Part 4: The Apprehension Of The Good.
(Richard II (1595) act 1, sc. 3, l. 294)
That elusive bad feeling which Obi-Wan had felt from before he first mentioned it to his Master as they stepped aboard the Trade Federation's ship, disappeared, replaced by a calm serenity from the Force, which for some reason still possessed the ability to disturb him a little. Unlike Qui-Gon, his ability lay within the Unifying Force, the art of seeing the bigger picture, the talent to determine the future. He was accustomed to his bad feelings being a sign from the Force for him to be cautious, else what was to come might cost someone dear. Yet this one now seemed to be nothing more than the musing of a overly concerned mind. It was not like his knowledge of the Force to deceive him.
He continued to examine that feeling as he and Qui-Gon observed the negotiations between Nute Gunray and the Queen Amidala, whose Nubian pilots had managed to destroy most of the blockade ships including the one which controlled the droid army, defeated by the Gungans. Her security held the leader of the Trade Federation under arrest, waiting for the Republic security to arrive from Coruscant to take them back for trial. Chancellor Valorum and Senator Palpatine, when they arrived to congratulate the Queen, before staying to witness the formal ceremony that announced an alliance between the Gungans and the Naboo, as well as the end of the blockade. The politicians would escort the Viceroy back to Coruscant, the Supreme Chancellor kindly offering the Jedi a ride back to the capital, as the Trade Federation had destroyed the ship which brought them here. In the interim, between attending the negotiations between Nute Gunray and Queen Amidala, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had volunteered their services in assisting the cleanup of the damage done to Naboo since the blockade began.
Queen Amidala also lent a hand to the relief movements, as well as most of the members of her government, her security and her handmaidens. It was rare to find such generosity within the ranks of authority in any system. Normally those beings would be the last to assist those most deserving of aid, unless there was time to call in the friendly neighbour holonet reporter who would spin the situation to the politician's self-serving advantage. But the Naboo were the exception to this stereotype, causing Obi-Wan to re-evaluate his too often cynical view of those elected to create law. Not to mention another reason to admire this young woman even more than he should. Inwardly he sighed, a part of him already resigned to the depth of feeling he was currently drowning in regarding Amidala, and focused himself on the talks.
Nute Gunray had gone from incredulous and bewildered at the sudden collapse of his blockade invasion, to resigned, dismayed, and in Obi-Wan's opinion, a reluctant surrender. The Nubian government and Queen Amidala were doing their best to negotiate a peaceful settlement; express their sympathy for recently authorised Senate tax on the trade routes, but the Neimoidians were too much focused on their humiliating defeat and were not in a mind to accept the realities of their current position. After several hours spent in the conference room ending in the same stalemate they first reached when the meeting was begun, the Queen called for a recess. The Viceroy and his subordinates were escorted back to their rooms under guard, leaving the Naboo alone with the Jedi.
"Let us do something more productive now," Amidala remarked, her gaze directed at her security, more out of deference for their work rather than a desire for permission regarding what she was about to say next. "We are going to lend a hand to the clean up efforts. Any of you who care to join us, please be ready in the plaza."
There were no absences from those who were present in the conference room in the group which gathered upon the ground of Theed Palace's inner courtyard. Amidala was the last to arrive, having changed out of her heavy and elaborate clothes of office into something more practical. Her handmaidens followed behind her, some decoys only in face, others more similar, but for Obi-Wan the elected sovereign still stood out from her attendants, her beauty and intelligence beyond her years reflected from her youthful features.
Initially it was with difficulty that he removed his eyes from her to focus on the task ahead of them. However, as time drew on, and as he and Qui-Gon became completely aware of the full extent of the damage the Trade Federation inflicted on the planet, his thoughts reverted to the Jedi philosophy so inherent in his good nature. For despite the seemingly paradise like appearance of the planet, it held a populous who had been denied trade, food and water, removed from their homes, herded into camps. Many people were in distress, requiring the expertise of those trained to bring relief in such potentially helpless situations. It was a matter in which he had been trained from a youngling to assist, and he did so, as any Jedi would. A feeling of accomplishment arose within him from witnessing the difference their efforts made, the comfort which they brought to each and every being as they doled out food, water, and clothing, as well as assisting in repairs to the damaged capital.
