The Ashes and the Fire 4

I had mixed feelings about going to Naboo. I was just getting used to Coruscant and here we were uprooting and moving. Seemed a bit silly if you had asked me, but no one did, probably a good thing. I suppose I should have been grateful for small mercies, instead of being on the main ship with the full court I tagged along with Lord Vader. I was not unhappy about this but it would have been better had he been in a more forgiving mood. He had already killed one officer and terrified several others. I saw many of those ‘poor you’ looks as I trotted after him down the corridor just to keep up after we had disembarked from the shuttle.

“You know, it causes a ton of paperwork when you do that.” I told him after we were in the briefing room.

“Do not try my patience.” He snarled.

I drew a very deep breath. “May I ask why you are so …angry?”

“Incompetence angers me!” he said, not really answering the question at all. He was sending sparks all over the place, just being in the same room with him made all the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

“If you didn’t keep killing people off maybe they would learn from the mistakes they make instead of new people making the same ones all the time.”

“They should not make these mistakes in the first place!” he yelled. “We are delayed because of incompetence. I will not tolerate it!”

He paced from one end of the room to the other like a caged wild animal. I thought he would drive me mad if he didn’t stop but before I could say anything he grabbed my arm and dragged me out of the briefing room down the corridors to the ship’s recreation and sport’s room.

‘Oh no, not good.’ I thought because I knew what was coming and sparring with him on a good day was rough enough but sparring with him on a bad day was suicide.

“Now we will see what you have been learning while I have been gone.” He growled.

I stood there and stared at him for a moment and then I went into meditation pose. I would need all the concentration I could get if I was to get out of this without a trip to the med-center, which, I didn't think likely. I am pretty sure this sort of thing is NOT in the Personal Assistant job description. I was surprised that he allowed me time to center and when I was ready he handed me a long wooden quarterstaff and before I had time to think he attacked.

Even if I had been ready I still would have landed on my ass because he was just bigger, faster and stronger. I got up and we did it again. I did not have time to think or feel or even consider what my next move would be. I was on the defensive and that was that. He was making me angry though. I had never seen anyone move as fast as he could. Last time we had done this he had been playing with me, taking it easy. This time he was venting all his anger on me. Night and day difference.

After the third time of being knocked flat on my ass by a blow that would not only leave a nasty bruise but also hurt like hell, I just sat there and stared at him.

“If you want to kill me, why don’t you just strangle me like you do everyone else?” I asked.

“Defend yourself, you are better than this.” He snapped.

“How?” I asked. “You move too fast.”

“Use the passion inside to tap into the Force, you will see what is coming before it happens.” He replied. If only it was that easy, I thought.

I shook my head. “How do I do that? When you move that fast I don’t have time to think…”

I never got to finish my sentence. He reached over and hauled me to my feet.

“That is your problem, you are thinking and not feeling. You need to let go and fight with the Force not against it.” He said. He was calmer now, not quite as riled up and furious. “I know you can do this, you have done it before.” He said.

I took a deep breath. Done it before he said, yeah when I wasn’t really aware of what the heck I was doing. Disconnect, master Kjestyll had said, although we had not been talking about the Force, it applied. Do not concentrate on the moment, be the moment. It was a difficult lesson to learn. How can you be the moment when the moment doesn’t stay still?

“The force is always there, all the time. You must attune to it, like a beacon . When you are passionate, angry it flows faster with more strength.” Lord Vader said. “You think too much. You need to let go.”

“Bad things happen when I let go.” I told him.

He laughed. “What do you think will happen if you allow your feelings to become one with the Force? You are no match for me. You will do no real harm here. It is I who will harm you if you cannot learn this. If you truly wish to be a student then you must let go and you must find the power within you and you must fight back.” He leaned in close. “We all have our dark places, Merlyn, I know you have yours, it is easy to see if one knows what to look for. Learn how to use it and you will be stronger and faster. It might even save your life.”

He stepped back and before I had time to consider what he had told me he lunged at me with the quarterstaff. I took a hard hit off the hip and staggered backwards.

“Stop thinking!” He snapped. “React, feel, and let the force guide you.”

I took a deep breath, I could feel that thread of anger and the control surrounding it was tenuous. He smacked at me again and the thread snapped. Anger flowed through me. It was like sand fire.

