His ship had sent word ahead so we could be there to greet him. I didn't hear what he said to Anakin but I could feel the //yuck// from the young man when he patted his shoulder. Senator Palpatine's news was unexpected and at first all I could think was how wonderful that our representative had ascended to that prestigious position. Now, we really had a helpful hand for our cause.
But while the speeches were going on, I suddenly realized that he'd intended this all along. He'd worked behind the scenes just for this moment when he could gather the reins of power into his own hands while deprecating the whole thing. And he'd used me to do it. Me. I could feel white-hot anger tighten by neck muscles already stressed by the still too heavy headdress.
//Dala. Easy.// Qui-Gon's voice soothed away part of the tension and shielded my mind with his warmth. //Obi-Wan is on his way. Think only of what Naboo needs. Fill your mind with how many tons of grain are needed, what the architects will need to rebuild the towns destroyed. All the details your advisors keep heaping upon you.//
//Do not let me betray you, Qui-Gon.// I thought frantically while dredging up the driest, most mundane minutia of the kingdom to cover my fear.
//Do not worry, Dala. I think you will find your shields are invisible to any but the five of us.// For some reason, the Jedi master was amused at his statement. //The only thing he will see of me are your memories from before my ... death.//
Gulping, I acknowledged his thoughts and rolled my eyes at General Panaka. I wanted a strong buffer to the overpowering Senator. Just having the warrior nearby made me feel safer. I found myself studying the man I now suspected of being more concerned with gathering power than helping heal the wounds of the Republic.
Mother had always found him handsome but I remember that Father had snorted out loud when she'd appointed him to represent us in the Senate. Then, I hadn't understood his statement that Palpatine would always land on his feet but now, I thought I knew exactly what he meant. Remembering something she told me just before she died, I smiled sweetly at him.
//Handsome is, as handsome does.//
Just a little something to think about while I was trying to fill my mind with what Naboo needed from him. Grain, equipment for mining, new ships to replace those lost in battle. If he thought me a mercenary little bitch, that was all to the good.
//Dala!// Obi-Wan's shocked mind whisper came to me, the same moment he came into view.
I had the strongest urge to stick out my tongue at him. He really could be such a ... a ... prig. I heard Qui-Gon's chuckle in the back of my mind and felt the warm presence of General Panaka at my shoulder. Really, I hadn't felt so protected in a long time. Which was a good thing since the new Chancellor was turning to me with an appraising look.
"Your Highness, I'm sure we have much to discuss, now that you've had time to gather together all the data from the invasion. Perhaps, we could go in and converse about what's needed to help you rebuild."
I nodded and turned to lead the way. Interesting how he'd said 'you', not we. He'd already begun to distance himself from us. Just then he reacted to Obi-Wan's presence with a serious smile. "Knight Kenobi. I don't know if I had a chance to tell you how very sorry I was at the loss of your mentor."
Obi-Wan bowed his head and looked bleakly at the Senator. "He will be greatly missed, Chancellor Palpatine."
"But you passed your trials and now have a Padawan of your own, I am told." His tone lightened and he looked benignly at the young Jedi.
"Yes. Young Anakin will be trained as a Jedi as my master wished. The Council has granted us some time to create our bond here on Naboo. He is very young and there have been so many changes in his life." Obi-Wan smiled shyly and looked over at the young boy who had run across the courtyard to hug his mother. "But now that Queen Amidala has freed his mother to be with him, I think he'll be able to settle down and begin his lessons."
"What a wonderful thing to do, Your Highness." The smile was for me this time and I managed a modest shrug. "With all that is on your mind, to think of freeing one slave from a planet so far away is most commendable."
"Well, we had all those battle droids just laying around cluttering up the landscape." I smiled up at him. We walked on while I concentrated on all the lists that my advisors had been inundating me with over the last week. But deep inside, I wondered how he knew about Tatooine. I didn't like the way his eyes kept returning to the boy and his mother. So, it wasn't long before I highhandedly dismissed Obi-Wan and his apprentice to their lessons while I welcomed the new Chancellor to the inner chamber behind the throne room.
