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X.

 

North, South, East

where’s best?

If I head left

It turns out directionless

(Mathews/Roberts)

 


 

"You will spend this time together and only together. No one except the highest priestesses will know of your whereabouts."

Padme didn’t even try to hide her surprise. "How long?"

Reaja bent her head slightly. "That is not for us to say."

"What does that mean? Can’t you speak clearly, healer?"

Reaja was glad that the long years of dealing with people from the palace had trained her. The queen wasn’t wearing her royal gowns, neither was she wearing the typical make-up, yet those words had sounded unmistakably sharp and demanding. The young novice who was waiting in the adjacent room had flinched fiercely.Reaja bit her lips to suppress a smile.

Naara.

The little one was much too curious for her own good. But it was this curiosity that made Reaja sense so much potential in her.

"Healer? Are you listening to me?"

This time she flinched under the sharp rebuke in the queen’s voice. "Forgive me, your majesty." At her gesture the high, heavy door was closed and the room shielded from the eyes and ears of curious novices.She smiled apologetically and turned towards the two young people sitting in front of her. "Our novices have a lot to learn."

A quick shadow of memory flickered over the Jedi’s face as he smiled wistfully. ‘That sounds familiar.’

The queen cast a quick glance at the Jedi which demanded his support. Kenobi knew what he was expected to say. "Please, healer, tell us: How long will we have to stay at this place?"

"And why?"

The queen’s question echoed in the high vaults for a while. Dull daylight that barely had the power to reflect on the shiny marble floor seeped through the huge windows of the cool room that was scented with fragrant herbs.

Reaja prepared for a long dispute. The reason for this seclusion wasn’t easy to explain, and she could do nothing but hope that the queen and the Jedi understood what she was doing and didn’t fight her. Because if they did fight . . .

Well, actually she didn’t know what would happen if they fought her. The records of the few times this had happened were written down in the big tomes that were kept in the forbidden vaults of the temple. A part not even she - despite her merits in the temple - had a right to go to.

"Linking two souls," she began with a quick glance at the queen and the Jedi, "that haven’t been prepared for being linked is utterly dangerous. The risks of a collapse or a permanent damage to the souls are very high. Bonds like this can have side-effects that go far beyond our imagination. . ."

She tried to make the whole thing sound as unimportant as possible. One look at the young Jedi and the barely suppressed feeling of guilt in his eyes told her that she failed miserably.

"That is why this seclusion is vital for the lives and the souls of the ones linked. Their souls have been interwoven and this bond must not, under any circumstances, be cut abruptly. You will go into seclusion to separate your souls."

The Jedi and the queen exchanged a wary look. Their souls had been woven together?

As she left the hall for one of the distant walkways of the temple to think about what she had just heard, Padme turned her attention towards herself. In the beginning she felt nothing but the deep peace that surrounded her since she had woken up. But then she felt upcoming doubts, the feeling of inadequacy and a numbing feeling of guilt - all of them feelings that didn’t belong to her. Was Reaja right? Since she had woken up, no one had told her what had happened, and the idea of having established a link to Kenobi’s soul seemed absurd to her. Yet . . .

 


 

"Please wait for a moment, young master."

Reaja’s warm voice held Obi-Wan back. The queen had already left and if Reaja wanted to talk to him alone now, it could mean only one thing. He bowed slightly before her.

"I am truly sorry, healer. There is no excuse for my behavior."

The priestess smiled sadly and absentmindedly smoothed a crease in her gown. "You worry too much, young master," she answered mildly. "But don’t you want to tell me what happened?"

No. That was exactly what he did not want. He wanted to suppress that it had happened, and as of right now he didn't care how wrong that was. By his actions he had betrayed everything he had ever learned and sworn. How could he go on living with that knowledge without. . .

Reaja saw him averting his eyes and erecting a wall around himself she wouldn’t be able to overcome.

"How are your hands,"she asked, changing the subject.

At first she didn’t think he had heard her. Then he pulled his hands out of the wide sleeves of his robe and looked at them with an expressionless face. Acting on a learned reflex, the healer went up to him and seized the Jedi’s slim yet strong hands to examine them.

"The wounds are healing very well," she exclaimed satisfied. A quick glance at his face showed her that the cuts there were starting to heal as well. A good sign.

Their images were reflected in the floor-length window and Reaja asked herself how she was supposed to tell him what she had to tell him. Aethra had made that her task. And Reaja desperately wished she hadn’t.

"Do you know why you’re here, young master?"

His tired eyes moved over her face and a sad smiled played around his lips. The question sounded familiar.

"I have placed myself under a heavy burden of guilt, healer."

Such a simple answer, yet what a drastic confession. The feeling of guilt exuding from every single one of his pores surrounded him like a dark cloud.

