April 10, 2000
Category: Star Wars, PG
Author: BeElleGee

[Disclaimer]

Aquiesce

Takes place roughly two years after the Phantom Menace

Disclaimer: All the characters and situations of EP1 are not mine, they belong to George Lucas and any infringement is not my intention.

***

Chapter One

It was well past nightfall on Coruscant. The halls of the Jedi Temple were dim and still now. Most of the students and masters had retreated into their private quarters for studying or meditation . Anakin chose to do neither and was busily recording correspondence to two people his heart treasured most; his mother on Tattooine and the young queen of the Naboo, Amidala.

He hadn't seen either one in over a year and was determined to keep in touch with them, despite his current cloistered existence.

Tonight's letters were more mundane details of life at the temple and reports of his progress there. 'The test yesterday went well. The lesson this morning was easy.' And so on and so forth. He wanted to end each correspondence on a cheerful and personal note. He tried hard to keep his emotions at bay. He didn't want either one of them to hear just how unhappy he really was. Of course he wanted them to know he missed them, but not the extent. Twice he had to redo Amidala's letter. Finally, he turned off the recorder and surrendered himself to silent brooding.

He inhaled deeply, clearing his mind, and closed his eyes. The Force became like a tangible element and suddenly he was sharply aware of a oneness with all things around him. It helped him feel less alone. Only through the Force could he feel like a part of the other students at the temple who unintentionally had rejected him. They always tried to be polite to him, but behind their civility, Anakin easily sensed shards of resentment, confusion, and mistrust. He spent long hours pondering why this was so and came to the conclusion it was because he was not like them. He hadn't been brought up in the temple since infancy like they had. His childhood had not been filled with lessons, kindly mentors, and wise masters. His early life had been one of slavery, labor, and poverty. To make matters worse, he had already been apprenticed to a jedi even before he arrived at the temple. This immediately set him apart from the others, who struggled through lessons everyday in hopes of catching the attention of one of the masters looking for a padawan.

The students here had also led a very sheltered life which kept them sensitive to violence and evil. Anakin was beyond indifferent to such things. He had already seen every kind of greed, ruthlessness, and villianry the galaxy had to offer. It was as though the other students sensed in him and interpreted a tolerance for evil.

Anakin sighed despondently. In the two years he'd been at the temple, not one student had come forward to offer friendship. Worse than that, it seemed to Anakin that his own master wanted little to do with him. Obi Wan rarely came by to offer instruction and never included Anakin on any of his assigned missions. Anakin's protests were often met with a dismissive gesture and single word explanations. More often than not, the word was 'patience.'

Anakin opened his eyes with a snap. A familiar anger and bitterness were surfacing and he struggled to suppress both. He emptied his mind. As a sense of calm drifted over him, he could feel the Force ripple, then surge. He sensed an approaching presence, or rather the Force surrounding it. Anakin's heart beat faster. He could hardly believe what he was feeling. He focused his eyes on the closed doors of his quarters and tried hard to wait for the knock that would announce the arrival of someone Anakin had not seen in over a month.

"Obi Wan...." Anakin breathed.

Obi Wan Kenobi paused, stretching out with the Force, wanting to know Anakin's state of mind, before rapping lightly on the boy's door. He wasn't sure if Anakin would be receptive to him after the argument they had the last time they were together. The flicker of darkness he'd sensed earlier was gone now, replaced by an eager anticipation. That was encouraging to Obi Wan, for he was certain Anakin had sensed his presence, but he couldn't fathom why the boy would be pleased to see him.

As soon as Obi Wan knocked, Anakin sprang across the room and opened the door.

Obi Wan stared blankly at his apprentice for a moment or two before finding his voice.

"Anakin...May I come in?"

The boy nodded quickly, flashing a smile. He stepped aside and the jedi knight soundlessly glided into the room. Anakin was surprised at how much he had missed Obi Wan. He bit his lower lip and firmly rooted himself by the door to keep from running over to his master and welcoming him back with a brotherly bear hug. He didn't think the older jedi would appreciate such a gesture from him. He believed Obi Wan thought of him as a pupil, nothing more, nothing less; even though Anakin thought of Obi Wan as not only his teacher, but his friend, brother, and the father he never had. It was times like this that Anakin missed his mother's reassuring affection most.

