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Oasis Begins In Dawn's Azure Light Aisle.

Episode I: Azure and Gold

so blue, 't was a dream,
An impossible, unconceived hue,
The high sky of summer dropped down
Some rapturous ocean to woo.

Azure & Gold by Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
From A Dome of Many Colored Glass.

Part 4: Debts & Partings

The storm cleared and behind it a new day dawned, leaving little evidence of the turmoil before, save for a few scattered wares and sand covered ships or machines which owners and traders were unable to secure away in time. They roused themselves with the sunrise, in order to brush away the golden grains before they crystallised in the heat.

Obi-Wan woke early as well, desirous of communing with the Force before the rest of the household were awake. His conscience had turned the objections and concerns over Qui-Gon's orders into feeling of guilt for doubting his teacher and mentor. There were few Jedi like Qui-Gon, who took a wayward pupil back despite his mutiny against every tenet of the Code, who allowed for their Padawan to hold different principles than they, who granted a student liberty in missions and when expressing opinions different to their own. In truth, he had been blessed with the best Master the Temple had produced, who could easily sit on the Council but for their strict adherence and rigidity to the Code. From now on, Obi-Wan resolved, he would use everything he had learned from his Master, to show Qui-Gon how much he respected him and that he was ready for the Trials, so his Master felt no guilt concerning his illness preventing him from completing the training of his last Padawan.

With this resolution in mind, Obi-Wan returned to the room of the slave dwelling where he had spent the night, along with Jar Jar and Padmé. His gaze seemed to settle naturally on her, as he recalled encountering the same pose first thing this morning and the thought that he would happily wake up beside her for the rest of his life.

Such a belief was not something a Padawan should possess. Marriage was not as rare amongst the Jedi as most people commonly believed, particularly recently, thanks to his Master, who had harangued the Council until they agreed to extend what had been known as the Corellian experiment to include the entire Order.

Celibacy however was the preferred lifestyle choice for the majority of Jedi engaged in the field. Many believed that family would not understand the absences or the fact that they held duty of keeping peace in the Republic above their own lives. It was also mandatory that Padawans withheld from any forms of attachment for the teaching of precisely such a principle.

Obi-Wan agreed with the latter doctrine, but he did not believe that non-Jedi were incapable of understanding or dealing with their lifestyle. The same restrictions applied to any monarch, Senator, or pilot in the Republic. While he had left the Order once for the sake of a cause and love, he was determined that such a conflict would not rule him again. He believed it was possible to remain a Jedi and become a husband. It was something his Master believed too, as he told him when he accepted him back after the affair at Melida/Daan ended in tragedy.

Nevertheless he was getting ahead of himself. He barely knew Padmé, who was a good few years his junior and Queen of the Naboo, whom he and his Master were charged to protect. He was still a Padawan and if Qui-Gon or worse still, other Jedi knew his feelings at this moment, he would remain one for some time. And he had no idea what she felt about him either. That moment after he showed her the Force could have just been felt by his heart. Both of them had things which were more important to worry about than their feelings. Her planet was in turmoil, romance was probably the last thing on her mind. It was time to try and protect themselves from allowing such feelings to distract or affect, before they became too deep, though he suspected that his own already were.

Anakin emerged bleary eyed from his own room and Obi-Wan beckoned him over, grateful for the distraction. The boy was bright, inquisitive, compassionate, generous, eager and Force sensitive. If his Master had his way, which by asking for Obi-Wan to obtain a blood sample was any indication, the boy would become a Temple initiate, putting him years behind other Padawans his age. Obi-Wan needed to teach him as much as possible, while making sure Anakin wanted to become a Jedi and understood the sacrifices he would make if he accepted Qui-Gon's offer.

Usually it was the youngling's parent's who made such a decision, but Anakin was older than normal initiates, capable of making his own choices. When he taught the boy last night, Obi-Wan found him to be a quick study and talented, just like other Jedi younglings his age. If the Council decided not to accept him, he was already determined to help the boy out, by returning to train him after he was knighted. As yet Anakin had no idea of the power he could wield, dangerous for him if someone decided to make use of such power for their own machinations. But then neither did Obi-Wan and he was over twice his age. He wondered if Qui-Gon knew the full extent of his power. And if he would have time to do so.

With that sobering thought, Obi-Wan set about preparing to continue the mission, suddenly anxious to have Qui-Gon safely back at the Temple. The elusive bad feeling he had felt on board the Trade Federation ship was returning, causing him to wonder if more was at stake than just the safety of the Queen and the illegal occupancy of her planet.

He occupied himself with keeping Anakin busy until the boy's mother woke along with the rest of the household and served them all a morning repast. Then, along with Jar Jar and Padmé, they returned to Watto's shop to persuade the trader to lend them his young slave for the race.

Watto was naturally suspicious as to their competency for this. "The boy tells me you want to sponsor him in the race. You can't afford parts. How will you do this? Not on Republic credits I think." He laughed.

"My ship will be the entry fee," Obi-Wan replied, before producing a small holo device from his tunic. He thumbed it on, to display the Nubian spacecraft in scale, grateful that Padmé was keeping Jar Jar out of trouble outside, for he knew her reaction to this piece of the negotiation would not be good.

"Not bad, not bad," the Troydarian murmured as he studied it. "A Nubian."

"It's in good order," Obi-Wan assured him. "Except for the parts we need." He hoped that events would go their way, so that giving up their only transport off Tatooine would not be required. If Anakin lost the race, they would be stranded here. Once more Obi-Wan doubted the wisdom of his Master in resting the fate of their mission on one small boy who they barely knew.

"But what would the boy ride?" Watto asked. "He smashed up my pod in the last race. It will take some time to fix it."