The next two hours were spent in laying out our needs to the new head of the Senate and consulting him on who should replace him as our representative to Coruscant. I favored Governor Bibble with a mere trace of vindictive fervor. He'd given Panaka a very hard time even before we came under attack and persisted in his belief that I was too young to understand how to govern. I'd like to see how he fared as a very little fish in the big pond of the Senate after being the biggest predator in Naboo.
//Pride, Dala.// Qui-Gon chided me gently and I mentally sighed at the reminder that sometimes I didn't know how to proceed so I should be open to learning from what ever source came my way.
//I know. Pride comes before a pratfall. But I need Bahrens here to deal with all the details. He'd be really lost on Coruscant. I don't think he's been off Naboo in his entire life.// I sent back a frustrated thought.
//Agreed, but perhaps your general has some ideas? Are you close enough to touch him?// The measured thought brought my head slowly around to find Pan a few feet away. Sabe stood next to me and I beckoned her closer, remembering at the last moment to call her Padme. Qui-Gon had suggested that 'Padme' needed to exist beyond when I needed to go out without all the ceremony. Sabe had volunteered to change her name.
"Padme, I fear I need some of that headache remedy you found for me earlier." I pitched my voice just loud enough to reach the general who immediately moved closer.
"Perhaps it is time to take a break, Your Highness. The noon meal is almost ready and we have yet to speak of the ceremony this afternoon." He leaned forward a bit and kept his voice low.
"What a good idea, General." I turned towards Chancellor Palpatine with my most regal smile. "We are having a celebration ceremony this afternoon to honor the Gungans who fought so valiantly in the battle that finally destroyed the droid army. We would be honored to have you present, Chancellor."
"The honor is all mine, Your Highness. If I might be excused to freshen up before the noon meal?" He rose, bowing to me and I graciously nodded my permission for him to go to his palace apartments.
Suddenly, I felt the headache I'd used for an excuse blossom into hideous life. It was all I could do to stay upright while I battled the pain and tried not to let it show. Luckily, he seemed not to notice and soon it was just my handmaidens and General Panaka.
//Dala?// Qui-Gon's voice was a sharp pain in my mind and I cringed.
"Your Highness, is there something wrong?" Panaka came close and I reached out blindly for him, swaying under the pulsating pressure. Gripping his padded vest, I felt my senses go hypersensitive. The smell of leather filled my nostrils. When my head fell against his chest, his heartbeat pounded in my ear. A metallic tang filled my mouth and I knew I'd bitten my tongue. I tried to focus my thoughts and tell him what was wrong but I could feel the black edges around my sight expanding until there was nothing ...
//He used the Force to pinch a blood vessel within her brain. Had he continued to apply pressure, she'd have bled to death internally and none of your healers would have known why she died.//
//So, it was a warning. Not an attempt to kill her outright?//
I finally figured out that I was tucked into my own bed with Obi-Wan on one side and Panaka on the other. Odd. Normally, no man was allowed in my bedroom. This was probably setting all the tongues to wagging. At least from what I could feel, I was still fully clothed.
//More along the lines of seeing what our relationship is. Would I heal her in time? How good are my healing abilities?// Obi-Wan's mind voice was grim.
//An experiment?// Panaka could have frozen the pond behind the palace with the ice in his outraged thought.
//Essentially ... yes.//
//I really hate it when people talk about me as if I'm not there.// I decided to jump into this interesting conversation and opened my eyes.
They were squared off over my green Cyrene silk comforter, glaring at each other. Men!
"Dala! How are you feeling?" Pan leaned just a little closer, his hand reaching for mine before he pulled it back and clasped it behind him.
Obi-Wan didn't bother to ask, he just leaned over and touched my forehead, nodding at what he found there. "You are better?"
"Yes, I'm fine." I struggled to sit up, feeling oddly limp. Pan's arm was there even before the young Jedi could offer. Obi-Wan stuffed some pillows behind me and looked a little worried.
"We need to talk about these headaches, Your Highness. I've been told by Padme that your mother the late Queen suffered for some years before her death. Was she ever seen by a Jedi healer?" Obi-Wan's eyes rolled slightly towards the door to my room where my handmaidens clustered.
