SHIMMER THROUGH THE WOODS.
I do not care to talk to you although
Your speech evokes a thousand sympathies
And all my being's silent harmonies
Wake trembling into music. When you go
It is as if some sudden, dreadful blow
Had severed all the strings with savage ease.
No, do not talk; but let us rather seize
This intimate gift of silence which we know.
Others may guess your thoughts from what you say,
As storms are guessed from clouds where darkness broods.
To me the very essence of the day
Reveals its inner purpose and its moods;
As poplars feel the rain and then straightway
Reverse their leaves and shimmer through the woods.
Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
From A Dome of Many Colored Glass.
"I agree that sending one of the handmaidens with Master Jinn, Artoo and Jar Jar will help them to blend in with the native populous, but it will be Eirtaé and not you. I refuse to put you in any more danger than you are already. Tatooine is run by the Hutts. Smugglers, Slave Traders, Bounty Hunters and goodness knows what other villainy ply their wares here freely and without mercy. If any one of them got hold of you I dread to think what would happen, to you and to Naboo. No, you will remain on board while we are stranded here. And that is final, your highness!"
"Fine!" Padmé replied, angrily storming away from her security chief down the corridors of the ship. She knew Captain Panaka was right to refuse her reckless desire to explore Tatooine, however he failed to appreciate how badly she needed the distraction that such a trip would provide. Sabé had understood that when she gave her Artoo to cleanup. But now the droid was to accompany Master Jinn, his dirty appearance lending another layer of camouflage to the Jedi's guise as a farmer visiting Mos Espa for supplies, freeing her from that duty.
While they waited for the Jedi to retrieve the parts they needed there would be little for her to do. There was no point in marshalling her arguments to put before the Senate until Senator Palpatine could brief her concerning the current politics which occupied the Jewel of the Core Worlds. Coruscant may be the centre for the governing of the Republic, but each world managed their own local affairs, only appealing to it concerning international troubles, so it spoke a language of alliances that were utterly different to those with which she dealt with on a day to day basis.
Padmé was aware that her motives were childish and selfish, but she was desperate. All she could think about were the possible horrors that the blockade of the Trade Federation was visiting upon her homeworld. How her people, the Gungans, the wildlife, the countryside, everything were suffering. There was nothing she could do help them, she could not even endure their trials alongside them. She had never felt so powerless, and the feeling was unsettling her intelligence, clouding her emotions. If she failed to focus her thoughts on something else, Padmé feared for her ability to appeal to the Senate effectively.
A familiar sound caught her attention then, causing her to halt in the middle of her return to the Queen's chambers. The last time she had heard it was only hours ago, on her homeworld, as it was used to rescue her from the clutches of the Trade Federation. It was the humming of a lightsaber in constant motion. Changing direction, Padmé followed the sound to its source; the cargo bay.
Inside the cavernous space, the younger Jedi was dancing with remotes. Another word for the moves was fighting but Padmé discarded the term almost immediately for there was very little that was combative about the manoeuvres. Each step held an elegant, flawless quality to it that she found fascinating. Surrounded by four metallic spheres, the younger Jedi moved his lightsaber between them, never touching the devices, only aiming his strikes at the beams which they fired at him in a random pattern. The shots deflected off his blade towards a transparent shield that served to contain the makeshift training salle, at which point they dissipated into a display of coloured dust particles. His self-discipline was incredible, his focus trained solely on wherever the next beam might come from. Though the pace was fast, allowing for little recovery time between each shot, his energy appeared to be seemingly limitless.
Padmé could not turn away. The display drew her in completely. A hope of it never ending arose within her, but she knew that it would. It had to, for no one could last forever fighting at the speed which the pace of shots demanded. Not even a Jedi.
Sure enough, the remotes eventually ceased firing and became stationary, though more by a signal from the combative rather than a shot missed. The Jedi powered down his saber, hooking the weapon on his belt before collecting them. He then turned and executed a bow before her.
Somehow in the midst of all that din, he had noticed her quiet entrance.
"I apologise for disturbing you, milady," he said.
Padmé shook her head, dismissing the gesture. "No need, Master Jedi. It was an impressive display."
"Thank you," he replied. "But I'm no master. Merely a student of the Force."
"I can think of no other title to call you after that performance," Padmé said.
"Obi-Wan," he offered, holding out his hand to her. "Obi-Wan Kenobi."
She shook his hand. "Padmé Naberrie." Casting her eye at the remotes briefly, she asked him, "is that all due to the Force or is some of it training?"
"A combination of both," Obi-Wan answered. "It can be taught if you wish to learn," he added, catching the flicker of the curiosity in her gaze.
"Would you?" Padmé asked.
"If you so desire. But why, if I may ask?" he queried.
"All I can think about is the suffering back on Naboo," Padmé confessed. " What terrors the people must be going through. Whether or not they know of the Queen's escape, if it has given them hope or instead they are further concerned by the possibility that she has abandoned them to save herself. I know its selfish, but I need a distraction, else I'll go mad."
