Chapter 5: Right Choices
Against their master's wishes, the teenaged trainees of Master Binjin's school had already begun to spar with one another. Little Ashi kept working with the training statue, scared of the bigger boys who were beating on each other.
“Hey! What about the runt?” a boy yelled out.
Several of the guys stopped their sparring and came over to Ashi. He tried to ignore them, but they were getting closer.
The guys were old enough to have half of their manes already, which was about the age when they used their hormones to think with instead of their brains. One reached out and caught the small staff that Ashi was swinging and pulled it right of his hands.
“Hey! That's mine!” Ashi jumped up after his staff but wasn't tall enough to reach it.
The boy who took the staff shoved him over. “Don't you know that age means rank in this school? I've been training for six years. You don't talk back to me like that.”
Ashi snarled at him with his tiny fangs. They laughed at this, which made him all the angrier.
“Ooh, better give it back to him. He might bite,” another boy stated mockingly.
“Alright.” He tossed the staff back to the child, “How about showing me why Master is suddenly so happy with you. You're supposed to be so good after only one week.” He pushed Ashi into the sparring circle and picked up a full sized staff.
Ashi was so scared he just closed up and held his arms against himself. He wanted Master Binjin to get back here right now and stop this. Suddenly there came a sharp sting against his shoulder and he looked to see that the boy had hit him, not too hard, but enough to hurt.
“Come on, cub, fight! I'm not letting you go until you fight back.” He swung again and hit Ashi's other shoulder. “Come on!”
* * * * *
Binjin and Yoda arrived at the back of the school to see this impromptu sparring match. He watched the boy hit Ashi on the shoulder once more. Then the teenager went for Ashi's head. Ashi managed to deflect this strike. Ashi stumbled and looked scared, but he executed the deflection just right. A second time he did this and kept himself out of harm’s way. He did not lash out at the brash older boy, only protected himself.
The older boy got mad, as did his best friend. Now two older boys were swinging at Ashi. He deflected two blows and then dropped to the ground to dodge another. Ashi found himself curled up in a ball, scared out of his wits.
Now the two older boys were going to give Ashi something to be scared of. He was actually good and that made them furious. He was supposed to be pathetic. They both swung down but found their staffs frozen in place, inches from Ashi's quivering little body. They were also frozen in place, unable to move.
Yoda had an outstretched hand and closed eyes, “Behave with honor, you do not. Fight one your own size, you should.” He chortled at this. “Retrieve the youngling, you should,” Yoda commanded Binjin.
Binjin took the cue and marched over to his students. He picked up the terrified little Ashi and set him back on his feet. Yoda released the two boys and they struck the ground with the same energy they were about to expend mauling a five-year-old child.
Binjin turned around and yelled, “Heska! Yorin! Inside, now!”
The older boys ran for the school house, now terrified themselves.
Binjin unfurled the curled up Ashi and looked into his trembling face, “It's okay, Ashi. It's okay. They aren't going to hurt you. They're in a lot of trouble.”
Ashi cried, “I didn't spar, I promise. They made me.”
Binjin smiled and checked him over, “Don't cry, don't cry. I know. You're not in trouble.”
“I'm...not?” Ashi sniffed.
Yoda walked over with a very kind smile, “A good boy, you are. Listen to your master, you do.”
Ashi nodded quickly, “I tried.”
“Try, you did not. succeed, you did. Very good. Come into village. Something sweet, we'll have.” Yoda looked up to Binjin who got the hint.
“Yes. Let's go have some sweet koffa berries and cream.” He turned to the others, all scared of their master right now. “The rest of you, get inside and clean this school until I don't see sheddings on anything. Thalla, tell Heska and Yorin to wait in the testing room until I get back.” Everyone was guilty of not stopping this terrible action, they would all be punished. But, the two who actually attacked Ashi were going to be very unhappy.
Ashi, who was nearly as tall as Yoda, walked next to the Jedi master. The boy was now all questions. Yoda, who spent a lot of his time working with younglings at the temple, was very good with children.
* * * * *
A month passed and another Republic ship arrived, this one bigger than the first. They brought more medical supplies and other aid that was needed in this time of crisis for the Jahalans. The senatorial representative now had three other representatives from the Jedi council, led by Master Yoda again.
