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Title: Circle of Healing
Author: eretria
E-mail: tiny_eretria@yahoo.com
Feedback: I'd hop around joyous if someone would take the time! I need to know if this works for you, too. Plus: I LIVE for feedback. I crave it. It's sometimes even better than chocolate. Really. So . . . Pretty please? (Can you resist those puppydog eyes? Can you? :o))
Author's Note: This story is the translation of the Original I have written in my native tongue. If something sounds somehow . . . Hm, edgy, it surely is a translation error. Please don't shoot me right away for it!
Spoilers: since everyone has seen TPM, I'm afraid I can't spoiler anyone anymore, so: Nope.
Timeline: shortly after TPM
Pairing: Obi/Padme
Rating: I'm so lousy at rating :o( So, just to make sure I don't offend anyone, I'd say: PG-13?
Disclaimer: Star Wars, its characters and premise belong to George Lucas. I do not own them. I'm just borrowing them to build my own little story line and hope to return them in good shape. (er . . .) I don't intend to make any profit from writing this, so please (as always) don't sue me. All the other persons come straight out of my warped little mind and therefor belong to me.

Author's Note 2: I need to give loads of thanks to Jane - *smooch* You're the best!! - for taking the time to beta this, even though it meant fighting with her hubby over the computer. No me without you, lass. :o) And, of course biggest possible thanks go out to Willa and Cassia and to my muse Stefanie and her (to her yet unknown) partner in crime Yvonne. Without them this story would never come as far as it is. Thank you, luvs. :o)

Oh, another thing. This story (sadly) is WIP. (Hey, who's groaning there? :o) ) Students have little time (yes, it still happens somewhere out there), so please don't get nervous if I can't quite catch up translating fast enough. It does take some time to do it properly and it's not like I had bugger all to do :o). Thx!



 

 

Circle of healing

I.

Oïgame compay! No deje el camino por coger la vereda.

(Listen friend! Donít stray from the path.)

(Ibrahim Ferrer)

 


The tea he was given shone in a dark gold colour. He felt the heat the drink was exuding, but he didn't actually realise it. Nearly automatically he placed the delicate bowl to his lips and swallowed mechanically, without thinking. There was nothing left to think about. His mind was exhausted.

The healer priestess waited until he had finished drinking and carefully took the bowl out of his hands. "You need to rest, young master."

Rest! What an irony. If I hadn't rested that much in the past, this rest I'm advised to have wouldn't be necessary now.

 


The woman watched the form of the man thoroughly.

He could have been her son. A young man, barely 25 years old, clad in a sand coloured tunic accompanied by brown breeches. A roughly weaved cloak lay around his shoulder. She didn't know if it just seemed to her that way, but she couldn't shove the feeling aside that the weight of this cloak was going to crush him.

"Rest, young master," she repeated. She was sure that he wouldn't follow her advice. Just like he hadn't followed any of her advice since she had seen him for the very first time.

The priestess shook her head in worry. This couldn't go on like that.

She was interrupted in her thoughts when a small hand was placed on her arm. Even though she managed to quell a shocked yelp, she could feel her heart pounding painfully against her ribcage.

The fragile figure of a young woman, clad in a cloak which nearly hid her face completely, pointed towards the young man. "How is he?"

The priestess motioned for the newly arrived to follow her. With a last glance at the figure in the heavy brown cloak she retreated into the shadow of the high vaults. Once arrived the woman turned back the hood.

The priestess sank to her knees with a suppressed sound of surprise. "Your Highness, I wasn't informed that you were planning a visit . . ."

"I beg you, get up." The queen's voice was soft." There is no need for you to kneel in front of me." An apologetic smile flashed over her face. "I wanted to look for him alone. There is no need for the whole royal household to accompany me."

Only when she got up the priestess realised that the queen hadn't only come in a simple robe. The make-up, usually her constant companion outside the palace, was missing. Suddenly she looked very young.

"Tell me, Reaja. How is he?"

Sorrow clouded the face of the woman in her best years. "I don't know, your highness. The physical wounds have healed. But as sad as it is, my healing powers don't extend to the soul."

The queen frowned and glanced back to the silver sparkling pond where the tall figure still hadn't moved. "Is there nothing we can do?"

"Before the healing process of his soul can begin, he has to learn to forgive himself. I'm afraid that he is not ready for that yet. Until then . . ." Reaja sighed heavily, "I can only stop his body from failing."

A second priestess in the traditionally radiant blue robe of the healers appeared out of the vaults. She didn't recognise the queen, who had turned away slightly and quietly but urgently talked to Reaja. With an indicated bow that showed her respect for the older woman she retreated.

"I am being called back to the temple, you highness."

The young woman turned to face the priestess. "Do you think I can stay?"

The queen's voice was so sad that Reaja had to restrain herself not to scoop her into a warm, motherly hug. This woman in front of her wasn't the queen of a whole nation any longer. This was a young woman who worried about a friend, even more than she admitted. Reaja saw the brown eyes darkening, just as if shadows would fly over them, dark premonitions and fear.

She whispered a short spell to save her from harm and then placed two fingers on the perfect parting. The queen was momentarily confused but when she recognised what the priestess was doing she smiled.

"I thank you, Healer," she replied her short appreciation.

Without any further word the priestess turned on her heel and left the queen behind in the soft sound of light rain.

 


The woman that still looked at the figure on the now slightly rain-ruffled pond wasn't the queen anymore. This wasn't Amidala, the cool and self-controlled woman who led her people with a strong hand and a calm demeanour. This was Padme, the woman she had been before Ė the woman she still was.

Sometimes this hide-and-seek confused even her and often she asked herself which of those two life's was better. The queen's or the handmaiden's? No matter how often she thought about it - she never found an answer. And maybe it was good the way it was. Only due to this circumstances she could allow herself those rare minutes in which she - far away from the stiff ritual and the pomp of the palace - could simply be herself. Without make-up, without ornaments for her hair that seemed to weigh a ton and without those gowns that made moving a nearly impossible task.

Now here she was and desperately wished for the authority which this mask brought with it. Perhaps it would've helped the friend. Perhaps the queen's authority would bring him out of this lethargy. Padme dismissed the thought as fast as it had come. Authority would only drive him further over the edge.

But what was she supposed to do now? Helplessness was not a feeling she was used to.

Reluctantly she walked a few steps out of the vaults and up to him. The rain was icy cold and even though she wore a cloak it seemed to go right through to her skin. Nevertheless she didn't dare to go any closer. The young Jedi had erected an aura of dismissal around him, with the intent to send everyone away, no matter how noble his intentions were. No one, not even his Padawan had been able to reach him.

Had all of this really happened just a week ago? To Padme it seemed like an eternity. No one was beginning to know how often she had been here since that day. Too often she had sneaked out of her rooms and had left Captain Panaka and the royal household behind in bright panic.

But that didn't matter. Her worries were only on the young Jedi that was standing out there in the rain. Whose loss was her fault. The rain was falling steadily by now, drenching her cloak. Padme was miserably cold. Her gaze wandered back to him.

Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Did he know that she was standing here, watching him? Did he know how much she suffered with him, how much the pain of the recent loss hurt her, too?

'If I hadn't asked for their help, his master would still be alive right now.'

That sentence had burned into her thoughts and no matter how often she tried to push it away - Obi-Wan's silent grief was there to remind her of it.

'I have those lives on my conscience. Qui-Gon's, the pilot's, the Gungan's . . . How do you live with a load like that? Is that the burden that a queen is requested to carry? Is it demanded?'

Padme's teeth had started to chatter in a steady rhythm, without her realising it. She welcomed the cold like a punishment for her actions.

'What else could I have done?' she asked herself. 'My people would have been killed or enslaved! But was our freedom worth this terrible price?'

Her head started to hurt as the unknown load of her conscience sank onto her shoulders with its full power.

'And Kenobi? What right did I have to make him become this shadow of himself?'

Padme raised her face into the rain to stop the hot tears that threatened to fall. She couldn't cry like a small child. She still was the queen, no matter if Padme or Amidala - both were expected to be in control of their feelings. But why did it hurt so much? Why did she feel like breaking apart under the horrible weight of her guilt?

As if he had sensed her thought, Kenobi turned around to face her. Padme cringed under the gaze. The eyes that had been a mesmerising, radiant blue once had become dull. His face looked sunken and emaciated. How could a single week possibly destroy so much in a man?

Kenobi didn't avert his eyes. "Your majesty."

Had that been a formal announcement? An indictment? A question? The answer froze in her throat. She felt the urge to run, far, far away to avoid the pain in his eyes. But she was locked in the place, not being able to move a single muscle.

The young Jedi walked a halfhearted step towards her. His eyes were still filled with an almost inhuman, barely endurable pain. "The rain is cold, your highness. You shouldn't be here."

Padme swallowed and forced the words around the lump in her throat. "Is the rain any less cold for you, Jedi Kenobi?"

"What difference does it make?"

Unwanted anger arose in Padme. Who did he think he was? Who gave him the right to occupy all of the grief for himself, to drown in it without thinking of the others?

"You're so self-righteous, Jedi Kenobi." The words had left her mouth before she could think about why she wanted to say them.

The young man lifted his tired eyes. He didn't even try to look surprised. The rain started to leave his marks on his handsome features. They looked like tears.

"Am I?" he asked. "Well, if your majesty thinks that way, then I wonder why you are still concerning yourself with me. The palace sure has a warm bath and dry garments ready for you."

The self-loathing that reverberated in those words hit her like a slap in the face. What had made her say that? She had had no right.

Still reluctant she closed the remaining distance between them. "By chance I know that there is enough hot water and dry garments for two."

She tried to smile without letting it to become the pained grimace it threatened to become. Just as she had expected the Jedi didn't return the smile but stared at the clear play of the raindrops on the surface of the pond.

This place was beautiful, but Padme doubted that the Jedi realised it.

"Come with me, Jedi Kenobi," she implored.

Under no circumstances she would leave him standing here. Jedi or not, she knew those rains better than he did. She knew how high the chance to catch a nasty flu was. Every Naboo new.

But Kenobi was no Naboo.

Even though the thought to violate some kind of Codex with touching him worried her, she gingerly tucked at the drenched sleeve of his cloak. The brown fabric must have become extremely heavy with all the water it had soaked up.

"I thank you, your majesty but I prefer to stay here."

'Damn Jedi politeness!' she scolded inwardly.

There was nearly no more effective way to chase someone away than this kind of icy politeness. Too bad for him that she was immune to that. Too long she had had to learn to use exactly this kind of tactic to not be able to walk around it.

"Jedi Kenobi, I don't want to make this an order, because I am not here as the queen. I ask you as your friend: Come with me. Qui-Gon sure wouldn't want you to catch your death out here."

Kenobi mumbled something that was too quiet for her to understand, but he nodded. With heavy steps that made all the ease and the litheness of his usual way of carrying himself forgotten, he followed the queen. Both of them left a twinkling trail of droplets of water behind them on the marble floor of the vaults.

 


Padme had some difficulties trying to calm down an agitated Captain Panaka and a much more agitated handmaiden. Sabé, her personal bodyguard was outraged about the queen's little excursion. Padme didn't need an angry outburst from her to find that out. She saw it in the tense posture and in the reproachful looks Sabé gave her.

"Sabé, bring dry garments for the Jedi and me and prepare a bath." Her teeth were chattering so fast by now that she found it hard to talk at all. Her jaw hurt.

The handmaiden raised a questioning eyebrow, but retreated from the queen's chambers without a further word. Padme knew that it was unseemly to bring a man into those chambers. But as of right now she didn't care about what was seemly and what was not.

Kenobi still stood in the door, a puddle of water around his feet that was slowly growing larger.

On Padme's gesture another handmaiden hurried into the room and first took her cloak off her shoulders, and then removed the Jedi's. She smiled when the young woman gasped, surprised by the weight of the Jedi's cloak. She shot the young man an inquisitive glance before she retreated.

Padme sighed. The mills of gossip had started to turn. In less than one hour the whole palace would know that the queen accommodated a man in her chambers. She shook her head resigned and waited for Sabé to return.

"Sit down, Jedi Kenobi." She pointed towards a soft chair.

"That won't be necessary, you highness. I do not intend to stay."

Padme's eyebrows shot up. "You don't?"

Kenobi shook his head. "This is not the proper place for me and you will be in trouble."

"Trouble?" The queen gave a silvery laugh, a sound echoing softly in the high chamber. "Trouble, Jedi Kenobi? Did you forget who's the queen here? This is the place where I can do what I please."

A slight gleam in his eyes showed that he was amused. Not more. His face stayed expressionless. "Nevertheless this is not the right place for me."

Padme rose and tried to get her chattering teeth under control to give her words a little bit of the much needed dignity. "Where is the right place for you then, Jedi? With the deceased?"

That must have struck a nerve. He flinched visibly but didn't answer.

Without paying any further attention to him she turned towards the returning Sabé who signaled her to come behind a parawan in a corner of the huge room.

With swift and efficient movements she undid the queens garments and handed her a silk robe. She had found out quite some time ago that the queen didn't approve being attended too much, so Sabé only did the bare necessities.

"Your bath is ready, your highness. So is the Jedi's."

Padme whispered something to Sabé who nodded. While the queen left the room to walk the short distance to the bathing area, Sabé shifted her attention towards the soaked Jedi.

"The queen told me to attend you," she informed him when she undid the belt of his tunic without inhibition. Sabé was used to the kind of work, so it surprised her even more when the young man caught her hands and stepped back from her.

"I don't think that I will need your help." He released her hands.

The handmaiden smiled softly after she recovered from the initial shock. "I realise that you don't need it. But don't you think that it would be nice to have someone take care for you instead of you always taking care for others?"