Well, I can take a hint as well as the next person. For some reason, they didn't want to voice their concerns aloud. "No, she never did. We're out here on the outskirts of the galaxy, Obi-Wan. I don't think we ever had a Jedi here before. Do you think this is something I inherited from my mother?"
He smiled at me and winked the eye hidden from the doorway. "It's possible. I have a diagnostic unit at the island. When you're feeling better, perhaps you and General Panaka could come out for some tests?"
"After the ceremony, Your Highness? Do you feel up to continuing this afternoon?" Pan was angry and worried but not showing it except in his eyes.
"Good heavens, we can't cancel now." I forced myself to sit up straight. "That would gravely insult Boss Nass. Besides push back our talks with the Chancellor. They are both too important to Naboo and our future. But perhaps I could forego come of my customary trappings since they seem to aggravate the headache."
//Dala, remember the feeling of the pain.// Qui-Gon's thought slid gently into my mind. //You may need it later to confuse him.//
//Understood. If I replay it, will I feel it again?// I hated the slightly panicky tone to my thought but the pain really had been agonizing.
//No need, Dala. I will enhance the feelings for projection purposes. He will not be able to tell the difference and that is the goal we seek.//
I came back to the conversation between Pan and my handmaidens while Obi-Wan read my pulse from my wrist. Another wink and I knew he'd 'overheard' my conversation with Qui-Gon. I sat up straight and frowned at him. "I am fine, Knight Kenobi. Thank you for coming so quickly. But now, I need to change clothes so I will ask you and General Panaka to leave us."
"Of course, Your Highness." He bowed and tucked his hands into his voluminous sleeves. Passing my handmaidens, he bowed his head to them and like a row of red birds, they curtsied back.
General Panaka sent me a worried look but also bowed and left us alone. As soon as the door closed behind them, the girls erupted into giggles. I rolled my eyes at their silliness and threw back the covers to get up.
"I think I'll go with the soft white dress to symbolize the peace that the Gungans helped us achieve." I had to hold on to the bed post for a moment to dispel the dizziness. Rabe crossed to my side and unobtrusively gave me some support to my dressing table.
"Then, you'll want something more simple for your hairdo." She decided for me and I just nodded while the others began to lay out the silken garments that went underneath my white Cyrene silk dress. Eirtae held up two different capes and without hesitation, I chose the pale pink and ivory petaled one.
Smiling to myself at the memory of the lovely pink water lilies, which had modeled for those particular flowers, I painstakingly made up my face with a minimum of cosmetics. No dead white face paint today. The Gungans favored plain speaking and no masks so I would honor them with my own face and only the scar of remembrance on my lower lip. Oh, and the beauty marks on each side symbolizing balance in the realm.
Rabe draped the royal diadem on my forehead and fastened it securely under my hair. Looking at her handiwork, I smiled my thanks at the five petaled look she'd achieved. Just like the five lobed lilies on the parade cape. Sometimes I think she can read my mind.
All too soon, we were dressed in white with my handmaidens cowled in soft gray to preserve their anonymity. General Panaka was waiting at my door when the time for the parade drew near. He provided our escort down to the Great Plaza where we met up with Chancellor Palpatine and his retinue.
I allowed a faint tremor of pain to surge forth to the front of my mind just before we came up to the stately looking politician. All else fell away while I concentrated on maintaining a regal facade for the distinguished man in black and silver.
"I hope you are well, Your Highness?" He asked politely while we arranged ourselves at the top of the steep steps.
"Yes, thank you, Chancellor Palpatine." I looked up at him and fluttered my eyelashes as I'd seen several of the handmaidens do when talking with some of the guards. "I hope your dinner was all right?"
He preened and patted my shoulder. "Of course, my dear. I had a very nice chat with Governor Bibble and Councilor Bahrens. If you would accept some advice from an old hand at the politics of the Senate?"
"Of course, Chancellor Palpatine." I tried out that little breathy sigh that Eirtae used to such good effect on one of the starfighter pilots. Well, that and the wide-eyed hopeful look with which Mother had always had such luck.
"Governor Bibble has much more experience with dealing with all kinds of people. He may be the better choice for your representative to the Senate now that I must assume my new duties." He looked down judiciously.