Little Ashi was unaware of the five hours of discussion between the Jedi Masters and the Chief. Binjin was also there as the closest person to a family that Ashi had. Ashi finished training with one of the lower instructors when Binjin calmly walked up to him in the training yard.
“Ashi, please come with me.”
Ashi never realized that the reason he seemed to understand what people were feeling was his own innate talent with the force. Right now he could sense the sadness in his master, but the look on Binjin's face was anything but concern. Ashi handed the small training staff to the instructor and then took Binjin's hand to follow him through town.
They entered the council hall of the Jahalan's and found the three Jedi seated with the village chief. Ashi was as nervous as any five year old would be with everyone looking at him. In his mind, he worried that he had done something wrong and was in trouble. He saw the little green man that had been so nice to him a month ago. Yoda was smiling, and this made Ashi feel somewhat better.
“Bring the child to the middle of the room please,” Master Windu stated.
Binjin brought Ashi to the middle of the gathering and then stopped with him. Ashi clutched Binjin's leg, scared terribly. His left hand was squeezing Binjin's while his right was holding onto his tail out of fear.
“Stand aside, master Binjin,” said Jada Nar, a very tall and thin female Jedi.
“No.” Ashi held tightly to the strong hand.
Binjin knelt down, “Don't worry, I'll be right over here.” He let go of the boy's hand and took a step back, leaving the poor boy alone to be scrutinized.
The three masters carefully and quietly studied the boy, each taking a moment to sense the force in him. Yoda was the first to speak, “Strong, the force is with this child.”
Mace Windu nodded, “Yes. Though, he isn't as strong as some.”
Jada Nar added, “He may have potential, but he truly is weak.”
“Weak, he may seem,” Yoda said. “His future, I sense. He will have great strength. Training he will need. Jedi training.”
“I agree,” Master Windu added.
Jada Nar turned her thin head toward Ashi, “Then, it is decided. The offer is extended to bring him to the temple.”
Chief Nolith finally spoke. “We are not a republic world. We do not have to send him to the temple at your command.”
Master Windu answered, “It is for his good and the good of the Jedi order that all children who are force sensitive be trained in the ways of the force.”
Yoda interceded, “Correct, chief is. Jedi maintain Justice. Follow laws and order, justice is.”
Chief Nolith asked, “Then what do you propose? Was the second shipment of medical supplies and doctors a payment for the chid?”
Jada answered, “We do not barter for a life. The aid is a gift from the republic. I...I do not know what we are to decide. I defer to the eldest. Master Yoda, what precedent is there in this circumstance?” She bowed her long neck to the tiny master.
Yoda smiled at Ashi, he already knew what the boy was going to say. His time with them a month ago had given him enough insight to the boys thinking. “Decide, Ashi must. His choice it is. Agree, do you?” He looked at the chief.
Chief Nolith stroked his chin for a moment. “I see no reason not to allow Ashi the right to choose. Master Binjin, as his guardian, do you have anything to say?”
“I want what's best for Ashi.” It hurt Binjin to say this, but it was right.
Windu extended the offer, “Ashi. We want to bring you to our planet in the Republic. You will be trained in the ways of the force. You will have all that you need.”
Ashi, quivering all over, looked over to his current master. “What?”
Binjin came back to the middle of the room and knelt down to one knee. He didn't want to see Ashi leave, it would be like losing another son. But, it was for his own good and it would be a wonderful life. He put his hand on Ashi's shoulder, “Little cub, they want to take you to a special place with a lot of amazing people like them. They will teach you like I have been teaching you. You'll have a lot of other children to play with, and amazing worlds to see.”
“Can I come back?” Ashi asked.
“Yes. I would want to know how you're doing.” Binjin didn't know if Jedi protocol would allow Ashi to return for visits, he didn't care. If they argued, he would make it clear that this was not optional.
Ashi looked at Yoda, “Will you be there?”
“Teach you, I will. My youngling class, you will join,” Yoda answered.
Ashi liked this little green man and the sense of the force in him recognized the kindness and honesty of these three people. Still nervous he said, “I'll go with you.”