"The high priestess . . ." She stopped and cleared her throat uneasily. She didn’t want to be the one to bring him this piece of news - yet she had no choice. "The high priestess has spoken to the Jedi council about this incident. Together they decided that you will be cut off from the force for the rest of your stay here."

Now that the words were spoken Reaja thought that she might as well have stabbed him with a knife. Obi-Wan swayed slightly and his face turned ashen. But this moment of weakness only lasted for a few seconds.

He bowed before her. "I will not doubt the wisdom of the high priestess and the council."

A part of him shattered into a thousand pieces because of this order. And she had known this would happen.

 


 

"Mistress!"

Sabé rushed into the temple’s chambers with unceremonious speed. Her hair lay open around her shoulders and her orange robe surrounded her with a warm glow. But this glowing could very well be coming from the handmaiden’s eyes as well.

Padme couldn’t recall the last time she had seen Sabé acting with such little control. The young woman who had dedicated her life to protecting the queen was usually quiet and controlled in every possible situation - moments when she allowed herself to behave according to her age were few and far between. Her age . . .

Padme didn’t remember ever asking her about her age. She had always assumed that her bodyguard was about her age. Why hadn't she ever thought of asking? One look at the handmaiden’s open and beaming face showed her how little she knew about the young woman. And yet she was the closest thing she had to a friend in the palace. If a queen had friends at all.

"Sabé." Padme smiled warmly and had to hold herself back from reacting too familiarly. She still was the queen and she was expected to keep a little distance to her servants.

"You are alright again, your highness." Sabé’s eyes sparkled like dark gems. "We were . . ."

" Already willing to write me off?" The queen couldn’t suppress the little teasing.

Sabé stared at her shocked for a few moments. "No, mistress, you don’t understand, we never . . ."

"Sabé, come on." The corners of Padme’s mouth twitched suspiciously. " You should learn to distinguish between a joke and a serious comment."

When she saw that Sabé still hesitated, she nodded her head towards one of the slim benches that were situated in the narrow covered walk.

"Have a seat, Sabé, you’re completely out of breath." She looked over the handmaiden’s appearance once again. "Why did you run so fast?"

"I have been told you were awake again." Sabé’s eyebrows furrowed, confused. "And that you had asked for me. Was that incorrect? Do you want me to leave?" She made a move to rise.

"Sabé, not at all!", the queen repeated softly and laid her arm on the handmaidens arm. The touch caused Sabé to flinch first but soon she relaxed under the slim warm hand on the rich orange of her robe.

"I asked you to come here because I need your help." Padme’s eyes traveled over the small stripes of sunlight that filtered through the creepers on the walkway, lined by high sandstone columns, casting irregular patterns on the floor "But first things first - do tell me what happened in the palace while I was at the temple."

Sabé’s posture relaxed considerably as she started talking about familiar things. Her hand moved to the delicate silver bracelet that clung to her wrist and she played with it unconsciously. Padme inwardly smiled at how easy it was to overcome even the greatest insecurities simply by asking her about familiar things. Sabé wasn’t an insecure girl anymore - and she never had been one, otherwise she would never ever have been chosen for this job, but Padme still felt a certain distance between her and the handmaiden. And maybe that was right - maybe Sabé had been taught to keep her distance towards the queen, but Padme often wished that the young woman would forget the conventions for a few moments and just talk to her.

The handmaiden’s attentive eyes had never left her during the conversation and Sabé took in every tiny detail, always prepared to react suddenly, if it became necessary.

Padme felt an almost motherly pride rise inside of her as she listened to Sabé’s reports. The handmaiden had taken Padme's place right after the Queen had collapsed, and not a single thing had escaped the close circle of the other handmaidens and the healers.

Padme was proud of Sabé, as proud as she was only very rarely. Since the charade during the trade blockade she had realized how very important this handmaiden was for her, and how much she could trust her. Those last days only confirmed this.

There were days when this hiding scared Padme - she surrendered herself to the handmaiden completely in a way. But she knew she could trust Sabé with her life.

On the other hand she let the young woman carry a burden that wasn’t meant for her to carry. That was already incredibly heavy for her from time to time. How would Sabé feel, who only had the rank of a handmaiden after all? This job was ungrateful. Sabé would always be in the shadow of Amidala, the queen, even though and maybe just because she was the wind under her wings.

Absentmindedly she reached for a slim glass that was filled with a ruby-red nectar and nodded for Sabé to help herself.

If she tried to forget the difference between mistress and servant, she could imagine that this was a conversation between friends. But before she could finish that thought reality crashed in and she scolded herself for daydreaming. That wasn’t worthy of a queen and most of all it was dangerous. One could get lost in dreams like that.

