Bid Time Return.
O! call back yesterday, bid time return.
Richard II (1595) act 3, sc. 2, l. 69
William Shakespeare 1564-1618
Part 1: In The Remembrance Of A Weeping Queen.
(Richard II (1595) act 3, sc. 4, l. 104)
"There is still good in him." Padmé uttered. Her thoughts protested the moment the words were drawn out of her mouth, outraged with herself. How could she still defend Anakin after all he had done, not just to her, but to the Jedi Order, to the Republic?
"Padmé, you have twins who need you," Obi-Wan pleaded as he leaned over her bed, carrying her first born in his arms. "Don't give up, Padmé."
She didn't want to, but she could feel herself struggling to stay with him in the medical bay, the pressure inside her neck too great. Her larynx was bruised, the cartilage fractured by her husband's Force choke. Instantly she corrected her memory, for the man who had inflicted this injury was not her husband. He was a Sith who inhabited his body. Anakin was dead, not by Obi-Wan's hand, but by the Emperor's. If she gave up now, her children would be left orphaned in a nightmare universe. Opening her eyes, she gazed into those of the man standing beside her bed, holding her son in his arms and pleading with her to fight. She wanted to take up his call to arms, to take hold of her children and live for them, protect them from the horrors of an Empire that would surely kill them.
But she couldn't protest, nor could she stay. For the choice was taken out of her hands. She summoned her strength, but to no avail. The injury to her throat was too grievous, the damage too complete. Angrily she slammed her hand against the transparisteel before her, unconscious of what the sudden barrier meant.
"No, my children need me. Send me back!" she cried, before her mind realised what she had said and what her hand had hit. And then she frowned, puzzled, for there was no transparisteel barrier before her.
Or at least there had been none. Now as she opened her eyes, she found herself standing before a large window in Theed Palace. A familiar spot, one she recognised, for she had stood here thirteen years ago, watching the droid army of the Trade Federation slowly marching upon the stone courtyard as they invaded her homeworld. She focused her gaze on the view outside and saw that same army, still marching towards the city.
"What am I doing here?" she asked aloud. Involuntarily her hand went to her throat, surprised to feel the soft, unharmed skin, astonished she had the breath and strength for words after the injury she sustained. Her reflection stared back at her via the ancient transparisteel, unleashing yet another shock to her system. Thirteen years had faded from her body, reducing her to the young and rather naive Queen who believed she could change the Republic. She pinched the loose skin across her throat, the slight pain produced by such a motion confirming that this was no illusion.
But what of the years she had experienced? Were they an illusion? Had she dreamt all thirteen of them, or was there another explanation for her memories? The answer that occurred to her sounded too fantastical, too much like something from the plot of a book, impossible to believe. Yet the chance that it was true seemed irresistible.
For if she had truly travelled back in time, she could change everything. Right the wrongs she inflicted, prevent the damage others incurred as a consequence of her actions. Protect her future husband from the influence of the Sith. Ensure a safer, happier future for their children.
Don't give up, Padmé. Obi-Wan's words would now become her credo for this new future which she was about to make. If he and his master arrived, it would prove to her that her memories were not an illusion of her frightened mind, that she was indeed returned from the ashes of the Republic to the past. That she could change what happened to the Republic, to Naboo. With one move she could prevent the rise of a Sith, the death of a Jedi, the destruction of a Republic, the seduction of a slave. While it might not be enough to stop Palpatine for good, the move would delay many of his plans, and allow her time - inwardly she laughed at the irony - to carry out her own.
A series of footsteps coming from behind called her from her thoughts, and Sabé entered, dressed in the elaborate black mourning costume of her decoy. A protection insisted upon by her security chief, one which Padmé knew would soon prove unnecessary. Before, she had welcomed the anonymity of the handmaiden robes which her decoy carried over one arm, the safety that lay in being the attendant, not the Queen.
Now she had no need for such disguise, nor did she desire it. She was risking her life by assuming that Sabé's appearance was confirmation of her memories, but her plans for the rescue of her planet and her people left her little choice. The Jedi were here to free a Queen. An outspoken bossy handmaiden ignoring their advice would invite too many questions and possibly delay their escape, causing further danger to Naboo.
"Change into your combat suit, Sabé," she commanded, causing her decoy to halt in surprise.
"Milady?" Sabé queried. "What of Captain Panaka's orders? The danger to yourself?"
"I understand the risks," Padmé replied. "But what I have in mind does not yet need a decoy. So change and have the others change as well. Put your cloaks over them and carry mine for I shall have need of them. Hurry."
Sabé bowed as she realised there was no time to argue with her sovereign. "Milady," she acknowledged before leaving.
When her attendant was gone, Padmé considered the contrast between the gown she wore and the one Sabé chose for when the Trade Federation captured her. Clothes were a symbol for many things on Naboo, and the difference between her costume and that of her decoy's could not have been greater. The red gown with the plasma gas illuminated sein jewels hem line which she had put on to confront the Viceroy, and talk with Senator Palpatine was a symbol of strong majestic sovereignty, impregnable via foreign powers and impervious to the blockade imposed upon her system as a result of the recent taxation of previously free trade routes.
Sabé's choice for their capture was a heavy gown of black embroidered brocade symbolising mourning for a national tragedy, with the rich royal decorations of Naboo reminding her people of her opposition to this invasion. It was an appropriate choice. But would Nute Gunray pick up on such symbolic language? Silently she reflected back on her dealings with him, recalling his skill in fiscal negotiations, his over confidence in the might and ability of the droid invasion army. How he deferred to Palpatine when she did the unexpected and his sending the Sith in response.
Colour and costume were important to the Naboo when it came to their sovereign, particularly at a time of national suffering such as this. Young monarchs were not uncommon and the elaborate dress had long become a traditional display of strength and expression to add to the intelligence of the elected sovereign. It was something which Palpatine should have been aware of, yet he had ignored it because he believed he knew how she would react to his actions concerning Naboo. To offworlders this might seem a silly insignificant thing to worry about now, but she wasn't sure if such a difference in dress would alter the future contrary to how she intended. Her death had sent her back in to the past; she, one girl in all the universe. If she could make a difference, it was just as possible for a dress to do so.
Outside the droid army began to pass under the arched doorway below her windowed view. Dress code decisions would soon be taken out of her hands. Hurriedly she rushed to her wardrobe and began to disrobe.
When Sabé returned to her Queen, this time without all the trappings to disguise her as a decoy, it was under the escort of Nute Gunray and his lackeys. Padmé turned from the window where she resumed her original position, allowing the full majesty of her black brocaded gown to show the Trade Federation who they had captured. It was their moment of glory and her moment of shame, something she could not deny them if everything was to succeed.
"Your Highness, you must come with us," Gunray declared.
"Must we?" she could not resist countering with. "And where do you intend to take the sovereign of Naboo, Viceroy? To a quiet back alley from which she shall never re-emerge?"
Even the droids seemed horrified by her suggestion, and the Viceroy blanched before gathering his composure to reply with a shake of his head. "No. Your Highness's death would serve only martyrdom. You will be escorted to a camp, where you will witness the suffering of your people until your conscience persuades you to sign our treaty, which will be ratified by the Senate."
"We have witnessed the suffering of my people ever since your Federation imposed this blockade upon my sector," Padmé informed him. "Every day we assist in handing out food and other necessities which your blockade has sought to deprive our people of. If you think more witnessing is required for our co-operation then you are gravely mistaken. We will not sign any treaty which demands that our sector surrenders to the rule of your Federation."
"We shall see," the Viceroy replied, before motioning his droids forward to take her into custody. "Take them to Camp Four."
Padmé fell into line, surrounded by her handmaidens, her councillors and Captain Panaka with his three guards. Not until they emerged into the temperate sunshine which caressed the courtyard of Theed Palace, did she turn her gaze from the other signs of invasion, such as more of the droid army herding her people away, and the sage grey green motorised tanks for bombardment, to survey the balcony from where the Jedi jumped to secure her rescue the first time she crossed the space, in the anonymous guise of a handmaiden. Before she had been ignorant of Valorum's efforts to effect a rescue, believing him personally responsible for the continued plight of her people, frustrated by the constant stalemate reports she received from the Senate. This time she would not be so quick to judge a man who was probably being manipulated just as she was by her ambitious Senator.
Jar Jar's lumbering figure was easily distinguished from the stone pillared archways which framed the cloistered passage way above the large courtyard arch which they were approaching. The desert shades of the Jedi robes were much harder. However, she knew what to look for now, and inwardly smiled as she descried the flash of blue and green lightsabers being ignited before their custodians jumped down to rescue them.
Four droids fell immediately, cut down by the Master and Padawan team. Padmé watched both of them as they dismembered and disarmed the guards until only a sergeant was left to attempt to flee, whereupon Qui-Gon used the Force to pull him back before dispatching him as well. Under his silent urging, they moved to the cover provided by two of the buildings of the Palace complex.
"Your Highness, my name is Qui-Gon Jinn and this is my apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi," Master Jinn began after he and Obi-Wan bowed before her. "We are Ambassadors for the Supreme Chancellor."
"Your negotiations seemed to have failed, Ambassador," her Governor Sio Bibble observed.
"The negotiations never took place," Master Jinn clarified. "Your Highness, we must make contact with the Senate."
"They've knocked out all our communications," Captain Panaka informed them.
"Do you have transports?" Master Jinn asked.
Panaka nodded. "In the main hanger. This way."
Together they followed the Captain down the alley and into a passage way which gave access to one of the side entrances of the main hanger. Opening the door cautiously, Panaka gave his sovereign a chance to see the pilots and space craft within guarded by about fifty battle droids.
"There are too many of them," Panaka declared.
"That won't be a problem," Qui-Gon answered confidently. "Your Highness, under the circumstances, I suggest you come to Coruscant with us."
"Thank you, Ambassador, but my place is with my people," Padmé replied, the words she had coached Sabé into delivering coming naturally to her lips.
"They will kill you if stay," Qui-Gon predicted.
"They wouldn't dare," Governor Bibble countered.
"They need her to sign a treaty to make this invasion of theirs legal," Panaka added. "They can't afford to kill her."
"The situation here is not what it seems," Qui-Gon added. "There is something else behind all this, Your Highness. There is no logic in the Federation's move here. My feelings tell me they will destroy you."
"Please, Your Highness, reconsider," Governor Bibble pleaded, swayed by the Jedi's words. "Our only hope is for the Senate to side with us. Senator Palpatine will need your help."
"Getting past their blockade is impossible, Your Highness," Panaka protested. "Any attempt to escape will be dangerous."
"Your Highness, I will stay here and do what I can," Governor Bibble informed them. "They will have to retain the Council of Governors in order to maintain control. But you must leave."
"Either choice presents great risk to all of us," Padmé replied, but this time without a searching glance directed at her decoys.
"If we are to leave, Your Highness, it must be now," Qui-Gon advised.
"You are right, Ambassador, there is nothing I can do here," Padmé declared. "We shall leave the capital." Her wording had been deliberate, and she hoped her court would realise it as such. Certainly Panaka seemed to glance at her with a searching expression, as if he had an inkling of what she meant. She turned to the Governor and cautioned him to be careful, before she followed her handmaidens, Captain Panaka and the Jedi into the main hanger.
"We'll need to free those pilots," the Captain added as they walked toward the royal space craft.
"I'll take care of that," Obi-Wan murmured as he moved away from his Master's side towards a group of Naboo seated upon the floor, surrounded by droids.
Padmé kept watching him as Qui-Gon fought to secure the royal space craft, remembering the last time she saw him, holding her son in his arms as he pleaded with her not to give up. She could not help but wonder how her decision would effect him, his relationship with his Master, his promotion first to Knight then Master, then a seat of the Jedi Council. She remembered hearing an account of his first encounter with the Council from Anakin, when Qui-Gon had declared that he would train her husband and Obi-Wan was ready for the trials. She had felt angry then at the Master's dismissal of his Padawan, whilst all Anakin could think of was his fear that the Council would not allow him to be trained at all. She recalled the silence between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan after they returned to Naboo, the tension which hinted to a disagreement. She remembered seeing them talking to each other before they met with the Gungans, managing to heal that rift before they helped her in taking back the planet from the Trade Federation.
After the funeral of Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Anakin had been granted a little leave from the Order to allow them both time to adjust. They spent it on Naboo, working with her and her people to clean up the damage done from the blockade then the invasion. Padmé remembered having a few conversations with the newly promoted Knight, despite Anakin's desire to have her beside him every second of his waking hours. They had both confided in each other over their mutual uncertainty at their readiness for the duties granted to them. Both of them had tried to reassure the other that they were capable of proving the hopes and expectations thrust upon them, and she parted from him to remember the time fondly in the ten years that passed before she saw them both again.
Now her actions would delay the one and postpone the other, possibly forever. She did not blame Obi-Wan for Anakin's fall, he had taught her husband to the best of his ability. It had been Anakin himself and Palpatine's influence which led him down the path of the darkside. To warn Obi-Wan would alter nothing, but if she prevented his master from encountering Anakin now, it would avoid the rift in their relationship and might give Obi-Wan the chance to experience some years as a knight without the burden of an apprentice. There would be time to find Anakin later, a meeting which also should avoid an encounter between him and her Senator.
To Captain Panaka's surprise she joined him and Qui-Gon in the cockpit of the royal space craft. At the controls were two of the freed pilots, who were currently tasked with taking the ship out of the hanger towards the blockade of Trade Federation ships in orbit above the planet.
"Gentlemen," she began, "we are not going to fight through the blockade and travel to Coruscant."
Her words caught all of their attention, even that of the pilots as they manoeuvred the ship to avoid the blaster fire directed at the craft by the droid army.
"You must plead your case to the Senate, Your Highness," Qui-Gon reminded her.
"We have been, Master Jinn," she pointed out. "From the moment this blockade began we have pleaded our case, as has our Senator. For months now the Senate has debated the plight of the Naboo, to no avail. It is obvious that we cannot rely on them to put an end to our plight. We must explore other options."
"What is your plan, then, Your Highness?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Evade the patrols of the droid army and set the ship down in a sheltered spot of the swamps surrounding Theed," Padmé ordered the pilots, who began to manoeuvre the ship in accordance to her commands. "We shall need to talk with the Gungan you brought with you, Master Jinn. We have a treaty of our own to create."
Obi-Wan Kenobi brought Jar Jar from the droid room into the conference room of the royal craft, to find a surprising sight.
The Queen of Naboo was no longer in her elaborately embroidered black brocade gown, but a padded blaster proofed red combat suit. Her hair was pulled back away from her now clean face, devoid of the feathered head dress and makeup she wore during the escape. She turned from fixing a pin into the hair of one of her handmaidens, whose face was made up and hair was styled a little more decoratively. He realised that like many of her counterparts on other planets, she made use of decoys for protection.
For the first time he was struck by how young she was, younger than him, yet already an elected leader of her people. A heavy role for one so young to assume, yet she seemed far older than her years, almost like a Jedi padawan or initiate often appeared to others who possessed similar prejudices. He admired her ability in coping with the plight of her system, and wondered as to what she had in mind that would put an end to the blockade, something which like her, he failed to believe that the Senate on Coruscant could do. Compared to his Master Obi-Wan had little patience for the political machinations that currently plagued the governing of the Republic. Neither the Senate nor the Courts were as effectual as they once were, choking under layer upon layer of corruption and regulation that even the hands of the Supreme Chancellor were tied.
"Your Highness, may I present Jar Jar," he began, for his Master was yet to arrive in the conference room. Obi-Wan assumed he was still in the cockpit assisting the pilots as they aimed to set the ship down undetected by the droid army of the Trade Federation.
"Thank you, Padawan Kenobi," Queen Amidala replied, surprising Obi-Wan with her use of the formal address for his Jedi rank. Few people were familiar with the term, using apprentice whenever they dealt with members of the Order. That she seemed confident with such a word was unusual.
"Jar Jar, we need your help," Queen Amidala began.
"Mesa, Your Highness?" Jar Jar queried.
"Yes," the Queen confirmed. "We wish to speak with your King, to ask for his help in liberating our planet from the armies of the Trade Federation. Your people have a grand army, do they not?"
"Yes, Your Highness, wesa have a grand army," Jar Jar affirmed.
"We ask you to have him meet with us when we land," the Queen continued. "Our people must overcome our differences in order to achieve our mutual desire for peace upon our besieged planet."
Obi-Wan saw the strength in her plans, the element of surprise, but also the weakness in choosing to ignore the blockade in space. "Your Highness, what of the blockade in orbit?"
"The pilots you rescued shall take care of the control ship," Queen Amidala informed him. "While we attempt to take the palace and secure the Viceroy, the Gungan army shall battle with the droids until the control ship is knocked out, rendering the droids inoperable. Without the army or the control ship, the Viceroy will have no choice but to remove the blockade, freeing my people from their suffering."
It was a bold plan, Obi-Wan judged, with good chance of success, provided all the beings involved performed their parts. He admired her bravery in choosing this method of rescue, as opposed to appealing to the Senate. He distrusted that any of the politicians within that body could be capable of stirring the Republic into taking action towards the Trade Federation. Chancellor Valorum had confessed such doubts himself to he and Qui-Gon when he called for them to be sent to Naboo to fetch the Queen.
Abruptly the ship dropped speed and he heard the thrusters fire as the pilots brought the craft back down upon the planet. A moment later the doors of the conference room slid back and his Master entered.
"Our return is undetected, for the moment, Your Highness," Qui-Gon informed her. "May I ask what is it you intend to do? My apprentice and I cannot fight a war for you, we can only protect you."
Queen Amidala proceeded to explain her plan to his Master, who listened carefully and silently until the end, whereupon he pointed out one of the weaknesses.
"A well-conceived plan. However, there's great risk. The weapons on your fighters may not penetrate the shields on the control ship."
"The ship will release smaller craft to try and fight our pilots," the Queen hypothesised. "For that they will have to open the doors to the hanger, allowing for a pilot to fly inside and destroy the ship that way."
It would be a bold move, Obi-Wan judged, but it could succeed. He offered his own concern. "And there's an even bigger danger. If the Viceroy escapes, Your Highness, he will return with another droid army."
"That is why we must not fail to get to the Viceroy," the Queen replied. "Everything depends on it." She stepped away from her handmaidens. "But first, we must speak with the Gungan King."
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon murmured as the Queen spoke with her security chief, "Accompany the Queen to meet with the Gungans. I shall protect everyone here until you all return, hopefully with the new alliance."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied. "Do you think the Queen's idea will work?"
"The Gungans will not easily be swayed, and we cannot use our power to help her," Qui-Gon replied. "But she has proven herself already as eloquent beyond her years. Perhaps her way with words will sway the King to ally himself with her."
Obi-Wan nodded and parted from his Master's side to let the Queen and her security know that he would be travelling with them to the Gungan capital.
"We shall be glad of your protection, Padawan Kenobi," Queen Amidala said when he finished, her gratitude causing him to blush. Out of the cover of her elaborate symbols of majesty, she was one of the most beautiful young women he had seen in his many missions since becoming a Padawan. However it was not just her beauty that made him admire her, for she seemed to possess an intelligence and foresight which was rare in threatened sovereigns. There was no concern in him that she chose not to obey the advice of a Jedi, something which a lot of beings they were sent to help did now, a result of the negative propaganda that was spreading itself about the universe lately, for her reasoning made good sense in the face of the stalemate that the Senate had reached concerning the Naboo.
Jar Jar took the lead with Queen Amidala in the middle and Obi-Wan behind her after they disembarked from the royal craft. All three were alert and cautious to the far off sounds of the invading droid army, their movements echoing from the capital. Obi-Wan kept his hand near his saber as he followed the Queen's form, ready to ignite at the moment his Force skill failed to divert a search party. Amidala was also armed, he noticed the bulge of a waist holster which encased a small yet deadly blaster. He remembered learning somewhere in his research for the mission that her security had made a point of teaching her as well as her attendants forms of self defence and that the newly elected Queen was the best shot out of all the young women based at court since her accession. Another useful skill to her bow, unusual in these times not for the acquired ability; for most of her corrupt colleagues were equally proficient, but in the face of her planet's reputation for peace. He could not name many beings who had been so active in quelling violent disagreements within the Republic.
They reached a clearing surrounded by a large body of sea water, and Jar Jar turned nervously to the Queen only to see her already prepared for the next stage of journey, her hand moving from her mouth to reveal a breathing device similar to the one which Obi-Wan and his Master made use of during their foray into the Nubian oceans. One by one they waded into the water, following their guide until they could no longer keep upright, whereupon they stretched out their arms and legs for swimming.
Creatures of a natural rather than mechanical persuasion were a potential threat to them during this journey, so Obi-Wan drew level with the Queen as they followed their guide. She was equally proficient in the water as he it seemed, causing him to wonder if she had a Mon Calamari as a friend. The Force was a powerful ally to any talent, but without a foundation for it within those who trained themselves to use the ancient power, such talents required serious dedication and or a desire to acquire such an asset. He felt a fascination for her that seemed to go beyond natural curiosity, so much so that he could hear certain parts of the Code he swore to obey echoing through his mind, making him alert to the fact that he had been admiring this young woman from the moment he met her, and that he better put a hand of restraint on that tendency before it caused him to question those vows. Qui-Gon was a liberal Master, unconventional within the ranks of the Order, allowing his Padawan the occasional indiscretion during their years together, but now that he was approaching his trials, further indulgences would not be regarded so.
Especially with a young sovereign in charge of a besieged system. There was a time and a place for such indulgences, but this was neither. Perhaps when he was knighted, and she was free of her duties, not to mention willing, the possibility of such a relationship could be explored. But such an event lay in the future, and as his Master reminded him only a few hours ago, he must focus on the here and now, not that which was to come. Obi-Wan silently rebuked himself into obedience until the emotions were suitably quelled, just as he and his companions reached the outskirts of the Gungan Capital.
Otoh Gunga was unchanged from the last time he had seen the sprawling transparent domed city, causing him to give each half sphere of civilisation no more than a cursory glance for threats to the Queen beside him. She was regarding the city with great curiosity, doubtless as much of a stranger to it as he had been when Qui-Gon and he came to the place.
They reached the transparent dome of the throne room, and Obi-Wan took care to step through slightly ahead, silently showing the Queen what to do. She soon levelled with him and they waited for Jar Jar to finish apologising for his return from exile, then introducing the companions he brought with him this time.
When Jar Jar turned, the Queen stepped forward, the regal bearing of her rank falling upon her, making her seem wise beyond her years. "I am Queen Amidala of the Naboo, and I come before you in peace."
"Naboo biggen," Boss Nass commented. "Yousa bringen da Mackineeks. Dya busten uss-en omm. Yousa all bombad. Yousa all die'n, mesa tink."
"Although we do not always agree, Your Honour, our two great societies have always lived in peace," the Queen replied, "until now. The Trade Federation, with all its tanks and maccaneks, has destroyed all that we have worked so hard to build. When my people are contained in camps, the armies will come into the ocean, forcing you and your people to go into hiding. If we do not act quickly, all will be lost forever. I ask you to help us," she finished, before adding, "no, I beg you to help us."
To the surprise of almost all present to hear her, she dropped to her knees before the Gungan King. "We are your humble servants, our fate is in your hands."
Silence fell across the throne room while Boss Nass considered her words. He had been uninclined to help the Naboo, due to their long history of mutual ignorance. The lands above them were threatened, but he doubted that his oceans would be explored by the Mackinneeks. Her decision to bow before him however, swayed and charmed him. "Yousa no tinken yousa greater den da Gungans. Mesa like dis. Maybe wesa bein friends."
Amidala smiled and rose from her knees. Obi-Wan followed suit, silently observing their surroundings as she laid out the battle plans for the Gungans whom Boss Nass declared ready to do their part. He called his troops to arms and escorted them back the way they came, before separating from the Naboo to present themselves ready for battle on the grassy plains situated within the outskirts of Theed, their show of strength calling the army of the Trade Federation out from the safety of the capital, allowing for a small party of Naboo to enter the palace walls and capture the Viceroy.
Obi-Wan took a moment to brief his Master on what took place. Qui-Gon smiled at the Queen's unusual move of pleading for Gungan assistance.
"She appears to be well skilled in reading other beings'," Qui-Gon remarked. "What do you make of her, Padawan?"
"For one so young and newly elected she cares deeply for the welfare of her people," Obi-Wan answered cautiously, aware that if he revealed too much of his admiration, his Master would descry those emotions he was trying to quell. "Her plans are well conceived, especially compared to the inaction of the Senate."
"And this is why I shall never introduce you to my old Master," Qui-Gon murmured as he sensed the mild disgust with which the last word was imbued. "Five minutes alone with Dooku and your low opinion of politicians would be fixed for life."
Obi-Wan didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed that his Master had taken the misdirection as read, for a part of him would have liked to hear Qui-Gon's advice. But now was hardly the time and place for such a conversation, not on the eve of battle.
And afterwards, assuming all went the way Queen Amidala intended, he and his Master would return to the Temple. Chances were, he would not see her again, for his missions would take him to other planets, to meet with other beings.
No, his feelings must limit themselves to admiration, he resolved, before turning to the rest of their party, preparing himself for battle.
While the Master and Padawan talked, Padmé had spent her time briefing the pilots Obi-Wan had rescued, outlining the way they needed to destroy the control ship. Another tale of his achievements that her husband had told her, when he was still that innocent little boy she remembered fondly, not the dangerous, yet utterly vulnerable young man whom she married. At nine, Anakin had no conception of his immense power within the Force, counting every action he took in that flight as pure chance, an accident he paid for obeying Qui-Gon's orders to stay in the cockpit of the ship. He had been so determined to help, ignorant of the glory and gratitude it would bring him. Only later, when he became so accustomed to those acts of heroism, did he begin to crave the benefits that they bestowed.
Under the Jedi escort, she, her security, her handmaidens and pilots returned to the palace grounds from which they escaped only hours ago. While the bulk of the invasion army had gone to meet that of the Gungans in the plains, search groups were still patrolling the courtyard, looking out for those who had recently escaped their capture. As her security sent the pre-divided groups to the other side of the plaza, Padmé knelt down between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, remembering the former's words of caution to Anakin that were said here, but a few days later. In her future, this victory would come with a terrible price, the first of many.
Hopefully, her decision to act earlier would prevent that price from being paid.
Captain Panaka signalled his reply to her own call, the flash of a laser torch, then began to attack the droids by his side of the Plaza. Padmé watched, waiting for sufficient distraction, then rose up with the Jedi and her group, heading for the entrance to the main hanger bay.
They opened fire on the droids within as soon as they entered, clearing the space until the chance was present for the pilots to run to their ships. Padmé had no time to draw on what comparisons which may lie between this attack and the events in her memory, for her mind was focused on survival, as she aimed her blaster and shot at the droids, dodged the response of their firepower, and shouted orders to her people when the time came.
All the same, she could not help directing a glance towards the one of the exits, holding her breath as she and the Jedi passed them without incident, the doors refusing to slide back and reveal a being from her nightmares, a Sith apprentice ready to inflict the price for this victory. She was relieved to find Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon still beside her when they reached the passage entrance to the corridors for the throne room.
There seemed to be more guards here this time as she and her team entered one of the central grand halls that lay enroute to the throne room. Klaxons echoed throughout the magnificent building, the alarm system had sounded since she was first rescued by the Jedi. Padmé raised her blaster, aimed and fired at one of the droids. Their response quickly followed, deflected by the humming blue and green lightsabers. She had seen Anakin and Obi-Wan work as a team and had always marvelled at the sight. Now she found herself doing the same with he and Qui-Gon. There was a contrast; the movements of the blue and green lightsabers were both aggressive, when with Anakin Obi-Wan had switched to a more defensive style. But other than that, Padmé could find no difference, except in what actions she had taken to change the future.
Despite the large numbers of guards, it did not taken them long to reach the enormous grand panes of transparisteel flanked by marble pillars, where in her memories she had chosen to change tactics. Speed would also be a valuable ally at this moment, helping them to capitalise on their surprise attack.
"We don't have time for this, Captain," she called out to him between blaster fire.
"Let's try outside," he replied, increasing his response time, before aiming a shot to the partitioned panes as the Jedi stepped forward to provide cover for their flight to the window.
With the Jedi either side of her, Padmé fired her ascension gun and they ascended to the upper level, cutting out another dash up the grand hall which they had just left. Upon the higher ledge, she retrieved her blaster to break the window as she had done before. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon went ahead of the Naboo, using their lightsabers to deflect the blaster shots which came towards them, as the droids noticed their arrival and proceeded to attack.
Padmé aimed and fired at the droids. The doubts in her mind that this was the right course of action had lessened since they began to carry out the relief attack, but she still worried that things would go wrong on the grassy plains outside Theed where the Gungans fought the army of the Trade Federation and above in space with her pilots against the blockade and control ship. She had told the pilots exactly what Anakin had done to destroy the craft which powered the droids, but none of them possessed the ability to use the Force, something which could prove costly.
She would have no way of knowing if this would work until they reached the throne room, and she had captured the Viceroy. Determinedly she turned away from the doubts and continued to aim and fire, waiting for the next show of strength from the Trade Federation, all the while hoping quietly that they would unconsciously repeat their own history.
"Destroyer Droids," Obi-Wan called out suddenly, and inwardly Padmé breathed another sigh of relief.
"Throw down your weapons," she ordered. "They win this round."
"But, Your Highness, we can't," Captain Panaka cried, as the Jedi turned to look at her in surprise and shock at her decision.
Padmé cast a look at the Master and Padawan, then at Panaka. "Captain, I said throw down your weapons."
She let her blaster drop to the floor, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan shut off their lightsabers before tossing them also, forcing Panaka to reluctantly followed suit.
"Have faith, Captain," she murmured, as she moved her hand to the com device which encircled her other wrist, tapping the encoded message through to Sabé.
The destroyer droids rolled away from the doors, the soldiers picked up the surrendered weaponry, and encircled the Naboo. Ahead of them the entrance to the throne room opened, revealing the triumphant figures of Nute Gunray and his lackeys.
"Your little insurrection is at an end, Your Highness," he crowed. "The rabble army you sent against us south of the city has been crushed. You and the Jedi are my captives. It is time for you to put an end to the pointless debate which your Senator instigated in the Republic Senate. Sign the treaty now."
Padmé didn't have to answer, for her decoy did, as Sabé and her forces filled the corridor which she previously surrendered in.
"I will not be signing any treaty, Viceroy!" Sabé shouted, using the formal tone which her sovereign adopted when speaking as Queen. "Your occupation of our planet has ended!"
"After her!" Nute Gunray ordered the droids surrounding the Jedi and the Naboo. "This one's a decoy!"
Their distraction secured, Padmé backed away to her throne, and once seated, reached out with her hand for the controls to open the concealed weapons hatch. She called out to Panaka and tossed him a blaster, before taking one for her herself.
Catching on, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan called for their sabers, the Force snatching the weapons out of the grasp of the astonished droids who had retrieved them from the floor.
"Jam the doors," Panaka directed his aides.
"Now, Viceroy," Padmé began as she came to stand in front of Nute Gunray, "we will discuss a new treaty."
For a time the Viceroy stood still, silent and bewildered at the turn of events. Mere hours ago he had the planet under his complete control, the people subdued, the Queen captured and on her way to a camp. Even when her ship escaped the palace hangar bay, he thought himself triumphant because it failed to break orbit, saving him the embarrassment of contacting Lord Sidious and asking for assistance. The Sith frightened him, though they were allies, his anger over the involvement of the Jedi had made Nute decide to not inform him of when the pair of Force guided warriors escaped their ship for the planet and disappeared.
Now they stood beside the Queen, who held a blaster to his head, even while his forces fought her decoy outside, and the army battled that Gungan rabble south of the city. Incredulity ruled his beleaguered brain; it was impossible that she had the gall to command him and his forces to surrender, when she would soon be defeated. Time was all he needed to turn this round. Lord Sidious had promised to help the Trade Federation in their fight for power within the Republic. Even the Jedi would be terrified of him when they saw him. He must delay, until his droid army defeated the Gungans and returned to the palace to save him.
And then the sound of the blaster fire which had echoed through those large grand entrance doors abruptly died, taking with it all his hopes for victory.
"What's going on?" Captain Panaka asked.
"Try communications," Padmé replied. "Activate the view screen."
She watched his movements with a pounding heart that did not slow until her dark brown eyes caught sight of the triumphant Gungan army celebrating around the defunct droid army, the explosion of the control ship above them in space, and the empty melting room of the power station.
"Now, Viceroy," she remarked calmly. "Lets discuss that treaty."
That elusive bad feeling which Obi-Wan had felt from before he first mentioned it to his Master as they stepped aboard the Trade Federation's ship, disappeared, replaced by a calm serenity from the Force, which for some reason still possessed the ability to disturb him a little. Unlike Qui-Gon, his ability lay within the Unifying Force, the art of seeing the bigger picture, the talent to determine the future. He was accustomed to his bad feelings being a sign from the Force for him to be cautious, else what was to come might cost someone dear. Yet this one now seemed to be nothing more than the musing of a overly concerned mind. It was not like his knowledge of the Force to deceive him.
He continued to examine that feeling as he and Qui-Gon observed the negotiations between Nute Gunray and the Queen Amidala, whose Nubian pilots had managed to destroy most of the blockade ships including the one which controlled the droid army, defeated by the Gungans. Her security held the leader of the Trade Federation under arrest, waiting for the Republic security to arrive from Coruscant to take them back for trial. Chancellor Valorum and Senator Palpatine, when they arrived to congratulate the Queen, before staying to witness the formal ceremony that announced an alliance between the Gungans and the Naboo, as well as the end of the blockade. The politicians would escort the Viceroy back to Coruscant, the Supreme Chancellor kindly offering the Jedi a ride back to the capital, as the Trade Federation had destroyed the ship which brought them here. In the interim, between attending the negotiations between Nute Gunray and Queen Amidala, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had volunteered their services in assisting the cleanup of the damage done to Naboo since the blockade began.
Queen Amidala also lent a hand to the relief movements, as well as most of the members of her government, her security and her handmaidens. It was rare to find such generosity within the ranks of authority in any system. Normally those beings would be the last to assist those most deserving of aid, unless there was time to call in the friendly neighbour holonet reporter who would spin the situation to the politician's self-serving advantage. But the Naboo were the exception to this stereotype, causing Obi-Wan to re-evaluate his too often cynical view of those elected to create law. Not to mention another reason to admire this young woman even more than he should. Inwardly he sighed, a part of him already resigned to the depth of feeling he was currently drowning in regarding Amidala, and focused himself on the talks.
Nute Gunray had gone from incredulous and bewildered at the sudden collapse of his blockade invasion, to resigned, dismayed, and in Obi-Wan's opinion, a reluctant surrender. The Nubian government and Queen Amidala were doing their best to negotiate a peaceful settlement; express their sympathy for recently authorised Senate tax on the trade routes, but the Neimoidians were too much focused on their humiliating defeat and were not in a mind to accept the realities of their current position. After several hours spent in the conference room ending in the same stalemate they first reached when the meeting was begun, the Queen called for a recess. The Viceroy and his subordinates were escorted back to their rooms under guard, leaving the Naboo alone with the Jedi.
"Let us do something more productive now," Amidala remarked, her gaze directed at her security, more out of deference for their work rather than a desire for permission regarding what she was about to say next. "We are going to lend a hand to the clean up efforts. Any of you who care to join us, please be ready in the plaza."
There were no absences from those who were present in the conference room in the group which gathered upon the ground of Theed Palace's inner courtyard. Amidala was the last to arrive, having changed out of her heavy and elaborate clothes of office into something more practical. Her handmaidens followed behind her, some decoys only in face, others more similar, but for Obi-Wan the elected sovereign still stood out from her attendants, her beauty and intelligence beyond her years reflected from her youthful features.