Obi-Wan Kenobi felt the earnestness behind the young woman's words, but he raised his hand in a dismissive way. "I am grateful for your offer. But it's not the way of a Jedi to have someone to attend him."

Sabé shrugged. "As you wish. I'm going to put your fresh robe over here and wait for you outside to show you the way to the bathing area." With those words she retreated and left Kenobi on his own.

He shook his head and asked himself, not for the first time, why he had taken the queen's offer. This was not a place for him. The splendour nearly suffocated him - every inch of his soul yearned for the quiet serenity and the simplicity of the rooms in the Jedi-temple. But she had been right. A little longer out there in the rain and the cold and he would have caught a dangerous pneumonia.

'What would have been so bad about that?'

He dismissed the thought with some difficulties and took off his wet garments. Even though his awareness was still numbed by the excruciating pain of his loss, he realised that he was freezing. Quickly he slipped into the robe Sabé had given him and was surprised to feel the cool sliding of silk against his skin. A luxury like this was not common to a Jedi, correspondingly bad he felt about it.

Even though his mind wanted to deny him the pleasure of a hot bath, he couldn't fight his body this time. Without much thought his legs started to move and followed the waiting Sabé.

 


The water was pleasantly hot and he sank into the most agreeable, fragrant warmth with a sigh.

Instantly his consciousness stung. What right did he have to enjoy this luxury? He didn't deserve it. He had been more than rude to the queen and there was nothing about his behaviour that could be excused.

Furthermore there still was the pain - the icy cloak around his heart seemingly melting in the warmth. Tears stung in his eyes.

'Not here. No weakness. No anger. No weakness.'

He had repeated those words so often after Qui-Gon's death that he didn't even willingly had to think them anymore. They were there as soon as his carefully placed mask of strength started to slip. Obi-Wan tried to centre himself to escape those thoughts at least for a little while.

He was tired beyond measure. Sleep was unthinkable, too much he was sunken into the grief and the fear of what he had done. Sleep seemed inappropriate to him, thinking of what he had done it even seemed to him that he would fail Qui-Gon in some way, if he slept.

Part of him knew that this was nonsense.

But that knowledge didn't help at all.

Days ago his body had started sending him warning signals, which he ignored vehemently. Here, in the warmth of the water and the obviously very close steam bath where the queen was, he realised just how much he had overtaxed himself. As a Jedi he was trained to cope with a few days without sleep, but a more than a week without sleep was too much even for a Jedi.

His gaze wandered over the luxurious, even though not pompous furnishings of the bathroom. It was one huge room, parted with different paper-like partition-walls. Soft light seemed to emanate from everywhere without him being able to find its source. Next to him, only two partition walls away, he could hear Sabé talk softly to the queen. Had he wanted to, he could have understood every single word they were saying. But what would that have accomplished?

He sank deeper into the comfortable warmth and felt his hurting muscles starting to relax. Fatigue came over him like a heavy black blanket. There was no more sagacity in trying to escape this. Obi-Wan had known, or at least expected that this would want its tribute sooner or later.

'I'm sorry for not being stronger, Master,í he thought before the dark blanket of fatigue swathed him completely.

He didn't feel anything anymore when he sank under the water.

 


The queen sat up at the young Jedi's bed. It was the least she could do.

She wasn't quite sure whether it really had been an accident or if Kenobi had tried to follow his Master - fact was that that Sabé had found him in one of the pools; unconscious and under water. Her scream had alarmed Padme who was drying her long hair behind a thin wall right next to that pool, and so it was the queen who was there to help Sabé and not a guardian. Luckily he couldn't have been laying like that for very long, so they could resuscitate him quickly.

Padme's heart had stopped beating for some endless seconds when she had heard Sabé's cry for help. She had been afraid to have lost him, too.

'Hadn't you already lost him before?'

Unwillingly she shook her head against that thought and turned back towards the sleeping Jedi. The healer priestess Reaja had given him a potion that would make him sleep quietly until his body had recovered some of his strength. He looked peacefully, Padme thought. The resigned look on his face had disappeared, but the grief had embedded itself, leaving deep furrows in the smooth, boyish face.

For a moment her petite hand lingered in the air just above his face, then she brushed past one of those stern lines.

"How much I would like to undo all of this, Jedi Kenobi," she whispered.

She was sitting in one of the seldomly used rooms belonging to her private chambers. A bed for the Jedi had been put up here. Sabé and Reaja had tried to convince her to get some rest, but Padme had categorically refused. Just as long Captain Panaka had tried to make her move the Jedi into the guest rooms. With that he had nearly crossed the line. Sabé knew that Panaka didn't like the Jedi. But to turn against the queen because of such a minority? To start a discussion like that with the queen was not very wise, and it was not his place to give orders to the mistress. In the very last second she had managed to expel him out of the room with an icy friendliness. Sabé didn't want to be in Panaka's skin when he would meet the queen next time.

Finally the handmaiden and closest confidante of the queen had brought a tray with fruit and a slightly watered down wine and had retreated.

Now Padme watched over the young Jedi's sleep.

 


Later on she couldn't tell when exactly she had fallen asleep in the big armchair. The only thing that was sure was that the sleep wasn't the least bit refreshing. Over and over last weeks events rushed past her, stood there menacing and didn't seem to let her have any rest at all.

Suddenly the dream changed.

She was standing on a high catwalk that led over a bottomless abyss. The deep and threatening hum of lightsabers became audible.

Sparks emitted before she saw the persons. Her adrenaline level shot up immensely as she ran up to the static noise. Right in front of her a red force field closed, stopping her from running any further. Her hand painfully locked around the handle of her own lightsaber while she tried to control her erratic breathing. From where she stood she was damned to watch idly as . . .

 


Padme woke abruptly from the dream. Cold sweat had formed on her upper lip and her mouth was dry. It took her a few moments to find her way back into the real world. She was still shaking all over her body, the adrenaline was pumping through her veins in much too high doses. Her heart was racing.

What kind of a dream had that been? She didn't even know the places she had seen in it, had never held a lightsaber in her hands. But nevertheless it was just like she had never been anybody else than this person in front of the force field that was so vastly helpless despite its strength, its knowledge and its training.

Padme rubbed her eyes and got up to get herself a glass of water. Her throat was dry and hurt.

Instinctively she asked herself how the Jedi, who had been standing in the rain much longer than her, would feel like. Carrying this thought with her she turned to Kenobi.

Had she ever realised how pale he was? Or was that just another sign of grief? Reaja had told her that he had been sent to the temple of the healers because he neither slept nor ate.

Padme felt another wave of guilt starting to suffocate her.

She wondered whether she should call for Sabé. But the handmaiden already slept for a few hours and Padme didn't want to wake her for nothing.

So what was there left to do? Uneasy she walked up and down the big chamber. It was strange how, in such a state of mind, even the biggest room could cause claustrophobic feelings.

With swift steps she walked up to one of the big windows and opened it wide. Cold night air found its way in and instantly filled the room with the silvery light of the moon and the smells of the hundreds of different flowers outside the Theed palace. Silence lay over the big vaults.

A silence she had always enjoyed, a silence that . . .

. . . was sharply broken by a muffled cry.

The queen flinched fiercely and closed the window in one go. That the cry had come from her own chambers she realised only when it repeated itself.

Behind her Kenobi had started to toss and turn and mumble incomprehensible words. "No! You cannot leave!"

Padme worriedly sank to her knees next to the Jedi and watched him closely. The nightmare he was captured in didn't seem to end, his face turning more and more into a mask of hatred, loneliness and vindictiveness that scared Padme more than everything else. She knew that sleepers shouldn't be woken before their time, especially not when they were dreaming. But this sleeper scared her. With great care she put her slim hand on the Jedi' shoulder and shook him gently.

"Wake up, Jedi Kenobi."

She vaguely remembered Reaja's potion and the fact that she probably wouldn't succeed in trying to wake him - but she had to try.

Again she shook him. The answer was an irritable grumbling.

Now Padme didn't only shiver because of the cool night air that had flooded the room. Jedi were known to be peaceful, they had left feelings like anger far behind them. But all she could find on Kenobi's sleeping face was darkness.

"Kenobi!" Her voice had gotten sharper than she had intended, but it seemed to have worked.

The Jedi slowly freed himself of the nightmare's claws and woke up. When his eyes opened and fastened on the queen, they had the colour of a storm-darkened sky. The worry and the not completely ebbed fear that emanated from her were audible like screams for Obi-Wan. Something had happened while he had slept. Something . . .elusive.

'This terrible darkness . . . Is he alright?'

Kenobi stared at the queen with an expression of mild confusion. She hadn't moved her lips, yet he had heard her as if she had spoken clearly.

More words reached his mind this way, the woman opposing him not moving a single muscle of her mouth as he heard them. A boundless dark wave of guilt washed over him, so sudden that it left him gasping for air.

 


Padme felt the Jedi's utter confusion even before she saw it. It ran deep and brought forward questions she couldn't answer. But despite the confusion she felt more. Anger, grief, despair hopelessness Ė all those emotions that lay hidden behind the Jedi's stoic facade dragged her down into an increasingly violent whirl that threatened to drown her.



 

II.

 


 

Can a man hope to last

Not knowing his past?

If he chooses to stay

Will the world fade away?

(Steve McDonald)

 

 


It was nearly too late when Obi-Wan realised what had happened.

"You need to let go, your highness."

The queen didn't seem to be able to hear him. Her eyes were wide open and she had started to gasp for air in irregular intervals.

As fast as his still half sedated body allowed, Kenobi straightened and took hold of the queen's face. One hand at each side of the beautiful face he forced her to hold eyecontact. Far behind he saw Padme fighting against the swirl of emotions. He also saw how weak she had become already.

"You have to follow me, your highness. You need to let go!"

Stormy blue-green eyes pierced into the opposing brown ones. Obi-Wan had difficulties in trying to force back the seething panic that threatened to close in on him. For some reason he could not see the queen had set up a connection to his mind, and the force was functioning as a perfect conductor.

He knew of the dangers of connections like this - the council had its reason for prohibiting them as far as possible.

Kenobi didn't realise that his hands, still lying on the queen's cheeks, were already starting to leave marks in the tender face. With an incredible amount of willpower he broke the connection of their minds.

Nearly instantly they both sank back, exhausted and shaken to the bones.

"I am sorry, your highness . . ."

"I didn't know . . ."

Obi-Wan Kenobi closed his eyes and tried to calm down his racing heart. He needed to be strong now.

When he opened his eyes again, he nearly didn't realise the queen anymore. Her eyes had grown large and tears hung on the long, almost childlike lashes. Her cheeks were flushed by the marks his hands had imprinted, her hair had fallen out of the usual strict hairstyle and lay in stray strands in her face.

She looked at him with a steadfast gaze.

Long.

Sad.

Guiltily.

Just when he thought he would not be able to take the questioning glance any longer, she said: "Why didn't you tell anyone about it, Jedi Kenobi?"

The protective wall he had learned to erect around his feelings and his thoughts came up so fast that he got the feeling the queen must've seen it. Whatever he did - this reaction was one of the first Qui-Gon had taught him. Since that time Obi-Wan Kenobi had become a master in masking his feelings.

A disappointed look appeared on the queen's exhausted face. Obi-Wan knew that he wasn't being fair to her, that what had just happened needed an explanation, but he couldn't give it.

Not now.

He needed time to think.

 


Padme felt fatigue creep into her limbs like lead. Under half-closed lids she watched the Jedi standing on the same window she had closed shortly before. His profile stood out sharply against the bright moonlight. Again and again her eyes closed, and over and over again she forced herself to open them again.

Kenobi hadn't answered to her yet.

With a tremendous effort of will she opened her eyes fully and rose. Now that she was up her legs seemed too weak to hold her, just as her eyes seemed to weak to see.

'This is not going to help him', she thought grimly.

Even though she had never actually felt any of it, she knew about the things a Jedi was capable of.

"Even if you convince me of my exhaustion now, I will continue my search for answers, Jedi Kenobi." Even in her ears the words sounded strangely.

Kenobi didn't avert his eyes from the silver hued garden in front of the window.

The lake twinkled.

A night bird called somewhere.

"Did you hear me, Jedi?"

"This I did, your majesty."

Padme waited a few moments. When she didn't get an answer again, she pulled together all the strength that was left in her tired body and walked over to the Jedi to confront him directly.

"Will you answer me?"

Obi-Wan was surprised to see her standing in front of him so calm. Her eyes showed no sign of the justified anger that had been so vibrant in her voice.

Something odd was hidden there. Just moments ago those eyes had looked into the deepest abysses of his soul, but now they seemed dull. Within a split second he had caught the other disturbing signals coming from the queen. She held onto the window with one hand - a random gesture for the uninvolved bystander - a plain sign of weakness for the trained eyes of the Jedi.

"Your highness?"

Her hand on the window had started to tremble so heavily that the pure effort of controlling that trembling made her knuckles turn white. Padme indignantly shook her head against an upcoming dizziness. "You will not succeed in doing this, Jedi."

The repetition of this phrase confused Obi-Wan completely. 'Succeed in doing what?'

"You owe me an explanation."

The ground below Padme started to shake menacingly when her legs started to give way. Reality and the illusions her dizziness plagued brain produced reunited like two long parted friends. The only thing that held her upright was her hand on the window.

"Answer me, Jedi . . ."

Obi-Wan's Jedi-reflexes allowed him to catch the queen before she came into the immediate danger of falling. The body in his arms didn't seem to have any weight anymore and was surprisingly cool.

"Sabé!" His voice cut sharply through the velvet-like darkness that lay before him. Faster than Obi-Wan had expected it, the drowsy figure of the handmaiden entered the queen's chamber.

