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Untitled Document

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."

Part 2: A Bold Spirit In A Loyal Breast.
(Richard II  (1595) act 1, sc. 1, l. 177)

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.

Part 3: Beats Back The Envious Siege.
(Richard II  (1595) act 2, sc. 1, l. 40)

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."

Part 4: The Apprehension Of The Good.
(Richard II  (1595) act 1, sc. 3, l. 294)

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.

Part 5: Disorder, Horror, Fear And Mutiny.
(Richard II  (1595) act 4, sc. 1, l. 142)

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.

Part 6: A Long Apprenticehood.
(Richard II  (1595) act 1, sc. 3, l. 236)

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.

Part 8: To Foreign Passages.
(Richard II act I, sc. 3 l. 271)

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.

Not yet.

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.

Part 10: There is no Virtue like Necessity.
(Richard II act I. sc. 3, l. 275)

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.

Continued in Section Two

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.