Obi-Wan nodded in understanding, and then handed her his weapon, allowing her to familiarise herself with the hilt, grip and controls. At first it felt heavy in her hands, but she soon adjusted to its weight. Silently she signalled to him that she was ready to begin, whereupon he threw one remote into the air before her.
"The more hits you deflect, the harder it will become," he explained. "They will sting, but they will not injure you."
Padmé nodded, and prepared herself before igniting the blade.
The remote moved back and forth in front of her before firing, the first shot catching her by surprise, but she managed to move the lightsaber in time to deflect the beam before it struck her. When the second shot came, she was more prepared for it and moved the saber to intercept accordingly.
As the frequency of the shots increased, the more difficult it became to deflect the blows. Padmé threw herself into the challenge, managing to survive when Obi-Wan sent another remote into the air to join the first, and then a third. Sweat glistened across her skin, and some of her curls came untangled from the elaborate hairstyle which she was wearing.
Obi-Wan had been so focused on her skill with his saber that he had not noticed until now that she was not attired like the rest of the handmaidens, in that flame coloured garment that was so ill-equipped for what she was doing now. Instead she wore a blue and grey toned peasant's garb that belied the wealth of her courtly position. He wondered why she had shed her previous gown, unless it was what all the handmaidens had done now they were stranded on Tatooine, in an effort to protect themselves lest the ship was invaded.
But she was not like all the other handmaidens, he mused. It had not taken him or his master long to realise that the Queen used decoys to protect herself. The elaborate clothing of the sovereign, coupled with the flamed coloured garments that hid everything of her attendants save for their similar facial features was a complete give away, not to mention the fact that Queen Amidala had turned to her for advice before they left the planet.
And this was not her only protection he realised now, as he watched her defend herself against the remotes with a practised air of one who was used to dodging blaster shots. Clearly her security had taught her the art of self-defence. He wondered how good her marksmanship was, as something within the Force hinted to him that he might soon find out. But the future is always in motion he reminded himself. For now he would have to content his curiosity with this display.
When the first shot was missed, hitting the folds of her sleeves, he called out to the remotes with a command of the Force and shut them down. "That's enough," he added, meeting her flushed gaze with his own as he came towards her to reclaim his weapon. "I hope it distracted you. How long have you been trained in combat, it was too much of an impressive display to have been a first attempt."
"A little over a year ago, since I joined the Princess of Theed's retinue, before she became Queen," Padmé replied. She cast her eyes over him in an assessing glance, silently noting aside from a flushed appearance, he did not appear to be at all tired by his training session. "What about you?"
"For as long as I can remember," he informed her. "Becoming a Jedi is a cradle to grave vocation."
She frowned at his choice of words. "Sounds lonely."
"It used to be," he admitted. "When I was an initiate there were times when I felt very much alone, even when I was with my friends. I would worry about if I was good enough to become a padawan, whether I was training too hard or not hard enough."
"But I thought all Masters have apprentices," Padmé said, puzzled.
"Not until the apprentice is ready for the rank of padawan," Obi-Wan explained. "Until then initiates are trained in clans by Master Yoda and various others until a knight or master chooses one of them to be their apprentice."
"What happens to those who don't get chosen?" she asked.
"They serve the Order in other ways, within the Agri-Corps, producing crops and such," Obi-Wan replied. "Rather like lay brothers for a monastery."
"That's rather a waste of thirteen years training," Padmé commented. "It must create some resentment, to go so far only to be denied further study."
"It is a sacrifice," Obi-Wan conceded, "but those who become Jedi must give up many things and not all are suited to live without what the code asks us to forego."
"Forgive me, but that doesn't seem fair," Padmé judged.
"The Force teaches us that everything dies," Obi-Wan explained. "In time, even the stars burn out. To hold on to something - or someone - beyond its time is to set your selfish desires against the Force. That is the path of misery; the Jedi do not walk it."
"But to love is not an attachment," Padmé countered. "When you love someone you must accept that they will change over time, even die and there is nothing you can do prevent such things coming to past. The only thing you hold on to is the memory of that person, and even memory can altered or influenced. To love is an act of selflessness."
Obi-Wan smiled at her eloquence. "You should put those words to the Jedi Council. I doubt I've heard anyone, even my Master, argue the case so eloquently."
"Then you don't agree with that part of the Code?" She queried, surprised.
"I think that one can love with an open heart, such as you describe," Obi-Wan answered. "I believe that sort of attachment is unavoidable, even for a Jedi. When a Master takes an apprentice, they form a bond within the Force. That bond will only strengthen once each come to care for the other."
He smiled. "Qui-Gon and I have one of the strongest bonds within the Order, due to our unconventional beliefs. But that we are denied love is a common misconception of the code that we live by. If we cling to something, or someone too much, if we treat them as a possession, then that attachment is regarded as forbidden. Some of our knights and masters have relationships, even children, both within and outside the Temple. No one hears about them for their own protection, otherwise they could become hostages for our judgement."