"Yes, master?"

She stifled a yawn behind her hand and was obviously indignant about the disturbance in the middle of the night. One glance at the sunken body of the queen in the arms of the Jedi chased all signs of fatigue out of her. She took the stance of a panther ready to pounce.

"What happened here, master?" Sabé had changed. From one second to the other the attentive handmaiden had become an alarmed bodyguard who glanced warningly in the direction of the Jedi.

"Send a messenger to the healer's temple. The queen is ill."

Still mistrusting Sabé came closer with a catlike grace and looked closely at the queen.

"What happened, master?" she asked again and this time all traces of kindness were gone.

"Send the messenger, handmaiden." Obi-Wan took up the quick duel of authorities. "The queen is in an urgent need of help. Help I cannot offer."

He couldn't tell what exactly made Sabé trust him - the true concern in his voice or the total absence of signs of a fight - but the handmaiden raised.

"Let me get you a stretcher."

All of a sudden Kenobi felt perfectly clear how troubled the force was swirling around the queen. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.

"No time."

With a quick movement he took the queen on his arms and ran up to the huge columned hall with lengthy steps.

The way to the healer's temple was endless.

 



III.

And it hurts but it's true

When you pray to the blue

And so you reveal, that nothing is real

Nothing but you

(Steve McDonald)

 


Would Obi-Wan have had the least bit of interest in an amusing sight, he would have looked at Reaja's rather unpretentious entrance with royal amusement. Her hair was hanging in long strands around her face and her face seemed like it had just been ripped out of the deepest sleep. She walked as if she was still sleeping and yawned uninhibited.

Without giving further notice to the many small details Obi-Wan pushed her out of the way with his shoulder and followed a young novice who showed him the way to the heart of the healer's temple.

Behind him he heard Reaja's steps rapidly getting faster. She rang a bell and called soft orders in one of the rooms that were getting away from the long hall. Faster than he had expected her to be, she was on his side. Her surprisingly strong arms helped him to lay the queen gently on a diagnosis bed.

Two more priestesses appeared, their robes unlike Reaja's immaculate and without a crease. They cast a stern glance at the Jedi.

"Why didn't you call us, Jedi? It was dangerous to transport the queen here the way you did without talking to us first."

Obi-Wan was surprised at the sternness of the voice and immediately he felt like the little child in the Jedi-temple, the one that had been caught daydreaming. The same, hotcold feeling ran over him and he felt the urgent need to defend himself. "There was no more time to call for you. The queen needed immediate attention."

He shouldn't have let them realise that he was justifying his actions. Those women had a very acute feeling for half truths. Had he sounded strong and confident, they would not have asked him further questions and would not have undermined the authority of the Jedi. But due to his lack of concentration and his worries for the queen, this was something that Obi-Wan was responsible for himself.

Whatever would follow now, was not to be stopped anymore.

"We will talk to you later, Jedi. Leave the room now."

His protest was suffocated be Reaja's warning look the moment he had intended to voice it. Slowly he sneaked into the hall and sank onto a chair. His forehead resting on the crossed arms on his knees he sent a searching impulse through the force.

The answer failed to appear.

Silence closed around him and the force grew quiet.

 


She was freezing.

Gleaming light that promised deceptive warmth contained nothing but coldness that hurt on her skin. No shadow promised the tortured eyes a relief, no cloud darkened the sky - the gleaming continued.

Arms wrapped closely around the much too thinly clothed body, Padme walked into the light. Into the unknown, searching for the warmth she lost so rapidly.

Her naked feet produced soft sounds on the solid frozen snow, every step that sounded so soft brought new waves of pain with it.

Giving up? The words had lost their meaning.

She could have stopped.

But she, too, could go on.

And perhaps find a way out of this nightmare. But there was more that kept her walking.

 


"Master?"

The voice oozed into his mind like a glutinous liquid without causing any reaction right away.

"Master?"

The voice grew a little louder, but not unfriendlier, on the contrary - it grew more gentle. Obi-Wan believed to recognise the deep and soft voice of his mentor. A smile stole forth on his face and made it look years younger.

Reaja shook her head when she watched the sleeping Jedi. Huddled up on two of the most uncomfortable chairs of the whole temple in a posture that hurt her from even looking at it, he lay in deep peaceful sleep.

She rued having to wake him, now that he seemingly had finally found some rest. But the high priestess had send for him and she could not afford not obeying her wish.

With some effort she remembered his first name. It was not common for the priestesses to call their patients by their first names, so it took her a while to place the right name on him.

"Obi-Wan!"

The smile on his face, that was already marked with too much responsibility, faded and was replaced by an unwilling frown.

"Just a few more minutes, Master", he mumbled and hid his face in the wide sleeve of his cloak.

A painful smile crossed the priestesses kind features. How often had she have to play that game with her own son?

With a sigh Reaja laid her hand on the heavy material of the cloak under which the young Jedi had nearly completely disappeared by now and shook him carefully.

"Wake up, Obi-Wan. The high priestess is waiting for you."

The mentioning of the high priestess woke Kenobi from his slumber. He squinted against the light of the hall and rubbed his eyes. With great effort he managed to suppress yawning openly into the priestesses face. When he finally recognised Reaja, last nights events came rushing back to him.

"How is the queen?"

The priestess put a bowl of hot tea in his hands. "Have it, as long as it is still hot."

When she saw his sceptical glance, she said: "You will be glad that I gave it to you, master."

Obi-Wan's still not fully awake eyes fastened on the healer confusedly.

"Follow me, Jedi."

 


Reaja should remain right. The inquisition of the highest priestess lasted a little eternity. Patience had never been one of his strengths, which caused rather unusual outbursts he regretted nearly immediately.

The priestesses knew they were talking to a Jedi. This alone should have stopped this cross-examination.

But this was no regular case. This was about the queen's life, a young woman that had been perfectly healthy before she had been in close contact with him.

When they finally called in a break, Obi-Wan felt drained and exhausted. The questions had come from a few of the priestesses at the same time, making listening alone difficult. Questions he did not know the answers to.

Tiredly he trotted along into the close garden and sank onto the soft grass with a sigh. He took a simple meditation posture and fought for the mental strength he would need for further confrontations with the healers. All of this would have been a whole lot easier, had the accusations not been understandable. But they were understandable. The Jedi Council would not have reacted any differently had it been for one of them.

'The council.'

Obi-Wan got up with a motion that was too fluid for his weakened body. The past days had left their marks and now every muscle screamed at the unexpectedly fast movement.

For a few moments darkness whirred at the edges of his visual field. He felt miserably betrayed by his body and pushed back the darkness angrily. There was no time for this. Weakness was nothing he could afford now.

He bowed his respect to the high priestess and excused himself.

The morning sun had risen and came through the sluggishly rising early morning mists with a strangely unreal light that made the rain wetted path shimmer in myriads of colours. The songs of the birds in the jungle accompanied him and brought a confidence that seemed improper to Obi-Wan.

Kenobi feared the confrontation with the council, since in all likelihood it had been his carelessness, his weakness that had brought the queen in immediate danger.

He sought all the strength he could gather and prepared for the talk with the council. That short after Qui-Gon's death it seemed a doubly disparaging disgrace to have failed.

His turmoiled heart was inwardly screaming for the support of his master that had become so natural and acquainted over the years. He would have given him courage. He would have understood. He would . . .

'Enough!'

Obi-Wan called himself to order when he felt himself drowning in the painful memories once again. He could not afford that. Not now.

No weakness.

Not in front of the council.

Not in front of anybody.

 



IV

Behind the walls of

Thoughts there lyes,

Something timeless

Something wise.

(Steve McDonald)

 


"You're the only one who can help, Jedi."

The high priestesses words echoed dully in his ears. Obi-Wan walked restlessly up and down the carefully laid out herb garden of the temple. The sound his high boots produced on the little stones of the paths seemed deafeningly loud to him.

How could he possibly help? Hadn't he just failed again? Hadn't he just proved that Qui-Gon's trust in him had been misplaced, that he was weak, weak and not able to take on the enormous responsibility he had been given?

The talk with the council had been nearly as unpleasant as he had feared it would be.

The soft cloth of memory was laid over his eyes as he thought about the events.

"Troubled your mind is, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Those had been Yoda's first words after the young Jedi knights bleary-eyed figure had completely shown itself as a holographic projection in the light-flooded halls of the Jedi-temple. Under the stern eyes of master Yoda and Mace Windu Obi-Wan had told them in short words what had happened and had sunken back into a respectful waiting position.

For a long time there had been silence. A silence Obi-Wan couldn't interpret and that made him nervous up to the very last nerve ending.

"I hope you know that connections like this are strictly prohibited with non-Jedi, Kenobi?" Even Piell's voice cut sharply through the hall.

"This I know, master."

The eyes of all the council member were fastened on him and he couldn't get rid of the feeling of being condemned, even though he knew that he was doing the council an injustice. Connections like the one he had shared with the queen were a pure affront to the main directive of the Jedi to not meddle were they hadn't been asked for. The queen hadn't asked.

"I do not know what happened, master." Even though it was the truth, the explanation sounded more than pathetic and Obi-Wan knew it.

"Why have you been with the queen, Kenobi?"

A hot wave of shame climbed into his cheeks without him being able to control it. Why did they have to ask that question? He knew he had made a mistake. Why couldn't they just stop this unpleasant inquisition?

"Not important this is now." To his great relief Yoda seemed to be in a compassionate mood today. The master cast a warning glance in Even Piell's direction and watched the hologram in front of him with great intent.

How right Yoda had been with his first observation. His mind was troubled, indeed, and Obi-Wan knew exactly that Yoda wasn't the only one who was noticing it. The eyes of the old Jedi-master looked even through the holographic projection right into his soul and discovered what everyone else would have overlooked.

"Guilty you feel."

That was no question, it was an observation. Obi-Wan bent his head slightly. Not a yes, not a no. He waited for what else Yoda had to say.

A sad smile crossed the wrinkled face of the small master.

"Talk you must, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Not do it for you, I can. The question." He paused to get up and walk towards the hologram. "The question you need to ask."

The tall, dark-skinned Jedi right beside him rose as well.

"You came before us with the plea for help. Don't you, too, consider it rather rude to make us search for the question to which you seek an answer?"

It wasn't so much what Mace Windu said, but much more the way he pronounced them, that made Obi-Wan nearly flinch. His shields had become weak and the members of the council seemed to have free access to his thoughts.

With great effort he erected a new mental shield before he answered. What he had to say was not easy at all.

"I didn't tell you everything, masters."

Kenobi told them about the suspicion he had. While he was talking Yoda didn't leave the hologram out of his eyes, he inspected it in every possible way and made Obi-Wan's confession even harder because of it.

"Right I was", he said long after Kenobi had ended and silence had fallen over the hall once again.

"Right about what, master?"

The strained atmosphere had caused Obi-Wan to stand completely tense in front of the holographic projector. He wished nothing more but for this talk to finally come to an end.

"Your feeling of guilt, Obi-Wan Kenobi", Mace Windu answered. "Even though you haven't talked about it - the force is troubled around you. You should have known better but to try to hide that from us.

Another disapproval of his conduct. From the moment he had started talking about what had happened he had gotten nothing but disapproving looks. What was there left to lose? The council considered him incapable of controlling his emotion.

'They are right!'

The realisation was like a slap in the face. He couldn't do it anymore. The control had slipped through his hands during the last days and he was standing in front of the council divested.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and tried to regain some of the inner calm he had lost.

"What can I do master?"

Mace Windu and Yoda shared a knowing glance and Yoda hobbled back to his chair. Obviously this conversation was over for him.

"You will return to the healer's temple, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

The tall, authoritative man looked sternly at the bluish flickering hologram.

"The preparations will be made when you return."

'That was all?' Obi-Wan bit his tongue in the very last second to suppress the frustrated cry.

Mace Windu had to have felt the movement this unbelieving though had created in the force.

"Find your way back, young knight." Had his voice only been stern before - now it was definitely ordering. A shadow flew over his face as he paused.

"It is vital."

He, too, returned to his seat. "May the force be with you."

He slowly opened his eyes and found himself in the temple's herb garden. The priestesses had send him here to prepare himself. But for what? How in the will of the force could he help the queen.

Her lifesigns were weak when he tenderly searched for her through the force.

So weak. So young.

Too young.

With the help of the force their broken bond flickered to life for a few moments and he saw the queen walking towards an abyss. Then the flame that offered light died away and left him in the darkness of his own thoughts.

Figures.

Obi-Wan hung his head and sighed softly. He couldn't even hold the connection between them.

How could he be the only one who could help her? It was impossible. The priestesses had to be wrong. But was the council wrong as well?

He remembered having heard about the ritual that was being prepared. An ancient ritual, nearly as old as the whole Naboo-culture, maybe even older. No one could really say. Grave danger was lying in pursuing it, but also hope. Hope Obi-Wan hardly shared.

He put his head in the neck and stared into the night sky from where billions of stars where shining their cold light upon him.

'What am I supposed to do, master?'

Just as he hadn't expected differently, he did not get an answer. The certainty never ever to get an answer to a question like this, stabbed his heart like a red-hot sword and once again he drowned in an ocean of paralysing agony.

 


"You need to come over here, Jedi."

Reaja's voice led him softly through the hall. She pointed towards a wide, circle-like place in the middle of the temple's heart.

The queen had been laid upon a thin cloth made of a soft blue material, matching the shade of the priestesses robes perfectly. The marble floor was surprisingly warm when he sat his naked feet on it.