Obi-Wan sensed anguished shame from Anakin, who protested. "It wasn't my fault really, Sebulba flashed me with his vent ports. I actually saved the pod, mostly."

Watto laughed. "That you did. The boy is good, no doubts there."

"I have acquired a pod in a game of chance," Obi-Wan lied. "That fastest ever built."

"I hope you didn't kill anyone I know for it," Watto remarked, seeing through part of the deception already, which did not bode well. "So you supply the pod and the entry fee, I supply the boy. We split the winnings fifty-fifty, I think."

Obi-Wan pretended mild outrage at such a proposition, because he knew Watto was only opening the haggling with this deal. "Fifty-fifty! If its going to be fifty-fifty, I suggest you front the cash for the entry. If we win, you keep all the winnings, minus the cost of the parts I need. If we loose, you keep my ship."

Watto considered this counter offer, while Anakin flashed him a shocked glance, trying to hide his nerves from view, not knowing the Padawan could feel them in the Force.

"Either way you win," Obi-Wan added, knowing he and the rest of them would be stranded if the boy lost. He touched the Force for guidance, wondering if there was another way to purchase the parts they needed. But the response he received was to trust in the boy, in a successful outcome. Strangely, it reassured him only a little.

"Deal!" Watto agreed before turning to Anakin and adding in his native tongue, "your friend is a foolish one, methinks."

Obi-Wan pretended not to understand, then discreetly secured a power pack before exiting the warehouse to see the pod, back at Anakin's home.

The craft was small and large, constructed from two Radon Ulzer 620c turbines, with two vast engines and a compact cockpit, connected to the propulsion by steelton coils of platted wiring. Covered in armour plating and shielding, it looked fast and dangerous. It's driver approached with the easy confidence of a race veteran, adjusting a piece of wiring before leaping into the cockpit and flipping the controls. Obi-Wan handed him the power pack, marvelling at the sight of a small boy dwarfed by the powerful pod which he drove. He had a certain affinity with machinery, he could fly almost anything and fix every part of them, even build a hyperdrive from scratch, but he trembled at the thought of racing in such a craft as this and for the boy who was prepared to do this for the welbeing of strangers.

Anakin slotted in the power pack and turned on the ignition. The engines fired up like rockets, a loud constant rumbling as Anakin grinned at the success. His enthusiasm was contagious, making Padmé smile and Obi-Wan, who felt for the first time that this plan might actually work.


Night fell on Tatooine, the light from the double sunset allowing Anakin to work on the podracer until the twin celestial orbs disappeared below the horizon. Obi-Wan helped where he could as the boy fine tuned the machine until he was confident that it would survive the race tomorrow.

Shmi joined him as he stood on the threshold of the dwelling, watching Anakin as he cleaned off the podracer before storing the vehicle away for the night. Obi-Wan could sense worry over the safety of her son during the race tomorrow, concealed behind mild resignation, knowing she could not discourage him from participating, and how much the youngling enjoyed racing, not giving a thought to the reckless risking of his life, or the amount of worry over his safety his mother would feel during the race.

"You should be proud of your son," he said, seeking to give what reassure he could. He would not have Shmi believing that he was willing for Anakin to risk his life for the sake of their mission. "He gives without any thought of reward."

Shmi nodded, a small smile gracing her face. "He knows nothing of greed. He has..." she trailed off, unsure of how much to confide in the young Padawan.

"Special powers," Obi-Wan finished.

"Yes," Shmi confirmed, surprised he already knew.

"He can see things before they occur," Obi-Wan added. "That's why he appears to have such quick reflexes. It's a Jedi trait."

Shmi sighed. "He deserves better than a slave's life."

"The Force is unusually strong with him," Obi-Wan added as he silently agreed with her. "That much is clear. May I ask, who was his father?"

A brief pause ensued, causing Obi-Wan to wonder if he had asked too much. He was about to retract his query when the reply from Shmi startled him completely.

"There was no father," she replied. "I carried him, I gave him life, I can't explain what happened." She paused to look into his eyes. "Can you help him?"

"I wish I could," Obi-Wan replied sadly. He had debated the question of Anakin's future throughout the day, knowing that the boy's admission to the Temple depended on his freedom being secured, and he could not see Watto agreeing to that, particularly if Anakin won the race, for his value would be increased to the gambling Troydarian. "Had he been born in the Republic we would have identified him early and he would have become a Jedi." Because he would be still a babe, and no use to the Troydarian. "But his freedom needs to be secured. If he wins the race tomorrow, I doubt Watto would part with him easily. And the Council might argue that he's too old, his emotions are too developed. He would struggle learning to control them as his power with the Force is honed into recognition."

"Nine is too old?" Shmi queried incredulously.

"I was trained almost from birth," Obi-Wan replied. "As are all initiates. It takes a lifetime to learn the ways of the Force and tremendous sacrifice along with constant discipline over every part of your body and mind."

"But why did you teach him last night if he can't be accepted into the Temple?" Shmi asked, still sceptical.

"Because he should be trained," Obi-Wan replied. "Else he could be manipulated into using his power for evil. There's too much Force within him to remain untrained. I hope to try and give him enough control before we leave. I won't forget him. If I can't free you both, I'll come back and train him when I've passed my trials."

"I don't care about my freedom," Shmi said. "Only Anakin's."

"Who is too attached to you," Obi-Wan added. "Which could also affect his training."

Shmi nodded, conceding the point. "I thank you for your thoughtfulness on this matter," she said before returning inside. Obi-Wan watched her go, feeling somewhat inadequate that he could not do more to help. He turned to observe Anakin, whose startled cry had caught his attention. The boy was studying his hand, which seemed to contain a cut.

