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Untitled Document

Oasis Begins In Dawn's Azure Light Aisle.

Episode I: Azure and Gold

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

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

Part 1: Thoughts of Death In Far Flung Fields.

Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master, was dying, a sad truth known only to members of the Council and Obi-Wan Kenobi, his Padawan learner. The wasting disease which wreaked havoc on his body appeared to have no source, despite vigorous examination by the most revered and learned Jedi Healers, and therefore it rendered a cure impossible. While the Master had become reconciled to his fate, the Padawan was having difficulty even accepting the idea of it.

For Obi-Wan, his master had been the only father he had ever known, those in the temple, his only family. He had been raised there since his potential in the Force was discovered, learning first with every youngling in his generation under Master Yoda, then with Qui-Gon. The two masters were his anchors in a galaxy which rarely flowed smoothly.

Now as he learned that he was to lose one, it was as if he were being cast adrift in space. He had been raised to trust in the Force, to believe that things happened for a reason, yet he could see no reason in a great Jedi slowly dying. Unlike his master, he paid a strict adherence to the Code, but now those tenets of Jedi philosophy provided him with no answers, let alone comfort. Not for the first time he was greeted with his master's perspective and he was unable to find answers or comfort there either.

Focus on the moment, Qui-Gon told him. He was standing before the guard rail on one of the many hanger ports which were attached to the Temple. His gaze was fixed on the constant airborne trafficways of Coruscant City, the capital of the Core, the Republic. Usually, such a scene served to calm him, assisted in focusing his thoughts, like the sunrise and sunsets of the worlds which they visited during their many missions out in the field, but now only the realisation of his whereabouts was as far as he got before his mind told him once more that Qui-Gon was dying.

Until the possible becomes actual it is only a distraction. Another of his master's credos. But Obi-Wan could not ignore the distraction, because his master's death could happen at any moment. The cruel irony of Qui-Gon's disease was while it could not be cured, his body could still rely on the Force to sustain him, via healing trances, which he, or thanks to training provided by the Temple healers, his Padawan, could induce upon the ageing and diseased body. Such trances allowed Qui-Gon and his Padawan to go on missions for the Republic, like the one which they had been given now.

A set of systems allied under the Trade Federation had placed all trade routes to the mid rim system of Naboo under a blockade, in protest of the current taxation on trade routes, which the government had seen fit to impose in order to break a crippling deficit in the Republic's economy. While the Senate was locked in motions of legality, Chancellor Valorum approached the Jedi to send a team to investigate. Qui-Gon volunteered their services. Obi-Wan had not been to the planetary system before, so he spent time in the Temple Archives researching before their departure, whilst Qui-Gon consulted the healers. At the mere thought of the word the Padawan flinched before deliberately turning his thoughts in another direction.

Perhaps his future knighting, although that was a subject fraught with turmoil now too. A Padawan's readiness for the trials which could make him a knight was at the discretion of their Master. If Qui-Gon died before he declared to the Council that Obi-Wan was ready, his training would be incomplete. If he was lucky, he would either be given a new master to train under, or the Council would knight him. But Obi-Wan did not believe in luck. After his group training under Master Yoda, he waited for a master to choose him as their Padawan, in vain as it turned out, leaving him with other less powerful Force users to join the Service Corps. If Qui-Gon had not discovered his potential during the journey to Bandomeer, Obi-Wan would have spent the rest of his life in the Corps. Outsiders would call that luck, but Obi-Wan knew it was all Qui-Gon. His Master had a penchant for acquiring strays. Idly he wondered if they would acquire any during this mission.

-Obi-Wan, are you ready for departure?- a voice lanced through his mind.

-Yes, Master,- he replied in the same manner. Filing his ruminations into his mind and bringing his research concerning the mission into the forefront, Obi-Wan turned from his traffic-gazing to the craft which he would fly to the Chommell Sector, moving to prep the vehicle for departure.

Padmé Amidala stood before a window, dressed as Queen for the last time. Her people had elected her in good faith, believing her to be the best candidate for the throne. And now, as she watched the invading army below progress ever closer towards the Palace, she knew that she had failed them. By continuing to act passively, to believe that negotiation would work, all the while hoping that the Senate would support her, that Chancellor Valorum's Ambassadors would arrive, in short, that some one else would solve what was her crisis. She was not the youngest monarch elected, and she had promised her people that her youth and inexperience would not be an issue. Yet she had relied on both of these factors as an excuse to appeal to the Senate.

Her people were peaceful, like herself, the last thing they wanted was war. But she should have known that a fight was inevitable from the moment the blockade began. She should have done what she could to prepare them for this possibility, for the invading force marching below her now. The guilt weighed upon her, as heavily as the crimson robe which adorned her small form, hiding her youth from the outside world. Elaborate designs to convey her majesty, aswell as protection from those who might wish her harm felt nothing more than costumes now, a symbolism rendered insignificant when the planet was more concerned with invasion. She wanted to shred these robes of office, to show the galaxy that she was mortal like her people, and hurt by the injury which the blockade caused. But the Naboo clung to this symbolism, to the mythology of majesty, while offworlders often found the rich austere clothes and intricate hairstyles imposing in their own right, even before she spoke so much as a word. For her people's comfort, she was obliged to uphold at least the appearance of authority, even though such power was now rendered useless by the invading army marching below.

"Milady?" A voice called out, causing her to turn her head a little, at the arrival of one of her handmaidens; Sabé. Unlike the others, she was dressed in another of the elaborate costumes which belonged to Queen Amidala; a black layered gown with an oval head dress, which was adorned with two gold craved clasp covered orbs, unlit jewels of the same gems that were attached to her crimson dress before the hemline and black feathers. Sabé had painted her face in the same pale white tone which Padmé used to hide her youth. The whole effect was designed to display a monarch in mourning; for the turmoil visited by others on her country. Her handmaiden's arrival was the signal for her to change; into one of the flame coloured dresses worn by her attendants and assume her decoy's role, another layer of protection from the Trade Federation. Ironically, her wish to shred her robes of office was about to be granted.

"I'm ready, Sabé," she replied, stepping back from the window and walking to join the handmaiden who would now act as Queen Amidala at the threshold of the room. Decoys were a part of the security measures which Captain Panaka employed when she became Queen, along with self-defence and basic weapons training. Nearly all her attendants had been selected with their resemblance to her in mind, for precisely this eventuality. At the time such defence seemed unnecessary, but now Padmé realised the value behind it, for such skills she would doubtless need to employ in the near future.

By the time the Viceroy had arrived, Padmé was merely another of the handmaidens who attended the Queen. Initially she was worried that they had seen through her deception, but the Viceroy was too full of the fruits of his victory to look beyond the face paint which hid her faithful double. Silently she followed Sabé and the others out of the Palace through to the outdoor Plaza, under the close escort of the droid soldiers. They reached the wall of the gatehouse, when suddenly there was a humming sound and two men jumped down from a balcony above them. Within seconds four of the droids were down, the rest likewise succumbing until there were none left.

After leading them to a quiet empty alleyway out of sight of the other soldiers, their two rescuers swiftly bowed before them in silent greeting, while the third who had accompanied them picked himself up from his less than graceful jump to the Plaza floor, muttering in a disfigured tongue his judgement about the encounter.

"Your Highness, we are the Ambassadors for the Supreme Chancellor," the older one said, addressing her decoy.

"Your negotiations seem to have failed, Ambassador," Governor Bibble remarked.

"The negotiations never took place," the older one explained. "Your Highness, we must make contact with the Republic."

"They've knocked out all our communications," Panaka informed them.