Initially it was with difficulty that he removed his eyes from her to focus on the task ahead of them. However, as time drew on, and as he and Qui-Gon became completely aware of the full extent of the damage the Trade Federation inflicted on the planet, his thoughts reverted to the Jedi philosophy so inherent in his good nature. For despite the seemingly paradise like appearance of the planet, it held a populous who had been denied trade, food and water, removed from their homes, herded into camps. Many people were in distress, requiring the expertise of those trained to bring relief in such potentially helpless situations. It was a matter in which he had been trained from a youngling to assist, and he did so, as any Jedi would. A feeling of accomplishment arose within him from witnessing the difference their efforts made, the comfort which they brought to each and every being as they doled out food, water, and clothing, as well as assisting in repairs to the damaged capital.
He was experienced in dealing with such situations, but he had not expected those of the Nubian government to be so, particularly the Queen and her attendants, who were quite young to be granted symbols of power in the eyes of the Republic. Yet here they were working along side he and his master, as ably as any aid worker. Amidala was only recently elected, there had not been much information about her in the Jedi Archives, beyond her youth and involvement in the blockade upon her system. Despite his resolution not to indulge his attraction, he found his curiosity to know more about her increasing.
In a few minutes they were working beside each other, providing aid, able to observe each other's manner, hear the kind words they were saying, witness the comfort they managed to convey. She was the first to turn away, noticing his expression of curiosity, as he glanced at her for a moment.
"Naboo is generous," she explained. "Before the blockade, we could all have what we want. Food is plentiful, the climate is comfortable, the surroundings are beautiful. We are a very fortunate people and we know it. That good fortune should not be taken for granted, so we try to share and try to help. It is our way of saying that we welcome the friendship of those less fortunate, that we do not think ourselves entitled to that which we have, but rather, that we feel blessed beyond what we deserve. And so we share and so we work, and in doing so, we become something larger than ourselves, and more fulfilled than one can become from idly enjoying good fortune."
"It is a good philosophy to live by," Obi-Wan agreed. "I am glad to see that such generosity still exists." He turned to see if Qui-Gon or the others were watching, making sure that their attention was occupied elsewhere, before he let his curiosity flow. "Forgive me, but I am wondering, why you chose to become Queen with that desire to provide in mind."
"My father worked in the Refugee Relief Movement," she revealed. "It was my dream to follow him, but the more history I studied, the more I realised how much good politicians could do, if they so desired. When I was eight I joined the Apprentice Legislators, which is like making a formal announcement that you're entering public service here on Naboo. From there I went on to become a Senatorial Advisor where I attacked my duties with such a passion that before I knew it, I was elected Queen. For the most part it was because of my conviction that reform was possible. The people of Naboo embraced that dream wholeheartedly, so much so that my age was hardly an issue in the campaign. I'm not the youngest Queen elected, but I know that my youth and my actions will be judged by others. I just wish they would be willing to listen and to change, rather than scorn and disregard."
"I hope once they know you, that will change," he found himself saying, and inwardly flushed for expressing such a compliment aloud, however indirect. Then she smiled, and suddenly whatever guilt and embarrassment he felt faded away.
"Thank you, Obi-Wan," she uttered, causing him even more pleasure as the sound of his name was rendered sweet by her lips.
"You're welcome, milady," he replied.
"Padmé," she offered softly.
"It was my pleasure, Padmé," he added, inwardly musing on how well the name suited her. Another word for lotus flower, he remembered discovering in his research for this mission. A flower indeed, blooming for peace, and he grimaced almost as soon as the thought finished forming within his mind. Once more he had caught himself doing what he had resolved only minutes ago not to do. Resolutely he forced the feelings away and returned to assisting the Naboo.
Four days later, each one of them passed in the same fashion as the one before, attempting to negotiate a treaty with the Neimoidians, then participating in the cleanup of Naboo and assisting its' populous, the delegation from the Senate arrived to collect Nute Gunray and his lackeys for arrest and trial. Their arrival signalled the departure of Obi-Wan and his Master, a leaving the former was loathed to take, for it would mean parting from the young Queen whom he had come to admire and care for so much over the past few days, despite trying to restrain himself from doing so.
As soon as they received confirmation that the Chancellor's ship was approaching, he and Qui-Gon joined the Queen and her retinue upon the outdoor landing plaza. While the craft broke through the atmosphere, he tried to avoid directing a glance at Padmé. However, he soon realised that resolve was in vain and therefore gave up the attempt. She was veiled in the heavy robes of her elected office, an elaborately woven cloak which contrasted well with her dark hair and pale skin. What caught him most however was her expression; usually so majestically serene when she was required to use the formality of her position. The one which her face beheld now was as if a struggle for control was taking place within her mind. Her emotions were laying siege against her usual restraint on them, a self discipline that normally appeared to be as powerful as that of any Jedi, and she was not sensitive to the Force. She stared at the Chancellor's ship as the craft settled gently upon the permacrete of the plaza, with a fixed, narrowed eyed look, as if the person who was about to emerge from the craft was someone she hated.
Risking a verbal warning from his Master later on, Obi-Wan called upon the Force to confirm his suspicions. The conclusion he received caused him surprise, for he had hoped to be wrong in what he perceived. She did indeed hate someone aboard that ship, a deeply filled hatred, unusual in one so young and so yet so intelligent. He wondered about what could have caused such a strong emotion within her, and he felt compelled to alleviate that emotion, if only for a while, before the being descried that feeling and began to contemplate the motive behind it. To his astonishment, this compulsion originated not just from his feelings for her, but from the Force as well, as if the ancient energy called on him to protect her.
And as any Jedi would do, he obeyed the will of the Force. Gently he probed at her mental shields, silently asking for access to her mind. Due to her tenuous control of her emotions this penetration was easily granted, allowing him to slip through the barriers. The Force translated the conflict within her mind, turning the neural pathways into images which displayed the source of her negative feelings.
What he saw shocked him. It was Padmé, standing before the Senate, not in the elaborate robes of an elected Queen of the Naboo, but in those of a Senator. Her appearance was older too, as if this event which he was witnessing had taken place a few years from now. Yet why should it, he wondered, for to possess such a memory was impossible, even with the Force. Visions of the future changed all the time, influenced by whoever viewed them, by the actions of each living thing. It was impossible for it to stay the same.
Ignoring his curiosity regarding such an anomaly for now, he delved further into the scene that was being played out before him. A voice, belonging to a cloaked figure standing within the pod of office which was for the Chancellor, echoed around the room, addressing the Senators. Its owner was not Finis Valorum but another being, his features scarred before their natural time, beyond recognition. He was describing a calamitous event, one which had caused his injuries but was also impossible to conceive. Why would the Jedi mutiny against the Republic? Pushing the query aside, he observed Padmé's face. She was anxious and concerned, as well as sceptical. As if she doubted the veracity of the being's claims and had good reasons for such doubts.
The scene shifted to another place; a luxurious apartment, containing her and a Jedi. He caught the sound of the man's voice, the words which he spoke disjointed as if he was in the middle of a sentence. The news he conveyed was tragic; someone had turned to the dark side of the Force. To his horror he realised that the man was himself, several years older than he was now. Padmé seemed devastated, every part of her on the verge of collapse.
Both events flicked back and forth between one another as the hatred she felt continued to grow, interspersed with what was taking place at this moment; the latter almost like a countdown to implosion. He detected other emotions too, lending support to the hatred, convincing him that her feelings were not unjust, that if he witnessed what she saw, he would be experiencing the same emotions. And as much as the Force was telling him to help her conquer this hatred, for now at least, it was also warning him to take heed of what he had seen, because it would be vital to his understanding of events in the future.
In the distance he could hear the sound of landing gear shutting off, the imminent signal that the Coruscant delegation was due to disembark. The Force changed its message, urging him to help her, to protect her from what would come if a member of that delegation descried the wave of negative emotion she felt against them. Who he was not allowed to know, not yet. Accepting this state of ignorance, - for he would have time later to reflect on everything he had learned and perhaps guess at the identity, - Obi-Wan began to send soothing waves into her mind, gently lessening the hatred until she became aware of her surroundings and realised the need to conceal the emotion.
When her face was restored to the usual appearance of majestic serenity, he withdrew his intrusion into her mind, his departure as careful as his entrance had first been. He caught a look from Qui-Gon, eloquently conveying his Master's intention to speak to him about his actions the moment they were granted the privacy needed to do so. Obi-Wan accepted the event without resignation. Such a consequence was unavoidable due to the nature of his actions, the shift in the Force would have been noticeable to the Jedi Master, as it was carried out under his mental shields, ones which were always exercised by Masters over their Padawans. But he also caught sight of another eloquent glance, this one full of gratitude, for what he had just done, from one whom he had expected to remain ignorant of his actions.
It belonged to Padmé Amidala.
Until now Padmé had ignored the fact that the expected arrival of the Chancellor's ship would mean an encounter with Senator Palpatine. But from the moment orbital sensors signalled the craft's entry into the atmosphere, she could not ignore such a fact no longer. Against her will, a strong feeling of disgust rose within her mind as she stood with her retinue, the government of Naboo and the Jedi, watching the descent of the ship. Her mind was filled with memories from the future, of the moment she watched Palpatine declare himself Emperor.
She remembered the hatred she felt for him, the despair for the beings of the Republic for the Jedi being murdered across the galaxy. Her anxious concern for those of the Order closest to her, Anakin and Obi-Wan. At the time she had not known that the newly self-christened Emperor was a Sith Lord, and her husband his willing apprentice. That she would learn later, in a bittersweet conversation with Anakin's former Jedi Master. But due to her involvement within the Senate, she knew enough to remain sceptical and outraged against what her former Senator was proposing.
Her mind kept flicking back and forth between the Emperor's speech to the Senate, and Obi-Wan's declaration that Anakin had fallen to the dark side of the Force. Inside her the hatred grew and grew, the sight before her eyes acting like a countdown to the emotion, which threatened to implode and overwhelm her. She felt helpless to control the wave of revulsion, frantic at the realisation, for she had to because Senator Palpatine would sense what she was feeling and could seek to destroy either her, or the future she was attempting so desperately to save.
Suddenly she felt a calming wind gently stole through her beleaguered mind, easing the hatred away until the emotion was hers to conceal and control once more. She was familiar with this technique, her husband had used it on her once. But Anakin was not here, so another Jedi must have applied his talents.
Padmé turned her head, and caught sight of Obi-Wan, his face directed towards her with an expression of eloquent intent. Inwardly she smiled, and sent out a look of gratitude at his overture. Just as he would in the future, he had sought to give her comfort, to protect her. Requiring no explanation from her about what he must have seen in her mind, respecting her privacy, her right to tell him if she desired to do so. He was a generous soul, both then and now, her true ally and friend.
There was no time at present for her to speculate as to what he could have learned from her memories of the future. Chancellor Valorum was disembarking from his ship, Senator Palpatine close on his heels. She stepped away from the ranks of her retinue and government to greet them.
"Chancellor Valorum, welcome to Naboo." She was careful to make sure that she offered her usual greeting to the man beside him, concealing even her anxiety that he might have sensed what had happened to her. "Senator Palpatine, it is good to see you."
"I am thankful to have the opportunity to travel to our home world and congratulate you, Your Majesty," Palpatine replied. "Your boldness has saved our people."
"I offer my congratulations as well, Your Highness," Valorum added. "Your actions are an example to the rest of the Republic. Be assured we shall take heed and strive to see that no one will come to suffer under such a blockade again."
"I am grateful to hear such a promise, Chancellor," Padmé replied. "And I offer one in return. To provide you with all the support I can in carrying out such an endeavour." She turned her gaze on her representative. "I am sure that my Senator will also provide his support as well."
Palpatine inclined his head in silent acceptance, while she inwardly wondered how much of that was sincerely meant. Her actions had denied him his opportunity to become Chancellor, but that did not mean that he was barred from ever running for the office. Finis Valorum was in the final year of his second term as Chancellor of the Republic. No doubt Palpatine would seize the initiative to campaign for the position when the next election was called. She would have to make sure she took steps to prevent him from doing so.
Valorum moved away from her to speak to the other members of her government, Sabé stepping away from her handmaidens to provide the necessary introductions. Captain Panaka was helping Coruscant security escort Nute Gunray and his lackeys into the containment cells aboard the craft, the sight catching her Senator's gaze. Padmé wondered how much he knew of their actions upon her planet. She suspected that it was possible he was the one who gave orders for the blockade and the events which followed in the first place. Had he foreseen that Valorum would send the Jedi to rescue her? Her knowledge of the Sith was limited, but she assumed that like the Jedi, they were susceptible to receiving visions of the future. Did he also foresee her trip to Tatooine, and the encounter with Anakin? Perhaps not, for there were many planets within that sector, they could have easily chosen somewhere else to seek repairs, or even escaped from the blockade without damage to the ship. Was he aware of what had happened to her and the changes she made? Of this she could not be certain, not unless she found a way to ask him without arising such suspicions within his devious mind.
"I am relieved to find you unharmed, Your Majesty," Palpatine remarked then, causing her to push aside her speculative preoccupation. "Chancellor Valorum's plan of sending the Jedi to rescue you remained a secret known only to him and Jedi Council. I was not informed of the plan until they began to worry over your continued absence."
Padmé frowned inwardly at the nature of his tone as he spoke, and the honorific he used. She hated the old style of addressing her by Majesty, a title the previous monarch ordered to be used before he was deposed to face charges of corruption. Since her election she had asked to be called by the more traditional title of 'highness', and the Naboo gladly obliged. All except Palpatine, whom she was now sure did it to patronise her. His tone conveyed the same intention at this moment too.
"I apologise for not taking the time to assure you of my safety, Senator," she replied, "but I feared that as the Neimoidians had blocked all planet wide communications they may have been monitoring those from airborne craft as well. I did not want them to use the message to trace my position and thus hazard at my plans."
"No apology necessary, Your Majesty," Palpatine replied. "I am sure you are right about their methods."
She didn't like this tone either. Either she was becoming paranoid, or he was lying and believed her to be at fault for keeping her actions a secret, something which she had every right to do, as he would have undoubtedly warned Nute Gunray of her imminent attack. As much as she found her memories from the future torturous, she was grateful that they still existed, for they gave her a useful perspective in her quest to fix the future.
"There is to be a parade later," she informed him, "to celebrate the new Treaty between our people and the Gungans. As well as the peace in the galaxy being restored."
"I'm sure the Chancellor and I shall be honoured to attend it, Your Majesty," Palpatine uttered. He stepped back from her and bowed before answering the silent beckoning look from Governor Bibble to join him and Valorum.
Padmé breathed a sigh of relief, glad to be away from him once more.
With the welcoming formalities over, Padmé retired to her room to change into her dress for the parade. She stood still as her handmaidens attired her in the white Nubian silk and pink feathered cloak, then fixed her long dark brown hair into an elaborate series of loops before attaching the ceremonial stiff veil to her cloak and the jewellery to her forehead.
Before her were several full-length mirrors positioned to reflect their careful work. Her brown eyes were directed at them but her mind was still occupied, this time on how much Obi-Wan might have seen in her memories. She knew that with her changes to the future, Anakin might never meet him, let alone be trained by him, but she didn't want the future knight and master to be influenced in his opinion of her future husband by the bad memory she recalled when he sought to heal her hatred. A part of her still hoped that she could free Anakin and persuade the Jedi to train him. Despite all, she truly believed that without Palpatine's influence, Anakin would have become a great Jedi.
She searched her memory of what she had recalled, and was relieved to discover that the scene where she learned of her husband's fall was one she had recalled from the middle, rather than the beginning, and crucially, after Master Kenobi had uttered Anakin's name. His younger self had no knowledge of who had fallen to the dark side, only that someone had. Padmé sighed as she remembered that conversation. It had been so hard to keep from breaking down in front of him. To restrain herself from begging him not to leave. She felt wretched for betraying their friendship in the way she did. Especially when there were times that she suspected he knew about her and Anakin. He all but admitted it the morning he came to see her before he left for Utapau. When she was alone, or with him, she never doubted that he would keep their secret, yet with Anakin's constant paranoia, it was always too easy to become fearful of anyone finding out.
To his credit, he had never reproached her, or betrayed her once the truth was known. Instead he cared for her, helped her through the labour, begged her to live. Padmé wondered what would have happened if she had. Would he have joined her in exile, protecting her and her children from the Emperor? Probably, she realised, which drove her to contemplate if the future she left was continuing as she worked to alter the past. Her children's fate could be decided, or perhaps they ceased to exist because she had delayed her meeting with their father. And what would happen to Obi-Wan? Would Qui-Gon still be alive, and would the rest of the Order? Inwardly she sighed at the confusion her speculation had led to.
Her handmaidens stepped away from attending to her, letting her view the finished result. Padmé stared at her reflection, noting the youth within her features, adorned by the robes of her office. Inside she felt far older than the young girl standing before her.
Sabé opened the doors and followed by the rest of her attendants, Padmé exited the dressing room enroute to the grand staircase outside the palace where the government of Naboo would stand to meet the Gungans. As she neared the exit she could hear the cheers of her people, see the streamers and confetti cascading from the sky to the stony ground. She should be rejoicing with them, for this was a victory, one which shed far less blood than her first attempt. Yet she could not help but think of the tasks that lay ahead of her, and what she might have to endure in order to achieve them.
A flurry of horns graced her arrival on to the grand staircase, the gathered members of the Nubian government parting like waves within the sea to allow her a clear passage to the final stone step before the parade. She veiled her face in the picture of youthful majesty triumphant, hoping it would suffice for her people's sake. It would not do to show her true feelings at the parade, it would call for an inquiry from all who witnessed them.
The musicians silenced their instruments when she reached her place, but there was only a brief pause before those belonging to the Gungans could be heard. Padmé kept her eyes on the archway, wordlessly watching their joyful march up the mall to a space before her. Beside his King rode Jar Jar and the chief General of the Gungan army, the second of that three somehow managing to look regal until his dismount gave way to clumsiness, tangling his foot in the saddle of his steed, causing him to shake it until it was free.
Boss Nass waved to the gathered crowds as he mounted the stairs to stand beside her. Padmé turned to collect the sparkling orb from one of her security that was a gift to symbolise the alliance between their races, then handed it too him, unable to resist letting loose a smile as he raised it to the sky and proclaimed peace throughout the land.
She turned to the people arrayed alongside her, inclining her head in gratitude at the Jedi, lingering on Obi-Wan who smiled warmly at her, making her cheeks flush. Embarrassed she moved on, to Chancellor Valorum and Senator Palpatine, then Governor Bibble and Captain Panaka. Lastly her gaze fixed on the new addition to her household, one she had requested be allowed to attend today via her very puzzled security chief. Artoo was beeping in time to the music, his dome taking everything in, no doubt recording the event for prosperity. Padmé was glad she had taken the trouble to collect him, for she knew that the little droid would undoubtedly prove useful in the days to come.
Around her the celebrations continued, serving to remind her of another victory which she had missed. Her future husband winning the Boota Eve Classic. That's if Watto had let Anakin compete with his own pod, for the Troydarian's needed repairs before it could take part in another race. She had been angry at Qui-Gon for his casual way of bargaining using that dangerous race to win them the hyperdrive for her ship and the boy's freedom, but that negative emotion had faded away in the face of the boy's infectious enthusiasm over his victory. Had he been just as successful without their interference, she wondered. Doubtless she would soon find out.
Padmé knew that she could not simply travel to Tatooine and free the Skywalkers. Her position would bring attention to the act, not just from the holonet and the Republic, but from the Senate and her Senator. She had to free Anakin without attracting the notice of Palpatine, else all her efforts to protect her future husband would be in vain. Nor could she just free all the slaves on Tatooine, for such an expense was beyond the wealth of Naboo's economy. She could not single the planet out, her scheme must include all the inhabited systems within the Outer Rim.
A treaty, she silently concluded, would be the best method in which to achieve her aims. She would provide for Tatooine and its fellow systems the one thing her world had in abundance; water. In exchange, she would ask for them to follow Republic guidelines, which would include banning slavery. She could see to such a ban personally, something she was known for doing since her election, and in the process arrange for the Skywalkers, along with some other families in a similar situation, to have the opportunity to seek employment and homes on Naboo. As long as she took care to make sure Anakin and his mother were absent whenever Palpatine paid a visit, the threat of his influence would be removed.
That was her next task, one which could only be embarked upon when the Coruscant delegation had departed for the Core. Her government would be puzzled as to why she had suddenly decided to care about the Outer Rim, but she would give them a logical explanation if she could, or just let them believe it was a sudden whim. She could not afford to delay as the negotiations might take years, possibly spanning the election of the next Chancellor, and Shmi's encounter with Mr Lars. Padmé did not wish to prevent that match, but it could prevent her from meeting Anakin if the moisture farmer brought Shmi before she managed to free her future husband.
Her head was liable to spin, overwhelmed by the endless possibilities, maybes and what ifs. She could not predict every scenario, prevent every outcome. Whatever happened to her now, or to the Republic, she had to remember that.
It was not until they were halfway through their journey back to Coruscant that Qui-Gon sought out his Padawan to ask for an explanation concerning his actions on Naboo. The Jedi had spent the past two days debriefing Chancellor Valorum and Senator Palpatine, followed by another unsuccessful interrogation of Nute Gunray and Rune Haako. The Neimoidians resisted all attempts to be drawn into a confession, keeping silent other than to request for their legal representation. It was doubtful that their lawyers would have the power to convince them to give up their secrets any more than the Judges of the Courts could but it was not within the power of the Jedi to deny them that right of counsel.
Clearly someone else possessed the means to command their silence, possibly the same someone who had promised them that their blockade would be made legal. A Senator perhaps? With so much widespread corruption within the Senate there were too many holders of that title who could claim a motive to be involved in this matter. Qui-Gon did not hold a lot of hope that the Naboo system would receive justice for many years to come. He began to see the wisdom behind the Queen's reluctance to leave her stricken homeworld in order to appeal to the authorities on Coruscant.
He and Obi-Wan returned to their quarters on the ship, and for moment Qui-Gon lingered behind, studying his Padawan. Obi-Wan had been by his side for nearly thirteen years now, proving himself well beyond the expectations of first the Council and his master. He would become a great Jedi, far greater than Xanatos could ever have been. But more than that, he was like a son to Qui-Gon, someone whom he cared for deeply, and one whom he would regret losing when he recommended them for Knighthood.
Which was another reason why he needed to speak with Obi-Wan about sudden spike of power he detected within his Force shield, directed towards someone within the Naboo government while they waited for the Chancellor's ship to dock. Qui-Gon had not been able to precisely identify who the source was that his Padawan had focused on, for Obi-Wan had taken care to shield the motion as well. Clearly it had been someone they worked closely with during their time on that planet otherwise Obi-Wan would never have been able to use such a complex technique. He was surprised, not at the depth of power behind his Padawan's actions, but of the decision to proceed, independent of his Master's approval, knowing the consequences which could follow.
"Obi-Wan," he began as the young man turned round to look for him from his position in the middle of their quarters, "what was it that you were doing just as the Chancellor's ship was about to dock on Naboo?"
"I heard a cry for help, Master," Obi-Wan replied, inwardly cautious about how much he should reveal to Qui-Gon. "It was from the Queen. She was feeling hatred towards someone within the ship. The emotion was overwhelming her, Master. I could feel her trying to quench it but in vain. The Force told me to help her conceal it, so I gently entered her mind and spread a soothing wave of calm within, until she was able to control the emotion." He frowned in sudden concern. "Did I do the right thing, Master?"
"You did, Padawan," Qui-Gon replied, pleased by the report. "That was very thoughtful of you, and deftly executed. Your skills have become finely honed, and not just in that area of your training. Which reminds me," he stepped forward to cover the remaining distance between them and put an arm round the young shoulders. "When we return to Coruscant, I intend to announce to the Council that you are ready for your trials."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened and a shocked grin formed across his face. Of all his Master's responses to his actions, he had not expected this. "Thank you, Master. I won't let you down."
"You never have, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon replied softly. He gave the shoulders one last squeeze, then walked away to sit upon the floor, in the classic meditation position.
Obi-Wan followed suit, dropping gracefully to face his Master, his mind still amazed by the honour and recognition which he had just received. He felt a little guilty now for hiding the depth of his feelings for the Queen. But perhaps it was for the best, for when they made their farewells to the Naboo, Padmé had asked if they could keep in touch, a request he could not refuse. His feelings were not going away, he doubted absence from her would reconcile himself to letting them go, as he was taught to do whenever feelings of this nature developed. But these feelings were utterly different to those he entertained for Cerasi, Siri and Satine. He felt not just a desire for her, but a need to see her happy, to help her. It reminded him of a lesson Qui-Gon gave him once regarding love; to accept the emotion freely, and return the feeling thus, without care for self-interest. If such was accomplished without effort, then the emotion was pure and true, and the Force would bless and comfort the love.
Settling into a meditative state, he opened his mind to that ancient energy, letting the Force examine his feelings and judge them for itself. Within its embrace he was utterly at peace, needing to conceal nothing, nor tell everything, for it already knew every part of him. The reply the Force sent to him was akin a soothing lullaby; containing waves of acceptance, blessing, and assurance of the energy's support for the depth of emotion which he felt for Padmé. With Cerasi he had been too young to comprehend love to understand how temporary the affection for the rebel from Melida/Daan was to last. What he had felt for Siri was nothing more than a passing interest which turned as it should have, he came to realise, into a deep and lasting friendship. As for Satine, their relationship was a fling, the emotions fading soon after he returned to the Temple. His affection for Padmé, the Force told him, was one which would last and never fade away.
He wondered how this would come to pass, for the Force gave no hint as to when they might meet again in the future. All that the ancient energy gave him was the assurance to trust in the strength of his feelings, nothing more. Obi-Wan drew his focus away, for it was not his place to question, at least not now. The Force would reveal all when he was ready. Silently he centred himself, as he slid into the gentle embrace of meditation.
Senator Palpatine paced the quarters assigned to him aboard the Chancellor's ship enroute to Coruscant annoyed at himself and the young woman whom he had underestimated. Queen Amidala. From the moment she became Princess of Theed he spent considerable time analysing her character, cultivating her respect for his wisdom and judgement, only to fail to anticipate this move on her part and thus lose the opportunity to become Chancellor from this crisis which he had spent years engineering into being. Everything had gone exactly as he had foreseen except this. Why had she succeeded in rescuing her planet alone, aided only by the Naboo, the Jedi and the Gungans? Her actions baffled him. If he didn't know better, he would have believed that she was an agent of the Force, but such was impossible for she was not at all sensitive to the whims of that ancient energy.
For the past two days he had allowed himself to fume over this, to let his Sithly rage flow, cautiously controlling his shields so the Jedi aboard did not detect him. Now, with his anger spent and his passions cooled, he was prepared to be rational, to realise how little time Valorum had left until the election cycle began again, to accept that his plans for becoming Chancellor were merely delayed. To consider the other tasks left to be completed that did not rely on his election to the highest seat of political authority taking place immediately.
There were four in all; begin engineering the clones for the army of the Republic and the future destruction of the Jedi Order, awaken the Jedi to the re-emergence of the Sith in the galaxy, continue to spread Separatist thinking within the Republic, cause some systems to leave their protection in order to form a confederacy which would begin a civil war, and find the Chosen One.
His old master had been unwise to leave out the details in his teaching regarding how to manipulate midi-chlorians to create life. Palpatine had mastered the ability to create a being strong in the Force, but, as he discovered after performing such a display of power, not the talent to dictate the location where such life would come into being. For the past nine years he had conducted a search of the planetary systems within the known galaxy, via his hired minions, without success. His only consolation was that the Jedi were unsuccessful in finding the being through their searches, screening and recruitment as well. The prophecy of the Chosen One was claimed by the Order also, if they had discovered the youngling with the highest midi-chlorian count, they would have been unable to keep silent about such a miracle and he would have heard about through one of his spies within the Temple by now.
The search was on going, as was the spreading of Separatist thinking within the Republic. Which left him with two tasks; letting the Jedi know that their greatest enemy was alive once more, and beginning the engineering of the clone army. The latter required nothing but a trip to Kamino, followed by the partial deletion of the records of Kamino's location within the archives of the Temple, partial because he needed to them to find out that the planet was missing eventually and become curious enough to investigate why. The latter was easy to accomplish through the use of his spies within the Temple, it was the former which would require much more thought.
When Valorum informed him of his plan to send the Jedi to Naboo, Palpatine believed he had the perfect opportunity to let the Jedi learn of the return of the Sith, by sending his apprentice to the planet to attack Jinn and Kenobi. But he underestimated the Queen; by the time Maul had arrived at the Core for orders from his secret Outer Rim training base, it was too late; the Gungans and Amidala had saved Naboo. Now he needed another plan to lure the Order out of their complacency. Surrounding himself with the energies of the dark side of the Force, Sidious contemplated new strategies that would accomplish what his first plans had failed to provide him with.
"Master Qui-Gon, more have you to say?" Yoda, Grand Master of the Order, head of the Council, inquired after the master and padawan team had finished debriefing them on the matter of Naboo.
"Yes, Masters," Qui-Gon replied. "It is time I believe, that my padawan undergoes his trials to become a Knight."
"Ready, you think him?" Yoda mused, his eyes swivelling from Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan, who stood respectfully to one side of his Master, waiting patiently. "What know you of ready? Our own Council we will keep on who is ready."
The words were an admonition, but the tone belied their meaning. Qui-Gon caught the look directed to him by friend and council master Mace Windu, and added a little more to his testimony. "I ask that he be allowed to prove himself ready. Obi-Wan can be headstrong, he still has much to learn about the Living Force. But there is little more he can learn from me."
Yoda hummed in reply, and a silence descended over the splendid room, as each of the Masters present communicated their judgement of young Kenobi. It was the traditional way that such venerated members of the Order reached a mutual conclusion on all matters which came under the purview of the Council, calling upon the Force to advise their thoughts in such a way as to render them undetectable to those not granted the privilege of such an Office.
It was a title Qui-Gon never sought, despite the wishes of his padawan, who considered him just as able as any master seated within in the room, provided he kept to the rule of the Code. Qui-Gon was grateful for his roguish reputation for it allowed him a certain freedom within the Order, a freedom which those in the Council unknowingly cultivated sometimes, for they usually agreed with his padawan. Yet, there were moments when he wondered about that plane of the Force which was denied to him, a genuine curiosity for the remaining secrets of the energy he served.
"Padawan Kenobi," Mace remarked suddenly, causing the young man to look up from his respectfully lowered gaze, "do you agree with the judgement of your Master?"
"It is not my place to agree or disagree, Master Windu," Obi-Wan replied carefully. "But I respect my Master's assessment of my abilities. As I respect those of the Council."
The reply was that of a trained diplomat, studied and cautious, yet said with such sincerity that even the Force was heard to chuckle. Qui-Gon hid a smile, while the others within the room returned to their silent contemplation.
Finally, Master Yoda opened his eyes and raised his head from his clasped hands. "Agree with your judgement, Master Qui-Gon. Ready, Obi-Wan is."
Qui-Gon allowed a grin to escape his composure, while his pupil strained to hide his own joy on receiving confirmation of his wildest dreams. Though Obi-Wan knew that it was through Yoda that his padawan rank was gained, it had always worried him that the Force wished him to go to Bandomeer and never become a Knight.
"Since you are such a talented diplomat," Master Windu remarked wryly, causing the padawan to flush a little, "your trial will include an opportunity to put those talents to use. This will be your mission to command, Padawan Kenobi. You must show that you can exercise good judgement independent of your Masters."
"Be mindful of your teachings, Obi-Wan," Yoda added. "Help you they will."
"We will contact you when a mission becomes available," Mace declared.
"Thank you, Masters," Obi-Wan replied. He bowed before them, followed by Qui-Gon, then walked with his Master out of the lofty room.
Part 7: More Are Men's Ends Marked Than Their Lives Before.
(Richard II (1595) act 2, sc. 1, l.11)
For some reason as yet unknown to herself, Padmé walked to the reactor room after the departure of the Chancellor's ship. She spent some time wandering the narrow catwalks and the perimeter of the melting pit, remembering when she asked her security chief for the surveillance footage of the lightsaber duel that she had prevented from taking place. Captain Panaka had been surprised and puzzled by her request, but did nothing to deny her the right of watching it. The footage covered every move of the duel from beginning to end, lacking in nothing to convey the full horror what took place.
She had watched it with a view to understanding the quiet and serious Padawan Kenobi, who only said one sentence to her, yet had stolen glances whenever he could. Her heart broke when she watched him lose his Master, and her respect for him rose when she saw how bravely he conquered his emotions to defeat the Sith who had killed Qui-Gon Jinn. She still recalled witnessing his grief as he held his dying Master, after she rushed down to the room when general communications were restored to the Palace.
From that moment she sought him out, feeling the kinship that comes of resuming a responsibility granted perhaps too early and too young. They spent time together while they waited for the new Chancellor and the members of the Jedi Council to arrive from Coruscant, talking away the awkwardness and formality of protector and protectee, into a friendship which stood the distance of ten years parting, and only deepened when circumstances threw them together. He had kept his silence on her relationship with Anakin, though she always suspected he knew, yet feared to prove it aloud.
Then came the day when the truth could be hidden no longer. Padmé remembered that awful conversation, where he asked her for the whereabouts of Anakin, before telling her what had happened. She remembered the sadness in his voice as he told her of his former apprentice's actions within the Temple, the barely concealed mixture of emotions splayed across his face. Guilt, horror, fear, betrayal. She felt she had betrayed him too, as deeply as Anakin had betrayed them.
Yet not once had he offered judgement of her actions. Not even when he asked if Anakin was the father of her children, and she remained silent, ashamed to answer him. She was never angry with him for hiding away on her craft as she took off to find her husband, for she had cause to be glad of his presence, else she might never have made it to Polis Massa, and lived to deliver her children. Her last memories were of his stricken face as he held her firstborn in his arms, pleading with his voice and with his face for her to live. She had caused him so much sadness in his life. She prayed that her actions so far had gone some way to ease his sorrow.
A beeping sound echoed across the silent corridor of laser shields, causing her to raise her head and make her way out of the melting pit room towards her security chief and Artoo. The little droid had taken to accompanying her wherever she went, proving as faithful a companion as he had been in her other life. Captain Panaka had his eyes on her, and part of his focus, for the other part was directed to the com device he now held to his ear. By the time she reached his side, the conversation had ended and he turned his full attention upon her.
"The representatives of the Arkanis system are ready to speak to you, Your Highness," Captain Panaka informed her. "And the members of the Refugee Relief Movement have arrived and are waiting in the Royal Council Room."
"Thank you, Captain," Padmé replied. She had decided that it would be for the best if she approached Tatooine and the other planetary systems concerned through the charity channels, where it was taken for granted that anyone would take an interest, without having to obey the usual protocol of informing her Senator that she wished to form a treaty with another system. In this she was fortunate with her connections, for she and her father had worked with the Refugee Relief movement, and therefore she knew just the people she should talk to.
They rose at her entrance, and she hurried forward to greet them, waving away the formalities imposed by her elected rank, before offering her hand to take each of theirs in a clasping shake as they introduced themselves. A couple she knew from her father's work, and her own, a familiarity which made the initial awkwardness of speaking to her, their sovereign, soon fade away.
When they were all seated once more, the lead official began to speak. "We thank you Highness for requesting to see us and for taking an interest in this matter. Despite the Republic issuing a ban of slavery, little has been done to impose the law amongst the planets within the Outer Rim. There are too many obstacles which bar charities like us."
"I intend to establish relations with all the officials in the Outer Rim and offer what aid our system can provide," Padmé remarked. "The representatives of the Arkanis system are ready and waiting to speak with us."
"You have clearly not forgotten your training in this area," the member of the Refugee Relief remarked. "We shall be glad to speak with them."
Padmé nodded and pressed the button on her throne which activated the communications screen. "Greetings, Excellency."
The representative bowed in reply. "I am honoured to speak with you, Queen Amidala. Your offer sounds most intriguing."
"I have brought the representatives of the organisations here so we may all reach the best possible agreement," Padmé replied. "Perhaps you could begin by telling us where you feel the aid will be the most beneficial."