"You have been my eyes and my ears since I've been at the temple," Padme began, as she turned the slim goblet with the delicate carved in patterns in her hands, watching how the daylight that shone from behind the high columns caused the color of the drink to shift. For a moment Sabé reveled in that observation. Was that what kept the queen stable? Little things like this tiny gesture? Watching a color shift. Little, tiny things that others didn’t even realize?

"What I ask of you is an awful lot, but I need to ask you to also be my voice."

Sabé listened up and berated herself for not paying attention. Her voice?

If she was going to takes the queen’s place for a longer period of time, didn’t that mean that Amidala wasn’t well at all, despite what she said? The professional worry of a bodyguard was pushed aside by the completely personal worry for the young woman she had vowed her life to.

Padme saw the changes flicker over Sabé’s face. Did she have to explain herself? Did she have to give her a reason? The decision was made quickly. If she put such a heavy burden on the handmaiden’s shoulders, she owed her an explanation.

The queen shifted on the traditionally unadorned bench until she had found a more comfortable position and then went on. "The healers have told me that my full recovery will take some more time."

Worry flared up wildly in the handmaiden’s soft brown eyes. "Mistress?"

With an impulsive gesture Padme grasped for her bodyguard’s hand and squeezed it lightly. "I am fine, Sabé, trust me. But I will have to leave Theed for a while. The throne may not remain empty during that time. The trade-blockade and the internment of the population has left wounds among my people. I cannot allow a political escalation to come up because the queen isn’t doing her duties."

"Your highness, you have never neglected your duties. Whoever says something like that is . . ."

"Sabé, don’t," she interrupted the handmaiden calmly. "This isn’t necessary."

She rose and tried to make her steps look as strong and certain as possible in order not to lose face in front of Sabé. How sick all of this was. Sabé was the one who was closest to her in the palace, yet she could not show any weakness, even in front of her.

Sabé saw the queen’s inner struggle better than anyone else could have. She couldn’t really tell what was going on behind those unreadable eyes of the ruler, but she saw that something was worrying her.

"I will prove myself worthy, your highness."

Padme turned away from the ivy-entwined columns and gave Sabé a warm smile.

"I know, Sabé. I have never had any doubts."

 


 

The novice Naara scurried through the narrow hallways of the temple, eagerly trying not to be noticed by anyone. One of the older priestesses had sent her to the garden to cut herbs for a rather common liquid the temple needed to prepare a simple medicine for small children. Naara had finished this task after a few minutes and had decided to make better use of the time she had left.

The queen was at the temple!

Naara’s heart beat faster at the thought. Being one of the youngest novices, she wasn’t allowed to meet the queen. When she found out about that regulation, she had been sourly disappointed. But in the meantime she had found ways to sneak away for a few minutes and to secretly watch the queen.

The young girl admired the queen’s unconsciously graceful movements, and watched with fascination how naturally she talked to the older priestesses.

Her breathing was fast when she stopped behind a broad column. With one hand she pushed back her disheveled hair. Accordingly to the traditions for novices her hair only just covered her ears.

Naara remembered the prickly cool feeling of the when her hair, which back then had reached her knees, had been cut in order to join the temple. Tears had burned in her eyes, since every Naboo woman considered her hair to be the most treasured adornment she could own. Meanwhile Naara had gotten used to the shortness and she enjoyed the significance behind every millimeter that her hair was growing.

Naara was a fragile girl of 13 years. The curly hair fell softly around cheekbones which hadn't yet lost all of their childish roundness. Delicate, barely visible eyebrows were curved in a fine line over bright blue eyes.

Naara had experienced a lot of snide comments about those eyes in her childhood, but she had shoved them away with her natural quick-wittedness. Big and curious they looked out of the delicate face and she was never quite able to hide the glitter of mischief. Their color was so very different from the usual brown of all of the other Naboo children.

It had taken Naara a long time to accept that she wasn’t quite like all the others. Her milky-white skin was too fair for a warm planet like Naboo and over the small shapely nose ran a ribbon of uncountable freckles, which was similar to the ribbon of stars in the night sky and therefore only deepened the cheerful and open expression of her face. Her mouth which seemed to smile constantly was a little too pale. She wasn’t what they would call a beauty but because of her naturalness and her clearly visible zest for life she held a clumsy-unconscious attraction for the people around her.

Her big eyes opened even wider than usual Naara stared at the queen who was sitting in the garden of silence, clad in a deep red tunic, watching the Jedi who was meditating just a few steps away from her.

Neither of them moved. The Jedi’s eyes were closed and his face sunken into deep concentration. The queen had propped her elbows on her knees and let her eyes wander over the face that wasn’t hidden under the hood of a heavy cloak this time.

A strange tension hung over the garden. The recently cut hedges moved quietly in the cool wind that brought the heavy smell of the close change in the weather. More rain would come.