"Really? You don't think he's too ... too provincial for Coruscant? I know that I was quite overwhelmed by all the people and buildings and ... everything." I finished on a not entirely assumed note of chagrin. Confusing and frightening was what I really had in mind.
He patted my shoulder again and smiled paternally. "It can be
quite confusing at first, Your Highness. But you handled yourself
beautifully during your presentation to the Senate. And Bibble can
come and ask my advice at any time. I will always carry Naboo's best
interests in my heart."
"Thank you." I bit the inside of my mouth to keep from grimacing and hoped he'd think it was an excess of gratitude instead. Deep inside my mind, I felt a gentle touch that soothed away the distaste and left me feeling calm just as the Gungans appeared at the gateway to the Plaza.
The next two hours were spent in speeches and all the rituals of peacemaking that Pan and I had been able to come up with to smooth the way for a real and lasting peace between our two peoples. It would take work on both our parts but I was already fond of Boss Nass and his councilors. And they seemed ready to deal with the ground dwellers, as they liked to call us.
The banquet would be an interesting combination of both our cuisines and I was really looking forward to it. But it wasn't until fashionably later so I sent Panaka off to watch the next round of talks while I told my council that I was going to rest. Several of them had heard of my collapse earlier and they just nodded in agreement. I knew I could trust Panaka and Bahrens to watch out for us and I had an itch in my mind that needed scratching.
Shmi was waiting near the lower level door to the gardens after I ran up and changed into something much more casual and fell in beside me for our journey to the island. She was still unsure of herself in this strange new world she found herself in but above all else, she was a survivor. Getting her freedom was wonderful but getting her son back was everything.
We walked companionably through the fragrant gardens and I named the flowers that we passed. Her eyes took it all in with wide eyed amazement. I remembered the muted tan colors of Tattoine and the complete absence of anything green with a shudder. Never could I live in such a place without part of my soul dying a little each day.
She dropped back a pace behind me when we approached the bridge guards, just as my handmaidens would, sticking her hands into her voluminous sleeves. We crossed the wooden planks in silence, remembering how sound carries over water. My steps hastened up the well worn path through the towering trees. Shmi caught up with me and sighed.
"Nervous?" I asked quietly.
"A little." She glanced at me with her dark soft eyes, crinkling up in good humor. "I'm not sure how to greet a dead man."
I chuckled and decided we'd been right to let her in on the secret. We needed someone that we could trust to bring food back and forth, clean the cottage and to be Anakin's companion when it appeared he was alone while Obi-Wan was traveling. Shmi was perfect for the role. And she'd listened to the news with the same stoic reserve that she had shown at Anakin's freedom.
We traversed the ninety-degree bend in the path and found the three of them sitting in a wide spread triangle on the grass. I paused and drank in the sight of a half naked Qui-Gon floating cross-legged with his hands on his out flung knees about three feet off the ground. His eyes were closed, the mane of brown and gray hair cascaded over his broad shoulders and the sunlight glinted off the sparse hair that dusted his bare chest all the way down to the waistband of his white leggings.
"Oh my!" Shmi said a bit breathlessly and I had to agree. Finally, I knew what the term 'sun-kissed' really meant.
The sunlight seemed attracted to his own golden aura, highlighting a muscle here, a thin white scar there. His skin glowed with life and I had the insane urge to run my hands all over that golden flesh. Blushing, I looked away and tried to control my runaway pulse. My gaze met Shmi's and the look in her eyes told me that I wasn't the only one with this reaction.
Suddenly it was too funny for words and I started giggling, which started her off, until we were both laughing so hard that we had to hold each other up. When we finally got control of ourselves and turned back to the Jedi, they were all standing and looking at us quizzically. Obi-Wan's upraised eyebrow almost set me off again but I got a firm grip on my sense of humor and bit my tongue.
"Mama, what was so funny?" Anakin approached us as if unsure of what we'd do next.
"I'm just happy to see Master Qui-Gon alive and looking so ... so well." She bent down and hugged him, her voice trembling for just a moment and I had to think of something ugly quickly.
Governor Bibble naked. Yech!
I think Obi-Wan suspected something because he was helping his master on with a white linen tunic and making sure it was fully closed. It did help. A bit. Somehow, I knew that I would be replaying that picture in my day dreams for a while. Lucky, lucky Obi-Wan.