His eyes fastened on the queen's still figure. She was pale in the middle of this huge hall she looked like a child. Her features were still, but Kenobi felt the disturbance in the force that was still swirling around her menacingly.

Was he really up to this?

He didn't ask himself that question for the first time since he had been told what he was to do. His mind wasn't nearly as quiet as it would have been necessary for a task like this. Nevertheless the council had refused to send someone else.

"You're the only one who can help her, Jedi."

Was he? The only one? Was it because of that the council had seemed so grave?

Meanwhile the priestesses had settled around him. The ritual washing was nothing particularly special, nevertheless Obi-Wan felt uneasy.

Reluctantly he looked at Reaja, the only one among the priestesses that didn't make him feel like a criminal. Of course, not a single one of the priestesses would have said a single word about that to him, but he had been a Jedi long enough to not need words like that anymore.

"Are you ready, Jedi Kenobi?" A novice was standing in front of him, holding a silver font containing the consecrated water.

Again he searched for Reaja's eyes. She realised the young man's unease and instinctively she felt compassion well up inside of her. How strange this had to be for him. She left her place in the circle, stepped next to the high priestess and talked to her quietly. Reaja didn't earn a friendly look, but her request was given in to.

With a single, elegant step she stood next to the novice and stretched out her hands for the silver font. The novice stared at her startled and looked to the high priestess, pleading for help. But the high priestess only nodded and send the young woman back into the circle with a short movement of her hands.

Reaja straightened her back against the slightly hostile atmosphere that had arisen from her stepping forward.

"Your tunic, Jedi", she said with a clear and strong voice.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and pulled the tunic over his head, standing with a bare chest in front of the priestesses now, quietly waiting for washing that was about to take place.

He had barely laid the tunic next to him, when a horrified murmuring went through the women standing behind him. Obi-Wan suppressed the want to turn around and look for what had happened. He needed to get rid of his inner restlessness, and this whispering behind his back wasn't really made to help in that matter.

"Jedi!"

His eyes opened when he recognised the high priestesses stern voice. Her expression had changed. It was nearly mild now, more than concerned, to say the least.

"Why didn't you inform us about that?"

"About what, healer?"

The woman pushed the air out between her teeth in surprise.

"About what?" She shook her head in disbelief. "Say Jedi Kenobi, don't you feel no pain?"

Pain? Pain about what? He had experienced enough pain, pain he would have given himself away to be spared of, but this pain was not physical. Could those healers look inside his soul?

A cool hand was placed on his back, just below the shoulderblades.

"Don't you feel no pain, Jedi Kenobi?" the question was being repeated.

Now that he was being pointed towards it, he felt something, indeed. It was as if there was a blazing hot pain was emanating from the priestesses hand, that spread all over his back and caused cold sweat to appear on his forehead. It took him a long time to reach out to the force to suppress the pain to a tolerable level.

"I do feel something, healer."

His short pause was interpreted correctly by the healers. The consecrated circle was being disbanded, somebody handed him his tunic. Obi-Wan looked confused after the women that hurried off. For some reason they suddenly seemed to be in a rush.

He saw Reaja under the last ones that left the hall.

"What's going on here?", he asked, confusion written plainly on his face.

Reaja looked up to him and shook her head sympathetic. "You should have told us about your condition, young master."

"Condition? Healer, what is going on here? I don't know what you are talking about!"

Once again Reaja stated: "Follow me, Jedi."

 


She led him to a mirror, high as a man, in one of the adjacent rooms. "See for yourself, young master."

Obi-Wan had been prepared for a lot when he looked into the mirror. The sight it showed him did not belong to it.

His back was discoloured in black and blue from his shoulderblades downwards, here and there reddish brown encrusted bruises were prominent. He couldn't do much more than eliminating the morbid pleasure he found in looking at sight of his own reflection.

Where did those wounds come from? Where from the bruises?

Kenobi stared into the mirror and thought hard. He couldn't remember where those injuries could have been inflicted. Yet they didn't seem to be fresh. His neck already started to protest against the unusual stance when he swirled around and dashed out of the room, leaving Reaja behind.

The Sith.

Of course!

Obi-Wan wondered why he felt this pain only just now. The dark warrior had pushed him more than 50 meters into the precipice. He still was not quite clear about how he could have survived this fall, left alone being able to fight after it. For a few seconds - so Obi-Wan remembered - darkness had closed around him after the fall, and there had been no power left to transport the much needed air into his lungs.

It had been Qui-Gon who had brought him back from the yawning abyss, giving him a part of his own life-force.

Suddenly Kenobi knew with a horrible certainty that it had been this act of mercy that had caused Qui-Gon to not be able to fight the Sith. If all he got as a punishment were a few bruises, then Obi-Wan embraced them with grim happiness.

"What will happen now, healer?", he asked Reaja who stood in the door and watched him quietly.

She stepped out of the door's shadow. "The ritual will be postponed, young master. The queen still is in great danger , but we cannot allow you to go through with the ritual as long as you are not perfectly healthy. The codex for the ritual does not allow it."

Kenobi slowly breathed in and out and asked himself if he had misheard. They were not going to allow him to go through with the ritual because of a few bruises? They would put the queen's life at stake because of such a petty little matter?

"Call the priestesses back, Reaja."

The young Jedi spoke quietly, strongly concerned with not to vent his anger about this senseless regulation at Reaja.

"Master?"

Kenobi whirled around and looked her firmly in the eyes. "You heard me right, healer. I want you to call the priestesses back into the hall. I'm going to go through with this ritual."

"But, young master, you cannot . . ."

"Do not tell what I can do and what I can't." Obi-Wan knew that he was standing on the brink of cold anger. "I already lost one person close to me because I waited too long. I'm not going to lose a second one."

With those words he left Reaja standing where she was and returned to the circle, kneeled next to the queen and closed his eyes. A simple meditation mantra brought silence to his troubled thoughts.

'There is no unrest, there is the force.'

 



 

V.

When faced with my demons

I clothe them and feed them

And I smile, yes I smile

As theyíre taking me over

(Matthews/Roberts)

 


 

Each priestess joined the strange, unfamiliar chant - no real melody, rather some kind of meditative murmur in which single tones were woven in. Quiet flooded Obi-Wanís tired mind. Along this quiet came a warmth he hadnít dared to believe in anymore.

Once again he sat in the lotus position in the middle of the circle of priestesses, the queenís head cradled in his lap and his hands laying on her temples. To a bystander this may have looked like the picture of utter trust between two young people in love. Closer observation revealed the deep concentration of all involved in the ritual.

The queenís fragile body was even cooler than he had remembered it. The ritual white garments they had clad her in seemed much too fine and he regretted not being able to reach out with the force to share a little bit of his body-heat with her. But the high priestess had made that much clear: If he wanted to save the queen, he had to abstain from using the force, and all the abilities that came with it for as long as the ritual lasted. If he would reach for its power, if he attempted to use it in any way - he would lose the queen.

Obi-Wan didnít like the thought. He was so used to the constant presence of the force in his life that he was scared of suddenly being cut off from it. He remembered Yodaís favourite saying about this kind of fear and he tried to purge himself from all those negative emotions, before the ritual started. Nevertheless a nagging insecurity remained.

The soft murmuring and chanting grew louder and shrouded Obi-Wan in a velvety cloak of words and tones that carried his thoughts with it and left perfect calmness behind. His eyes closed and he started to sink into unconsciousness.

 


The white desert was endless.

Padme still walked step by step through the high snowdrifts searching for something she wasnít sure she would ever find. She no longer recognised the cold that had found its place in her body.

Everything had become numb, nothing made sense anymore. It became difficult to form coherent thoughts, it was just as if her thoughts were being spread all over the distance and taken away by the increasing wind.

One step.

Another step.

Deeper and deeper the ice-encrusted surface of the snow cut into her soft feet.

One step.

Another step.

If she concentrated on nothing else, she might arrive some time. Wherever she was walking.

One step.

Another step.

The wind turned and seized her long hair, causing it to fly wildly around her face and making it impossible for her to see. She stopped for a few minutes to tame her hair. When she risked a glance on her feet, she felt a strange fascination ascending inside of her.

The spotless white snow began to turn red where she stood. Like the twigs of a tiny tree the red of her blood pushed through the crystal purity of the snow. Then again a flower formed itself, at last a scarlet star became visible in the perfect white.

So beautiful. So indescribably beautiful.

The gleaming purity blurred in front of her eyes and she lost consciousness.

 


The blinding brightness was still there. It penetrated her closed eyelids and brought back the painful truth of still being caught in the nightmare.

But one change was evident. She wasnít quite as horribly cold as she was before. Hadn't she given up hope a long time ago of ever finding another human being in this icy desert? She could have sworn someone was sitting right beside her.

Carefully, she tried to sit up. A piercing pain in her back caused her to fail. No matter how desperately she tried to remember what had happened and how she had gotten into this predominantly icy reality Ė it was no use. The brightness blinded more than just her eyes and the silence deafened her thoughts. A small defeated sight escaped her lips. She had had to be strong so many times, there had always been others who had depended on her, people who had placed the fate of the whole planet in her hands.

But now, when the thing she needed most was someone she could look up to, someone who was strong for her and gave her back her strength and her bravery Ėshe was more terribly alone than she had ever been before in her whole life.

The wind picked up even more and exposed her to another biting wave of cold. The warmth she had imagined was being carried away, and left a painful emptiness behind.

Padme didnít know how much longer she would be able to endure this. Fatigue gnawed at her. Sleep promised deceitful safety. But even if the safety was deceitful - what difference did it make? The hope she had been clinging to so wildly in the beginning had now died away like a fragile flower in the midday heat.

Suddenly the wind lost some of its power and the warmth returned.

Was it more than a hallucination? Who was there?

She kept her eyes closed tightly, too much pain was caused by the blinding light, and she feared what she would see. Whatever it was, it didn't make any noise. Now and again she simply heard deep intakes of breath. What if a wild animal had found her? Wasnít it more sensible to pretend to be dead? But if it really was a wild animal, wouldnít it move much noisier? What sense did it make for it to move so silently?

Her nearly frozen hands moved reluctant and shaking in the general direction of the radiating warmth. Her heart beat so fast that she thought she would go insane from the constant hammering. Her stomach had contracted into a single ball of fear.

Her hands had barely reached an obstacle when they were seized and put under a heavy cloth together with the rest of her body, shielding her from the cold.

A familiar smell radiated from the cloth. A certain heaviness, accompanied by unobtrusive strength. Two strong hands started to tuck her under the cloth like a mummy. She couldnít feel any violating thoughts behind those actions, but nevertheless she started to squirm when she felt a slight claustrophobia coming up.

"Do not move just yet, your majesty."

The soft voice that was dominated by a strong accent sent a wave of enrapturing, nearly intoxicating relief and safety through her mind. Without paying any attention to the tender protests she sat up, grasped the hand that belonged to the voice and put it on her cheek. At the very least - this was real. She gingerly leaned into the touch and ventured an overly careful glance out of her hurting eyes.

The face she saw would remain engraved in her brain forever.

"Jedi Kenobi."

 


They had been walking side by side for quite some time now, in which he had to support the queen more and more. The shreds of his tunic that they had wound around her bare feet didnít have the wanted effect, quite the opposite actually. They became wet and slowed the young womanís steps even more.

Padme wasnít used to the constant cold. Naboo didnít have anything like real winters and due to the time she had already spent here, which had weakened her more than she was ready to admit, she couldnít even try to cope with it.

The cold claimed its tribute.

The wind had grown into a storm they couldnít escape anymore. The plain didnít provide any safety, no hideaway to avoid the cruelly cold squalls. The only thing that was certain was the fact that they needed some kind of protection from the storm if they wanted to survive.

Obi-Wan had heard many things about the ritual, had read about it, but this was nothing like what he had imagined. What did he have to do to save the queenís life? Was he strong enough to make it?

The queen stumbled over a snowdrift and dropped to her knees before he could catch her. One look into her glassy eyes told him that they had gone too far already. Much too far for her condition.

Why hadnít he realised that she had become weaker, that every single step held pure agony for her?

He painfully missed the force. This surely wouldnít have happened had he had full access to the force. But he hadnít.

"We stay here."

It was the least he could do under these circumstances.

 


Padme watched with an indifferent face as the young Jedi started to dig a hole in the snow.

Her world consisted only of pain and cold, rational thoughts were gone and she yearned for the soft arms of unconsciousness. Maybe everything would happen really fast and she wouldnít even realise the exact time she died from exposure.

Right in the middle of a wave of those thoughts she was interrupted by the Jedi taking her gently in his arms and placing her in the hole as carefully as he could. After that he started to erect a dome-shaped roof over it.

She watched him with numbed interest. A part of her was fascinated by the skilfulness the young man displayed in adapting to the surroundings, but the other part of her was just too exhausted to appreciate it fully.

When there was only a small opening left in the side that was facing away from the wind, Obi-Wan pushed himself in the small cave and closed it until there was only a small hole that would provide them with enough air. This self-made cave would hardly save them from dying from exposure, but at least it kept them safe from the storm that was already howling menacingly around the walls of their little fortress.

The queen was still awake when Obi-Wan carefully touched his hands to the snowroof.

"What will happen now, Jedi Kenobi?"

Her words were nearly drowned by the howling of the storm.

ĎI wished I knew an answer to that questioní, Obi-Wan thought. Instead he said: "You should try to get a little sleep, your highness. You need to rest."

Padme pulled the Jediís cloak up to her chin. "Itís so cold."

"I know."

"What about you?", she asked after a while.

"About me, your Majesty?"

Obi-Wan didnít know what she was aiming at. The queen pointed her chin towards the cloak in which she was safely wrapped. "I mean, I took . . ."