"Naara!"

She flinched violently when she heard the voice of the priestess that had sent her out to cut the herbs in the walkway behind her. Scaldingly hot she realized how much time had passed. If she didn’t find a plausible excuse she would be in quite a lot of trouble.

She was safe for now. She hadn’t been spotted yet.

Yet.

Naara cast a last sad glance into the garden and then hurried to return in the usual way from the herb garden where she was supposed to be working.

 


 

The temple was soon behind them. The small boat moved quickly and nimbly on the smoothly flowing, small arm of the river. Sounds of the night surrounded them in a soft and reassuring way, making it easy to forget the unusual reason behind this excursion. Only the steady rain and the damp cold it brought with it were reminders of the fact that this was more than a leisure trip.

The boat was inconspicuous and dipped into the velvet shadows of the night without being seen, without attracting any attention at all.

The streets of the capitol Theed were quiet, only now and then a group of night owls became visible, coming home from one of the homely bars. Laughter wafted over to the little boat.

Padme watched them, smiling. The light-heartedness in this laughter made part of her hum with recognition she hadn’t heard in a long while. When was the last time she had smiled? She could barely remember.

Only slowly did the memories return.

Tatooine. She had been laughing on Tatooine. Loud and careless - over the clumsiness of JarJar Binks, who seemed to attract mishaps like a magnet. That had been before all of the events of the past weeks. So long ago . . .

A quick glance at Reaja showed her that the priestess was smiling as well. Only the Jedi’s face stayed stoic. Instantly the smile on Padme’s face died away.

His mood influenced her much more than she would ever admit. It wasn’t like her to be influenced this much by anybody. That had been the reason she had been elected queen. But now one glance at the sunken face of the Jedi was enough to make all of her enthusiasm disappear. Even the inner peace she had securely felt all the time since she had woken up in the temple had developed jagged edges after the incident with the sphere.

The rain hit the surface of the boat with a nice steady sound and mingled with the sound of the bow parting the waters before them. The sounds were so steady that she barely realized they were leaving the city boundaries.

The lights stayed behind and soon they were completely surrounded by the jungle’s mysterious silence which was broken only from time to time by the cries of night-active animals.

Peaceful.

The night spread its cloak around them and while Reaja steered the boat through the narrowing arms of the river, Padme felt Kenobi laying the heavy, waterproof robe around her shoulders and pulling the hood over her long hair in a clumsy, yet gentle caring movement. He stayed behind her and she could hear him breathing. Calm and steady.

He enjoyed the silence and the calm of the forests and a deep serenity emanated from him and touched her as well.

Strange.

They hadn’t talked to each other since they had left the temple, yet Padme didn’t think of that fact as unpleasant. A small part of her asked if it really was so bad to be connected to the Jedi.

What would happen once he had gotten over the excruciating pain of his loss? What would happen to their link if it wasn’t severed? Why was it so dangerous to link two minds?

She felt strangely safe with the knowledge of him sharing a small part of her - and of her sharing a small part of him. But it also frightened her enormously. Those conflicting emotions made it difficult to rationalize the whole thing. Maybe she would find the time to do just that when they reached the place Reaja was taking them to.

She vaguely remembered having heard about the temple. But it had always been stories, fairy-tales told to children in dark stormy nights. She hadn’t believed in its existence. And for some unknown reasons Padme still doubted it.

She squinted in surprise when Reaja activated a light that cut in a sharp triangle through the darkness. Huge majestic trees became visible and thousands of eyes seemed to watch the strangers out from the darkness of the jungle.

Padme shivered under the wind that had gained power and pushed rain in her eyes. Behind her she felt the warm and calm presence of the Jedi, and some of the tension left her body. It had been a long day and she felt the leaden fatigue creeping up which she had tried to suppress since they had left the temple.

Softly the boat glided over the river’s quietly swishing water.

The wind moved through the trees and triggered a full harmonic rustling that wove itself harmonically into the sound of the rain..

Her thoughts returned to the Jedi once more. Outwardly he presented a stronger picture than at the beginning of the ritual. He held himself up more straight and showed fewer signs of his deep sorrow.

But Padme had looked into his eyes - those troubled blue-green eyes, underlined by deep, dark shadows - she had seen the unrest, the insurmountable doubts, the swirling pain. Her worries for him had only increased from this moment on. Was nobody else looking at him? Did nobody but her recognize this? Or was this part of their connection?

Padme shifted around on the uncomfortable small bench of the boat - not quite sure whether she should stay seated or get up.

Reaja almost blended into the darkness and only the small circle in front of her was lit up by the bright white light. Padme’s thoughts swirled restlessly and wouldn’t allow her body the sleep she yearned for so much.

Shivering, she pulled the robe closer around her body. Fatigue did its part to make her realize the cold more than necessary.