"Anakin, come here, let me tend to that," he called out, causing the boy to look up and run over to him. Obi-Wan moved to the ledge where they could sit comfortably while he treated the minor injury.

The youngling was restless, gazing at the stars above them as Obi-Wan treated his cut. "There are so many! Do they all have a system of planets?"

"Most of them," Obi-Wan replied. He hoped the boy would not ask him to name all of them. Though he and his Master's journeys about the galaxy during his training had been numerous and varied, and one of his favourite past times was to star gaze whenever a moment during a mission afforded him the opportunity, he could not remember all of their names, there were too many to do so.

"Has anyone been to them all?" Anakin asked.

"Not likely," Obi-Wan replied.

"I want to be the first one to see them all," the boy vowed.

Obi-Wan wondered if such a wish could be granted, even if Qui-Gon had his way and the boy became a Jedi, he doubted on the likelihood of there being a mission to every single planet in the universe. "There good as new," he declared, transferring the blood sample he had just obtained on to a comlink chip.

"Ani, bed time!" Shmi called, causing the boy to scramble off the ledge they were sitting on and go inside. Obi-Wan made sure he was gone before activating the comlink.

"I have the blood sample you requested, Master," Obi-Wan said.

"Send it," Qui-Gon ordered.

Obi-Wan duly obeyed, putting the sample in the device which would transfer it to the one which his master possessed aboard the ship, who would then put it to be analysed by the computer. The results would be ready in minutes.

"I'm coming over," Qui-Gon said after the allotted time had passed, taking his Padawan by surprise.

"Master, are you sure that's wise?" Obi-Wan asked. "You're still recovering. I can handle matters here."

"Your concern is noted, Padawan," Qui-Gon replied. "But I'm still coming. Prepare for my arrival. You will return to the ship while I take care of things there."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied before ending the call. A mixture of feelings rose within him, none of them good. He knew that the result of the scan had to be exceptionally high in the midi-chlorians, else his master would have remained on the ship. The age old quarrel was about to rear its evil head again.

"What's wrong?" Padmé asked, causing him to look up and find her on the threshold of the yard, just as she had been the last time he contacted the ship. Had she known how much he needed to her right now, he wondered. Just one look from her has the ability to calm his conflicted thoughts and emotions. Although she also awoke a set of entirely different ones, which he shouldn't be thinking about, not with a mission depending upon a small Force sensitive boy, a planet in jeopardy and a Queen to protect.

"Qui-Gon is coming to take charge," he informed her. "I am to go back to the ship after he arrives."

"But why?" Padmé asked. "I thought he was ill."

"He's better now," Obi-Wan replied. "And he wishes to see Anakin for himself."

"Why does he need to see the boy?" Padmé queried. "Is your opinion not good enough?"

"Evidently not," Obi-Wan replied, the honesty startling him for he did not mean to tell her of the bitterness he was feeling. "Though I was the one who gathered the findings on the prophecy for him."

"Prophecy?" Padmé echoed, coming forward to stand beside him.

"Ancient Jedi lore refers to the coming of a Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force," Obi-Wan explained. "Qui-Gon has been searching for him for...." hurriedly he changed what he was going to say, "well, a long time. He believes Anakin could be him."

"How can he tell?" Padmé asked. "He hasn't even laid eyes on him."

"I gave him a blood sample from the boy," Obi-Wan replied. "Qui-Gon ran a midi-chlorian count on it. I do not know the result, but it must have been high enough to warrant his decision to resume charge of the mission." He looked at her before adding, "midi-chlorians are small,"

"I know what they are," Padmé interrupted, placing her hand on his to show him she meant no insult by doing so. "I never answered your question before. I was tested and pronounced borderline. Not powerful enough to be take to the temple. My parents told me when I decided to run for election to be Queen. I was grateful that the results did not prevent me from taking the throne, or being raised with my family, although I've often wondered what would have happened if they were." She paused, observing him. "You don't believe Anakin could be the Chosen One, do you?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied, confirming her belief. "I've never believed in the prophecy. It says that the Chosen One is conceived by the Force, but no where does it that the person must be a Jedi, or indeed hold any position."

"Immaculate conception is not an unusual detail," Padmé reasoned. "Many prophecies and legends include it. And Shmi said there was no father. Would that not prove the theory?"

"How long have you been standing there?" Obi-Wan asked, amazed at how he had failed to notice her. "But she is a slave, Padmé. You told me that Gardulla the Hutt sold them to Watto. And Hutts are not unknown for forcing their slaves to use pleasure as a means to securing trade deals."

Padmé blanched at the implication behind his words. "You could be right," she conceded, unable to ignore the possibility.

"Qui-Gon will not even consider that," Obi-Wan added with a sigh." I have always been the more practical one, while he is the idealist who rebels against the Council on a regular basis. He will find a way to free Anakin and persuade the Council to accept him."

"And what if he does not?" Padmé asked. "Or the Council refuses?"

"Then he will defy them and take the boy as a Padawan," Obi-Wan replied.

"Where will that leave you?" Padmé inquired, worried that she might not see him again once they arrived on Coruscant, worried that he might not fulfil his dreams, leaving him cast adrift in the universe, alone and rejected.

"Unless another Master takes me, I'll be sent back to the Agri-Corps," Obi-Wan replied. He shook his head, laughing somewhat bitterly.

"He can't train the both of you?" Padmé asked.

Obi-Wan shook his head, leaving unsaid his belief that Anakin would be his Master's sole focus even if Qui-Gon was allowed two Padawans at the same time. For he knew that his Master would be determined to prove who he believed the boy was to be.

