I had a headache of galactic proportions and I forced myself to sit still, listening with the small part of my brain not on fire with the pain to the trade representative of the Jardani. I was in formal dress today, albeit a moderated version of what I'd worn earlier in my reign. The invasion had trashed some of the nonsense the ruling Queens had had to put up with in the past.
Idly, I wondered what my mother would have thought about the divided skirt I had on under my formal robe. Probably she'd exclaim how improper it was, all the time plotting how to have one made for herself. Sometimes I missed her with all my heart and then there were times I could barely remember what it felt like to be hugged by her strong arms. It seemed more like ten years then only one since her death.
Oh, thank goodness, he's winding down. I smiled graciously at the tall, brisk figure with the shiny bald head. Which, of course, reminded me of Qui-Gon's luxurious locks and the way I'd last seen them. And was yet another reminder that I needed to check on Anakin, who was keeping him company while Obi-Wan finished up on Coruscant after his master's ... funeral.
Suddenly, I couldn't stand one more platitude. I wasn't picking up any deception, just a love of his own voice. "Thank you, Ambassador Yuri. I shall take your words into consideration. I look forward to speaking with you again ... at a later date. Councilor Bahrens will go over some of the finer details with you now."
A little abrupt perhaps but my old mentor handled it beautifully. They both bowed themselves out and left me to push the heavy wig off my head and into Padme's hands. "Oof! There has to be a way to lighten that headdress up. It keeps giving me a headache."
"I will investigate, Your Highness." With one hand she held
the wig while her other offered me the cool cloth that would wipe off the
heavy makeup that disguised the true me. It felt wonderful to scrub
my face and remove all traces of Her Royal Highness.
Leaving the heavy outer robe on the throne, I stepped down and shook out my divided skirt. Rolling my head back and forth, I pulled out the comm link from my pocket. "General Panaka."
"Yes, Your Highness." His deep voice calmed some of the tension.
"I need an escort for my afternoon walk, General. Young Anakin has been alone with R2-D2 for long enough. I'm afraid I've been neglecting him."
"Nonsense, Your Highness. He's happy tinkering with the little droid and you've been busy with the Jardani delegation."
"Well, negotiations are over for the day and I need to get out and breathe some fresh air."
"On my way."
"Padme, will you please tidy up for me?" I rubbed my temples to try and relieve more of the steady pounding. "I'll be back in an hour or two. Maybe, the scent of the renette flowers will ease this headache. Mother always used to swear by them."
She dimpled and handed me a small square of linen. Wondering, I brought it to my nose and recognized the familiar scent that always reminded me of my mother. For a moment, I heard her soft voice telling me that everything would be all right. Since Qui-Gon's rebirth, I'd felt her closer to me than ever before.
"Thank you, Padme." I hugged her and watched a blush bloom on her cheek. "What would I do without you?"
She just shook her head shyly and continued folding my presentation robe for the journey to my private apartments. I headed for the guards at the other end of the room but the grand double doors opened before I could reach them. My general entered and bowed when he saw me.
"Let's go out the side door, General Panaka. Maybe I can avoid some of those parasites, I mean, the lords who are waiting in the anterooms." I couldn't quite catch my tongue in time and didn't need to look to see the tiny shake of the dark head.
"Your Highness has had enough of diplomacy today?" He walked at my side down the back stairs and through the door hidden behind the large tapestry. It looked ancient but boasted the latest in microtechnology in the lock that was keyed to just a few.
Waiting until we were outside, I sighed and raised the linen to my nose. Inhaling deeply, I felt the tension slip a little further away. "I know there's a lot to do to bring us back to pre-invasion status, Pan. And I have seen the damage and heard the stories from the survivors. But most of those who are loudest in their protestations of need are the least hurt!"
His hand gently pressed against my shoulder. It was the only touch he would allow himself I'd discovered when I became queen. "I know, Dala. But it will take time for them to realize that the world no longer revolves around them or the old conventions."
I chuckled, his words defusing my unspoken desire to punch out a few of the more fawning courtiers. "What I really need are a few good projects that will take them away from the Capitol and put them to work helping to rebuild."
"It may be better to keep them here where we can watch them. Unless you want the rebuilding to mirror the past." He looked down sideways at me with a small smile creasing his eyes. Eyes that never lied to me.
I thought about what he had said, fitting it in to the complex puzzle that was my kingdom. What best to do for my people? The old days were gone forever but most of them seemed unaware of that. Not their fault really, I know how tempted I was to cling to my memories of the past when Mother died and they proclaimed me Queen. It would have been safer to give in to the Trade Federation.
But my family had always been fighters and I would be damned if I let the past obscure the future we could build out of the war. "All right, Pan. I see what you mean. Better they torment me than their people. At least, I have guards to keep the worst of them away."
"True, Dala. And loyal retainers who will keep them at bay while you take care of the rest of your people."