A quiet, hesitating touch behind her made clear that her unrest had been noticed by Kenobi.

"I’m sorry," she whispered. "I didn’t mean to . . ."

"You didn’t, your Majesty," he interrupted her softly but with determination.

For a few blinks of an eye Padme listened to the way his words echoed in her.

Hearing his voice felt good. Even though the silence between them was far from being awkward, she had often yearned to hear the softly accentuated voice during the last days. Now it had a reassuring influence on her racing thoughts.

The low branch of one of the trees lining the shore jutting far into the middle of the river forced Reaja to take an evasive course to avoid being hit by the rain-wetted leaves and the strong side-branches. The boat swayed menacingly at the unexpectedly fast movement and Padme instinctively grasped for something she could hold on to. But before she could end the movement, Kenobi had slung his arms around her waist and had shifted his weight to the opposite side

His fast intervention kept them all from capsizing.

Padme’s heart hammered wildly as she tried in vain to move out of his steadying arms. But she soon found out that this was impossible. He held her close and safe, obviously expecting another incident like that. And even though the queen in her raged against his taking charge, the part of her that didn’t want to be royal won.

Her posture relaxed and she let herself drift against his chest that was rising and falling with steady breaths.

Lulled by the soft monotony of his breathing, she fell asleep only minutes later.

 


 
 



XI.

Hush, the lilies and purple flowers

Are sleeping

I don’t want them to know of my sorrow

For if they see me crying

They will die

(Rafael Hernández)

 


 

 

 

The jungle was breathing.

Moist, warm air surrounded the small group. It was heavy with hundreds of different smells, ranging from the fresh, lively nuance up to a morbid heaviness that brought the eternal circle of life and death back to the memory. The high humidity caused the simple clothes soon to cling to their bodies and small beads of sweat ran over the wanderers’ foreheads. From time to time the walk had to be delayed due to a fallen tree that blocked the way or to a small stream that unexpectedly emerged from the ground of the jungle. No words were spoken--it seemed as though the three wanderers had nothing much to say to each other.

The sun had risen well over the zenith when they reached their destination.

From the jungle’s tight coppice a building rose majestically. A clearing, where reflections of the sunlight streaming through the dome of leaves were dancing, spread out in front of the steps leading inside the building. Even though it was very impressive, the building itself was made out of a bright sandstone that - due to the influences of the weather - had become black at some places and gave the impression of high age. The roof ran in graceful curves over the walls which, in comparison, looked frail and delicate." It spanned a broad terrace on which slim steatite benches were placed around a depression in the floor. Upon coming closer it was clear that this depression must have been some kind of a fountain once. The stone was shiny and bore the traces of water on the brims of the basin which imitated the perfect beauty of a lotus-blossom.

Reaja climbed the last steps that lead to the terrace with an elating feeling of home. The temple in Theed was more useful, indeed, and more frequented, maybe it even was more comfortable, but this was the place where her soul found solitude.

She kneeled in front of the lotus-basin and touched the stone, felt the perfection of the smoothly formed petals. The beauty that lay in this temple’s simplicity never failed to have its effects on the healer priestess Reaja. So many things connected her to this place.

She left the memories behind nearly reluctantly. Her hands put together in front of her face in a ritual gesture, she started to sing a series of pentatonic tones.

While she was singing, she heard her exhausted companions climb up the few steps behind her and sink down on one of the benches. The sound of her voice flew through the open rooms in the temple and fled out into the jungle without causing a reflection. After she had ended, she rose slowly and fixed her eyes on the ground of the lotus-basin.

The sound was so soft that at first it nearly drowned in the background noise of the jungle, in the cacophony of the different birds and the everlasting rustling and waving of the forest. Eventually the soft splashing and gurgling became more distinctly audible and from the corner of her eyes Reaja amusedly saw how the queen and the Jedi futilely searched for the source of the sound.

"What is happening here, healer?" Padme’s voice was faint and exhausted, but no less expectant.

The priestess extended her hand. "Come and see for yourself, your majesty."

Without paying attention to the healer’s subordinate position in Naboo society, Padme reached for the offered hand and allowed the priestess to pull her to her feet until she was standing directly next to Reaja.

For a while nothing happened and in her breathless exhilaration Padme forgot Kenobi, who sat behind her and watched the events from there, for a while. When the change finally came, she couldn’t suppress a surprised cry.

"Look! Healer, Jedi, look!"

Reaja smiled. She had just witnessed one of the rare moments in which the queen - far away from her duties - could show a normal human reaction that wasn’t regulated by the protocol of the palace.

In front of the women’s feet the lotus-basin had become alive. The stone shifted its shape and seemed to grow, from the centre of the stone blossom a bud rose. All around this bud clear, slightly bluish water bubbled up and soon filled the basin completely. It looked as if the lotus bud was swimming.