Kenobi shook his head in dismissal. "You were in greater need of it than I was."

The answer was unsatisfactory.

"Does that make you immune to the cold?"

Of course it didnít. How could it? But under no circumstance he could have kept wearing his cloak while the fine material of the ceremonial white garments was her only protection against the forces of nature. Couldnít she see that herself?

Padme guessed that this answer would remain unanswered. Sure, she was grateful for his noble action, but a bad conscience remained nevertheless.

It was plain to see that the Jedi was freezing. But remembering the headstrong way he had in leading discussions, she knew that it would make little sense to argue about that. For some reason Padme was fairly certain that the Jedi would be the last one standing in a discussion like that.

"Couldnít we share it?"

Obi-Wan slowly turned around and just looked at her. This glance made her regret that she had ever asked.

"I . . . Iím sorry. I didnít mean to . . . "

"Your offer is honourable, your Majesty. But I have to refuse."

ĎOh? Do you?í

He tried to quieten the voice in the back of his head and tried his best to give the queen a reassuring smile, even though that was probably the farthest thing from his mind. He was freezing, felt utterly helpless and had little hope left. But something was prohibiting him from accepting the queenís offer, no matter how tempting the thought of as little more warmth may be.

It took him a long time to find the inner calm to finally fall asleep.

 


Saying or even thinking she knew what time of day it was would have been the most shameful lie in a long time. The gleaming hadnít even stopped during the time her body made her believe it was night. There didnít seem to be any darkness here, no shadow, not even the slightest indication of a shade in the light.

Brightness.

Blinding. Gleaming. Painful.

They had resumed their walk, whether because of hoping to find a way out of the icy desert or just for retaining the status quo, Padme didnít know.

Kenobi didnít talk.

An eternity had passed since their last conversation and the constant silence began to strain her already overtaxed nerves. Just a few days ago she never would have imagined being able to suffer that much from the simple sounds of footsteps and a long absence of a conversation.

But out here the urge to hear a human voice became a condition that was similar to a withdrawal symptom. Despite the fact that she had to rely on his physical presence more and more to not stumble, there was nothing in his demeanor that would have made enduring all this any easier. Inwardly she scolded herself for not behaving appropriately for a queen, for not being stronger, for behaving like a silly child. She couldnít let herself go like this.

With every dragging footstep she found new reasons for not venting the feelings that were piling up inside of her.

When she stumbled over a snow-covered notch in the ice for the umpteenth time, she stopped and pushed Kenobiís arm away so hard that he nearly fell.

"Iím not going to do this any longer!" Her voice was as hard and cold as the wind over the desert. Obi-Wan stared into the sparkling brown eyes with amazement. Padme didnít avert her eyes, but locked her gaze with the Jediís, daring him, indicting him.

An extremely strong wind caught Obi-Wanís tunic and ripped away what little warmth he had managed to produce while walking. Involuntarily he hugged himself tightly. The movement broke their gaze.

"Your majesty?" He couldnít find an explanation for the sudden wave of hostility he felt radiating off from the queen.

"Donít look at me as if you didnít know what I was talking about!"

Obi-Wan raised his eyes again to look at the queen questioningly. "I donít, your majesty."

Padme herself couldnít understand completely where this piled up anger was coming from, but she got the feeling as if a pressure valve had been opened and she couldnít find a way to close it again.

"Iím tired of hiding my feelings. Iím tired of being lonely and having to bear all the responsibility. Iím tired of your silence. Iím tired of this place and the cold. Iím . . ." She walked a few steps away from him, instantly stumbling due to the lack of the physical support he had offered before.

Padme sank to her knees and hit her fists angrily into the snow. In her throat a loud scream begged to be released.

Obi-Wan watched the scene with growing irritation. He hadnít spotted the signs of such a load of pent-up emotions in the queen, quite the opposite. So far she had endured everything with such a stoic calm that he admired her in silence.

But this . . . was as unexpected as it was strong. A wave of anger swashed in his direction and rolled toward him with frightening speed. Why was she so terribly upset? What had triggered it?

Carefully he ventured a few steps in her direction, always being painfully aware that an unexpected movement could bring more of her anger to the surface.

"Whatís wrong with you, great Jedi? Do I scare you? Doesnít that fit into your pretty picture of me?"

He sank into the snow next to her and felt how cold it was even through the material of his breeches.

"Yes, your majesty. It scares me."

Her gaze traveled restlessly between his face and the white desert.

"Why?"

Was this a serious question? Was it possible that she didnít know why the darkness that was emanating from her scared him and shook his very soul.

"You will answer me this time, Jedi."

Padme watched the scenery strangely unattached from the outside. She could feel her mouth moving, she heard the words that were spoken in their crystal clear power, but she couldnít explain where they were coming from. Every single word hurt Kenobi in a way she never willingly would have . . .

"The darkness, your majesty," Kenobi interrupted her racing thoughts. " Darkness emanates from you." The horrible power of the words caused him to shiver slightly.

"The anger and the fear inside of you are opening your mind to the dark side of the force." On a whim he reached out for her hand and looked at her imploringly. "Donít let yourself drown in those emotions. Donít stray from the path of the light."

She pulled her hand away and gave a short, humorless laugh. "This advice is coming from you, Jedi Kenobi? Of all the people I've ever known, itís coming from you?"

The pained expression that he couldnít suppress fast enough showed her that her last sentence had had a full and crushing impact.

"And the path of the light?" With a wild movement of her right arm she embraced her surroundings. "If this is the light youíre talking about, Jedi Kenobi, then I donít see why I shouldnít leave it. Which mercy, which quiet, which peace and which happiness lies in the light?"

Still squinting against the never-ending brightness she glared at him.

"This light keeps none of its promises. It is cold and hostile to life. Do they teach you that as well in your precious Jedi-temple? Do they teach you that the light can be just as cruel as the darkness? Do they teach you to endure everything this light asks of you? Is that what they teach you, Jedi Kenobi?"

Obi-Wanís head was ringing under the bulk of questions that were being shot at him, half spoken, half yelled. He had been taught to handle situations like this. The best defenses against attacks like this were friendliness and calm. And everything would have been so much easier, had this advice been given to another person. But it was his task to solve the situation and he felt helplessly on the mercy of his own mind. The burning passion behind the queenís words rattled him thoroughly.

"We are being taught to submit and give ourselves completely to the light", he answered simply.

A change flickered in the queenís eyes.

"How did you feel when this submission meant seeing Qui-Gon die?"

Padme suddenly was scared of herself. She had had this hidden sword in the back of her hand all the time. But never Ė never had she intended to use it.

The effect was correspondingly devastating. Obi-Wanís calm and quiet mask slipped and left behind white-hot pain that was written plainly all over his face.

Still caught in the unreal state that prohibited a willing control of her actions, Padme could only watch this powerful sword of words slashing Kenobiís heart with a frightening precision.

"What gives you the right?" Kenobi squeezed the words out from between clenched teeth.

His eyes were nearly black from pain and suppressed rage. He rose and walked a few steps in the icy desert. There his knees gave way and he sank to the ground - his head cradled in his hands.

 


When she left the unreal state of mind she had been trapped in, Padme felt the undeniable urge to run towards the Jedi and wrap her arms around him in a feeble attempt to make up for all the things she had said when she hadnít been in control of herself.

If this was possible at all, the simple but deep-set sentence had destroyed even more in Obi-Wan Kenobi. The snow, carried by the wind, had piled up around his legs and he was no longer moving.

With his head on his knees and the torn tunic fluttering wildly around him, he looked like a grotesque statue that had been placed there by an eccentric artist to find out if it would hold its ground against the wrath of nature.

Even without the help of the connection they had shared, she had felt the darkness embracing him in an attempt to devour him. There was only so little left that separated him from losing himself completely.

Tear of anger were burning in her eyes.

This was her fault.

Like so often before she had just made matters worse, had destroyed all the efforts he had made so far.

His suppressed question echoed in her mind. "What gives you the right?"

Well, what? What gave her the right to act as his judge? What gave her the right to doubt and make fun of everything he believed in?

She rose shakily and ventured a few steps in his direction Ė but she stood rooted to the spot before she reached him. Now what? What could she possibly say to overcome the last moments?

ĎIím sorry, Jedi Kenobi, I didnít mean it?í A bitter laugh rose inside of her. Because that would be so much of a help. He would feel so much better after hearing her say this.

The cold became even more unbearable by the minute. It was as though it were accumulating in order to drain her of her last bit of strength.

Something got her attention and rattled her deeply.

The fine snow-flakes on his hands and his hair weren't melting anymore. "There is no need for you to worry, your majesty." His voice was barely audible over the howling of the storm. He kept on being completely motionless, but her unspoken question Ė her worst nightmare Ė had been answered.

She didnít quite understand why he had known of her worries, but that wasnít important now. Exhaustion, cold and inner strife began to take their toll.

The snow fell more slowly and the storm began to die down. Soon there was only a soft breeze left that swept over her frozen features nearly tenderly. Just as her mother used to do. Just as her mother . . .

"It wasn't often enough, was it, your Majesty?"

Padme shook her head against the voice that suddenly invaded her mind and raised the fawn-coloured eyes.

"I beg your pardon?"

When had the Jedi taken up the annoying habit of speaking in riddles? Wasnít everything complicated enough already?

"You would have liked them to be there for you more often, right?"

She listened to the Jediís words with a tension that arose from the fact of sensing that the following sentences could hurt her more than she could take.

ĎStop this.í

But nevertheless: despite the danger, of maybe just because of it, she found herself captivated by his words and the penetrating glance of his now icy-blue eyes.

ĎEnd this right now!í

No chance of evading.

ĎBut why? What does it matter?í

But also no will to evade. She had to hand him the stone that would be her downfall.

ĎDonít let it happen. Donít give him this much power over you.í

Nothing stopped her. "Who, Jedi?"

"Your mother. Friends. Anybody. Anybody who would have chased away the loneliness. Anybody who would have filled the emptiness inside of you."

She had known it. She had been prepared for it and every single part of her being had screamed and protested against allowing him to take this last step. Then why was she so surprised by the enormous power of the pain those simple words revealed?

The world around her grew quiet and peaceful. The gleaming became a little weaker and lost some of its relentlessness.

"Do you see the snow-flakes, Jedi Kenobi?" She put her head back and felt how single flakes drifted to her face. With a featherlight touch they laid down to die only seconds later.

"They come to me even though it is their death." She held out her hand and watched the same things happening there. "My touch brings them death. But nevertheless they keep coming to me."

A smile played around her pale lips. "Isnít that a beautiful metaphor for my life?"

Her eyes had lost all the hate and the open rage Obi-Wan had seen there shortly before. Clear and sparkling they watched the growing snow-flakes dreamily. A strange calm was emanating from the queen Ė just like the perfect calm in the middle of a severe storm. Peaceful and untouched, nearly happy Ė but even because of those facts as morbid and terrifying as nothing else. The words died on Obi-Wanís lips. Nothing he could have said seemed appropriate to him.

"But maybe . . ." Her voice broke and she looked into the snowy plains pensively. "Maybe it is different this time."

She rose with a royal movement. "Maybe Qui-Gon will be the last one who suffered from this curse."

The mentioning of his mentorís name caused Obi-Wan to freeze in his movements.

ĎWhy?í

Inwardly he screamed in frustration. He had just managed to push aside all the dark waves. Why did she manage to destroy everything by just mentioning his name?

His head and his back started to hurt when a hard gust of wind hit him like a brutal punch and drove tiny snow-flakes like needles into his eyes. It took a while until the pain receded somewhat and he could see again.

When he looked up the next time, the queen was gone. Only half blown away traces were left in the snow.

 



VI.

 

You go there, you're gone forever

I go there I'll lose my way

If we stay here we're not together

Anywhere is

(Roma Ryan)

 


 

The temple had sunk into an impenetrable darkness. Only the big hall in the inner recesses of the temple was lit by the strange light that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.

The circle of priestesses was still kept close, but the women looked exhausted, their faces appeared pale and overfatigued.

From time to time a novice brought a carafe with water and let her gaze wander curiously and a little enviously over the women who knelt in the consecrated circle. The ritual was forbidden to the novices who had not been initiated into the mysteries of the temple - it held too many dangers. The oldest and most mysterious ritual on the whole planet of Naboo.

Naara shivered reverently as she watched the priestesses sink into trance.

The last cycle of the ritual had started.

 


 

Hesitant, warm touches on cool skin. Soft, like angelís wings. Tender, yet hardly perceptible. Too light to be pushing, yet not perceptible enough to quell the yearning for more.

Padme didnít perceive her surroundings anymore. Though she was still moving forward, she couldnít tell how long she had been walking, or why she was walking or why she didnít stop.

Caught in the pictures that displayed themselves in front of her inner eye, trapped in the feelings, the impulses that wandered through her mind and didnít give her any rest. She yearned to find the source of those feelings but couldnít find it.

Soft, yet strong. Seizing possession, yet never demanding.

Desperation surged inside of her. How was she supposed to take this uncertainty?

Padme closed her eyes to reality and walked on blind. Her movements became stoic and ever so slightly jerky. Her body was giving up while her mind still fought.

Warm touches on nearly frozen cheeks. Exuding safety and peace.

She didnít see the crevice that was running through the ice and which rapidly ripped the snow covered surface. The howling of the wind drowned the soft sighs of the bursting ice that raced up to her.

 


 

Why didnít she get out of the way? Didnít she see?

Obi-Wan stared horrified at the crevasse that was building in the ice, and which headed for the queen with deadly precision.

"Your Majesty!" His scream was seized by the wind and didnít reach her.

