Part 11: Cam'st thou by this Ill Tidings.
(Richard II, act III, sc. IV)
"... he was more than my match and well trained in the Jedi arts. I can only conclude that he was Sith lord."
"A Sith lord?" Master Windu echoed, leaning forward in his chair. The rest of the Council took up his words for comforting incredulity.
"Impossible!" Ki-Adi-Mundi decided irritably, his features foregoing the usual Council Master expression of quiet serenity. "The Sith have been extinct for a millennium!"
"Threatened, the Republic is, if the Sith are involved," Master Yoda noted, and his words caused the rest of the masters to take stock, for it was rare that the wisdom of the oldest master among them was ever questioned.
"This is difficult to accept, Padawan Kenobi," Master Windu remarked, turning the attention back to the one who stood in the centre of the conclave with his master, awaiting judgement on his mission report, it being his trial for knighthood. "I do not understand how the Sith could have returned without us knowing."
"Hard to see, the dark side is," Master Yoda reminded him. "Discover who this assassin was, we must."
"Yes," Mace Windu concurred. "This attack was with purpose, that much is clear. You did well to defeat him, Padawan Kenobi. But with his demise, several questions remain unanswered. His identity, his origins, whether he was the apprentice or the master. If this was just a lone shadow, or if there are others still hiding in the darkness."
"Such matters, concern only the Council they do," Master Yoda concluded, rising from his chair to descend to the centre, where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stood waiting. "Answers, revealed they will be, in time. Our judgement, Padawan Kenobi awaits."
Obi-Wan fixed his eyes on the small and wizened grand master, whose strength and sense within the Force was often the ultimate authority within the Order, though Mace Windu was head of the Council. For himself, he had always found Master Yoda willing to listen and offer counsel, feeling privileged and humbled that he was regarded favourably by him since his days in the crèche. He dropped to his knee before him and bowed his head, waiting.
The lights darkened and the shades moved to cover the transparisteel, shutting out the sunlight from Coruscant's orbital reflectors. One by one the remaining eleven Council Masters rose from their chairs to surround the supplicant. He felt his Master's hand clasp his shoulder as his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, while his breath and heart caught in his throat, awed.
"Jedi we all are," Master Yoda declared, his voice soft and quiet, yet the words seemed to echo back and forth across the chamber. "Speaks through us, the Force does. Through our actions, and what is real, proclaims itself, it does. Here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed, today we are."
A sudden swish of ignition, Obi-Wan saw the green blade ignite, and felt the heat of the crystal blade as it rested above both his shoulders in turn.
"By the right of the Council," Master Yoda continued, "by the will of the Force, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight of the Republic, I dub thee."
He heard his own Master's blade kindle, before Qui-Gon raised the saber to sever his padawan braid. Three strands of carefully woven hair, accrued with numerous beads marking the honours he had earned during his apprentice, fell to the floor, a mark of distinction he had striven so hard to earn and cradled carefully once he did, only to be consigned to tiled floor as he shed one rank for another.
"Take up your lightsaber, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight," Master Yoda instructed. "And may the Force be with you."
Obi-Wan rose gracefully to his feet, retrieving his own blade to ignite and raise the beam towards the ceiling of the Council Chamber. One by one the rest of the lit blades followed suit, in silent celebration of his achievement.
When light and daylight returned to the room, the shades drawing back from the transparisteel to reveal the view of Coruscant's planet-wide cityscape once more, the new knight took some moments to quietly collect himself. Blades were sheathed and Council Masters gathered around him, offering wisdom, praise and advice, each of which he took care to note, even though he knew that he would not realise the sense behind the words until later. his sea shaded eyes darted about the chamber, until they lit upon the his padawan braid, lying the floor. Opening his hand, he called the woven strands of hair into his clasp, before raising his gaze in search of his Master.
He found him standing off to the side, looking a little forlorn and suddenly aged, as though his youthful years were now spent. Parting politely from another of the Council Masters who detained him to offer advice, Obi-Wan strode towards his master, and presented the symbol of his apprenticeship, as an offering.
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan uttered as Qui-Gon raised his gaze, blinking from the sudden appearance of the braid, to fix upon his now former apprentice. "Such words are inadequate considering how much has passed between us, but I am grateful for all that you have given me during our time together."
"I have taught you all I can, and you have been a good apprentice, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon remarked softly. "You are a much wiser man than I am. You will be a great Jedi, my young padawan," he added as took the beaded braid with slightly shaking hands, clasping it in firm but gentle grip, then taking his pupil into a fond, fatherly embrace. "One whose missions will become the stuff of legends. You will make me proud."
Obi-Wan clasped his master close, knowing that this could be one of the last times he might see Qui-Gon for a while. New knights were often given their first missions soon after the ceremony that saw them confirmed into such illustrious ranks. They were also given a new apartment, to allow their masters to choose another padawan if they wished, a choice which might be placed before the knight, in time.