"Do you have transports?" The elder one inquired.

Panaka nodded. "In the main hanger. This way."

Hurriedly they ran into the Palace, using one of the many secret access ways to the hanger, coming to a breathless halt at the threshold of the chamber. From her position just behind her decoy, Padmé saw the battle droids, the sheer volume causing her to blanch in fear that they could not escape them.

"There are too many of them," Panaka concluded.

"That won't be a problem," the older Ambassador remarked. He turned to the Queen. "Your Highness, under the circumstances, I suggest you come to Coruscant with us."

"Thank you, Ambassador, but my place is here with my people," Sabé replied, as ordered to do so by her Queen only moments ago in the Council chamber, after all global communications were blocked, before the invasion party landed, should such a rescue arise. Padmé now mused over the wisdom of this reply, doubting what good she could do her people if she was arrested by the Viceroy.

"They will kill you if you stay," the Ambassador declared.

Governor Bibble shook his head incredulously. "They wouldn't dare."

Panaka agreed. "They need her to sign a treaty to make this invasion of theirs legal. They can't afford to kill her."

"The situation here is not what it seems," the Ambassador replied. "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."

The Governor turned to the Queen. "Please, Your Highness, reconsider. Our only hope is for the Senate to side with us. Senator Palpatine will need your help."

Panaka shook his head. "Getting past their blockade is impossible, Your Highness. Any attempt to escape will be dangerous."

"Your Highness, I will stay here and do what I can," Governor Bibble promised. "They will have to retain the Council of Governors in order to maintain control. But you must leave."

Sabé turned as she replied, catching sight of her handmaidens. "Either choice presents a great risk to all of us."

"We are brave, Your Highness," Padmé said, a carefully worded response designed to convey to her decoy that she agreed with the Ambassador's suggestion.

"If you are to leave, Your Highness, it must be now," the Ambassador added.

"Then, I will plead our case before the Senate," the Queen answered. "Be careful, Governor," she added, before following them into the hanger.

"We need to free those pilots," Panaka informed their rescuers. His hand moved to his rifle as he advanced forward, but immediately the younger ambassador smoothly forestalled him with his hand.

"I'll deal with them," he declared, before heading towards the area where a group of droids held the pilots hostage.

Padmé felt her gaze drawn to his actions, watching him from her place within the group of handmaidens travelling with the Queen. She saw him ignite his lightsaber, jump to aim simultaneous kicks at two droids, and realised only then that the Supreme Chancellor had sent the Jedi to help her. He must have more faith in her world than she had previously believed.

The younger Jedi made quick work of the droids, calling to the pilots to head for safety, whilst the elder disabled those guarding her spaceship. She watched him as he fought with his lightsaber, recalling how hard her self-defence training had come to her, pacifist that she was by nature. He made it look so easy, using the weapon as if it was nothing more than an extension of himself, yet at the same time, when he was listening to her decoy's conversation with his companion, he held himself at peace, a calmness she found elusive lately. She envied him, but without resentment. She also felt drawn to him, in a way she could not explain. Time seemed to slow, to still, as she watched him, as though the Force was telling her to remember this moment, this man, for their would change her life forever. While she had never been to able to use the power, she trusted in her intuition, her instincts, which never led her wrong.

She followed her decoy and the other handmaidens up the boarding ramp into the ship, a couple of the freed pilots and the younger Jedi following. The elder finished off the droids then leapt onboard. Padmé watched the ramp close, then joined her maids in the Queen's quarters, where she watched the vulnerable craft's passage through the blockade, via the onboard communications system. She frowned as she heard the argument put forth concerning Tatooine as a safe port for repairs, the world notorious throughout the galaxy for being under the rule of the Hutts, but she saw the point in the Jedi's reasoning, besides they had little choice if she wanted to reach the capital. The fact that the planet was suggested by the younger Jedi only made her more curious about him. Padmé kept her gaze on him as Captain Panaka briefed her decoy and attendants about the escape through the blockade in the Queen's chambers following the jump to lightspeed.

"An extremely well put together little droid," Panaka concluded in praise of the machine which had proved instrumental in restoring power under fire. "Without a doubt, it saved the ship, as well as our lives."

"It is to be commended," Sabé said, catching Padmé's slight nod of consent just before she spoke. "What is its number?"

Panaka stepped forward and examined the marking on the droid's head. "R2-D2, Your Highness."

"Thank you, Artoo Detoo," Sabé said with a smile as the droid beeped in return. "Padmé!" she called, causing her to move her gaze from the younger Jedi and walk from her place beside the other attendants to bow before her decoy.

"Clean this droid up the best you can," Sabé requested. "It deserves our gratitude. Continue, Captain."

Panaka looked towards the Jedi, and the elder one carried on with the briefing. "Your Highness, we are heading for a remote planet called Tatooine. It is a system far beyond the reach of the Trade Federation. There we will be able to make needed repairs, then travel on to Coruscant."

"Your Highness, I do not agree with the Jedi on this," Panaka declared.

"You must trust my judgement, Your Highness," the elder Jedi said, without elaborating as to why.

"I have heard your reasoning, Master Jedi," Sabé revealed. "Via the internal comm and while I accept that it is not controlled by the Trade Federation, it is still dangerous. I know however that we have little choice if we are to reach Coruscant in time. Therefore I agree with this course of action."

Panaka bowed, followed by the Jedi and then all departed her quarters, leaving her alone with her handmaidens.

Sabé turned to her Queen with a small, knowing smile. "And what will you do when we arrive at Tatooine, Your Highness?"

"I imagine I will wait on board the ship until we depart for the Core," Padmé replied.

"And talk with the younger Jedi?" Eirtaé teasingly inquired.

"Why would I want to do that?" Padmé asked innocently.

"We've all seen your interest in him," Rabé revealed.

"And his in you," Sabé added.

Padmé stilled. "Really?"

He looks when you realise you're staring and you look away," Eirtaé answered.

"Oh." Padmé felt her face blush. Then she frowned. "He's a Jedi. He's some years older than me. And I'm Queen of a planet under blockade. This cannot happen."

And yet it is, Padmé realised silently as she left the quarters to find somewhere to clean up R2D2. She had not spoken a word to him or he to her. They did not know the other's name. But she wanted to know everything about him. If being a Jedi was all he wanted. If his voice was always that rich when he spoke. What made him laugh, cry, smile, if he sang. If when he looked at her he saw someone he could learn to love, not a young girl who was terrified for her world's survival.

She wondered what was happening to her, why all her thoughts drifted so easily into thinking about him rather than the planet and the people she was elected to reign over and care for. Soberly she schooled her focus upon them, trying to imagine the fear they felt at being forced out of their homes into camps by armies of droids. It was not difficult, all too easy in fact, causing her to wonder if her mind had unconsciously chosen to think about the Jedi as a defence to maintain her rationale, her courage to leave her world and her people to appeal their case before the Senate. Not for the first time she started to doubt if she was worthy of the authority her people chose to honour her with.

R2D2 beeped and came to a halt, causing Padmé to leave her thoughts and focus on her surroundings. They had reached the maintenance bay, the perfect place to find everything to clean her companion. Pressing the release for the door she followed R2 inside, found a cloth on the workbench nearby and began to clean.

Kneeling before the droid, who tootled happily at her efforts to wipe the combat scorch marks from his covering, it was easy for her thoughts return to her world, her people. She worried for the handmaidens she had to leave behind, her advisors, her security, her pilots. She tried not to think about her family but inevitably images of them would appear in her mind, their faces contorted with terror at the sight of the droids. Her parents who had sacrificed so much to help her career, her sister Sola newly married, she had attended the wedding just after her election, in the guise of a handmaiden to keep the attention on the bride. It caused her to heart to ache remembering that event now and contrasting it with their reaction to the invading droid army.