We shared a smile and finished our walk through the gardens to the small lake that bordered the palace grounds to the east. Another pair of guards came into view at the foot of the plank-bridge that arched gently out over the still waters to the island off shore.
Gungan guards, tall and gangly in their brand new royal uniforms. I smiled at them and wondered again what my mother would have thought. So many changes, so quickly. The General stopped to speak to them while I continued over the bridge towards the shimmering dome of opalescent energy that covered the whole island.
Another present from the Gungan. Once they understood that I needed a safe place where Obi-Wan could go to meditate and teach young Anakin the ways of the Jedi, they had created the energy shield that would block all intrusions from without. Of course, we'd moved Qui-Gon here before we'd left for Coruscant and his ... funeral.
I still shuddered every time I recalled seeing his effigy burn. I'd been on pins and needles the whole time, wondering if someone would figure out that the body was not the Jedi warrior but one of the pilots who'd crashed and burned during the last battle. But Master Yoda had handled it all beautifully.
And Obi-Wan had been rock solid in all his dealings with the other Jedi, deferring to his elders and allowing just a hint of the anguish he'd felt at his master's death to seep out from his calm facade. I know how much he'd hated to leave Qui-Gon still healing from his wound but he'd just nodded at the plan devised by Master Yoda and General Panaka.
We'd been back for almost two days now and I know how much I wanted to have the young Jedi return. Qui-Gon was slowly regaining his strength and teaching Anakin some of the basics he would need for his Jedi training. The Jedi Council had decreed that Obi-Wan and Anakin could train here on Naboo for the first few months of Ani's apprenticeship.
Trying to hide my smile at that thought, I wondered if that would be long enough for a proper honeymoon. I was pretty sure that they had done no more than kiss and touch before Obi-Wan had had to leave. I already had several schemes ready to occupy Anakin's attention so his masters could have some time alone with each other.
I passed through the tall grasses and into the grove of trees that ringed the island. What the shield didn't obscure, the tall growth did. It was cool beneath the dark green leaves that hung from the light gray branches of the kolla trees. Laughter sounded from up ahead and I picked up my pace.
I came through the trees into the moss covered glade where the small cottage stood, dappled with sunlight through the filtering branches of the deep purple foliage of the fuuring pines. Ani and Qui-Gon were playing with a small red ball that bounced back and forth between them. But their hands were laced in their laps and I could feel the ripples in the air each time the ball flew from one side to the other.
//Welcome, Dala. Come and join us.//
"Dala!" Anakin bounced to his feet and ran to hug me.
I loved his exuberant hugs for their whole-heartedness. He had no hidden agendas nor did he want anything from me but my affection. Something I enjoyed giving to the little towhead who was so adaptable to the catastrophic changes in his life. I buried a stray thought deep so he wouldn't catch it.
"Have you been practicing with the Force, Ani?" I teased him.
"Yeah! It's fun to move things with my mind. But it's hard to concentrate sometimes." He smiled and frowned at the same time.
//Practice will help, Ani.// Qui-Gon patted the seat beside him and shifted over to make room for us.
I sat by his side while Anakin squeezed in between us. "Practice makes perfect was what my mother always told me. Especially, right before something really boring had to be done."
"But this isn't boring, Dala. It's neat!" And he threw the ball up into the air and focused all his energy on the glowing red globe. It hovered there as if pasted to the air and I exchanged a smile with the Jedi who looked so much less fragile then when I'd last seen him the day before.
//The meals you've had sent out have been delicious. Although I wonder just how big an appetite they think one small boy must have.//
"I told them that he was a finicky eater and had to be tempted to eat at all." I grinned at the memory of my sigh and drooping mouth, which had galvanized the cooks into competing for the right to be the one who succeeded in getting the little hero to eat.
His chuckle sounded loud in the still air and it surprised both of us so much that Ani lost his concentration and dropped the ball. "Master!"
"Slowly ... it ... comes ... back." The husky voice was not the gentle melodious one I remembered but good to hear just the same. //I will keep practicing, Ani but so must you.//
"Yes, Sir." He grinned and went to pick up the ball from where it had rolled almost into the renette bushes.
//You have a headache, Dala.// His large hand brushed at my temple when I nodded. One long finger pressed gently then moved down to the base of my neck and ghosted across the skin until it found a sore spot. He pressed gently and pain flared up into my skull.
Gritting my teeth hard, I endured until the ache eased and warmth took its place. "I need you to teach me that. It always works and I seem to be getting more headaches than ever before."
//The decisions you must make would give Master Yoda a headache.// Qui-Gon joked quietly. //This is a simple pressure point that even the young learn at the Temple.//
"Can you teach me to take away the pain?" Anakin leaned against his master's knee, the ball forgotten on the ground near R2-D2. "I want to learn everything."