Anakin led us both over to his masters and Shmi took the elder Jedi's hands in her work worn grasp. "Thank you, Master Qui-Gon, for helping my son achieve his dream."
"He has ... a destiny we have yet ... to fully understand." He spoke haltingly, his vocal cords still not fully functioning from their death paralysis. He looked over at me with a rather pleading look and I nodded, touching Shmi's shoulder to get her attention.
"Shmi, would you mind if Master Qui-Gon spoke directly to your mind? He won't read it, just send the words right to you." I caught her eyes and watched hers widen before she nodded hesitantly.
//Thank you, Shmi. My voice is coming back slowly. Do you have questions for me or for Obi-Wan?// He broadcast the thought so we all heard it.
I don't think her eyes could have gotten any wider but she simply blinked once and took a moment to think. "There are so many questions that we'd be here all day but for now, I think we'd better concentrate on why the Queen is having these headaches."
//Shields. And what it will take to maintain them so the Dark Side can not penetrate your minds.// Qui-Gon raised one finger than another. //And to make it more difficult, you all four need shields that are invisible to the Dark Side.//
"Is that possible?" Obi-Wan said somberly.
"I'll bet Master Qui-Gon can." Anakin said with a sturdy nod of his close shorn head, the new braid still just a stub.
The tall man laughed silently, his blue eyes crinkling in the sun. //I might have one or two ideas. But for now, I could use a nice cup of tea and some of those biscuits that Dala's kitchen made for us.//
So we moved inside to the round table and the mismatched chairs while Obi-Wan showed Shmi where everything in the small cooking area was and Anakin chattered to me about his latest lesson in the control of the Force. Qui-Gon listened to us silently from the other side of his little apprentice.
The water must have been at a slow boil because in only a few moments, the tea was steeping in the big brown earthenware teapot and we each had a cinnamon and sugar biscuit to dunk in the wide mouthed cups.
//Now, about your shields. Unlike many of my compatriots who believe the Sith are extinct, we know they are not. Yoda sent some of the ancient texts with Obi-Wan but I've not yet had a chance to go over them.// A rather wicked glance at Obi-Wan had him blushing bright red. //Nevertheless, I believe when Anakin used the Force and your energies to bring me back to life, a natural shield was created. One consisting of some parts Living Force and some parts of each of your own energy field.//
"So, it's a part of us and always will be?" Anakin had such a concentrated look on his face.
//Yes. But it will not defend against what the Chancellor did to Amidala.//
"He hurt you?" Ani looked at me and put his small hand over mine.
"He tried, Ani, but Obi-Wan fixed it and took away the pain." I reassured him the best I could with the memory of the sick ache still vivid in my mind.
"The headache." Shmi nodded and poured more tea. "I felt such coldness from him when we met but I thought it was just a bad reaction to all the changes in my life."
//If we are correct, he is the Sith Lord who sent Darth Maul to kill us. He will be looking for another apprentice so we must be alert and keep each other safe.// Qui-Gon and Shmi exchanged a long glance that told me they both knew who Palpatine would be looking at.
A fierce need arose in me to protect the little boy who sat so happily by my side, munching on his sweet biscuit and slurping his tea. We were not so far apart in age and my need to protect him came from the feeling of kinship. I'd always wanted a little brother and now it seems that the Force had sent me one.
Looking at Obi-Wan, I decided that it had decided to send me an older brother as well. Now, that I could have done without. Sighing internally, I glanced up to catch a smile from Qui-Gon that told me he knew exactly what I was thinking. //Are all brothers so officious?//
//Only the ones who care very deeply and are still somewhat in shock from rather abrupt changes in their lives. We could all use some quiet time to rebuild our strength.// He sent me the private thought with which I heartily agreed.
"First we need to be sure that the Chancellor will not pick up anything about our suspicions of him or about Qui-Gon's continued existence." I wanted to be very sure that I was not the one to let this secret out and by the looks around the table, we were in complete agreement.