The loud high pitched voice startled Padmé, causing her to jump as she looked up at the visitor, a Gungan who appeared deeply apologetic for causing such distress.

"Sorry, nomeanen to scare yousa."

"That's all right," Padmé assured him.

"I scovered oily back dare. Needen it?" he asked her.

"Thank you, this little guy is quite a mess."

"Mesa Ja Ja Binksss," he introduced himself as he handed her the oil can.

"I'm Padmé," she returned. "I attend Her Highness. You're a Gungan, aren't you? How did you end up here with us?"

It was with great difficulty that she managed to translate Jar Jar's reply; his presence seemed to be due to running into the Jedi, who saved his life. Padmé wondered if the Gungans would be discovered by the droids, or if the Trade Federation believed them to be a myth like every other offworlder.

The door opened, revealing the Jedi, the elder of whom stepped forward and addressed the Gungan.

"Jar Jar, you will accompany me on Tatooine," he requested. "The droid as well, handmaiden."

Padmé nodded, R2 beeped curiously and Jar Jar prostrated himself before the younger Jedi in despair, preventing him from following his master.

"Noooo, Obi-Wan, sire, pleeese, no mesa go!"

"I'm sorry, Jar Jar, but Qui-Gon is right. Tatooine is a multinational spaceport, a trading centre. You'll make him appear less obvious by going along," the young Jedi replied.

Padmé turned back to R2, rubbing the cloth against his dome, her mind unable to wipe away the expression of fear which Jar Jar wore, and the combination of the invasion upon her planet. She imagined the Gungan's reaction to the invasion, and her heart quivered at the thought that her actions were damaging not just her people but another race as well, whose existence most were ignorant of. Her vision blurred as she finally let loose the full extent of her grief, but not entirely to distinguish desert browns closing in, followed by flesh tones which parted to press against either side of her forehead in stroking circles.

Under so gentle a massage Padmé felt a calmness settle over her, as gradual as the turn of the tide. When her vision cleared, she found a pair of blue grey eyes staring back at her.

"I apologise if I startled you," he uttered gently. "I hope you are feeling a little better."

A little better? Padmé echoed silently, marvelling at the understatement. "I am, thank you," she replied, realising that she felt eerily calm and composed. How had he done that?

"Partly the Force, partly massage," Obi-Wan explained to her unaired inquiry. "I know it was a little inappropriate, but I felt your pain and I wanted to give you some comfort."

"It wasn't inappropriate at all, thank you." Padmé found herself savouring the syllables in his name now she knew it at last, along with the clipped Coruscanti accent with which he spoke.

"My pleasure," he uttered, his eyes meeting hers, the myriad of colours reminding her of a warm and welcoming pool of water. He smiled at her, and she found herself wanting him never to do anything else.

Feeling her face flush, she turned to cleaning R2 again, who beeped happily under her administrations.

"I'm afraid you cannot be too clean, R2," the Jedi said as he picked up a cloth and, kneeling beside her on the floor, began to assist in the restoration. "He must appear to be a native, not a remarkable droid who bypassed several systems to bring the shields back online under heavy fire."

"Truly exceptional," Padmé murmured. "Not a droid destined to spend his life on a moisture farm."

"Sometimes others decide that fate for you," Obi-Wan said with feeling.

"What do you mean?" Padmé asked.

"Jedi younglings who aren't selected by a Master serve in the AgriCorps," he explained. "If it hadn't been for Qui-Gon, I would have spent my life on a farm. What about you? Did you always want to be a handmaiden?"

"I'm not a handmaiden," she blurted in reply, without concern for her cover. Padmé froze as she heard the words echo through her head, out before she had given thought to her reply. Why did she say that? Since when had she found herself unable to lie to him? "I mean, none of us are, really. From time to time we protect the Queen as her decoys."

"So have you always wanted to be a decoy?" Obi-Wan asked with a grin.

Padmé was about to answer, when suddenly she saw him still, his expression transforming into one of eerie distant calmness before he muttered a hurried excuse, rose from his knees and took off out of the room at a run. She followed him in time to see him come to a stop and fall gracefully to the ground to cradle his Master's head in his lap. As she neared him, Padmé watched Obi-Wan place a hand on Qui-Gon's forehead, closing his eyes, his face a trouble expression of concentration. After a moment he rose up and levitated his master's body with the Force.

"It's just a seizure," Obi-Wan explained before Padmé could ask. "He'll be well in a few days. I'll go to Mos Espa in his place." He was walking away to the quarters assigned to the knights before Padmé could even reply with her excuse of informing the Queen, when in reality she was about to persuade her Chief of Security that she could do with a trip to a desert world trading port.

As she made her way through the ship to locate and speak to Panaka, the image of Obi-Wan cradling his master remained in her mind. His moves, his utter seeming calm facade throughout was too practised to render the incident out of the ordinary. Evidently something was wrong with the Jedi Master, something grave and personal else they would have been warned that this might occur. Padmé hoped it was not mortal, for she feared the image in her head was not just in the past, but in the future too and she feared for the young man whom she only just met.

Part 2: Of Sands & Slaves.

If Obi-Wan had heard Padmé's thoughts, he would have silently confirmed them. He had done this before. Too many times in fact. Seizures were a product of Qui-Gon's illness; the occurred without warning or cause. One of his worst fears now was that one day his Master would fail to emerge from the seizure. Everytime he was able to place Qui-Gon in a healing trance- the irony of those two words did not escape him -Obi-Wan would breathe more easily. As he did now while using the Force put his master into the bed in the Quarters they shared on the Nubian vessel. The Padawan looked at his Master one final time before leaving him to recover while he checked the engines to see what else needed replacing.

It did not take long to discover that the hyperdrive was inoperable. When he had changed into farming clothes, Obi-Wan checked the rest of the ship before collecting Jar Jar and R2D2 from the maintenance bay. He looked in on Qui-Gon before leaving. His master was still deep in a healing trance, which would render him incapable of handling anything while they were on this planet. Obi-Wan hoped that the Queen's security forces were adequate protection for the ship and those on board while he was away.

With the Gungan and the droid following, Obi-Wan stepped onto the golden sand of the desert outskirts of Mos Espa. The extreme heat which came from the system's two suns caused him to raise his cloak over his hair, which he had deliberately restyled to disguise Jedi traditions, the long thin Padawan braid coiling the rest of his hair into a low lying tail. Behind him Jar Jar made an idle comment about the heat, while R2D2 beeped a worried soft sequence of notes.

He had barely left the ship when the head of the Queen's security called out to him.

"Wait!" Panaka cried, causing Obi-Wan to turn round. He hid a smile when he recognised the captain's companion, dressed for the trip into town, her blue poncho style gown a discreet contrast from the flame shades of the handmaiden garbs he had last seen her attired in. "Her Highness commands you to take her handmaiden with you. She wishes for her to observe the local populous. She is curious about the planet."

If it had been any other handmaiden, Obi-Wan would have resorted to his Master's usual indifference to authority and refused. Although the addition of a woman to the travelling cabal provided another convincing level to the deception that they were farmers out to buy supplies, it was also another person at risk from the dangers of a Tatooine space port. He looked at Panaka, who did not look particularly happy about this command either, probably just as concerned for the handmaiden's safety, but doubtless would insist on following the order through, his obedience to his Queen resolute and immovable.

