It was not very far from Qui-Gon's quarters to those of his Master, and the halls were still quiet enough to make their journey brief.
Obi-Wan walked beside his Master in silence. He was very aware of the weight of Qui-Gon's gift in his pocket. He reached in, and his fingers met cold metal. 'Is it permitted that I wear your gift, Master?' he asked.
'When you're not in your robes, you can wear whatever you wish,' Qui-Gon told him. 'Otherwise you'll have wait until you're a knight. Some cultural jewellery is usually permitted.'
'Is it customary?' Obi-Wan asked. 'I mean, for a Master to give an apprentice something from his own world for this birthday?'
'I would not call it a custom, Padawan,' Qui-Gon said. 'Some Masters choose to do so, others do not. For my twentieth birthday, Master Yoda gave me this.' He inclined his head forward and touched the clip that held his long hair back. 'My hair was shorter than yours at the time, but it's customary on my world for hair to be worn long. I remember that it seemed a strange gift at the time.'
'What did Master Yoda say?'
'That I could choose to wear it, or not to wear it,' Qui-Gon said. 'It wasn't until many years after my knighthood that I decided to grow my hair.'
Obi-Wan nodded his understanding.
'You should not forget where you come from, Padawan,' Qui-Gon continued. 'It will always be a part of you.'
Obi-Wan bowed his head. 'I'm sorry, Master. I feel that I've failed you in this.'
'Did I say that you had failed?' Qui-Gon asked. 'You would have failed if you had undertaken the ritual when you knew it had no meaning for you. When the time comes you will be ready, Obi-Wan.'
Lore passed down by generations of padawans had it that Masters Yoda's mood could be determined by the tea he was drinking at any given moment. Obi-Wan had tried most of Yoda's concoctions at one time or another and concluded only that they all tasted like pond water. The current offering was dark brown in colour with a layer of what appeared to be shredded twigs in the bottom of the bowl. Obi-Wan took a sip and tried not to wince at the bitter flavour.
'Good for you it is, Padawan Kenobi,' Yoda informed him. 'No harm your Master it has done, hmm?'
'I think it must be an acquired taste, Master Yoda,' Obi-Wan said. He pushed aside the seeking tendrils of one of Yoda's many plants as politely as possible.
'Perhaps. Right you may be,' Yoda allowed distractedly. He paced the floor of his quarters, barely acknowledging the two Jedi seated on the floor before him. Obi-Wan shot a brief, uncertain frown at Qui-Gon.
His Master's expression, as usual, betrayed little, but Obi-Wan could sense his disquiet. 'Master,' Qui-Gon began and was silenced by Yoda's raised hand.
Obi-Wan fought the urge to shift uncomfortably on the thin floor cushions as Yoda stopped and squinted up at him appraisingly. 'Stopped growing, you have,' he observed. 'Still too tall you are, but as tall as your Master you are not.'
Qui-Gon raised his eyes briefly to the heavens. His reward was a jab from Yoda's stick. 'Unbecoming of a Jedi Master, it is, to make faces,' Yoda informed him serenely. He turned back to Obi-Wan. 'Your twentieth birthday it is, Padawan Kenobi,' he stated.
'Yes, Master Yoda,' Obi-Wan agreed cautiously.
'Your raising to Senior Padawan the Council confirms,' Yoda declared. 'Honour you will bring to the rank, I am certain of it.'
Obi-Wan bowed his head respectfully. 'Thank you, Master Yoda.'
'So, a rock did your Master give you this year?' Yoda enquired, with an air of making small talk.
Not daring to look at Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan retreived the bracer from the pocket of his robe. He showed it to Yoda, who peered at it closely. 'It is from my home world, Master Yoda.'
Yoda raised a surprised eyebrow. 'Hmm. Learn you do, Qui-Gon,' he said, with grudging approval. 'Never this obsession with rocks have I understood. Never did I give you rocks for your birthday.'
Qui-Gon's expression grew pained. 'No. You gave me plants, Master. You gave me a plant for my birthday for every single year I was your Padawan.'
'Weak, your connection with the living Force was,' Yoda observed. 'Benefit from this your Padawan would too, I think.'
'Rocks don't die if you forget to water them, Master,' Qui-Gon said pointedly. 'You don't return from missions to find your rocks have turned yellow and lost all their leaves. Rocks aren't poisonous. They don't have thorns. They don't try to strangle your other rocks. They don't get fungal diseases that require entire floors of the Temple to be quarantined.'
Yoda raised an amused ear. 'No loss to Agri-Corps you were, my Padawan.'
'Master, did you have any particular reason for asking us here or may we leave now?' Qui-Gon asked with great dignity.
'Impatient you are, Padawan,' Yoda observed with open amusement. His wizened features grew serious. 'But yes, another reason I had. Jalie Corada.' He tapped the end of his stick on the stone floor for emphasis. 'Know of her you do?'
Qui-Gon shifted his tall frame uncomfortably. 'I've received a message from her asking for protection when she came to Coruscant, Master. I've already forwarded it to the Council server and to Geo-Corps.'
'Received it I have,' Yoda confirmed non-commitally.
Qui-Gon's expression grew wary. 'We'd be happy to provide her with the escort to the Temple she has requested, Master,' he said carefully. 'But I have discussed this with my Padawan and we don't believe it's appropriate we become involved in her case.'