//Luckily enough, I did some practicing with your general earlier today. It seems to be working well during the negotiations. Palpatine tried at least twice to pick up information about the fight with the Sith and each time Panaka filled in the gaps with pictures of the fight in the throne room, the smell of the returning ships, the sounds of the blasters echoing in the halls. Very nicely done.//Qui-Gon nodded in appreciation.
The next hour was spent in recognizing when someone was probing us until our normal shields could slide right over what we didn't want known yet still appear to be hiding nothing. After repeated intrusions, I no longer had to think about it. My energy field simply took over and filled the space with crackling sparks of static interspersed with random thoughts about the weather or my hunger or an itch that just wouldn't go away.
When we took a break while Anakin showed his mother about the cottage, the rest of us wandered back outside to sit in the shade of the leafy green kolla trees. Qui-Gon and I shared the wooden bench while Obi-Wan stretched and moved restlessly beside us. I really hadn't taken the time to appreciate the lithe body that flowed so gracefully through a series of intricate movements which were obviously part of a ritualized ... //dance?//
//Kata. It is a limbering up exercise that is taught to all trainees. Anakin is not yet in control of his body so he won't be learning this one for a while.// Qui-Gon's eyes followed each move with the eyes of a teacher. And of a lover.
Hiding a smile, I realized it was as much a mating ritual as it was an exercise for these two. I really needed to get Palpatine off Naboo and send these two off on a honeymoon. Someplace quiet and secluded where they could be as uninhibited and noisy as they wished.
//Very perceptive, Dala. But we need to be very sure that Anakin is safe and protected. The Sith Lord may have only had one apprentice but he has minions everywhere, I'm quite sure.//
I shuddered at the thought of that cold old man darkening the bright light which glowed in Anakin's eyes. //Perhaps the two of you could stay here while I take Ani and Shmi with me on the tour of the southern continent. The cooks could still try and tempt poor, grieving Obi-Wan's appetite. And I'd leave the guard on the bridge to keep any unwanted visitors out.//
Obi-Wan must have been eavesdropping because he suddenly joined in the plan making. Coming to rest on one knee before his former master, he looked up appealingly. "Could we, Qui-Gon? Take just a little time for us before we start Ani's training in earnest?"
"Imp." The graveled tones did something severely shocking to my insides and by the looks of the shiver that passed over Obi-Wan's flushed skin, he was just as affected. They were speaking to each other, I could tell by the expressions that flew over Obi-Wan's expressive face.
//Very well, Dala. We shall take you up on your kind offer.// He looked at me serenely but with a twinkle in those blue eyes that made me want to giggle. //Thank you.//
Taking a chance, I leaned up and kissed his cheek. "You are very welcome, Qui-Gon. Someday, I hope that we won't have to sneak around anymore and you and Obi-Wan will be able to walk freely among the stars together."
He touched my shoulder gently. //Someday, Dala. Someday.//
That touch and the look in his and Obi-Wan's eyes carried me through the banquet that evening, the talks the next day and Chancellor Palpatine's departure the day after that. He'd offered to take my council and I with him, joking about all the shopping I didn't get to do on my last visit.
Filling my mind with excited thoughts of Cyrene silk fabrics in a myriad of colors, floating chersilk veils and bright jewels for trim, I brought myself back to a sense of duty and the memory of those less fortunate than myself. Fluttering my eyelashes at him again, I spoke of the traveling needed to bring comfort to those cities devastated by the Federation.
He patted my hand and wished me luck before leaving with all the pomp and ceremony we could muster up for a farewell. Obi-Wan was there like a rock at my side, someone I could lean on when I faltered. At least three times that I was aware of, a cold touch created static in my mind. But after some of the detailed discussions when my brain threatened to shut down due to overload of minutia, I could no longer be certain if three times were all.
Watching the cruiser depart, all I could feel was relief and a strong desire to get on with what we needed to do next. Panaka stood at my left and Obi-Wan at my right with little Anakin to his right, suddenly, I realized that I was a very lucky woman. Even with all the heartache and stress of the last few months, I felt vividly alive.
And capable of taking on the galaxy. Especially with these allies to help. Hiding a grin, I turned to go back inside and plan our trip. Someone was depending on me for a honeymoon and I was determined that nothing would stand in their way.
Not even the Sith.
End part five