Part 6: A Long Apprenticehood.
(Richard II (1595) act 1, sc. 3, l. 236)
It was not until they were halfway through their journey back to Coruscant that Qui-Gon sought out his Padawan to ask for an explanation concerning his actions on Naboo. The Jedi had spent the past two days debriefing Chancellor Valorum and Senator Palpatine, followed by another unsuccessful interrogation of Nute Gunray and Rune Haako. The Neimoidians resisted all attempts to be drawn into a confession, keeping silent other than to request for their legal representation. It was doubtful that their lawyers would have the power to convince them to give up their secrets any more than the Judges of the Courts could but it was not within the power of the Jedi to deny them that right of counsel.
Clearly someone else possessed the means to command their silence, possibly the same someone who had promised them that their blockade would be made legal. A Senator perhaps? With so much widespread corruption within the Senate there were too many holders of that title who could claim a motive to be involved in this matter. Qui-Gon did not hold a lot of hope that the Naboo system would receive justice for many years to come. He began to see the wisdom behind the Queen's reluctance to leave her stricken homeworld in order to appeal to the authorities on Coruscant.
He and Obi-Wan returned to their quarters on the ship, and for moment Qui-Gon lingered behind, studying his Padawan. Obi-Wan had been by his side for nearly thirteen years now, proving himself well beyond the expectations of first the Council and his master. He would become a great Jedi, far greater than Xanatos could ever have been. But more than that, he was like a son to Qui-Gon, someone whom he cared for deeply, and one whom he would regret losing when he recommended them for Knighthood.
Which was another reason why he needed to speak with Obi-Wan about sudden spike of power he detected within his Force shield, directed towards someone within the Naboo government while they waited for the Chancellor's ship to dock. Qui-Gon had not been able to precisely identify who the source was that his Padawan had focused on, for Obi-Wan had taken care to shield the motion as well. Clearly it had been someone they worked closely with during their time on that planet otherwise Obi-Wan would never have been able to use such a complex technique. He was surprised, not at the depth of power behind his Padawan's actions, but of the decision to proceed, independent of his Master's approval, knowing the consequences which could follow.
"Obi-Wan," he began as the young man turned round to look for him from his position in the middle of their quarters, "what was it that you were doing just as the Chancellor's ship was about to dock on Naboo?"
"I heard a cry for help, Master," Obi-Wan replied, inwardly cautious about how much he should reveal to Qui-Gon. "It was from the Queen. She was feeling hatred towards someone within the ship. The emotion was overwhelming her, Master. I could feel her trying to quench it but in vain. The Force told me to help her conceal it, so I gently entered her mind and spread a soothing wave of calm within, until she was able to control the emotion." He frowned in sudden concern. "Did I do the right thing, Master?"
"You did, Padawan," Qui-Gon replied, pleased by the report. "That was very thoughtful of you, and deftly executed. Your skills have become finely honed, and not just in that area of your training. Which reminds me," he stepped forward to cover the remaining distance between them and put an arm round the young shoulders. "When we return to Coruscant, I intend to announce to the Council that you are ready for your trials."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened and a shocked grin formed across his face. Of all his Master's responses to his actions, he had not expected this. "Thank you, Master. I won't let you down."
"You never have, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon replied softly. He gave the shoulders one last squeeze, then walked away to sit upon the floor, in the classic meditation position.
Obi-Wan followed suit, dropping gracefully to face his Master, his mind still amazed by the honour and recognition which he had just received. He felt a little guilty now for hiding the depth of his feelings for the Queen. But perhaps it was for the best, for when they made their farewells to the Naboo, Padmé had asked if they could keep in touch, a request he could not refuse. His feelings were not going away, he doubted absence from her would reconcile himself to letting them go, as he was taught to do whenever feelings of this nature developed. But these feelings were utterly different to those he entertained for Cerasi, Siri and Satine. He felt not just a desire for her, but a need to see her happy, to help her. It reminded him of a lesson Qui-Gon gave him once regarding love; to accept the emotion freely, and return the feeling thus, without care for self-interest. If such was accomplished without effort, then the emotion was pure and true, and the Force would bless and comfort the love.
Settling into a meditative state, he opened his mind to that ancient energy, letting the Force examine his feelings and judge them for itself. Within its embrace he was utterly at peace, needing to conceal nothing, nor tell everything, for it already knew every part of him. The reply the Force sent to him was akin a soothing lullaby; containing waves of acceptance, blessing, and assurance of the energy's support for the depth of emotion which he felt for Padmé. With Cerasi he had been too young to comprehend love to understand how temporary the affection for the rebel from Melida/Daan was to last. What he had felt for Siri was nothing more than a passing interest which turned as it should have, he came to realise, into a deep and lasting friendship. As for Satine, their relationship was a fling, the emotions fading soon after he returned to the Temple. His affection for Padmé, the Force told him, was one which would last and never fade away.
He wondered how this would come to pass, for the Force gave no hint as to when they might meet again in the future. All that the ancient energy gave him was the assurance to trust in the strength of his feelings, nothing more. Obi-Wan drew his focus away, for it was not his place to question, at least not now. The Force would reveal all when he was ready. Silently he centred himself, as he slid into the gentle embrace of meditation.
Senator Palpatine paced the quarters assigned to him aboard the Chancellor's ship enroute to Coruscant annoyed at himself and the young woman whom he had underestimated. Queen Amidala. From the moment she became Princess of Theed he spent considerable time analysing her character, cultivating her respect for his wisdom and judgement, only to fail to anticipate this move on her part and thus lose the opportunity to become Chancellor from this crisis which he had spent years engineering into being. Everything had gone exactly as he had foreseen except this. Why had she succeeded in rescuing her planet alone, aided only by the Naboo, the Jedi and the Gungans? Her actions baffled him. If he didn't know better, he would have believed that she was an agent of the Force, but such was impossible for she was not at all sensitive to the whims of that ancient energy.