"How dare he?" Padmé cried. "How can he cast you aside like that? How can you be so calm? If I were in your position I would resent his rejection. I would be saddened by his inability to trust my judgement and skill to continue this mission. I would be angry at his behaviour concerning you, Anakin and his mother. The cavalier attitude he uses in dealing with your lives. How will Anakin feel if the price of a better life is separation from his mother? And what of Anakin himself, will he learn of the extreme expectations which your Master has placed on him? How can he think of freeing a boy from slavery only to bind to another, albeit of a different kind. What your Master offers Anakin is no freedom, and the boy is too young now to realise it. And when he learns about it, the burden of expectation will change him beyond repair. He will shun others, and those who come to know the reason why will shun him or use him for their own devices. It is better that he stays here, for that type of slavery is one which will not only force him into a life of solitude, but last as a stain upon his character forever!"

"If you were in my position, you would know that sadness, resentment and anger can lead you to the dark side of the Force," Obi-Wan replied almost forcefully, remembering that only recently, before Qui-Gon was ill, he would have felt exactly what she was describing. And he probably still did, he realised silently, but it was coupled with the awareness of what he said next. "And that once you start down that dark path, it will forever dominate your destiny. You would remember that you are a Jedi, that you are better than this."

"To feel emotion is to be human, Obi-Wan," Padmé pointed out. "Anger, resentment, and sadness only have power if you repress them, allowing them to build up inside you until they dominate your life. To deny those feelings gives them such power."

"I'm not denying I have them," Obi-Wan replied, a confession which surprised her. "I'm telling you that I have to accept them and release them into the Force, causing them to disappear. Such emotions are dangerous to Jedi." He sighed, looking away from her and out towards the view of Tatooine at night. "I have had to deal with rejection and exile all my life," he added softly. "I am no stranger to it, so it has little power over me."

Padmé shook her head. "How can it not make you doubt yourself or your abilities?"

"Perhaps I should," Obi-Wan countered.

"No you should not," Padmé objected almost furiously. "I saw your skill against the droids. You are a remarkable warrior. You have skill, precision, compassion. You possess an innate duty to put others before yourself. Obi-Wan, you are a natural Jedi."

He bowed his head before her praise, touched and honoured by it. He realised again that he was beginning to feel other emotions that were not Jedi, directed towards the beautiful young woman who has just defended him so bravely, so wisely now.

Padmé reached out and touched his cheek with her free hand, causing his blue eyes to meet her own dark brown ones. "Your humility does you credit. And if things come about as you believe they will, there will always be a place for you on my security forces. I could not bear the thought of you wandering the galaxy alone."

He placed his free hand over the one which caressed his face, stopping himself before he surrendered to the almost overwhelming temptation to lean forward and kiss her lips. "Thank you. I will remember your offer." He paused, recalling her other words, spoken in defence of Anakin. Unknowingly, she had aired many of the uneasiness he felt over freeing the boy and taking him as a Jedi Initiate. "And you were right about what you said of Anakin. It is why I promised Shmi that if I wasn't able to free him and his mother, I would find some way to come back and train him myself when I am knighted. But that is now out of my hands. However, I will try to make sure that he is not given that burden of expectation, not from Qui-Gon or from the Council." He glanced down at their hands, knowing he must part from her while he still had the strength to do so. Gently he removed her hand, and freed his other. "I had better go and prepare Anakin and his mother to expect Qui-Gon's arrival."

Padmé watched him go with a heavy heart, knowing that the chances of them ever being alone together again were few. When she returned to the ship, assuming this mission was successful, for now Qui-Gon was coming to take charge, she was feeling less certain of the outcome, she would be Queen Amidala again, preparing to solicit the aid of the Senate to end the blockade of Naboo. Even if she had chosen to stay on the planet, they would not have had as much chance for moments together as they did have here. She wanted to call him back, to say something of her feelings, but she was unsure if he would receive them positively. After all she was a great deal younger than he and they barely knew each other. Did he even feel the same way? Padmé shook herself, reminding her wayward feelings that she was a Queen who should be thinking about her people and their welfare, not about a future Jedi Knight assigned to protect her.

But as the evening lingered and Obi-Wan's departure along with his Master's arrival drew ever closer, Padmé found it difficult to think about anything else. Along with her worry over Obi-Wan, she felt angry at his Master for how little respect he showed to his pupil by abruptly taking charge like this. And his diffident attitude to Obi-Wan's safety during his nocturnal journey back to the ship, as well as that of her crew, handmaidens and decoy, whom was the Queen, unless he had discovered her true identity like Obi-Wan. She wondered what Shim and Anakin would think of him and if she was wise in contemplating accompanying Obi-Wan back to the ship rather than staying here. But then again, would her continued presence be a balm to Shmi and Anakin? They would need one person who sympathised with their fears and concerns over the pod race. As much as she wanted to return with Obi-Wan to the ship, it was her duty, as the true author behind this mission, to stay here and lend her support.

But it did not stop her from watching carefully as Qui-Gon arrived and Obi-Wan introduced him. Nor did it shop her from accompanying Obi-Wan to the door. She followed him outside, causing him to turn round.

"You should be inside, milady," he said gently. "It is not safe for you to be out at night on a planet like this."

Padmé shook her head. "I could not let you go without saying goodbye, Obi-Wan. Or without thanking you for what you have done."

He inclined his head to her. "I am only doing my duty as a Jedi."

"You have done far more than that," Padmé affirmed.

He bowed a little again. Then his resolve asserted itself. "Please, milady, go back inside."

Padmé stood firm. "Not until you are gone."