Qui-Gon was the first to break away, and even then it was only to transfer the embrace of father and son for a clasp upon the smaller man's shoulder, guiding him out of the Council Chambers and back to their apartment. There was packing to be done, and the transfer of belongings to new quarters in the knights' wing of the Temple.
Obi-Wan allowed himself to be led back to the turbolift and then through the corridors to their quarters, but within him there was a general reluctance to do anything which might bring to an end the partnership between himself and his master. It was strange, after all these years of study and training, yearning to become a knight, he had never prepared himself to face the moment when he and Qui-Gon would be apart, no longer master and apprentice. He knew he could manage missions on his own, but the other part, where he would be living in the Temple, alone, that seemed a horrifying prospect just now.
Nor did he feel like a Jedi Knight. He had imagined that once the ceremony was over, or even during the symbolic severing of his braid, that something within him would change, or grow. What, he was unsure, but he knew now that aside from a sense of being utterly overwhelmed, he felt the same as he had before walking into the Council Chamber. Sudden understanding mixed with uncertainty and the knowledge that he was about to willingly walk into the unknown. Without the aid of a Master at his side. He was not alone, a Jedi never was when they had the Force as their ally, but he did feel that sense of abandonment waiting in the wings, ready to consume him.
It was an odd feeling one which he did not believe would dissipate any time soon. He knew what he should be doing, entering in the spirit of the occasion, celebrating with his friends who would doubtless be happy for him. But he knew that if he did so, it would be a role to play until he was without an audience, however caring or well intentioned they may be. Perhaps it was because of the way he had become a knight, as the result of duelling with a Sith. The first Jedi to do so in over a millennia. It was an unusual rite of passage, certainly not how he expected rise from the ranks of padawans. Though his master had trained him to be a warrior, Jedi were pacifists at heart. Negotiation was what he had been schooled in, he was taught to believe in the power of the word over the sword. And that was why it bothered him so much, as though by resorting to violence, he had not deserved his promotion.
"Obi-Wan?" His master queried, causing him to rouse himself from his musings. "What is the matter, my padawan?"
"That," he replied, as Qui-Gon's concerned expression acquired an aspect of confusion. "I am not sure whether I should be what you just called me."
"You'll always be my padawan, whatever rank you hold," Qui-Gon assured him. "But I sense that is not the cause of this disquiet."
"It isn't," Obi-Wan sighed, unsure how to put what he was feeling into words. "Did I do the right thing in killing him, master?"
"Only you can answer that," Qui-Gon replied. "From the report you gave to the Council I can find no fault in your actions. But only you know what lies in your heart. What you felt at the moment you put up your saber."
"I was protecting the Queen and her attendants," Obi-Wan replied. "I did what I thought was right at the time. But it was a violent act, which resulted in my knighthood, and I cannot ignore that. Should killing a Sith, or any act of aggression for that matter, earn such an elevation?"
"Obi-Wan, you are not the first Jedi to earn their knighthood through such an act," Qui-Gon replied. "Nor do I think you will be the last. You did not seek out that warrior, nor did you intend to kill him. It was he who sought out you, he who attacked. The very fact that you are questioning your actions tells me that you earned your promotion. The day we stop questioning such violent deeds is the day we lose the essence of what it is to be a Jedi." His master stepped forward and laid a hand on his shoulder. "This feeling will pass in time, Obi-Wan. No doubt as soon as you have your first mission as a knight under your belt. Until then, remember your training. Accept that you feel such doubts, and do not dwell."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied, knowing as he did so, that Qui-Gon had spoken the truth from the beginning. No matter how many years passed, one thing would never change. Qui-Gon would always be his master, and he Qui-Gon's padawan.
Palpatine stared at the results in disbelief, questioning the sense that the numbers made in sheer blind anger until the very walls of his office crackled with the sith lightning which he was repressing from venting. Incredulity was fast losing a battle with the dark side of his nature, but he refused to let the careful work he had put into this, collapse in one sudden crush of negative emotion. Such feelings were his strength, to wield them now without receiving anything in return would be a waste of that power.
Just as the days he had spent doing the careful work in the hope of bringing the schemed for success were now a waste. Time occupied by collecting now seemingly questionable support from his colleagues within the senate and those he thought would be able to gather votes from the outside.
There was nothing he could do to rectify this mess, or salvage anything that would prove equally satisfying from it. No one would turn to him for advice now, or for support, as this loss would show them that his name could give them nothing. His reputation was irretrievable, his future career in the Senate forfeit.
It was time to move on. There were other ways to achieve his schemes after all. His future did not depend on just one manoeuvre, there were many hands to play, and numerous Sabacc pots for the taking.