Anakin sighed heavily, pining again for the kind of bond most apprentices had with their masters. A bond with Obi Wan that had yet to form. Disappointment edged his voice as he stated, "I sense this is not a social visit."

Obi Wan studied the boy from across the room. The odd mixture of emotions he sensed coming from Anakin puzzled him. He took a deep breath and tried to smile reassuringly.

"No, but I feel you'll be pleased by what I've come to tell you," the jedi relayed in his decidedly pleasant voice.

Anakin stood mulling Obi Wan's words in his mind before remembering his manners. He quickly gestured at a chair.

"Sit, please. Forgive me," he whispered.

The Force flowing between them darkened faintly. Obi Wan frowned, recognizing it. The boy was pleased to see him, but was also guarded and wary. Obi Wan's presence made Anakin uncomfortable. It always had.

I've been away too long this time, Obi Wan thought to himself. A shadow of regret fell over him. It was past time to mend their relationship. Gracefully, Obi Wan slipped off his cloak and sat down in the nearest chair.

Anakin blinked back at him, surprised. Obi Wan must intend to stay for awhile if he took off his cloak. Anakin strode over to his desk and slid into his chair anxiously, then gave the jedi his undivided attention.

"You keep this room too warm," Obi Wan pointed out.

"Oh, so that's why you took the time to remove your cloak," Anakin said. "I like the heat," he added dismally.

Obi Wan sighed. "I know. I didn't mean anything by it. It was just an opinion of mine." He frowned. This wasn't going at all as he had hoped. He tried again. "The reports of your progress that I have received, have been quite favorable," he said in a measured tone.

Anakin didn't say anything. Obi Wan continued.

"In the short time you have been here, you have not only caught up to the other students your age, but you have surpassed them. Your skills are remarkable."

Anakin looked down. His only acknowledgement was a nod.

Obi Wan sensed the boy's shift in mood and wondered at it.It was as if Obi Wan's praise had disturbed him. He folded his arms across his chest and regarded the boy with impatience.

"You should be pleased," Obi Wan chided softly.

Anakin quickly looked up. "I am pleased. I'm really glad you think I'm doing well in my training."

"Anakin, is something wrong? Is there something you're not telling me?"

The boy sighed heavily and dragged a hand through his short spikey bangs. "It's just that it is hard to be happy about something that makes me an outcast." He stared hard at Obi Wan. "It sets me apart from the others."

"The others? The other students, you mean?" Obi Wan asked a little taken aback. "Why should that displease you? The other students hold you in high regard. You've earned their respect. Their admiration--"

Anakin spun out of his chair and began pacing hotly. "Their envy and their mistrust would be more like it!" He stopped and glared at Obi Wan. "How can you come to such conclusions, Obi Wan? You're never here. You don't know how it is."

Obi Wan looked away and took a deep, steadying breath. Perhaps he deserved that. His apprentice's remark had stemmed from longing, not disrespect. Obi Wan had heard from Anakin's instructors how the other students shunned the boy. The instructors had often regarded Anakin as arrogant and aloof, but it was clear now, it was not by his choice. The other students had made the decision for Anakin. Obi Wan had hoped these reports were exaggerated at best.

"Anakin," he began quietly. "Sit down."

Anakin looked over at his master; his heart flooding with remorse. Was it any wonder why Obi Wan didn't want him around? Anakin was angry now, but more at himself than his master. He dropped heavily into his chair and massaged his eyes to ease the tension he was feeling.

"Forgive me, Master," he murmured. He focused his eyes on the floor, hoping to convey his humility.

Obi Wan waited until he was sure Anakin was calm again before continuing.

"How am I to rely on your control when you continually succumb to such outbursts?" the jedi began, softly but firmly. "The masters tell me you are ready for what I am about to propose, and yet you contradict them."