"I can speak several languages," Padmé revealed, her voice not quavering at the prospect of this trip. "And I've been trained in self-defence."

"Don't make me go back and tell her you have refused," Panaka added.

"This is not a good idea," Obi-Wan finally said. "But we don't have time to take the matter up with the Queen. So just stay close to me, and keep an eye on Jar Jar."

"Why?" Padmé asked.

"Because he's curious and clumsy," Obi-Wan replied. "Which will get him into trouble on this planet."

Padmé nodded in acquiescence, whereupon Obi-Wan turned and began walking towards the port once more. He knew she wanted to ask about Qui-Gon, he could feel the question in the Force, but he wasn't ready for that conversation. He had no desire to put doubts about Qui-Gon's competency into hers and consequently the Queen's head, nor did he wish for his Master's illness to appear as serious as it indeed was, knowing his Master did not regard his mortality in the same light as he did. Instead he launched into a brief description of Tatooine; authorities, sources of trade, relationships with the Republic, with neighbouring planets, illegal practices, main produce.

"Tatooine is home to Jabba the Hutt, who controls the bulking of the trafficking in illegal goods, piracy and slavery that generates most of this planet's wealth. Jabba controls the spaceports and settlements, all of the populated areas. The desert belongs to the Jawas, who scavenge whatever they can find to sell or trade, and to the Tuskens who live a nomadic life and feel free to steal from everyone. There are a number of farms as well, outlying operations that take advantage of the climate, moisture famers for the most part, operated by offworlders not a part of the indigenous tribes and scavengers, not connected directly to the Hutts," he finished with. "This a rough and dangerous place, which most beings who are not inured to such harsh conditions avoid. The few spaceports like this one are havens for those who do not wish to be found."

"Like us," Padmé remarked.

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. They had entered the port now, passing through the market area towards the warehouses for pilots and other engineers. He sank into the Force, allowing it to guide them to the right trader for this deal, trusting the ancient power to succeed in this matter just as it had with placing Qui-Gon in a healing trance. Suddenly he felt a strong concentration which suggested a strong Force presence was nearby, the type of ability he usually felt from Yoda; but unlike the renowned Jedi Master's, this was untapped, untrained. It seemed to be coming from one of the lesser traders, which suited his preference for discretion, having no desire for their route to be traced, at least until they were safely on Coruscant.

"We'll try one of the smaller dealers," he said as he led them to the source.

The shop was a typical example of it's species; piles of broken spaceships stacked behind the building, the odd part or two cluttering up the entrance. Inside were various droids, mostly verging on antique, all powered down and in desperate stages of decay. Motivators, couplings, wires and other junk or parts littered the floor, filed away only to allow space for a walkway and service area. A pilot could assemble several ships from this collection, every one fully customisable and unique, along with an eclectic group of repair droids.

To Obi-Wan's surprise, the owner was Toydarian, immune to the persuasion techniques of the Force, causing him to doubt that he had sensed the power emanating from this shop in the first place.

"What do you want?" he asked in his own tongue, hovering in midair before the Jedi, his wings fluttering so fast as to appear nothing more than a blur.

"I need parts for a J-type 327 Nubian," Obi-Wan replied in his.

The shop owner switched from his native language to Basic. "Ah yes, ah yes. Nubian. We have lots of that. What kinda of junk?" He inquired before breaking off to yell in his native dialect to an assistant to come in and mind the store, in less tactful terms than he had greeted his customers with.

Obi-Wan was no stranger to the horrors of the universe, but even he was surprised to discover that the source of the high level of Force power came from a slave boy of no more than nine by the looks of him. He scrambled in, covered from head to foot in dirty rags, scrawny, yet relatively well nourished. Trying to appear indifferent and therefore used to the sight of slaves, Obi-Wan added, "My droid here has a readout of what I need."

The Toydarian glanced at the droid with a calculating eye, accustomed to pricing machines in nanoseconds, mentally deciding how much funds he could con out of this customer in his mark up of the parts. He then turned to the boy, proceeding to yell at him in his native language about his absence and tardiness. Obi-Wan observed with a mixture of seeming Jedi indifference, as though the conversation was either uninteresting, or incomprehensible, when the reality was just the opposite.

The boy though flinching when his master raised his hand, replied with confident defensive attitude as to his previous whereabouts, before mounting a stool and clambering over the service ledge to mind the shop while they were out back. Obi-Wan felt the strength in the Force which belonged to the boy, but none of the recognition which indicated that the lad was fully aware of such an ability. He wondered why the Jedi had not discovered him before now.

Due to the decision made by the majority of the Jedi to adhere to celibacy, there had been many trips made by scouts to the Outer Rim territory in quest for Force sensitives and many had been found. Why not this boy? Unless he was too much of a risk to take, he deduced. Older than usual initiates, much more powerful. Obi-Wan knew the dangers of leaving such power untrained, but there was just as much risk in teaching someone how to harness that power. The legacy of the Lost Nineteen, Jedi who had fallen to the dark side or left the order, taught them that.

Obi-Wan spared the boy one last look before he followed the trader outside to the view the wares. As he did so, he caught Jar Jar examining something in his hands. He stepped towards him, took the piece of junk and returned it to it's original location.

"Don't touch anything," he warned before joining the trader outside.

It turned out to be short viewing of the wares, when the Toydarian informed him Obi-Wan that Republican credits were worth little on Outer Rim planets such as Tatooine. The Force seemed to misfiring on all fronts today; a child strong in the Force but too old to be trained; parts attainable to repair the ship but impervious to his currency; a beautiful woman to protect, single yet unattainable. Obi-Wan paused as he wondered why his mind brought that forward for consideration. Now was hardly the time to be thinking about Padmé, even though she was all he had been able to think about ever since he noticed her while his Master briefed the Queen.

"We're leaving," he announced to her as he entered the shop once more, interrupting the conversation between her and the boy, causing Jar Jar to drop what fresh piece of junk he was fiddling with and step to his side.

"Why?" she asked as she hurried to join him and the rest of their group outside.

Obi-Wan sought a secluded spot between two buildings before he replied. "Is there any thing on board the ship that we can use to trade for parts? Republican credits are worthless around here."

"A few containers of supplies," Padmé answered after a few moments thought. "The Queen's wardrobe maybe. Not enough for you to barter with. Not in the amounts we need."

Obi-Wan sighed. "Another solution will present itself," he murmured with more confidence than he truly felt. The Force had brought them here for more than just a boy, he was sure.

"Noah gain," Jar Jar moaned mournfully. "da beings hereabouts cawazy. Wesa robbed un crunched."

"Not likely," Obi-Wan replied. "We have nothing of value, that's our problem."

"Perhaps one of the vendors in the market cater to tourists," Padmé suggested. "We could exchange the credits for jewels."

"Or persuade one of them more easily to accept the tender," Obi-Wan added. "It's worth a try."

They emerged from the blind alley, Obi-Wan intently scanning the market stalls for suitable candidates. He hated using the Force in this way; manipulating another's free will for his own purposes, but if he wanted to gather enough funds to purchase the parts for the ship, he had no choice.

"What did you mean by more easy to persuade?" Padmé asked him.

"Find me a human vendor and I'll show you," Obi-Wan replied.

Padmé cast her own gaze over the outdoor stalls, observing each one in turn until she spotted a human trader, whereupon she pointed them out discreetly to the Jedi.

The content of the wares became more apparent as they walked closer to towards the booth. Jewels, Obi-Wan realised. Perfect.

"Choose something," he instructed her. "Anything you like," he added, suddenly desirous to buy her something.

