Mirat is eighteen when the man arrives. There are whispers about him, that he’s from off-planet, that he’s a criminal, that he fought in the clone war, that he’s any number of things. He passes through like a shadow in the night, and all anyone can say for sure is that he’s middle-aged, human, and has reddish hair that’s starting to shade towards blonde and grey at the temples.
The man doesn’t make trouble. He doesn’t even show up in town, for almost two months. Mirat is not the only one to think he’s died in that little hut he claimed for himself, though she also doesn’t bother to think much of him at all. People come to Tatooine in search of death all the time. It’s not quite her business, and it certainly isn’t her responsibility.
He comes in after those two months and a little more. He’s quiet. Polite to the point of respectful, even to the teenagers like Mirat. His accent is very Core, and his voice is rough and ragged in ways that have people wondering. Nightmares, most agree. He’s got that haunted look about him.
He says his name is Ben. He doesn’t give a family name, or a planet of origin, or a reason for being here.
It’s clear enough that he’s grieving something, running from ghosts, but that’s not enough to harass the poor man. Whatever life he may have led before, however sheltered it may have been—and with an accent like his, it may have been very sheltered—he’s got little to his name, now. Anchorhead residents don’t like strangers, but Ben doesn’t bother anyone.
It’s like that every two or three months. He comes in, buys what he isn’t managing for himself out in the Wastes, and goes back out. He trades with scavenged things: parts of broken-down speeders, rocks he’s carved into shapes people may yet find useful, the dried hides of animals he’s trapped and skinned for food. Rare herbs that grow out on the cliffs, sometimes.
He looks older every time, and Mirat starts to worry for his health and survival out there. She starts to care. He’s elderly, and has no one to check on him. Some people try to talk to him about it.
“I’ll be alright, young one.”
“Aren’t an issue,” he assures them, every time, sad and calm and utterly unbothered by their worries. “Believe an old man, would you?”
They have no choice but to do so.
One time, Ben’s in town at the same time as Owen Lars, who carries his toddler around on one hip as he searches for parts. The boy is small, and blonde, and chews on a fist as he stares wide-eyed about the market. When Ben and Owen brush past each other, little Luke squeals and reaches out. “Ben!”
Mirat isn’t there to see it. She only hears about it after, from Hwestche and Plinum, who both like to gossip about the hermit when they can. They swear up and down that Ben almost cried, but managed to reel it in, and greeted Owen by name, and said hello to Luke, and everyone that was there agrees that Owen greeted Ben as “Kenobi.”
So there’s a last name, now. It’s not a particularly uncommon one, but it’s unpopular, since the Empire came on. There’s all those awful rumors about the Jedi, and Obi-Wan Kenobi had been one of the most Jedi of Jedi, hadn’t he? Mirat can’t blame Ben for trying to avoid anyone trying to associate him with that. It’s not like anyone on Tatooine has any love for the Empire, certainly not any more than they’d ever cared for the Republic, but he’d probably dropped it back when he fled from the Core, where people cared much, much more.
What’s more interesting, everyone agrees, is that Owen Lars and Ben seem to know each other, much more personally than anyone would expect a hermit to know a moisture farmer, when both only rarely come into town. It’s not like they’d have much opportunity to run into each other by chance. Clearly, one or the other put effort in, to the point where Luke-the-toddler knows Ben on sight.
Rumors abound. None of them get answered.
Ben passes through with some regularity. Mirat is twenty-three, a proper woman, engaged to be married and all, when she sees Ben snap a reprimand at empty air while passing through the shelves in her little store. She wonders if he’s on a comm, because everyone’s been trying to convince him to get one for ages, if only for emergencies, but then she sees that he’s shooting glares where a person could have been. There’s nothing there, and as the quiet argument continues, clearly hushed in an attempt to avoid notice, Mirat realizes that it’s not a comm.
People have been saying Ben’s a little ‘round the bend these days. It’s a consequence of living alone, especially out on the Wastes, but it’s sad to see the proof of it.
“You should come into town more often,” she tells him at the register. “Talk to people, you know. It’s not good to be all alone out there.”
“I’m afraid I’m not much for people, these days,” he tells her. He has a very kind smile, for all that it’s a very sad one. “The adders and rats are company enough, eh?”
He means it as a joke. He always does.
He’s a very nice man, and she wonders what he did with his life before he came to Tatooine.
People have all sorts of guesses, but Mirat’s money is on some kind of priesthood. He has that air about him, she thinks, of monks and shamans and spiritual leaders. He’s knowing, and he gives good advice, though he claims he’s not the kind of person anyone should listen to.
It’s far from the only likely option, but it’s the one Mirat would say if asked.
She is asked, and people agree that it’s a very likely option. They share their own guesses, many of which are equally likely. Many of them have to do with the war. Ben gets shakes in his hands whenever someone mentions it around him, which isn’t often, but it’s enough to notice. A lot of people think he might have been a soldier, though most of the troops were clones, or perhaps a doctor. Some suggest he was from one of the planets that ended up near-dead from all the battles, and even Tatooine was better than staying where he was.