'But involved you already are,' Yoda observed slyly.
'Master Yoda, corruption in the mining industry comes under the jurisdiction of Geo-Corps,' Obi-Wan said respectfully. 'We believe that they are better equipped to handle this situation.'
Yoda banged his stick down abruptly. 'No. More there is here than a greedy corporation. I sense it. Darkness there is. Gathering, it is. Have need of you in this I do.'
Another mission. Obi-Wan felt his heart sink at the prospect but Qui-Gon met his Master's eyes with a serenity Obi-Wan envied. 'No, Master.'
One of Yoda's ears rose slowly until it pointed straight upwards. 'Refuse you do?'
Qui-Gon nodded. 'Respectfully, yes, Master. We've spent less then forty days in the Temple in the last year. My Padawan is still recovering from injuries he received on our last mission. We are both tired and there are many other knights who could deal with this situation. I've requested twice that we be removed from the operational roster for a period of at least two months. I formally do so again now.'
Yoda looked from Master to Padawan, then nodded slowly. 'Very well. Your reluctance I understand. Not yours or the Councils will the choice be, I think. But if our choice it is, then we will send another.'
Qui-Gon bowed. 'Thank you, Master.'
Yoda's ears drooped slightly. 'As the Force wills it, so it will be. Go, you may, when your tea you have finished.' He peered into Qui-Gon's bowl. 'The twigs you have not eaten. The best part they are.'
Neither Qui-Gon nor Obi-Wan made any move towards their discarded tea bowls. Yoda sighed at their stonily polite expressions. 'No telling the young, there is,' he grumbled. 'Plans for today, you have?'
'We've decided to take the day off, Master,' Qui-Gon said placidly.
'A day off?' One of Yoda's ears flicked upwards. 'Unprecedented for you, this is. Plans, do you have?'
'Not yet, Master,' Qui-Gon said, at the same moment as Obi-Wan said, 'We are going into the city, Master Yoda.'
'The city, hmmm?' Yoda said. His expression grew sly again. 'Then an errand I have for you, Padawan Kenobi.' He retrieved a handheld data-slate from somewhere within the depths of his robes and held it up to Obi-Wan. 'Here I wish you to go.'
Obi-Wan read the tiny screen and looked up in mystification. 'Are you certain this is correct, Master Yoda? This address is on the eighth level. There's nothing that far down but infrastructure.'
Yoda fixed him with a beady gaze. 'Been there, have you, hmmm? Know this, you do?'
'No, Master Yoda,' Obi-Wan admitted.
Yoda tilted his head to one side. 'Believe, do you, Padawan, that clouded my thinking is becoming?' he asked, injecting a note of outrage into his voice.
'Of course not, Master Yoda,' Obi-Wan protested weakly. He was uncomfortably aware of Qui-Gon's amusement at the exchange.
'Then question me not, Padawan,' Yoda scolded. 'To this address you will go.'
Obi-Wan gave up. 'What do you want me to do there, Master Yoda?'
'A supplier of lightsaber crystals there is here,' Yoda informed him. 'Mog Martagne her name is. To her workshops you will go and a crystal you will choose and buy.'
For a moment, Yoda's words did not fully sink in. As far as Obi-Wan was aware the selection of crystals was a privilege rarely granted even to knights, let alone to Padawans. He glanced quickly at Qui-Gon, but his Master's expression was as unreadable as ever. Yoda, however, was watching him intently, waiting for his reaction.
'Master Yoda,' Obi-Wan began tentatively, 'I am honoured by the responsibility you are giving me, but I have no experience as an assayer.'
'Always say that they do,' Yoda grumbled to Qui-Gon. 'As test this is, Padawan.'
'When you go on missions as a knight you may be approached by dealers who have lightsaber grade crystals to sell,' Qui-Gon explained. 'You'll need to be able to assess their value.'
'Not enough good crystals there are,' Yoda said soberly. 'Afford to turn them down we cannot. Know how to judge crystals, do you?'
Obi-Wan frowned as he thought back to his lessons. 'The quality of a lightsaber crystal is determined first by weight, then by clarity, intensity, focal length, cut, resonance, inclusions and shade, Master Yoda.'
'Remember well, you do,' Yoda said dismissively. 'No problems will there be. A transfer order I will authorise for you. Bankrupt the Order you will not, hmm?'
'I will do my best, Master Yoda.'
Yoda nodded. 'No more can I ask of you. Well you will choose, I think.'
Obi-Wan bowed. 'Thank you, Master Yoda.'
Yoda waved them away. 'Go now, you will. Your day off you should enjoy. Well deserved it is.'
Both knights rose and bowed, then turned to leave. They had already stepped through the low door to Yoda's apartment when the diminutive Master cleared his throat behind them. 'Just one more thing there is, Padawan Kenobi.'
Obi-Wan turned back. 'Yes, Master Yoda?' he asked.
'Just remembered I have,' Yoda said, with an air of innocence which was not entirely convincing. 'Many contacts in the mining corporations Mog Martagne has. Information about Selos Prime she may have for you. Report back to me this evening you will, when return you do.'
The door slid closed before either man could answer.