three days worrying himself sick and subsisting on nothing but cheap pre-fab food available in the bland hospital cafeteria might be expected to look. His bright blue eyes were wide open, however, with the hyper-alert brightness of an overtired child. Obi Wan, on the other hand - no doubt exhausted from the strain of shamelessly mind-tricking every doctor and clinician in the medcenter into believing that his recovery was complete and that they "should release him now," - had immediately slipped from a light meditative trance into a deep sleep within minutes of boarding. Master Piell snorted. The Temple healers would not prove such easy dupes of his cunning.

"Master Piell?" Apparently the Skywalker lad was in a mood to talk. Even wondered if he ever gave poor Obi Wan any peace.

"Vat is it, my boy?"

"I was wondering….that Togorian who attacked us. He could use the Force."

"Aye. Unpleasant fellow."

"Well, earlier – I mean before everything happened, Master said that if somebody could feel the Force but wasn't trained, then that would be a tragedy. And I can't help but wonder about that pirate. Because …maybe he was a tragedy more than a bad person."

Even nodded his head slowly. So the boy had a keen mind in there, along with all the raw talent. What a handful. "Ve aren't made bad or good by our circumstances. Dat's a matter of personal choice."

"But how could he choose to be good when the whole universe was against him?" the Padawan persisted. "If everything went wrong and he didn't ever get what he deserved, then how could anyone blame him for going bad?"

That was not a question any Temple-raised child would ask – not until one of the masters posed it to them in a senior level philosophy seminar, where it inevitably provoked outraged reactions. "Vo! You feel sorry for that scoundrel, eh?"

The boy shrugged. "I dunno. He tried to kill my master. Mostly I just hate him."

Even's eye narrowed. Skywalker was a volatile mix of the dangerous, the unexpected, and the endearing. He had been among those on the Council who voted against the boy's training in the first place….and so perhaps the Force was telling him something now. He rubbed a coarse hand over his chin, seeking guidance in the matter of an appropriate answer. "Vell. Happiness and contentment are nobody's birthright, Padavan. There's no such thing as the universe being against somevon. That's a state of mind."

"Like revenge."

"Like revenge," he agreed solemnly. "Or forgiveness, for that matter. Going bad – that happens ven a person tinks he has a right to vat is a Force-given gift. Envy. Greed. Those are powerful enemies. And our friend back there knew them both too vell."

The blonde boy finally lapsed into a thoughtful silence. Even leaned back, watching him for a few moments before closing his own eyes. Part of him was glad that the task of rearing this ingenious, mercurial, inscrutable child had fallen to Obi Wan, and not to himself. He had a feeling that were the burden his to bear, the poor boy would end up as a tragedy, despite all the benefit of his experience and patience. It would take a truly great Jedi to keep Skywalker on the right path. The Force had chosen well, even if its ways were mysterious.

Anakin Skywalker stood up straight and tall inside the turbo lift as it rapidly ascended the Jedi Temple's southern spire. He knew he was in big trouble – getting hauled in front of the Council kind of trouble – but he wouldn't let his trepidation show. Not with Master Obi Wan standing right here next to him, looking just about as serious as Anakin had ever seen him look, at least since they had officially been made teacher and student. The dreaded meeting had been delayed two days after their return to Coruscant because Master had been tied up with the healers. Anakin didn't know whether that was good or bad. Good, perhaps, because he was in no hurry to stand before the intimidating circle of senior Jedi and explain his recent misbehavior; but also bad, because the intervening time had cultivated his seeds of worry into full-blown dread.

"Uh, master?"

Obi Wan looked at him expectantly, eyebrows raised. Anakin noticed that he was discreetly holding the handrail on the lift's side, something he never ever did before. He looked mostly better, though the Force radiating around him wasn't quite as strong and warm as normal, and he had said that he couldn't spar yet for a few days.

"Will I – do I have to go talk to them alone?"

"You certainly made your decisions and took action independently, Anakin. I should think you would like to brag about your adventures alone, as well."

However, any lingering traces of illness had done nothing to blunt Master Obi Wan's cutting wit. Anakin flinched. He swallowed. The lift doors opened to admit them into the small waiting room outside the Council chamber proper. Anakin fidgeted, folded and refolded his hands inside his sleeves, tried to imitate Master's calm posture. He stared at the burnished doors ahead of them, his stomach contracting into a hard lump. Oddly enough, this had been the last thing on his mind when he had stowed away aboard Master Piell's ship all those days ago….and now he wondered how in the galaxy he had neglected to imagine the likely consequence of such bold disobedience.

"You would do well to look just a trifle beyond the present moment, Padawan," Obi Wan advised him sourly.

Anakin's mouth hardened into a pout. It wasn't fair that Master could read his thoughts so easily.

The doors opened, and they crossed over the threshold into the light-saturated chamber, its panoramic windows spilling radiance onto the inlaid mosaic floor, the Force so dense here that Anakin felt as though he were floating across the room at his master's heels, coming to a gentle halt in the very center of the space. Twelve pairs of eyes studied the pair of them critically. Anakin moved closer to Obi Wan, as though he might hide in the folds of his long earth-toned cloak.

Master Piell was here, along with Yoda and Mace Windu and all the others. You would never know Master Piell had just spent three days in Anakin's sole company, providing much needed distraction and the occasional word of comfort. Right now his drooping face gave him the appearance of a gundark that had swallowed something particularly unpleasant.