Padmé was no stranger to jewels. Since her inception first as Princess of Theed, then Queen, she had been granted not only sight, but the privilege to wear Naboo's finest gemstones. Possession was temporary however, was only as long as her term of office. Whatever she chose, it would be the first gift which she did not have to return to the giver after her reign ended. Carefully she examined the wares which the vendor had to offer, wondering how her companion was going to persuade the seller to accept Republican credits. Then she saw an item which almost took her breath away. It was a beautiful necklace, the fine expensive metal shaped in a complicated yet elegant filigree, enclosing gemstones of the deepest purple.

"May I have a look at that piece?" She asked the vendor.

"Aah, you have made an excellent choice," the trader replied as they lifted the necklace off the hanger to place in Padmé's hands. "This piece is exquisite, is it not? See the flourishes here and here? You can press them apart to turn it into a clip for your hair, or into two separate items; a hair brooch and a necklace."

Obi-Wan saw Padmé's wondrous gaze on the item in her hands and suddenly the tool no longer felt so nefarious. "How much?"

The trader named her price and form of currency. Another who would refuse Republican credits it seemed. Padmé prepared to return the item with a heavy heart, feeling guilty that she was thinking of herself when her planet was in turmoil, when she saw Obi-Wan make a small gesture with his hands; as if he were a conductor directing a symphony from an orchestra.

"Republican dataries will do," he said at the same time as he performed this movement with his hand.

"Republican dataries will do," the trader repeated, accepting the funds calmly as the Jedi handed them over.

"How?" Padmé asked as they turned away from the stall.

"The Force can be a powerful influence on the weak-minded," Obi-Wan replied. "Here, let me put it on you."

Padmé held out the necklace for him to take, then lifted her hair so he could fasten it around her neck. Obi-Wan's hands lingered on her skin, as he fought a sudden urge to kiss her. Hastily he reminded himself that she was probably the same age as the Queen, whom according to his research was fourteen. Too young for him to be even contemplating such thoughts, for he was eleven years older. Not to mention that while he still a Padawan such things were forbidden.

Then a commotion erupted in the middle of the trading area, causing him to look up and see Jar Jar being harangued by a vicious looking Dug. By the time he and Padmé arrived at the scene the Gungan had already been rescued, by the boy who worked at the warehouse which they had just visited.

"Hi," he greeted them with. "Your buddy here was about to be turned into orange goo. He picked a fight with a Dug. An especially dangerous Dug called Sebulba."

"Nosir, nosir," Jar Jar protested fearfully. "Mesa hate crunchen. Dat's da last ting mesa wanten."

"Nevertheless, the boy is right," Obi-Wan remarked. "You were heading for trouble. Thank you, my young friend."

"Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi," Padmé said.

They shook hands, then Anakin led them through the stalls, stopping before one owned by a wizened woman who smiled kindly at him.

"Hello Jira," Anakin greeted. "I'll take four pallies today." he reached into his pocket and produced three coins, accidentally dropping one.

Obi-Wan bent to pick it up, the action unknowingly revealing his lightsaber from it's hidden resting place beneath the poncho to the boy.

Anakin gasped silently at the sight of the legendary weapon, then returned his attention to his purchase. "Whoops, I thought I had more, make that three, I'm not hungry."

"Gracious, my bones are aching," Jira said as she handed the pallies to the boy. "Storm's coming Ani. You better get home quick."

"Thanks." Anakin turned to his friends. "Do you have shelter?"

"We'll head back to our ship," Obi-Wan replied.

"Is it far?" Anakin asked.

"On the outskirts," Padmé answered.

"You'll never reach the outskirts in time," Anakin said. "Sandstorms are very, very dangerous. You can shelter at my home, it's nearer. Come with me. Hurry!"

He led them through the vendors stalls as the winds grew in their intensity, dust and sand grains gathering around them as they entered a housing quarter. Anakin led them inside one of the small dwellings which were stacked like packing crates on top of one another.

"Mom, I'm home," he called out as they entered a cozy, minimal, simple home, with a comforting quietness compared to the noise of the storm raging outside.

A woman about the same age as Qui-Gon entered the room with brown hair and a kindly looking though perplexed face. "Oh my, Ani, what's this?"

"These are my friends, Mom," Anakin replied. "I'm building a droid," he revealed to Padmé, before dragging her to his room, leaving Obi-Wan to introduce themselves.

He bowed before her. "My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi, your son was kind enough to offer us shelter from the sandstorm."

"I'm Shmi Skywalker," she returned, uncertain and concerned that her frugal way of living, rendered necessary by her slavery, would prove inadequate to him.

Obi-Wan felt her uncertainty through the Force and retrieved some ration capsules from his pockets, pressing them into her hands. "I have enough food for a meal."

"Oh thank you," Shmi replied. "I'm sorry if I was abrupt. I'll never get used to Anakin's surprises."

"He's a very special boy," Obi-Wan remarked.

"Yes I know," Shmi murmured, her expression one of complete understanding, as if she were privy to a secret he could only guess at.

Suddenly a beeping began to enamate from his pockets; the comm device he had been handed by Captain Panaka before leaving the ship. It was fortunate that sandstorms did not affect communications, he mused, before retrieving the device from beneath his poncho.

"Excuse me," he uttered with a slight bow before walking towards the yard access which he had seen on his entrance into the quarters.

Despite being exposed to the elements the yard held a hushed calm which belied the violence of the sandstorm raging around them. Conditions were suitable for him to answer the comm.

"There is a communication coming from Naboo, Padawan Kenobi," the Captain said at the other end of the line.

"Play it," Obi-Wan replied.

The message was patchy, with a great deal of interference, but there was more than enough to convey the desperation felt by the sender; Governor Bibble. Obi-Wan listened to the message carefully, as it relayed that food supplies were cut off, that the death toll was catastrophic, and that it was urgent that the Queen contact them. He felt the despair in the Governor's voice, but he also felt something darker behind it. Something planned and plotted, designed first to lure, then to trap the Queen and the Jedi, he realised.

"It's a trick to establish a trace," he replied into the comm device. "Send no response. Send no transmission of any kind."

"Aye, sir," the Captain uttered.

"How is Master Jinn?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Still sleeping," Panaka answered.

"Contact me if you receive anything else, or when he wakes," Obi-Wan requested.

"We will," Panaka replied before ending the call.

"What if it is true?" A voice asked behind him, making Obi-Wan turn round and see that Padmé was standing on the threshold of the yard.

"I would have sensed it," Obi-Wan assured her, pocketing his comlink. "Either way, we're running out of time." He observed her as she came towards him. She appeared to be concerned for more than her family and the Queen. Something preoccupied her. A burden placed upon her which she now doubted she was worthy of or ready for. He knew that feeling well, he had experienced it ever since Qui-Gon's illness was diagnosed.

"How can you have that much faith?" she asked him. "Is it the Force?"

"Yes, your Highness," Obi-Wan replied, causing her to gasp.

"How did you know?" she queried.

"You have the demeanour of someone who is carrying a heavy responsibility," he answered. "I know it well." he adjusted his stance. "When you are in a time of need, what do you listen to?"

"What's inside me," Padmé replied. "My intuition."

"So do the Jedi," Obi-Wan explained. "Except inside us is the Force. And a powerful ally it is."

She frowned at his speech pattern, causing him to chuckle.

"I'm sorry, you'll understand when you meet Master Yoda," he remarked. "the Force led us to you, your Highness, and it led us to this planet. It also led us to the warehouse and to Anakin. What did he show you?"