Seeing her stubborn expression, Obi-Wan relented. Giving her one last glance, admiring her beauty framed by the light from inside, almost akin to a halo. Anakin had told him only this morning that he thought Padmé was an Angel, and now Obi-Wan realised the aptness of the young boy's praise. He did not want to leave her behind, but he must. Reluctantly he turned round and began to walk away from the dwelling, from her.

Padmé did not let him get far. An irresistible impulse seized her and before she lost her courage she called out to him, causing him to stop and turn, in time to receive her embrace as she ran towards him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his. For a kiss it was brief, but the touch was enough to convey a warmth to both which spread through their bodies, giving truth to the feelings they felt. Obi-Wan felt the Force cheer inside him, a rousing chorus of acceptance for such love, granting consent to let it deepen and grow. He felt himself raised to the limits of the sky, into the light of the Force, and Padmé beside him, the height of ecstasy.

Then the nature of their surroundings returned to him and reluctantly he reached up to part her hands from his neck. He brought them before his face and with his eyes never leaving hers, raised each one to his lips, bestowing a breathless devout benediction.

Then their hands parted and he turned away to walk back to the ship.

And she watched until his figure left her vision, then returned inside.


Part 5: In The Company of Allies.

An eerie dawn settled as Obi-Wan arrived at the ship, the memory of Padmé's brief kiss enough to sustain his feelings throughout the lonely journey. The confirmation that they both felt the same was incredible, but it didn't change the nature of their relationship. He was still a Padawan, she was still so young and a Queen. Their feelings would have to wait.

He used the Force to lower the under carriage and entered the ship, raising it once he was inside. He turned in the direction of the cockpit, intending to check in with the pilots and the security, but he was prevented by the dark orange yellow wash dress before him. He raised his eyes to the head, a little chilled to see the resemblance to Padmé and how already he could tell the difference just from her face.

"The Queen wishes to speak with you immediately," she said.

"Perhaps you best hand me a comlink code then," Obi-Wan said with a small smile, "else I have a long walk ahead of me."

She gasped, then returned the smile, chuckling a little. "Did she tell you, or did you guess?"

"Both, in a way," Obi-Wan replied.

"How is she?" Her handmaiden asked.

"Resolute, troubled," Obi-Wan answered. "Beautiful, intelligent, brave," he added, causing her to smile. "Stubborn, thoughtful. Shall I go on?"

The handmaiden shook her head and laughed. "That's Padmé. Milady is rarely content to let others risk their lives for her." She paused to offer her hand. "I am Eirtaé. Sabé and the others would like to hear what has happened so far, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan took her hand and bowed. "Pleased to meet you, Eirtaé. I would be happy to tell you as much as I can. And it's just Obi-Wan or Padawan Kenobi. I'm not a Master yet. Only a student and servant of the Force."

Eirtaé nodded, blushed at his charming manners, then led him to the quarters of the Queen and the Handmaidens.

"How long have you been her handmaiden?" He asked as they walked down the ship's corridor.

"Since she was elected," Eirtaé replied. "We were chosen because of our resemblance to her. But we are trained and when a Queen ends her term we remain in our office unless she seeks another where we can be of use. We train those who succeed us, or seek a public, diplomatic office ourselves."

"And do you frequently make use of acting as her decoys?" Obi-Wan queried.

"Depends on milady," Eirtaé answered. "We are in that difficult position of advisors. We can express our opinions as to her safety, but we cannot prevent her from taking risks. Even Captain Panaka cannot completely overrule her decisions. Just as you can only advise your Master to take better care of himself. And follow his orders when he chooses otherwise."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I think even when I pass my trials I shall find it impossible to dissuade him from something he sets out to accomplish."

As he finished speaking, it was with surprise that he realised what he had said. Even though he had doubted being in a position to take his trials only a few hours ago, the Force chorus he received during confirmation of Padmé's feelings, now convinced him that he would. Indeed all he desired now seemed possible. It was an unsettling feeling, a certainty which he had never experienced before, but though it alluded to the dark side, he realised that it wasn't intended to do so, instead it was just a calm assurance that he would become a knight, and he could follow his dreams, whatever they may be.

He followed Eirtaé into the room where he had stood when his master briefed the Queen over the plans to go to Tatooine. It was when he first noticed Padmé and it felt a little unsettling to talk only with her handmaidens. The girls seemed to understand this, for Sabé had discarded the elaborate dress of the Queen, in favour of the handmaiden gowns. Each had left their cowls off, allowing Obi-Wan to observe their differences from Padmé.

Which he could. Aside from the variations of shades in their eyes and hair, Obi-Wan found himself able to detect even the more subtle differences with ease, even though he realised that he could not possibly know Padmé this well after their so short acquaintance. He could conclude that the Force was behind this, which was a contradiction for he knew it was not the Jedi way to read the Force with emotion, yet at the same time, he could not see how such a notion could be avoided, for emotion coloured everything, including logic and reason.

Perhaps he should ask Qui-Gon about such matters later, though that would mean confiding in him how he felt about Padmé and Obi-Wan wasn't sure he was ready to, just yet. There were rarely secrets between him and his Master, although Obi-Wan was beginning to wonder if Qui-Gon knew how bitter he felt about the search for the Chosen One.

Obi-Wan was surprised himself at the level of bitterness within him concerning the matter. He knew a part of it must derive from his insecurities over his training, the sometimes constant battle for acceptance from his Master, who was probably still protecting himself from harm because of Xanatos, his previous Padawan's betrayal. He had assumed, perhaps hopefully, that the nature of Qui-Gon's illness would gradually bring them closer as Master and Padawan, but now he was concerned that they would only drift further apart.