Hands found his arm and steered him forward until he was standing directly in front of his teacher, facing the Council like a firing squad. Obi Wan's hands settled on his shoulders. Would Obi Wan throw him to the wolves like a servant being handed over to the slave-masters for punishment.? He bit his lip to stop its trembling and kept his chin high. The outlines of the Jedi in the room blurred slightly, and his eyes stung.

"My masters," Obi Wan said. "I come before you to take responsibility for my Padawan's actions. His disobedience and rash behavior are entirely my fault."

Anakin's heart stopped. Had he heard right? He almost jumped out of his skin, and tried to turn around so he could get a good look at Obi Wan's face, but his master's hands held him firmly in place.

Even Piell had one foot propped up on the opposite knee. The fingers of his hands were loosely intertwined. "Master Kenobi," he growled. "Your Padavan used a mind trick on a Republic pilot, stowed avay on my ship, and defied the direct order of this Council. Dese are serious breaches of conduct. Are you saying you instructed him to act in this vay?"

Anakin could hear his mentor's soft inhalation. "By my neglect to instruct him otherwise, and perhaps by my example, I have certainly led him astray," Obi Wan said quietly.

"That's –" Anakin began, but Obi Wan's fingers dug fiercely into his shoulders, silencing him. It hurt, though, and the blurred edges of the Council members began to shimmer and shift. He didn't dare blink.

Master Yoda grumbled under his breath and Mace Windu stirred restlessly. There was a murmur of discontent, a fleeting stir of disgruntlement moving around the circle of Jedi.

"It is, of course, the master's fault if an apprentice chooses such a reckless and potentially damaging course of action," Mace Windu said heavily. "At least formally, Master Kenobi." The Korun Jedi settled back in his chair, his dark eyes sweeping over Anakin like he was a pile of poodoo and locking onto Obi Wan with a very penetrating, knowing look in their depths.

"I accept the Council's censure, and wish to correct my faults," Obi Wan insisted.

Anakin still couldn't blink. What was his master thinking? He felt very odd – his stomach was twisting horribly. He would much, much rather be in trouble himself than stand here while Obi Wan took all the blame.

Master Yoda snorted in disgust. "Very well," he grunted, his ears tweaking upward in annoyance. "The matter of discipline in Master Piell's hands, we will leave. Speak with him privately you will, Obi Wan."

"Yes, master."

Anakin spared a glance at the dwarfish Jedi, hoping to see some gleam of humor or kindness in his implacable face – but the scowl was imprinted as deeply as ever, and the one open eye gleamed with a strange light, one the boy had no hope of deciphering.

"Ve're going to have a very long talk, Obi Van," the Even Piell promised, in a baritone growl. "Dis von't happen again."

"No, master."

Anakin couldn't see anything at all now, because the whole room had smeared into a wet haze. The burn in his eyes was nearly intolerable. Finally, finally, they were making their bow. He didn't even hear the Council's curt words of dismissal. Obi Wan propelled him back through the doors, through the antechamber, and into the lift. Once safely within its confines, Anakin let the moisture fall on his face, where he could swiftly dash it away.

"Master!" he accused the older Jedi. "You lied to the Council!"

Obi Wan's eyebrows came together in a thunderous line. "Don't add disrespect to your lengthy list of misdemeanors," he warned.

Anakin flushed. "But! But! You said it was all your fault!"

"Formally, Anakin. Informally, my very young and very deluded Padawan, you are still in enormous trouble. With me."

"Oh." Anakin wasn't sure if the renewed flipping sensation in his belly was one of dread or relief. He settled on relief and buried his face in his master's tunics again, at least until the lift doors opened. Then he stepped back hastily and shoved his hands into his sleeves and froze his face into a perfect expression of Jedi calm.

Obi Wan led the way out, and he followed docilely, happy that the galaxy had been restored to some semblance of order. Though he knew he would never quite be the same after this, he also knew that some things were as unchanging and reliable as time itself.

That was some consolation.

The epic ker-tarwei composed in honor of the notorious warlord Gherru Rhak'an ended in several different ways, depending on the particular bard who recited them. The circumstances of the great warrior's death were shrouded in mystery, and so the imagination of his vassals and his envious rivals filled in the details. According to one account, the mightiest of Togorians ever to live disappeared into the prama itself, leaving behind no corpse, a testament to a power beyond imagining. In another version of the tale, he was assaulted by one hundred Jedi warriors who ambushed him and set upon him in traitorous fashion, managing at last to fell him with many grievous blows after he had decimated their ranks. In yet another popular recounting of his life, Rhak'an still wandered as a ghost on the outer fringes of the Rims, plundering and raiding to his heart's content. And in a more historically accurate version propagated by his immediate successor, he went to hunt down his escaped Jedi prisoner and met a bitter and dishonored death upon the sorcerer's blade. There was no way to know which if any of these tales was true; and it mattered little, for those who rose to power in the aftermath of his tyrannical reign knew little of prama and cared nothing for its intracacies. For them, his death was a mere curiosity, and a convenient beginning to their own story. And, in the end, this was perhaps the best and the truest conclusion there could be. After all, the ways of prama were, indeed, mysterious.