"As you know, your Highness, the one thing which our system lacks the most is an abundance of water. The heat from the double suns virtually renders supplies inadequate to accommodate a growing population. Added to this is the stubborn determination of the Hutts to control the run and inevitable ruin of the planets. Slavery is rife, for most merchants ignore the Republic's recent legislation in favour of a wider profit margin. Gambling is another predilection run riot amongst the populous, focusing on Sabacc cantinas and pod racing. Anything which cannot be bartered with or traded for, has yet to be discovered upon these sandy, seemingly desolate plains. If a suitable treaty is to be reached, your Highness, it must be closely monitored from both sides, else it will run the risk of further exploitation."
Padmé frowned as she realised that this endeavour might be harder to follow through that she had thought. Nevertheless, for the sake of her future husband and his mother, she would do so, whatever it took. "Will your people seek to exploit the treaty from a natural inclination, or from one born out of distrust in us?"
"A combination of both, I believe, your Highness," the representative replied. "It is a hive of the worst scum and villainy that belong to the galaxy, a lot of them refuse to believe that such elements do not exist on other worlds."
She nodded, though the words were no stranger to her ears, she remembered someone saying that to her once, and the recollection of that caused her to ask another question, one which had not occurred to her before. "What about the Jedi, do they respect them?"
"More than most, your Highness, but only in person. The Hutts and many others are resistant to their suggestion techniques, too used to being regarded by others as easily prone manipulation of credits and inferior intelligence. However I do believe that the vast majority of the slaves and smugglers hold a certain respect for the Order."
"Would it beneficial then if I asked for a Jedi Negotiator to assist us in forming this treaty of aid with the Outer Rim?" Padmé asked.
"Perhaps." The representative's voice was laced with a strong dose of scepticism, as though he did not believe that the young woman he was talking to had access to the Order.
But then he had not been with her, or in a position to learn of the actions of two such members of that Order, who had rescued her and assisted her in liberating her system from the Trade Federation's deadly blockade. Yet, even as Padmé considered the proposal, she doubted and wondered if the Jedi Council would be so willing to send another member of their Order to aid her without seeking permission of the Senate first.
There was no official law requiring permission, it was just an accepted protocol bound in decades of tradition. She remembered discovering that when her former Senator had decided to 'clarify' as he called it, the tradition, turning it into a requirement. The discord between the office of the Chancellor and the Order originated from that moment, she realised, and hope rose within her that the Council would indeed grant her request to keep the Senate uninformed until the deal was all but a treaty made.
"I am uncertain, if you are aware of the recent blockade upon my system by the Trade Federation," she now uttered.
"No, I was not," the representative replied, frowning slightly, as though he half suspected that she was to now back out of her charitable offerings.
"While the Senate continued to debate concerning the legality of the actions taken by the Trade Federation, Chancellor Valorum was kind enough to send two Jedi to my aid," Padmé informed him. "With their help I was able to forge an alliance with the Gungans to free my system from the blockade. This would not have happened without the independent assistance, free of the Senate, which the Order was most willing to lend. After I have spoken to the other systems within the Outer Rim, I intend to speak with the Jedi Council and see if they would be willing to assist once more, free from the Senate's purview. Would you and your fellow colleagues be amenable to my doing so?"
The representative appeared taken aback by her offer, even more so than he had been when she first proposed to supply the charity of her system. For some minutes he sat silent, carefully evaluating all that she had said, before he answered her query. "I believe we would, Your Highness."
It was no surprise, when she sat in her council chamber alone, her court dismissed, having delivered her proposal to all the representatives of the Outer Rim systems, that she received the same answer and request for a member of the Jedi Order to oversee their negotiations. While a disregard for the laws of the Senate was openly practised here, it seemed that a healthy respect for the Jedi still existed. However, it had left her with the possibility that these negotiations could all turn out to be for naught, if the Order refused to send someone.
Nervously she put request through her planet's communications to the Temple on Coruscant, to speak with a member of the Council. To her surprise it was Master Yoda who answered her. The Grand Jedi of the Order listened quietly to her request, and without putting the need to debate the matter with the Council first, promised to send her a Jedi Negotiator to aid her in quest. He would not name who he would send, which was customary until the Chancellor's propaganda campaign during the Clone wars put end to such anonymity, but who they sent did not matter to her. The first part of her plan to free the Skywalkers was in place. Now all that remained was to see the rest of it through until their freedom had been obtained.
Tatooine was hotter than Padmé remembered, though admittedly she was wearing a different outfit the last time she had visited this planet. A part of her wished she could slip into the anonymity of those peasant robes once more, but she had mission to fulfil here, one which required the Queen and not the handmaiden decoy.
Accompanying her were a small retinue of handmaidens, along with Captain Panaka, and the Jedi who the Council had sent to assist her. She had been quite surprised when she welcomed the being on Naboo before they travelled from there to Tatooine together, to discover that it would be Obi-Wan, who was undertaking the negotiations as his trials for knighthood. It felt odd to be here with Obi-Wan instead of Master Jinn, or Anakin, when he was searching for his mother, though she was relieved that Master Jinn was not with them, because she feared that his presence might merely incur something of a repeat of her last visit to Tatooine, taking Anakin to join the Jedi Order and disowning Obi-Wan. However she was glad to have a familiar Jedi joining her, rather than a stranger, someone whom she knew and respected for their skills in negotiation. Granted Obi-Wan was somewhat younger and his skills had yet to be tested without those of his master to fall back on, but Padmé had little doubt of his success in their endeavour.
She had requested that the Tatooine representatives show her the slave quarters owned by the Hutts and other beings who conducted their businesses here, as well as being allowed to speak with a slave and slave owner. Partly in the hope that she might see Anakin and his mother, although she had no idea what she was to say to either of them if she did. The last moments between her and Anakin still featured prominently in her mind, compared to the first time they met. She had been little more than curious then, concerning the hitherto strange planet she was seeing, its practices and customs, though a precocious nine year old youngling professing a desire to marry her did catch her by surprise.
Her curiosity did not alter when she learned that the boy was to accompany them back to Coruscant and hopefully join the Jedi Order. She had felt sorry for Anakin, to be separated from his mother and rather annoyed at Master Jinn for not being able to free her too, but nothing more than that. Her love for him came later, when she met him as a Senator, ten years after their first meeting. Though she had been disturbed by him then, at his intensity concerning her, and the strength of his desire for her despite that he had not seen her for a decade.
She had been a little nervous about his love surviving the distance between their first acquaintance and their renewed one, concerned that he idolised her, rather than truly loved her. During the brief time that they were married, this worry did not lessen, especially when they disagreed over the way the Republic was governed by Palpatine. If he had not fallen to the darkside, she was not sure how long their marriage would have continued, though that uncertainty was influenced by his descent and loyalty to Palpatine, not the extent of their love for each other.
Before they left for Tatooine, Padmé had decided that she would try to save Anakin from falling to the darkside by whatever means she could. If that included being unable to marry him, or making sure he was not discovered by the Jedi, then she would make that sacrifice. It would enable a difficult handling of how she managed to free him and his mother without Obi-Wan learning of the unique abilities that Anakin possessed, but she was hopeful that this could be accomplished.
As Tatooine was governed by a series of local councils, Padmé had arranged to meet with their representatives in Bestine, a city that was some distance from Mos Espa; the one place she wanted to visit the most. She did intend to visit that city at some point during her negotiations however.
Her royal yacht had landed in the spaceport, which was not far from the building where the delegates had arranged to meet. Padmé also intended to visit all of the major cities if she could, and deal with the local councils individually, in a effort to ensure a measure of fair play. In her absence from Naboo, her government would take care of running her home planet, and one of her handmaidens was ready to step into her sovereign shoes, so to speak, for a time. Eirtaé had been a rival of hers during the elections, only joining her retinue after she had become Queen, and then remained very reluctant to be friends with the woman who had beaten her to the throne. But Padmé persisted in befriending the blond handmaiden, as Eirtaé came to be known, and eventually her efforts were rewarded.
She had taken the precaution of informing her Senator that she would be within the Arkanis system for a few days to lead her new initiative of eradicating slavery - she had been deliberately vague about her exact location - only to find that Palpatine was too concerned with problems of his own. As she had suspected the end of Valorum's second and final term as Chancellor was near, and all of the Galactic Senate were scrambling to fund or court the hopeful candidates campaigns for the executive office. Wishing her Senator good luck, - a lie she hoped he would not see through - she had casually asked for a moment with the outgoing Chancellor, not expecting to be granted such a liberty, and consequently, was surprised when Palpatine promised to arrange it for her upon her return from the Arkanis system.
He would be less eager about arranging such conversations when he learned what she planned to say to Finis Valorum, but hopefully he would never find out that she was going to warn the outgoing Supreme Chancellor to be careful during his retirement. In her future Valorum died in a tragic accident aboard his freighter, the Star of Iskin, after the second battle of Jabiim. The attack was attributed to terrorism, possibly from the Separatists but Padmé knew that there was more behind the explosion than just the war. Valorum had been meeting with Senator Organa and speaking out against Palpatine, warning the Republic not to trust him. If only they had heeded such advice, but perhaps by then it was already too late.
Rousing herself from her reflections, Padmé collected her thoughts, preparing herself for the meetings that lay ahead. It would not do for her to become distracted by her memories, as useful as they were for reminding her of the tragic future which she had to prevent from repeating itself. Keeping Valorum alive could wait. Freeing Anakin and his mother from slavery could not. Almost immediately she tempered that resolve into a determination to free all of those she could. For if she singled one or two out from among the many, not only was she condemning the rest to their fetters forever, she was also placing the Skywalkers in unnecessary danger. Anonymity was the best way to prevent her future husband from falling to the darkside, as much as Anakin might be unhappy with her for ensuring it. Besides his need for such praise derived from his own insecurities, a character trait which would not be resolved by keeping him under public scrutiny.
The delegates awaited her arrival at the head of the decorative steps which lead to Bestine's local council building. Returning their greeting bows, Padmé cleared her mind before mounting the short staircase to meet them.
"Welcome to Tatooine, Your Highness," the head of the Bestine Council declared when she had reached him and his associates.
"I thank you for the welcome, Councillor," Padmé returned. "It is a pleasure to be here. I am glad you allowed me to come and share my views. I hope we can reach an understanding which is beneficial for all concerned."
"As do we all," the Councillor replied. "It is an honour to have so distinguished a being from the Republic take an interest in our troubles."
"I believe many beings would be gravely concerned if they came to know of and understand your plight," Padmé returned. "I can only apologise for their ignorance, vow to enlighten them, and myself, if I may."
"A sound promise," the Councillor mused. He took a step to the side and with an expansive sweep of his arm, gestured to the entrance which lay before them. "Come. Let us begin our education."
When Padmé emerged from the building, the heat from the twin suns was slowly dying, preparing to be replaced by the sharp, bitter cold of the night. Bestine's streets were relatively deserted, most of the city's citizens either hurrying home or already safe in their beds. Captain Panaka and Padawan Kenobi encircled about her protectively, keeping a wary eye on those beings who still trod through the dusty streets. Few places on Tatooine were immune from the hive of scum and villainy that the planet had become notorious for, and Bestine was not one of them.
She turned from her security chief to observe the Jedi, an action which had become something of a routine during the day. Her meetings with the local council delegates had indeed been very educational. Despite Tatooine's reputation, they were also orderly and eloquent, as well as committed to the cause of eradicating slavery from their world. Everyone present had contributed to the discussions, expressing sincere concerns, and equally sincere promises. Of course it would take time to see how long these promises lasted and how far the concerns extended, but overall she believed that they had made good progress.
Obi-Wan's contribution to the meeting had been vital. He had listened to each delegate's words quietly, ensuring that everyone had their say, and the liberty to say it, before offering his own views, which were eloquently and diplomatically expressed. He caught the tone of the meeting admirably and offered a sound, unbiased view which few could disagree with. She could not help but compare it to her other experiences with fellow members of the Order, the result finding them lacking. Anakin had a mercurial tendency to deliver his decisions on a whim, often changing them and insisting that he was right when it turned out to be otherwise. Her one experience with Qui-Gon Jinn had been of a man who was prepared to place everything on a matter of chance, determined that the Force would sort all. She was grateful for Obi-Wan's more measured and practical approach.
It was a short walk back to the spaceport where they were spending the night on her yacht, as she would be making a tour of the major cities tomorrow, in the company of the delegates native to them. First stop was Pika Oasis, followed by Mos Taike, Mos Entha and finally Mos Espa. Padmé was glad that she would have time for only a short visit to the place where Anakin would be, and what was left of the day after that to pause and reflect, before she and the delegates gathered for another meeting in Bestine, after which they would tour the other cites that lay to the south. Too long and she might say something she would regret, or Obi-Wan might notice what was special about Anakin.
Padmé did not blame Obi-Wan for Anakin's fall to the darkside. She knew that her husband was responsible for his own actions, just as much as Obi-Wan was responsible for his. But she did believe that the way in which Anakin had been found by the Jedi, lifted from Tatooine and his mother, at such an age where attachment was formed, did count towards her husband's descent. She knew well that Anakin had vowed to come back and free his mother when he became a knight, and but for her abduction and subsequent death in a Tusken camp he might well have done so. She was determined to ensure his and his mother's freedom, or at least make it possible for him to fulfil his vow, without it costing his soul.
But that meeting was for the morrow, and the short journey back to her yacht lay immediately before her. Though she had no cause to distrust the watchful protection of her security, or Obi-Wan's, it would not do for her to ignore her own caution and become so lost in her thoughts. There would be time enough to prepare for her meeting in Mos Espa when they were back inside her ship, not now in the potentially dangerous journey to where it was docked.
Despite her concerns they reached the silvered yacht without incident. Padmé parted from her security and Obi-Wan, but not her handmaidens, at the door to her suite. Inside they went about their duties in silence, respecting their sovereign's need for contemplation. She let them undress her from her finery without comment, suddenly feeling quite tired. Her mind was torn between both wishing the time away until she reached Mos Espa and for it to never come.
A restless night awaited her and an even more nervous morning. She was both relieved and annoyed that Mos Espa was the last destination on her trip. Yet there was nothing to do but push on and so she rose from her bed to dress in the peasant clothing that she had informed the delegates she would wear, her excuse being that it would cause the slaves and their owners to treat her as they would any other customer, rather than being overly generous just because she was the Queen of the Naboo. Fortunately the delegates had took that as judicious handling, and her security had been glad of her wish to travel incognito. None of them knew that she had chosen to wear them for another reason, because it was what she had worn the first time she visited Watto's shop.
The delegates arrived early for the tour and Padmé graciously offered them sustenance from the ship's galley, which they accepted. The relatively short ride from Bestine to Pika Oasis was passed in a pleasant fashion, as they dined and talked of their hopes concerning what they hoped would be accomplished from this tour.
Pika was famous for producing a sweet fruit native to Tatooine, from which cakes and alcoholic beverages were made. It was also home to Dannar's Claim, Bezzard Farm and Gault Farm. As with most farms on Tatooine, they were moisture based, and family run. And they were also free of slaves, hiring only paid workers if they needed them. A prime example of how things could be done. Here Padmé and the delegates spent an educational hour, as she discovered that some of councillors were slave owners themselves, who seemed surprised at the additional amount of produce paid workers could harvest compared to those who worked for nothing but the whim of their owners.
After Pika Oasis came Mos Taike, which was not far from Xelric Draw; a shallow, open-mouthed canyon where her yacht had landed on her first visit to Tatooine. Mos Taike was a small town, with no shuttleport, although it did have a garage for vehicle reparations and a cantina which sometimes doubled as a hospital. Despite its size, the town was home to a few slaves, some of whom were happy to speak to them about their lives and working conditions.
Next came Mos Entha, a large, sprawling city, dominated by four tall spaceport hubs, measuring five hundred metres in height. Supporting itself through the bustling trade that such buildings brought with them, Mos Entha also used moisture farms and hydroponic gardens. There were hotels, museums, shopping centres and restaurants, some located within the spaceport hubs, others within Mos Entha itself. In a surprising contrast to most cities on Tatooine, Mos Entha had a visible police force who cared more for the rights of the native residents and visitors than those of the Hutts, although that did not mean that some areas of corruption did not exist and continue to ply a lucrative trade.
It was afternoon when they reached Mos Espa, the bustling spaceport which contained the two slaves that Padmé had come here to free, protecting them from those who wished to corrupt them into further evils by striving to free the rest on Tatooine along with them.
She had believed that her nerves faded away through conducting herself and the delegation to those cities where her heart was not so directly involved, yet within moments of reaching the edge of Mos Espa's beginnings, that emotion returned anew.
There had been some discussion back in Bestine whether or not to negotiate with the Hutts, some of whom treated a few cities, such as Mos Espa, as their own corrupt mini empires, at the cost of the local authorities and the poor citizens, who chose to ply their trade independently. Padmé had been unsure whether the complete freedom for every slave could be reached without involving the Hutts in some part of the negotiations, and Obi-Wan had agreed with her. However, the Councillors from Mos Espa, as well as those other cities where dealing with the Hutts was commonplace, assured them that they could secure the freedom of the slaves which were owned by them, by establishing a deal with the independent slavers first. Once the Hutts saw the advantages and profit concerned, they would also comply.
Watto's shop looked the same as when she first saw it, like a weed in bud rising from the desert, near a yard full of junk. Directing a glance into the outdoor area, she saw the Watto talking with a group of Jawas, his Troydarian wings in full flap, as he tried to prevent the small hooded beings from getting the better of him in the deal, or stealing some of his junk right under his nose, as they were known to do throughout the galaxy.
Catching sight of the owner, the Councillors moved forward, heading towards the yard to talk to him. Padmé hung back, wondering if she could slip away from the crowd, maybe find Anakin in the shop. Her handmaidens were dressed in a similar fashion to her, including Sabé, who still doubled as her decoy, and had performed the sovereign duties once or twice already on this mission, which should make an escape from the delegation easier. She threw a discreet glance towards her security. Captain Panaka was standing with her retinue, and as for Obi-Wan, his attention seemed to be captured by a small Rodian, who was exclaiming in a delighted manner at seeing a Jedi. After a moment she recognised him as Wald, one of Anakin's friends who had helped him with the pod racer of the eve of the Boonta.
It was now or never. She took a breath and darted inside the shop.
The place was cluttered with junk, consisting of various mechanical parts, belonging to droids, speeders, swoop bikes, pod racers, spaceships, even vaporators. As she had hoped, a small human boy was minding the counter, ingrossed in fiddling with a small device until her entrance caused him to look up.
"Are you an angel?" He blurted out curiously.
Padmé smiled, pleased that he was beginning with the same line of inquiry that she had first heard from him, in her mind, a decade ago, when all was innocent between them.
"What?" She queried gently.
"An angel," he repeated, never taking his blue-eyed gaze off her. "I've heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They live on the Moons of Iego I think. They are the most beautiful creatures in the universe. They are good and kind, and so pretty they make even the most hardened spice pirate cry."
It felt just as odd now to hear such a line coming from a boy as young as he, as it had the first time she had heard it. "I've never heard of angels," she answered gently.
"You must be one..." Anakin persisted. "Maybe you just don't know it."
She smiled at him, caught by his firm insistent belief. "You're a funny little boy. How do you know so much?"
"Since I was very little, three, I think," he answered. "My Mom and I were sold to Gardulla the Hutt, but she lost us, betting on the Podraces, to Watto, who's a lot better master than Gardulla, I think."
Even though she already knew this, Padmé was aware that she still had to pretend her ignorance, if her wishes were to come true. "You're... a slave?"
"I am a person!" He shot back at her defiantly. "My name is Anakin."
Padmé flinched despite herself. For a moment the face of Darth Vader had glared at her, the darker side of the man she had loved. Blinking the image away, she forced herself to continue with the conversation that one day would come to mean so much to the both of them. "I'm sorry. I don't fully understand. This is a strange world to me."
Anakin studied her intently, and she took care to meet his gaze as she had done once before, all those years ago. "You are a strange girl to me. Anakin Skywalker."
"Padmé Naberrie," she replied, for it was not the Queen he had fallen in love with, but the girl. At least she hoped that was the case. She knew he had idolised her, but it must have been because of her beauty in his eyes, not her position.
He continued to study her, then declared those words which she had found strange and oddly chilling coming from a nine year boy, only to realise the truth of them some ten years later. "I'm going to marry you."
As she had done during this meeting in her time, Padmé laughed at his prophecy, for it would not become true until a decade from now.
"I mean it," Anakin insisted, not deterred by her humour.
She let her laughter slowly die. "You are an odd one. Why do you say that?"
"I guess because it's what I believe," he replied, the strength of his belief frightening her alittle once again.
Taking another breath, she turned him down as gently as she could. "Well I'm afraid I can't marry you, Anakin, you're just a little boy."
"I won't always be," he solemnly assured her, and she was struck for the first time by the truth in this phrase and what it could mean for the future.
The noise outside rose up in decibels, causing her to realise that it was time she rejoined her group outside, before they noticed her absence. Sadly, she darted towards the entrance. "I must go. I'm glad I met you, Anakin."
"I'm glad I met you too," he said.
Stepping out away from the refreshing coolness of the shop's interior back into the full glaring heat of the afternoon suns, Padmé hurriedly immersed herself within the delegation, who were still talking with Watto. Wald had joined them, emboldened to talk to the Councillors by Obi-Wan, whose interest in him managed to combat whatever nerves he might have usually suffered from in his owner's presence.
Padmé listened to their conversation, but her mind was still full of her meeting with Anakin. The harshness of his life had caught her forcibly and she was anxiously wondering if and she could free him and his mother before she left Tatooine. For a moment she was insensible to her past concerns about Obi-Wan noticing the boy's immense sensitivity to the Force, focused only on rescuing him and his mother from their plight.
If anything could break her from her anxiously thoughtful planning, it was seeing Cliegg Lars that did it. Padmé froze as she watched the man she had only known before crippled, by both grief and loss of limb, walk unaided into Watto's shop.
She watched and remembered when she last saw the man; a fleeting acquaintance while she tried to make herself useful; Anakin having left her at the Lars homestead to go and find his mother. He all but ignored the Lars, he didn't see how the hope that his search might succeed reigned briefly on Cliegg's face before his return with a swaddling bound corpse in his arms deposed of it forever.
Anakin's selfishness then caused her to realise her own now, born as his was out of an arrogant conceit that no one could save those who were given up as lost but him, so was hers to save him and his mother now, believing that no one else could, not even her treaty which she had hitherto been so careful to create and prepared to enforce. Even now she was risking the future of her husband in face of a possible encounter aboard her ship with the man who was the image of the dream occupation his youth held. To take Shmi and her son away from here would not cure Ani of his selfish possessiveness which only time and a freedom of his own making or his mother's could reconcile.
It would also deprive Shmi of a loving family that Watto by his continued ownership of her sought to deny, whilst exposing Anakin to a rigid Order more ready to reject him than to make the changes he needed to feel like he belonged. No it would be better to leave him here, to let Cliegg try his hand at freeing them both, giving Anakin the family and freedom he had yearned for. In the future it would be up to him to make the choice to travel to Naboo in the resettlement program which she planned to establish, as part of the treaty, ignorant of the Jedi, or her wayward Senator. She had to protect him just as Shmi and Obi-Wan once did, and hope that the Force still brought them together in the end.
Part 9: Men Are But Gilded Loam or Painted Clay.
(Richard II act I, sc. 1, l.177)
Senator Palpatine cast his eyes over the polls before him and growled sithly. No matter how many times he counted, or in how many ways he approached them, the numbers refused to tally to his liking. It was no use. He could ignore the facts no longer. The election was lost. In fact, it had been lost some time ago, shortly after the Trade Federation's blockade of Naboo was routed by Queen Amidala. He had counted on that thinly disguised invasion winning him a sizeable vote of sympathy from a naive and horrified Senate. Instead, his sovereign's swift and successful reaction accorded him nothing. He could not even bask in the reflected glory of her victory, for no part of it was attributable to his council, either to her or in the Senate.
Whilst the invasion was in place, the Supreme Chancellor's seat was there for the taking. It needed only a failed appeal to languish in committee, followed by a vote of no confidence. He had prepared himself for such action, advised his Queen, however indirectly, to take such a route. But she had refused and instead took to her own initiative and not involved the Senate at all. Her victory had reduced him to the rank of a Senator from a provincial world which was quite capable of managing itself, without any interference from the Galactic Republic. He had lost whatever weight of support or authority he ever had in the Senate.
What was more galling, was that he had underestimated his new sovereign. He had assumed that her background and her youth, along with his offer of support, would convince her to depend upon him for solutions to whatever problems might arise during her reign. Not that she would have enough wits about her to solve them herself. Clearly, it had been a mistake to usurp her predecessor, King Veruna, a far more corruptible soul, but there was nothing he could do to restore that failed monarch now.
He should have had a backup scheme in place, he should have prepared himself for the probability of failure, instead of casting his entire lot on one play of the dice. However, dwelling on such defeats would gain him nothing now. Instead it would only deepen his losses. He must accept that hand which he had been dealt, and move on.
Fingering aside the display of the latest election polls, he turned the holoscreen before him on to another, equally distasteful view. It was a starchart of the known galaxy, coded to his search for the convergence of midi-chlorians which his master had created, but not possessed the means or the knowledge to place in a convenient location, where he may observe the life that he wished to mould at his leisure. Since the death of his master Sidious had taken up the search for that powerful being in the hope of finding then turning him into a useful tool in the dark side of the Force and a willing accomplice in his schemes for the end of the Republic. Many systems had been methodically scoured, and then ruled out. But there were countless others left to be investigated. Including the sector in which his sovereign was currently occupied.
Arkanis. Palpatine tapped the area in question, calling up the number of habitable planets and what information the Republic and his own sources had to hand about the system. He knew not why Amidala had chosen to involve herself in the their affairs. Arkanis lay within the Outer Rim, and hardly ever bothered the Republic, a service that was returned in the same manner by the Senate, who hardly troubled itself with the system's joys or woes. There was little that was redeemable about Arkanis, which was rife with Hutts and other forms of villainy. Her goal to eliminate slavery from the place was admirable, but he doubted it would succeed. He knew her background, her work in the Relief Movement before she moved into politics. It was reason enough for her quest. But all the same, his sithly senses pricked, though he knew not why.
With a wave of his hand and the Force, he called for his apprentice. Darth Maul, a Zabrak from Dathomir, whom he had trained almost from the crèche to do his bidding. A formidable warrior, with only ambition to fulfil his master's goals, rather than his own. Perhaps, given time, he would come to realise a need for his own mastery, but Palpatine would not grant him such longevity. When that time came, there would be others to take his place, all equally willing to be used as a tool upon the universe.
Maul dropped to his knees before him, his head bowed in submissive obedience. "What is thy bidding, my master?"
"I have a task for you, my apprentice," Palpatine began, in his guise as Sidious, dark lord of the Sith. Maul did not yet know of his other identity and would not learn precisely who his master was until Sidious deemed it necessary. "You shall travel to the Arkanis sector. While you are there, you are to seek out the Queen of the Naboo. She shall pay for the rout of the Blockade upon her homeworld. You shall see to it. Her death will reveal our return from the Shadows to the Jedi Order. And whilst you are there, you shall continue our search for the one in whom the convergence of midi-chlorians resides. And when you have found them, you shall bring them to me, for I have a use for them."
"Yes, my master," Maul replied. "Shall I kill the Jedi as well?"
Sidious smiled evilly. "Are you so eager to go up against the Jedi, my apprentice? Very well, I shall grant you the liberty to try. But be wary. If the convergence is found, their capture is your priority. The Jedi can wait. Their end will come."
"Yes, my Master."
With a wave of his hand, Sidious dismissed his apprentice, before tossing aside the trappings of the darkside. As Senator once more, he considered the aftermath of his apprentice's success. The death of his Queen would call for an election on Naboo, restoring the sympathy to support his own campaign. The Nubian Throne would be his for the taking.
Everything was proceeding as he had foreseen.
That elusive feeling which he had first experienced aboard the ship enroute to Naboo to negotiate with the trade Federation, returned to Obi-Wan when they reached Anchorhead, quite suddenly and without warning. Unlike the first, he had a certain liberty to focus upon the sensation, without a word of caution to be mindful of the future but not at the expense of the present from his master. Qui-Gon was far away on Coruscant and though it would not do to ignore his wise advice, the burden of success in this mission lay solely with him and it was for him alone to judge whether he should take heed of the feeling or not. The first time he had failed to do so, it cost the life of several beings, notably the crew of the ship that they used to travel to Naboo. This time, the stakes were higher, for they were on a planet outside of the Republic's laws, at the mercy of the local authorities if matters went south.
Until now the mission had gone well. He travelled from Coruscant to Naboo without incident, feeling delighted to meet with Queen Amidala once more. He knew that his feelings for her were still present, but during his absence from her he had come to terms with their impact on him, with guidance from the Force, and decided not to press them upon her unless she spoke of feeling such first. That ancient energy had assured him that what he felt for her was not a violation of the Code, but instead something noble and holy, that no vows to the Jedi could displace or tarnish. The Force had told him he could serve both his duty and his love, that he did not, nor would not be required to chose one over the other.
However, while such feelings were understood by him, it remained to be seen if they were acknowledged and understood by Padmé. She was younger than he, even when he considered the two years of maturity which girls often held over boys. Her duty, given to her by the Naboo was of a greater and more consuming concern as well, though if his friends and masters heard that he considered it such, they would disagree. He doubted that she was aware of what he felt and it would not be right to force such awareness upon her.
He noticed something else about her too, which caused him to adhere to this decision even more so. It was a certain sadness, mixed with a nervous anticipation, as though she was pinning all her hopes on an event that she was unsure would come to pass. It could be that she was concerned with her task to eradicate slavery in the Outer Rim, the subject of their mission, which in his mind was an optimistic goal at best, but he felt that the source of her turmoil lay deeper than that.
He kept a careful eye on her as they made the journey from Naboo to Tatooine, as well as throughout the various meetings and tours which they conducted on the planet. After travelling back to Bestine from Mos Espa, her state of emotional unrest appeared to ease alittle, although Obi-Wan could not determine why, other than the meetings with the local councillors were going well, turning what was an optimistic goal into a very real possibility.
Anchorhead was to be their last port of call on Tatooine, where the treaty between the Arkanis and Chommell Sectors was to be agreed upon and finalised. One of the oldest settlements on Tatooine, and an ancient mining town, it was located about eighty kilometres from the spaceport of Mos Eisley, where they had spent the previous day, visiting the slaves and their overlords, before returning to the Queen's yacht, which would berth at the Great Chott Salt Flats, rather than in Mos Eisley, which like most settlements on Tatooine was a notorious hive of opportunity for scum and villainy, not forgetting the Hutts as well, until they were ready to leave the planet.
Obi-Wan was looking forward to the departure, ever since he began to experience that ominous feeling, similar to what he had felt above Naboo, only a few months before. The mission had gone so well until then, he would be relieved if it continued to do so, and that certain elusiveness was nothing more than a figment of his imagination. But on a planet such as Tatooine, even with all the security around them, he could not be so optimistic.
He held his breath as they toured Anchorhead, visiting various businesses and homes, talking with the slaves and slavers before gathering in the local council building, where the treaty was finalised. As Padmé shook hands with the leaders, Obi-Wan felt some more of her emotional unrest ease once more, even as his increased another notch.
It was on their way to the ship that his anxiety proved to be well-founded. Stationed upon the sandy flats, barring them access to their ship, was a hooded figure, the sight of which caused them to halt in sudden horror. Obi-Wan heard Padmé gasp behind him, and as he advanced forward she reached out a hand to grasp his cloak in an effort to restrain him. Without moving his eyes from the figure, Obi-Wan gently detached her fingers and returned them to her side, unable to refrain from bestowing a brief caress with his own as he did so.
"I'll handle this," he remarked calmly to Captain Panaka, though the tone of his voice was a mask, for inside himself lay a ferment of quiet dread. Of all things which could have a been a reason for his elusive bad feeling, the darkly hooded figure before him was not something that he had considered. Yet strangely, the sight did not take him completely by surprise. Unconsciously a part of him had prepared for this, even though there was nothing to indicate such an encounter.
As he approached, the figure dropped his hooded cloak from his body, revealing a black tattooed Zabrak. His booted legs stretched out into a battle ready stance, whilst his hand retrieved a weapon from his waist. Obi-Wan did not have to glance at the cylindrical hilt to know that it was a lightsaber. From the moment he caught sight of the being he had realised what they would be carrying instinctively.
With a slight force aided motion he called his own into his hand, and shed his desert brown robes from his shoulders. Before him, his opponent ignited his blade, his hand holding the weapon above the sand, as the red crystal beam extended outwards from both ends. That unexpected sight Obi-Wan accepted calmly, for there was nothing he could do to avoid the combat now, but the state of his inner being could determine what result the encounter would render towards himself and his adversary.
Putting some distance between himself and the Naboo, Obi-Wan advanced forward, his lightsaber at the ready. Beneath his boots the sand shifted with each step he took, limiting the form of saber art he could use. His Master had specialised in one, Ataru, and encouraged him to do so likewise, but during his training Master Drallig had taught him to embrace an understanding of all forms, and it was a combination of those that he prepared to use now. Ataru relied on highly athletic moves which were quite impractical on this desert surface, requiring him to incorporate other forms of saber art, such as Niman, which made use of his abilities within the Force, and the economy of motion and efficiency that Soresu employed, which might allow him to outlast this foe.
Survival was imperative, not only because of his duty to protect Padmé and her retinue, but also because he would need to tell the Council of who he fought, or provide additional views that the security scanners on the Nubian yacht might have missed. At least he hoped that someone on board the ship were training the cams on the creature before him, preparing to shield the ship and those on board, rather than the alternative of the Zabrak forcing his way in and killing everyone.
The being before certainly appeared to be lethally capable of committing such an act. Everything about him seemed to suggest that he was a highly trained assassin who would treat any attempt to parley as contemptible and cowardly. Even waiting for his foe to prepare themselves for battle looked to be a reluctant performance. He was restless, eager for the duel to begin. His eyes never moved from Obi-Wan's form, surveying him as a hunter would their prey. And finding them all the inferior into the bargain.
Obi-Wan did not intend to give him the satisfaction of a prey, whether the fight was a long encounter or over in series of short, sharp, thrusts. Above them the twin suns beat down with the dying heat of early afternoon, whilst below their boots the hard salty grains of sand that belonged to the Chott Flats surrendered to the pressure of the heeled soles. He had dealt with desert environments before, so he suspected that those grains would soon swirl around them once the duel began in earnest, caught by the draft of wind that their moves would create.
A growl from his opponent took his thoughts away from observing and evaluating their makeshift arena. Another caused him to come to terms with all of his doubts and fears, accept their existence and then let them go. Silently he nodded at his foe, a signal that it was up to him to make the first move.
The Zabrak obliged and closed the distance between them fast, striking at Obi-Wan with a hard, aggressive thrust that nearly sent him reeling from the impact. Raising his own blade to meet that of his opponent's, he pushed back, the crystal beams sizzling from the collision. A series of equally hard, aggressive thrusts followed the first, each testing his strength to the limit. He was out of his depth, a fact he had come to terms with before the duel. But there was nothing like unlearning what he had learned in the here and now, rather than storing that prospect for the future. Balance in all, something Qui-Gon Jinn had striven to teach him and something he must master to live by, now that he was on the brink of his knighthood.
Although a part of him wished that this was not the way he would earn it. Ten years and more of training in something which he had worked so hard to achieve, which he almost missed the chance to strive for, and he had come full circle, battling against the odds. Last time it had been his own insecurities and fears, this time it was, well he could only think of one word to describe this creature before him, and it was a term he did not like to use lightly, if at all. Nor would the Council either, and their own minds would be troubled just as much as his was by the return of their ancient enemies from the shadows.