It was not that he believed Anakin should not be trained, in fact he had promised the boy's mother that he would undertake such training himself if the Council refused, though with what authority he could after his knighting begin such unorthodox training he did not know. He was just concerned that his Master would push him aside in order to take the boy on before the Council sent him back to his mother.

It was a selfish feeling, he knew, something he should be above, so close to becoming a Knight as well as something he rarely felt, having always put the cares and wishes of others before his own. After all, his record with Qui-Gon had proved to the Council that he was worth more than a career in the Agri-Corps. He knew from the meetings with Master Yoda and Master Windu when Qui-Gon's illness was first diagnosed that they had a high respect for his abilities. If they and the rest of the Council members deemed his Padawanship incomplete after Qui-Gon declared his intention to become Anakin's Master, then another Master would hopefully volunteer to finish Obi-Wan's training.

The briefing did not take long. Obi-Wan kept certain things back, such as the conversation about the Force, the nature of Anakin, the relationship between himself and Qui-Gon and the parting farewell between him and Padmé, along with his gift to her. In turn however he learned more about the woman he now knew he was in love with, which, naturally, he found his feelings for deepening as a result.

Afterwards he checked in with the security on board, visited the pilots in the cockpit, before travelling to the engine room to prep the hyperdrive and everything else for repairs. There was no doubt in his mind that his Master would succeed in acquiring the parts, whether the race went Anakin's way or no. Qui-Gon was one of the foremost negotiators in the Order, master of every form of persuasion, not even above using sheer stubbornness to carry him to success in missions when all else failed.

When his work was done, he settled into a meditation, his last idle thoughts were spent wondering what Padmé would make of his Master, if she chose to spend time with him.


Padmé returned to the dwelling, encountering Shmi's warm smile and Master Jinn's thoughtful gaze. She wondered if they had seen her farewell to Obi-Wan, if she had broken part of the Code. Perhaps their conduct could be considered questionable given the mission and their positions, but she did not believe that they had behaved without circumspection or restraint. Though they had recognised their feelings were the same, they had not acted upon them, nor had either of them taken advantage of the other.

After making the acquaintance of Qui-Gon, Anakin returned to bed, intending to rise early and carry on working on the Pod. A nervous silence ensued as she, Shmi and Jar Jar adjusted to the Jedi Master's presence. Padmé exerted herself to ask after the Queen and the other handmaidens, as well as the rest of the crew abroad her ship and was pleased to see that her enquiries had the dual effect of easing Shmi's nerves about Qui-Gon, as the Jedi Master answered Padmé with kindness and assurance.

He asked her to show him the pod with which Anakin was to race tomorrow, and she led him outside, gently lifting the protective cover off so he could see the design and mechanics. She told him what she knew of it, having heard Anakin's eager description of the pod while his protocol droid introduced itself to R2D2.

"You really believe he will win tomorrow?" She found herself asking when she had finished describing the pod.

"I know he will," Qui-Gon replied.

"Obi-Wan said that you prefer to focus on the here and now," she said, "how can you know the future with such a philosophy?"

"I have faith in the Force," Qui-Gon answered, studying her curiously. "How come my Padawan told you that?"

"I asked him to describe the Force to me," Padmé replied. "He was kind enough to consent to my request."

Qui-Gon continued to study her. "You seem to be well acquainted with my Padawan."

Padmé felt she had to be careful in her reply. "We conferred over the mission. He wished to know what the Queen's opinion would be concerning the decision to trust the success of the mission upon the competency of a young boy. Naturally such an opinion would be influenced by my view of Anakin and the mission."

"And what is your opinion of Anakin?" He asked, his intense expression conveying to her his need to know the truth, rather than a diplomatic response.

"He's a sweet boy," Padmé answered. "Desirous of being helpful, but naturally ignorant of the danger to himself and the concern felt by those close to him. Perhaps innocent of the expectations his success might fulfil and the sacrifices he could be forced to make."

"You disapprove of my methods, don't you?" He deduced.

Now perhaps a little diplomacy was called for. "I'm not sure I have the experience or knowledge to give an unbiased view, Master Jinn."

"I doubt such diplomacy kept you back from giving your opinion to my Padawan," he said, but without any resentment in his tone.

"Then, diplomacy aside, yes I do, Master Jinn," she said. "Particularly in your treatment of your Padawan."

She was surprised to see him smile. "Perhaps I have been hard on Obi-Wan," he conceded. "And some times without justification, though he is headstrong. He will be a fine Jedi whom it has been an honour to train. Which I will tell him, when we travel to Coruscant. As to my methods, my only defence is that I follow the Force. Obi-Wan and I may have different ways in doing so, but it is what has made us so good a team. I will be both proud and sorry to loose him to Knighthood."

Padmé felt her opinion of him altering, despite herself. "I thought the order did not encourage attachment with Padawans."

"That doctrine is usually misinterpreted," Qui-Gon replied. "We encourage it on the basis of commitment, to the Order, to peace and justice, above our desires, our emotions. Only those Knights and Masters who learn to differentiate between attachment and possession have the potential to become remarkable Jedi."

Padmé silently wondered if she was biased in believing Obi-Wan to be capable of such. "Why then is attachment not commonplace amongst the Jedi? Does it not create a deficit in numbers and within the Force?"

"It is not widely known," Qui-Gon answered. "And there are few Jedi who believe outsiders to the Order are capable of understanding the level of commitment it commands."

"That is a shame," Padmé remarked. "Because I believe if such information was more widely known, then the level of negative opinion about the Jedi, regarding them as people who consider themselves superior and above ordinary mortals might be lowered."

"Perhaps," Qui-Gon allowed. "But where there is fear of the unknown from lack of ability to read the Force, there will always be distrust. No level of knowledge can alter that."