He would have to inform her Highness however, and that part of the business felt particularly galling. She would be sympathetic of course, but he suspected that secretly she would relieved by the result. The prospect of him rejoining her council would not be so easily welcomed, but she would be unable to refuse him the opportunity to do so. From there he could start to build the foundations for his empire, under the guise of an old councillor, and far better without the Senate and the obligations which it required of all members, such as the endless committee meetings and legislative red tape that he had used to excellent though ultimately futile effect for the past years.
On Naboo his actions would not be under the scrutiny of the holonet press, or his soon to be former colleagues within the senate, or the Jedi. However the veil of the dark side which he had used to keep them at bay would disappear with his departure from the Core. Naboo was too far away to cloud the senses of Order. But it was that same distance which would prevent them from sensing his actions until it was too late.
Yes, his plans would succeed. This setback would cost him nothing but time.
Padmé stared at the results of the election for Chancellor unable to believe what her senses were telling her. Ainlee Teem of Malastare, the widely considered front-runner of the three candidates who were nominated, had won the chance to become Finis Valorum's successor.
She did not know the Gran well, although they had spent some time together in the Senate, as Ainlee stepped down from his Senatorial seat to become a representative of Malastare just before the battle of Geonosis.
Despite all her efforts, she had thought that Palpatine would win the election. What she could do was limited by her position and a talk with the outgoing Chancellor could only carry so much weight among other Senators. Palpatine was also a sith, and not above manipulating beings and events to get his way, which caused her to believe that her efforts would ultimately prove futile.
Yet they had evidently succeeded, in spite of these seemingly overwhelming obstacles. The question now however, was what Palpatine would do next. Ainlee Teen was not an ally of his, for there had been an assassination attempt on him shortly after her vote of no confidence sparked elections. If that part of history was to be repeated, there was little she could do, other than quietly hope such methods failed as they had done before. As for her Senator, there were several options open to him, all of which he was equally likely to take. He could wait until the end of Ainlee's first term, then run for the Chancellorship again, he could retire from the Senate to set up the future separatist movement, or quietly do so on Coruscant and keep serving her as Senator for the time being. Or he could do none of those things, and she would not know, even if he chose to speak to her about his plans.
It was thus with much trepidation - a feeling which Padmé tried to conceal as best she could - that she approached his subsequent holonet conversation, made shortly after the results of the Chancellorship elections had been broadcast to all systems within the Republic.
"Your Majesty," he greeted her, using the old appellation which she hated and asked the Naboo to stop calling her by soon after she became Queen. "I'm sure you have heard the news concerning the results of the elections for Supreme Chancellor."
"We have," Padmé replied, "and may we say that we are truly sorry that you did not triumph through them, Senator. The Senate and the Republic have missed out on acquiring a great leader."
"I thank you for the compliment, Your Majesty," Palpatine said, bowing his head a little in receiving her praise. "I trust you will feel the same regarding my successor."
She did not need to fake her emotions this time, her surprise was genuine. "Your successor? Surely you are not thinking of stepping down?"
"There is little else one can do after such a defeat," Palpatine replied. "My fellow Naboo and my fellow Senators need to see that I have the power to affect change in the Republic, change which is badly needed. Clearly they do not believe I possess such power. I would not achieve much by remaining here. Nor am I the only candidate to resign. Senator Antilles will cede his seat to Bail Organa, it has been announced."
"Well, if you feel it is your only option, then we have no choice but to accept your resignation," Padmé remarked. "What will you do?"
"I hoped, your Majesty, that I may be able to still serve you in some small capacity on your Council," Palpatine replied. "Though my Core career may be finished, my desire to serve Naboo will never be quenched."
"Of course, Senator," Padmé answered, knowing she had little choice but to agree, "We will welcome your counsel. We hope to see you soon."
"And I you, your Majesty."
When the holo image of Palpatine had faded, she switched of the comm panel, and leaned back in her chair. Palpatine's return to Naboo was something she had been prepared for, after all he was the member of a prosperous, prominent family whose estate bordered her own villa in Varykino. If he chose, he could run his empire from there and no one would be any the wiser. His return would also give her the opportunity to have his actions observed more closely and hopefully acquire the evidence of his sithly nature to present to the Jedi Council for justice.
But how comfortable she would be in conducting the business of the realm with him in such close proximity to her day after day, was another matter. It would take all her ingenuity to conceal her true feelings for him, her knowledge of the future, not to mention the secret surveillance that she planned to place upon him.
She was grateful that she had not given into her impulse to free Anakin and his mother whilst she was on Tatooine. She was also thankful that they had chosen not to take up the offer she made to the Arkanis government regarding all freed slaves having a chance to start a new life on Naboo. Though what she was going to do about awakening her and Anakin's relationship had yet to be thought of. She could only hope that some evidence of Palpatine's true nature would arise and the Jedi were able to deal with him before ten years had passed.