This couldnít happen. They had survived the icy desert without any further aid and now she would fall victim to a crevasse in the ice? Only because he wasnít fast enough again?

This mustnít happen. He wouldnít let her fall.

Kenobi mobilised all the powers that were left in his weakened body and fell into a dead run towards the queen. His thoughts were racing. She had to get away from there or the crevasse would swallow her any minute now. Didnít she see? Didnít she want to see? Why had he taken part in a ritual that didnít allow him to use the force? It would have been so easy to push her out of the way, away from the danger.

Trying to run fast in the deep snow was more difficult than he had expected. After a few meters he was already out of breath, his sides ached and his legs felt like lead.

How could his body dare betray him now?

 


 

The touches became softer. More enticing. So much more gentle.

"Open your eyes, child of my soul."

Padme started painfully. She had been concentrating on the feelings so much that the sudden sound of the voice was like a splash of cold water. Where did this voice come from? What had she . . .

"Open your eyes, child of my soul."

No, she didnít recognise this voice. Yet it was as if it had its origins in her very soul.

Hesitantly she followed the plea.

What she saw filled her with vague fear, but the fear was nearly drowned by the fascination she felt.

In front of her an aurora of blue, glowing light had formed. Snow and ice lost their cold and started glowing warmly from a strange, inner light. The cloud cover broke up and revealed a bright blue burning sky. A light that could destroy the world as she knew it. The power it radiated was inconceivable and could not be put into words.

The constricting fear she had felt just moments ago was washed away when realisation softly dawned on the queen. This was nothing she had to be afraid of.

The aurora was old.

Ancient.

Older than Naboo.

Maybe older than the universe. It held a power that was bigger than anything she would ever be able to grasp with her mind, but Padme didnít mind. A smile stole forth on her lips.

"Child of my soul." The voice was everywhere now.

 


 

"Amidala!" Obi-Wanís desperate cry was once again drowned by the raging of the storm.

He, too, had seen how the blue glowing had started to close around the queen. For a short moment their link had flared up with an unknown force and he had felt her fascination and her fear.

He had nearly reached her now. Only a few steps separated him from her fragile figure which nearly drowned in his robe. All thoughts of cold and pain were forgotten in that moment - Obi-Wan lost himself in the picture in front of him.

The queen stood strong and sure in front of the rapidly closing aurora.

He was close to her - so close that he could see the soft glowing of the blue light on her cheeks. It filled her and consumed her, soon her whole body was glowing in this light.

Fear clamped its iron fist around Obi-Wanís heart. She had to get away from here. The light would hurt her, didnít she see? Was her own life of such little importance to her?

"Amidala," he pleaded softly.

The storm had died down and even though he was still a few steps away from her, he could hear her calm breathing. The silence was frightening.

" Your Majesty," he tried again when she didnít react. "You need to get away from here. You will get hurt otherwise."

An ethereal smile was on her lips when she turned to face him. "Are you afraid, Jedi Kenobi?"

 


 

While he still pondered the meaning of her words for him, the crevasse broke up and the ice under him subsided with an ugly crunching noise. It all happened so sudden that Obi-Wan staggered and nearly would have fallen. He came back to a relative safe standstill with wildly flailing arms.

"Amidala!"

Every thought of his own safety was forgotten. Further tremors rocked the ice under him. The silence was pierced by the soft moans and sighs of the bursting ice.

ĎNo! No!í

The crevasse between him and the queen became broader. Deeper. If he didnít do something quickly, jumping would be an impossible task.

His eyes locked with hers. "Your Majesty, please!"

Why was he still pleading with her? Only a few heartbeats separated her from two dangers. The blue aurora and the crevasse.

ĎDo something!í

The fear of failure nearly rooted him to the spot. At the same time he felt immense anger rising inside himself. He wouldnít make it anymore. He wouldnít be able to jump in time. She would die, just like . . .

ĎNo!í

Rage, anger and despair collided so intensely that for a few moments they gave him the power he needed to make a headlong dive over the crevasse that was nearly insuperable by now. But while still in mid dive, he felt the doubts returning - with the result of him losing some of what had given him the much needed power.

He crashed hard on the splintered ice and found it hard to suck back in the breath that had been pushed out of his lungs. Obi-Wan tasted blood, and his knees and wrists exploded in burning pain that made him wish for a faint. The world around him was dominated by the blue light.

"Amidala!"

What had supposed to become a yell ended in a wretched croak. His eyes widened horror-stricken and he desperately tried to get back on his feet to help her. The aurora circled the queen nearly completely by now, without the queen moving even a single step outside the dangerous area. The ethereal smile on her face gave her a nearly celestial beauty.

How could she stay so calm facing such a danger?

With a scream Obi-Wan dashed for the aurora and was - barely having touched it - thrown back by such an enormous force that it surprised him that his body didnít just break in two. Without a halt, without even the slightest control over his body, which consisted only of white hot agony and hurt in so many places that he couldn't even name the different locations anymore, he fell.

Obi-Wan Kenobi had fallen before in his life. He had lost his hold and had crashed. But nothing compared to this.

The fall itself was relatively long. He fell in a clear stomach-turning line that was only broken by a small ledge of jagged ice. Boundless panic washed over him. This couldnít happen. He mustnít be here while the queenís life was in danger.

With the power of uncounted hours of Jedi-training he reached for the next higher ledge. His hands, though only barely warmer than the ice, caused the surface to melt slightly. His fingers slipped and he fell again. This time the fall was short. The ledge where his feet had been standing, was now taken over by his hands. Due to the abrupt fall the fingernails of his right hand were ripped off with a surprisingly organic sound and a new wave of burning pain shot through him - so strong that he nearly would have let go.

A look upwards revealed to him that the glowing - if at all possible - had grown more intense. Over the hammering of his own heart he barely heard the further bursting of the ice anymore. A vague feeling of deja vu flickered in the back of his mind. Hadnít he been hanging helplessly over a precipice before?

And how, how had he managed to come out of it?

He didnít hear the voice when it called for him the first time. It came to his ear only slowly.

"Let go."

Obi-Wan clenched his eyes shut and shook his head. Had he really heard what he just believed to have heard? This muscles in his arms already started to shake from the unusual strain.

"You need to let go."

The voice smoothed his thoughts that were rolling like whispering mercury and brought them into a complete whole once more. Warm, soft and velvetlike it reminded him of hot mead that brought a most agreeable heaviness with it.

"Let go, Jedi Kenobi."

The words died down to a whisper and instinctively he raised his eyes back to where the queen was fighting for her life. Fighting?

But she didnít fight!

She never had!

The glowing became unbearable. The last thing Obi-Wan saw from the depth of the crevasse was the light closing around the queen completely.

"NO!"

His scream shrilled unheard through the deep gorges in the eternal ice.

 



VII.

You'd think I'd learned by now

There's never an easy way

(Paul Godfrey)

 


 

The aurora tenderly enveloped Padme with warm, motherly feelings. The burning blue licked at the heavy cloak Kenobi had given her and vaporised it completely. No sound was audible when the shining reached the ceremonial gown.

Not completely vanished fear welled up inside of her. When the light burned her gowns with such ease - what assured her that it wouldnít burn her body with same ease?

The thin wrap that lay on her shoulders disintegrated. She stayed in the middle of the aurora, in the middle of the icy desert, now only clad in the delicate white dress which clung softly to the curves of her slim body.

The cold had disappeared. But the doubts returned.

What was going to happen? Was she going to burn?

"Donít be afraid, child of my soul."

As though triggered by the words, leaden fatigue began to creep up her spine - pain, worries and fear of the past time left her like melting shadows. Deep inside of her a quiet voice asked worriedly for Kenobi, a barely audible whisper against the roaring of the silence.

Barely audible - but audible.

"His time will come, child of my soul ", her unvoiced question was being answered.

Those were the last words she would hear. The light reached for her and she reached for the light, a strangely symbiotic act she wasnít completely aware of. When it finally touched her skin, the touch was hot and cold at the same time, brought pain and relief, fatigue and wakening, confusion and understanding. Soft, yet strong a wave of the blue light surged into her mind and the world around her vanished as she drank the light like the elixir of life, breathed it in, absorbed it.

A last blue pulsing flare Ė then nothing.

 


Kenobi hung with closed eyes on the last ledge in the ice that kept him from falling into the yawning abyss. His heart hammered wildly against his ribcage, his breath was ragged and strangely flat. A dangerous numbness started spreading in his arms.

Too slow.

Questions shot through his head as he leant his forehead lightly against the unforgiving cold. How could this possibly have happened? How? Why did he fail? Why couldnít he keep those people safe, who had been put under his wings, whom he was responsible for?

Too slow.

His thoughts wandered towards the child that had been given into his responsibility. Qui-Gon had trusted him with Anakinís training, had asked him for it with his last breath. But how could he train the boy? How could he teach him to become a Jedi when he kept failing over and over again? When he failed miserably? It would be so much better for Anakin, if Mace Windu would take over his training. A wise man. A man who was stronger, who knew how to fulfil his missions, who didnít fail.

A glance upwards revealed to him that the blue light had vanished - and the queen as well. There was nothing but the continuing gleaming of the light on the snowy surface. The last flicker of hope died down.

Too slow.

Was he worth being called a Jedi-knight when he wasnít even capable of fulfilling the most simple of all tasks? He only would have had to keep her safe. Nothing more. If he had finished his mission, she would be alive by now.

Too slow.

The realisation hurt a thousand times worse than any bodily wounds ever could have.

Too slow.

As he once more fastened his gaze on the ledge in the ice, where his bloody hands clung to, he didn't see the fine schisms right away. Only when single drops of blood penetrated the schisms and interlaced the crystal like ice with a fine red cobweb, realisation dawned.

He was going to fall.

For an endless moment panic washed over him so fiercely that his hands cramped around the ice.

Fear.

It was as brutally real as the pain in his arms, haunted him in every single movement of his eyes and every single twitch of his muscles. Fear in its most simple, clearest and cleanest form.

Fear. The path to the dark side.

Even before he could finish the thought, the ice he had clung to with such desperation broke and he tumbled into the endless abyss, crashed against sharp-edged jags in ice and irreality that broke his back and his mind and denied him the mercy of losing consciousness. The pain of the injuries and the pain of failure boiled up to a single, silent scream.

"Master!"

He knew what would follow inevitably. This fall contained no hope of survival. Nevertheless he feared Qui-Gonís disappointment more than his own death.

 


From her hiding place behind one of the big folding-doors Naara saw movement return to the circle of the priestesses. The light became brighter and the melody that had sounded throughout the whole ritual became distinctly audible once more. The slender form of the Jedi in the middle of the circle collapsed suddenly and sank towards the smooth marble floor. It seemed strange to Naara that even while falling he kept his hands around the queen in a protective manner.

As holy as the mood had been during the last days - right now it seemed to Naara as if all the tension had left the priestesses.

A group of five acolytes scurried past the tall girl - too concentrated to notice Naara. Her heart hammered fast, knowing all too well that she was doing what was not allowed. But the unrestrained curiosity had always been one of Naara's greatest weaknesses. So she stood rooted to the spot in the small chamber behind the door, unable to avert her eyes.

Impatiently and with a racing heart she hoped for an inscrutable gesture, a miracle, maybe she just waited for the walls to start speaking.

Carefully she poked her nose back out of the chamber and watched the ongoing events.

 


Dreams. Everlasting dreams. Not dark and maddening but soft and friendly. No plot, just warm feelings. It felt like a bodiless drifting, clear of fear, far away from sorrows and pain. The opaque haze that embraced everything nearly imperceptibly intensified the feeling of security. But the haze wouldn't stay. Nothing was meant for eternity. So the slow waking process became a soft drifting from dream into reality.

 


Reaja felt a strange feeling of elation rise in her as she realised the spark of life returning to the queen.

The ritual hadn't been practised for generations and the dispute about the dangers that lay in it had taken the close group of the elders a long time to discuss. But then there had been the Jedi council with a plea that could not be refused and a faith that Reaja hadn't shared in the beginning.

The young Jedi - Kenobi - had taken up great danger, when he insisted on going through with the ritual. There were reasons for why one of those involved had to be completely healthy to make it successful. But it hadn't been her decision and the Jedi with his self-controlled and exceedingly calm way had been more persuasive than she had ever thought possible. Nevertheless . . .

Just in the moment he collapsed, Reaja feared the worst. Worry for the Jedi flooded her heart so strong that she had to use all her strength to restrain herself from dashing to his side and checking his condition. The young man had no idea what he had gotten himself into.

He could lose his life.

Or far worse - he could lose more.

He could stay alive. With a soul that was so destroyed that he would never find peace again, would never be himself again.

She pushed back the horrifying images and shifted her attention towards the ritual that had come close to its end. The priestesses rose slowly and started to close the circle tightly. Every single woman had her designated place. It was now just the way it had been for centuries. Every movement was in accordance to the ritual, every breath was designated and full of meanings.

She was surprised how little fear she felt about making mistakes. Maybe it was just the long time she had already been at the temple or maybe it was just the security that lay in such correctly designated actions. One priestess after the other raised a hand to describe protective runes over the queen's still body. The runes were ancient and barely anyone remembered them outside the temple, but in their way they were fitted perfectly for the priestess who described it. The wisdom to use the different abilities and special gifts of the priestesses involved in this ritual and thus channel the incredible power awed her.

Power, bravery, faith, compassion, strength, calm, balance, determination, humour . . .

She was so sunken into watching the progress of the ongoing ritual that she didnít realise the slight pause at first. Only the horrified glance of one acolyte standing next to her outside the circle brought back to her mind, that this pause had been caused by her.