Padmé could not deny the truth of his words. "Well, we have an early start tomorrow," she said. "And I know Anakin intends to rise early and continue to work on the Pod. I think I will retire now. Good night Master Jinn, and thank you for this discussion." she turned to leave him alone in the yard.

"Good night, your Highness," he returned, causing her to halt and turn. "Before you go, I ask you to be careful of your feelings and that of Obi-Wan's. While he is still a Padawan and you are still so young, they are forbidden from being acted on."

"But not from realisation or understanding, I hope," Padmé said softly.

Qui-Gon only smiled and shook his head before letting her go in.


Part 6: Scythe's Long Shadow.

Padmé woke early the next morning, with mixed thoughts and emotions about everything, yet with the sense that there was an underlying clarity and resolve concerning the future, which she would learn in time.

She found Qui-Gon and Jar Jar awake already, along with Shmi, whose conversation with the former ceased on her entrance. After returning her greeting, he and Jar Jar left for the arena.

When she and Shmi finished preparing provisions, Padmé went outside to wake Anakin. She found R2 in the yard, checking over the pod. Riding towards them on Eopies was Anakin's best friend, Kitster, who she met during the demonstration of the pod the day before.

"I hope you're about finished," Padmé asked the droid, who beeped an affirmative. She reached out and touched Anakin's cheek, rousing the boy.

Anakin yawned and opened puzzled eyes, looking at her. "You were in my dream. You were leading army into battle."

Padmé frowned, for there was certainty and truth in his voice, yet the vision was out of character for her. "I hope not; I hate fighting. Your mother wants you to come in and clean up. We have to leave soon."

Anakin nodded, then directed Kitster to hook the Eopies to the pod for towing. "I won't be long. Where's Qui-Gon?"

Padmé smiled as she realised from the boy's familiarity that the Jedi had taken pains to get to know him this morning. "He and Jar Jar left already. They're with Watto at the arena."

Anakin nodded and Padmé returned to the dwelling.

They arrived at the arena to find Qui-Gon finishing a conversation with Watto. The Troydarian flew over to them and said something to Anakin in his native tongue before heading out to the viewing stands with a smug laugh.

"What did he mean by that?" Anakin asked.

"I'll tell you later," Qui-Gon answered before walking over to the other Eopie to help Shmi down.

"This is wizard. I'm sure you'll be able to do it this time, Ani," Kitster said.

"Do what?" Padmé asked.

"Finish the race of course," Kitster replied.

"You've never won a race?" Padmé sought to confirm.

"Well, not exactly," Anakin said.

"Not even finished?" Padmé persisted.

"Kitster's right, I will this time," Anakin sheepishly assured her.

"Of course you will," Qui-Gon added, but Anakin wasn't looking at him, he was looking at Padmé and her concerned expression. "I won't let you down."

Padmé nodded, rapidly concealing her worry over the future. "I know you won't. You carry all our hopes." She knelt to kiss his cheek.

They followed the young contender out on to the grid, then left him with Qui-Gon to take the lift to the viewing platform. Padmé and Shmi watched the Jedi Master say a few words to the boy after he had lifted him into the pod, then he joined them at the platform.

"Is he nervous?" Shmi asked.

"He's fine," Qui-Gon replied. His somewhat dismissive tone provoked Padmé into speaking.

"You Jedi are far too reckless," she began. "The Queen,....."

"The Queen trusts my judgement, young handmaiden," Qui-Gon broke in. "You should too."

Padmé watched him walk away from her. "You assume too much." She longed to prove him wrong, remind him of his deduction last night, but now was not the time. Quelling her anger she silently followed everyone to the platform. A part of her wondered if Obi-Wan had acted so, as he might follow his master's methods and orders, she would be equally mad with him. Reluctantly she was forced to concede that she would, as so much depended on Anakin's victory.

Which at first seemed uncertain. Padmé watched via the portable holo viewscreen as his engines stalled, halting the pod on the start marks. As he crossed the line for the start of the second circuit sixth, Padmé's thoughts were in turmoil, as her worried mind began to consider alternatives to acquiring the parts. Would Qui-Gon use the same mind trick Obi-Wan did to exchange Republic credits for jewels with which to buy the parts? Padmé believed he would, but she knew that there was something she was unaware of in the negotiations which might render the bartering for parts pointless. If they were stranded here, what would happen to her people, her planet? By the time they were rescued, if they were, the occupation of the planet would be long established. And she would have failed her world and her people, along with all of those who held faith in her.

She glanced at the Jedi Master, taking in the serene composure, the closed eyes. It was clear that his mind was not with them, but with the Force, observing Anakin's progress. He seemed so confident that the boy would win, but Padmé was too worried for her world to find the confidence contagious. Already Selbulba had caused two racers to crash, another was in the pits and a fourth who had stalled the same time as Anakin collapsed on the start in a heap as his engines shot off the cables into oblivion across different parts of the canyons which aligned the track. To win, Anakin would have to beat the Dug, who seemed determined to make sure no one could.

In the second lap, Padmé watched Anakin climb to fourth, flying through the wreckage of two more causalities to Selbulba, to level with the Dug as they crossed the line for the final lap. Hope rose within her as she watched the two fight for the lead, along with an equal mixture of fear when the two pods collided and locked with each other. Shmi gripped her hand as they held their breath, knowing the vicious Dug would break free, even at the expense of Anakin's life or pod.

But not today. For in this race it was the turn of the Dug to endure defeat, as Anakin held his ground, the steering rod, the main armature and the main horizontal stabiliser his only causalities. Selbulba's pod flew apart, the engines exploding, the cockpit skidding to a violent smoking stop. Anakin flew past as the Dug's shrieking fit to become, as the commentator announced, the youngest winner of the Boonta Eve Classic.