He was experienced in dealing with such situations, but he had not expected those of the Nubian government to be so, particularly the Queen and her attendants, who were quite young to be granted symbols of power in the eyes of the Republic. Yet here they were working along side he and his master, as ably as any aid worker. Amidala was only recently elected, there had not been much information about her in the Jedi Archives, beyond her youth and involvement in the blockade upon her system. Despite his resolution not to indulge his attraction, he found his curiosity to know more about her increasing.
In a few minutes they were working beside each other, providing aid, able to observe each other's manner, hear the kind words they were saying, witness the comfort they managed to convey. She was the first to turn away, noticing his expression of curiosity, as he glanced at her for a moment.
"Naboo is generous," she explained. "Before the blockade, we could all have what we want. Food is plentiful, the climate is comfortable, the surroundings are beautiful. We are a very fortunate people and we know it. That good fortune should not be taken for granted, so we try to share and try to help. It is our way of saying that we welcome the friendship of those less fortunate, that we do not think ourselves entitled to that which we have, but rather, that we feel blessed beyond what we deserve. And so we share and so we work, and in doing so, we become something larger than ourselves, and more fulfilled than one can become from idly enjoying good fortune."
"It is a good philosophy to live by," Obi-Wan agreed. "I am glad to see that such generosity still exists." He turned to see if Qui-Gon or the others were watching, making sure that their attention was occupied elsewhere, before he let his curiosity flow. "Forgive me, but I am wondering, why you chose to become Queen with that desire to provide in mind."
"My father worked in the Refugee Relief Movement," she revealed. "It was my dream to follow him, but the more history I studied, the more I realised how much good politicians could do, if they so desired. When I was eight I joined the Apprentice Legislators, which is like making a formal announcement that you're entering public service here on Naboo. From there I went on to become a Senatorial Advisor where I attacked my duties with such a passion that before I knew it, I was elected Queen. For the most part it was because of my conviction that reform was possible. The people of Naboo embraced that dream wholeheartedly, so much so that my age was hardly an issue in the campaign. I'm not the youngest Queen elected, but I know that my youth and my actions will be judged by others. I just wish they would be willing to listen and to change, rather than scorn and disregard."
"I hope once they know you, that will change," he found himself saying, and inwardly flushed for expressing such a compliment aloud, however indirect. Then she smiled, and suddenly whatever guilt and embarrassment he felt faded away.
"Thank you, Obi-Wan," she uttered, causing him even more pleasure as the sound of his name was rendered sweet by her lips.
"You're welcome, milady," he replied.
"Padmé," she offered softly.
"It was my pleasure, Padmé," he added, inwardly musing on how well the name suited her. Another word for lotus flower, he remembered discovering in his research for this mission. A flower indeed, blooming for peace, and he grimaced almost as soon as the thought finished forming within his mind. Once more he had caught himself doing what he had resolved only minutes ago not to do. Resolutely he forced the feelings away and returned to assisting the Naboo.
Four days later, each one of them passed in the same fashion as the one before, attempting to negotiate a treaty with the Neimoidians, then participating in the cleanup of Naboo and assisting its' populous, the delegation from the Senate arrived to collect Nute Gunray and his lackeys for arrest and trial. Their arrival signalled the departure of Obi-Wan and his Master, a leaving the former was loathed to take, for it would mean parting from the young Queen whom he had come to admire and care for so much over the past few days, despite trying to restrain himself from doing so.
As soon as they received confirmation that the Chancellor's ship was approaching, he and Qui-Gon joined the Queen and her retinue upon the outdoor landing plaza. While the craft broke through the atmosphere, he tried to avoid directing a glance at Padmé. However, he soon realised that resolve was in vain and therefore gave up the attempt. She was veiled in the heavy robes of her elected office, an elaborately woven cloak which contrasted well with her dark hair and pale skin. What caught him most however was her expression; usually so majestically serene when she was required to use the formality of her position. The one which her face beheld now was as if a struggle for control was taking place within her mind. Her emotions were laying siege against her usual restraint on them, a self discipline that normally appeared to be as powerful as that of any Jedi, and she was not sensitive to the Force. She stared at the Chancellor's ship as the craft settled gently upon the permacrete of the plaza, with a fixed, narrowed eyed look, as if the person who was about to emerge from the craft was someone she hated.