"Milady," a voice interrupted their discussion, and Padmé turned to find that Captain Panaka had entered the cargo hold.
"Forgive me, but Master Jinn has contacted us. He wishes to speak with his apprentice," her sovereign's security chief explained.
Obi-Wan proffered a slight bow towards both of them. "If you will excuse me, I'll take his hail in the cockpit."
When the Jedi had exited the bay, Captain Panaka turned his attention to his charge. "I see you found something with which to distract yourself."
"No thanks to you," Padmé returned, but gone was the previous heat which had existed within her tone during their last encounter. "Is my safety still compromised?"
Her security chief regarded her with raised brows. "Only your heart perhaps."
She blinked at that, but then laughed the possibility away. "My is heart is young and consumed by duty, not swayed by looks or deeds."
"Give it time," Panaka murmured as she moved towards the exit.
"A few containers of supplies, the Queen's wardrobe, maybe," Padmé heard Obi-Wan say as she entered the cockpit, "Not enough for you to barter with. Not in the amounts you're talking about."
"All right," the voice of Master Jinn said through the comm. "Another solution will present itself."
"So the Queen's wardrobe is not worth the price of a hyperspace generator," Padmé remarked, once the comm was clicked off, causing the padawan to turn and face her.
"Probably not on Tatooine," Obi-Wan replied as he bowed his in greeting. "Please convey my apologies to her royal highness; I meant no disrespect."
"I'm sure she'll understand," Padmé assured him. "Selling such garments would lead to inquiries as to where your master found them anyway."
"This is my fault," Obi-Wan said. "I should have taken into account that a Hutt controlled world would not accept Republican credit."
Padmé shook her head, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder. "Its not your fault, Obi-Wan, there was no where else to go. And it doesn't solve your master's problem."
He nodded. "You're right. I'm not sure what will. Other than it will probably have me half in awe, half in horror at my Master's audacity."
"I take it then that Master Jinn is an atypical Jedi?" Padmé queried.
Obi-Wan laughed lightly at her choice of words. "You could say that. Your handmaiden's going to be in for an interesting time."
"You mean the Queen's handmaiden," Padmé corrected, as she held her inner self in check, unable to do naught but wonder how he had seen through her disguise.
"Whatever you say, milady," Obi-Wan replied. "But from what I can sense of you within the Force, you hide a concern for your people that goes far deeper than that of any handmaiden."
"All handmaidens often serve as decoys for their sovereign," Padmé informed him. "Some even took and passed the same examination as the Queen, but lost the election to her royal highness. She often depends on them for council, and how could we give her good advice if we did not care for those she serves as much as she?"
"That does not explain why when Qui-Gon advised the Queen that she should leave Naboo for Coruscant, she turned to you for guidance," Obi-Wan countered before he smiled gently. "Do not be alarmed, milady, your secret is safe, but it is wise for your Jedi rescuers to be informed of your identity so we may better protect you."
"Thank you, Obi-Wan," Padmé replied, touched by his oath of secrecy. "But as you saw in the cargo hold, I am quite capable of defending myself. Although I do appreciate the Jedi's support."
She paused before adding, "Chancellor Valorum took a risk in sending you and your master to my aid. I understand from my Senator that he is under pressure from the corruption which seems to be rife within the Senate lately."
"I do not much care for politics, milady," Obi-Wan remarked, "however, my Master and I were involved in the Eriadu crisis from which few emerged with a clean record. Including the Trade Federation."
"I am not sure that my appeal to the Senate will be heard," Padmé confessed. "Or that it will secure Naboo's freedom. However there is little else we can do. The Naboo do not have an army."
"No," Obi-Wan agreed, "but the Gungans do." He was remembering what he had seen of the underwater race, from his brief time in their city, observing those who guarded the king and the reliance on martial punishment. It was reasonable to suppose to conclude that they would have an army. He raised his eyes to the desert skyline of the cockpit's viewpoint, his mind considering the options. "Perhaps once the ship is repaired it might better if we returned to Naboo and attempt to resolve this matter without appealing to the Senate."
A swirl of sand and dust attracted his attention, causing him to focus on more immediate matters. "It looks like we're in for a sand storm. I better go and see if the exterior of the ship is secure."
Padmé lingered in the cockpit for a moment, her thoughts fixed on what the padawan had just revealed to her. If she could secure an alliance with Gungans, her chances of freeing her people from the blockade would increase. It would require a measure of diplomacy however, as they and the Naboo had spent many years quietly keeping out of each other's way, not to mention securing the parts to repair the ship.
A beeping from the comm roused her and her fingers accessed the source before she remembered the danger. Hurriedly she re-routed the message to the throne room then contacted Captain Panaka.
"We're receiving a signal from Naboo."