Ben is kind to the children, especially. He gets shaky around them, too, but never in a dangerous way, just like he might cry if someone speaks to him wrong. He sometimes stops and tells them stories, and Mirat knows that plenty of her fellows are urging their children to delay the man on his way through and out, to take up his time and give him just enough speech and interaction that maybe he won’t be quite so mad when he comes through again.
She hopes it’s working.
She worries it’s not.
It goes like that for years. Seven since the Empire rose, which is more or less when Ben showed up. Anchorhead folk do their best to be kind to Ben, even as his hair loses color and his face grows weathered and his mind simply goes. He hides it less, these days, the ways he loses himself staring at nothing, the times his hands shake and his voice shreds, when he has trouble breathing for no reason at all.
When he talks to the air as if it were an old friend.
Ben’s not a Tatooine native, but he’s been around long enough, and been kind enough, that people try to treat him like any other elder that’s slowly shifting towards ‘doddering.’ They try, endlessly, to convince him to stay in town a bit more often, but he always turns them down.
And so it is that, some seven and a half years after Ben arrives, they get something of an answer.
It starts like this: Primro Depthseeker is twelve years old, and just barely trusted to take a speeder out to a few of the shaded cliff faces with the damp grounds and hardy plant life. She goes out every week or so to forage for the herbs her aunt needs to make poultices and medicines that don’t cost a fortune from off-world. She’s young enough the Tuskens won’t bother her, and even if they were to try, her aunt has a trade in place with the nearest tribes to help keep the peace.
Primo’s been missing for eight days when Ben comes in, sees how subdued everyone is, and asks just what happened.
Mirat is he one he asks, having been through her shop of spices and grains first. She explains, best she can, that the girl is missing, and they found the speeder on her route but not her, and the person sent out to speak with the Tuskens came back with the news that they didn’t know either. They’re worried it might have been some of the slave-hunters, who like to grab free people out on their own for a quick buck. They don’t usually come this close to Anchorhead, or they wouldn’t have let Primro out alone as they had, but…
It’s been eight days.
They still don’t know what Ben did before he came to Tatooine. Mirat’s never gotten confirmation that he was a holy man, before. She cannot ask him to pray for Primro, not when she doesn’t even know, not when there’s no real reason to believe any gods would believe him before anyone else, but she hopes he does anyway. There’s still a part of her that thinks a man of faith might have more voice with any gods than the average person, even if the gods of Tatooine are not the gods that he once spoke for.
If he spoke for any gods at all.
They still don’t know.
Ben asks which direction this had all gone down in. It’s not in the same direction as his hut, but about forty degrees off to the left of the direction he takes out. He nods solemnly, and says he’ll look around his own area. He’s got the time.
He says it like a joke. Like he always does. He’s got nothing but time, out there, speaking to ghosts.
Mirat smiles at him, brittle and with an ache in her chest, and he picks up his things and leaves.
She doesn’t think on it overly much. Ben’s a comforting man, in his own way, but she has to remind herself that he can’t work miracles. Much as she wishes that his mysterious past would be something that could help the situation, she doesn’t think they’re that lucky.
It’s a day and a half later, in the middle of the night, that she hears shouting. She throws on her nightrobe and her boots, rushes outside, and finds Ben dismounting from a speeder, and across his lap, now in his arms, is—
The girl’s aunt rushes forward, frantic, and starts feeling for a pulse, for breathing, for consciousness. The last one is touch-and-go, but the first two are in play. She’s alive.
“I found her hidden in a cave, rocks over the entrance,” he explains. “There were large animal tracks outside, maybe a lesser Krayt. She was too far back for it to get inside, but with the broken leg… I imagine she was waiting for a chance to get out without immediately being eaten, but the dehydration or heat stroke got to her first.”
A miracle, Mirat thinks, and she’s not the only one, she’s sure of it.
Ben shifts awkwardly, and then nods to them all. He’s uncomfortable with the attention. It’s obvious. “I, er, got a bit of water into her before I took her back. Not much, I didn’t want to risk overwhelming her, especially before a speeder ride; wouldn’t be much use if she immediately spit it all back up. I’ll leave her in your capable hands, Madame Lilliroot.”
He gets on his speeder and leaves before anyone can gather enough words to thank him. Half the town, standing in the square around a girl they’d thought lost forever, willing to do just about anything for her safe return, and he just… leaves.
Primro rouses, half awake, and people start to dither about whether they should all disperse and go back to bed. She’s safe, and she’s home, and her aunt is the closest thing the town has to a proper doctor. Surely—
“Is the… is th’ magic man gone?”
Her words are enough to startle them all into stillness. They carry through, meaningful. Heavy.
“The magic man?” someone prompts, and is immediately smacked by the person next to them.
“He couldn’ reach me,” Primro mutters, half-awake. “So he made me fffffffffffffloat out th’ hole. Like magic. ‘N’ everythin’ ‘urt, but said it w’s gonna be okay, ‘n’ ‘e made it go ‘way when he put h’s ‘and on m’head.”