Risking a verbal warning from his Master later on, Obi-Wan called upon the Force to confirm his suspicions. The conclusion he received caused him surprise, for he had hoped to be wrong in what he perceived. She did indeed hate someone aboard that ship, a deeply filled hatred, unusual in one so young and so yet so intelligent. He wondered about what could have caused such a strong emotion within her, and he felt compelled to alleviate that emotion, if only for a while, before the being descried that feeling and began to contemplate the motive behind it. To his astonishment, this compulsion originated not just from his feelings for her, but from the Force as well, as if the ancient energy called on him to protect her.
And as any Jedi would do, he obeyed the will of the Force. Gently he probed at her mental shields, silently asking for access to her mind. Due to her tenuous control of her emotions this penetration was easily granted, allowing him to slip through the barriers. The Force translated the conflict within her mind, turning the neural pathways into images which displayed the source of her negative feelings.
What he saw shocked him. It was Padmé, standing before the Senate, not in the elaborate robes of an elected Queen of the Naboo, but in those of a Senator. Her appearance was older too, as if this event which he was witnessing had taken place a few years from now. Yet why should it, he wondered, for to possess such a memory was impossible, even with the Force. Visions of the future changed all the time, influenced by whoever viewed them, by the actions of each living thing. It was impossible for it to stay the same.
Ignoring his curiosity regarding such an anomaly for now, he delved further into the scene that was being played out before him. A voice, belonging to a cloaked figure standing within the pod of office which was for the Chancellor, echoed around the room, addressing the Senators. Its owner was not Finis Valorum but another being, his features scarred before their natural time, beyond recognition. He was describing a calamitous event, one which had caused his injuries but was also impossible to conceive. Why would the Jedi mutiny against the Republic? Pushing the query aside, he observed Padmé's face. She was anxious and concerned, as well as sceptical. As if she doubted the veracity of the being's claims and had good reasons for such doubts.
The scene shifted to another place; a luxurious apartment, containing her and a Jedi. He caught the sound of the man's voice, the words which he spoke disjointed as if he was in the middle of a sentence. The news he conveyed was tragic; someone had turned to the dark side of the Force. To his horror he realised that the man was himself, several years older than he was now. Padmé seemed devastated, every part of her on the verge of collapse.
Both events flicked back and forth between one another as the hatred she felt continued to grow, interspersed with what was taking place at this moment; the latter almost like a countdown to implosion. He detected other emotions too, lending support to the hatred, convincing him that her feelings were not unjust, that if he witnessed what she saw, he would be experiencing the same emotions. And as much as the Force was telling him to help her conquer this hatred, for now at least, it was also warning him to take heed of what he had seen, because it would be vital to his understanding of events in the future.
In the distance he could hear the sound of landing gear shutting off, the imminent signal that the Coruscant delegation was due to disembark. The Force changed its message, urging him to help her, to protect her from what would come if a member of that delegation descried the wave of negative emotion she felt against them. Who he was not allowed to know, not yet. Accepting this state of ignorance, - for he would have time later to reflect on everything he had learned and perhaps guess at the identity, - Obi-Wan began to send soothing waves into her mind, gently lessening the hatred until she became aware of her surroundings and realised the need to conceal the emotion.
When her face was restored to the usual appearance of majestic serenity, he withdrew his intrusion into her mind, his departure as careful as his entrance had first been. He caught a look from Qui-Gon, eloquently conveying his Master's intention to speak to him about his actions the moment they were granted the privacy needed to do so. Obi-Wan accepted the event without resignation. Such a consequence was unavoidable due to the nature of his actions, the shift in the Force would have been noticeable to the Jedi Master, as it was carried out under his mental shields, ones which were always exercised by Masters over their Padawans. But he also caught sight of another eloquent glance, this one full of gratitude, for what he had just done, from one whom he had expected to remain ignorant of his actions.
It belonged to Padmé Amidala.