But the larger implications could wait, and it was not important to assign a particular term or title to the creature before him just now. He should be more concerned with the wisdom of his Master's adage, and focus on the here and now. Such as the aggressive moves of the Zabrak, whose saber was pressing against his own in a heavily set fashion. He too was determined, and it was about time that he began to show it. Battling the red blade away from his own blue one for the moment, Obi-Wan reversed the thrust, then struck out with a spinning kick. The gritty sand of the salt flats swirled around him as he did so, throwing a small measure of confusion towards his opponent.
Another growl was what he received in return, followed by some saber thrusts that showed his foe was annoyed by the attack catching him off guard, rather than it having a significant effect upon him. Obi-Wan was not surprised, for they were evenly matched in terms of skill and age. It was in terms of experience and aggression that they differed, at least as far as he could discern from this bout.
Pressing his lightsaber into the crystal red blade that belonged to the creature, Obi-Wan exchanged close strikes, forcing himself to keep his gaze fixed on the eyes of his foe, whose black pupils returned the studying look with fierce ferocity. Put together with the sable coloured tattoos that covered his blood red flesh, it made for a fearsome sight. It was as if a monster from his nightmares had suddenly emerged into his world. Not just from his nightmares, but all those of his Order, for this close he could feel the hatred, the darkness invading his senses, seeking to conquer him. He knew now that the term he was thinking about applying to the Zabrak was utterly appropriate, for there only one word that could describe this creature, aside from his name.
Sith. Previously believed to be wiped out over a millennia ago by the Order, during the battles that were recorded in the annals of history as the Ruusan Wars. Many Jedi privately disagreed with that official line, reasoning that not all those Sith whose existence had been known of were recovered from amongst those who were slain. Others in the Order also reasoned that while light existed, so did darkness, for balance was in the nature of all things. But there just as there were many who had in a sense prepared themselves for this, so were there those who would not believe that the enemy which they had not seen for over a millennia could hide themselves in the shadows, waiting and watching for the day when they might return to avenge their ancestors.
Obi-Wan had learned of this history just as others did, during his initiate and padawan training, but it was not until he became aware of his Master's tragic history concerning his last apprentice before him, that he contemplated the possibility of the return of the Sith. Before Xanatos, the dark side was something which barred an initiate from becoming a padawan, that damned them forever in the eyes of the Order. Encountering it, as he had done in his master's former apprentice, Obi-Wan learned that there were degrees of darkness, just as there were degrees of light, and the distance from one shade to the next was often indeterminable.
The degree of dark that lay between Xanatos and the Zabrak who fought him now was a broad gulf of an ocean's length and just as deadly. With each strike of his double saber, the grimly tattooed warrior displayed a fresh facet of evil intent, which threatened to bring his death. Obi-Wan held his own, although he was all too aware that his skill might not prove enough to ensure he or the Naboo escaped such a fate. But he did not let that awareness rule him, even when a misstep or a saber thrust struck too close, laying him open to such a possibility.
Beneath him the sand of the Chott Flats shifted in tune to the pressure brought upon the grains by his booted soles, as well as those of his opponent. The extreme heat from Tatooine's twin suns also played a part in determining how firm or how uncertain lay the ground upon which they fought, melting or crystallising each particle in their turn. When a misstep occurred, that combination could prove merciless to both Sith and Jedi.
While the heat of the suns ruled the field, casting a deadly heat upon the ground as well as upon himself and his opponent, their glare often proving blinding when reflected off the red and blue crossed blades, Obi-Wan knew that it could not last forever. The suns had been at their zenith when he and the Naboo left Bestine for the Chott Flats. Now they were beginning the slow descent into the equally deadly cold that was Tatooine's night. He could not afford to let the duel linger until their eventual disappearance into the horizon. Such a passage of time between the beginning and then would wring havoc on him as well as the Zabrak.
So he strove to put pressure upon his opponent, returning force for force in the hope that it might cause his foe to make a misstep which he could use to his advantage. The Zabrak might be his superior in terms of saber skill and sithly aggression, but given his previously impatient attitude before the commencement of this bout, there was a possibility that he would tire before Obi-Wan did. And it was up to Obi-Wan to make that happen.
He was not aware of the final blow until it had been made and was beyond his ability to alter. Time, or rather the concept of such a passage became changeable during duels, slowing and speeding up events in a fashion that was subject to its own whim rather than those who attempted to apply a measure to it. Within that vagary was an all absorbing inclusion, from which few emerged to recall the event with a degree of accuracy. Even those who witnessed the duels were subject to such failures in memory, no matter in which combatant they held a vested interest. Later he would recall a half swallowed gasp originating from someone within the Naboo occurring upon the moment the final blow was struck. Something inside him knew and determined that the sound was female and came from Padmé, though he doubted that she would remember making such a cry.
From himself and his opponent there was nothing but silence. Even the harsh clash made from blue crystal striking red was strangely hushed, as was the final blow that followed, hitting at an unguarded piece of darkly clothed flesh. Cauterised upon impact, no blood seeped from the wound to trickle down the body and disturb the sudden peace. The Zabrak froze before him, his misstep startling him into a stillness he did not yet realise would prove mortal. While his mind fought on, the hands that gripped the red double tipped saber seeking to return the thrust, only to fail at the attempt, as his body surrendered to the fate which had been dealt.
Awareness returned to Obi-Wan as the two halves of his opponent felt to rest upon the sand of the Chott Flats before him. He stood frozen at the sight, his sea shaded eyes blinking as he came to terms with what he had just done. Sai tok was considered by some Jedi to be a form of desecration that was best avoided if possible. It represented a potentially Sith-like desire to destroy one's opponent, not the inner focus of defeating the danger of a enemy that was usually held to be the goal of every Jedi. Yet Obi-Wan remembered the words of Master Cin Drallig, who taught all padawans lightsaber instruction at the Temple. A Jedi should not hesitate to use any combat technique to kill a Sith Lord. The goal was to defeat the danger they pose, not their destruction.
Though the duel would exist in fragments within his memory, the image of the foe that he had slain lying upon the sand would haunt him forever and with vivid clarity. Now it was no longer a monster from his nightmares, the wound he had dealt made the Zabrak flesh and being. Something to observe with compassion, to reflect over and to debate in the years that followed, as to whether he had done the right thing in slaying him. He had killed before, such an act was not a new concept to him, but that did not mean that he treated each death with any less degree of feeling than he had felt upon committing his first.
It was that compassion which decided his next move. He would not leave the two halves of his foe at the mercy of the creatures who prayed upon the dead on Tatooine. Sith or not, whatever tenet the Zabrak could have claimed to follow, he was, like Obi-Wan, a servant of the Force, and thus should be accorded the same rites that any Jedi was entitled to. So he gathered what materials could be found to hand, and surrounded the remains with the makeshift trappings of a funeral pyre.
The Naboo leant a hand, silently offering assistance as he quietly set about performing this service and together with him stood witness until the end, when nothing but ashes remained, to be blown across the desert, as small as its grains of sand.
Padmé rose from her bed, gathering a robe to cover her nightgown before exiting her chamber in search of relief from a troubled sleep. She could not rest, her mind was too full of the events that had graced her departure from Tatooine. Carefully wandering past her faithful attendants, she entered the empty and sparsely lit corridors of her yacht, the soft beams designed for night, attuned to the ship's chrono which had been set for Nubian time. With no particular destination in mind, she strode along the firm floor covering, far more concerned with marshalling her thoughts so she might not arrive upon Naboo bleary eyed and unprepared for the resumption of her sovereign duties.
When she chose not to leave with the Jedi following their rescue from the droid army of the Trade Federation, to avoid the events on Tatooine and Coruscant in favour of forming a union with the Gungans to relieve her homeworld of the Neimoidian Blockade, Padmé had hoped that such an advance of events would allow the Jedi to avoid encountering the return of the Sith. The events on Tatooine however had served to rid her of such hopes. Her only consolation was that Obi-Wan had faced the Zabrak, and managed to defeat it in the same manner as he had before, minus a fall into a melting pit and the death of his master. She was glad that she could at least spare him and Anakin that grief, a loss which the latter had taken to heart despite the brief time he had come to know Master Jinn, in comparison to the years Obi-Wan had spent under his mentoring.
It was a grief which Anakin would not come to endure this time, for she had left him and his mother behind on Tatooine, despite her previously held intentions to free them whilst she was occupied in forming the treaty with the Councillors of the Arkanis Sector. That intent had been abandoned when she set eyes upon Cliegg Lars and caught the love that lay behind his visit to Watto's shop, an affection which would remain unfulfilled if she had acted on her desires. Leaving Anakin behind was one of the hardest things she ever had to do, and she could only hope that it would prove to shield him from those who wished to corrupt his innocence, and pray that their paths would cross again, for a love which this time would not end in tragedy.
This change of plans had freed her from some of the tasks she had planned to do upon her return to Naboo, such as establishing roles for Anakin and his mother in her retinue that would protect them from her Senator while also bring her into frequent contact with them so Anakin would not forget her. But the encounter with the Sith could cause to bind her in other tasks, ones that she had done before, when the Zabrak lay in wait upon her homeworld.
Then, representatives of the Jedi Council had come to Naboo after the routing of the blockade, and when they had finished listening to her account of what impressions she had drawn from her brief encounter with the Sith, had told her of their conclusions and in return asked for her to treat such information as a secret for the time being. She had respected their wish for silence, wondering though what good would come of keeping the news from the Senate, only to realise why during the Clone Wars which followed. Then her Senator had used such information to his advantage, its release across the holonet in conjunction with reports of the civil war encouraging the Republic to raise the Jedi up, then cruelly rip them down and wipe them out.
She was spared the duty of informing her Senator about the Sith this time. The encounter had taken place after the signing of the treaty, when she was departing from Tatooine, so it need not be included in her report to Palpatine. Doubtless he would come to learn about it anyway, when his apprentice failed to return. Padmé hoped that he would not decide to travel to the Arkanis Sector to investigate the disappearance of his apprentice, or send Count Dooku to do so, if he recruited that Jedi into his teachings as he had done so before.
Events on Coruscant could keep him busy, for Chancellor Valorum was nearing his term limit. Previously the events of the Blockade Crisis had served to accelerate his leave from the highest office of the Republic, but he would have been obliged to call for an election if she had not proposed a vote of no confidence in his leadership, according to the laws set down by his predecessors. It was this which had decided her choice to speak to him upon her return from Tatooine, to warm him, if she could, of the dangers in speaking out too publicly against Palpatine. Valorum could not seek re-election, he had already served the two terms of office permitted, and while she desired to keep herself out of the wrangling that would concern his successor, Padmé hoped that something would prevent her Senator from succeeding to the executive office.
It was the core of her fears that for all her efforts to change things for the better, history would still have a way of repeating itself. She knew it was not wise to attempt such meddling, but she could not stand by and watch, nor did she believe that the Force had brought her back from the future simply to let her see everything fall apart before her eyes once more. Events were still uncertain, she could not afford to let herself despair or give up while it was still possible to do something that may effect a change for the better.
With this resolution in mind, Padmé reached the galley, from which certain sounds caused her to pause, as she realised that she was not the only one awake at this hour. Pausing at the threshold, she cautiously peered round the entrance, where the doors were parted in an effort to save switching the lights on within the chamber, and found that her company was a certain Jedi who had been in her thoughts. Obi-Wan had yet to notice her arrival, he was too occupied in retrieving a mug for something he was evidently brewing on the hob.
Padmé was glad it was him and not one of the officers or pilots who had been assigned to the night shift for this journey. She had been wanting to speak with Obi-Wan since the end of his duel, but had not found a moment to do so. Ceasing her caution against detection, she entered the galley and stationed herself nearby, waiting for him to finish searching before she declared her presence.
"Something smells good," she began by way of greeting when he had set down the mug. Beside it was another, causing her to realise that her arrival, rather than being a surprise, was expected, rendering her next words unnecessary. "Is there enough for two?"
"If you wish to sample my humble efforts at cooking, your highness," Obi-Wan replied, turning to face her. "I sensed your approach earlier and prepared sufficient, wondering if you were having a restless night just as I was."
"I am," Padmé replied, seeing no reason to conceal it from him. They had been friends for many years during her past, despite their differences concerning Anakin, and she had no desire to lose his friendship this time. "I was thinking about what had happened before we left Tatooine, my mind was too overwhelmed for sleep."
Obi-Wan busied himself with pouring the concoction into their mugs and handing one to her before he spoke. "I was thinking about it too."
"What was it?" Padmé asked, knowing she had to, even though she already knew the answer, for lack of curiosity would betray her knowledge and thus her time travel.
"Many things," Obi-Wan answered quietly. "On the outside, a Zabrak warrior, highly trained in the Jedi arts. But from what I sensed within...." he paused to sip his drink and perhaps calm his own turmoil, "something far more deadly than that." He turned to study her, silently considering how much he could speak of.
"What do you know of our history?"
"I studied politics and history during my years in the legislature," Padmé replied. "My mentors impressed upon the importance of understanding and knowing both before undertaking any office that serves the Republic."
"Then you know of the Ruusan Reformation?" He asked her.
Padmé nodded. "Yes, and the wars which preceded it." she took a sip of her drink, marvelling at the delicious and soothing flavour. A mixture of spices, herbs and honey wrapped in warm milk. This was a difference from her previous life, he had never offered her such a drink before. But then he had not been in a position to do so, it was always her that was host, when he came to her apartment, for visits to the Temple were rare. "This is excellent, I may have to acquire the recipe." She paused to take another sip, before adding, "is that what you think it was then, a sith?"
"I do," he replied. "Always two there are, a master and an apprentice. Though whether it was the master or the apprentice, I do not know. Only time will tell."
"Why did you give him a funeral?" she asked, remembering that during her time, the Sith had survived the blow which Obi-Wan had dealt him on Naboo, and sought out the Jedi Master for a rematch during the Clone Wars, only to be defeated once more.
"I did not want to leave him at the mercy of those which prey upon the dead on Tatooine," Obi-Wan replied. "And I felt it was only right, whatever his cause may have been, he was still a servant of the Force, like myself." He paused, taking a sip of his own drink, before turning to her, adding, "I thank you for yours and your retinue's assistance. And understanding."
"It was the least we could do after what you had done," Padmé said. "And I agree with you, whatever his motive in seeking us out, he should be accorded the respect that is due to any being of this universe."
"Something I hope the Council will understand when I make my report to them," Obi-Wan remarked.
"Is that what troubles you?" she asked softly.
"Yes," he confessed simply. "I imagine it will be a profound shock to them, not to mention something that a few will refuse to accept."
"But will they," she inquired, "given time?"
"I'm not sure," he answered honestly. "But the Council will be prepared, which is what matters the most." He took another sip of his drink, his sea shade eyes quietly studying her. "Why do you ask?"
"Recent events have made me realise that the Republic is in danger of growing complacent," Padmé replied, choosing her words carefully. "We have may have had the appearance of peace since the Ruusan Wars, but in reality the years have not passed without their struggles, and we must continue to adapt to the changes that come, however fearful we may find them."
She finished her drink, setting the mug down, and bade him good night before he a chance to reply. Already she felt the danger of talking too much with him. It was always so easy to talk to Obi-Wan, he had that way about him which made her confide in him things that she could never tell anyone else about.
She felt as if she was only words away from telling him about what had happened to her, and she had no desire to lay the burden of saving the Republic, of saving Anakin, upon him once more, even though she would have glad to receive his support, help and advice. Both had caused him such grief before, she wished to protect him from the danger of experiencing such grief again. Already he had the distinction of being the first Jedi to slay a Sith in a millennia. Confiding in him now would only increase his difficulties, not to mention the possibility that it might undo all she had strive to change so far.
Almost as soon as they had landed on Naboo, Obi-Wan took his leave of her, returning to Coruscant. His mission report was something that should not be discussed across the holonet, considering that it was to include mentioning the return of the Sith.
Padmé bade him farewell, then returned to her own duties. She sent her report on the treaty to her Senator, then contacted the Supreme Chancellor, who had accepted the request from Palpatine to call her upon her return to Naboo from the Arkanis Sector.
Finis Valorum looked very much the same as when she first knew, except that the defeated, shocked expression which she had seen crossing his face after her plea for a vote of no confidence was accepted by the Senate, that was gone. In its place was the politician she had come to know during her years as a Senator, a man who had been driven to the brink of defeat, but found the strength to come back fighting.
"Your highness, it is a pleasure to meet you once more," he began once the formalities were over. "I only wish it could be in person. I wanted to congratulate you on your sterling actions in relieving the slavery that is so widespread in the Arkanis Sector."
"Thank you, Chancellor," Padmé replied. "We hope you did not mind me making use of your kind assistance in sending the Jedi, in a different manner than perhaps what you originally intended. At the time, we felt that if I took the case to the Senate, the longer it would take to relieve the situation, and the longer those in slavery would suffer. We do not mean to bring yours or the Senate's authority into question, we just felt that swift action was required."
"I agree," Valorum assured her, "and you are right, an immediate response was the best course. If I may be frank with you, your highness, the Senate had been bogged down in so much filibustering since the Eriadu Crisis, that it is often impossible to achieve anything. When the blockade was in place over your system, I sent you the Jedi because I believed that with their help, you might be able to resolve the situation in a fashion that would provide the Courts and the Senate with something that would move events forward."
"I hope that they have," Padmé remarked.
The Chancellor appeared to sigh a little. "That remains to be seen. As you may heard from your Senator, I am coming to end of my term of office. This matter will soon be left in the hands of a new Chancellor."
"We have heard," Padmé replied. "Infact, if we may be just as forthright with you, your Excellency, we were hoping you could let us know if your recommendation counts in any way during these elections, or even who you think we may be dealing with."
Valorum received her words in silence, as he thought carefully over how much he could say, even across a secure channel such as this. "In truth, I have lost much of the weight that I once had, but I believe my opinion does still count for something in certain circles. I had considered recommending your own Senator, if you think he could do well in the office. He has been a great help to me recently."
Padmé took care to remain unmoved by his response. She had expected such would be the case, though a part of her had hoped that Valorum had come to realise earlier than he revealed in public, that he no longer trusted Palpatine as once he had. "As much as we are honoured by your words, your Excellency, as much as we are sure our Senator will be also, we hope you will not take offence if we ask you to chose to favour another candidate. I am a young Queen, and Senator Palpatine's advice is invaluable. We fear we would lose that advice if he were to take the worries of the Republic under his mantle."
"I understand, your Highness," Valorum replied. "I will not put his name forward, nor give him the slightest indication that I had designs in doing so."
"Thank you, your Excellency," Padmé remarked. "We hope that when you have the time, you will come and visit Naboo again. We feel that there would be much to talk about."
"That feeling is mutual," Valorum concurred. "I shall speak with you again, when I have more definite plans."
As she settled back into the routine of her sovereign duties, Padmé found her inner restlessness increased steadily. Every day she checked the list of those who had chosen to relocate to Naboo from the Arkanis sector, and each time became disheartened as she discovered the Skywalkers and the Lars were not on it. She was pleased to see that there were some families who preferred to start afresh on her lush, green planet, rather than remain on the harsh desert climate of Tatooine and other outer rim planets within that sector, but the non-appearance of the Skywalkers or Lars troubled her.
Most of the tasks which occupied her now, were ones that she had done in the past, and must do again in the same manner as she had before. Aside from the Blockade Crisis, her two term reign had been largely uneventful, and it was up to her to make sure that it was just so this time around. There was however a pleasure and a discomfort in repeating the events, a slight dissatisfaction, to which she could only attribute a lack of helpfulness, for none of the events concerned did anything to alter hers or Anakin's future, as far as she could tell.
Another matter which she checked on daily were the polls for the election of the new Supreme Chancellor. The result would be decided by the members of the Senate and several candidates from that esteemed body had put themselves forward. Bail Antilles of Alderaan, Ainlee Teem of Malastare, and Palpatine. The candidates were supported by various Senators and Representatives, from which two factions had evolved, the Core Faction, who supported Bail Antilles, and the Rim Faction, who supported Ainlee Teem. The latter was commonly held to be the front-runner in the elections, which were being watched with great interest.
When her Senator had informed her of his desire to run for Supreme Chancellor, Padmé had done her best to appear both concerned at the potential loss of him from the Senate seat, and hopeful at the prospect of what Nubian interests could be advanced from him succeeding to such a high office. She could only pray that Palpatine had not seen through her carefully constructed guise.
Who she wanted to succeed Valorum was certainly not Palpatine. Either of the other candidates would have received her vote, if she had been in the Senate, but she was not and Padmé was relieved because if she were, her voting stance would be a matter of public record, making it far more difficult to keep it from her Senator. However, she was wary of voicing her private interest and support to the other candidates, because she knew that there was a risk it might come to the ear of Palpatine.
The thing which troubled her most about the election was that this was the one event which she desperately desired to change, and yet was prevented from doing so. There was nothing she could do without publicly declaring her support and distrust, which would only bring her into danger. Such a risk to her own safety she would willingly disregard, if she was assured that it would be a means to an end and procure the results of the election. But she did not believe that such actions would do so, therefore she had to restrain herself, hold her peace, and trust that their would come a time when she could voice her warnings to the right beings, who would take the action required to change the future.
Part 11: Cam'st thou by this Ill Tidings.
(Richard II, act III, sc. IV)
"........ he was more than my match and well trained in the Jedi arts. I can only conclude that he was Sith lord."
"A Sith lord?" Master Windu echoed, leaning forward in his chair. The rest of the Council took up his words for comforting incredulity.
"Impossible!" Ki-Adi-Mundi decided irritably, his features foregoing the usual Council Master expression of quiet serenity. "The Sith have been extinct for a millennium!"
"Threatened, the Republic is, if the Sith are involved," Master Yoda noted, and his words caused the rest of the masters to take stock, for it was rare that the wisdom of the oldest master among them was ever questioned.
"This is difficult to accept, Padawan Kenobi," Master Windu remarked, turning the attention back to the one who stood in the centre of the conclave with his master, awaiting judgement on his mission report, it being his trial for knighthood. "I do not understand how the Sith could have returned without us knowing."
"Hard to see, the dark side is," Master Yoda reminded him. "Discover who this assassin was, we must."
"Yes," Mace Windu concurred. "This attack was with purpose, that much is clear. You did well to defeat him, Padawan Kenobi. But with his demise, several questions remain unanswered. His identity, his origins, whether he was the apprentice or the master. If this was just a lone shadow, or if there are others still hiding in the darkness."
"Such matters, concern only the Council they do," Master Yoda concluded, rising from his chair to descend to the centre, where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stood waiting. "Answers, revealed they will be, in time. Our judgement, Padawan Kenobi awaits."
Obi-Wan fixed his eyes on the small and wizened grand master, whose strength and sense within the Force was often the ultimate authority within the Order, though Mace Windu was head of the Council. For himself, he had always found Master Yoda willing to listen and offer counsel, feeling privileged and humbled that he was regarded favourably by him since his days in the crèche. He dropped to his knee before him and bowed his head, waiting.
The lights darkened and the shades moved to cover the transparisteel, shutting out the sunlight from Coruscant's orbital reflectors. One by one the remaining eleven Council Masters rose from their chairs to surround the supplicant. He felt his Master's hand clasp his shoulder as his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, while his breath and heart caught in his throat, awed.
"Jedi we all are," Master Yoda declared, his voice soft and quiet, yet the words seemed to echo back and forth across the chamber. "Speaks through us, the Force does. Through our actions, and what is real, proclaims itself, it does. Here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed, today we are."
A sudden swish of ignition, Obi-Wan saw the green blade ignite, and felt the heat of the crystal blade as it rested above both his shoulders in turn.
"By the right of the Council," Master Yoda continued, "by the will of the Force, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight of the Republic, I dub thee."
He heard his own Master's blade kindle, before Qui-Gon raised the saber to sever his padawan braid. Three strands of carefully woven hair, accrued with numerous beads marking the honours he had earned during his apprentice, fell to the floor, a mark of distinction he had striven so hard to earn and cradled carefully once he did, only to be consigned to tiled floor as he shed one rank for another.
"Take up your lightsaber, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight," Master Yoda instructed. "And may the Force be with you."
Obi-Wan rose gracefully to his feet, retrieving his own blade to ignite and raise the beam towards the ceiling of the Council Chamber. One by one the rest of the lit blades followed suit, in silent celebration of his achievement.
When light and daylight returned to the room, the shades drawing back from the transparisteel to reveal the view of Coruscant's planet-wide cityscape once more, the new knight took some moments to quietly collect himself. Blades were sheathed and Council Masters gathered around him, offering wisdom, praise and advice, each of which he took care to note, even though he knew that he would not realise the sense behind the words until later. his sea shaded eyes darted about the chamber, until they lit upon the his padawan braid, lying the floor. Opening his hand, he called the woven strands of hair into his clasp, before raising his gaze in search of his Master.
He found him standing off to the side, looking a little forlorn and suddenly aged, as though his youthful years were now spent. Parting politely from another of the Council Masters who detained him to offer advice, Obi-Wan strode towards his master, and presented the symbol of his apprenticeship, as an offering.
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan uttered as Qui-Gon raised his gaze, blinking from the sudden appearance of the braid, to fix upon his now former apprentice. "Such words are inadequate considering how much has passed between us, but I am grateful for all that you have given me during our time together."
"I have taught you all I can, and you have been a good apprentice, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon remarked softly. "You are a much wiser man than I am. You will be a great Jedi, my young padawan," he added as took the beaded braid with slightly shaking hands, clasping it in firm but gentle grip, then taking his pupil into a fond, fatherly embrace. "One whose missions will become the stuff of legends. You will make me proud."
Obi-Wan clasped his master close, knowing that this could be one of the last times he might see Qui-Gon for a while. New knights were often given their first missions soon after the ceremony that saw them confirmed into such illustrious ranks. They were also given a new apartment, to allow their masters to choose another padawan if they wished, a choice which might be placed before the knight, in time.
Qui-Gon was the first to break away, and even then it was only to transfer the embrace of father and son for a clasp upon the smaller man's shoulder, guiding him out of the Council Chambers and back to their apartment. There was packing to be done, and the transfer of belongings to new quarters in the knights' wing of the Temple.
Obi-Wan allowed himself to be led back to the turbolift and then through the corridors to their quarters, but within him there was a general reluctance to do anything which might bring to an end the partnership between himself and his master. It was strange, after all these years of study and training, yearning to become a knight, he had never prepared himself to face the moment when he and Qui-Gon would be apart, no longer master and apprentice. He knew he could manage missions on his own, but the other part, where he would be living in the Temple, alone, that seemed a horrifying prospect just now.
Nor did he feel like a Jedi Knight. He had imagined that once the ceremony was over, or even during the symbolic severing of his braid, that something within him would change, or grow. What, he was unsure, but he knew now that aside from a sense of being utterly overwhelmed, he felt the same as he had before walking into the Council Chamber. Sudden understanding mixed with uncertainty and the knowledge that he was about to willingly walk into the unknown. Without the aid of a Master at his side. He was not alone, a Jedi never was when they had the Force as their ally, but he did feel that sense of abandonment waiting in the wings, ready to consume him.
It was an odd feeling one which he did not believe would dissipate any time soon. He knew what he should be doing, entering in the spirit of the occasion, celebrating with his friends who would doubtless be happy for him. But he knew that if he did so, it would be a role to play until he was without an audience, however caring or well intentioned they may be. Perhaps it was because of the way he had become a knight, as the result of duelling with a Sith. The first Jedi to do so in over a millennia. It was an unusual rite of passage, certainly not how he expected rise from the ranks of padawans. Though his master had trained him to be a warrior, Jedi were pacifists at heart. Negotiation was what he had been schooled in, he was taught to believe in the power of the word over the sword. And that was why it bothered him so much, as though by resorting to violence, he had not deserved his promotion.
"Obi-Wan?" His master queried, causing him to rouse himself from his musings. "What is the matter, my padawan?"
"That," he replied, as Qui-Gon's concerned expression acquired an aspect of confusion. "I am not sure whether I should be what you just called me."
"You'll always be my padawan, whatever rank you hold," Qui-Gon assured him. "But I sense that is not the cause of this disquiet."
"It isn't," Obi-Wan sighed, unsure how to put what he was feeling into words. "Did I do the right thing in killing him, master?"
"Only you can answer that," Qui-Gon replied. "From the report you gave to the Council I can find no fault in your actions. But only you know what lies in your heart. What you felt at the moment you put up your saber."
"I was protecting the Queen and her attendants," Obi-Wan replied. "I did what I thought was right at the time. But it was a violent act, which resulted in my knighthood, and I cannot ignore that. Should killing a Sith, or any act of aggression for that matter, earn such an elevation?"
"Obi-Wan, you are not the first Jedi to earn their knighthood through such an act," Qui-Gon replied. "Nor do I think you will be the last. You did not seek out that warrior, nor did you intend to kill him. It was he who sought out you, he who attacked. The very fact that you are questioning your actions tells me that you earned your promotion. The day we stop questioning such violent deeds is the day we lose the essence of what it is to be a Jedi." His master stepped forward and laid a hand on his shoulder. "This feeling will pass in time, Obi-Wan. No doubt as soon as you have your first mission as a knight under your belt. Until then, remember your training. Accept that you feel such doubts, and do not dwell."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied, knowing as he did so, that Qui-Gon had spoken the truth from the beginning. No matter how many years passed, one thing would never change. Qui-Gon would always be his master, and he Qui-Gon's padawan.
Palpatine stared at the results in disbelief, questioning the sense that the numbers made in sheer blind anger until the very walls of his office crackled with the sith lightning which he was repressing from venting. Incredulity was fast losing a battle with the dark side of his nature, but he refused to let the careful work he had put into this, collapse in one sudden crush of negative emotion. Such feelings were his strength, to wield them now without receiving anything in return would be a waste of that power.
Just as the days he had spent doing the careful work in the hope of bringing the schemed for success were now a waste. Time occupied by collecting now seemingly questionable support from his colleagues within the senate and those he thought would be able to gather votes from the outside.
There was nothing he could do to rectify this mess, or salvage anything that would prove equally satisfying from it. No one would turn to him for advice now, or for support, as this loss would show them that his name could give them nothing. His reputation was irretrievable, his future career in the Senate forfeit.
It was time to move on. There were other ways to achieve his schemes after all. His future did not depend on just one manoeuvre, there were many hands to play, and numerous Sabacc pots for the taking.
He would have to inform her Highness however, and that part of the business felt particularly galling. She would be sympathetic of course, but he suspected that secretly she would relieved by the result. The prospect of him rejoining her council would not be so easily welcomed, but she would be unable to refuse him the opportunity to do so. From there he could start to build the foundations for his empire, under the guise of an old councillor, and far better without the Senate and the obligations which it required of all members, such as the endless committee meetings and legislative red tape that he had used to excellent though ultimately futile effect for the past years.
On Naboo his actions would not be under the scrutiny of the holonet press, or his soon to be former colleagues within the senate, or the Jedi. However the veil of the dark side which he had used to keep them at bay would disappear with his departure from the Core. Naboo was too far away to cloud the senses of Order. But it was that same distance which would prevent them from sensing his actions until it was too late.
Yes, his plans would succeed. This setback would cost him nothing but time.
Padmé stared at the results of the election for Chancellor unable to believe what her senses were telling her. Ainlee Teem of Malastare, the widely considered front-runner of the three candidates who were nominated, had won the chance to become Finis Valorum's successor.
She did not know the Gran well, although they had spent some time together in the Senate, as Ainlee stepped down from his Senatorial seat to become a representative of Malastare just before the battle of Geonosis.
Despite all her efforts, she had thought that Palpatine would win the election. What she could do was limited by her position and a talk with the outgoing Chancellor could only carry so much weight among other Senators. Palpatine was also a sith, and not above manipulating beings and events to get his way, which caused her to believe that her efforts would ultimately prove futile.
Yet they had evidently succeeded, in spite of these seemingly overwhelming obstacles. The question now however, was what Palpatine would do next. Ainlee Teen was not an ally of his, for there had been an assassination attempt on him shortly after her vote of no confidence sparked elections. If that part of history was to be repeated, there was little she could do, other than quietly hope such methods failed as they had done before. As for her Senator, there were several options open to him, all of which he was equally likely to take. He could wait until the end of Ainlee's first term, then run for the Chancellorship again, he could retire from the Senate to set up the future separatist movement, or quietly do so on Coruscant and keep serving her as Senator for the time being. Or he could do none of those things, and she would not know, even if he chose to speak to her about his plans.
It was thus with much trepidation - a feeling which Padmé tried to conceal as best she could - that she approached his subsequent holonet conversation, made shortly after the results of the Chancellorship elections had been broadcast to all systems within the Republic.
"Your Majesty," he greeted her, using the old appellation which she hated and asked the Naboo to stop calling her by soon after she became Queen. "I'm sure you have heard the news concerning the results of the elections for Supreme Chancellor."
"We have," Padmé replied, "and may we say that we are truly sorry that you did not triumph through them, Senator. The Senate and the Republic have missed out on acquiring a great leader."
"I thank you for the compliment, Your Majesty," Palpatine said, bowing his head a little in receiving her praise. "I trust you will feel the same regarding my successor."
She did not need to fake her emotions this time, her surprise was genuine. "Your successor? Surely you are not thinking of stepping down?"
"There is little else one can do after such a defeat," Palpatine replied. "My fellow Naboo and my fellow Senators need to see that I have the power to affect change in the Republic, change which is badly needed. Clearly they do not believe I possess such power. I would not achieve much by remaining here. Nor am I the only candidate to resign. Senator Antilles will cede his seat to Bail Organa, it has been announced."
"Well, if you feel it is your only option, then we have no choice but to accept your resignation," Padmé remarked. "What will you do?"
"I hoped, your Majesty, that I may be able to still serve you in some small capacity on your Council," Palpatine replied. "Though my Core career may be finished, my desire to serve Naboo will never be quenched."
"Of course, Senator," Padmé answered, knowing she had little choice but to agree, "We will welcome your counsel. We hope to see you soon."
"And I you, your Majesty."
When the holo image of Palpatine had faded, she switched of the comm panel, and leaned back in her chair. Palpatine's return to Naboo was something she had been prepared for, after all he was the member of a prosperous, prominent family whose estate bordered her own villa in Varykino. If he chose, he could run his empire from there and no one would be any the wiser. His return would also give her the opportunity to have his actions observed more closely and hopefully acquire the evidence of his sithly nature to present to the Jedi Council for justice.
But how comfortable she would be in conducting the business of the realm with him in such close proximity to her day after day, was another matter. It would take all her ingenuity to conceal her true feelings for him, her knowledge of the future, not to mention the secret surveillance that she planned to place upon him.
She was grateful that she had not given into her impulse to free Anakin and his mother whilst she was on Tatooine. She was also thankful that they had chosen not to take up the offer she made to the Arkanis government regarding all freed slaves having a chance to start a new life on Naboo. Though what she was going to do about awakening her and Anakin's relationship had yet to be thought of. She could only hope that some evidence of Palpatine's true nature would arise and the Jedi were able to deal with him before ten years had passed.
Part 12: Let us Sit Upon the Ground.
(Richard II, act 3, sc. 2, l. 155)
They were in the midst of the long green grass that was typical of the Lake Country. A rural idyll of Naboo, never urbanised, made up of vast lakes, lush meadows and spectacular waterfalls. She was playing with the grassy blades that surrounded their makeshift picnic area in an effort to hide her embarrassment as he teased her about her first boyfriend, a boy named Palo who went on to become an artist rather than remain in politics.
After commenting that Palo was wise to remove himself from such a career, causing her to observe that he did not like politicians, which was odd considering one of his mentors and heroes was Chancellor Palpatine, not to mention the profession of herself, his current company. He confirmed that he liked one or two, but then went on to say something else, which took the conversation in an entirely different direction.
"I don't think the system works," he revealed.
She stilled her focus and her gaze upon him, intrigued by the serious tone of his comment, which for once had nothing to do with trying to get her to return his obvious interest in her, an attraction which was forbidden from being encouraged by his commitment to the Jedi Order, despite his argument to the contrary.
"How would you have it work?"
"We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what's in the best interests of all the people, and then do it," he answered.
"That is exactly what we do," she replied. "The trouble is that people don't always agree. In fact, they hardly ever do."
