Part 16: Virtue with Valour Couched in Thine Eye.
(Richard II, act 1, sc. 3)
It was a shame, Padmé reflected later, that she had never fallen in love with Obi-Wan Kenobi. In many ways they were better suited for each other than she and Anakin had ever been. He was handsome, charming, strong, intelligent, cultured, passionate, unfailingly modest, yet confident of his own abilities, his strengths and weaknesses. He was a Jedi who had seen the darkside, yet was never tempted by it. He treated her and everyone else as an equal, respected everyone he met, accepted her opinions, her concerns and her ability to take care of herself. They had fought together in battle, negotiated peace, seen each other at their best and at their worst, in moments of deepest tragedy and highest joy. They shared the same beliefs in democracy, politics, the Republic, found amusement and enjoyment in wit, history, comedy, art, literature.
Their only fights had been about Anakin, and she had come to realise that he was right. She remembered their last, just before she went back to Naboo to marry Ani, after the bloodshed of Geonosis, the precursor to the Clone Wars. He had been sent, she could tell, as he admitted, by someone in the Order to persuade her to let his padawan go. His arguments had been sound, reasonable and rational, despite being tempered by his subdued, cold, almost angry formality in his tone and posture. That had been, she realised now, like her choice of dress, an armour, to hide his vulnerability from her, his care and concern for Anakin, for her, for the Order and for the Republic, his grief and guilt in believing himself to be the cause of the start of the Clone Wars, for failing Qui-Gon and Anakin. For getting captured by Dooku, making Anakin and her decide to go and rescue him, injuring themselves in the process.
In reply, she had behaved like a child denied her favourite toy, even though she had been terrified by the thought that there was no going back. Her feelings were revealed to Anakin and they could never be denied, no matter how much she or Obi-Wan, or the Council for that matter, tried to argue otherwise. Anakin's love was like the heat of a supernova. At the time, she had believed that if the Jedi tried to control it, he would be destroyed, but in attempting to let him feel and act on such an emotion, she had done exactly what she had been trying to prevent. She had wanted to save him, but with a love that was unequal to his own. For his love for her had not been a love that would mature with age, or be tempered by her emotions. He had wanted to possess her, to capture and keep her like a precious jewel. Unlike her, he had not realised that everyone changed, that love must adapt to keep up with such developments, otherwise it was a selfish love, build on unsafe foundations that would eventually topple and crumble into dust.
She had not seen this truth then, during her fight with Obi-Wan. Instead she thought that the Jedi were being unreasonable in denying themselves attachment, sacrificing each member to a lonely life, when in fact she had failed to realise the critical distinction within the code. A distinction which Obi-Wan had pointed out to her once, in this timeline, where their fight that she recalled so vividly, had never occurred, because Anakin had never been found by his master, trained by the Jedi, they had never gone to Geonosis, the clone army had never been discovered, the Clone Wars never begun. Attachment was forbidden, but love was not. As long as a Jedi could recognise the distinction between the two, and for a Jedi, just as much as any other being, that was extremely difficult, then love was not denied to them.
If Anakin had loved her while recognising that distinction, they Jedi would have allowed them the marriage they went ahead and formed anyway, although with a proviso that they were discreet about their relationship. A Jedi and a Senator would have been unheard of during the war, because of the increasingly political and military divide which Palpatine had carefully woven in between the Order and the Senate, destroying the trust which had once existed, so that when the time came for the clone army to murder the Jedi, the massacre was a triumph instead of a horrifying act of genocide. But Anakin's feelings for her had not realised the difference between love and attachment, which was why Obi-Wan had obeyed the order of the Council and gone to her, hoping she would be reasonable and see the error of judgement which she was about to make before it was too late.
Padmé had dwelt on that conversation many times since her return to the past, and even before, during the events which followed. At first, during the initial happiness which came after their wedding, she had believed herself to be completely justified in lying to Obi-Wan, to the Order, to her family, and to the Republic about her feelings and actions. Only later, as the darkness fell over the Republic, as she and Anakin began to grow apart, not just because of the war, but due to his unfailing loyalty to Palpatine and her increasing distrust in the man who had once been her closest advisor, had she begun to see the truth in Obi-Wan's arguments. He was right to warn her to end the relationship, about the difference between causing a small cruelty then, rather than a crushing devastation later. By ignoring him it had destroyed not just Anakin, but herself as well.
Fortunately, the Force had given her a chance to prevent such devastation from occurring again. It had given her the opportunity to save Anakin from all that caused him to turn, even herself. As much as she tried to pretend or hope otherwise, she had been a factor in his fall to the darkside, and perhaps it would be for the best if she never admitted her feelings for him, and he never got the chance to have feelings for her.