Anakin looked up sharply. Ready? Ready for what? he thought.

Obi Wan stood slowly. "I see before me a boy who is controlled and motivated by his emotions, not the Force. When you can demonstrate to me that you are ready, then I'll speak with you about this again. Good night, Anakin." He bent to retrieve his cloak.

Anakin jumped out of his chair and seized Obi Wan's wrist.

"Master! You can't go now. You must tell me! I'm ready! I swear to you I'm ready!" His youthful exuberance easily pushed aside any shame Obi Wan's words might have instilled.

Obi Wan fought a smile. "So certain are you? Even though you've no idea what I'm talking about?"

Anakin nodded. He placed a hand over his heart. "I feel it. Here. Deep down inside."

The older jedi nodded. "I feel it too. That's why I came here tonight. I've been given a new assignment. I want you to come with me."

Anakin's already large blue eyes grew even larger with surprise and delight. "You...and me? Together on an assignment for the council?" He could barely get the words out, his heart was pounding away so hard in his chest, his breath was coming up short.

Obi Wan nodded again and Anakin threw his arms around him in an impulsive and gracious hug.

"Thank you! Thank you! You don't know what this means to me! I've wanted to be with you more than anything..." He suddenly realized what he was doing and released Obi Wan, stepping back quickly and glancing up at his master sheepishly. "Oh, I'm sorry... I didn't mean to get all mushy like that. I'm just so happy."

But Obi Wan was smiling, amused. He put a reassuring hand on Anakin's shoulder, then gestured for him to sit down once more. Anakin hurried to obey. He grabbed his desk chair and slid into it. Obi Wan took the time to straighten his disheveled tunic before sitting down across from him.

"First of all," Obi Wan began, trying unsuccessfully to sound stern. "You must learn to control your emotions. Allow yourself to feel, but don't let your feelings run away with you. A jedi must be able to feel... everything. But it is important to maintain control of what you feel. Otherwise, your emotions can be used by others as a weapon against you."

Anakin nodded in wholehearted agreement. "Yes, Master. I know. It is my worst fault. It is something I struggle with everyday. I'll do better. I promise," he hurriedly assured. He took a deep breath and pushed everything out of his mind and filled it with thoughts of serenity and calm.

Obi Wan smiled again, settling back in his chair. He closed his eyes and tapped into Anakin's now peaceful state, struggling with his own onrush of emotions. Obi Wan realized at that moment, why he found it so difficult to be around the boy for very long. The connecting Force between them was always so charged and penetrating, Obi Wan often felt unable to control it's power. Anakin's power, to be precise. Did the boy have any clue at all of the magnitude of lifeforce within him? Did he realize how easily he could influence others with his own feelings? All those wants and ambitions? Did he realize how dangerous his powers could be to himself and those around him? Obi Wan shuddered involuntarily and quickly opened his eyes. He took a deep breath and dismissed his feelings as centering too much on his anxieties again. Something his own master, Qui Gon Jinn, was always quick to point out to him.

When he faced Anakin, he saw the boy was staring at him expectantly, his gaze piercing.

"I went before the council this morning," Obi Wan began quietly. "For a briefing. I asked if I could take you with me this time. I thought it would be a good mission for the two of us. Nothing dangerous, mind you. Just somewhat unpleasant, perhaps. This time the council agreed."

Anakin was startled. "You mean you had to get their permission before you could take me on a mission?" All this time, he thought Obi Wan simply hadn't wanted him along.

Obi Wan regarded him through narrowed eyes. "The council felt you needed to have all the groundworks laid in jedi training first before going out on assignment. I tried several times to persuade them to excuse you from schooling, as you already had mastered many of the basic skills." He paused and sighed. "It's been hard for me working alone. I needed someone with me, but they wouldn't agree to it." He shrugged. "I've never been one to defy the council's decision. Perhaps I should have. I didn't realize your time here was as unpleasant as it has been."

Anakin nodded. "I understand. I... wish you would have told me this before."