"Then they should be made to," he added.
"By whom?" she countered. "Who's going to make them?"
He shrugged, as though he felt uncomfortable about answering her question. When he did respond, it with a vagueness which clearly suggested that he was choosing to hold back his real answer because he believed that she would not like to hear it. "I don't know. Someone."
She did not need to speculate as to who he had in mind. His ego knew no bounds, as confident as the boy she once knew. "You?"
"Of course not me," he protested, but not very convincingly.
"But someone," she prompted persistently, a sense of irony in her tone.
He nodded, relieved that she had returned to his original vague response, missing the subtlety that lay behind her words. "Someone wise."
She looked at him, wondering if he was still thinking about himself, or whether he had someone else in mind and if so, who. Obi-Wan? Palpatine? Master Yoda? Only two of the choices she agreed with, and she was still uncertain why she felt that her former Senator was not a wise choice. However, what he was suggesting had a different system of governance in mind to the current platform which was followed by the Republic. And it was one that she had no desire to agree with. Or fulfil a role within. "That sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me," she remarked slowly.
"Well, if it works," he commented, only with nothing of the grin that had accompanied the original confirmation. Instead his words carried within them a certain conviction that she found decidedly disturbing. Added to this, his normally bright blue eyes had acquired a certain yellow lustre, which she had last seen in them upon the volcanic surface of Mustafar, during the last hours of the Republic, when she had lost her husband forever.
Abruptly the scenery changed before her eyes, transforming into the events that occurred later in her enforced vacation from the Senate, when her Jedi protector was trying to ride a Shaak. She stood watching him as he attempted to mount one of the beasts, managing a brief success, it before rising to stand upon his feet across the animal, an aerobatic stunt which caused him to fall off, the Shaak stampeding over him in his terrified wake.
She ran to him, all previous bemusement gone, replaced by a sudden concern for his life, one which ran much deeper than she cared to admit, at the time. Kneeling in the grass she leaned over him, knowing she would find a big grin blazed across his expression, along with the sense of triumph that he had managed to fool her.
Instead, she found the Anakin she had seen on Mustafar, perhaps even earlier, on Coruscant when he returned to her, after the Jedi Temple was set on fire. Or when he had lashed out blame at Obi-Wan on Tatooine before admitting that he had massacred an entire tribe of tuskens after his mother died in his arms, as a result of her injuries gained during their capture of her. He gazed up at her with a hard, betrayed set of features, convinced into believing the worst of her, when in truth it was he who was in the wrong.
He held his hand out towards her, his fingers encased within his fist, his focus trained intently upon her throat. She clutched her skin there in an attempt to protect herself, but to no avail. Slowly she felt the gradual loss of breath, the frantic struggle of her body to regain the function, worsening her state. Desperately she tried to calm her the fast rapid beat of her heart, hoping to subdue the fear within her enough to lengthen her life. But he was determined and resistance was futile.
Slowly she fell to the floor.
Padmé woke with a startling rapid descent upon her bed, as if she had been floating above the furnishings, a familiar sensation to anyone who experiences dreams that end when one is falling towards the ground. She remembered hearing once that if you ever touched the surface of that which you found yourself falling towards, it meant you would never wake. Shivering, she brushed such dark thoughts away, grabbed a robe and rose from the bed.
Stepping out on to the balcony, she took in the glorious view, the vivid blue depths of the lake in which she would swim to the island that lay within the middle of it, the lush greenery of the flowers and trees that encircled the water. Usually such a sight would cheer her, but not today. Her mind was too preoccupied by what she had dreamt of to direct her focus towards the beauties of nature.
Within a few months, that which she dreamed of would have taken place. Yet this time she knew it would not occur, for several reasons. Anakin was still on Tatooine. Since her return from arranging the treaties, she had kept connections with beings that lived in the Arkanis system, who informed her on where he was and what he was doing. Though both he and his mother were now free, they had not left Tatooine, or Watto's employ. Shmi had married Cliegg Lars, but she commuted between the moisture farm outside Anchorhead and the Troydarian's warehouse in Mos Espa, a long journey even for a good speeder. Evidently her son must have tinkered with the mechanics, or Watto could not bear to part with either of them, even if now he was forced to treat them as employees as opposed to slaves.
Anakin had not been discovered by the Jedi, another factor which prevented their reunion here, at her villa in Varykino. Her life was not in danger due to her political position, for instead of stepping down from her throne and entering the Senate, she had conceded to the desire of the Naboo for her to reign another term. Coruscant's governing bodies were managing to run the Republic well enough without hers or Palpatine's interference. There were no signs of systems preparing to cede themselves from the Republic, or an intention to form a separatist movement.
Running for a third term as sovereign of the Naboo also enabled her to keep an eye on her former Senator. Since retiring from the Core, Palpatine had taken a seat on her council, a relatively minor position which allowed him to split his time between Theed and Convergence, his family's estate in the Lake Country. Whenever she could, Padmé would go to a room located in the secret passages of the Palace, where she had set up a series of holo surveillance streaming monitors, their cams and coms trained on the interior of Convergence, Palpatine's office within the palace, and his apartment in Theed, so she could collect evidence on what Palpatine was doing whilst he was there. So far nothing had pointed to the Separatists, weapon stockpiling, cloning, or sith related activities, but that had not deterred her from continuing the surveillance. However she was a little daunted by the passage of time. Ten years had passed and still there was no sign of anything that could lead to Geonosis, or anything else that might pave the way to turning the Republic into an Empire under his despotic rule.
For a time she had wondered if he was not evil in this world, if her previous future had merely been a warning from history and nothing more. Yet she could not bring herself to trust him, or his actions. Not when everything else repeated itself and with frightening accuracy. In it of itself, living through these events was a disturbing experience. Knowing who she would see next, exactly what they would say and how she was meant to respond. And to respond, with seemingly no idea of the future that lay before that response, with an appearance of ignorance at the consequences, that was hard. There was times when she wanted to deliver a warning, yet knew she could not, for what she wished to say was something that she could not possibly know, not from any of the information she was currently given. Keeping silent was the hardest thing to do, and yet she had no choice.
A sense of isolation was the ultimate consequence of that silence, one which grew more profound with every passing year. No matter how deeply she tried to involve herself with her friends, or busy herself in fixing what she could of the Republic from her position as an elected sovereign of a world, as opposed to a Senator, the loneliness of her future knowledge continued to plague her. She longed for someone to confide in, to talk to without having to conceal what she knew or withhold a warning which she desperately wanted to give.
But there was no one with whom she could do so. Not even Obi-Wan, of whose life in her previous future she knew the least of, because each time she talked with him, she could see how content he was with the life she had given him, a knight without the burden of a padawan, or the mourning over the death of his master. Though it was so easy to talk with him and to listen and laugh as he told her stories of the Temple and missions, of the life on the Jewel of the Core Worlds, she held back because she could not bear to make him sad, even if the sorrow was only directed toward her, for suffering through a future she had sought to spare him.
"Milady?" a voice called out a little nervously, drawing Padmé away from her mournful introspection. She turned to find Cordé waiting for her in the bedroom. "It is almost time to go back."
Today was the last day of her brief vacation away from the capital. Initially she had welcomed the break to the Lake Country, a chance to get away from the hubbub caused by her acquiescence to the desires of her people that she reign for a third term. There had been almost as much fanfare and parades as had welcomed the celebration of the treaty between the Naboo and the Gungans. But now as she came to the end of her relative solitude, Padmé was relieved that she would soon have other demands placed upon her once more. She needed to keep busy in order to prevent the build up of the emotional turmoil which she had begun to experience this morning. A return to her duty and politics was welcome.
When Captain Panaka chose to escort her back across the lake which encircled her Villa at Varykino, Padmé did her best appear surprised by his decision and her utmost to conceal that she already knew the reason why such a precaution regarding matters of her security was necessary. It was about this time that the contract negotiations for the spice miners broke down, causing tightening of security around the Queen, her Council and her Senator.
Horace Vancil was still serving as her representative on Coruscant, having replaced Palpatine soon after he announced his desire to retire from the Senate. There had been a brief intermediary period between the transition from Palpatine to Vancil in her time, fulfilled by Janus Greejatus, which lasted two years, but since that xenophobe had proved to be such an unwise successor before, Padmé saw no need to inflict him upon the Senate a second time. In light of how close an advisor he came to be for Palpatine, she also took care to keep a close eye on Greejatus' career outside of the Senate, making sure he and her alleged veiled sithly Councillor rarely met outside of the Council meetings.
Padmé listened to Panaka's detail of the changes to her security in light of the protests from the spice miners throughout the journey from Varykino to Theed. While she had known of the riots from before, she had been just a Senator on leave from Coruscant then, with Panaka's nephew Typho in charge of her security, and his uncle had been more preoccupied with the dual nature of keeping Queen Jamilia safe, and her own safety amid threats to her life as a result of her stance on the security amendment during her return to Coruscant. The decision over whether the Republic needed an army in light of the growing Separatist movement had been more of a concern to her than the local disputes on her home planet. As sovereign however, the concerns of the miners were hers as well, thus it was necessary to pay close attention to her safety minded companion, while he updated her on the progress of the latest talks, along with changes of guarding safety such riots involved.
By the time they had reached the private palace dock, she was fully acquainted with all of the concerns of the spice miners and their management. Arranging for a mediation to be conducted with the two groups and herself at some point during this week, Padmé turned her attention to the other matter which Panaka was concerned with, her security. He had decided to enlarge her guard detail to include a number of men who were not native to Naboo, and therefore more used to dealing with non-pacifist climates than her current security. It was an unusual step, and Panaka was well aware of this fact, which was why he wanted her to meet with each of the candidates to see if she felt comfortable with them before he proceeded to hire them on a more permanent basis.
Padmé agreed, though privately she had little desire to meet new people and hire new staff. her retinue was of sufficient size already, she did not need additions to worry about. Jamilia had managed through the spice miners contract negotiations without hiring new security, so could she. There was no growing separatist threat, no dangerous journeys to be made to Coruscant, no decoys to be risked. But she knew that Panaka rarely had concerns without good reason. His actions had never served her wrong, even when they had once cost her the life of a dear friend and handmaiden. If taking on additional security meant that her decoys were spared from taking risks, then she would gladly do so.
Inside the Palace she returned to her chambers where the trappings and the finery of Queen Amidala were placed about her. All the simple, flowery dresses of Padmé Naberrie were hidden away, for the handmaiden who was rarely in the Queen's company, except in times of conflict. A sovereign once more, she headed to the throne room, where the new additions to her security were waiting.
She saw him almost immediately, for with his height he towered over the rest. He was everything she remembered of him at this age, darkly handsome, strong, brooding features, his skin and hair tanned from a life spent toiling in the desert. The padawan braid was gone of course, but that was the only difference.
Queen Amidala no longer seemed an attractive role. She wanted to be Padmé again, one of the many helpful attendants upon the Queen, who could direct the future bodyguards to their quarters and make friends with them. Not the sovereign who had to stay within the chamber, confined to her throne, and sit through the meeting with her council which would follow.
Taking a deep breath, she calmed herself, knowing that despite her desires, there was little she could do to accomplish them now. It would not do for Queen Amidala to suddenly turn round and exit her throne room just because she wished to become a decoy, nor would she manage to direct Sabé in whom she wished to become additions to her security, not without making the use of a decoy obvious.
Seating herself upon her throne, she beckoned for the first applicant to come forward. One by one she dealt them, learning their names and personal history, which planetary system they originated from, and their motives for wishing to join her staff. As usual Panaka had chosen wisely, the men were a mixture of ages, hard working, and held great potential which they would need to adjust to the role of her security.
Anakin was the last of the applicants, a piece of chance which provided some relief to her desires, as it meant that the interview would not be conducted in front of the others, who were being guided by a couple of handmaidens to their quarters within the palace. Beckoning him forward, Padmé strove to calm herself for this, the second most important event of her relived journey through the past.
"Anakin Skywalker, your Highness," he replied.
"Tell us about yourself, Mr Skywalker," Padmé began.
"I am from Tatooine, your Highness," he answered. "I grew up there in the slave quarter of Mos Espa with my mother until you and your Nubian delegation reached an accord with the Arkanis sector that gave us our freedom." He paused, his eyes casting about the place as if he was looking for someone. "In fact, one of your handmaiden's visited the shop where I was working during the time when your delegation was on the planet."
"Really," Padmé mused, affecting a curiosity that was lower than her privately held glee at his recollection. "What was her name?"
"Padmé," he replied. "I do not see her here, but then it was some years ago, she may no longer serve your Highness."
"She does," Padmé assured him. "Forgive us, we have sent her on an errand. If we had known of your prior history, she would be here now. Continue, please. How did you come to leave Tatooine for Naboo?"
"After my mother and I were given our freedom, she met a moisture farmer called Cliegg Lars," Anakin went on to say. "He courted her and married her. We lived on his moisture farm near Anchorhead for a time, but the increased Tusken raids caused us to take our leave of the place until some other part of Tatooine catches their interest. We decided to come here for a time. As for why I came to apply to be a member of your security detail, I confess that I wanted to meet with Padmé again and repay your Highness for all the hard work which you went to in order to secure my freedom and the freedom of other slaves in the Outer Rim."
Behind her Queen Amidala mask Padmé smiled. She had hoped that Anakin would not forget their meeting ten years ago and sure enough he had not. Now all she had to do was bring this meeting to a close so she could suffer her way through the Council then change into her handmaiden persona and seek him out once more.
"We are honoured by your service, Anakin Skywalker," she said, before turning to one of her remaining cadre of attendants. "Yané will take you to your quarters and from thence to Captain Panaka's office, where you will be given your assigned duties. As soon as Padmé has returned from her errand we shall send her to you."
"Thank you, your Highness," Anakin replied with a bow before he followed Yané out of the chamber.
Part 13: Some Apparent Danger Seen.
(Richard II, act 1, sc. 1, l. 5)
Obi-Wan was quite surprised when summoned for a meeting with the council, to find Mace Windu and Mace Windu only waiting for him within those hallowed chambers. The Korun Master seemed be to studying the view of Coruscant's planet wide cityscape which could be obtained from the transparisteel that almost covered the entirety of the room. Yet Obi-Wan knew that the Head of the Council was alert to his entrance, choosing not to speak until the young knight had joined him by the view.
"You wanted to see me, Master Windu?" Obi-Wan remarked.
"Yes, Obi-Wan," Mace replied, turning from the transparisteel to study his companion. "Since your return from Naboo, Queen Amidala has been in constant communication with us, regarding Palpatine, former Senator and now a member of her council. She has kept a detailed surveillance upon him, for reasons she will not reveal to us, other than what is obviously a deep level of mistrust. She has sent us daily reports of his activities, who he visits, what he says, what he eats, the nature of his business both within the council and privately, at his apartment in Theed and his family's estate in Varykino."
"Have these reports revealed anything?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Yes, in way," Mace answered. "To the untrained eye, the result of Queen Amidala's surveillance shows Palpatine as nothing more than a good citizen of Naboo, faithfully serving his fellow citizens, honouring his family and their legacy. It is what the reports do not say that is most telling, however. Information omitted that the Council is most concerned over. So we turn to you, Obi-Wan, and ask you to go to Naboo, where you will take up this surveillance of Palpatine and report to us on what you find."
"Of course," Obi-Wan consented, with a small bow. "What shall my official reason be for visiting?"
"Queen Amidala is having trouble with the spice miners and their contract negotiations. To intercede as an unbiased party within the talks, will be your official reason for going to Naboo," Master Windu informed him. "On your way you shall read these reports the Queen has sent to us and see what you make of them. Upon your arrival, you should also let the sovereign know the real reason that you have come."
"I will, Mace," Obi-Wan replied, before bowing once more and turning to exit the Council chamber.
"Obi-Wan," Mace called just as the young knight reached the entrance. "May the Force be with you."
"And with you, Mace," Obi-Wan replied before leaving the room.
He studied the reports during his journey from Coruscant to Naboo, the Jedi Council having transferred the data to his ship prior to departure. The minutiae of detail included was fascinating. Padmé had been incredibly thorough in her surveillance, covering almost every aspect of Palpatine's life from the moment he settled on Naboo to become one of her Councillors after retiring from the Senate.
She had not told him about this vigilance, even though the two of them had regularly communicated over the ten years since he had last seen her. He found it strange that she had not chosen to confide this in him, when she had talked to him about so many things. However he reminded himself that she had not revealed to him the source of her veiled sadness which she had held about herself from the moment they met, either. He respected her silence on that, so he felt no resentment or regret concerning this matter, only a sense of curiosity.
Which continued to grow as he studied more and more of the reports. Her mistrust of Palpatine evidently ran deep, and to the untrained eye, when reading these reports, it was hard to see why. However, when one read them carefully, it was clear to see why the Council were concerned. On the surface, Palpatine was a model citizen, that was all that could be gathered from the reports. There was nothing to indicate that something darker could be lurking within his habits, which was precisely why the Council, and now Obi-Wan, were concerned. No one was this outwardly good. It was impossible. There was always some failing or guilty pleasure, or mild transgression to be found. That none could be found in these detailed reports suggested that Palpatine either knew about the surveillance and or was leading a double life, and that life concealed a darkness which could not be revealed to the galaxy at large without some danger to everyone concerned.
Dropping out of hyperspace, he finished reading the reports and returned to the cockpit, adjusting the controls of the ship to prepare for landing. Gazing through the viewscreen upon the planet below, his mind ran over all that had happened since he last visited this world which had become so significant to him. It marked a turning point within his life, the final stage of his growing up. Naboo had played a part in his transition from padawan to knight, being the precursor that pronounced him ready for the trials, which took place on Tatooine, as he protected the Nubian Queen from a sith.
Since then he had been on countless solo missions, or remained in the temple for further research or training as he switched his chosen saber form from Ataru to Soresu, finding the latter form more useful as a defence against the dangers he encountered. Lately he had been contemplating the task of undertaking a padawan, talking with Qui-Gon and Master Yoda concerning such a honour. Ten years as a knight had been enough to cause him to feel confident in making his own decisions, to not feel too apprehensive of his ability or inability to take an initiate under his wing. He had thought that was what the council had wanted to speak to him about, as it was those beings whose approval was required for knights who wished to take on the privilege of teaching.
Turning on the com, he announced his arrival to Naboo's airspace traffic control, waiting for their reply before he began the approach to the hangar bay that was part of the Royal Palace in Theed, Naboo's capital. After a short pause, the response came, acknowledging his arrival and welcoming him back. He thanked them politely before signing off, focusing on piloting the ship as he entered the temperate atmosphere.
A small welcoming committee was waiting for him as he entered the hangar bay of the Royal Palace, though in comparison to the last which had welcomed him and his master, the one that had first blew up their ship, then tried to poison them before raining droidekas and other military might of the Trade Federation, it was infinitely more appropriately named. It consisted of two security officers and a couple of handmaidens, the latter cloaked in their familiar flamed coloured garments.
Obi-Wan set the ship down in a perfectly immaculate landing and secured the craft before gathering his things and exiting the vehicle to greet the four waiting for him below. When he had reached the foot of the landing ramp executed a bow to the officers and handmaidens, stretching out his senses for recognition of any he knew from his past dealings with the Nubian Court.
The security officer that held out a hand to greet him was familiar, as he was the same man who protected the Queen ten years ago. His companion was much younger, a tall youth who was regarding Obi-Wan with evident curiosity. Behind them the handmaidens stood silently, their heads bowed. Obi-Wan scanned them, noticing with regret that the Queen had chosen not to don the role of Padmé, in order to greet him more formally as befitted a member of the Order.
"Welcome back to Naboo, Knight Kenobi," the security captain said.
"Thank you, Captain Panaka," Obi-Wan replied, shaking the man's hand.
"Queen Amidala is waiting for you in her Council Chambers," Panaka informed him, before stepping aside, his hand held out to gesture the way forward. "She offers you the liberty of the planet during your stay, and one of the palace suites."
"I shall thank her highness for her generosity when I see her," Obi-Wan remarked. "It will be good to do so after so long."
"You shall not find Naboo has changed much in ten years," Panaka mused, as his deputy's curiosity increased. "But I must confess that we are surprised that the Order chose to step in over a mining dispute."
"The Council has taken a personal responsibility over Naboo ever since we were asked to assist you in freeing the system from the blockade of the Trade Federation," Obi-Wan replied, hoping such a phrase would cover the motive behind his official visit to Naboo. "And your people are by nature pacifists, so even a protest such as this one, feels significant."
"Your insight serves you well, Jedi Kenobi," Captain Panaka agreed. "And we are grateful that the Council decided to send you."
"They felt a previous visitor to the planet would be most beneficial," Obi-Wan said. "One who was familiar with Nubian customs and law, who would not incur delays by needing to acquire such knowledge."
It was at that moment they reached the council chamber. Obi-Wan entered the room, remembering his last time spent in the grand surroundings, just after they had managed to capture the Viceroy of the Trade Federation, liberating the planet and her system from the Trade Federation's blockade. Little had changed since his last time here, save for the absence of the Neimoidians of course. There was still the marbled floors and walls, partitioned by pillars and panels, the panelled transparisteel windows displaying views of the magnificent gardens which encircled the palace, the half circular table for the council, with low seated chairs gathered around it, the centre one a throne occupied by the elected monarch.
Queen Amidala rose from the chair and stepped forward to greet him, as he bowed before her, before rising to hold out his hand. "It is a great pleasure to see you again, your highness."
"It has been far too long, Knight Kenobi," Amidala replied, taking his hand and using the clasp to pull in closer and kiss his cheek. He returned the gesture in kind, his lips gently brushing against the soft skin, covered in the white makeup of her sovereignty. She was dressed in one of her less formal gowns, an orange colour cloak style weighted down by globe like jewels in the hem-line. Her long dark brown hair was curled into a far more elaborate style, a series of folds ranging in size before ending in a chignon at the back. Despite the trappings of Queen-ship, she still managed to look beautiful, especially when she smiled at him, continuing to hold his hand in hers.
"As glad as we are to see you," she added, leading him over to the arched window that overlooked the fountain gardens, "We are surprised that the Council chose to send a Jedi to mediate over contract mining disputes."
"The Council were also concerned over the other matter, your highness," Obi-Wan revealed, silently hoping that she understood his vague response. "Your daily reports have proved most informative, so much so that they wished for me to observe the situation for myself and report back."
Amidala took a little breath, unnoticeable to anyone else within the room but himself, for he was standing so close. "We are glad that the Council took an interest. We were not sure that they would, considering the conclusions of the reports."
"It was precisely because of those conclusions that the Council is concerned," Obi-Wan informed her. "They are also curious as to why."
"That can wait," she answered, before turning to her security. "Panaka, please show Knight Kenobi his rooms and see to it that he has refreshment."
Obi-Wan sighed, but allowed himself to be escorted away. Offering a bow in farewell, he turned to follow Captain Panaka out of the Council chamber to his suite.
"If it is any consolation, Knight Kenobi, her highness refuses to tell us her reasons for watching Councillor Palpatine too," Panaka revealed.
"It is some," Obi-Wan replied. "I had not realised it was a mystery to everyone but Queen Amidala herself."
"I trust her judgement and obey her request, even though I do not know why," Panaka added. "I only hope that her motives will become clear in time, just as every other decision she has made."
"Are all her decisions so mysterious?" Obi-Wan queried lightly as they continued walking down the long marble pillared hall.
"Not all," Panaka replied. "Some however prove contradictory. For example, when she campaigned for the title of Princess of Theed, the title given to all heirs to the throne, it was to rid the monarchy of corruption and establish term limits. When she took the throne she declared her intention to serve only two terms. Yet only recently she has given into her people's desire to reign for a third."
"I remember her telling me that there was something still left for her to do," Obi-Wan remarked, for they had talked over the com the night she announced her candidacy for a third term as Naboo's elected sovereign.
"She mentioned that to me as well," Panaka revealed. "But she did not tell me what. I can only presume that it is to do with Councillor Palpatine. Once she steps down from the throne, she will no longer have to authority to continue her surveillance on him."
Panaka came to a halt outside the door, which he opened before gesturing for Obi-Wan to step inside. "These are your rooms while you stay on Naboo. I hope they are satisfactory."
"Above and beyond, thank Captain," Obi-Wan replied as he took in the spacious expanse and stylish furnishings. His suite of rooms could house the Council, never mind a Jedi knight.
"Will I see her highness at dinner?" he asked Panaka, who nodded before leaving him alone to settle in.
It was one of Panaka's deputies who came to escort him to dinner, the young tall human that had held a fascination for him ever since he had arrived. Obi-Wan had showered and changed into fresh robes, and unpacked his meagre belongings before meditating until the security officer came to fetch him. He would see the object of his investigations during the meal and he needed to be prepared for the encounter.
After a time spent walking in silence down the hall towards the dining room, Obi-Wan turned to the officer, who was still regarding him with curiosity, though contained by his focus on his task as escort.
"I don't believe we've been properly introduced, I am Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight," he offered, holding out his hand to the young man, who it took it hesitantly.
"Anakin Skywalker, sir," the officer replied.
"If you have a question, you're welcome to ask," Obi-Wan informed him.
The young man hesitated before replying. "Not necessarily a question, more of a confession," he began. "I've always wanted to meet a Jedi, I used to wonder what it would like to be one. I used to dream about becoming a knight, going back to my homeworld and freeing all the slaves."
Obi-Wan eyed the man curiously. Now that he knew the officer was not a native of Naboo, he could see the difference clearly. There was a certain style in the way he walked which suggested that he was more used to a desert world.
And taking in that reference to slavery, he wondered if the man was one of the beings Padmé had freed during her campaign in the Outer Rim.
"A noble dream," he commented. "But the life of a Jedi is a hard one, filled with many sacrifices. It is not for all. Sometimes it is more courageous to live a life outside the Temple, among the rest of the galaxy."
They reached the dining room with in silence, as both of them dwelt upon what they had learned. Obi-Wan found the Queen's gaze resting upon them as they entered, a slight panic in her senses. He wondered what was causing her to worry. Parting from the officer he made his way over to her, offering a bow before he took his seat beside her.
"I apologise if my enquiry as to your motives concerning your surveillance troubled you, your highness," he began in a soft voice so as not to be overheard by anyone else. "I will of course respect your silence and see if I can discover the reasons for myself as I begin to undertake the mission."
"It did not trouble me, Obi-Wan," Padmé assured him, "I just feel that it would be better if you discovered the reason yourself. I would not have you face the councillor with my suspicion in your mind. It might prove dangerous for all concerned."
Obi-Wan inclined his head in silent acknowledgement, and returned to his meal. He turned his focus however, to the councillor in question. Like the Queen's council chamber, the dining table was also circular, the chairs forming another circle around its smooth veneered edge. Aside from him, Captain Panaka sat next to Padmé, the rest of her court aligned in alternating patterns of handmaiden and councillor. Palpatine was not directly opposite him, but nearly enough. Obi-Wan took care not to look at the councillor, lest his interest in him be detected, but continued to observe him throughout the duration of the meal.
Without the trappings required for a galactic senator, Palpatine appeared ordinary, a venerable ageing gentleman, the quiet provincial politician, content to spend the rest of his life serving his country. Yet thanks to Padmé's surveillance, Obi-Wan knew that there was more to the Nubian than just this role. He was the scion of an old family, with wealth and holdings in Theed, as well as a vast estate in the lake country. An intelligent man, whose education was well rounded, who possessed a wide experience of the known galaxy. Even without the Queen's suspicion of him, there was more to the Councillor than what could be initially perceived, however seemingly innocent these aspects of his character may appear to be.
It would remain to be seen however, if the innocence was still there without the existence of something darker lurking beneath the facade when Obi-Wan's surveillance of the man came to an end.
Part 14: When My Poor Heart no Measure Keeps in Grief.
(Richard II, act 3, sc. 4)
Padmé was pleased that the Council had taken her concerns over Palpatine seriously enough to send someone to examine the findings for themselves, and she was glad that it was Obi-Wan. But she was worried as well, an emotion which had intensified briefly when she witnessed him and her newest security officer enter the dining room together. She had no way of knowing if the knight had noticed what was so special about Lieutenant Skywalker unless she asked him, and to do so would arouse his curiosity, something she wish to do her best to avoid occurring. She knew that Anakin was too old to begin training, nor did she blame Obi-Wan for the young man's fall, but she thought it best not to risk the situation altogether. She would have to speak to Captain Panaka, provide a suitable excuse for her security to assign another officer to help Obi-Wan, so he and Anakin did not spend too much time together for his special talent to become noticeable.
As for her own time with Anakin, that had been difficult to arrange. She was reluctant to reveal herself to him as Padmé and Amidala, because of Palpatine. If the Queen started to take an interest in forming a relationship, the being of their choice would arouse an considerable amount of interest, both in the Council, and in the Nubian populace at large. As much as she feared Obi-Wan noticing what was different about Anakin, she feared Palpatine doing so more. He was the fatal catalyst for Anakin's fall, the one who taught him to equate power with courage, invincibility with survival, possession with attachment. Until the councillor was dealt with, she could not express an open interest in Anakin.
But her duties as Queen left little time for privacy. She was not in danger, rendering the use of her handmaidens as decoys a technique that was rarely employed. She could not slip off her royal robes as easily as she would like, or for long periods of time. There were too many duties for her to fulfil. Even as a Senator she had never been this busy. As a result, Padmé and Anakin had rarely encountered each other. It concerned her, despite her worries about making her interest in him known. By this time they had been married, albeit secretly, but aware of each other's love, waiting for a moment when the galaxy was at peace and did not require them elsewhere so they could express that lasting affection. Now because of the changes she had caused, they were still little more than strangers to each other.
They were both still young, there was still many years ahead of them for love and family, but she found that the absence and the waiting brought a chill to her more than anything else. It also caused her to wonder whether she was right in continuing to plan for a time when they would be together again. For the fear of losing her had been just as much a catalyst for Anakin's fall as had everything else which she strove to prevent from occurring. As much as she cared for him, it might be better if she sacrificed the possibility of their relationship to protect him from repeating the horrors that she witnessed him committing.
Padmé also found herself haunted by the dreams she had, the memories of their courtship soured by the eventual fall of his light in the Force. She had seen little of his dark acts during her previous life, but what she had seen and what she was told, both by Obi-Wan and by Anakin, had been horrifying enough. She had no desire to unleash such a nightmare upon the galaxy again, and the thought that their love might have been one of the causal factors worried her deeply.
However, the alternative also bothered her. She knew not where to start in finding someone else, concerned at how Anakin might regard the relationship, strangers as they were. His jealousy in her previous life had been terrifying, she feared to rouse such an emotion from him again.
It left her focusing on making sure that Palpatine was not a threat to the continued peace of the galaxy. Until he was no longer a danger, she could not allow herself to enjoy the rewards of the future she had so desperately sought to repair.
With that in mind, her first object that morning was a wander into the room where she had set up the surveillance, located in the secret passageways of the palace, rooms and corridors which only the Queen, her handmaidens and her security knew about. Last night she had instructed Captain Panaka to show Obi-Wan their locations, thus she was not surprised to find the Jedi knight already present within the chamber when she entered it.
"Good morning, your highness," he uttered, turning round at her entrance and committing a bow in accordance with the usual Nubian protocols. Despite their friendship, he was still careful to be correct and circumspect in the company of others, as well as making sure to accord her with all the notice due of the office of her sovereignty.
"Good morning, Knight Kenobi," she replied, adding a silent nod of greeting to Panaka, who was also present. She walked the short distance from the door to where they stood, just before the banks of monitors that recorded every microsecond of Palpatine's movements.
"What do you think of my efforts?" she asked the Jedi as soon as she had drawn level with him.
"Impressive," Obi-Wan replied. "Even with the Force, I doubt you could have been more thorough. I am curious as to how you have managed it. Presumably you do not put trackers on his person or he would have become aware of the surveillance by now."
"No," she agreed. "When he informed me of his intention to retire from the Senate and serve upon my council, I took the precaution of installing monitors in his quarters within the palace, his apartment in Theed and his estate in Varykino whilst he was still on Coruscant. As for his private yacht and other methods of transportation, I had those monitors put in place when he returned to Naboo."
"A well executed operation," Obi-Wan mused. "Do you believe he is aware of how closely you observe his activities?" he asked her.
"I hope not," she answered. "But I also wonder. I have had this in place for over ten years and he has yet to make a false step or arouse my suspicions further. I cannot help but worry that he has become aware of what I have done, and is doing his best to sabotage my efforts." she sighed as she gazed at the monitors. "He is a very clever man."
"That much is evident," Obi-Wan agreed, his fingers rising up to his face to stroke his bearded chin. "Whether he is also devious, will take much longer to determine."
Padmé stilled as she watched him, a sudden memory flashing into her brain. It had taken place in an apartment on Coruscant, at Five Hundred Republica. Obi-Wan had to only bend his head and turn, stepping away from her little to appear the same as he had done in that location. She could almost hear him speaking, his voice choked with grief as he recanted the horror that he had witnessed in the Temple security recording archives. Determinedly she shook the memory away, though the emotions which had accompanied it lingered. This was the most disturbing aspect of her previous life, the similarity her friends, colleagues and acquaintances bore to how they had appeared back then. Changing the future could not alter their appearances, thus she was plagued with sudden flashes of certain memories she wished were gone for good.
A hand touched her cheek, and she was startled out of her remembrance into the present. Looking up, she found her friend's sea shaded eyes staring into her own, his callused hand framing her face in a soft, comforting caress. His own conveyed an expression of concern as he gazed at her.
"Padmé?" he queried softly. "What's wrong?"
Her emotions must have been too overwhelmed by the memory for him to sense her sudden sadness. Usually she had better control, a necessary acquired skill, for she had no desire for Obi-Wan to endure the same suffering that she did on a daily basis.
Gently she clasped the hand that touched her cheek, drawing it away as she strove to brighten her mind and emotions. "Nothing, Obi-Wan, thank you."
"Are you sure?" he persisted, his hand lingering in hers as his eyes cast a journey upon her face, his ability within the Force doing the same upon her soul.
"Truly," she promised him.
He relaxed his guard as his observation of her encountered nothing more, but she could feel that his focus would be split for some time to come. Inwardly she was annoyed with herself. It was not the first time she had allowed her shields to slip, but that was when he had been just a padawan. Now he was almost a master, who could sift and filter through the fine notes of the Force like a gifted musician. She would have to be more careful in hiding her secrets from now on.
"Why have you no padawan?" she queried now, anxious to change the subject.
He smiled at her. The inquiry was an old one, oft repeated over the com whenever they contacted one another during the decade between their last time spent together, on Tatooine.
"I haven't found one willing to let me train them," Obi-Wan answered.
"Really?" she mused in disbelief. "I would have thought that the initiates would clamouring to be trained by Knight Kenobi."
"I wouldn't know," Obi-Wan added, "I don't venture down to the youngling halls when I am Temple bound."
"So Master Yoda hasn't interfered just yet?" she queried, remembering him telling her once of how he came to be Master Jinn's padawan.
"Not yet," Obi-Wan confirmed. "Although I was preparing to consider taking on such a privilege before Master Windu gave me this mission."
Reluctantly, she let go of his hand, aware now that she had been clasping it for quite some time. "I had better go and get ready for the first meeting of the day."
"I shall see you when the spice miners come calling," he promised, bowing to her as she backed away before turning round to quit the room.
He too turned round, but his thoughts lingered upon her, even as he resumed his observations of the surveillance monitors. That moment of intense emotion which she suffered in his presence had been too profound to be nothing more than a passing fancy. Even though she had done her best to hide it from him, with mental shields that he would swear a Jedi had taught her, although whom he did not know, the emotion had been easy to identify. It was sadness. Something had caused her a deep grief, possibly a memory, roused into immediate recollection by an instance of action or sight, sound, smell. He had sensed such a condition within her before, but now, with his ability within the Force more finely tuned than when he had last been with her, he was better able to analyse it.