* * * * *
In a matter of hours, Ashi had gathered what meager belongings he had and boarded the transport with the three masters for the long journey across space into the core of the massive republic. He gave Binjin a final hug and then took the hand of Yoda to be guided up the ramp. He was the first child ever of Jahala to be taken to the Jedi Temple.
* * * * *
Ashi was lost in thought as he gazed into the camp fire. It seemed so long ago that he sat next to Master Yoda and watched the stars blast by as they left his home. He had no idea then what it would be like training at the temple, how different life would be. His world seemed so much smaller when he returned.
Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something dark dash by in the trees. At first, he thought it was a large bird flying through, or an animal bounding by. Then he sensed the force was stronger than basic animal life. Someone was there, watching him.
With a quick motion, he pulled one of his two swords out and held his free hand up ready to use the force. He scanned the trees around him with his eyes and his senses to find whoever was spying on him. Whatever it was, it was now gone.
It was too dark to go scouting for this stranger. Ashi needed his rest. But, he didn't need to let his guard down entirely. He sat down in front of the fire and put his swords on the ground before him. Crossing his legs, he used a special meditation technique that his master taught him. It would allow his body to be in state of rest while his mind was still awake. If he sensed anyone approaching he could wake his body and pull his weapons quickly.
* * * * *
The large village of Elbor prepared the next major shipment for this month. Situated high in the hills of the Jahalan Mountains, Elbor was the one major spaceport for the planet. The Jahalans here bartered with off-worlders for goods. They traded the produce of the planet. They dealt in grains mostly but sometimes meats as well.
A man and his young daughter pushed a cart full of milled grain ready for shipping. “Shara, make sure you keep an eye out for any hillmice, they're very active this time of year and they love this grain. Wouldn't want a shipment spoiled by infestation.”
Shara, the ten-year-old child of this merchant, checked the seal on her container. “It's secure. No hillmouse can get through this container.”
“Good. Now, check the gauge for moisture content…aren't you paying attention?” Stef noticed his daughter was staring at the sky and not listening to him. “Shara, what is it?”
She pointed up, “They're early.”
Stef looked up to see a ship heading for the landing pad outside of town. “The ship isn't due for two days. Our shipment isn't ready. Wait, that's too small. That isn't the cargo ship.”
The small threatening looking ship landed in the open space prepared for a much larger vessel. People around the port city slowly stopped what they were doing and came to investigate the odd visit. The company that traded with them was very prompt and always on schedule, this didn't make sense.
The hatch opened and a tall Rodian captain stepped out surrounded by a band of unsavory looking aliens of all descriptions.
A flying Toydarian asked, “I thought you said the Jedi was in main village. This is the port city.”
Drak continued walking, “I know. That Jedi will be looking for any danger. Do you want to be killed before you get to collect on the bounty?”
The gang stopped as they found themselves greeted by a team of local guards. The head of the guards asked, “What business do you have here?”
Drak casually walked up to the feline guards, “We are simple merchants hoping to make a really good deal.”
“What goods do you seek here?” The guard asked.
Drak was patient with his answer, giving his new band of mercenaries time to spread out a little. “I'm in need of a Jedi.”
“There are no Jedi here?”
Drak slowly pulled out his gun, causing the guards to respond with their own weapons. “Oh, I think there is a Jedi here, on this world. And, I have exactly what I need to get him.” He casually looked at the guard. “Hostages.” When he said this his band of mercenaries lunged into the crowds and quickly grabbed any children they could get. Several had to fight for their hostage, but each returned with a child in hand. The guards attempted to respond, but they weren't quick enough. The head guard shot at Drak, but missed and was met by a blaster shot to the head.
The remaining guards were all leveling old laser rifles at the attackers. The new head guard commanded, “Release them, at once!”
“Don't worry. I promise they won't be harmed and we'll release them quickly,” Drak stated calmly. “However, I must have what I want in exchange or I'll take these children and sell them on the slave market. Then I will return and we will do this again until I have my Jedi.”
Before the guard could finish his sentence, Drak commanded, “Contact all your cats on this stupid planet. Tell them my demands. Someone will tell that Jedi. You have three days.”
Stef looked helplessly as he watched his daughter struggle under the grip of a big Twi-lek who held a gun to her temple.