“That anger you keep within you, I feel it, now use it, direct it, own it, not the other way around.” He goaded, circling around me. “You complained about me not teaching you, now I am doing so. Learn” he said and landed a vicious blow on my thigh. It hurt like hell and I was genuinely pissed off. Tap into the Force, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded but I could feel it there. When he came in for the next attack I saw it happening from a place beyond physical being. I countered and avoided and this time stayed on my feet.

“Better.” He nodded. “Do you begin to understand?”

I nodded. We repeated this exercise again and again. Each time it became easier to find that thread of power and tap into it. When I found it and used it he was pleased when I faltered and lost it he sent me flying. On the whole I preferred Master Kjestyll's teaching method but I was certainly learning fast. I could see how the moves that I had been learning from Master Kjestyll made a difference. I was surprised at how it all fit together, this magical dance full of wonder and pain. My body ached and I was tiring but Lord Vader wasn’t ready to finish just yet. Each new bout we fought had a lesson in it that was taught with punishing blows and savage words. My anger gave me strength and the teachings from Master Kjestyll gave me endurance and agility. Although I was just a beginner I noticed a marked difference in my own skills. Painful as it was, Lord Vader was helping.

They say when one is learning something that it is a curve and when you reach the crest of it a light goes on somewhere. There is a moment of clarity when everything suddenly makes sense and you just get it. I suppose this is what Lord Vader had been trying for with me and he was doing it the only way he knew how. Somewhere in the middle of a particularly nasty attack I got it, I stopped thinking at all, there was nothing just a white sort of noise and a kind of ease that made the world seem slow. The Force, when you find it or better to say when it finds you, fills you up. If it were a light source you would be blinded by it. It is so powerful and so all encompassing that it would easy to lose one's soul to it, perhaps even go mad. I just let it flow through me, I moved and it moved and we were one. I knew where I needed to be and acted accordingly. It was the most extraordinary sensation I had ever experienced, like tasting cold, fresh water after being without it for too many days. Once you have had this you only want more. You ache and thirst for it. Now, I had tasted this power, I had a glimpse of what it could be and I wanted more. Lost in the intensity of it I did not want to stop and it was only a severe blow which caught my shoulder and sent me sprawling across the floor that brought me back to reality.

Vader nodded. “Well done, but you need to learn to control the power not let it control you.” He admonished.

I sat up slowly, that last blow had truly hurt and I wondered if he had broken my arm. He walked over to me, picked up my quarterstaff and put them both back on the rack where they belonged. He came back to me and squatted down to look me over.

“Now, meditate.” He ordered, standing up again.

I looked up at him as though he were the insane one.

“Do it.” He said. “Then you will understand.”

I struggled to get into the right position, just moving my left arm sent screaming agony through it. I gasped at the exquisiteness of the pain. I took a deep breath and went into meditation, just as I had been practicing. Perhaps because I was so tired, or maybe I was actually getting better at it, I don’t know but it was easier to slip into this state of non being. I closed my eyes and shut the rest of the world out. When I came back to myself I was alone. The room was dark and quiet. I had not even noticed Lord Vader leaving. I stood up slowly, I was stiff and I ached but to my great surprise it was not as bad as I thought it would be. I looked at my left arm, the bruise there was a beauty and it still hurt but I no longer thought it was broken. I moved slowly stretching out the stiffness and made my way out. I had no idea what time it was or where we were but I wanted to shower and change before we reached Naboo, I felt like a filthy wamp-rat.

I found my assigned quarters and threw off all my clothes in a pile on the floor. I went into the shower and stood under the pounding water with my head resting against the wall. As I stood there I wondered how Lord Vader knew so much about this martial arts form I was learning. He did not seem to use the same forms Master Kjestyll was teaching me yet there was a similarity to his own way of fighting that made me wonder about how and where he had learned to fight. It stood to reason that he would know of the master that the Emperor had assigned to me, after all Lord Vader was the Emperor’s second in command but things were not adding up. I felt as though I was being kept in the dark about a great deal. I stood there under the shower and sighed, too tired to think. When I went to bed I fell asleep almost at once. The dreams that came were disturbing and haunting. I had thought, after waking up for the third time that maybe it might have been more advantageous to travel with the Court entourage after all. I was pretty sure the Emperor would not have spent half the time beating me up with a big stick. But then again…. There are worse things. The forth time I went back to sleep I did not dream and it was the sound of the comm system waking me up. In an hour we would be on Naboo.

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