She was the last link in the circle, the last rune - the one of hope and motherly love - it had to come from her. Her cheeks flushed hotly. The holiest of all rituals and she had caused a flaw! Hurriedly she described her symbol over the queen and sank to her knees next to the others, to spread the soft blue cloth the acolytes had brought over the fragile body.

She ignored the looks that were cast at her. What had happened, had happened and there was not a thing she could do to change the past. Luckily she had caught herself in time, so the ritual wouldnít be endangered. Nevertheless this incident wouldnít acquire her a good reputation among the older priestesses. She managed to get her thoughts back to the things happening in front of her just in time.

The melody the priestesses had begun to sing was different from the one before and sounded strong and harmonious in the high vaults of the temple. The cloth wrapped itself around the queen's body. For a short moment the room was being filled by an intense blue shining - then it disappeared as soon as it had appeared.

The cloth had vanished.

But on the queenís face was a fine, pale-bluish glow. When the paleness vanished it combined with her skin and left it behind radiant and fresh, as if she was shining from the inside for a few moments.

Then her youthful features relaxed and she slipped into a deep, blissful sleep.

There was only one step missing. Reaja sighed and looked at the sunken form of the young man who still had his hands around the queen in a heart-warming protective manner.

Kenobi.

What followed now was her responsibility.

It was determined by her rune.

 



 

VIII.

Well the moon is broken

And the sky is cracked

The only things that you can see

Is all that you lack

(Waits/Brennan)

 


Dark clouds moved over the pale-silver disk of the moon in the sky as the healer-priestess allowed her eyes to move away from the unmoving figure of the young man in front of her. A cold gust of wind came through the open windows and caused her to shiver. Next to her the priestesses got ready to move the queen into another part of the temple.

It stayed a mystery for Reaja why the other priestesses could hold such an open grudge against the Jedi even now, after the ritual was finished. They should have felt what he was going through, should have seen that he wasnít any more guilty than any given person.

But that had always been one of the problems in the temple. The novices werenít coming up fast enough, and even though the profession of a healer was very highly regarded in Nabooís society, only very few of the young women took the responsibilities that came along with the life of a healer priestess. What happened, was inevitable. The older priestesses with their rigid feeling for moral and values that arose from their generation were the hard core of the templeís hierarchy and influenced the view on this particular problem. For them Kenobi remained responsible for everything that had happened so far.

For a few moments the moon vanished completely behind the dark clouds that promised rain, and the room that had been scarcely lit for the ritual was bathed in a cool semi-darkness.

Under her hands that lay quietly on the Jediís forehead she felt the muscles of his eyes move rapidly. The convulsions soon began to spread all over the Jediís body. His jaw tightened and she felt him start. Every single one of his muscles cramped so badly that it hurt Reaja to just look at it.

On a quick gesture a novice brought her a glass phial. The girl had never heard about complications like the ones she witnessed here and she pondered calling for the high priestess. But just looking at Reaja told her that it wasnít necessary. The priestess was small, even for a Naboo. She had bedded the Jediís head safely in her lap and put her hands on his temples in a reassuring gesture, while her long black hair that was lined with fine silvery grey streaks fell forward and hid her face.

Even though she stayed calm on the outside, Reajaís mind was troubled. She, too, didnít know of such complications, but she knew that she was responsible for Kenobi. Carefully she let her eyes travel over the cramped up bundle in her lap. Droplets of blood poured from under his fingernails, even though she could not find an injury.

The clouds outside the window wandered and for a short period of time the moon lit up Kenobiís face.

Ashen and with deep dark rings under his eyes he looked more like a ghost than like a living, breathing being. Reaja shivered. She had never taken part in this ritual - it hadnít been practised in far too long a time, but was all of this really part of the ritual?

She clearly felt that something stopped Kenobi from waking. Would he understand her when she talked to him? Reaja decided that it couldnít do any harm to at least try.

She reached for Obi-Wanís hand that was clawed into his tunic and murmured softly: "Let go."

Her words seemed to free elemental forces out of their bonds. A glaring light surrounded Kenobi for a fraction of a second and died down so fast that Reaja doubted that anyone except for her had seen it.

Once more he cramped in her lap and then his eyes flew wide open.

Strange eyes. The colours changed so fast that Reaja could barely follow: blue, green and grey whirled around like in a tsunami. The healer saw enough to realise that he didnít recognise her. If only she could read what was going on inside of him!

"Let go, Jedi Kenobi," she whispered again.

A tidal wave of emotions surged through Obi-Wan and was clearly visible in his eyes.

One last time his weakened body cramped - and as reality found its way into his mind, he screamed like a wounded animal.

 


The process of waking up was more painful for Obi-Wan than Reaja ever would have imagined. For a long time he lay in a delirious dozy state, never actually awake, but never actually asleep. The bruises on his back had come back, raven-black and going deeper than they should have. The inner injuries were detected nearly too late. It took the joined strength of three healers to start the healing process.

None of the other priestesses shared her worries about Kenobiís status. It had to be expected was the casual answer when she tried to voice her thoughts. He had insisted on going through with the ritual even though he hadnít been perfectly healthy before. The outcome of this wasnít surprising.

More than once she heard it say that she wasnít bringing honour to her priesthood when she was letting her personal feelings for this patient guide her that much.

Reaja stayed with Kenobi. She didnít leave his side, was with him when he hallucinated, eased cool cloths over his forehead when he suffered nightmares.

The Jedi had talked in his nightmares; confused, incoherent words, which had, however, gathered whisperingly together in the darkness of the night to form one terribly threatening whole.

 


"You are awake, Jedi Kenobi?"

The high priestess pushed opened the door, from behind which she had heard the quiet voice of Reaja and came inside the narrow room with quick steps. Without waiting for a reaction from the Jedi, she leant across him and removed a part of the protective bandages that had been wrapped around his back.

"The healing process is making good progress, I see."

Kenobi didnít answer, he barely reacted to the less than careful feeling hands of the priestess. Aethra rose briskly and turned towards Reaja, without a second glance at the young man. "I need to talk to you. Follow me."

Reaja bowed her head slightly. "As you wish."

The thought of leaving Kenobi on his own after seeing him just wake up didnít appeal to Reaja, but she knew that she had had too many missteps for this moon to afford angering Aethra. She flashed Obi-Wan a reassuring smile and left the room behind the tall priestess.

The door was barely closed when Aethra turned around to face Reaja with a speed that could not be expected from her dignified way of carrying herself and her tall figure.

Or Reaja was hard pressed to keep herself from laughing. She knew Aethraís methods for intimidating her subordinates, had lived with them long enough and looked through every single one of them. Then why did the high priestess still manage to force such a fearful respect out of her with such a small movement?

"You are spending a lot of time with this patient, Reaja," she stated. "I hope you still remember the vows of your initiation?"

The warning hung between the dissimilar women like a fine mist. Aethra - tall, slim, dark-haired and with the austere beauty of the mountain region women, radiated no warmth whatsoever in this beauty, and Reaja - short, a little round, with a kind , slightly imperfect face, that was lined from a life full of hard work and that still showed the traces of a not yet lost sense of humour that were still visible whenever she smiled.

She didnít feel like smiling as she watched the high priestess coolly. Quite the opposite. She had fallen out with Aethra about this a lot of times before, and she knew the way those conversations went from the beginning.

"Yes, Aethra, I remember. But do you remember that we vowed to never give up before everything is done? To never judge?"

The grey eyes of the high priestess pierced into the ones that opposed hers. For a moment Reaja believed to see flickering anger in those eyes - then Aethraís face relaxed and she gave the smaller priestess a thin-lipped, dishonest smile.

"The queen asked for your patient."

The tone of her voice said clearly that the high priestess didnít enjoy bringing her this piece of news. But why did she come for this herself? She could have sent a novice. Reaja didnít understand what was going on behind the high priestess's unreadable eyes. Was it just the confrontation? Reaja knew that Aethra had no real negative feelings about her. They werenít what they called best friends but they were also far away from being enemies. Antipathies like those were unbecoming of a priestess of the healer temples and so they had decided on a truce in the regularly occurring confrontations. And sometimes Reaja even looked forward to those confrontations, since they meant that Aethra valued her opinion and and did not just overlook her.

The reason for todayís visit was still hidden from her. Surely Aethra hadnít come all the way up here just to see whether the Jedi was all right or not. Soon after his first waking she had declared with icy determination that she would not take care of his recovery. But what else brought her here into this distant part of the temple? It couldnít just be the queenís message.

Reaja realised that she stared at Aethra for some blinks of an eye, without having answered her last words.

"How is the queen?"

A quiet smile lit up the high priestess's usually strict features.

"We hope that her royal highness can return to the palace soon," she replied.

As fast as it had come, the smile disappeared. Reaja felt the tall womanís inquisitive look on her.

"What are you not telling me, Aethra?"

Without losing a fraction of the elegance and authority that surrounded her, Aethra breathed the air out of her lungs and walked a few steps towards an open archway, from where she could overlook one of the steep slopes that surrounded Theed and from where a roaring waterfall poured forth more than hundred meters into the depth. Up here in the height of the healer temple the sound was only audible as a slight murmur.

"Iíve been to the consecrated vaults."

Reaja held her breath. No one had set foot into the consecrated vaults since time immemorial and even now, after such an old ritual had taken place, it shocked Reaja that Aethra had gone to the consecrated halls twice in such a short time. A lot of priestesses never got the permission to set foot into those vaults, and stepping into them without having been invited . . . it was a sacrilege

Reaja knew that the high priestess had worked hard to get certain privileges, and she knew what was kept in the consecrated vaults, but she had thought . . .

"Why?"

Aethraís steadily kept mask crumpled a little as she looked back at Reaja.

"This is not important now. Important is what I have to tell you now." She breathed deeply and tried to keep the upcoming emotions from taking over her voice. "I have read the old records again . . ."

Again she stopped. Reaja gazed at the high priestess's usually calm face in utter confusion. It wasnít like Aethra to speak so vaguely. Had something been overlooked? Aethra saw the seed of understanding waking up in the shining brown eyes of the smaller priestess.

"A mistake?" Reaja whispered, barely able to keep the terror out of it.

"That depends," Aethra answered with a strong voice.

"What happened? What did you read in the records?"

The high priestess took her eyes off the waterfalls far below them and gazed in Reajaís eyes. "The ritual isnít finished. Especially not for you, carrier of the runes."

 


Obi-Wan had the feeling of walking through a thick fog he couldnít find a way out of. Voices came through to him, but only muffled, the pain of which he knew he should feel it, had died down to a dull pounding and even his thoughts were so slow that he could have held on to every single one of them and vivisected them. He didnít know whether the healerís had given him a sedative or not.

The same scenes played on in his head over and over again, without him being able to stop them.

Failure. A fall. A scream.

He heard how Reaja softly talked to him, how she carefully fed him, he felt that other priestesses looked at him, how he was being medically treated , but nothing seemed to have any meaning and took place far, far away.

Just like now.

He did feel his legs moving just as he felt Reajaís calm, warm presence that pillowed him softly, but everything seemed strangely distant, just as if his body would act without his mind.

The room looked vaguely familiar to him. He had been here before . . . Right. When the ritual had started. Small and fragile the queen had laid on the blue cloth on the warm floor. So weak.

The same scenes again.

They had trusted him with her life.

ĎYou are the only one who can help, Jedi.í

He hadnít been fast enough. The queen had died because he hadnít been fast enough. Qui-Gon had died, because he hadnít been fast enough. And why? Why was he the only one who was alive still? He, who of all the people deserved it the least bit to still be alive. He, who had those lives on his consciousness? Why he?

 


Reaja was noticeably pale when she entered the room where the ritual had started, carefully supporting Obi-Wan with her arm. Acolytes scurried hurriedly around in the hallways and softly talked to each other, trying to hide their curiosity about the Jediís visit. He walked indifferently next to Reaja, and he didnít seem to notice anything about his surroundings. His bodily wounds had healed and his health was nearly completely up to par once again. Now and then he even had had little meaningless conversations with her, that made her believe in his ongoing healing. What had stayed behind, were unsure movements.

She carefully directed him into the middle of the vault and closed the high door behind her. The last thing she needed now was a group of acolyteís that followed her every movement with curiosity and tried to interpret it. She needed time to prepare the Jedi and herself for what Aethra had said. The ritual wasnít over yet. What was that supposed to mean? Couldnít the high priestess have spoken any more cryptically?

"Sit down, Jedi Kenobi."

His movements had gotten more fluid again, but they had lost a lot of the litheness that was usual for a young man his age. Nevertheless it seemed that at least this posture was comfortable for him. He looked relaxed.

Bodily relaxed.

She vaguely remembered having called him with his first name before and the wish to not care about formalities and do it again arose inside of her, to achieve a more personal bond that might help him to overcome his self-doubts.

"You know why youíre here?"

She had sat down opposing the Jedi on the warm marble floor and gazed questioningly into his troubled eyes. There still raged the same storm she had seen when he had first opened his eyes after the ritual. A nasty feeling crept up her spine like an icy hand.

Was she overlooking something? He was alright again.

Or wasnít he?

His gaze returned from the far away regions of his mind and focused on her face. It could be read plainly that he didnít know why he was here. Why he was here at all. Reaja clearly read the emotions in the green-blue eyes, but couldnít place them. She suppressed the slight flicker of insecurity before it had the chance to grow into a full fledged premonition. This wasnít the time for prophecies of doom.

Obi-Wan bowed his head and looked at the marble-floor that was divided into even octogonals with interest. With a little too much interest for Reajaís taste

"The ritual isnít over yet, young master."

That sentence brought the attention she had wanted. Kenobiís head shot up and his eyes fastened on Reaja with vague unease. Hundreds of emotions flickered through his face and his eyes at the same time before he brought them under control.