She needed to move on, to find someone else. Briefly she contemplated the possibility of Obi-Wan, what he had offered her last night. He had all but admitted that he was in love with her, just as his padawan once had. Yet his love was far different from Anakin's. Obi-Wan had never once demanded the same feeling in return from her. He accepted how far her care for him went, and that it could not go any further, not yet. She had been so focused on saving Anakin, on saving the Republic, that she had no time to consider her feelings for anyone else in her life. Not only that, she did felt that she did not deserve his love. As easy as it would be to fall in love with him, he deserved someone better, who was untainted by their past, a secret that would disappoint him if she ever decided to burden him with such a tragedy. A woman who had not loved another first, and was so utterly blind to believe that she could save them, when he was not able to find the desire to save himself.
The contract negotiations with the spice miners came to an end, the workers and the management both satisfied with the agreement which was reached. As Queen Amidala Padmé hosted a state dinner to celebrate, inviting all the parties who were involved to attend, along with the miners families, then publicly bid Obi-Wan farewell the next day.
So as not to appear too suspicious, she let a standard Nubian week pass before declaring a break for the court, her council and herself. Pretending that she would stay with her family, not an unusual destination for her during recess, Padmé dismissed her councillors, handmaidens and security, shed her robes of office and spent a night at the Naberrie home before heading for Varykino.
Her parents were pleased to see her, for it had been some months since she had last spent an evening at home. Although she would have loved to see her nieces Ryoo and Pooja, Padmé was relieved that her sister and brother in law were not there for dinner, as Sola had been rather persistent lately about when she was going to retire from serving her people, meet someone special, settle down and have children of her own.
Padmé could not deny that such was a desire of hers, but Sola did not understand why it was something she could not do for some time to come, and Padmé doubted that even if she tried to explain, Sola would believe and see that only she was capable of watching Palpatine. No one else could, because no one else knew who he really was.
When she arrived at the Lake Retreat, a boatman escorting her to the water entrance dock on his gondola, Obi-Wan emerged from the villa to help her out of the boat and take her luggage. She almost failed to recognise him. His reddish blond hair was gone, replaced by a black shade which brought out the blue tones in his sea coloured eyes. Another thing missing from his appearance was his beard, which he had grown shortly after gaining the rank of knight, the shaven look taking some years off his countenance. Even his Jedi robes were gone, and in their place were dark coloured and bold distinctively fashioned civilian clothes adding to the assemble that was his disguise as a potential Sith apprentice.
"What do you think?" he asked her after she had stepped back to survey this dark-haired, blue-eyed, shaven stranger, realising only with his deep Core accent that it was indeed Obi-Wan Kenobi.
"Its a good look," she murmured appreciatively, causing him to blush. "You'll need to do something about the accent, though."
"That's in hand," he replied in a tone that made her blink, for all traces of the Core dialect had gone, replaced by a voice that was more southern, almost Outer Rim in its origins. "I just wanted to make sure you knew who I was."
"I must admit, I was alittle unsure for awhile there," she confessed. He offered her his free arm and they walked away from the small dock. "So, what do you think of the Lake Country?" She asked him as they headed up the steps to the balconied entrance of the villa.
"Its beautiful," Obi-Wan replied. "And its a shame that neither of us are able to enjoy all it has to offer."
"I used to come here after school," Padmé explained, brushing away her memory of what happened after she told Anakin this moment of her past. "We would swim over to that small island over there and lie on the beach, naming the flowers, birds and trees that we knew and trying to guess the ones that were still a mystery before we swam back. I love the water."
"So do I," Obi-Wan replied. "My friend Bant and I would spend hours in the Temple's room of a thousand fountains, exploring them. She's Mon Calamari."
Padmé nodded, concealing her past knowledge of that fact. Reluctantly she turned their conversation back to Palpatine. "When will you visit Convergence?"
"Tomorrow," He answered. "I'll take the gondola to the edge of the estate, then trek across country until I reach the house. Its important that he has no idea where I've come from." He paused before inquiring, "I presume he will be there?"
"Yes," Padmé confirmed. "When I declared the summer recess I asked all the councillors what they would do, as casually as I could. He said that he had some estate business to take care of, and I complimented him on the beauty of the house. Such a shame, it really is too lovely an estate to be owned by someone so evil."
"What happened to his family?" Obi-Wan asked.
"His parents and siblings died in mysterious circumstances," Padmé answered. "An accident aboard the family's yacht." It was something she had been unable to prevent, at least without direct interference on her part. Each one of her discreet arrangements to save the innocent members of Palpatine's family had failed and by the time she had resolved to expose herself by saving them, it had been too late.
"Convenient," Obi-Wan murmured and she nodded in agreement. "I see you set up a surveillance room here as well as at the palace."
"I thought it wise to keep an eye on him from here as well as Theed," Padmé replied. "And it will help if someone else knows what is happening at Convergence, just in case you need assistance." That was the one thing she was worried about, she knew Obi-Wan had defeated Grevious and managed to defeat Anakin at the height of his Sith powers, but Palpatine was a different matter. Master Yoda had faced him, but Sidious had emerged from that battle unscathed, although according to his special address to the Senators after that encountered, he had been weakened by the attack from several Jedi Councillors. What damage Yoda had managed to cause she never learned, due to the severity of her own injuries. She could not be sure that Obi-Wan would be able to defeat him, and she could only hope that if he needed backup, the Jedi would not be too far away to assist him.
