The marketplace in the city of Bandor was bustling as Obi-Wan Kenobi strode through it. He would have liked to stop and buy a piece of muja fruit, but Qui-Gon Jinn's steps never flagged. Obi-Wan's master moved through the crowded streets with movements as fluid as a river. Without seeming to dodge or weave, he created a path with the least amount of energy. Obi-Wan felt like a clumsy sandcrawler next to a graceful starfighter.
He was careful to keep up. He was about to leave on his first official mission with Qui-Gon. The Jedi Knight had been reluctant to take Obi-Wan as his apprentice. Even though they had been through battles and adventures together, Qui-Gon had been hesitant. Only with their last adventure, facing death deep in the mining tunnels of Bandor together, had Qui-Gon made the decision to accept him as his apprentice.
Obi-Wan was still unsure of his master's feelings about him. Qui-Gon was a quiet man who didn't share his thoughts until necessary. Obi-Wan knew little about the mission ahead. He would have to find the patience to wait until Qui-Gon told him the details. Meanwhile, he had a crucial question burning on his lips, one that he did not dare ask: Did Qui-Gon know that today was his birthday?
Today he was thirteen. This birthday was an important occasion for a Jedi apprentice. He was now officially a Padawan. Traditionally, this birthday was not marked by a celebration, but observed quietly, with reflection and meditation. Obi-Wan was aware that as a part of the tradition he would receive a meaningful gift from his Master.
Qui-Gon had not mentioned it this morning. Not as they ate, or prepared for the journey, or walked to the landing platform. Qui-Gon had barely spoken three words. Had he forgotten? Did he know? Obi-Wan was longing to remind Qui-Gon, but their realtionship was too new. He wouldn't want his master to think of him as greedy or self-important, or even worse, a nag.
Surely Yoda would have told Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan knew that the two Jedi Masters were in constant contact. Or perhaps the mission ahead was so important that Yoda had forgotten, too.
They skirted the last vendor, cut down an alleyway, and arrived at the landing platform. The Governor of Bandomeer had arranged a transport for them in gratitude for their work. She'd found a small trading vessel willing to take them on a journey to the planet of Gala. Obi-Wan knew that once they got on the ship, the talk would center on the mission ahead. Should he tell Qui-Gon it was his birthday now?
Ahead, a tall, gangly pilot loaded transport boxes onto his ship. Obi-Wan recognized the long, flexible arms of the Phindar. Obi-Wan quickened his pace to reach him, but Qui-Gon put a hand on his shoulder.
"Close your eyes, Obi-Wan," he instructed.
Obi-Wan groaned inwardly. Not now! he begged. He knew that Qui-Gon was about to drill him on a classic Jedi exercise: Attention to the Moment Gives Knowledge. At the Temple, Obi-Wan had always done well with exercise. But he'd been distracted this morning, and could barely remember anything except his own birthday.
"What do you see?" Qui-Gon asked.
Eyes closed, Obi-Wan gathered his thoughts as though they had been feathers in a windstorm. He plucked observations out of the air, remembering things his eyes had registered but his mind had not.
"Small transport ship with one deep scratch in right flank, several dents on underside of cockpit. Phindian pilot with flight cap, goggles, and dirty fingernails. Twelve cargo boxes ready to be loaded, one flight bag, one medpac..."
"The hangar," Qui-Gon prompted gently.
"Old stone overhang with three docking bays. Cracks running vertically down the stone, a green vine trying to grow three meters down from the ceiling on the left, with one purple flower four meters down -"
"Six meters," Qui-Gon corrected sternly. "Open your eyes, Obi-Wan."
His eyes flew open. Qui-Gon's piercing blue gaze studied him, making him feel, as always, as though his lightsaber was dragging on the ground, or his tunic was stained.
"Are you distracted by something, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked.
"My first official mission, Master," Obi-wan said. "I want to do well."
"You will do what you will do," Qui-Gon responded neutrally. He waited, his eyes never leaving Obi-Wan's face. It was forbidden for an apprentice to lie to a Master, to conceal the truth, or even shade it.
Obi-Wan willed his feet not to shift and his eyes to remain steady on Qui-Gon's. "Perhaps I'm distracted by something more personal, Master."
A gleam of amusement suddenly lit Qui-Gon's eyes. "Ah. A birthday perhaps?"
Obi-wan nodded, a grin escaping.
"You would be expecting your gift, then." Qui-Gon frowned. He had forgotten, after all! But after only a moment, he reached into the pocket of his tunic. His large, strong hand emerged, concealing something hidden in his palm.
Obi-wan stared expectantly. Masters usually thought for weeks or months about their gifts, often traveling to far reaches for a healing crystal, or a blanket or cloak from the weavers of the planet Pasmin, who wove garments of great warmth out of material so fine it was almost weightless.
Qui-Gon pressed a smooth, round stone into Obi-Wan's hand.
"I found it years ago," Qui-Gon explained. "When I was no older than you are now."
Politely, Obi-Wan stared at the stone. Did it contain some sort of power?
"I found it in the River of Light on my home planet," Qui-Gon continued.
And? Obi-Wan wondered. But Qui-Gon was silent. Obi-Wan realized that the present his Master had given him was exactly what it appeared to be: a rock.
Qui-Gon was no ordinary Master. Obi-Wan knew that. So he looked at the present again. His fingers closed around the stone. It felt smooth and polished. He liked the way it felt in his hand. And when the sunlight hit it, he could see deep red streaks running through the shiny blackness. It was beautiful, he realized.
He met Qui-Gon's eyes. "Thank you, Master. I will treasure it."
"And did you complete the Padawan birthday ritual?" Qui-Gon asked. Only by remembering the past are we able to learn from the present."
On his or her thirteenth birthday, each Padawan must take a quiet time for reflection. Both good and bad memories must be consulted and meditated on.
"I have not had time, Master," Obi-Wan admitted. His mission on Bandomeer had been full of dangers - he had been kidnapped and marooned on a mining platform, among other things. Qui-Gon knew he had not time. Why was he asking?
"Yes, time is elusive," Qui-Gon said, unmoved. "But it is best to track it down. Come, the pilot is waiting."
Obi-Wan trailed after Qui-Gon, fighting off a feeling of hopelessness. Would he ever please his new Master? Just when he felt Qui-Gon had given him the strong base of his trust, he found himself hanging free. Now he realized that the only thing Qui-Gon had ever truly given was a rock.