IX.

You're not running away.

You're not running.

Are you?

(Lisa Loeb)

 


"Healer?"

It should have sounded strong, interested. Instead the words had sunk down to a horrified whisper.

How could the ritual possibly not be finished? Obi-Wanís thoughts raced with a speed he had believed to be lost, and the fog in his mind slowly lifted.

Not finished? What could follow now? A new cremation? A new funeral. New pain, new embarrassment. An indictment? Would they hold him reliable for not saving the queen?

Of course. Reajaís tongue had slipped. What followed now wasnít a ritual, it was an inquisition by Captain Panakaís security and a trial at a Naboo court. Instinctively he asked himself what the punishment was on Naboo for killing the head that wore the crown. Could there be a worse crime?

He saw that Reajaís lips moved while she talked, but his swirling thoughts occupied too much of his attention for him to be able to understand what she was saying.

ĎWhat a great Jedi you are, Obi-Wan Kenobi,í his inner voice taunted sarcastically. ĎFirst Qui-Gon, now the queen. And now youíre not even strong enough to face the indictments. Good Jedi.í

He clenched his fists and pressed them against his temples. No, no. That was all wrong. He would face the indictments. He would accept his punishment. He wouldnít betray the code by hiding from his responsibility.

"Obi-Wan?"

His name was spoken hesitantly, as if it were hard to voice the syllables. For a moment his thoughts were stopped by the soft question.

Reaja had stopped speaking and looked at him worriedly. She knew that he probably hadnít heard a single words she had said. She just didn't know why.

His expression was calm and smooth, his posture only a little tense - but that could be due to the wounds not yet completely healed. So what had made her look in his eyes again? And why did she see such a complete giving up? Why such hopelessness?

It wasnít her place to ask this question, the healers of the soul were trained much better at this than she - a healer of the body - was. Furthermore it would be another minus on her already long list of missteps.

But this couldnít be delayed.

"Whatís weighing you down, Jedi Kenobi?" Automatically she returned to the formal name.

The absurdity of this question in his situation wasnít lost on Obi-Wan. Reaja probably didnít even know that this question beat everything.

Weighing him down? He laughed bitterly. Much more squishing him. He tried the word on the tip of his tongue and decided that he liked the way it sounded in his head.

Yeah. Squishing.

The load had piled up so high that only a small stone was missing to make his thin protective walls crumble under the weight of his guilt and squish him like a sand flea.

Or rather . . . but no.

He wouldnít give into temptation. It would have been easy to reach out for the dark side to lessen all those feelings of guilt, to find reassuring explanations and excuses for himself. It would have been easy to give into the anger, to stand against all this with rage and hate, rage against the priestesses who had wanted him for this ritual, rage against the council for making him do it, rage against the kindness of the priestess who sat opposite him him, asking him to share another part of himself. What would be left if he gave more of himself again?

Before those thoughts could reach the rational part of his mind, he stopped them.

What kind of thoughts was he playing with here? Had he really become that weak?

Reaja still waited for an answer. But what kind of an answer did she expect?

He was silent for a few more moments. He didnít know what he was supposed to answer. No one except for Qui-Gon had ever asked him about his feelings. And even with Qui-Gon it had been seldom. How was he supposed to articulate them?

Space. The very first thing he needed was space to think. And that was impossible under the imploring look of the healer.

With a movement that was mostly fluid, yet still a bit jerky he rose and walked a few steps into the hall. His steps echoed dully in the high vault.

Again he wondered why Reaja wanted to talk to him about his feelings. She shouldnít care for the feelings of a man who had killed the queen. Naboo hadnít regained its usual routine in daily life, and the queenís sudden demise could bring another crisis over the planet. A new weight sank to his shoulders. The crucial weight. A cycle of indictments and self-loathing got going, one he would most probably never find a way out of.

ĎToo slow.'

If only he had been a little faster . . .

 


Reaja rose as well and walked quietly towards one of the high windows from where the light of the early morning caressed her features with a soft hue. Here she heard the Jediís quietly murmured words.

"Too slow."

Confused, Reaja tried to make some sense out of those words.

"Who was too slow, young master?"

She couldnít really tell whether Kenobi actually hadnít heard or if he was ignoring her as he started pacing the hall like a trapped animal. Lengthy, powerful steps carried him swiftly through the room.

Back and forth. Back and forth.

Reaja shivered at the thoughts that raced through her mind. Was that it? Were these the consequences the old recordings had warned them about? Uneasily she stepped forward and blocked his way.

"What was too slow, Jedi Kenobi?"

She had to bring an end to this. He mustnít manoeuvre himself into such a state without her doing something about it. She was a healer after all.

For a moment it seemed that he would collide with her, as if he didn't even recognise her standing there. Then he stopped, barely half a meter away from her. His features were serious. It wasnít the dreaded madness that shimmered in his eyes. Rather it was guilt that weighed much more and was much harder to accept than any madness would ever have been.

She nearly wished he wouldnít answer. Nevertheless she asked again: "Who or what was too slow, Jedi Kenobi?"

Again he didnít react to her question directly. He looked through her and repeated the softly murmured words she hadnít understood earlier.

"I could have saved the queen. If I had been just a little faster. . ."

A sigh of relief escaped Reajaís control and she smiled broadly. If that was it . . . That was something she could work with, she could take this guilt away from him. Carefully she laid both of her hands on his upper arms.

"The queen is fine, young master. Didnít anybody tell you?"

The priestess's words only slowly processed in his mind. The queen was fine. He searched his heart and knew that it wasnít true. The healer priestess tried to calm him, tried to take the guilt away from him.

But she hadnít been there. She hadnít seen how the aurora had enveloped and burned the queen.

'It is alright, healer. I donít need protection. What I need is reassurance.'

With an indignant gesture he eased himself out of the priestessís soft touch. "That is not possible. I was too slow."

Reaja laughed - a rather helpless sound that echoed far too loudly. "Trust me, Obi-Wan. The queen really is fine."

"Too slow." Kenobi had retreated in his mantra, not listening to her words. What she said was irrelevant. He knew better. The only thing her words triggered was the feeling of being made fun of. A feeling he had never been known to take very well.

The healer priestess tried to reach him again and put her hand on his arm once more. "You need to listen to me, Jedi Kenobi. The first part of the ritual was successful!"

He stared at her, suddenly brought out of his lethargy by her words.

"Successful?"

Reaja retreated a few steps when she saw the cold look in the young Jediís eyes.

"You are saying that it was successful, healer? Sucessful?" His voice could only be fractions away from being heard in the very last corner of the temple.

The healerís eyes flickered in unspoken worry. What she saw on the Jediís face scared her. She felt the overwhelming urge to calm him and to prove him that he was mistaken. But was he ready for this truth? Reaja knew that it would have been better to end this conversation now. But she had gone too far already. Too far to stop now. She owed it to the Jedi to make this situation alright again, to bring a good ending to this.

A tiny voice in the back of her head asked if she was really doing this for the Jedi. Angrily she shut the voice up.

"Yes, young master. You have been successful. The queen has come back."

Obi-Wan could feel the anger pulsing under his scalp. How dare she make fun of him after all he had been through? How dare she treat him like a fool, like a child who could not understand? He knew what had happened. He knew what he had done. Or much rather what he hadnít done. He had to live with it. And no one had the right to taunt him. No one.

His hands balled to fists, he realised clearly how the force started to ripple around him. Tiny waves spread out fast and faster, wave upon wave hit the next, became bigger, stronger. His body became wide awake and strong under this new experience, which washed away his rational thoughts and left behind nothing but anger.

He hated being made fun of. Had always hated it. Very early, still at the temple this had been one of the strongest feelings he had had to fight.

He was standing at one of those points again.

Obi-Wanís breath came fast as he tried to control the anger. Eyes squeezed shut in deep concentration, he didnít see the high priestess leaving the hall for a short while. He fought the seductive ease of an outburst of rage.

Oh yes, it would be easy. Let himself go, and for a short while just let all those piled up emotions run freely, finding a venting mechanism for the burning anger he felt

The pictures mixed up. It was Reajaís helplessly-trying-to-help face, it was the cool features of the other priestesses, it was the queenís face, the dark warriorís taunting visage, and Qui-Gonís familiar face as well. Left behind, betrayed, pushed away and robbed of the most important thing in his life, Obi-Wan was having more and more difficulties in trying to keep his temper.

Reaja found the worst possible moment to disturb his concentration.

"Do you believe me now, young master?"

ĎLeave me alone,í Obi-Wan pleaded silently.

He couldnít deal with the priestess now. Not without completely losing control.

He needed to center himself, needed to push back the dark temptations, needed to cleanse himself and analyse his misstep patiently. He couldnít deal with the well-meaning priestess now. Not now!

"Jedi!" Reaja was definitely giving orders now, albeit in a very motherly tone.

"Leave at once, healer," Obi-Wan ground out out from between clenched teeth.

"No, young master. You will turn around now and see for yourself that you are wrong. You cannot punish yourself for something you havenít done."

"Healer, I am going to say this one last time." His voice was sharp and cold as ice. "Go. Now."

"You are forgetting yourself, Jedi Kenobi." The voice of the high priestess Aethra echoed through the high vaults like the crack of a whip. "I donít always agree with Reajaís methods but in this case I am standing behind her decision. You will comply, Jedi."

Despite of the authority in her voice Aethra didnít expect him to react right away. The more it surprised her when Kenobi whirled around and dared her eyes to take up the silent battle.

His movement had gained more certainty during the last few minutes. Soundlessly, eerily secure and fluid he stepped out of the recess where he had been standing by the window.

The legendary reputation of the Jedi seemed to be personified in this young man and gained an entirely new meaning.

"Now what, healer?"

His tone lay somewhere between a taunt and a harsh insult.

This was not at all the polite and softly overprotective Jedi she had come to know. Reaja heard Aethra gasping for breath at his words and she knew she had to come up with something, anything to lighten the tension. With small quick steps she walked towards the Jedi. In her hands one of the glowing spheres the Gungan ruler had given the queen at the day of the big parade was shining softly.

Kenobi watched her coming closer with growing agitation. Aethra had already put him in a defensive position. If Reaja got any closer now, his last protective wall would be taken away from him. He didnít know what was going to happen if she came too close. He didnít know how much longer he could control it. The priestessís ignorance triggered new anger. Didnít they understand that he had to be alone?

Just a few steps separated the healer priestess from the young man who now looked much less like the incarnation of a powerful Jedi and much more like a cornered predator. His breathing became faster and his eyes never left Reaja.

The priestess swallowed against the upcoming dryness in her throat and cleared it hastily. The sphere pulsed in a blue light as she pushed it towards him and laid it into his hands. "A gift from her majesty the queen. She is looking forward to seeing you again, Jedi Kenobi."

Obi-Wan's eyes were glued to the object he held in his hands.

ĎSeeing you again.í

The blue pulsing consumed all of his mind, brought back all the pictures he had fought so hard against during the last days. The force flared up wildly around him and he screamed inwardly. The sphereís light pulsed brighter, friendlier, in a more radiant blue. In a burning blue. He could feel the force flooding every single cell of his body, making him strong, stronger than he had ever been before.

The light still pulsed.

Eternally.

Burning blue.

His mind was left behind in a hot wave of rage and agony that rolled over him faster than he could grasp with his thoughts. No sound emerged from his lips. He simply stared into the sphere in his hands, fear and rage in perfect unison.

The sphereís pulsing became faster, faster until there were no more interruptions between in intervals. Obi-Wan wanted nothing more but to let go of this cursed object, but found it to be an impossible task. His hands had seemingly merged with the silky surface.

"I trust you like my present, Jedi Kenobi?

Even though the new voice that entered his thoughts was soft and melodious, in his frenzy, Obi-Wan felt as though he was hearing the discordant shriek of a breaking harp-string. He raised his eyes which saw nothing but the sphereís blue gleaming and tried in vain to find the person to whom this voice belonged.

ĎMy present.'

The incredibly fast pulsing had taken over the force in his body. The control slipped away from him faster and faster from one second to the next. Where his fingertips touched the sphere the gleaming became even more intensive, so intensive that he had to close his eyes. But even there the intense blue haunted him.

The anger welled up again. Rage, desperation, fear.

Something broke inside of him.

One last time the sphere in his hands flashed like lightning - then it shattered into a thousand little pieces that dug into his fingers and drew blood immediately.

The rushing of the blood in his ears was omnipotent and made him deaf to all the other sounds in the room. Deaf to the high priestessís horrified groan, to the fine clink of the falling splinters, to the quick steps of the young woman who came close to him and then stood rooted to the spot gazing into his eyes which were slowly opening again like those of a wild animal caught in the headlight of a speeder. Deep down, hidden in the young manís eyes something was lurking, something that was better off never reaching the surface. She saw him fighting it down.

Kenobi locked his gaze with that of the young woman in front of him. Only slowly realisation started to dawn.

He still felt the remnants of the incredible power he had experienced. The feeling of touching an open power coupling, yet not being killed, but being accepted by it. He had been one with this force.

Realisation hit him harder than any blow with a sword could have. The dark side. He had touched the dark side, had taken it inside him, had fed it . . .

Obi-Wan Kenobi started to shake all over his body and hid his face in his hands, not caring that the splinters cut his face as well.

What in the name of the force had he done?

 


Padme was glad this confrontation hadnít lasted a second longer than it did. She wasnít afraid of many people. But this glimpse at the Jediís wild soul, into the unpredictability, rattled her thoroughly.

Had she known how close this menacingly lurking something had come to the surface, how little had separated it from breaking free, her worries would have turned into icy fear.



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