Now, just as before, she had repressed the grief, hiding the emotion from him and refusing to confide, despite their deep friendship and trust. He respected her silence, but he was also concerned. For if she continued to contain these emotions, instead of the sadness fading away, it would continue to grow in size, until it overwhelmed her, interfering in her ability to reign, threatening perhaps her survival.
But unless she was willing to break her silence, he could do little to ease her grief. He would just have to add a third mission to his other two whilst he was on Naboo. Perhaps in solving the nature of her distrust of Palpatine, he might gain a clue as to how to alleviate the sadness within her.
Part 15: Watching Breeds Leanness.
(Richard II, act. 2, sc. 1)
Conducting surveillance was a tedious business, and often proved very tiring, even for a Jedi, who could go for several days without sleep, if it was required of them to do so. And as he had a public mission on Naboo as well as a private one, Obi-Wan found himself obliged to forgo rest, so he could catch up on what he missed when he had to attend the contract negotiations with the spice miners, and observe the present surveillance to see if Councillor Palpatine decided to do something treasonous during the night.
When he was not watching the live stream of the Councillor's activities or catching up on recordings he had missed, Obi-Wan still had the opportunity to see Palpatine, for like the Queen and the rest of her cabinet, the minister attended the meetings with the spice miners. Compared to the usual contract negotiations which Jedi were sometimes requested to intervene on behalf of maintaining the peace, Naboo's dispute was quite mild. A planet of pacifist beings by nature, there was little desire to resort to violence, only a need to see that a fair deal for all was reached.
There were protests, demonstrations and strikes, but nothing that directly attacked the elected monarchy or the ministers, or even the business corporation who employed the miners. If it had not been for the surveillance, Jedi intervention would not be required. Obi-Wan found the civilised manner in which the spice miners and their employers went about settling their disagreement fascinating in comparison to the usual situations in which Jedi attended. He hoped that his mission report would reflect the usefulness these meetings could provide to other worlds, who could benefit by following the peaceful example of the Naboo.
During the meetings, along with any other time in the day when he and the Councillor crossed paths, Obi-Wan took care to keep his watch on Palpatine discreet. The surveillance records had shown that he was a clever and potentially dangerous being, plus he did not wish Palpatine to realise that the Jedi were interested in him. That would destroy all of Padmé's hard work to keep an eye on the man over the past ten years.
In public, Palpatine appeared to be a typical provincial minister, who had spent all his life serving his native planet, rising through the ranks more by steadiness than ambition, finally to elective office, withdrawing from the Senate only after support for him to become Chancellor failed to materialise, reasoning that the withdrawal of allies would also prevent him from making a difference as a senator after the elections. It was that decision to run for Chancellor which invited one to peer behind the veil of provinciality, for it was a puzzling move from a man who until then had displayed little ambition beyond his current position.
Behind that veil, as Obi-Wan was slowly discovering, the councillor was so much more than provincial. Despite his retirement, Palpatine retained connections to his former colleagues within the Senate, holding regular talks with them over the com. His financial investments were spread all over the galaxy and he had discussions with various officials and business beings from those systems as well. During these conversations his manner was entirely different from the mild mannered man that attended cabinet, council and contract meetings. He was in command, from start to finish. Nothing was done without his approval, and the response he received from those who he talked to was almost obsequious, and those who failed to deliver what he ordered appeared to be terrified of him.
Politicians wore masks, Obi-Wan had come to learn over the course of his dealings with the Senate, but he had never encountered one as insidious as Palpatine's facade seemed to be. Only once in his life had he met with someone whose outside veneer of an old, decrepit and feeble being concealed a powerful force to be reckoned with; Master Yoda.
And if Palpatine hid such a might as the Grand Master of the Order, then he would prove to be very dangerous indeed.
But proof was lacking. Nothing in the surveillance conveyed why those whom the councillor dealt with were so frightened of disappointing him. Obi-Wan could only conclude that either Palpatine was aware of the surveillance and took care to conduct his scare tactics in blind spots, or there was a concealed area within his livings that had been missed.
So far, there was no sign recorded in the surveillance to indicate the possibility that Palpatine might be aware of it, so Obi-Wan prepared himself for the eventuality of conducting a search into each of the Councillor's houses. His apartment in town and his palace rooms would be a simple matter to arrange, however the estate in the Lake Country would much more difficult to search, as he would need a legitimate reason to travel into Varykino. It was an unspoilt part of Naboo, an area reserved for nature and rest, hardly the place for a spice miners contract negotiation meeting.
The situation seemed hopeless, but as his master often said, a solution will present itself. How, when and what form that solution might take was left unspoken, only time would provide the answers to those questions. Until then, he should wait patiently, keeping his watch over the councillor, attending the negotiations. If he had a padawan things would be different, he or she could have been left to supervise the surveillance while he went to Varykino without any suspicion being aroused. He had briefly considered contacting Master Windu to ask for backup, but he had coped admirably on his own with assignments for several years now, there was no need yet to rely on others to do his mission for him. Not to mention that it might prove dangerous to the Jedi in question. Palpatine could have placed traps or alarms in Convergence, alerting him to intruders.
For now, he pushed the matter of investigating the lake country estate aside and focused on the other duties required of him, such as attending the continuing negotiations between the spice miners and the Naboo Council. These meetings and the surveillance would have to satisfy his observation of Palpatine until an contractual agreement between the spice miners and their employers had been reached, allowing for him to make a public departure, before slipping over the Lake Country to investigate further.
He would need to let the Queen know his intentions, which would be easy to arrange. He had dinner with the Court almost every night, escorted to the dining room either by one of the security officers or one of Amidala's handmaidens. Occasionally it was Padmé, who handed over her sovereign duties to Sabé for a brief time when she wished to talk with him without being observed by her councillors and entourage. Sometimes there were the private dinners in her royal apartments, where they could talk more freely, when she had her fill of councillors and duties for the day and little desire to sit with them in an elaborate gown for a lengthy banquet. Though they had known each other a long time, in public Padmé was careful to keep their acquaintance within the bounds of proper protocol and Obi-Wan respected her for it, as the formality ensured that no undue speculation or curiosity was aroused by his stay.
There was also perhaps another reason for her distance, one which might be a product of his own making. For some time now he had come to care for her, an affection that went far deeper than friendship. He was in love with her, a love that he knew was unlikely to be returned, but impossible to deny all the same. It was said that love was a light which could ignite the stars and while the Order did not create a storm and fury over it, they respected its power and allowed those knights and masters who held such feelings the freedom to express them. Obi-Wan knew that if Padmé returned his affection, the Order would not forbid a relationship, as long as it took place after her third term as Queen of Naboo came to an end. A Jedi and a ruling monarch of a system would attract too much political symbolism and give rise to the wrong type of speculation about the motives behind their relationship.
But he did not think that she did love him. Oh, she cared for him, that much was clear, but not to same degree as he did for her. It was that imbalance of feelings he believed which caused a part of her sadness whenever she was in his company, borne out of a wish not to give him any pain, however unintentionally meant on her part. He did not desire to cause her any pain either and was careful to keep his affection from overstepping the bounds of friendship. It would be enough to see her happy.
Another matter that occupied a part of his mind concerned an officer whom he had only met once. Lieutenant Skywalker. Since his escort to the state dining room under Queen Amidala's panicked eyes, Obi-Wan had seen him only in passing, yet even those moments had been enough to determine what was different about him in comparison to the other members of the Queen's security. Skywalker was Force sensitive and powerfully so at that.
Why Padmé was so concerned over keeping the of them apart was confusing though. At nineteen Skywalker was too old for training, and not the sort of youngling Obi-Wan would be willing to take on as his first padawan anyway. Qui-Gon would have taken the risk, reckless as it would appear, but his master was an experienced teacher and confident of his abilities in being able to mould the young man into a Jedi. He saw the Force as a gift which should never be wasted or ignored, instead explored to its full potential.
Obi-Wan was more cautious however, and there was danger in making a being at that age aware of their power and teaching them how to use it. More often than not, such attempts resulted in a Sith rather than a Jedi. The temptation for power proved too much when pitted against the demand placed on self-discipline and patience. Added to this was the struggle of growing up on a harsh, unforgiving planet such as Tatooine, and as a slave, the boy would find it difficult returning to a life of servitude, which was what the Force demanded, from a certain point of view. Only in serving did a Jedi come to understand the strength and ability which the Force gave them, and wisdom to use such assets.
Skywalker's strength within the Force was not the only reason for her concern he believed, however. Whenever the lieutenant was in the Queen's company, Obi-Wan could sense a strong set of feelings for him within Amidala. A mixture of deep affection, worry and fear. She cared for the boy, Obi-Wan would go so far as to suspect that she loved him, but something held her back from openly declaring that love, and it was not just her worry and fear regarding him, although why she felt such fear was puzzling. One could not fear and love the same person, for the former would always destroy the latter.
Aside from her fear, Obi-Wan suspected that she had at least two other reasons for holding back from declaring her affection. The first was Councillor Palpatine. If he was what Obi-Wan suspected, then she was wise to refrain from revealing her feelings for the Force strong security officer. Her second reason was likely to be the perception that would develop if she had relationship while she was still sovereign of Naboo. She had agreed to a third term because her people wanted it, and if she married before that term was finished, speculation would rise about her turning the elective title into an inherited one.
Her people would be supportive, for there was deep love for their Queen, but Obi-Wan believed that to continue to serve in such a role was not something Padmé desired. Most Naboo who began their careers when they were young retired early from public service to have a family, and he believed that had it not been for her concerns over Councillor Palpatine, Padmé would have stepped down from the throne to do so as well.
Obi-Wan sighed. He wanted to see her happy, even if it was at the cost of his own. He had managed to be content with her friendship for over a decade, he would be able to cope for longer if it was required of him. The life of a Jedi was fraught with cares, and though he knew she was strong enough, he had no desire to give her more after she had endured so many years of them on the throne serving her people.
He told Padmé about his ideas concerning the continuation of the unofficial mission an evening when they were fortunate enough to have a meal together in her apartments. It was several days after he had formed his plans, during which nothing rose from the continuing surveillance to cause them to alter, and the meetings with the spice miners had continued to proceed smoothly until both sides expressed the view that an agreement was in sight. She was pleased that he would be staying after the mission came to an end and relieved that he had found an possible explanation as to why she had not found enough evidence to reveal the true character of Palpatine to the Jedi.
"You believe him to be a Sith, don't you?" He asked her softly.
She nodded in reply. "I can't tell you why, but I know that he is the one who trained that apprentice you defeated on Tatooine. The master that your council has been searching for since then."
Obi-Wan paused to take a sip of his drink as he considered her reply. Since he faced and defeated that Sith on Tatooine, the Council had held many discussions about it. The main one was whether the Sith had been the master or the apprentice. Because he had been charged with helping and protecting her during their time on Tatooine, there was the possibility that she was the target of the warrior's attack, so the Council had kept them informed of their discussions and conclusions, resulting in many a conversation between the two of them about what they had learned over the com. But she had never mentioned to him that she had been conducting her own investigation into one of her councillors, or who she believed was the apprentice and the master.
Why she had kept silent probably had a lot to do with Palpatine and her young security officer Lieutenant Skywalker, he guessed. She wanted to be sure of her suspicions before she confided in anybody else and she wanted to protect the man she loved from the Order and the man who might tempt him into learning about the darkside.
"If you discover that he has a secret room or something similar, what you do plan to do next?" she asked him.
"There's only one way I can see of provoking him to lift the masquerade he has in place," Obi-Wan replied. "Offering him an apprentice."
She stilled and he sensed a sudden spark of fear coursing through her. "Who did you have in mind?" she asked.
"Myself," he replied, catching her by surprise.
"But he knows you, he knows you to be a Jedi knight," she objected. "He'll see through you instantly."
"I'll disguise myself," he countered. "Present myself to him as a protégé of his former apprentice who has been searching for him." He paused, reaching across the table to take her hand in his, softly stroking her racing pulse with his fingers until he felt it slowly calm into a steadiness beneath her skin. "Its the only way. Don't worry, I will be careful."
"I can't help it," she confessed. "I don't want to lose you, Obi-Wan."
"You won't," he assured her.
"Don't make promises you can't keep," she uttered softly. "The future is uncertain and forever changeable, a cruel god that plays havoc with our hearts."
There was a bitterness to her words, and he wondered if what she had just said was a part of the key to her private sadness. Letting go of her pulse, he clasped her hand, his eyes never leaving hers. "That may be true, but let me assure you that there are two constants within my promise and within my power; the Force and my caring for you. Together they have the strength to ignite the stars."
"Obi-Wan," she murmured, and he could sense that she was stunned, touched and unsure how to respond to his somewhat passionate yet earnest declaration.
"There's no need to say anything," he added. "I neither expect it or desire you to do so. I just wish for you to accept my meaning and take comfort in it."
"I will try," she answered haltingly.
He smiled at her as he gently corrected her reply. "Do or not. There is no try."
Part 16: Virtue with Valour Couched in Thine Eye.
(Richard II, act 1, sc. 3)
It was a shame, Padmé reflected later, that she had never fallen in love with Obi-Wan Kenobi. In many ways they were better suited for each other than she and Anakin had ever been. He was handsome, charming, strong, intelligent, cultured, passionate, unfailingly modest, yet confident of his own abilities, his strengths and weaknesses. He was a Jedi who had seen the darkside, yet was never tempted by it. He treated her and everyone else as an equal, respected everyone he met, accepted her opinions, her concerns and her ability to take care of herself. They had fought together in battle, negotiated peace, seen each other at their best and at their worst, in moments of deepest tragedy and highest joy. They shared the same beliefs in democracy, politics, the Republic, found amusement and enjoyment in wit, history, comedy, art, literature.
Their only fights had been about Anakin, and she had come to realise that he was right. She remembered their last, just before she went back to Naboo to marry Ani, after the bloodshed of Geonosis, the precursor to the Clone Wars. He had been sent, she could tell, as he admitted, by someone in the Order to persuade her to let his padawan go. His arguments had been sound, reasonable and rational, despite being tempered by his subdued, cold, almost angry formality in his tone and posture. That had been, she realised now, like her choice of dress, an armour, to hide his vulnerability from her, his care and concern for Anakin, for her, for the Order and for the Republic, his grief and guilt in believing himself to be the cause of the start of the Clone Wars, for failing Qui-Gon and Anakin. For getting captured by Dooku, making Anakin and her decide to go and rescue him, injuring themselves in the process.
In reply, she had behaved like a child denied her favourite toy, even though she had been terrified by the thought that there was no going back. Her feelings were revealed to Anakin and they could never be denied, no matter how much she or Obi-Wan, or the Council for that matter, tried to argue otherwise. Anakin's love was like the heat of a supernova. At the time, she had believed that if the Jedi tried to control it, he would be destroyed, but in attempting to let him feel and act on such an emotion, she had done exactly what she had been trying to prevent. She had wanted to save him, but with a love that was unequal to his own. For his love for her had not been a love that would mature with age, or be tempered by her emotions. He had wanted to possess her, to capture and keep her like a precious jewel. Unlike her, he had not realised that everyone changed, that love must adapt to keep up with such developments, otherwise it was a selfish love, build on unsafe foundations that would eventually topple and crumble into dust.
She had not seen this truth then, during her fight with Obi-Wan. Instead she thought that the Jedi were being unreasonable in denying themselves attachment, sacrificing each member to a lonely life, when in fact she had failed to realise the critical distinction within the code. A distinction which Obi-Wan had pointed out to her once, in this timeline, where their fight that she recalled so vividly, had never occurred, because Anakin had never been found by his master, trained by the Jedi, they had never gone to Geonosis, the clone army had never been discovered, the Clone Wars never begun. Attachment was forbidden, but love was not. As long as a Jedi could recognise the distinction between the two, and for a Jedi, just as much as any other being, that was extremely difficult, then love was not denied to them.
If Anakin had loved her while recognising that distinction, they Jedi would have allowed them the marriage they went ahead and formed anyway, although with a proviso that they were discreet about their relationship. A Jedi and a Senator would have been unheard of during the war, because of the increasingly political and military divide which Palpatine had carefully woven in between the Order and the Senate, destroying the trust which had once existed, so that when the time came for the clone army to murder the Jedi, the massacre was a triumph instead of a horrifying act of genocide. But Anakin's feelings for her had not realised the difference between love and attachment, which was why Obi-Wan had obeyed the order of the Council and gone to her, hoping she would be reasonable and see the error of judgement which she was about to make before it was too late.
Padmé had dwelt on that conversation many times since her return to the past, and even before, during the events which followed. At first, during the initial happiness which came after their wedding, she had believed herself to be completely justified in lying to Obi-Wan, to the Order, to her family, and to the Republic about her feelings and actions. Only later, as the darkness fell over the Republic, as she and Anakin began to grow apart, not just because of the war, but due to his unfailing loyalty to Palpatine and her increasing distrust in the man who had once been her closest advisor, had she begun to see the truth in Obi-Wan's arguments. He was right to warn her to end the relationship, about the difference between causing a small cruelty then, rather than a crushing devastation later. By ignoring him it had destroyed not just Anakin, but herself as well.
Fortunately, the Force had given her a chance to prevent such devastation from occurring again. It had given her the opportunity to save Anakin from all that caused him to turn, even herself. As much as she tried to pretend or hope otherwise, she had been a factor in his fall to the darkside, and perhaps it would be for the best if she never admitted her feelings for him, and he never got the chance to have feelings for her.
She needed to move on, to find someone else. Briefly she contemplated the possibility of Obi-Wan, what he had offered her last night. He had all but admitted that he was in love with her, just as his padawan once had. Yet his love was far different from Anakin's. Obi-Wan had never once demanded the same feeling in return from her. He accepted how far her care for him went, and that it could not go any further, not yet. She had been so focused on saving Anakin, on saving the Republic, that she had no time to consider her feelings for anyone else in her life. Not only that, she did felt that she did not deserve his love. As easy as it would be to fall in love with him, he deserved someone better, who was untainted by their past, a secret that would disappoint him if she ever decided to burden him with such a tragedy. A woman who had not loved another first, and was so utterly blind to believe that she could save them, when he was not able to find the desire to save himself.
The contract negotiations with the spice miners came to an end, the workers and the management both satisfied with the agreement which was reached. As Queen Amidala Padmé hosted a state dinner to celebrate, inviting all the parties who were involved to attend, along with the miners families, then publicly bid Obi-Wan farewell the next day.
So as not to appear too suspicious, she let a standard Nubian week pass before declaring a break for the court, her council and herself. Pretending that she would stay with her family, not an unusual destination for her during recess, Padmé dismissed her councillors, handmaidens and security, shed her robes of office and spent a night at the Naberrie home before heading for Varykino.
Her parents were pleased to see her, for it had been some months since she had last spent an evening at home. Although she would have loved to see her nieces Ryoo and Pooja, Padmé was relieved that her sister and brother in law were not there for dinner, as Sola had been rather persistent lately about when she was going to retire from serving her people, meet someone special, settle down and have children of her own.
Padmé could not deny that such was a desire of hers, but Sola did not understand why it was something she could not do for some time to come, and Padmé doubted that even if she tried to explain, Sola would believe and see that only she was capable of watching Palpatine. No one else could, because no one else knew who he really was.
When she arrived at the Lake Retreat, a boatman escorting her to the water entrance dock on his gondola, Obi-Wan emerged from the villa to help her out of the boat and take her luggage. She almost failed to recognise him. His reddish blond hair was gone, replaced by a black shade which brought out the blue tones in his sea coloured eyes. Another thing missing from his appearance was his beard, which he had grown shortly after gaining the rank of knight, the shaven look taking some years off his countenance. Even his Jedi robes were gone, and in their place were dark coloured and bold distinctively fashioned civilian clothes adding to the assemble that was his disguise as a potential Sith apprentice.
"What do you think?" he asked her after she had stepped back to survey this dark-haired, blue-eyed, shaven stranger, realising only with his deep Core accent that it was indeed Obi-Wan Kenobi.
"Its a good look," she murmured appreciatively, causing him to blush. "You'll need to do something about the accent, though."
"That's in hand," he replied in a tone that made her blink, for all traces of the Core dialect had gone, replaced by a voice that was more southern, almost Outer Rim in its origins. "I just wanted to make sure you knew who I was."
"I must admit, I was alittle unsure for awhile there," she confessed. He offered her his free arm and they walked away from the small dock. "So, what do you think of the Lake Country?" She asked him as they headed up the steps to the balconied entrance of the villa.
"Its beautiful," Obi-Wan replied. "And its a shame that neither of us are able to enjoy all it has to offer."
"I used to come here after school," Padmé explained, brushing away her memory of what happened after she told Anakin this moment of her past. "We would swim over to that small island over there and lie on the beach, naming the flowers, birds and trees that we knew and trying to guess the ones that were still a mystery before we swam back. I love the water."
"So do I," Obi-Wan replied. "My friend Bant and I would spend hours in the Temple's room of a thousand fountains, exploring them. She's Mon Calamari."
Padmé nodded, concealing her past knowledge of that fact. Reluctantly she turned their conversation back to Palpatine. "When will you visit Convergence?"
"Tomorrow," He answered. "I'll take the gondola to the edge of the estate, then trek across country until I reach the house. Its important that he has no idea where I've come from." He paused before inquiring, "I presume he will be there?"
"Yes," Padmé confirmed. "When I declared the summer recess I asked all the councillors what they would do, as casually as I could. He said that he had some estate business to take care of, and I complimented him on the beauty of the house. Such a shame, it really is too lovely an estate to be owned by someone so evil."
"What happened to his family?" Obi-Wan asked.
"His parents and siblings died in mysterious circumstances," Padmé answered. "An accident aboard the family's yacht." It was something she had been unable to prevent, at least without direct interference on her part. Each one of her discreet arrangements to save the innocent members of Palpatine's family had failed and by the time she had resolved to expose herself by saving them, it had been too late.
"Convenient," Obi-Wan murmured and she nodded in agreement. "I see you set up a surveillance room here as well as at the palace."
"I thought it wise to keep an eye on him from here as well as Theed," Padmé replied. "And it will help if someone else knows what is happening at Convergence, just in case you need assistance." That was the one thing she was worried about, she knew Obi-Wan had defeated Grevious and managed to defeat Anakin at the height of his Sith powers, but Palpatine was a different matter. Master Yoda had faced him, but Sidious had emerged from that battle unscathed, although according to his special address to the Senators after that encountered, he had been weakened by the attack from several Jedi Councillors. What damage Yoda had managed to cause she never learned, due to the severity of her own injuries. She could not be sure that Obi-Wan would be able to defeat him, and she could only hope that if he needed backup, the Jedi would not be too far away to assist him.
"I informed the Council of my plans before I left Theed," Obi-Wan added, "They promised me that they would have masters standing by, if I found that our theory about Palpatine was true, ready to aid me if necessary."
The Naberrie's villa at Varykino was large enough for a family with two daughters, luxurious and spacious to be considered a holiday palace, but compared to Convergence it was a modest dwelling. The Palpatine estate stretched for miles, sprawled over several acres of forest and marshland. Outer lodges followed the Nubian architecture of domes, pillars and circles, but the main house was a series of squares layered upon one another, gradually decreasing in size. The pyramid shape presented certain difficulties in approaching the place unobserved. Large transparisteel panes, cloaked on one side to provide both privacy and security dominated various sections of each floor, leaving the visitor convinced that no matter from which direction they approached the place, it was impossible for the owner to be unaware of their arrival.
Obi-Wan settled for a direct route, reasoning that the councillor would respect his intelligence rather than wanting to test his devious nature. If Palpatine was as powerful as Padmé believed him to be, no doubt the deception would be rendered a pointless endeavour, as the councillor would sense the approach of anyone towards the property. Entering the main complex, he took in the overall appearance of the interior once more, noting the locations of Theed Palace's surveillance system, and Convergence's own internal security. From the furnishings and architectural decorations, it was easy to tell that House Palpatine was not only wealthy, it had been prosperous for some time. Despite the exterior style differing from Naboo's traditional designs, the inside conveyed the impression that the outside was added to a pre-existing structure which predated it.
As with any such combination, the layout was a tangle, but thanks to the surveillance, Obi-Wan knew where each room was, though because he was looking for hidden chambers, it was still necessary to check all that he encountered and make sure that they tallied with the visuals in the holo records.
There were many rooms, and more blind spots than he had counted on. He moved cautiously, concentrating all his senses on each in turn. Within the Force he could detect a passage of air present behind a seemingly solid wall, indicating the existence of a chamber beyond. He could sense the echo of another being imbued with enough midi-chlorians to be a powerful warrior having passed their day or night in this room or that previously. He could also tell when such an echo had been wiped from the chamber, in an effort to conceal its existence. In many ways it was easier to detect a Sith as oppose to a Jedi, the passionate violence of anger in comparison to the calm serenity of balance. Jedi were held to be at peace with themselves, whereas the Sith were always at war, within and without. For those who had the potential to become adept in either arts, but had never been sought out or been given the opportunity, it was also not difficult to detect an echo of their presence.
He had been in the house for some time before he found what he was looking for. It was so well concealed that he almost missed it. An automated sliding panel within a wall, controlled by sensors concealed under the floor. Obi-Wan paused before activating it, making sure to clear his mind of everything and everyone he cared about, building shields to protect the light side of the Force which existed deep within him, clouding his senses with those of what he had once sensed from the Sith he fought ten years ago. It was over a decade since he had faced a Sith, but he was not unprepared nor was he out of his depth. His masters had taught him well, his missions for the Republic and Order likewise.
Once he was ready, Obi-Wan stepped forward onto the sensors, allowing the panel to slide away, revealing the room that was concealed behind.
Inside was a darkness, lit by the light of half a dozen holo-emitters, depicting various types of information from several systems, some belonging to the Republic, others located within the outer reaches of the known galaxy. Some he did not recognise, but then Jedi do not get to see every planet in existence. There were those who rarely strayed beyond the Core realms.
As his eyes adjusted to their artificially lit surroundings, a stark contrast to the natural light which they had been previously accustomed to, Obi-Wan took care to memorise what he saw and heard. On his person there were two hidden audio and visual recorders, which were relating a live feed of everything they saw back to the surveillance systems in the Villa at Varykino, the Palace at Theed, a ship in orbit carrying the Jedi Masters he might need if the fight proved him to be out of his depth, and the Council Chambers at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. However it was wise to keep a record himself also, just in case these devices were destroyed or tampered with.
Surrounding the holo-emitters was a darkly decorated interior of black and red. The furniture was made of some sable toned ore, finely carved, adorned by richly tailored accessories. Here, as within the rest of Convergence, was the presence of ancient arts and contemporary technology combined into a horrifying whole.
In the middle of all this, seated behind a ornately carved desk, was a seemingly kindly aged being, who in any other place would have convinced visitors that his outward appearance was all he claimed to be; the gentle, mild-mannered, once senator, now provincial councillor who had done nothing but serve his system's interests at the cost of his own all his life.
However, in this dark chamber he seemed a spectre from the Ruusan wars, a survivor who has hidden for over a millennia, biding his time, carefully planning his revenge. A old man who was more powerful than his age suggested. The antithesis of Master Yoda, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient.
Palpatine looked up from his work upon Obi-Wan's entrance, his eyes quickly appraising the intruder, while the rest of his countenance remained a thinly veiled threat.
"At last you have arrived," he began. "I was wondering when you would discover my whereabouts. What can you do for me?"
"Become your apprentice," Obi-Wan replied.
Part 17: The Death of Kings.
(Richard II, act 3, sc. 2, l. 155)
Palpatine studied his visitor carefully. All of his senses were highly suspicious of this sudden and prospective student, who had allegedly been an apprentice of Darth Maul and was now offering his services to him. He had never had a Sith seek him out before. When it came to training his own apprentice, it had been he who had gone to Dathomir to find and select the best warrior for his purposes. Maul was merely a tool, trained for the sole aim of being able to carry out his orders, from announcing the return of the Sith to the Jedi, to killing everyone who stood in his way.
Unfortunately, events had not proceeded as he had foreseen. Instead of Maul doing the killing, he was the one being killed, by the Jedi. And by a lowly apprentice. Obi-Wan Kenobi. For a brief time, Palpatine had considered recruiting the newly promoted knight, but he was soon to prove himself too valuable to the Jedi, making his absence difficult to go unnoticed. Training a Sith took time, and was best done in uninterrupted obscurity. He was forced to let his wish go, and watch as the knight grew into a powerful man.
Since the untimely death of Darth Maul, he had not the time to search for or train a new apprentice. His defeat in the Senate Chancellorship elections was both unexpected and a setback, requiring him to return home so he could build his empire from the obscurity of Convergence. If he had stayed in the Senate, as a former bidder for the title of Chancellor, he would have been watched too closely for him to accomplish all that he had managed to gain since his return to Naboo. Now he planned to ascend the throne once Amidala had finished her third and hopefully final term of sovereignty. From his position as ruler of Naboo, he could then declare his empire and call in the alliances which he had been secretly establishing for more than a decade. Then he planned to search for an apprentice, perhaps the chosen one whom his master had created but failed to provide him with the whereabouts of, who would travel to Kamino, take the army he had secured with the help of the bounty hunter Fett, and wipe out the Jedi, along with anyone else who stood in his way.
Yet now, an apprentice had presented himself before him. Palpatine was aware of the possibility that this could be a trick, that perhaps the Jedi had managed to find him at last after their years of searching for him since the death of Maul, but he did not want to believe it. He had monitored all of their activities over the years, even the ones they thought it was not possible to be observed. And there was nothing to tell him that the Order had found him out, or even come close to doing so.
His senses probed the man before him. The shields he met with did nothing to allay or increase his suspicions. Sith relationships were build on mistrust, the certain knowledge that in the end, one of them would be dead, killed by the other's hand. He had expected to meet with resistance. He also expected to overcome such barriers easily, for the visitor was an apprentice, his emotions, his powers and his skills not yet mastered. But here he was alittle alarmed and surprised, for the resistance to his probing was powerful, the emotions controlled and contained, the powers held at bay considerable.
The struggle did not show. Palpatine had lived a life time in hiding, the mask of an aged, provincial councillor came to him as naturally as breathing. Where he expected to see strain was on the face of his visitor, who also managed to disappoint him in this regard. If Maul had taught him, then he had taught him well.
For a moment he contemplated lying to the man, pretending that he had never heard of Maul, or indeed of the Sith. This still could be a trap, the man could be bait for him to admit to all of the secrets which he had been guarding so carefully for so many years. He could not deny that there had not been times when he suspected Queen Amidala was suspicious of him, or was watching his activities, the ones he did not wish her to discover.
Yet there were times when his isolation became oppressive, and the need to confide, boast, terrify someone even, overruled his more cautious nature. A decade and more had passed since the demise of Maul, an apprentice who was just beginning to earn that confidence before he was killed.
Another possibility occurred to him, that this man could even be the chosen one, who he had been forced to put aside his search for in favour of other priorities, such as establishing his imperial network in waiting. That the chosen one may have sought him out was not unlikely. During his years in relative Nubian obscurity Palpatine had wondered where the being might be, if he or she was waiting for him, or searching for him. Not since he had sent Maul out on what proved to be his last sojourn had he continued the search for the chosen one, trusting no one else within his network of alliances to prove worthy of tracking down such a Force blessed individual.
There were many Force sensitive beings out there, undiscovered by the Jedi, waiting to be recognised. He had even come into contact with some, such as the young security officer under Captain Panaka's command, who Queen Amidala was doing her level best to keep away from him. Anakin Skywalker was an interesting young man, with a background that made him ripe for corruption, but thanks to his sovereign, Palpatine had not been in company with the officer long enough to determine if the boy was powerful and susceptible enough to meet his needs.
Torn as he was between revealing his true self and denying everything to his waiting visitor, Palpatine reasoned that perhaps there was only one way to know. Without a word of warning, he sent out a spark of lightning from his hand towards the man.
Who, faster than the blink of an eye, produced a red crystal lightsaber, which swept up to catch the lightning, its blade absorbing the deadly sith energy with ease.
In the surveillance room back at the Naberrie Villa, Padmé uttered a quiet gasp, her hand going to her mouth as she strove to take in what she had just witnessed. Not even in her first life time had she seen Palpatine display his powers, even though she had been present at the emergency Senate session where he declared himself gravely wounded, his features altered by the supposed traitorous Jedi attack. To see such a lightning spark, something Anakin had once referenced Count Dooku using on him, was not just confirmation of everything which she had been working towards, but proof that she was right to suspect him in the first place.
Shakily her other hand reached out to access the communication panel for the Palace at Theed, where Captain Panaka was waiting, watching the same surveillance stream with her Councillors.
"Captain, are you receiving this?" she asked him, surprised that her voice was so calm, considering she was deeply shocked. "Did you just see what I saw?"
"I did, milady," Panaka replied, his tone grim. "We are just as shocked as you are. I have the Jedi Council on conference holo. They wish to inform Queen Amidala that the four masters on the ship they sent are still standing by, ready to send assistance should Knight Kenobi require any."
"Thank you, Captain," Padmé answered. "Tell them we are most grateful for their assurances." She ended the conference and turned back to the vid stream, anxiously hoping that the Masters assistance would not be needed, that Obi-Wan would be able to defeat Palpatine alone. Last time four masters and Yoda had not been enough to prevent him seizing control of the Republic or making Anakin a Sith. Obi-Wan had been away fighting Grevious when the first confrontation occurred, then Yoda commanded him to fight his own fallen apprentice.
Padmé often wondered what would have happened if it was Yoda who faced Anakin while Obi-Wan tackled Palpatine. Now she had the chance to find out, the opportunity distressing her. He had to succeed, for the alternative was unbearable. She had been given a chance to change things but once again the entire future depended upon the end of one being. The fate of Palpatine after Master Yoda had faced him she had not learned due to the severity of her own injuries, but given that they had not returned to Coruscant or the Temple, choosing instead a remote medical outpost, suggested that the Jedi had not emerged from the duel triumphant. She could only hope that a different combatant would alter that outcome.
The fate of the entire galaxy depended upon it.
Obi-Wan's Shien variation move to absorb the lightning strike was instinctual, for his mind was striving to come to terms with what he had just witnessed. Had he not been a Jedi, the attack would have caught him completely by surprise, not to mention wounding him deeply. A part of him was relieved that he had possessed the foresight to create a lightsaber with a red crystal, taking a spare hilt with him from Coruscant, cooking the red rock from scratch at the Naberrie Villa while he prepared his disguise and waited for Padmé to join him. If he had performed the same move with his own blade, the ruse would now be at an end.
Instead the deception was still proceeding, with him waiting on Palpatine's next move. Other than to watch how he received the lightning strike, the Councillor had not stirred, causing Obi-Wan to wonder if he perhaps knew of the surveillance and wished to censor this recording later. Something that he would be unable to do, as they were streaming live to the Naberrie Villa, the Palace in Theed, a Jedi ship in orbit and the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
He should not have been so shocked, after all he had come to Convergence expecting to confront a Sith lord. But until now there had been no evidence that the councillor was of this persuasion, only supposition. The attack had been so swift that even now it was possible to reason that he had imagined the strike.
"You are powerful," Palpatine remarked suddenly, "I can sense your frustration. Use it. You must earn your place by my side."
Obi-Wan took a deep breath, steadying himself. There was something almost hypnotic about Palpatine's tone, had it not been for his Jedi training and self discipline he might have surrendered to the pull of the dark side. He saw now the nature of the Councillor's scheme, Palpatine was waiting for him to surrender to his anger and attack, whereupon the Sith would strike back, showing his superiority. He wondered if he should make a show of unleashing his rage, or if Palpatine would be more willing to trust him if he held back and waited.
This encounter would not be similar to that with the Sith he had faced on Tatooine. Unlike Palpatine, his challenger then had known what he was, making the move to attack first in a contest of Jedi verses Sith. It had been a fight of raw strength in saber and Force skills which he was grateful to emerge from as the survivor. He was a padawan bordering on knighthood, who believed that fighting Siths was work for a true master of the Force, one who had trained for decades, raised their own apprentice and perhaps stood ready to sit on the Council. That desert fight had yielded no displays of lightning, only saber thrusts, anger and aggression, the dark side in its most basic form. Here he would be on solid ground, not the shifting unstable grains of sand, able to use whatever saber form he found best to counteract that of the councillor who had yet to reveal the other skills of his arsenal.