She’s only saying half of each word, but they all hear what she means to say.
“Kenobi,” someone whispers. “The clone war.”
Pieces get put together too quickly.
“Jeedai,” someone hisses, fear and wonder and confusion in one.
“He saved one of our own,” Madame Lilliroot snaps. “He’s been nothing but kind, and he lives alone out in the Wastes. That man came here to get away from trouble, and we’re not going to ruin that for him just because we now know what the trouble was. Am I clear?”
It takes a moment, but everyone nods eventually. They’re used to hiding runaway slaves, if they have the room to put them up, and lying for the sake of others if they don’t. They can hide a runaway Jedi, if that’s what Ben is.
“Nobody speaks a word,” Madame Lilliroot reiterates, and then gestures for her brother-in-law to help her pick up Primro and carry her in. “Not to the Hutts, not to traders, not to family, not to troopers. Nobody talks.”
When Mirat sees Ben again, she presses a package of Mandalorian spice mix into his hands, the one he favors but only rarely has the wupiupi to buy. He looks at her in confusion, because she’s already processed his payment for the rest, and she just closes his hand around it. “For Primro.”
He flushes, and looks away. “It was just luck.”
“I have… a question,” Mirat says instead. “You… before you came to Tatooine…”
Ben stiffens, looking hunted. She sure hopes this isn’t too close to the truth, so much that he’ll think he has to hide.
“…were you some sort of priest?”
He blinks, and tilts his head. “What gives you that idea?”
“You seem like a man of faith,” she tells him. “The attitude, the kindness, the… minimalism?”
“Ascetism,” he corrects, voice quiet.
“I guess,” she says, because that’s not a word she’s heard before. “And, I don’t even know how to guess the religion, but you were something like that, right? A spiritual leader?”
“Something like that,” he allows, still looking uncomfortable. She thinks he’s heard her theories before. If it doesn’t seem to have come out of nowhere, it’ll be better. “Why do you ask?”
“Was it a religion that was… vague enough to cover those with none?” she asks, because she knows Force faiths often were considered such. The Force was proven to exist, after all. Those with no religion of their own could always trust that the Force at least existed, to some degree. If they were lucky enough to meet a Jedi… “To perform rites for those passing, for instance, even if they weren’t of that religion?”
“A willingness to perform secular services as a man of religious teachings?” he asks.
She stares at him, and then points. “That. That’s the way a man who went to some kind of school for religions talks.”
He smiles, tight and plain. “I hope you won’t ask for more of my background, Mirat.”
“Actually, I was hoping you could officiate my wedding,” she admits.
He stares at her, this time. “…the mad hermit from the Wastes to officiate a marriage? Really?”
There’s a barely unspoken ‘you can do better’ in that.
“Well, my other option is a town elder, and that’s fine, but it’s good luck to get a priest or the like to perform it if you can,” she explains. “Doesn’t really matter the religion, so long as it’s a nice one. You’re a nice man, so I figured you’d be from a nice religion, if you were from any at all.”
“And of your own?” he asks.
She shrugs. “Tatooine has spirits and spirituality, but we’ve only got maybe a handful of wise men, and none near Anchorhead. It’s not that kind of faith, you know? And with all the people coming in on slave ships, it’s a little…”
Mirat shrugs, and hopes that gets across her meaning. Nothing she’s said is a lie. It is good luck.
Ben’s eyes slip past her, seeing something she can’t, and she’s no longer sure if it’s the hallucination of the mad or the sight of the Force. Her heart hurts for him, though. He’s been through more than she’d considered to imagine.
She wants him to have a place in this community. He’s a mad old man, yes—not even that old, really, but that war of his and the sands and sun haven’t been kind—but he’s helpful and polite and she wants him to feel he has a place here. It’s been seven years.
“And you won’t ask what my faith was, or why I’m here now?” he asks, slow and careful.
Mirat shakes her head. “You’ve spent seven years making it clear you don’t want your past to follow you here. I won’t ask for more detail than I already have.”
He nods, eyes still fixed somewhere beyond her, and he says, “I’m afraid I’ve nothing appropriate for a wedding, and I’d need someone to walk me through the traditions of a Tatooine marriage.”
“I’m sure Madame Lilliroot would be happy to explain it,” Mirat says, her heart buzzing. “So that’s a yes?”
Ben smiles, bemused and still haunted, but it’s a smile. “If you’re quite so set on it, my dear, then I’d be honored to do so.”
“Yes!” she cheers, and while she does not hug him, it’s only because there’s a counter between them. “Er, we’ve been planning it for the cooler season, so in about four months? I can, actually, hold on, you’ve met my mother, she has all the details…”
She rambles, then, because the wedding’s been very stop-start for almost two years, now, since her pa’s family is days away and gran’s been too sick to travel, and she’s excited, and she gets an actual Jedi, an important one, to officiate.
Ben seems to find her enthusiasm charming. She’s glad for it. He needs more happy things in his life.
He’s one of theirs, now. They won’t be sharing his secrets about any sooner than they’ll be sharing anyone else’s.