//Everything ... will take a little while.// Qui-Gon ruffled the fair hair of his new apprentice. //But for now, I think this is an excellent place to start your healing lessons. Center yourself ... // The air rippled around us and I felt a pull from the trees that had nothing to do with healing and everything to do with love. //Obi-Wan.//
I found myself on my feet, holding on to Anakin's shoulders when the newest Jedi Knight strode into view. His eyes were riveted on Qui-Gon, standing tall with the sun glinting off the golden aura that still surrounded his body. Four more steps and he was on one knee before his old master.
"Qui-Gon." The name was spoken with a fervor that spoke volumes.
"Obi-Wan." His name was sighed no louder than the breeze that ghosted through the clearing but we all heard it like a shout of joy.
I had to blink my eyes hard to keep the tears from overflowing. This joyful moment made me want to cry for some reason and I found myself hugging young Anakin with both arms. A little sniff reminded me that he was still missing the person he loved most in the world and I made another mental note to check with Panaka on our little project.
He stood gracefully in his full robes and turned slightly towards me. "Amidala, I left your general with the ... package that you were bargaining for. Ric Olie sends his compliments and hopes that you will be pleased with his trade." The blue eyes were mischievous and I felt a surge of delight that something had so obviously gone right.
"Well, since the present is for Ani, I think he and I had better go and see Pan. I'll have Padme leave your dinner on this side of the bridge. Don't forget it or my cooks will be crushed. They've been tempting Anakin with all sorts of delicacies since you've been gone." I looked down into curious blue eyes. "Run ahead, Ani. I think you'll like this surprise."
He looked up at his two teachers. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
Obi-Wan smiled and knelt down to Ani's level. "Perhaps the day after would be better. I think your surprise will take up your time until then."
Ani giggled. "And you and Qui-Gon want to be alone. I can take a hint."
//Imp. We shall make you work very hard when you return.// The tall Jedi bent and returned the strangling hug that his apprentice gave both of them. //Go and see your surprise, Ani. We'll be fine.//
"Okay. Take care of each other." And he scampered off down the path with R2-D2 in pursuit.
"We'll keep him busy until you send word that you're ready to join the world again." I was having a hard time not blushing at the feelings that were leaking through the Force in all directions. "Just tell the guards if you need anything."
Starting off with a wave of my hand, I hurried and caught up with the small droid with the funny sense of humor. At the bend of the path, I was caught between two scenes of unsurpassed emotion. Ani was running as hard as he could to the slight figure who stood by Panaka with her arms outstretched in welcome.
I owed Captain Olie more than I could possibly repay for finding a way to free Shmi Skywalker. More than anything in the world, I wished I could once again feel my mother's arms around me. Drinking in the sight with tear filled eyes, I saw Ani held close in Shmi's embrace. His head was buried between her breasts and her cheek rested on the fair hair she'd probably never thought to feel again.
Pulling the scrap of linen from my pocket, I hastily blew my nose before I could lose all control and disgrace myself in public. Promising myself a good cry before I fell asleep tonight, I looked back over my shoulder in time to see Qui-Gon cup his former Padawan's cheek in one hand. The golden glow surrounded them both now and Obi-Wan turned just enough to brush his lips against his former master's palm.
All the emotions resounding through the Force were bewildering. The heartfelt joy was paramount on both sides but the escalating sensuality behind me flowed through the currents straight to me. I'd never felt anything like it before and it reminded me of a conversation I'd had with my mother on my twelfth birthday. The one about love and sex and what was expected of a queen.
'Did you love papa? Or did you have to marry him because of Naboo?' I'd asked her straight out because she'd never lied to me and I really needed to know.
'I was lucky, Dala. I had to marry him but once I met him, I loved him dearly. And he felt the same way. It's why I never remarried after he was killed in that foolish accident. No one else could compare. That's what I wish for you, little one. Love beyond measure.' She hugged me close and we talked for hours that night.
And what I was seeing and feeling from the two men behind me was the best illustration of just such a love as she'd described to me. Tenderness ... passion ... joy ... all flowed about the glade in ever increasing circles. I caught my breath as Qui-Gon slowly bent to Obi-Wan's upturned face, almost hearing the sizzle as their lips met.
Shaking myself hard and turning resolutely away, I tapped R2-D2 on his shiny silver dome. "Come on, R2, it's time we gave them a little privacy."
"Beep, beep, br-r-upt." He suggested.
"I couldn't have said it better myself. Let's go plan a party to welcome Anakin's mother to Naboo." And I walked towards the couple that needed me, leaving the Jedi to their own party.
If that kiss was any indication, I was a little too young to know how they intended to celebrate. Eyeing General Panaka casually, I smiled to myself. But in fourteen months I would be sixteen and reach my majority. By then, I'd be ready to do a little exploring of my own. This could be a very interesting learning experience for all of us.
Beep, beep, indeed.
End part three