As the crowd broke into applause, viewing platforms were lowered to give them the chance to cluster around the victorious racer, who had brought his pod to a stop before jumping out to hug his cheering best friend. Padmé soon joined them, along with Jar Jar, Shmi, Qui-Gon and the droids, the Jedi Master lifting the boy on to his shoulder to let the crowds see him.

In an hour the spectators had dispersed, along with most of the competitors, save Anakin who was checking over the pod, assessing the extent of the damage, what parts were required, and the time it would take to fix it. Padmé and Shmi were watching nearby, waiting for Qui-Gon who had gone to settle things with Watto. The Troydarian had been conspicuously absent from the celebrations, causing Padmé to wonder if he had wagered on another racer winning as opposed to his young slave.

The Jedi Master rejoined them now, two Eopies trailing behind him, towing the parts they needed to continue to Coruscant. Padmé congratulated and thanked Anakin again, before mounting one of the beasts, sitting behind the Jedi, who promised to return the animals by midday. They waited for Jar Jar to clumsily mount the other, then rode off back towards the ship.

Obi-Wan was waiting for them, his compact form emerging from the craft to halt before them. "I was getting worried," he greeted, his deceptively youthful face intense, his blue grey eyes squinting in the extreme glare of Tatooine's twin suns.

Qui-Gon dismounted, helping Padmé down before his Padawan had a chance. "Start getting this hyperdrive generator installed. I'm going back. I have some unfinished business. I won't be long."

"Why do I sense we've picked up another pathetic lifeform?" Obi-Wan remarked jokingly.

Qui-Gon did not see the humour in it. "It's the boy who's responsible for getting those parts. The boy whose blood sample I ran a midi-chlorian test on last night."

Obi-Wan dealt his master a hard glance, which Qui-Gon returned before riding away. His gaze remained upon his Master until the harsh glare of the suns obscured his view, then lowered to meet Padmé's eloquent dark brown eyes, and slender gentle hand seeking his own. He allowed her to take it, escorting her up the ramp and inside to the company of Rabé, before letting go to oversee the loading and repairs of the acquired parts.

Padmé's gaze remained on him as she asked her handmaiden how the Jedi had been during her absence, and then after the welbeing of all the others onboard.

"He seemed content enough when he debriefed us, milady," Rabé replied, after answering on the welbeing of the others in the positive. "We have not seen him since then. He's kept to the cockpit, the engine room, their quarters." She smiled as Padmé strained to keep an eye on the young Padawan. "We believe he feels the same as you do, milady."

Padmé blushed and turned her gaze from the entry ramp. "We do not have time for this now. We have a Senate petition to prepare."

"Captain Panaka wishes to speak with you first, milady."

She nodded, walking away to their quarters, knowing how annoyed her security was with her for the decision to explore the planet. The time for such curiosity was over now, and she forced herself to concentrate on State matters until the commotion of Qui-Gon's return recalled her and Panaka to the corridor, in time to meet with Anakin as he ran onboard.

"Qui-Gon's in trouble! He says to take off now!" He cried anxiously, out of breath.

Padmé ran to the cockpit, the boy and Panaka following, the former recounting the events of his and the Jedi's return to the ship.

Obi-Wan and the pilot turned from the controls at their entrance.

"Qui-Gon's in trouble," Padmé announced.

Instantly the pilot and Jedi turned back to the controls, the latter raising his gaze to scan the horizon, his blue grey eyes moving rapidly until they found the sight of his master in a fierce pitched battle with a dark cloaked opponent. Despite the harsh glare from the twin suns reflecting off the sand, they could all see that there were two lightsabers clashing against each other, green verses red.

"Take off," Obi-Wan instructed. "Leave the ramp down and fly over there low."

He did not need closer proximity to clarify what he already knew. There was only one name for the red and black skinned horned being. But it was a term which he had only read about in the bowels of the archives at the Temple, concerning an order which was meant to have been wiped out a millennia ago. If they had returned, there was more at stake than aggressive protests against taxes on trade routes. He watched the being move about the desert, his Master's checks and counters. Obi-Wan fought the anxiety inside him as he realised how his Master could be weakened by this encounter.

"Qui-Gon," he murmured, causing Padmé to reach out, placing a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of support. He tore his eyes from the viewscreen to glance at her in gratitude, before leaving the cockpit for the entry ramp.

Anakin followed and they reached it in time to help the Jedi Master to his feet, as the ramp closed and the ship accelerated to leave the planet. Qui-Gon appeared well enough, but his Padawan could see what he tried to hide from the boy; beads of sweat across his brow as his suffering body came to terms with the battle it had just fought. He had barely escaped with his life, the being possessed the potential to be his downfall.

"Are you alright?" Anakin asked.

"I think so," Qui-Gon replied. "That was a surprise I won't soon forget."

"What was it?" Obi-Wan inquired, his blue grey eyes checking his Master over.

"I'm not sure," Qui-Gon answered. "Whoever or whatever he was, he was trained in the Jedi arts. My guess is he was after the Queen."

"Do you think he'll follow us?" Anakin asked.

"We'll be safe enough once we reach hyperspace, but I have no doubt he knows our destination. If he found us once, he can find us again."

"What are we going to do about it?" Anakin asked.

"We will be patient," Qui-Gon replied. "For now, lets get you settled in, Anakin."

With a graceful movement he rose to his feet, causing Obi-Wan to rise also. He watched them walk down the ship, folding his arms across his chest, wrapping the hands through his sleeves, his face deep in thought.

The Force seemed to be telling him that the being would be the first of many unpleasant surprises during this mission.


Volume Three