"A protocol droid he had built himself for his mother," Padmé answered. "It was remarkable. He told me that a Hutt named Gardulla owned him and his mother, losing them to Watto over a pod race. How could a nine year old be capable of so much skill in complicated mechanics?" It astonished even her, who was from a planet which regarded children capable of the same intelligence as adults and therefore be allowed the same rights.

"The Force," Obi-Wan replied. "It provides some with affinity for machines, or rather enhances whatever natural talent that already exists. Sensitivity produces heightened reflexes, a certain preconscious. Even amongst those who are untrained and or who have no knowledge of their true potential. Were you ever tested, your Highness?"

"Padmé," she corrected. "I'm undercover, remember."

"I will," he promised. "It was wise to employ a decoy on Naboo. However it is dangerous to do so here. And to keep such a security measure from myself and my Master."

"More dangerous than remaining on the ship while your Master heals?" She countered.

He blanched, turning from her. She reached out and clasped his hand before he could. "I'm sorry. I'm sure you're worried about him. The truth is I wanted to be with you. I wanted to learn more about you."

Obi-Wan blushed for there was no mistaking her meaning or look. Then he took her into his arms. She rested her head against his chest, closed her eyes and breathed him in. As he did the same, holding her slight figure, he reminded himself that he was a Jedi, that he could not be anything else, that she was young and the Queen he had to protect. There was no time for this. A part of him wondered if there ever would be.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and breathed in the gentle flowered smell which belonged to her, partly to recognise her again when she assumed her role and duties as Queen, partly to savour and remember this closeness when they were parted, before he gradually withdrew from the embrace.

"Come, lets go inside," he proposed. "I'm sure dinner will be ready soon."

Part 3: The Knight & The Lady of The Lake.

As she listened to the conversation during dinner Padmé reflected on how little she knew about the Republic. She had spent her whole life helping others, working first in the Refugee Movement, then as an Apprentice Legislator, centring her focus on education and ethics, relying that they would teach her about the Republic. She had experience in travelling to other systems, helping displaced people and others who did not have the bounty which Naboo had given her, but she had forgot the hardships faced by those on Outer Rim worlds.

As she listened to Anakin and his mother talk about the devices planted inside them, which would detonate if they ever ran away from their enslavers, Padmé was horrified by how little value their lives were held. On Naboo every life was precious, and children were the future. She could not understand the clear disregard of the Republic's antislavery laws.

But then the Trade Federation were doing the same to her world. The fragility of the Republic caused her to wonder if the Senate could do anything to help her people. She should have stayed with her people, but what could she have done to ensured that the invasion force was defeated? Fighting was beyond her people, just as she was sure it was beyond the Gungans who if Jar Jar was anything to go by, were just as incapable of fighting seasoned warriors such as the droids of the Trade Federation. No, she had to hope that tomorrow Obi-Wan would be able to use the Force and trade their Republican credits for currency with which he could buy the parts they needed, so they could continue their journey to Coruscant and she could appeal to the Senate, praying that they would be able to help her.

"Have you ever seen a Podrace?" Anakin asked them.

Padmé and Jar Jar shook their heads, the Gungan releasing his tongue to lasso a piece of fruit from a bowl towards his mouth.

"They have Podracing on Malastare," Obi-Wan revealed. "Very fast, very dangerous."

"I'm the only human who can do it," Anakin said, causing his mother to glance at him. "Mom, what? I'm not bragging. It's true. Watto says he's never heard of a human doing it."

"You must have Jedi reflexes if you race pods," Obi-Wan observed.

At that moment Jar Jar decided to grab another piece of fruit with his long tongue from the bowl on the table. His previous performance had been rude and noisy, causing the Padawan's next actions. Before the Gungan's tongue was barely past his mouth, Obi-Wan trapped the organ between his thumb and forefinger.

"Don't do that again," he warned, before letting go, causing it to snap back inside Jar Jar's mouth.

"You're a Jedi Knight, aren't you?" Anakin asked him then.

"What makes you think that?" Obi-wan inquired.

"I saw your lightsaber," Anakin answered. "Only Jedi carry that kind of weapon."

"Perhaps I killed a Jedi and stole it from him," Obi-Wan posed.

"I don't think so. No one can kill a Jedi Knight," Anakin stated with certainty.

Obi-Wan smiled sadly. "I wish that were so."

"I had a dream I was a Jedi," Anakin said. "I came back and freed all the slaves. Have you come to free us?"

"No, I'm afraid not," Obi-Wan replied.

"I think you have," Anakin argued. "Why else would you be here?"

Obi-Wan smiled, reflecting once more how perceptive and observant Anakin was, despite his youth. "I can see there's no fooling you. You must not let anyone know about us. We're on our way to Coruscant on a very important mission."

"How did you end up here?" Anakin asked.

"Our ship was damaged and we're stranded here until we can repair it," Padmé replied for the Jedi.

"I can help," Anakin offered. "I can fix anything!"

"I believe you can," Obi-Wan assured the boy, "but out first job is to acquire the parts we need."

"Wit no nutten mula to trade," Jar Jar mourned.

"These Junk dealers must have a weakness of some kind," Padmé murmured.

"Gambling," Shmi revealed. "Everything here revolves around betting on those awful races."

"I've built a racer!" Anakin added. "There's a big race tomorrow on Boonta Eve. You could enter my pod."

"Anakin, settle down," Shmi pleaded. "Watto won't let you."

"Watto doesn't know I've built it," Anakin pointed out. "You could make him think it's yours and you could get him to let me pilot it for you."

"I don't want you to race, Ani," Shmi pleaded. "It's awful. I die everytime Watto makes you do it."

"But, Mom, I love it," Anakin argued. "And they need help. The prize money would more than pay for the parts they need."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Your mother is right. Is there anyone friendly to the Republic who might be able to help us?"

Shmi shook her head.

"We have to help them, Mom," Anakin persisted. "You said that the biggest problem in the universe is that no one helps each other."

"No," Obi-Wan uttered forcefully before the boy made his mother concede. "I don't want to put your son in danger. We'll find another way."

A silence settled over the dinner, as Padmé glanced at Anakin's disappointed face, his mother's relieved one, and Obi-Wan's who was deep in thought. She was glad he had refused. She did not want Anakin rising his life for her. It bothered her that so many people were risking their lives for her world already.

Obi-Wan's communicator beeped, causing him to excuse himself from the table and head outside to answer.

"Padawan," Qui-Gon greeted him with.

"Master, it's a relief to hear from you," Obi-Wan replied, just as Padmé placed herself on the threshold of the yard to listen again.

"How are things going so far?" Qui-Gon asked, causing Obi-Wan to give a full briefing which recapped everything that had occurred to them since their departure from the ship. He left out the purchasing of his gift to her, causing Padmé to smile and blush as she recalled the moment, her hand unconsciously clasping the necklace which rested upon her chest. She remembered how he had lingered in fastening the clasp, the touch of his fingers upon her skin, his warmth breath arousing something deep within her. If the sound of Jar Jar's predicament had not reached their senses, she wondered what would have occurred.

"Why did you refuse the boy's offer?" Qui-Gon queried when the briefing was concluded.

"It was too dangerous, Master," Obi-Wan replied. "I remember the racing on Malastare. There was an extremely high level of mortality amongst racers and spectators."

"Yes, but none of the racers had the Force, Padawan," Qui-Gon pointed out. "The boy has, and the Force meant us to help him."

Padmé frowned. How could Master Jinn be so certain Anakin had the Force when he had not even met him? His reliance on the judgement of his Padawan appeared to be paradoxical at best.