Padme stared at the spectacle in front of her eyes adoringly. Her grasp at Reaja’s hand increased slightly.

‘Oh, mistress, Reaja thought sadly. ‘Why did they surrender you into the hands of this loneliness?’

She squeezed the young woman’s hand reassuringly one last time before she let go and smiled at her softly.

"How . . . how did you . . ."

The priestess shook her head. "Not all secrets are meant to be discovered, your majesty."

She walked around the blossom towards the rooms of the temple

"Your majesty, Jedi . . . Please let us continue the ritual."

 

 


 

 

Even though they were inside the temple, the sounds of the jungle were only barely dampened. It was surprisingly cool in here and the fine smell of burning ceremonial herbs filled the air.

Padme and Obi-Wan knelt on the temple’s smooth stone ground. Facing each other they both searched for calm in the eyes of the other, but found nothing but swirling uncertainty. Neither of them knew what was going to happen.

Reaja stood above them and Obi-Wan instinctively asked himself if it was just his kneeling position that made the healer appear superhuman in size, or if the burning herbs in the small copper bowl he had seen at the entrance of the room had some kind of hallucinogenic effects. He saw similar thoughts flickering in the queen’s eyes.

What was he getting into here? Hadn’t he lived through enough humiliation? Hadn’t the first ritual been enough?

When the healer’s warm hand was placed over his eyes he flinched violently. What had happened to his concentration? Unable to reach out with the force to see what the healer was doing, he was forced to wait and surrender himself to her actions, just as the queen did.

His knees shook under the tense posture and the uncertainty. He needed way too much time to control that shaking. Meanwhile the healer priestess Reaja had ordered them to keep their eyes closed.

Instantly his ears started to respond better. The fact that one sense could be replaced so fast and so far-reaching by another sense still flabbergasted him. The fine clink of a clay bowl became audible, then the soft sound of a liquid that was being poured into the bowl. The smell of the herb became more distinct and by now Obi-Wan was relatively sure that they had to have some inebriating effects. He felt weak, dizzy, and unsure, and judging from the irregular sound of the queen’s breathing she felt exactly the same.

"There is no need to worry", Reaja reassured her two charges.

 

 


 

 

Later on Padme couldn’t recall Reaja’s exact words as she had told her to drink.

A bowl was placed at her mouth, the rough surface of the clay teased the tender skin of her bottom lip blindly, as though searching and she reached for it with a steadying hand.

But the hands that held the bowl weren’t Reaja’s.

The fingertips of those hands were strangely familiar to her - rough and callused, but cool against her warm skin. For a few seconds her fingertips settled against the others and she enjoyed the sensation of intimacy until she felt a fine tremor running through the other hands and she forced herself to drink the sweetly smelling liquid.

The potion burned down her throat all the way down to her stomach. Padme hadn’t eaten anything since they had left the temple in Theed, and now whatever had been in this potion showed a direct effect. Dizziness flooded her so badly that she reached out to the floor for support. Her hands moved too slowly and no matter how much she tried to open her eyes - she couldn’t manage.

Warmth coming from her stomach flooded her body and washed away all the defence mechanisms her mind had against assaults like that. She felt like she was floating, yet she felt heavy as lead, unable to move a single muscle.

The soft sound of cloth moving over stone reached her ear. Padme didn’t feel the floor under her anymore, its cool was drowned by the enrapturing warmth inside of her.

Darkness folded its wings around her as her last conscious thought slipped from her.

 

 


 

 

With quick, skilled hands Reaja finished the last preparations before she left the quiet and seclusion of the temple. Supplies had been placed in one of the smaller buildings and she had left some important notes on a datapad.

Her two charges slept deep and peaceful, neither of both heard the quick, busy steps of the priestess.

Reaja had spent more time on this than necessary, and she knew it. Yet she couldn’t part from the queen and the Jedi so fast. When her steps brought her to their sleeping places again, she stopped. Even during his sleep the Jedi had turned towards the queen, just as if he was ready to jump up from sleep and protect her if necessary. Reaja felt and saw the bond between the two of them flowing tenderly and steadily. Their dreams were peaceful. Part of her felt sorrow for having to destroy this bond. She hadn’t seen a bond so powerful like the one between the queen and the Jedi in a long time. Yet none so dangerous as well, the other part of her mind reminded her. Carefully not to wake either of them, she placed her hands on the queen’s and the Jedi’s forehead and murmured a quiet blessing.

Out of a feeling of sympathy she stepped out into the half overgrown garden of the temple and gently plucked the cream-coloured, delicate blossoms of a tree that was branching out in all directions. With skilled hands she wound a slim garland from the just opened buds of the blossoms. Their scent was unique - sweet and fresh and in a strange way pure and clear. Carefully she wound the blossom-garland around the queen’s wrist, whose both hands lay next to her face in a nearly child-like manner. The scent would make her sleep become deeper and would give her the much needed rest.

