The average boy would have heard the tellala birds singing, or the whirring of micronettes preparing their cocoons for their annual slumber.
The swish of the leaves might have lulled him to a gentle slumber in the summer twilight, as he sat quietly in the growing darkness.
But not Ben.
The tree and all its inhabitants sang to him in a way none of his friends could hear. The birds, the insects, the fungus in the boll, even the bacteria that nourished the roots and converted the organic matter into its components were part of his being. Their life force flowed through him.
He was aware of every plant, every spore, every animal, every protozoan.
He, in turn, opened his heart to be part of the Force. He felt it all.
Here, in this wood, at this time, away from the crowd of the new capital city where he lived with his mother and his father – when his father was home – he felt peace. The fear that followed him, that saturated his life, faded away, at least for a little while.
He felt something larger nearby. Not Elsie, his nanny droid, who stayed nearby to protect him. He felt the presence of someone living, not mechanical. Someone else was here.
He shot up from his cross-legged seat and ran through the protocol. Should he hide? Run? Have Elsie call for help?
Now he recognized the presence. It was familiar. Safe. Welcoming.
Without turning around, he said, “Uncle Luke.”
Young Ben Solo ran to his uncle Luke and gave him a hug. It had been months since the man had been on Chandrila.
“I’m too old to be called Chita, Uncle Luke. I’m almost 11.”
“Grand old man you are, too. This is a nice place. You come here often? I know I would.”
The Master Jedi, in his daily work robes, sat down on a fallen log nearby and looked around in the fading sunlight.
The boy looked down at his Uncle.
“Is that a black eye?” asked the famous Luke Skywalker.
“Carten Bangtar called me Prince Ben. He said that I was soft. He said Mama was wasting her time trying to get the Unionists to agree with the Sorority, and that she’d be better off chasing mayflies.”
“You’ve dealt with worse than that before. For that you got a black eye?”
“That’s not where I got it. Spigan Delta stood up for me, but you and I know it’s because her progenitors are part of the Sorority. It made me sad. They want me to get Mama to meet with them.”
“And they gave you a black eye when you refused?”
“No,” the boy hesitated, then confessed, “I did it to myself. We were playing Gana. I changed the vector of the ball so I could leave the conversation.”
“It’s not really painful. It was worth it to get away from politics.”
“You are wise beyond your years, my little Padawan. I never had to deal with politics at your age. Just moisture evaporators and stray Jawas.”
Ben’s tone changed. In the place of the sadness was resolve, “He can’t call me Prince Ben. I will not be Prince Ben until Mama dies. So I will call myself something else.”
He finished with a nod of his head, and the decision was final.
Luke rose from his seat and put an avuncular hand on the boy’s shoulder, “Walk with me?”
The top of Ben’s head already reached his shoulder.
The Jedi shook his head.
“You’re going to be as tall as Uncle Chewie. Just hope you don’t get his hair!”
Ben punched Luke teasingly in the arm.
“I have no Wookie genetic component, so that is not likely!”
“Genetic component? I think you’ve been spending too much time with 3PO.”
The trees parted before them, opening onto a pond when long-necked avians croaked bedtime calls.
Luke picked up a stick and held it up in the direction of his nephew. He bowed respectfully.
Ben knew this game. He found himself a stick, and the two playfully dueled.
After a time, Luke allowed himself to be defeated, falling to the ground.
“Surrender your lightsaber, Jedi!” demanded Ben, pointing his wooden saber at the fallen Jedi.
Luke sat up, crossed his legs, and handed the boy the lightsaber from his belt.
Ben was thunderstruck. Did he just use a Jedi Mind trick on his uncle? “I didn’t mean it. I only meant the stick. . .”
Luke laughed, “Don’t worry, Ben. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“This is the lightsaber you used to fight Darth Vader?” The boy looked respectfully at the weapon.
“One of them, yes. I think you’re old enough to hold it now.”
Ben’s heart raced. He’d wanted to see the saber for so long but Mama was afraid he’d hurt himself.
Or someone else, lurked in the back of her mind where even she didn’t know it was.
He knew that he was different from the other children around him. He felt the crystal in the saber even if it did not call to him.
The boy instinctively thumbed on the blade and swung it clumsily, listening to the distinctive sound as his hand and arm adjusted to the balance as he did with the training sabers his Uncle had given him.