"Master, we cannot put the boy under such a risk," Obi-Wan said, causing Padmé to smile at his objection. "Nor can we rest the whole outcome of this mission on a podrace."

"You should have more faith in the Force, Padawan," Qui-Gon admonished. "Accept the boy's offer. And fetch a blood sample from him."

Obi-Wan bowed his head. "Yes, Master," he replied before ending the communication. He returned the device to his pocket, then looked up to meet Padmé's gaze. "I don't want to put the boy in any danger either, but my Master is in charge of this mission. Persuading minds is not a power Jedi should resort to in achieving their aims. Besides there is no other way."

Padmé shook her head. "I do not understand your Master. How can he trust your judgement concerning Anakin possessing the Force, but not the level of danger in him risking his life for us?"

Obi-Wan smiled a little. "Qui-Gon is a Master in the Living Force. The here and now. He also has a habit of using unorthodox methods during missions which frequently put him against the Jedi Council. But he is one of the best Masters I have even known. He also has a penchant for acquiring strays. That is how I became his Padawan."

Padmé frowned. "I thought you were raised by the Jedi."

"I was," Obi-Wan confirmed. "I was given to the Jedi when I was a few weeks old. I was placed in the crèche until I was old enough to begin my training under Master Yoda. We learn at the temple until our teens. Then a Master or Knight selects us as their Padawan and we train under them until out trials for knighthood.

"But there are those who are not selected, either because they are not strong enough in the Force, or a Master does not choose them. They are sent to serve in the Jedi Corps and never become knights. That was my fate, until Qui-Gon ran into me during a mission which I helped to succeed. He realised that he had misread my abilities and claimed me as his Padawan."

"He misread your abilities?" Padmé echoed. "You mean he saw you before?"

"Yes. I was competing in the lightsaber trials. My opponent already had a Master, everyone had except me. I was frantic to impress Qui-Gon so I was too aggressive in my methods. I won but Qui-Gon judged me too dangerous to train."

"So why did he take you later?" Padmé asked.

"Because he realised my strengths lay in the Unifying Force. The ability to see the big picture, to predict the future. He had trained under such a master who possessed the same ability. He knew how well they could compliment each other."

Padmé came closer to him. "I had no idea the Force was two sided."

"It is multifaceted," Obi-Wan gently corrected. "There were also those who have channelled their negative emotions into the power; as oppose to their more positive feelings. The Jedi seek to gain a greater understanding of the Force, never to control it for their own advantage. Those who try become Sith, corrupted and evil."

Padmé frowned. "How can emotions make you evil? They're part of us all, negative and positive. They're what make us human."

Obi-Wan took her hand. "Yes, but if you allow them too great a reign over your actions and reason, then they might blind you to the greater good. When coupled with the ability to use the Force, emotion can become a danger, if not controlled or let go. It can destroy those that we love as surely as it destroys ourselves."

"Those that you love?" Padmé echoed, curious. "I though the Jedi were not allowed to love."

"It is not commonly known," Obi-Wan revealed. "My Master fought for attachment to be extended over the whole Order only very recently. The old decision to deny it is only retained towards Padawan learners, because we have yet to gain the kind of training necessary to learn how to love, but not let that love become an obsession. To allow the person we love to grow, or to leave us, if it is beneficial to their welbeing. To care for someone, but not at the expense of the greater good."

"I am glad of that," Padmé murmured, as she tried to hide her blush as to why she was pleased to learn that the Jedi were allowed to love. "Because from the way I see you care for Master Qui-Gon, I do not think attachment was ever forbidden to your Order. After all, it teaches you to serve the greater good, to keep justice and peace within the galaxy. What use are such lessons without knowing what is like to live in the galaxy? If you truly had to forbid yourself from ever showing love or compassion, it would only teach you the reverse."

Obi-Wan nodded, reflecting once more how much he respected and admired this young woman before him, whom he had only come to know since their first meeting abroad the Nubian craft which carried them here. "Padmé, never doubt that your people were right in choosing you as their sovereign. For you have more sense of morals, justice and compassion than any one I have ever met who call themselves leaders of their worlds."

Padmé blushed at the praise, though she was pleased to receive it from him, for his opinion of her had rapidly become very important to her. She gazed back at him, meeting the steady glance of his blue eyes, which seemed to alter their colour oh so slightly with every expression he greeted the universe with. She wondered if it was a product of her affection for him, already deeper than it should be, or if it was because he was a Jedi. It provoked her into asking a question. "What is the Force like?"

He stayed silent for so long that she feared she had breached an intimacy between them that he would not permit. But before that fear could grow into a verbal retraction he began to speak. "No, you can ask. It is just difficult to explain in a proper depth to answer your question. The Force is as boundless as the ocean. It flows through the life of every being within the universe, from the smallest creature to the largest mountain. For those who possess the sensitivity, it can speak to them, tell them of things to come, or provide a glimpse into something one cannot yet understand. For the Jedi it guides us, allowing us to use it to help those in universe who need such assistance as we can provide."

"And for the Sith it is a tool to used as a mean to furthering their own cause," Padmé reasoned, smiling a little when she received his nod that her deduction was accurate. "But how can they not realise that this will ultimately cause their own destruction?"

"Mostly because they were never taught to do so," Obi-Wan replied. "The Sith have been extinct for a millennia though. Wiped out by their own inability to realise that their quest for power will destroy them just as you have said."

"What about those who have left the Order?" Padmé asked, recalling from her education of the rumours about such Jedi she had heard during her youth, rumours she was able to confirm when she joined the Apprentice Legislature. "How do they view the Force?"

"Most leave the order because they disagree with our methods in training," Obi-Wan explained. "Or because they feel that they cannot give up their familial obligations once they learn of their nature. But it is true that some left because they turned to the Dark Side, either to learn more of the power or to protect others from the harm such teachings inflict."

"But if they realise that harm how can they be of the dark?" Padmé asked. "Could someone not help them to find redemption or their way back?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "I've never heard of anyone doing so. Nor do I believe it is possible. I have never experienced it myself, but the dark side is a threatening, malicious presence, one which will always have a power over you, if you ever allow it to do so."

Padmé frowned. "That sounds alien coming from an Order bound by compassion."

"It is one of the most difficult concepts about the Force," Obi-Wan replied. "I'm not sure how else I can explain it to without showing you."

"Showing me? Can you really show someone the Force?" Padmé asked, eagerly. Ever since her parents told her of the time she had taken the test offered by the Jedi and pronounced borderline, she had always wondered at what sort of life she would lead if the midi-chlorians inside her had been of the right amount for training.

"I'll try and show it to you," Obi-Wan replied. "If you'll trust me to enter your mind. I won't hurt you or invade your privacy."

"I trust you," Padmé assured him, the extent of how much she trusted him both frightening and exciting her.

"Close your eyes," Obi-Wan instructed.

Padmé obeyed. Darkness surrounded her, but she could still feel the touch of his hand, gentle and reassuring, a comfort, a light to take away any fear she might have held.

"Focus on a place where you have always felt safe," Obi-Wan continued. "You're alone, aware of only yourself, yet you can feel something surrounding you, calling to you. It is familiar, it is what you listen to when you are called to act. The voice, the feeling that tells you this is the right thing to do."

