I bowed my head yet again at one of my remaining lords, half of my attention on his report of the damage to our winter grain storage, the other half on where I was headed. At least we were moving in the right direction now. I needed to be at the space port when Anakin landed. Odd how connected I felt to the little one who'd just blown up the Droid Command Ship. The news had been relayed to me via the comm link we'd confiscated from the Viceroy and I was rejoicing on the inside.
Captain Panaka paced on Councilor Bahrens' other side, his eyes sweeping the halls for any enemies that might be hiding. The dear Captain didn't realize it but he was overdue for a promotion and I meant to see that he got it. 'General Panaka' sounded just right. There had to be some perks to being Queen besides the right to get shot at, taken hostage and used as a pawn.
Simmer down, your highness. No sense in scaring poor Bahrens to death. I took a calming breath and smiled at the old man who'd been my mentor after my mother died. "I am so glad you survived, Councilor. You are just the person to help solve the problem of feeding our people this winter. I'm sure the Republic will be more than willing to help us, now that the Trade Federation has shown their true colors."
We entered the hangar bay to the cheers of the returned pilots and the crews who'd survived the battle. Waving at them all with that little wave that Mother taught me when I was two, I searched for Anakin's blond head. When I saw him approaching on the shoulder of burly Cressa, I let go of the sigh that had been building since I'd seen him take off.
He waved excitedly at me and grinning Cressa set him down to run across the hangar to us. Captain Panaka hid a smile at the look of horror on the good Councilor's face when Anakin threw himself at me and hugged me tightly. No one was supposed to touch the royal person except for my handmaidens but that was one of those traditions that I meant to change.
Might as well start now. So, I hugged him back while murmuring in his ear. "Well done, Anakin. I'm so proud of you. You helped save us all. And you even brought R2-D2 safely through the battle too."
That bright little face sparkled up at me with an impish look of delight. "He got the autopilot off in time for me to keep from getting fried, Padme." His eyes widened and an almost frightened look crossed his face. "I'm s-s-sorry, Your Highness."
I leaned close to his ear and whispered. "My friends call me 'Dala, little Ani. When we're alone or with Captain Panaka, you may call me by my name. All right?"
He nodded slowly then grinned again when I tousled his hair. "Where is Master Qui-Gon? I want to tell him what we did."
Straightening, I cast a questioning look at Captain Panaka. "He's right. Where are the Jedi warriors?"
"I'll check, Your Highness." Bowing his head, he immediately turned away to use the comm link.
I joined in the celebration with Anakin's hand in mine while the pilots took turns describing the space battles that had gone on while we were fighting for our lives against the guard droids. The awe in their eyes when I spoke with them slowly muted to enjoyment, especially when I asked one of them a question or encouraged a further explanation of an event.
Anakin was drinking it all in with wide-eyed pleasure at their obvious liking of the youngest pilot. I couldn't help but contrast this successful flight to the pod race he'd won so doggedly back on his desert home. He deserved so much better than his life up to this point.
"Your Highness." Captain Panaka had on his poker face but I sensed a kind of horror in his voice that brought me up short, excusing myself with a gracious nod to the crew with whom I'd been speaking.
We took a step away from the crowd and he bent closer so no one else would hear. "The guards near the generator say the young Jedi just appeared with the dead body of his master. Obi-Wan appears to be in shock, Your Highness."
No! I kept the cry inside while schooling my face to neutrality. Not Qui-Gon Jinn. Anakin clutched my hand and I realized with a shock that he'd overheard.
"I need to see him." His eyes widened and slowly filled with tears that only a lifetime of slavery kept from falling. No child should have to be so rigidly controlled. But he wasn't the only one who'd had a lot of practice at showing no emotion.
"Captain, have the guards direct Obi-Wan to the Royal Chapel with the ... body of his master. We will join him at once." I turned back to the celebrating crowd and raised my voice. "I am so proud of all of you. Please continue with the celebration. You deserve it." And waving at them with a smile, I regally walked towards the nearest exit with Captain Panaka clearing a path for Anakin and me.
Once out of the hangar, we picked up our pace and took a short cut through the back halls towards the Royal Gardens where the ancient chapel of my family drowsed in the late afternoon sunlight. The way I was feeling, it should have been late night with brooding clouds and rain coming down in sheets. My brain just kept repeating over and over it can't be true. Not true ... not true ... not true.
The guards at the entrance bowed to me and I took a deep breath, gripping young Anakin's hand tighter before nodding to Captain Panaka to push open the heavy door. The scent of carada oil wafted out to us from the eternal flame that burned on the altar to my ancestors. It was dimmer here in the small anteroom to the chapel and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the reduced light.
For a moment I could not see them but the pull of Anakin's hand soon showed me where they were. Master Qui-Gon lay in repose on the wide stone just below the altar, his long hair cascading over the cold marble onto the next step. His apprentice knelt by his side with his head up, staring into the dancing flame upon the altar. His face was streaked with tears and he didn't seem to know we were there.
The young boy hesitantly approached them, kneeling by Obi-Wan's side and looking up at the grieving man. My own eyes blurred and I turned away, motioning Captain Panaka to close the door behind us. The price of our freedom seemed unbearably high at this moment and I steeled myself to go to the man who'd driven the evil Sith Lord from our Planet. I knew enough of the Jedi to know that Obi-Wan must have killed the man who'd murdered his master or he too would be dead.
Leaving the Captain to guard the door, I crossed the swirling patterns set into the crystal inlaid floor and sank down onto the other side of the young Jedi. He had yet to acknowledge either of us and Anakin tugged just a little on the frayed sleeve of the charred cloak.