Obi-Wan's Shien variation was not his only talent either. Since fighting that Sith on Tatooine he had studied to master another saber form, Soresu, which was designed to be defensive yet enduring, the theory being that it should outlast the skills of any opponent as each move was born from that of their enemy.
"You wait," Palpatine observed at last. "You use caution, storing your anger for later use. Your master taught you well. Who was he?"
"I never learned his name," Obi-Wan replied. The Sith on Tatooine had been a silent warrior, with little care to introduce himself except through his attack, the only sound was the constant hum of their lightsabers. "He was always my master. He told me that if anything ever happened to him, if he did not come to me, I was to come here and serve you."
"What was he?" Palpatine asked. "Or did he conceal that nature from you also?"
"He was a Zabrak," Obi-Wan answered, hoping that there were no further questions. His partial legend of being trained by the Sith he faced on Tatooine would only go so far.
"And when did you last see him?" Palpatine inquired.
"In the Arkanis system," Obi-Wan replied, deciding that it would be wise not to be so specific as to mention which planet. If he said Tatooine, which the councillor knew had been Queen Amidala's base for the negotiations with the Arkanis populous to abandon the slave trade, Palpatine might make the connection to the fact that her delegation had included a Jedi to ensure fair play. And from there, it would not be too hard to realise who Obi-Wan actually was, rather than the Sith he was pretending to be.
"So he saw you before his disappearance," Palpatine murmured, causing Obi-Wan to hope that the audio and holo devices planted on him and around the house had not only picked up and recorded the words, but also that those who were listening had caught the implications behind them. That Palpatine knew who Obi-Wan was referring to now was almost undeniable. "Do you know what happened to him?"
"I felt his death," Obi-Wan answered. It was true, any Force sensitive felt the death of another, be they Sith or Jedi. If it was the former, the Force appeared lighter for the shifting of a shadow from the universe of the living, or darker for that shadow becoming one with the ancient energy, and with the death of a Jedi, the Force appeared darker for that light fading from the universe of the living, yet lighter for that Jedi becoming one with the ancient energy. After all, light or dark, it was all a matter of balance, whether one believed that the dark was a corruption of the light, or both were required to achieve such.
"If that is true, why did you not seek me out earlier?" Palpatine asked him.
Obi-Wan had been ready for this question, he knew that no matter how he had answered the councillor's previous inquiry that it would be the next one to emerge from Palpatine's lips. "I did not feel that I was ready to serve you. I wished to become confident in my skills before putting them under the service of another."
Palpatine frowned. "You do not think you are better than me?"
"No," Obi-Wan answered. "You have had years to accumulate your wisdom and skill, I have not."
"That is an unusual attitude," Palpatine commented. "Do you not secretly wish to kill me and assume my position?"
"How could I assume it without knowing what it is or who to command?" Obi-Wan countered. "The desire for power must be tempered by the patience to gain the wisdom and skill that is necessary to acquire it."
"How is it you are spouting my own ideals, ones which I never taught to your teacher?" Palpatine queried.
"Not all ideals are original thought," Obi-Wan remarked. He was in his negotiating element now, this conversation was typical of the debates he had spent all of his knighthood and padawan years involved in. "Most are sourced from other's recorded experiences, left as advice for those who know where to look."
"Your self-confidence is your weakness," Palpatine mused.
Your ego is yours, Obi-Wan silently replied, inwardly chuckling at the irony of the councillor's observations. There had been a time when his self-confidence was lacking, in his early years of being Master Jinn's padawan. Qui-Gon had endured a second apprentice falling to the dark side, the betrayal cutting so deep that it caused him to reject future teaching. In the end it was Master Yoda and Obi-Wan's own determination that had worn away Qui-Gon's stubborn insistence never to train another apprentice, resulting in a partnership which had been one of the strongest in the Order.
When Obi-Wan was knighted, Qui-Gon had not returned to the solitary lengthy missions away from the Temple he had been famous for after Xanatos' fall but instead took to teaching the initiates, waiting for another call of the Force to guide him to his next apprentice. And this time, as he remarked once to Obi-Wan, he would not ignore the call in the hope that Master Yoda would be around to persuade him to do otherwise.
There was still a look towards the Grand Master for his blessing however, when a year ago at the Initiate tournament a young Togruta by the name of Ahsoka Tano had caught his eye. Both Obi-Wan and Yoda had merely smiled at Qui-Gon as he turned to them in a silent plea that he was right in hearing the request of the Force to take Ahsoka as his next padawan. When he left Coruscant for Naboo on this mission, Obi-Wan had spent a pleasant farewell meal with his old master and the padawan in their quarters, laughing and teasing as Qui-Gon encouraged Obi-Wan to take an apprentice.
"Let us see what others you possess," Palpatine added, rising from his chair behind the desk. Obi-Wan took a small step back as the councillor advanced towards him, keeping a watchful eye on the politician's hands for the slightest glimpse of lightning or lightsaber. If the man was ever going to attack him, it was now and he had to be ready to respond, otherwise the Jedi might never have the opportunity to do so again.
When the move came, it was as fast as the lightning strike that had called forth his own weapon. Obi-Wan could not track where Palpatine's saber had come from, deep within the man's clothes, or from a suitable hiding place within the chamber itself, of which there were too many to investigate. All he could do was ignite his own saber in response, sweeping the weapon upward in time to defend himself from the blow that was aimed at his legs. This was followed by another equally swift manoeuvre, this time in the opposite direction towards his upper body. Clearly the Sith was aiming for dismemberment in a rapid end to the fight, something which Obi-Wan could not allow. He wanted an end to the duel, but not due to the result of a loss of limb, or victory to the councillor.
Palpatine pressed the sabers close to Obi-Wan's chest, causing him to return the pressure or risk being injured by his own blade. It still felt strange fighting with a red crystal, but Obi-Wan knew that he did not have the time to switch weapons or the safety to do so, for once the councillor noticed the switch and realised who his opponent really was, his ferocity and aggression would only increase. Focusing on the moment as his master had taught him, Obi-Wan gradually managed to force his opponent's blade away until the move was reversed.
For a brief instant he thought that the move would end things, for Palpatine's hand seemed to be slowly surrendering under the pressure of the blades pressing against each other, letting them move closer to the councillor's body. Then Obi-Wan felt the sharp sting of a lightning strike aimed at him from Palpatine's free hand, the impact burning a part of his robe, causing him to back away, taking his saber with him.
Palpatine cackled at the motion, then advanced forward, saber at the ready. Obi-Wan swung his own back up, preparing to meet the advancing blade of his opponent once more. In the Force he could sense the height of the councillor's powers, his strength in the dark side was considerable, more than a match for his own in the light. Yet he could sense the Force adjusting to the dark and making its own preparations to meet it with the light, as though there was much more at stake here than just Jedi verses Sith. But then there always was whenever two such opposing forces were drawn into battle.
If the dark won today, Obi-Wan could not help but fear for the future of the light, and of the Jedi Order. He was only one man after all, and just a knight, for Jedi did not earn the right to call themselves master without training a padawan first, or from extraordinary actions. But though Obi-Wan doubted if he could defeat an opponent as powerful as Palpatine was, he also knew that he had no choice. The Jedi were watching from Coruscant and a ship in orbit of Naboo, but that was still too far away for them to respond in time if he was wounded. He could not hope that the masters on board the ship had the sense of mind to land as soon as the attack had begun and were about to enter Convergence to lend him a hand, for his body would respond to such hope, changing the course of the fight into one that stalled for time, rather then a duel to the end, be it Jedi or Sith.
As with all duels, the saber moves slipped into a routine of thrusts and slices, with an occasional burst of lightning from Palpatine's free hand whenever Obi-Wan's lightsaber seemed in danger of getting too close. The Jedi slipped easily into the saber forms he had trained and mastered in committing in order to defend himself. Soresu espoused tight, efficient movements which exposed minimal areas of a Jedi's body to injury from their opponent, a highly refined style of nonaggressive Jedi philosophy designed to maximise defensive protection. Obi-Wan also incorporated other saber styles into the fight as well, Niman, which was the most practical of the seven forms as it was a balance combining each of the other six with moderation, one which those Jedi who were diplomats tended to learn because of its less intensive training. He also used the Shien variation of Form V to block the lightning blasts from Palpatine with his saber. His skill in Ataru was left from the fight for the moment, as it had yet to require the acrobatic moves which was the style was known for.
"Where is your anger?" Palpatine inquired in a deadly tone. "I can feel your fear that you won't defeat me. You should resent my superiority and wish to prove your own. Use your aggressive feelings."
Obi-Wan resisted the taunt. It was not in his nature to be aggressive, nor did he believe that by employing such emotion he would defeat the danger which this Sith Lord posed. A part of him suspected that Palpatine might be able to feed off the aggression, as he seemed to be so eager for Obi-Wan to use such negative emotion, which made him even more reluctant to do so. He could shield his mind and feelings from Palpatine, but that would mean lessening the focus on the fight which required all his strength and skill to maintain, although he knew that by not shielding himself also ran the risk of Palpatine realising that he was not a Sith apprentice but a Jedi.
The councillor aimed his saber in a slice towards Obi-Wan's chest, simultaneously directing another lightning strike towards the Jedi's legs. Utilising both Soresu and Ataru in reply, Obi-Wan blocked the first with his saber and dodged the second with a jump that carried him over his opponent's position, allowing him to make a slice of his own at an unprotected area of the Sith's back.
Palpatine growled through the pain, turning round and swinging his saber high to try and wound Obi-Wan in return. But the move was hindered by his wound and the Jedi was able to land in time to bring his weapon up to block the thrust.
The smell of burning robes and flesh permeated through the air, the Force both shivered at the anger released from the wound and rejoiced at the light's achievement.
"You shall live to regret that!" the councillor threatened. Obi-Wan silently hoped otherwise, though from the expression on Palpatine's face it was certainly no idle threat that he had just made. The politician followed the words through with a series of swift thrusts, the movements so fast they blurred.
Drawing more upon the Force, Obi-Wan at first scrambled to meet then return them, before stepping back a little in an attempt to predict where the last move would finish and strive to meet that, rather than wearing himself out attempting to block them all. Once he had caught Palpatine's saber with his own, he held on, forcing the weapons together in an effort to overcome the Sith's hold on his and disarm him.
Palpatine did not allow him the chance to seize such an opportunity. Summoning his own power within the Force, he pulled a piece of furniture from the room to use in damaging his opponent. The chair caught Obi-Wan side on, causing him to lose contact with the councillor's saber. He almost lost grip of his own weapon as well, the strength of the impact from the chair throwing him away from the Sith for a time. Gathering his resources, Obi-Wan struggled with the impulse to clutch his side due to the pain. There would be time to nurse the bruises later.
Another series of lightning strikes hailed from Palpatine and Obi-Wan hurriedly put up his lightsaber to intercept them. Reasoning that it was only fair to return the move, he caught the chair with his own strength in the Force and threw it across the room, back at his opponent. The piece of furniture struck the councillor's stomach, causing him to double over from the impact. Seizing the opportunity Obi-Wan darted forward and attacked the Sith with his lightsaber. The blow was well aimed, striking the councillor upon his neck, slicing through.
Palpatine's head dropped to the floor. After a moment's hesitation the rest of his body followed. Obi-Wan lowered his weapon but kept the blade on. Sai cha was not a recommended move, only permitted if your opponent was considered extremely dangerous. Qui-Gon had performed it once on Baroness Omnino of Vena on Ord Mantell. She had worn a physic augmenter which enabled her to control the minds and actions of anyone around her. He had been a padawan still, held from helping his master by savrips that the Baroness had manipulated to seize him, whilst she made two Senate Guards aim their blasters at Chancellor Valorum's head. At the time it had been the only move Qui-Gon could have made, but Obi-Wan was not sure if he could say the same.
The entrance panel slid aside once more, as the Jedi Masters that the Temple had sent entered the room. Obi-Wan extinguished his blade, but kept his stance by the fallen Sith as the Masters drew level with him.
"No doubts you should have," Yoda mused as he surveyed the sight, "the right move it was, Obi-Wan. See that you will, when your centre is recovered. To Varykino return you must. Waiting for you there, it is. On our findings in this place, brief you later we will. "
Too tired to protest, Obi-Wan obeyed.
Part 18: This Sceptered Isle.
(Richard II, act. 2, sc. 1, l. 40)
Padmé had never been so relieved to see someone alive and well in all of her life. Watching and listening to the surveillance of the audio and holo feeds had been one thing, seeing Obi-Wan return, battle-worn but unscathed from the encounter was quite another. Before she was aware of even half her actions, she had ran from the security room in the villa to the side entrance, reaching the edge of short path just as he emerged from the forest that separated the Convergence estate from her family's villa.
Within moments of his appearance she had rushed into his arms, holding on to him as if her life depended on it. That he was returning the hug just as fiercely escaped her notice, for as she drew back alittle to take in the look upon his face, assuring herself that he was real, the urge to do something arose and took hold of her. Only a few days ago she had been wondering what it would have been like to fall in love with Obi-Wan, now she was kissing him as if she had done so. At first he held back, unable to believe what she was doing, then he surrendered to the emotions he had so carefully restrained until now so that when they parted they were both breathless.
"What was that about?" he asked her quietly, his hand stroking her cheek, though how it had arrived there from where it had clutched at her waist upon their initial embrace was unknown to him.
"Curiosity," she replied in the same tone.
"And now?" he queried.
"I'm intrigued," she answered.
They turned round and headed back to the villa in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. He was re-evaluating everything regarding her feelings for him and for others that he had previously reached a conclusion over, she was still adjusting to what she had just done, and how incredible it had felt. Had she been so concerned with saving Anakin and the Republic that she had failed to realise how she felt about Obi-Wan? Such a revelation had not occurred to her until now and the answer was still marred by incredulity. Her feelings were confused, a natural state, neglected as they had been until this moment. She wanted to indulge in the newly awakened pleasurable sensations caused by their kiss, but she was nervous and hesitant to do so, worried that she might hurt Obi-Wan's feelings by surrendering to what was just curiosity and could not become anything else until she had the time and the rationale to realise the emotions she was experiencing for what they might be, or could become.
Inside, they fell into the routine that had occupied them since they left the capital to stay here, preparing to confront Palpatine at Convergence. Obi-Wan excused himself for his rooms and the refresher, intending to meditate and shed his battle-worn clothes, rejuvenate himself after what had been an exhausting day. Padmé busied herself about the kitchen, making a dinner for the both of them, a task they had shared over the stay, as she had not wished to bring either of the handmaidens who usually looked after her during the vacations at Varykino. Although they could be trusted to be discreet, she had not wished to put them in potential danger, or draw the attention of Palpatine, who was likely to learn of her and Obi-Wan's presence here if she used them.
Despite the familiarity of the meal preparations, she could not allow herself to analyse her emotions concerning Obi-Wan, for her confusion was such that it would render her unable to concentrate on even the most routine motions.
When Obi-Wan emerged from his rooms in fresh Jedi robes, disguise newly shed, his reddish blond hair still glistening with moisture from the shower, he found the dining table set for dinner and Padmé in her usual place, nervously sipping from a glass of Nubian water. Their meal was under heating covers to keep its temperature, and her hesitant silence allowed him to observe her properly for the first time since his return from Convergence. Clearly her impulsive kiss had been prompted by the relief of seeing him alive, and now she was worried that she might have damaged their friendship. What else she might or might not feel, could wait until she had time to become accustomed to it, as clearly she needed to do so.
"Padmé, you have nothing to worry about," he began as he took his seat beside her, reaching across the table to take her free hand in his own. "Our kiss did not damage our friendship. I'm quite flattered by it, and humbled by your trust in me." He took a breath before voicing the resolution he had formed during his meditation. "If you wish to explore your desires further, I will not stop you."
She was quite startled by his assurances, and it took some time before she could form a proper response. "But that would be taking advantage of your good nature and feelings," she protested. "I know how much you care, more than I know my own feelings at present. I spent so long focused on Palpatine and everything else that I ignored myself. I don't wish to disappoint you, Obi-Wan."
"You won't," he promised her, "whatever you decide. I care for you far too much for that to happen. And at the risk of offending you, its not like I wouldn't be gaining something from this experiment. Something I dream about, often."
"I'm not offended," Padmé replied, blushing alittle. "Its quite a compliment, from a certain point of view. Trouble is, I'm too used to focusing on what impact my actions might have in the future, that I tend to over think them."
Obi-Wan smiled at her. "My master used to reprimand my own tendency to focus on the future at the expense of the present. I quite understand the need to do so and I can't deny that this will change our relationship. But it will not damage it, not if we don't let it."
"As that is the case, I would like to explore it," Padmé uttered softly.
He brought her hand to his lips, bestowing upon it a gentle, tender kiss. "Then let us eat and look to doing so after dinner."
The meal was a welcome sight to Obi-Wan after the rigours of a day spent fighting a sith lord. It was also something with which to distract them from becoming too nervous over what might follow now they had agreed to explore Padmé's curiosity. His master's advice of focusing on the moment was well worth taking, but it was also difficult to apply oneself to.
When they had eaten their fill they retired to the sitting room. It was a warm summer's night, a fact which Padmé was grateful for, because the temperate weather dealt away any reminders of an evening spent in this room with another Jedi, who told her that love was a haunting tormenting scar upon his soul, yet begged for her to be suffering with it just as much as he. There was rarely an evening when she did not look back upon that night and wonder if she had made the right choice, or if she had remained true to her convictions that things might have been different. She was living this life now, repeating a past she had changed so the future and he, along with everyone else she had ever known might be spared. And now she was about to plunge into an unknown future with another Jedi who loved her. She feared that it might produce the same darkness she had been sent back in time to erase, yet she knew that Obi-Wan was utterly different from Anakin, that his love for her was equally so.
He followed her into the sitting room, pausing behind her as she came to the sofas, but before she could sit down, he had swept his arms around her, drawing her against him. His hand came up to cup her face, turning her towards his so that their lips touched. As he had hoped the suddenness of the move caught Padmé by surprise, sweeping away her nerves in favour of a return to those pleasurable sensations she had felt through her impulsiveness earlier. Soon she was kissing him back, her hands reaching behind to cradle his head.
Now he was secure of her, his own caressed her face, while the other moved from her waist up her body, until it was tracing the outline of her breasts. His fingers rubbed her nipples through the silk of her dress until they were pebble hard, then moved down to where her gown flowed out at her hips. There he slipped under where the seam line of the dress dipped low at her back, exploring her belly until he reached the sensitive skin which lay between her thighs. Easing them apart, his fingers ventured towards her core, massaging her in a circular motion, causing her to gasp through their kiss from the sensations produced.
It was a bold move, one that she would never had expected from him, yet the tenderness with which he kissed, explored and caressed her was utterly true of the friend she had come to know through her two lives. Padmé found herself swept away by the sensations and feelings which he was awakening within her. Nothing but the touch of his lips and the rubbing of his fingers existed for her.
When the latter abruptly ceased she mewled her objections through their kiss. She felt him grin in return, then she was gasping for a different reason as his fingers swept upwards, caressing the skin of her breasts once more. She felt invisible hands unfasten the clasp holding her dress up about her neck, sensation of air upon her skin as the silk fell to rest at her waist. His lips slipped from hers to trace the edge of her chin then underneath to her neck, as his hands also closed over chest, pressing her against him as they fondled the soft mounds of flesh there.
Her hands grew inquisitive, leaving his head where they had been playing with strands of his hair to gleam the limits of his Jedi robes. She arched her back to allow herself the space to slip between them, finding the fastenings so she could feel his flesh just as he was feeling hers. He moved with her, letting her rid him of the belt and then the layers beneath, his hands briefly leaving her body so they could be freed from the sleeves of his clothes. Then his fingers resumed their previous motions, angling himself against her in such a way as to allow her the chance to explore him also.
He was finely sculpted, but not to the point of each muscle being defined. She could feel the strength he used in his life as a Jedi, yet like every other aspect of him, it was not a facet of boastful prowess, just humble modesty with a finely balanced confidence. She strained her own muscles to let her hands explore and caress as far as the confines of their embrace allowed her, managing to dip beneath his hips to caress him, rousing a groan from the lips that were still about her neck. She wanted to linger but it was impossible to do so as he pressed her against him once more, so she moved on to his back as his fingers moved down from her breasts in a caressingly slow and tender journey towards the juncture of her thighs again.
She parted for him, letting him stroke her the way she could not stroke him, though she could feel the promise of that delight to come through his caress and their kiss. A rhythm began, slowly coursing through her until she felt upon the brink of a pleasure that would consume her, only for the motion to fade away, as he suddenly pulled back from her. Taking her hand in his, he led her out of the living area into the bedroom.
There she could face him as he took off his boots then drew her hands about his waist. She moved them to free him from what was left of his clothes, letting the garments fall to the floor. He groaned as she touched him, his hands moving to her waist so he could finish undressing her. As they descended on to the bed, he sensed her nerves return so he caught her in his arms again for another kiss. His hands entangled themselves in her hair, freeing the dark wavy tresses from their fastenings. She moved against him in response to his touch and their kiss, her hesitation fading as each motion increased her pleasure.
And then suddenly he was no longer pressing against her belly but instead deep inside her, their joining unexpected but welcome. He broke from their kiss in time to see her smile as she reached this realisation, a grin which he just as eagerly returned. His sea shaded eyes never leaving her own, they found and fell into a rhythm that took them to the height of ecstasy.
In the sated afterglow, he gathered her upon him as they reclined against the pillows. "Padmé, that was...." he broke off, struggling to find a word that was not somehow inadequate to describe what he was feeling.
"It was," she agreed, her emotions matching his. "I never imagined how much I would come to care for you, Obi-Wan." In both life times, she added silently.
"I thought I knew how much I care for you," he replied. "But I realise now, that what I knew barely scratches the surface of what I feel."
"There are things I haven't told you," Padmé began, "things I feel its only right that you should know before we go any further. That is if you wish to." she was suddenly struck by an uncertain thought that she might have misread his feelings.
Divining some of her worry through the Force and from the way it flew across her face, Obi-Wan cupped her chin with his hand, his look at its most tender as he assured her of his feelings for her.
"Padmé, I have known for a long time now that there is a sadness which you carry with you, one which you have yet to confide in anyone. I will wait until you are ready to tell me, if at all. As for our relationship, I am ready for such a commitment, if you are also. I know that there are things which you need to sort out, perhaps more than you realise I do, and I will wait until you have. I have waited for you almost from the moment we met, it is nothing to do so for a little while longer."
"You are too understanding," Padmé mused softly. "I do not think I deserve you."
"Quite the opposite, I assure you, my love," Obi-Wan returned. "As for my compassion, I am a Jedi," he added, causing her to laugh.
"In all seriousness, when we go back to Theed, I cannot openly declare our relationship," Padmé said. "I do not wish to give my people the idea that I'm contemplating starting a dynasty. However, when my term as Queen comes to an end, then the time for discretion will be over. I also need to talk to my Council."
"And I to mine," Obi-Wan added. "Jedi may be allowed relationships, but there is still the tradition of asking the Council for its blessing. A formality, but one which is observed nonetheless. I was thinking about taking a padawan on before this mission came about, is that something you would be content with?"
"You would make a wonderful Master, Obi-Wan," Padmé replied, for she knew that he had, it was Anakin who had made the mistake in not following his example. "But you don't need to ask for my permission or my blessing."
"I do," Obi-Wan countered. "My padawan would be by my side for a great many years, effectively sharing our lives together, however long that may be. I do not mean to be presumptuous, but I have wished for us to spend the rest of our lives together."
"Having a family is what I have sacrificed until now," Padmé confessed. "It is something I no longer wish to do."
Part 19: Justice Design the Victor's Chivalry.
(Richard II, act 1, sc. 2)
They returned to Theed only when the Masters from the orbiting ship had finished their search of Convergence, catalogued the finds and contacted Obi-Wan to call him to a meeting with them so they could brief him on what they had found. Until then they spent their time in the villa, rarely moving from the bedroom except for sustenance. Time in between meals was spent on discovering that their friendship ran deeper than either of them realised. Learning that it had evolved into something far more intimate which they had not known until they took this step.
Padmé was learning other things too. That her future was unwritten and changeable. She and Anakin may have formed a relationship in the past, one that she had planned to delay until the end of her reign and Palpatine was no longer a threat, intending to resume then what she had deliberately begun on Tatooine ten years ago, but now she did not wish to pursue that possibility. She even questioned whether it would have been right for her to do so.
After all, when Anakin had done the same thing, albeit due to a chance second meeting when she was given Jedi protection, it had ended in tragedy. Not only that, but a part of her could not help but wonder if she would have spent their entire relationship in fear of his turning to the dark side again.
Every action she had taken since returning to the past had been after considering all the consequences that may occur. When she had initiated her and Anakin's first meeting, she had not known whether the same dark future or something lighter would result. She remembered judging every look he made, each word he spoke, all the nuances in his voice and expressions. They had sparked memories of not just the light that awaited them, but the shadows as well. And it was the shadows that had lingered, preying on her mind from the moment she returned to the past until this morning.
Sola had told her once that she was afraid when it came to what she felt for Anakin. And she had been right, from a certain point of view. Padmé had not been afraid of her own feelings, she had been afraid of Anakin's. Afraid that once she had unleashed them, the heat of their supernova would burn her forever. And when she had taken that risk, despite all the cautions from herself and from Obi-Wan, they had burned her beyond repair. She had taken heed of everything else that happened to her, to the Republic, to the Jedi, but she had ignored it all when it came to her relationship Anakin.
No more. Her past love life was gone, and a new one now lay before her. In Obi-Wan she had nothing to fear, except perhaps how he would react to what had happened to her. If he would object to what she had done in returning to the past. Or take offence that she had been friends with him for over ten years and she had never told him. Padmé doubted the latter after his assurances last night, but she wondered about the former. She had assumed that the Force had sent her back, in the hope that she would change history. Certainly not to sit back and let it repeat itself. She had learned her lesson already, there was no need for a repetition just to further emphasise the point. Yet she could not help but wonder if Obi-Wan would question some of the things she had done, in both timelines. He had questioned her actions before, and he had been right to do so.
But it would not prevent her from confiding him. Her past had taught her the value of honesty in a relationship. Lies and secrets had been hers and Anakin's undoing. She did not intend them to be hers and Obi-Wan's. She had never considered confiding in him until now because she had never expected that their relationship would deepen into intimacy. Nor had she wished to burdening him with the shadow of the dark history which she had to relate. Yet if last night had never happened, and she had gone ahead with her planned repetition of forming a relationship with Anakin, the desire not to burden him with the same shadow of dark history would not have prevented her from telling him.
Not just because she desired honesty in their new found intimacy, but because Anakin needed to heed the warning just as much as she did. His actions had been the catalyst for that darkness, even though they had been manipulated by Palpatine, it was still his choice to commit them in some degree. On Mustafar he had told her that what he had done was to save her. He failed to realise that dark actions would never salvage or excuse noble intentions. She had been willing to give him a second chance, but now she knew that she would have constantly questioned the future which might have evolved from it, just as she had done so when she initiated their first meeting on Tatooine.
In realising this, Padmé also began to question now what might have happened to hers and Anakin's relationship had it not been manipulated by Palpatine, the Clone Wars and, in some small respect, the Jedi. They had one day on Naboo where nobody and nothing had interfered with their love.
After that, only stolen hours snatched between Senatorial duties and the Clone Wars battlefields that the Council assigned Anakin to. When they were together on Coruscant there had always been the threat of discovery, either by the Jedi or the Senate. A threat that had intensified when she became pregnant, something she thought she had taken every precaution against, intending to wait for the end of the Clone Wars.
Until she had told Anakin, until she was sent into the past, Padmé had believed that the twins were sent by the Force, or she had forgotten precautions, even though she was sure that had not been case. Now she wondered if Palpatine had somehow managed to bring about their conception. It could not be the Force, for it would not have sent her back to the past if it was. Both she and Anakin had balked at telling Obi-Wan that the one thing he had advised them not to do they had gone ahead and done, but she doubted that the same could be said where Palpatine was concerned. Both were Anakin's mentors, but Palpatine had always held more sway over Anakin's actions that Obi-Wan had ever managed to achieve. It was not unreasonable to contemplate that he could have known of hers and Anakin's relationship, and made what use he could of it to bring about Anakin's fall to the dark side.
If the Clone Wars had never happened, if Palpatine had never manipulated them along with everything else in that time, Padmé doubted that she and Anakin's relationship would have lasted as long as it had. There was too much risk that the Jedi or the Senate would find out. Not only that, but their own suspicions, intensified by the threat of discovery that constantly hung over them would have damaged their relationship. They had both known the risks before they married, they had even foreseen the outcome during that evening on Naboo, when Anakin had told her his feelings and she had argued against returning them.
She had thought that the evening had prepared them for the consequences of committing to each other as they had done, but with the benefit of hindsight, she realised now that it had not. They had not known each other as well as they thought they did, nor had either of them been ready to deal with their feelings. If they had been, they would not have gone behind the Council's back. They would have taken themselves to Obi-Wan, to the Jedi, and argued for having a relationship like the reasonable, intelligent beings that they believed they were, and accepted the judgement of the Council, whether it was in their favour or not. Their refusal to do so had not been the mature action of adults, but the impulsiveness of younglings. And as a result the ruination of the Republic had followed.
For a moment Padmé recalled the day Obi-Wan had come to her and argued with her over what she and Anakin felt for each other. He had told her that he had been sent to warn her against making such a mistake. At the time she had been too angry to listen to him, too sure that she was doing the right thing to defend her actions and her feelings, as well those felt and committed by Anakin. Now she realised that she should have listened to him, that she should have questioned why, knowing what she now knew about the Order's view on relationships.
She also wondered if Obi-Wan would have protected her and Anakin from the Council if they had taken the risk of confiding him. He protected Anakin so many times, even after he was no longer his padawan, as much as Anakin resented and denied such an attachment even existed. There were times when she had wondered if Obi-Wan had known or suspected their relationship, and refrained from asking, or deliberately ignored anything which might allude to it. He had been disappointed when he realised who the father of her children was, but at the same time there had been no outrage, no sign of surprise or display of ignorance that he had not known or realised until that moment.
Such cause for speculation was now over. She no longer needed to reflect over her and Anakin's relationship and what went wrong for now it was not going to happen again. Instead he would find someone else, and she would be with Obi-Wan, providing the Council gave their blessing. She was willing to go before them and argue for it if she had to, but she doubted that their objections would come.
Obi-Wan was not like Anakin, he had waited for her rather than forcing the relationship to come about. He respected her silence on the secret of her sorrow, her past that she had yet to tell him about, and waited for her to do so in her own time, not at a moment of his choosing. He loved her but without any expectation that she would return that love, or any demands on her to do so. Such a commitment was the convincing factor for her in her willingness to go ahead and return his feelings, his steadfastness with her own, whatever the future may bring. She had not been ready for what she had with Anakin, but she was ready for this relationship.
A clear indication that this intimacy was right came at the moment they were interrupted by a communication from the Jedi who had been orbiting Naboo in case Obi-Wan needed help against Palpatine, and were now searching Convergence for anything pertaining to the Sith, along with information on what her councillor had intended to do with the Republic. Padmé had known that it was only a matter of time before Palpatine did something, it was why she had been so careful to monitor him and sent the records to the Council in the hope that they would manage to spot what she had missed. She had been fortunate that they had, and that in doing so they hand sent Obi-Wan to deal with him.
Instead of resenting the interruption, they had dealt with the communication in a calm, albeit reluctant fashion. Neither of them had wanted to go back to Theed so soon after discovering this new layer of intimacy between them, but they had both accepted the need to do so, that their duties to the Republic required their parting. That there was the possibility of further intimacy once they returned to Theed, after those duties were dispensed with was undeniable, but the contrast as to how she and Anakin had dealt with being parted was vast.
Together they had risen from the bed where they had spend almost every nanosecond since his return from Convergence, dressed and eaten before leaving for the capital. He had escorted her to the palace council chamber for her meeting with the council regarding what they had witnessed via the vid stream from Convergence, who would replace Palpatine and whether they would reveal any of his actions to Naboo or the Republic. Outside the entrance to the council chamber he had parted from her with a chaste kiss, and now she waited for him to have dinner with her as usual, after his meeting with his own Council.
Apart from discussing Palpatine, she had also informed her Councillors of her intention to begin elections for a new prince or princess of Theed, with a view to stepping down from her sovereignty when her third term came to an end. Her councillors had been disappointed, but no one had objected to her decision. As popular as she was, the memories of the corrupt reigns of her predecessors still lingered. It was why the regulation of two four year terms had been introduced. Her councillors had expressed their sorrow and wished her luck with whatever she intended to do at the end of her third term.
Concerning Palpatine, much of their intentions regarding how much they told Naboo or the Republic about him depended on what the Jedi wished them to do. Padmé knew that the Order would want to keep the Sith a secret and respected their need to do so, but she could not tell her councillors as much until she had heard from the Jedi in this time, as oppose to what they had told her in her past, when Yoda and Windu came to her and Palpatine before they returned with Obi-Wan and Anakin to the Temple. They had counselled her for secrecy regarding the Sith which Obi-Wan had fought on Tatooine, but Palpatine had done far more damage than his apprentice, though fortunately not as much as he might have wished to do.
After preparing a statement regarding Palpatine's actions that ignored his abilities as a Sith, along with a discussion on who could replace him, although the role that she had handed him after he returned to Naboo from the Senate had been little more than a symbolic position in the hope that she could keep an eye on him, the council meeting was at an end.
Returning to her private suite afterwards, Padmé had changed out of her robes of office and called the kitchens to prepare a selection of dishes for her meal with Obi-Wan. There was nothing extraordinary about it, for since his arrival on Naboo to monitor Palpatine and deal with the contract disputes of the miners, they had dinner together alone in her private chambers often.
Yet it was the first time that they had done so since beginning of their more intimate relationship and Padmé could not help but feel all the usual nervous thoughts that accompanied any first date. She also speculated as to what was happening between Obi-Wan and the Masters that came from Coruscant to support him in confronting Palpatine if he needed them and to search Convergence, a thought process which was perhaps influenced by her nerves concerning this first date. She was worried about what they might think of her and Obi-Wan's relationship, but not unduly so.
Time passed, but all the more slowly as her anxiety came into being, slowly increasing with every passing nanosecond. Then at last the wait was at an end as the door opened and Obi-Wan appeared.
Obi-Wan watched Padmé enter the Council chamber, then when the doors of that room had closed, turned and headed back the way they had come, towards the suite of rooms she had given him for the duration of his stay on Naboo, where the masters the Jedi had sent to support him were waiting to deliver their report on the findings at Convergence.
He had met with them briefly in the aftermath of his duel with Palpatine, as he stood over the body of the fallen councillor and sith. Seeing his battleworn state they had brushed aside his request to assist them in searching Convergence and sent him to rest back at the villa in Varykino, along with the assurance that when their search of the late councillor Palpatine's estate was over, they would travel to Theed and brief him as well as Queen Amidala and her council on the findings which they had discovered.
He had been unaware of their arrival until Master Yoda came to stand beside him, too focused on ending the fight to realise that support would soon be at hand. Only later did he learn that the moment after they saw Palpatine throw the chair, sensing he might need their help, they had moved their ship from its orbiting position above Naboo into a clearing outside Convergence's north front, before making their way through the rooms to the concealed chamber where he and the sith were fighting. When they contacted him to declare their search over and readiness to brief him in Theed, he also learned then who else the Council had sent aside from Master Yoda. Master Windu, along with Master Dooku and his own former Master Qui-Gon Jinn, who had left Ahsoka at the Temple, as this was too dangerous an assignment for a new padawan to participate in.