Listening to his voice, Padmé imagined her home world, not invaded by the droid army, but peaceful and free as it always was in her youth. In her mind she created a place from her memories, which she had visited during free hours of her youth; the Lake Country. Her family had a place there, one which she had spent her summers in, swimming or savouring what she knew, turning it over inside her head, examining it from all angles. Knowledge was precious to her, as precious as the need to help others, for she knew she could help them better the more she learned, yet she also knew the dangers of acquiring knowledge without a recognition for compassion, thought, logic, and reason. Every sunrise and sunset she would stand alone on the balcony outside her room, watching the horizon as it changed colour, and she would feel that awareness which Obi-Wan had told her of.

The place was unusually vivid, every shade sparkling with a depth of colour she had previously never noticed, yet somehow she knew instinctively that it belonged. Then she felt a touch upon her hand, the same touch which she felt in the real world, and as she recognised this familiarity she turned to find Obi-Wan beside her. He was clad in the same robes she would see upon him now if she opened her eyes, yet there seemed to be a light surrounding him, almost mingling with his form. She lowered her gaze to where their hands touched on the balcony ledge and was surprised to see the light encompassing her hand as well as his.

"That light you see is the Force," he said to her, his voice soft, but as audible as if he had spoken at a normal decibel. She could hear him speaking to her but she could also see him, for the image of him inside her mind moved his lips in sync. Then she realised that it was not just his image which she could see. She could feel him with her inside her mind. Not necessarily every thought or every feeling, but the sensation produced when he felt them, and the warmth she gained from his contact. Turning her mind's eye from that contact, she gazed out at the horizon, and saw the same light, surrounding everything, from the surf within the ocean which stretched out before them, to the sun as it descended slowly from view.

"It's beautiful," she murmured, the word feeling inadequate, for never had anything else which she had ever seen and ascribed that word to could even equal the sight that met her eyes at this moment. "This is what you see in your mind all the time?"

"Yes," He replied, the mental image of his gaze leaving her form to glance in the same direction as her, at the sunset. "See that storm on the outskirts?"

Padmé was about to deny it, for the sky seemed perfect to her, but then she caught the darkness in the clouds to the left of the setting sun, the white vapour twisting and greying before her. As her mind focused on the image, she watched the grey turn darker and darker, and bright lightning cracking it into shards. She could feel the storm advance, closing in on them, disturbing their peaceful intimacy. Like the darkness that the invading droid army was gradually inflicting on her world right now, she realised, the revelation chilling her.

"That is the dark side," Obi-Wan murmured, and suddenly she understood the power of it, the temptation. She could see how it could suck you in, like quicksand, never to return, the struggle only making it worse.

Just as the storm seemed to near them, and the sun disappeared behind the horizon, she saw the images slowly fading gradually from her consciousness. Without a prompt from Obi-Wan, she opened her eyes to find their hands still resting one on top of the other on the yard ledge. She looked up into his eyes, the blue grey irises darkening to a more pure azure, drawing her towards him. She closed her eyes, felt his breath upon her lips, then suddenly the moment was broken by another.

"Master Kenobi?" Shim Skywalker said as she stepped outside. Padmé opened her eyes to find Obi-Wan some distance from her, conveying the impression that they were not about to kiss just moments ago. She almost felt if she had imagined such an intention on his part.

"Please, call me Obi-Wan," he said to Shmi humbly. "I am no master, only a student of the Force."

"Obi-Wan," Shmi acknowledged. "I came to say that Anakin is right. There is no other way. I may not like it, but he can help you. He was meant to help you."

Obi-Wan nodded. "My Master agrees with you. Come, let us go tell Anakin the news."

Padmé watched them go, her mind still very much with the moments alone spent inside her mind in Obi-Wan's embrace. She had seen so many different sides of him since their first meeting as he jumped down from a covered bridge to rescue her. His decisive warrior qualities in dispatching part of the droid army. His compassion in dealing with R2D2, herself, Jar Jar and his master. The passion and joy within him as he showed her the Force. He was older than her, probably wiser than her, yet he treated her as an equal, respected her opinions, presented other viewpoints for her to consider, without the insistence to conform to them. He seemed to care deeply about the lives of others, as his reluctance to accept Anakin's offer showed. He appeared confident in his ability with the Force, but not to the point of arrogance, rather humility. There was a noble quality about him, a gentleness and gentility. He cared deeply for his Master, despite objecting over Anakin's risk in his offer to help.

Padmé recalled the moment when she saw him rush to Qui-Gon's side after sensing his collapse. She wondered once more what was wrong with the Jedi Master, who had to be suffering from something far more worse than possibly just fatigue. Yet the Jedi selected him for this mission, so he must still be able to perform his duties. Or they judged that Obi-Wan could easily fulfil them if Qui-Gon fell ill. Padmé wondered how long he had until his knighthood. She was sure it could not be long, for he appeared to her to be the equal of his Master already, if not superior in some aspects. As a Queen she tried to remain neutral, impartial, but despite telling herself not to judge Qui-Gon harshly, Padmé could not help but feel a little dislike for the Master because of his attitude to Obi-Wan, Anakin and Shmi. His illness could affect his behaviour, she told herself. She might see a different side to him when they returned to the ship.

For the first time since their departure into Mos Espa, Padmé allowed herself to think of her home world. She could not escape feeling that leaving to appeal to the Senate was an act of cowardice. That she had betrayed her people by leaving them to the mercy of the droid army and the Trade Federation. She wondered about the darker conspiracy which Qui-Gon had alluded to. Was it merely a ploy to persuade her to go with them?

Despite this suspicion she also felt that there was more behind the blockade, and the invasion of Naboo. Her brief encounters with the Neimoidians left her with the impression that they were merely a facade, hiding the real face of whoever it was behind this scheme. Their protest about the tax on trade routes did not justify invasion, they had to have a deeper motive. Whatever it was, Padmé believed they would find the answers on Coruscant.

She sighed. She had always wanted to travel to the Core world, but this was not the reason she had in mind to use. Before her decision to run for Queen, she had worked towards becoming a Senator. The only reason she had not entered herself against the current incumbent was her belief that she was too young. A part of her laughed at the irony; too young for the Senate, not for the throne. This mission was teaching her many things; foremost that she had a lot more to learn.

Padmé returned to the rooms of the small dwelling, her gaze coming to rest on Obi-Wan and Anakin, as the young knight to be listened attentively to the boy as he described pod racing. Though she could not hear the words she could read their lips and discern the nature of the conversation from Anakin's expressive and rapid hand movements.

Eventually it was the Padawan's turn to describe something as Padmé noticed Anakin fall into an eager silence, waiting. A gasp escaped her as an object from the table floated in midair, travelling smoothly to hover above the boy's opened hand. She had seem him levitate his Master, seen him place said Master in a healing trance, seen the Force through his eyes, but it was still a little wondrous to watch. She saw Obi-Wan talk with Anakin seriously, kneeling before the boy so he was on a level footing with him, respecting his views, as he took the oval ball out of the air and rested it in the palm of his hand. She watched Anakin close his eyes, then suddenly the object floated again, hovering above the Padawan's hand. Anakin opened his eyes and gasped at his new found ability.

When Shmi emerged from her room with space blankets and bedding for them, the object was back under Obi-Wan's control, floating to its home on the table. Anakin was blinking sleepily, the trick tiring him out, whereas Obi-Wan had not even broken into a sweat. Padmé watched him usher the sleepy youth to bed, as she realised the strength of her interest in him, She knew now why her thoughts concerning the suffering of her world were seemingly so easily distracted. But she also knew that she should savour these moments for once they returned to the ship, there was less chance she would see him again. Their duties would part them on Coruscant and when the blockade and invasion of her planet ended. Such separation should have caused her to protect her heart, but she was already in too deep for that.

She loved Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Part II

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.