Unsteady breathing behind her brought her attention back to the Jedi. His face didn’t look nearly as relaxed as it had just a few minutes before and the deep lines she had thought had been smoothed became visible once more. The priestess closed her eyes and sighed, a piercing pain on account of the young man’s situation spread under her heart. The blossoms she had chosen for the queen wouldn’t help him. They only protected the sleep of the healthy. Reaja pondered for a while, but then reached for the small bag she always carried and and took out a rust-red petal with broad, ragged edges.

As careful as possible she rolled the petal and placed it into the Jedi’s mouth, waiting for it to dissolve. It didn’t take long and she could watch his features relax, just as she felt him leaving the dream behind.

The leaves of the Tandara-tree were plucked only during a certain period of time, since they had their full effect only once in a full cycle. Mildly hallucinogenic and antispasmodic substances accumulated on the leather-like surface of the reddish-brown leaves just before the great rains started. Those substances repressed the bodily causes for nightmares.

She hoped that this effects wouldn’t be only temporary in Kenobi’s special case.

For a while she stayed and watched the sleepers, then she rose without a sound and left, quiet as a thief in the night.

 

 


 

 

In the late afternoon of the fifth day after the queen’s mysterious journey away from the Theed temple, Sabe slowly started to feel less uncomfortable with her task. From the waterfall side the warm wind coming from the plains found its way through the open windows into the queen’s high study that was lined by shining columns. The handmaiden who, clad in the royal gowns, looked like a flawless image of the queen sat bent over a broad desk of high-grade wood on which papers and datapads were scattered everywhere. The high doors of the room were closed and beyond them the softly dampened sounds of the servants scurrying past and walking busily in the hallways. Tired she brushed her index and middle fingers over her furrowed eyebrows and tried to prevent the frown that slowly became painful.

Again and again she read the documents that would be talked about in the audience. Was Amidala really occupying herself with this dry stuff all day long?

Quietly sighing she reached for the glass carafe and poured some of the ruby-red nectar which she knew Amidala loved. It surprised her how close this little gesture made her feel to the queen. The nectar was sweet and full-bodied, it tickled slightly on her tongue. Careful not to bend the overtaxed muscles too much, she turned her head. The food one of the handmaidens had brought her hours ago, had gone cold without her having touched it. She didn’t feel hungry, her anxiety level was too high.

She had taken the queen’s place a few time before, but Amidala had always been by her side during those times. Multiple times Sabé had caught herself looking over her shoulder for an affirmative gesture of the queen, which didn’t come. Couldn’t come. The first days had been horrible. As long as she had known that the queen was at the healer temple, she had been sure, ever seemingly unfathomable problem hadn’t seemed quite so threatening – if only just because the queen was close. But now she was alone and all the decision that were coming up had to be made by her, without the safety of being able to ask Amidala for advice. Even just thinking of the upcoming audiences caused her palms to grow damp. She had had a good training, she knew how to handle situations like this. But it was completely different having learned something in theory and then being confronted by the harsh reality.

Impatiently she swept her left hand over the scattered documents in front of her and tried to get them in some kind of order. Amidala was not a perfect woman, but she was very tidy and anyone entering the room now would have realised that something was wrong.

A small ray of sunlight fell through the crack in the half closed, heavy curtains and caused the continuously swirling dust in the room to sparkle strangely. For a few blinks of an eye she lost herself in watching this spectacle and forgot everything around her.

The respectful knock on the high door startled her out of her daydreams and once more she scolded herself for not paying attention.

Trying to imitate Amidala’s cool tone of voice she said: "Yes?"

The voice of Eirtae, one of her subordinate handmaidens, sounded slightly muffled through the door. "Mistress, Governor Bibble asks for permission to send you more petitions for the audience."

Suddenly Sabé had the urge to hit her head against the desk. Hard.

How could Amidala possibly take all this?

Slowly she rose from the chair that was covered with a dark, soft material and stretched her hurting back before she walked up to the door to open it - against palace regulations - by hand. She had watched Amidala do this a lot of time before and she had always admired it, since it took a lot of the nearly fearful diffidence the handmaidens felt for the queen.

Eirtae’s eyes wandered quickly and unbeknownst to others over face and clothing of the woman in front of her. Everything was perfect and no one who didn’t know could have guessed that the woman who was standing here was not the queen.

Eirtae handed Sabé another pile of datapads. She was acting correctly . the queen hadn’t asked her to enter her study, so she wasn’t allowed to carry the pads to the ruler’s desk. Another careful glance revealed the untouched glass plate where the meal had gone cold. Eirtae’s eyebrows furrowed disapprovingly - just slightly enough to not make other scurrying-by servants see it, but distinctly enough to make Sabé see it quite well.