“Benny, I came out here to discuss something important with you.”
Ben looked up from the saber at his uncle.
“Mama tells me you overheard Senator Teranka discussing a secret.”
The boy turned off the saber and hung his head.
He looked up sadly at his uncle.
“It wasn’t really overhearing, Uncle Luke. The Senator came to our home to talk to Mama about some trade negotiations.”
“Yes,” encouraged the Jedi, listening carefully to his nephew’s story.
“I heard him say one thing to Mama, but he was thinking something else.”
“Thinking something else?”
“He was lying, Uncle Luke. He didn’t mean what he said. It wasn’t my imagination although Mama told him it was. I hear things sometimes. I try not to, but it’s hard when they think so loudly. I didn’t mean to get Mama into trouble.”
“Hmm,” said Luke sagely, “I believe you, Ben. You know that not everyone can hear what people are thinking, right?”
“I know,” the boy said contritely.
Luke smiles, “What am I thinking now?”
A look of concentration strained the boy’s face, “I can’t hear anything.”
“That’s right. And do you know why that is?”
“You’re not thinking?” The boy said with a smirk on the corner of his lips.
“No, although your Mama might accuse me of that sometimes. I’ve learned how to keep my thoughts from straying outside my head. It’s an old Jedi trick. Would you like to learn it?”
The boy sat on the ground facing his uncle, “But why would I want to learn how to keep my thoughts inside my head? Can you teach me how not to hear what other people are thinking?”
“You are wise beyond your years, my little Padawan. The trick is the same one. You are an amazing, special boy. There are so many things that you need to know. I can teach you, but it’s not something I can do in a day or a week or a month.”
Ben pushed aside the curl of black hair that fell in front of his eye, “Are you coming to live with us?”
Luke smiled. “No, Benny. I’d like you to stay at my Jedi Temple with for a while.”
“At your Temple? Father hates that place. He says it smells like Barrage Berries and Hutt scrapings.”
“You’re calling Papa Father now?” Luke said with a slight smile, “Are you two having a disagreement again?”
“Yes. He promised me I could fly the Falcon the next time he went out. Then he told me he had to go without me. He said it was for grown-ups only.”
“Ah, I see. You heard him think something else, didn’t you?”
The dark mop of hair nodded, “He thought that it was too dangerous. I don’t want him getting hurt. I told him I would protect him.”
“You’re very strong with the Force, Benny. It’s very noble of you to want to help others. Would you like to learn how to use your power so you can do that?”
“You can teach me that?”
“That and so much more. Do you know why I’ve been away so much lately?”
Ben looked at Luke with admiration, “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too. I’ve been on a mission to find more holocrons.”
“More holocrons? Jedi holocrons? I learned everything in the holocrons you sent me.”
The boy’s eager face was split with a grin.
“Good, Benny. You’re such a good student. I found something else. Something even more important, and I need your help with it. I need someone to be an example for the other Padawans who will be joining the Academy.”
The boy’s eyes lit up with the thought of other children who, for once, might understand how he felt.
“Other Padawans? My age?”
“Yes. Master Ysling and I rescued a group of children with Force powers in the Lockless Barrens. They’ve had a rough life and need guidance. I need someone to help me show them what a Jedi can do.”
Ben’s face contorted.
“I would have to leave Mama and Papa, wouldn’t I?”
“I’m afraid so, Benny. You’ve been my little Padawan since before you could walk, but it’s important that you learn how to control your powers. You are so strong with the Force. You could be the greatest Jedi since Master Yoda.”
“Or the worst since Darth Vader.”
“Did Mama think that?” Luke asks.
The Jedi says seriously, “You won’t be like Darth Vader. I believe in you. I want to train you.”
“Will it make the nightmares go away?”
Luke shook his head, his blond locks rifled by the rising wind, “I hope so, Ben. I really do.”
“Okay, Uncle Luke. Can I say goodbye to my friends?
“Of course, Chita. We’ll leave next week.”
Luke ruffled his nephew’s hair, “I’ll hold onto the lightsaber for you for now. Mama thinks you’re a bit too young for the real thing.”
“Do you like Cardin Cakes, Uncle Luke? They’re my favorite. Mama says we’re having them for dessert. Race you to the house!” said young Ben Solo.