"I informed the Council of my plans before I left Theed," Obi-Wan added, "They promised me that they would have masters standing by, if I found that our theory about Palpatine was true, ready to aid me if necessary."
The Naberrie's villa at Varykino was large enough for a family with two daughters, luxurious and spacious to be considered a holiday palace, but compared to Convergence it was a modest dwelling. The Palpatine estate stretched for miles, sprawled over several acres of forest and marshland. Outer lodges followed the Nubian architecture of domes, pillars and circles, but the main house was a series of squares layered upon one another, gradually decreasing in size. The pyramid shape presented certain difficulties in approaching the place unobserved. Large transparisteel panes, cloaked on one side to provide both privacy and security dominated various sections of each floor, leaving the visitor convinced that no matter from which direction they approached the place, it was impossible for the owner to be unaware of their arrival.
Obi-Wan settled for a direct route, reasoning that the councillor would respect his intelligence rather than wanting to test his devious nature. If Palpatine was as powerful as Padmé believed him to be, no doubt the deception would be rendered a pointless endeavour, as the councillor would sense the approach of anyone towards the property. Entering the main complex, he took in the overall appearance of the interior once more, noting the locations of Theed Palace's surveillance system, and Convergence's own internal security. From the furnishings and architectural decorations, it was easy to tell that House Palpatine was not only wealthy, it had been prosperous for some time. Despite the exterior style differing from Naboo's traditional designs, the inside conveyed the impression that the outside was added to a pre-existing structure which predated it.
As with any such combination, the layout was a tangle, but thanks to the surveillance, Obi-Wan knew where each room was, though because he was looking for hidden chambers, it was still necessary to check all that he encountered and make sure that they tallied with the visuals in the holo records.
There were many rooms, and more blind spots than he had counted on. He moved cautiously, concentrating all his senses on each in turn. Within the Force he could detect a passage of air present behind a seemingly solid wall, indicating the existence of a chamber beyond. He could sense the echo of another being imbued with enough midi-chlorians to be a powerful warrior having passed their day or night in this room or that previously. He could also tell when such an echo had been wiped from the chamber, in an effort to conceal its existence. In many ways it was easier to detect a Sith as oppose to a Jedi, the passionate violence of anger in comparison to the calm serenity of balance. Jedi were held to be at peace with themselves, whereas the Sith were always at war, within and without. For those who had the potential to become adept in either arts, but had never been sought out or been given the opportunity, it was also not difficult to detect an echo of their presence.
He had been in the house for some time before he found what he was looking for. It was so well concealed that he almost missed it. An automated sliding panel within a wall, controlled by sensors concealed under the floor. Obi-Wan paused before activating it, making sure to clear his mind of everything and everyone he cared about, building shields to protect the light side of the Force which existed deep within him, clouding his senses with those of what he had once sensed from the Sith he fought ten years ago. It was over a decade since he had faced a Sith, but he was not unprepared nor was he out of his depth. His masters had taught him well, his missions for the Republic and Order likewise.
Once he was ready, Obi-Wan stepped forward onto the sensors, allowing the panel to slide away, revealing the room that was concealed behind.
Inside was a darkness, lit by the light of half a dozen holo-emitters, depicting various types of information from several systems, some belonging to the Republic, others located within the outer reaches of the known galaxy. Some he did not recognise, but then Jedi do not get to see every planet in existence. There were those who rarely strayed beyond the Core realms.
As his eyes adjusted to their artificially lit surroundings, a stark contrast to the natural light which they had been previously accustomed to, Obi-Wan took care to memorise what he saw and heard. On his person there were two hidden audio and visual recorders, which were relating a live feed of everything they saw back to the surveillance systems in the Villa at Varykino, the Palace at Theed, a ship in orbit carrying the Jedi Masters he might need if the fight proved him to be out of his depth, and the Council Chambers at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. However it was wise to keep a record himself also, just in case these devices were destroyed or tampered with.
Surrounding the holo-emitters was a darkly decorated interior of black and red. The furniture was made of some sable toned ore, finely carved, adorned by richly tailored accessories. Here, as within the rest of Convergence, was the presence of ancient arts and contemporary technology combined into a horrifying whole.
In the middle of all this, seated behind a ornately carved desk, was a seemingly kindly aged being, who in any other place would have convinced visitors that his outward appearance was all he claimed to be; the gentle, mild-mannered, once senator, now provincial councillor who had done nothing but serve his system's interests at the cost of his own all his life.
However, in this dark chamber he seemed a spectre from the Ruusan wars, a survivor who has hidden for over a millennia, biding his time, carefully planning his revenge. A old man who was more powerful than his age suggested. The antithesis of Master Yoda, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient.
Palpatine looked up from his work upon Obi-Wan's entrance, his eyes quickly appraising the intruder, while the rest of his countenance remained a thinly veiled threat.
"At last you have arrived," he began. "I was wondering when you would discover my whereabouts. What can you do for me?"
"Become your apprentice," Obi-Wan replied.