What met him upon his return to the villa was utterly unexpected. He had loved Padmé for a long time, hoping that one day she might return his feelings but never expecting her to do so. For her to greet him with a kiss, followed by a confession that her feelings might be the same, she had just never realised that they could be until now, caught him completely by surprise. That he had been bold enough to suggest that they might explore her newly awakening feelings was not quite how he imagined he would react if ever the moment came when his hopes were realised, but he held no regrets for what followed, and to his profound relief neither did she. And what had followed was far more glorious and intimate than any of his dreams had conjured into being.
If he could akin their union to anything, it perhaps was similar to what he felt when he was deeply immersed within the Force, the light surrounding him utterly, his body working in harmony with the ancient energy, but even against that, the intimacy which he and Padmé now shared was somehow on a higher plane of contentment. Yoda had been right about him finding his centre at Varykino, although Obi-Wan doubted that such an intimate union was what the Grand Master had in mind when he said the words.
Once had not been enough, and fortunately Padmé had been in agreement with him, sampling the delights of their intimacy throughout the rest of their stay at the villa, until he was contacted by the Jedi Masters, necessitating a return to Theed.
Reaching the end of the hallway that led to the suite of rooms given to him by Queen Amidala, Obi-Wan entered the first of them and found the masters gathered together upon a cluster of seats that, either by accident or design, they had arranged in a layout similar to those in the High Council Chamber back on Coruscant. Following the protocol that was established for that room, Obi-Wan took his usual place before the masters, then bowed in greeting.
"Obi-Wan," Mace Windu began, "your actions have saved the Republic from a terrible darkness. According to the findings we discovered in Convergence, Palpatine was a student of Darth Plagueis, who studied under Darth Bane, the survivor of the Ruusan wars. After killing Plagueis, Palpatine spent his life amassing a network of contacts in a scheme to take the position of Supreme Chancellor and turn the Republic into an Empire. He arranged the blockade of Naboo, and planned to convince Queen Amidala to declare a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, assuring his succession to the post. Thanks to Queen Amidala's extraordinary actions, that never came to pass. Palpatine then tried again when Valorum's second term came to an end, but lost then as well. He resigned from the Senate, but kept his contacts, waiting for Queen Amidala's third term to end, when he planned to take the Nubian throne and build an empire.
"Aside from his financial and business networks, Palpatine had a horde of Sith holocrons, crystals, weaponry, and datapads, all concealed in various panels about that room and the rest of the house. There was a holomap of the known galaxy, with planets whose existence we had not learned of until now. Some are Sith worlds, others part of his schemes for his empire. On one he was having an army of clones engineered. Another, an army of droids. His aim was to pit these two forces against each other in a war that would split the republic and stretch the power of the Order to the point of extinction. And when the civil war was over, amass the remnants together to transform into an empire under his autocratic rule.
"It will take the Order the better part of a decade to properly go through everything in Convergence. Master Yoda has contacted our archivists within the Temple to come here and begin that cataloguing. As for us after we have briefed Queen Amidala and her council, we will return to Coruscant, where a special ceremony shall take place."
"Rare it is that we make a Jedi a Master who has not taught a padawan," Master Yoda remarked. "Yet deserve such a distinction you do."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Masters, I did what any Jedi would do when faced with defending against a threat to the Order and the Republic. My actions yesterday do not merit such an honour."
"You are the first Jedi to defeat two sith in a millennium," Master Windu countered. "Not all Jedi possess that skill. I doubt most of those who sit on the Council would be able to accomplish what you have."
"Listen to the Force," Master Dooku added. "And you will see that we are right."
"Master?" Obi-Wan appealed, turning to his teacher.
Qui-Gon nodded. "I am afraid this must be, Obi-Wan. You have earned such a title. Accept it, my padawan."
"I may need some time before I can fully accept this, masters," Obi-Wan conceded.
"Time you shall have," Yoda agreed. "Wait the ceremony can."
"Masters, if I may request one thing from you. Your blessing regarding a relationship."
The Grand Master nodded before Obi-Wan could elaborate any further on the nature of such relationship. "Heard the Force's contentment on this matter as well we have. Given our blessing is. Happy you and Queen Amidala shall be."
"I hope so, Master," Obi-Wan replied. "Though we shall be discreet until her third term is at an end."
"We trust that it shall not take you two years to return to the Temple," Master Windu mused, causing everyone to chuckle. "May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi."
Knowing he was being dismissed, Obi-Wan bowed and returned the farewell, before exiting the room to that of his bedchamber. The room opened on to a refresher, balcony and the grand corridor that led to the other chambers within the palace. After he had a wash and changed his robes for fresh ones, Obi-Wan used that access to the grand corridor for his walk to the Queen's suite, where he and Padmé had agreed to have dinner this evening.
He sensed Padmé's nervousness almost as soon as he entered the room, causing him to forgo the usual formalities which he observed when they had dinner together in her suite and walk over to her. Kneeling by her side, he gently touched her waist and then her face, cupping her cheek until her eyes met his.
"What's wrong?" He asked her softly.
"I'm just a little nervous, I'm not sure why." she replied. "What did the Masters say?"
"In a moment," he answered, before kissing her. When she came to forget her anxiety and kissed him back, he waited until her nerves faded away, then softly broke from the gesture to answer her question. During his tale she called for the meal to be brought in so they could eat while he told her everything, relating to her all that the masters had told him, along with the assurance that they would brief her and her council tomorrow.
"They also made me a master," he added, causing her to smile brightly.
"About time," she observed. "You deserved to be called such long ago."
Obi-Wan shrugged away the compliment. "I wish I had earned the ranks differently. Being the first Jedi to defeat a Sith before earning his knighthood, then another to earn the title of master is not a distinction I would wish on anyone. It may be the old way, but it lends a certain darkness to what is otherwise a celebration of the pillars of enlightenment. Not to mention an unhealthy amount of gossip and attention throughout the Temple."
"Well, perhaps you should have taken on a padawan before now," Padmé pointed out. "Then one of them would have been earned the traditional way. I do not understand what prevented you from doing so."
"Timing and the Force itself in some respect," Obi-Wan answered. "When I felt I might be ready, I would make a point of attending the Initiate Tournament, but either I was prevented from choosing because there were enough Jedi present, or a mission would arise. Now I wonder if I should wait until our children are ready, but I know that could take just as long as it would to train a padawan and I would not deprive any initiate of their chance to earn a knighthood."
"As I said before, you would make a great teacher," Padmé remarked. "And it will be some years before our children are ready." She smiled. "I still can't believe I'm talking about our children already. I never imagined I could come to care for you so much."
"I'm honoured that you do," Obi-Wan replied. "I know how long you have wanted to settle down and have a family. How you adore your nieces. I should meet them, along with your parents and your sister and her family."
"And you will," Padmé agreed. "We'll see them at the end of this season. It would not do for me to take another holiday so soon. They'll be delighted to meet you. Sola will take the credit of finally wearing me down. She thinks I've done my duty too long already."
"Do you feel that you have?" Obi-Wan queried. "I know you wish to have a family, but we can do our duty to Republic as well, if you feel that there is more you desire to do."
"Honestly, I don't know," she replied. "I need to have a break and think about what I want to do. If I still want to serve. Sometimes I feel as if I have spent my whole life serving the Republic without accomplishing anything. I think I need to realise what I have managed to do before I think about if I can do more." She paused to take a bite of her meal before adding, "for the first time in this life I don't know what's coming next. That's going to take some adjusting to."
Obi-Wan knew that he should not feel surprise concerning such a statement coming from her, for that prospicience was a conclusion that he had drawn some time ago during their conversations over the com ever since they had first met. However this was the first time she had spoken directly about it. Usually she tended to be vague or subtle, concealing her foresight, offering only allusions in return.
Once she had commented that the future was uncertain and forever changeable, a cruel god that played havoc with their hearts. She never elaborated further and he respected and cared about her too much to force a confession from her, or even attempt to persuade her to confide in him. As he had said to her when they had first made love, she could chose to tell him in her own time, if at all.
While he never forced her confidence, he did speculate on her prospicience in private, wondering how long she had possessed such a sense about the future, and where it came from. Years ago, when he and Qui-Gon had first met her, she had seemed certain that if they took her to Coruscant as they had originally planned, it would accomplish nothing for her system, no relief, no charges made against the Trade Federation. By acting on her own initiative, she had destroyed the blockade and through her own determination pushed the courts to entangle the Trade Federation in such a mess of business infractions that even now Viceroy Gunray and his cohorts were still tied up in the legalities.
That incident was the first piece of prospicience he had witnessed, and as the years went by he came to hear of more, either through the holonet or their communications over the com. There were times when he had wondered if it was a part of some untapped Force potential inside her, but this was disproven when they met, for he could not sense from her any indications which would prove such a conclusion. As his speculations continued, each one growing more outlandish than the first, he still kept his silence and respected hers, coming to terms with the possibility that it might forever remain a mystery, just as certain aspects of the Force were.
"Whatever my future holds, it shall be welcome to spend some days with my family and you, free from concerns over Naboo and the Republic," Padmé remarked, causing Obi-Wan to silence his thoughts for now. "Three terms as Queen was never something I planned on serving, though it became necessary in the end."
"Do you regret taking on such a lengthy responsibility?" Obi-Wan asked her.
Padmé shook her head. "No, it was something I had to do." She met his steadfast gaze, almost ready to tell him everything. Yet something prevented her. She could not find the words with which to begin, nor the heart to destroy such a lovely evening between them with the sad tale of her past. For the telling of it would damage the peace of the day, no matter what the outcome proved to be. She had confided in no one, so it would be difficult for her to relate it as well as it would be for him to listen. Not only that, but it would cause him grief, something which she had striven to keep from bestowing upon him in this life.
Instead she let the silence after her last words linger and continued with their meal. If Obi-Wan had sensed anything of her brief desire to unburden herself, he mentioned nothing, respecting her silence once more. Together they finished the meal which the palace cooks had laboured over to provide for them this evening. When there was nothing left on the table but mere crumbs of their deserts, they rose from their chairs and retired to the living area.
As they reached the furnishings Obi-Wan was tempted to take her in his arms again as he had at the villa in the lake country, but he withheld himself from doing so, for there was a thoughtful earnestness about her tonight that caused him to question if his affection would be welcome. There was also another factor to consider, here in Theed she was Queen, there were formalities to be observed. It would not do for the entire court to become aware of their relationship, for despite her declaration of resignation being made, it would incur the speculations about the possibility of a dynasty which they wished to avoid. It could be the reason for her silent contemplation, perhaps she was thinking over how best to send him back to his rooms.
So he was surprised when she turned round and caught him in an embrace that clearly hungered for more than a chaste gesture of farewell. Her hands wrapped themselves round his neck, while her mouth fastened upon his in an almost frantic need. Returning the emotion was as natural to him as breathing, he savoured every touch from her, ones which for a long time he had never expected to receive.
Their first time had been through his beginning, so he let her dictate the opening motions for tonight. Padmé was more than happy to comply, and evidently grateful for his more than eager response, as though she had been worried that he would not return her desire with his own this evening. Obi-Wan felt guilty that his hesitation over discretion had made her unsure and strove to eliminate any further uncertainty.
She pulled his robes off, pushing him backwards towards her bedroom, where he fell upon her bed. Rising from the furnishings, he watched her as she removed her dress, then leapt astride him. He grinned at the graceful motion, and she smiled back, preening herself before him. As she seemed to be waiting for him to make the next move, he obliged her, making a little series of movements with his fingers so her hair fell down in unwoven dark strands around her, before his hand began beckoning her to come closer.
She slowly made her way, brushing the sensitive skin between her thighs over him, each advancement causing him to groan from the sensations that were aroused through her actions, until she reached his neck whereupon he took hold of her, lifting her up until that sensitive skin was above his mouth. His tongue parted her folds, his eyes never moving from hers as he licked and caressed her into the peak of her desire. Before she could achieve her release, she slid downwards to take him inside her. She rode him slowly but powerfully, her body arching up and down with every wave until the sea inside them crested.
Seeing her smile as she stilled above him, he was glad when she put voice to the worry which had plagued her at the start. "Why did you hesitate?"
"I wasn't sure if we should where you have a certain reputation to uphold," he replied. "I'm sorry my hesitation caused you concern."
"I imagined you leaving in the morning, before my handmaidens disturb us," she said. "Until then there is little need for such discretion."
"So I have gathered," he uttered wryly, making her smile. "Is there anything else I need to know?"
"Try not to scream my name as loudly as you did in Varykino," she answered, causing his smirk to turn into a full-fledged grin.
"I thought that was you," he remarked teasingly.
Padmé shook her head. "Definitely both of us."
"You've forgotten something," he added, his hands reaching out to her waist, his callused fingers running pathways across her skin. Inside her he grew hard, making her arch above him once more.
"Do or do not, there is no try."
Part 20: Sorrow Ends Not When it Seemeth Done.
(Richard II act 1, sc. 2)
Days passed. Padmé continued to conduct the duties that were required of Queen Amidala, monitoring her court, dispensing the running of the country amongst herself and her councillors. She watched over the elections for the new prince or princess of Theed, availing herself of each of the front-runners backgrounds, supporters, characters and education.
It brought to mind the first time she had been in such a situation, when she had served only two terms, insisting despite the wishes of her populus not to reign for another. Jamillia had succeeded her then for a term, followed by Neeyutnee for another, who was followed by Apailana. The latter had been younger than Padmé when she succeeded to the throne, in the dying days of the Republic. Apailana had only been on the throne for year before Padmé travelled back in time. She had barely known her.
Neeyutnee was one of the candidates for her successor, but Padmé took care to show no sign of favouritism for her, or any of the others who put their names forward to succeed her as Queen or King of Naboo. Palpatine's dark influence was gone from the Republic, her third term as sovereign was almost at an end, there was no need to concern herself with ensuring the continued safety of Naboo or the rest of the galaxy. But still she did, for though that threat had been vanquished, she had no idea if there was another waiting in the wings to smother the light within the universe.
There was only so much she could do, it was impossible to save everything as she had come to realise during the abolition talks on Tatooine, but what she could do, she would continue to do, returning the favour that time had bestowed upon her by giving her this second chance to save the light.
When she had a moment to herself, it was spent with Obi-Wan, either in his suite or hers, or the gardens of the palace, where some privacy could be obtained. They were careful to keep their relationship discreet, although it soon became a known secret amongst her security and handmaidens. Obi-Wan still left her bedchamber early in the morning however, leaving Padmé to the blushing smiles of her handmaidens who did their best to restrain themselves from asking about her lover.
There were also still days from her first life to remember and mark, although they were soon to come to an end. Padmé woke each morning to glance at the chrono, recalling instantly the events which took place that day, and the consequences that followed. Sometimes those memories were brushed away by a sign of affection from Obi-Wan, other times they lingered like shadows upon her soul.
Although they were the darkest days, as they had once marked the end of the Republic, she took comfort from the fact that thanks to the death of Palpatine, the events which had haunted these days were now just the shadows lingering in her memory. She did not need to focus her energies on remembering the political struggles she and the other members of the Senate had gone through on these days, as they tried to save the Republic, or the endless strategising to try and salvage something from the wreckage, such as the petition or a secret alliance of rebellion. Worried that Anakin would find out she had tried to keep herself from getting involved in Bail Organa and Mon Mothma's plans, but her own principles prevented her from doing so.
There was one other event however that the non-existence of was anything but a comfort to her. Since her youth she had wanted the chance to have a family, it had been a goal to aim for when her days as Queen were over. And though she had never believed that Anakin was ready for children, Padmé had ever regretted their conception, although she was still unsure as to when that had occurred. As for the day when she found out that she was pregnant, that was firmly imprinted upon her memory and when that morning arrived she could not help but feel a grief that not even the presence of Obi-Wan could quench.
He still did not know of her past, for Padmé had yet to find the words or the strength to confide in him, even though she had vowed to be honest with him for the good of their relationship. What stopped her was those feelings that she felt when he had found out, or perhaps confirmed what he deliberately blinded himself to in order to protect them. That day in her apartment when he came to her to found out where Anakin was and tell her of what foul deeds her husband had committed hard been one of the hardest days of her life. The grief in his voice as he confirmed the identity of the father of her children, realised the true depth to which she and Anakin had betrayed him, haunted her. It was something which she had wanted to prevent causing him again, yet she could not keep it from him forever, even though he respected her silence.
Each evening that they spent together without the presence of her court or councillors, Padmé attempted to find the words and the courage to tell him. But each time she failed. The days continued to pass, their passage of time counting down to that fateful anniversary of the conversation in her Coruscant apartment, and the darkness which followed. She found herself holding her breath when at last it arrived, too fearful of invoking some repetition of that day to actually confide in him in then.
She woke the next morning hoping to feel some relief over the passing of that day before, but such emotions quickly faded when she realised what came next. For it was the day she gave birth to the twins. The fact that she had also died on this day, along with her husband, seemed immaterial compared to the remembrance of those few precious minutes spent looking at her children.
Summoning the strength to name them, to tell Obi-Wan that there was still some good in their father, as he held her son in his arms and begged her to find the power within herself to live. Those memories were all the more poignant now because Luke and Leia were not born, nor would they even be conceived. She did not regret her relationship with Obi-Wan, or the resolve not to form one with Anakin, but those factors did not prevent her from mourning over the sacrifice of her twins which was the result.
Rising from her bed, she made for her closet to change, forcing a mask of composure on her face to conceal the sorrow within. As much as she would have liked to spend the day mourning this loss, she had duties to perform, councils to attend and a Jedi Master to talk with, though how she would face Obi-Wan or Anakin without breaking down before them, Padmé did not know. Her most vivid memories of that day seemed to focus on them, from the anger on her husband's face as he choked her, to the heartfelt pleading expression on Obi-Wan's as he held her son in his arms and begged her to live.
She could not reveal her sorrow to him, not today, no matter her resolve for honesty in their relationship, for aside from the desire to protect him from enduring such sorrow, she doubted that she could find the strength within her to tell him. She realised something else too, that this was her burden to carry, the sacrifice she made for the good of the galaxy. At the time, she had not realised what would be her price. Now she wished it had been anything other than Luke and Leia.
Keeping her grief behind a mask of regal sovereignty, Padmé made her way to the throne room, mustering a smile for her handmaidens and for the officials who were waiting to see her. Obi-Wan had been called from her bed early for a meeting with the Jedi Council, there was plenty of time to summon the strength to face him when that com call was at an end and he could rejoin her company.
For now she had to deal with the members of her court, finding the strength to conceal her sorrow from her handmaidens, security and councillors. She felt envious at the comfortable expressions others greeted her with, their nonnescience as to the nature of her grief made permanent by her duty to protect them from such knowledge, yet painful to accept and endure all the same.
She thought thirteen years would have been enough time for the grief at the loss of the twins to lessen, but she realised now that she had never given up hope that they might exist someday. Now, she had to, and that made the loss raw once more.
Hours passed. Padmé worked through each one of them trying not to notice their passage, and failing with every attempt. She kept her composure, hid her grief, went through the motions of an ordinary day, all the while her heart was breaking inside. Then Lieutenant Skywalker requested to see her, and suddenly the pain threatened to force itself out into the open for all to wonder at.
Padmé nearly choked, a cruel irony of a bodily reflex, considering the visitor. Refusal or excuse to avoid the meeting was not possible, he must be granted admittance. She could not even make use of a decoy, for there was no time for Sabé to change into the robes of majesty, or for her to assume those of a handmaiden. Summoning what might be a final reserve of strength, she dismissed her councillors, security and handmaidens, then signalled for him to come forward and inquired after his welbeing, and that of his mother's.
"We are both well, thank you, Your Highness," Anakin replied. "I came to ask you for your consent to something. I was told that it is customary to do so."
"An old fashioned formality," Padmé replied, the words a struggle to release from her inwardly quivering mind. "But, please, go ahead."
"I wish to marry," Anakin replied.
The request caught her by surprise, for she was too concerned with keeping her composure before him to realise what he had in mind. Since he had become a member of her security she had been unable to find the time to single out his company, something she had once planned to do, although as the years since their meeting on Tatooine passed, she had come to realise that having a relationship with him again would not be wise.
She cared for him, not as much as to ignore what was sensible, but enough to feel a need to protect him from the risk of damage to him that their relationship might incur. Thanks to her interference he had never realised his potential as a Jedi, but the power of the Force was still inside him and their relationship might trigger the emergence of such powers. She should feel happy that he had found someone just as she had, however, with the memory of today's significance, her emotions were not so easily reconciled.
"Congratulations," she uttered hollowly. "Who is the lucky lady?"
"Yané," he replied.
Padmé sighed for he did not need to say anything further for her to realise who he was speaking of. Yané was the youngest of her handmaidens, intelligent and talented, who aside from her duties to her sovereign, could have a thriving career as a musician. As one of Padmé's youngest handmaidens she would have stayed behind with Saché at the palace during the blockade, if Padmé had not changed history by forming an alliance with the Gungans without fleeing to Tatooine and then Coruscant first. Yané had also been her choice of escort for Anakin when he first came to the palace and volunteered to become a member of her security.
Originally she had hoped to turn her duties as Queen over to Sabé and show Anakin around herself, using the meeting to form the foundation of their relationship in this life, but like everything else between them, that was not possible. She wanted him to be happy, but not with a member of her household, someone she had spent most of her girlhood with, and counted as a friend. It was perhaps selfish of her to wish to avoid any encounter with him or people he was close to, yet because of today's significance, experiencing such a desire, even if only for a moment before sense intervened, was unavoidable.
Padmé wanted the meeting to be over before it had even begun, but she had to prolong it, in order to appear pleased with the match, flattered by his adherence to the old fashioned protocols and customs of his adopted planet. She had to welcome her handmaiden in, praise them both, offer her felicitations, and invite them to hold the wedding within the grounds of the palace. To her relief that offer was graciously refused, they desired to have a small wedding, attendance of close friends and family, without the pomp and circumstance that Theed would demand if they solemnised their union here. If she wanted to attend they would put off the event until she was no longer Queen, an invitation which Padmé felt would be wise to decline, but was unable to do so, for she could not see how to refuse without disappointing them. Not until she had endured all this could she freely dismiss them without calling attention to such a departure.
When at last she was alone in the throne room, she drew a deep breath, attempting to regain her composure, knowing all the while it would be a useless endeavour. She wanted to flee the room, seek a fragile and temporary solace in the fresh air of the balcony nearby which called out so temptingly, but her body had not the strength for it, the strain of concealing her grief too great to cope with anything else that might be required of it. Shakily her fingers reached out for the button on her throne which controlled the doors, pressing the lock so she could cry for a little while, else she feared that her concealment would not last the day.
Like a waterfall the grief was released from the prison of her divining, and once let loose, could not be quenched. She fell from the throne to the marbled floor, a rapid yet graceful descent, softened by layers of elaborate silk, cushioning the blow of contact with the hard patterned rock. Her hand went to her mouth in an effort to lessen the ebb and flow, though no one would hear her beyond the vast thick walls of the room. Droplets of saddened moisture slid down her smooth cheeks, leaving damp paths within their wake, wetting her hand in their journey to the silk of her gown. She cried out until her breath was spent, then stilled as the tears continued to descend without the slightest sign of abatement.
An eerie quietness settled over her then, casting an spectral quality to the passage of time, as though she was locked in this limbo of grief forever. Then abruptly the silence was broken, the noise unnaturally loud due to the suddenness of its commencement, as someone attempted to open the doors.
Anxiously she turned towards that barrier, fearful of the intruder, the questions they would ask, the words with which they would exclaim upon catching sight of her and her grief which she had not yet recovered the power to contain. Even the energy to move from the floor to flee this visitor, to escape to another room where she could wash away the evidence of how she spent her past hours was beyond her at present. Padmé fixed her eyes fixed on the entrance and the visitor behind the doors, hoping they would not continue to struggle with the locking mechanism, but her hope was in vain. Abruptly the doors were waved aside, and her visitor entered, only to come to a shocked halt the moment he crossed the threshold.
"Padmé?" Obi-Wan Kenobi queried, all care to observe formalities that usually applied to the throne room and her role as Queen gone when confronted thus with her pitiful sight.
Only her security or he could make his way past the lock, and yet he was the last person she needed to see right now. She took him in, her brown eyes assessing the look splayed across his handsome features, the same look she remembered from that day in her Coruscant apartment when he told of Anakin's crimes, and grief conquered her once again.
He closed the door behind him with a wave of his hand and darted to her side, gathering her into his arms. His fingers went to her back and her hair, caressing the shaking body beneath soothingly. She clung to him, cries muffled by his rapidly soaked tunic, her tears frantic now, almost hysterical. Mystified, he could only wait for enlightenment, offering hushed words of comfort until her sorrow subsided. His heart ached to see her like this, and he yearned to know what could have happened to alter her so sharply from the happy woman he bade farewell to earlier that morning.
Consciousness regarding herself slowly returned, and she shrank from the embrace of the man who offered her solace, embarrassed and afraid of his reaction. Obi-Wan did not resist her quest to part from him, but nor would he let her leave his side entirely either, his hand loose yet firm about her waist. She raised her face level with his almost fearfully, only to be met with an eloquent look of patient willingness to listen. The urge to confide in him was overwhelming; she had carried this burden by herself far too long.
"They would have been born today," her voice began before she was aware of the words escaping her mouth, the tone surprisingly calm considering all the grief she still held. "My beautiful children." She turned away from him and he pulled her back into his arms as her body began to shiver for warmth. "I didn't even have the chance to hold them, and now I never shall. Their father will marry someone else. Why did they have to be the price I paid, Obi-Wan? I would have gladly sacrificed anything else. After all I did to save the Republic, to save Anakin, save the Jedi. Should I not be given some reward? Oh, I did not expect any, I never have, but nor do I believe two innocent babes should be the price of a peaceful galaxy." She paused to swallow away another onset of tears. "How shall I go on? How can I live without nothing to live for?"
Obi-Wan could not answer. He wanted to tell her that there were things to live for, that he was here for her, body and soul, as he had been from their time together in the lake country. But he held back from saying as much, because he realised that there was a deeper grief within her, one which such words of love from him could not soothe. Some of what she spoke of he could make sense from, such as the security officer whom she took care for him not spend much time in the company of, for reasons she had not explained. He could be the hoped for father she spoke of, yet she had made no mention of anyone special in her life before they embarked on their relationship.
But what of the children who had never been born, yet somehow existed her mind. She mentioned saving the Republic, but from what? Searching through his memories, he recalled the first time he met her, the actions he witnessed taking place, her detailed plan of attack for the pilots on the control ship. He remembered her request to keep in touch, to keep her informed of events on Coruscant. The concerns she confided to the Council about Palpatine, concerns that were proved to be true, resulting in the death of that councillor turned Sith at his hands.
All these acts and more predicted, seen through and dealt with by her. Now he looked back on them, it seemed to him that she must have known what the alternative would be if she did not take care to do this. He had wondered about her prospicience before, but until now he had no clue as to how she came to acquire such a talent. Her words seem to imply that she might have been gifted with a vision of the future, or travelled back in time. Neither were unheard of, although such were rare occurrences.
He turned his attention back to Padmé who was still inconsolable. Sensing that she was most likely exhausted from her grief, one which she might have carried for as long as he had known her, Obi-Wan summoned the Force to her aid, sending a calming wave into her body and mind, which would allow her to regain the strength to leave the throne room so she could recover in the privacy of her chambers, although it would not prove to be a cure for the heart of her grief. When she was quiet and calmer, the wave sending her into a light restorative dose, Obi-Wan lifted her from the floor and took her out of the throne room to those chambers.
Laying her down upon her bed, he sank into a chair beside her and waited for the wave of the force to restore her calm and wakefulness, hoping that when it did, he would have the words to offer comfort for the rest.
Padmé opened her eyes to find Obi-Wan seated in a chair by her bed where he had evidently spent the time she had been asleep watching over her until she regained her composure from the grief that had overwhelmed her. How he had managed to take her from the throne room to her chambers without alerting the concern of her security, handmaidens or councillors was a mystery perhaps left to the Force. She also felt that the ancient energy was responsible for the calmness which she felt now.
"Thank you," she said, offering her hand.
He reached out to take it in his own. Cradling her fingers and palm, he uttered softly, "Padmé, it pains me to see you cry. Almost from the moment I met you, I have noticed this deep sorrow. I would not force your confidence, but Padmé, it is tearing you apart. Please allow yourself to confide in me, or someone else if you feel that you cannot tell me. You may find your burdens eased by doing so."
While he was speaking Padmé had been unable to move her gaze from the sight of their clasped hands. His friendship, his support, his love, she realised had never wavered no matter which lifetime they lived. Now she found the courage to meet his earnest gaze and tell him the source of her grief, though his expression still reminded her of when he came to tell her the full horror of her husband's fall into the darkside of the Force.
"I would have told you before, Obi-Wan, but I did not wish to lay the burden of misplaced guilt upon you which you have carried previously," she began, causing him to frown in confusion. "I wanted to spare you that fate, along with all the others that I tried to prevent. and I was not sure if you would believe what I am about to tell you. It is so fantastical that sometimes I even doubt it myself."
"A Jedi can sense sincerity," Obi-Wan assured her. "And you have always held the truth of your convictions."
"Thank you," Padmé murmured as she prepared herself to tell him. "I have lived this life before. The first time you and I met, I listened to your Master and travelled to Coruscant. Only the ship was damaged enroute, causing us to make a stop on Tatooine, where he met a little boy who was very powerful in the Force.
"Your master freed this boy from slavery and took him before the Jedi Council to be tested. Though he passed the tests, the Council were reluctant to train him because he was too old, too attached to his mother and held too much fear within him. But your master was determined to train him, and after the boy's actions in helping my people lift the blockade on planet, the Council conceded.
"He trained to become a Jedi, though his fear and his need for attachments caused him to take revenge on the beings who killed his mother, and secretly marry the woman he loved. But he allowed himself to be manipulated by a man of the Senate, who had taken a close interest in him ever since the boy helped save his planet.
"I was also manipulated by that man, into declaring a vote of no confidence within Chancellor Valorum, a motion which the man used to assume the office himself. Once he was in power, he used the means at his disposal to provoke a civil war within the Republic and to persuade the little boy to betray his Master, the Order, his wife and his unborn children. He fell to the dark side, unleashing a wave of killings on the Order and the Republic.
"His wife learned of his actions through his Jedi Master and unwilling to believe him, went to confront her husband. When she realised the truth and reacted with horror at what he had done, he choked her with his new powers. She would have died but for his Jedi Master who snuck aboard the ship and now confronted his apprentice.
"I woke from my injuries, only to grieve over what I had lost. I could not find the strength to nurture my children. You took me to a medical base where the med-droid induced labour to deliver them." Padmé broke to smile at his startled expression. "You held my son in your arms as you begged me to hold on. I wanted to so desperately, for you and my children. But something pulled me away.
"When I opened my eyes again, I was standing before a window, overlooking the entrance to the palace, which was filling with the troops of the Trade Federation. My life had begun again, and I had a chance to change everything. So I ignored your master's advice, and went to the Gungans first.
"Then I sought to free Tatooine from slavery, and bring my future husband to Naboo. I thought that I could still have him and my children, even while I prevented him from becoming a Jedi and ensured the defeat of my Sith of a Senator.
"Later I realised that it would be wise if I never formed the relationship at all, as part of his downfall was how much he cared for me. I also came to realise how deeply I cared for someone else, who had been a close friend in both my lives." she smiled at him, gripping his hand to indicate that it was him she spoke of. "But today is the anniversary of the birth of my twins, and before you saw me, I had just finished a meeting with him. Anakin told me that he was in love with one of my handmaidens and asked to marry her."
There was no incredulity or astonishment from Obi-Wan when she finished. He merely clasped her hand affectionately before saying, "I realise now why you were always so tense whenever your security lieutenant and I met. I could sense the power within Anakin Skywalker, but I never received a note of recognition or curiosity in reply, which together with your caution caused me to refrain from asking him if he wanted to harness his Jedi potential. And though the loss of his affections and the prospect of a future together may grieve you now, I can assure you that there is still time for you to have those children you would have had today."
"But they won't be the same children," Padmé protested.
"You cannot know that," he countered gently. "When you knew them, they were nothing more than babes in arms. Who knows what the future held for them, even if it was in a government of darkness. There is a balance in all things. For the darkness to exist there must have also been a light as well. Perhaps your children were the ones who found it and brought it back to the galaxy. And who is to say that in this time they will be so different? That they will not continue to spread the light which you have spread throughout the galaxy? Their father may be a different man," Obi-Wan conceded, "but if the Force intended you to have them, then they will come to exist."
"I don't deserve you," Padmé murmured. "How is it you always manage to comfort me, to be a source of strength for me even when what I have to say will cause you grief? It cannot just be from the Force."
"The force is generous, and it is patient," Obi-Wan answered. "And the light is a lone candle in face of darkness. But love is more than a candle. Love can ignite the stars." He smiled at her before adding, "you proved that doing what you have done to change the past and the future. It is now time for patience, to gather your strength for what is to come."
"Some days that's harder to accomplish," Padmé remarked to which Obi-Wan nodded in agreement.
"I know this might not be what you need to hear right now, nor perhaps is our relationship ready for them, but if you wish for children, just say the word and I will grant that desire," he added.
Padmé smiled at him. "Thank, Obi-Wan. You're right, while we may be ready individually, our relationship is too early formed to welcome children. Yet I am grateful and touched by your willingness to do such a thing for me."
"There's no need to be grateful," Obi-Wan replied, before saying, "a Jedi lives to serve," making her laugh.
Time passed. For two years Queen Amidala ruled, carrying out her duties while a new Princess of Theed was elected. When her third term came to an end, Padmé stepped down in favour of Neeyutnee, returning to her family's home as an ordinary citizen of Naboo.
In the lush warm grass and stone of the Naberrie dwelling another role was waiting for her, the wife of a Jedi Master. She and Obi-Wan married within a few months of Queen Neeyutnee's succession, a few days after Lieutenant Skywalker's marriage to her handmaiden Yané. Despite her initial reluctance to attend the ceremony, Padmé paid her friend the honour of doing so, with Obi-Wan as her escort. To her relief, witnessing the ceremony together with seeing her handmaiden and former husband deeply in love, caused her no further grief.
After their own wedding Padmé and Obi-Wan spent some time at Varykino, before leaving Naboo for Coruscant, to take up residence at the Jedi Temple. In the interim of her last years as Queen, Obi-Wan had taken on a padawan learner, which required them to spend the first part of their marriage on the Jewel of the Core Worlds, until his apprentice acquired the necessary skills and discipline to accompany their master off planet.
While on Coruscant, Padmé felt what would prove to be the first fluttering of their children. Whilst the babes quickened inside her, she joined the Core Relief Movement, an organisation that was tasked with providing aid to the poor who lived on Coruscant's lower levels, where little sunlight or vegetation, justice or mercy ventured. In her youth she had served in a similar movement on Naboo, and the familiarity of the duties required allowed her an opportunity to keep herself busy when Obi-Wan was teaching his apprentice.
Months later, Padmé could not help but feel a sense of familiarity as she struggled through her labour, with the med droid waiting at the foot of the bed to take her daughter into its mechanical arms, whilst Obi-Wan stood beside her cradling their son. The fact that it was their son and not a part of Anakin was a comfort, along with the sight of her husband, who was not battleworn nor suffering from a deep betrayal and loss. There was also a Jedi healer present, for the delivery was taking place within the Temple, rather than a remote asteroid base in the Outer Rim Territories. Still, the eerie symmetry of the last time she had endured childbirth was unsettling, and did little to alleviate the labour pains.
At last she saw the med droid bend to retrieve the babe, muttering notes designed to soothe the child's fears on entering the universe, before shuffling around to place the newborn in her arms. Padmé sank against the pillows exhausted and relieved as she cradled her daughter, glancing at the babe before turning her gaze to Obi-Wan. Nothing was pulling her away from those she loved to a past that required remedying, nor was she weakened from the injuries of a broken heart and a sith choke.
Her journey had come full circle, and the future lay ahead of her.