For the past two days he had allowed himself to fume over this, to let his Sithly rage flow, cautiously controlling his shields so the Jedi aboard did not detect him. Now, with his anger spent and his passions cooled, he was prepared to be rational, to realise how little time Valorum had left until the election cycle began again, to accept that his plans for becoming Chancellor were merely delayed. To consider the other tasks left to be completed that did not rely on his election to the highest seat of political authority taking place immediately.
There were four in all; begin engineering the clones for the army of the Republic and the future destruction of the Jedi Order, awaken the Jedi to the re-emergence of the Sith in the galaxy, continue to spread Separatist thinking within the Republic, cause some systems to leave their protection in order to form a confederacy which would begin a civil war, and find the Chosen One.
His old master had been unwise to leave out the details in his teaching regarding how to manipulate midi-chlorians to create life. Palpatine had mastered the ability to create a being strong in the Force, but, as he discovered after performing such a display of power, not the talent to dictate the location where such life would come into being. For the past nine years he had conducted a search of the planetary systems within the known galaxy, via his hired minions, without success. His only consolation was that the Jedi were unsuccessful in finding the being through their searches, screening and recruitment as well. The prophecy of the Chosen One was claimed by the Order also, if they had discovered the youngling with the highest midi-chlorian count, they would have been unable to keep silent about such a miracle and he would have heard about through one of his spies within the Temple by now.
The search was on going, as was the spreading of Separatist thinking within the Republic. Which left him with two tasks; letting the Jedi know that their greatest enemy was alive once more, and beginning the engineering of the clone army. The latter required nothing but a trip to Kamino, followed by the partial deletion of the records of Kamino's location within the archives of the Temple, partial because he needed to them to find out that the planet was missing eventually and become curious enough to investigate why. The latter was easy to accomplish through the use of his spies within the Temple, it was the former which would require much more thought.
When Valorum informed him of his plan to send the Jedi to Naboo, Palpatine believed he had the perfect opportunity to let the Jedi learn of the return of the Sith, by sending his apprentice to the planet to attack Jinn and Kenobi. But he underestimated the Queen; by the time Maul had arrived at the Core for orders from his secret Outer Rim training base, it was too late; the Gungans and Amidala had saved Naboo. Now he needed another plan to lure the Order out of their complacency. Surrounding himself with the energies of the dark side of the Force, Sidious contemplated new strategies that would accomplish what his first plans had failed to provide him with.
"Master Qui-Gon, more have you to say?" Yoda, Grand Master of the Order, head of the Council, inquired after the master and padawan team had finished debriefing them on the matter of Naboo.
"Yes, Masters," Qui-Gon replied. "It is time I believe, that my padawan undergoes his trials to become a Knight."
"Ready, you think him?" Yoda mused, his eyes swivelling from Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan, who stood respectfully to one side of his Master, waiting patiently. "What know you of ready? Our own Council we will keep on who is ready."
The words were an admonition, but the tone belied their meaning. Qui-Gon caught the look directed to him by friend and council master Mace Windu, and added a little more to his testimony. "I ask that he be allowed to prove himself ready. Obi-Wan can be headstrong, he still has much to learn about the Living Force. But there is little more he can learn from me."
Yoda hummed in reply, and a silence descended over the splendid room, as each of the Masters present communicated their judgement of young Kenobi. It was the traditional way that such venerated members of the Order reached a mutual conclusion on all matters which came under the purview of the Council, calling upon the Force to advise their thoughts in such a way as to render them undetectable to those not granted the privilege of such an Office.
It was a title Qui-Gon never sought, despite the wishes of his padawan, who considered him just as able as any master seated within in the room, provided he kept to the rule of the Code. Qui-Gon was grateful for his roguish reputation for it allowed him a certain freedom within the Order, a freedom which those in the Council unknowingly cultivated sometimes, for they usually agreed with his padawan. Yet, there were moments when he wondered about that plane of the Force which was denied to him, a genuine curiosity for the remaining secrets of the energy he served.
"Padawan Kenobi," Mace remarked suddenly, causing the young man to look up from his respectfully lowered gaze, "do you agree with the judgement of your Master?"
"It is not my place to agree or disagree, Master Windu," Obi-Wan replied carefully. "But I respect my Master's assessment of my abilities. As I respect those of the Council."
The reply was that of a trained diplomat, studied and cautious, yet said with such sincerity that even the Force was heard to chuckle. Qui-Gon hid a smile, while the others within the room returned to their silent contemplation.
Finally, Master Yoda opened his eyes and raised his head from his clasped hands. "Agree with your judgement, Master Qui-Gon. Ready, Obi-Wan is."
Qui-Gon allowed a grin to escape his composure, while his pupil strained to hide his own joy on receiving confirmation of his wildest dreams. Though Obi-Wan knew that it was through Yoda that his padawan rank was gained, it had always worried him that the Force wished him to go to Bandomeer and never become a Knight.
"Since you are such a talented diplomat," Master Windu remarked wryly, causing the padawan to flush a little, "your trial will include an opportunity to put those talents to use. This will be your mission to command, Padawan Kenobi. You must show that you can exercise good judgement independent of your Masters."
"Be mindful of your teachings, Obi-Wan," Yoda added. "Help you they will."
"We will contact you when a mission becomes available," Mace declared.
"Thank you, Masters," Obi-Wan replied. He bowed before them, followed by Qui-Gon, then walked with his Master out of the lofty room.