Sabé took a step to the side and with a quick nod of her head motioned for Eirtae to follow her into the study.

Behind them the draught billowed the heavy curtains.

Without closing the door the handmaiden took the datapads out of the queen’s hands, walked to the desk with quick steps and placed them there.

Then she turned towards Sabé. "You look tired," she whispered barely audible. "Why didn’t you eat?"

Sabé bent her head slightly and reminded Eirtae with this so much of Amidala, that shivers ran up and down her spine. She could see it in Sabé’s eyes that the young woman didn’t know about the effects she was having on others, but the illusion was perfect.

An exhausted smile flickered over the features of the woman in the queen’s role. "I can’t rest now, Eirtae," she whispered back. "And I’m not hungry."

Even the tone of her voice had changed when Sabé was talking now. The words were chosen softly, but they made unmistakably clear that her actions were not to be questioned.

Eirtae bowed quickly and rushed towards the door that was threateningly close to slamming shut due to the wind that was coming through the open windows. She caught the richly engraved door in the very last second and turned towards the woman who had sat down behind the desk one last time.

"I will have your dinner sent right away, your highness," she informed quietly.

Sabé’s eyes rose form the petitions and she cast a warm glance at the fellow handmaiden. "Thank you."

Eirtae closed the heavy doors with a smile.

The wind that moved through the windows now carried with it the smell of the falling evening and the queen’s study was being bathed in the soft light of the sinking sun, without being noticed by Sabe, who had bent over the petitions once more.

 

 


 

 

The sound of the light sabre swishing through the air had burned itself in her thoughts as if it was a part of her. She knew it, felt the elegance of this weapon that was reserved for Jedi only and she admired it. Nevertheless this noise, mingled with the hard humming of the training probe became unbearable after several hours of listening to it.

Hours. Had it been going on that long already?

The Jedi fought his body with ferocity, he trained his movements, always fighting the small spherical and in her ears maliciously humming training probe: Somersaulted, struck, evaded, attacked, retreated again. . . seemingly endless.

The low whirring of the sabre triggered dizziness in Padme. She had repeatedly tried to get him to take a break, but he had only gritted his teeth and shaken his head. He had to train. He mustn’t get weak. Those had been his words.

But didn’t he see for himself that he was working towards a complete breakdown?

Sweat had soaked his tunic and he had taken it off. He went through Kata after Kata, higher grades, more difficult exercises, higher levels of stress. The sweat on his bare chest mingled with the blood seeping from uncountable little wounds. The probe wasn’t really dangerous, but it caused great amounts of pain and small wounds which only tortured his exhausted body further.

She didn’t know how he could stand torturing his own body like that. She knew the effects of this kind of training herself - her teachers had often made her repeat certain exercises until the point of exhaustion, but they had always been there to stop her from overdoing it. There was no logic in this self-torture. The outcome of this training couldn’t be his body shutting down from exhaustion. She saw the pain on his face, saw the way all of his muscles screamed against this maltreatment - but he stoically kept pushing himself further.

In the beginning it had fascinated her to watch him. His movements held an elegance she had seen only very seldom in fighters, they were fluid and graceful, never ever looked strained.

But now his movements were edgy, just as if only his strong will was keeping him from collapsing.

Her hands cramped in the soft material of her tunic as she walked up to him over the clearing with determined steps. She had watched this long enough. He was not going to abuse himself to death in front of her eyes.

Long shadows began to move over the clearing in the middle of the jungle and indicated that evening was near.

Again the probe whizzed at the Jedi with a menacing hum - and this time he stumbled, giving the unit a free line of shot. A fine line of purple light rushed up to Kenobi and hit him in his unprepared sword arm. With a muffled scream he dropped the light sabre - it fell to the ground and the green light vanished immediately. The probe whizzed with the unpleasant buzzing of an angry insect around Kenobi and got ready to fire again.

The unit would never fire again. The well-known sound of the light sabre parted the air and the probe, not programmed to fight two opponents, fell apart with a shrill whiz as the sabre caught it.

When Obi-Wan raised his head to look out for the unit, he saw the probe neatly severed into two different parts lying on the soft forest soil. Next to it stood the queen - the recently fallen light sabre gripped firmly and elegantly in both hands. In her eyes sadness, disappointment and slight anger were mingled. Without a word she deactivated the sabre and walked back to the temple buildings, clutching the weapon firmly in her hand.

"Please . . ."

She didn’t hear his hoarse whisper. He stayed behind, alone in the clearing, night falling over him and he felt so lonely and weak that he could have screamed from the agony of it.

 



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