"He made me promise to teach you, Anakin. The Council will not deny him ... this time." His voice seemed to come from the air around us but his lips didn't move. Those beautiful blue-green eyes remained locked on the yellow and orange flame on the altar. "The Sith Lord is dead. But there is at least one more. The Jedi will need all the warriors we can get in the years to come."
It sounded eerily like a prophecy. I could feel shivers begin deep inside of my stomach and I had to take a deep breath to quell them.
"S-s-sir." Anakin tugged a little harder on his sleeve. "Obi-Wan. It is not his time. He's still here."
The gaze finally moved away from the flame and down to the earnest, upturned face. A tear eased its way down the damp cheek and he tried to smile. "I'm sorry, Ani. He took a light saber straight through ..."
He couldn't finish the sentence but I'd already made a note of the scorch marks on his over tunic and I understood what he meant. Hopefully, Anakin wouldn't have to know the horrible details. I wasn't sure I wanted to know anymore myself although I felt a savage satisfaction in knowing the Sith was dead. But that wouldn't bring back the gentle man who'd taken such good care of me on Tattoine.
The boy just nodded and grabbed Obi-Wan's hand in his two small ones. Gently, he laid it on the wound site and I heard the Jedi's breath catch in a small sob. "Dala, help Obi-Wan. There's still time."
I extended my fingers to cover the Jedi's and felt a jolt like a sudden shock of electricity. Young Anakin laid both his hands on Qui-Gon's chest over his heart and closed those big blue eyes of his in fierce concentration. A tingle of energy traveled up my arm and the bone chilling cold of the chapel seemed to warm a little.
Captain Panaka came up behind me and I could feel his strength glowing like a lamp in the dark. And suddenly, I knew what the youngster needed. "Captain, give of your strength to young Skywalker. Please."
"Your Highness." He gently placed his hands on Anakin's narrow shoulders and I felt the temperature rise higher yet. The tingle had become a hum in the still air and I felt pulses of energy surrounding us with a palpable rhythm of power.
When I focused my eyes, I could see a golden glow begin to shimmer over the still figure of the Jedi Knight. Brighter and brighter it grew until it was like looking into the sun and I was forced to close my eyes or go blind.
"Call him, Obi-Wan." Anakin's voice sounded deeper than I'd ever heard it. "Now."
"Master. Come back to us." His voice caught then steadied. "Qui-Gon Jinn. Return and finish what you started. It is not yet your time. Come back ... to me."
It felt as if I was watching a dozen different scenes against the back of my eyelids. Connected to Obi-Wan through this field they called the Force, I could see his memories of their lives together, his training, their missions, the arguments and the laughter. But mostly, I felt the love that the young apprentice felt for his master.
All consuming, everlasting love.
It made my heart ache with sudden memory of the lost love of my parents and I felt the tears I'd kept hidden for so long well up and roll down my cheeks. His anguish was unbearable and his pain echoed through both of us like a tidal wave of longing. Teacher, friend, companion. Qui-Gon had been all of those and more to Obi-Wan. I saw into his secret heart and felt the unrequited love he'd kept hidden from his master.
The light swelled even brighter, if that was possible and I heard a deep clear resonance ring through the still air. Like a great bell of crystal vibrating in the ether, it rang on and on and on. Just one note that shook the chapel in its intensity. My bones ached with the sound and I clenched my jaw to keep from crying out.
Then as suddenly as it had come, the light was gone and so was the sound. I felt blinded and deafened by their absence. And I was afraid to look at the man we'd just tried to bring back from the dead. What if it didn't work? And what was that anyway?
"Padawan." The whisper was shocking in the stillness and it made my eyes fly open in disbelief. The chest beneath our hands was rising and falling slowly and in the quiet came the welcome sound of a heart beat that had been absent for too long.
"Master." Prayerfully came the answer from the weeping man beside me.
I saw Anakin smile shakily at the two of them before his eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed backward into Captain Panaka's arms. I rose from numb knees and pressed hard on Obi-Wan's shoulder. There were things that had to be done. Decisions to be made.
"Obi-Wan. Do we keep this secret or no?" I asked him urgently with a little shake and he raised dazed eyes to mine.
//Secret.// I felt Qui-Gon's answer inside of my mind. //I must be dead for now. Yoda ... only ... needs to know.//
I gulped hard and tried to act as if he'd said it out loud. "There is a secret passage from here to an underground chamber where my ancestors used to retreat when the world became too much. The guards will be told to let no one but ourselves in or out."
Pressing a carved renette flower on the altar, I watched a flagstone slide to one side, revealing a flight of stairs descending below the chapel. "We'll bring you food and fresh clothing in a few hours. I'll tell the court that Obi-Wan is mounting a vigil over you and is not to be disturbed."
"Th-thank you." Obi-Wan looked a little more alert now and I squeezed his shoulder encouragingly. "Anakin?"
"We'll take care of him and see that he is safe. My word on it." I vowed.
//We could ask for no better guardian.// And those wise blue eyes opened and gazed up at us. //You see, Padawan, he is the Chosen One.//
"Yes, Master." The joy in Obi-Wan's smile lit the room with its radiance. "I'm sorry I ever doubted."
Someday, I would like to see someone look at me like that. I grinned before settling a solemn look on my face and turning to leave this sanctuary. But not just now. Catching my Captain's eye, I nodded to the entrance and he followed me, still carrying Anakin who was out cold.
For now, I needed all my wits about me. We had to figure out a way to present a dead body that looked like the Jedi warrior to the public. Hide the real warrior. Get to the Jedi Council on Coruscant. Could we trust all of them? Clean up after the invasion. Deal with the political situation. Find out who the new Chancellor was and see if he could be trusted.
The next few days would be very interesting. I shook my head and left the chapel with a sad look on my face. Being Queen had long been an exercise in acting. Now, my stage had grown to the size of a galaxy and I was rather looking forward to seeing how this drama came out.
End part one