Obi Wan shrugged. "There was nothing either of us could have done to change the way things were. I suppose we should have confided in one another. I don't believe we have ever felt confident enough in our relationship, to open up to one another." He sat forward slightly. "But this mission will give us the chance to begin to trust one another. Depend on one another. The way a master and apprentice do. It's our chance, Anakin."

Anakin felt ashamed of the bitterness he had harbored against Obi Wan for so long. He lowered his head, feeling a lump in his throat. He wanted to apologize, but he didn't know what to say. Did Obi Wan even know how angry he had been with him all this time?

As if in answer to his unspoken question, the older jedi continued.

"I know I haven't been there for you the way you needed me to be." Anakin looked up, shocked. Obi Wan smiled sadly. "I want you to know, I've been going through a rough time myself, since Qui Gon was killed. We had been a team for so long, it's hard for me to picture myself along side any one else. Even my own apprentice. An apprentice he gave to me." He shook his head ruefully. "I never should have let my devotion to Qui Gon impede our relationship. I didn't mean to abandon you, Anakin. Please don't feel that way." P>"Master... don't apologize," Anakin whispered. Anakin recalled how much Qui Gon had meant to him and how much it hurt to have to let him go. And he had only known the master a very short time. Certainly Obi Wan would have been affected ten times as much by his death. Anakin hadn't even taken Obi Wan's feelings into account. Obi Wan, like his master before him, was outwardly serene. He rarely appeared emotional about anything. It always gave Anakin the impression that Obi Wan was apathetic and dispassionate. Looking at his master's expressive face now, he should have known better.

Obi Wan held up his hand. "Anakin, please let me finish. I owe you this," he persisted. "I don't fault your dislike of me. But I'm asking you to put those feelings behind you. Come forward with me."

Anakin's shoulders slumped and his face flushed with embarrassment. He had always thought Obi Wan didn't like him and he never understood why. He suddenly remembered a conversation between Qui Gon and Obi Wan concerning him. Obi Wan came right out and told Qui Gon that Anakin was dangerous. At the time, Anakin thought Obi Wan was grossly exaggerating since he was only a small boy. It was the first time he had felt animosity towards Obi Wan. He thought then, maybe Obi Wan was jealous of all the attention Qui Gon was giving him. It wasn't until after Qui Gon's funeral, and after Obi Wan had told Anakin he was going to train him, that the young master had informed Anakin of his fears of teaching someone as powerful as Anakin to tap into the Force. He had explained that until Anakin had control and understanding of his immense powers, training him was dangerous. Obi Wan admitted he feared the negative possibilites of failure on his part. Anakin had been so relieved to hear that the jedi had only been referring to his training when he had labeled him dangerous, that he scarcely heard anything else Obi Wan had said that night. Anakin had misjudged him then and realized he had misjudged him again.

"Anakin, I'm asking your forgiveness," Obi Wan prompted when the boy failed to respond.

Anakin blinked back tears. "You're apologizing because I made you feel like you had done something to deserve my anger. You haven't done anything wrong, Obi Wan. I'm the one who needs forgiving. I want you to know,whatever I may have felt about you, I've always been honored to be known as your apprentice. You're very respected by the students here and I have to confess," Anakin added with a grin. "I never passed up a chance to tell someone that my master was Obi Wan Kenobi."

Obi Wan laughed and shook his head in disbelief. "Don't think you're the only apprentice who does that. Even I used to brag about Qui Gon being my master. He was well known in the classrooms as a hard to please, maverick-type of jedi. Everyone wanted to be his apprentice because he was powerful and could wield a lightsaber like no body's business." He smiled with recollection. "When he finally chose me as his padawan, I told everyone: all my friends still at the temple, my teachers, the other masters, and even my worse rival, just to make him envious." Obi Wan cleared his throat. "Of course, now I see how immature and boastful that was... but at the time, it was great fun."

Anakin was staring at Obi Wan, entirely enthralled. He could feel from this moment on that things had changed between them. He relished being able to sit and talk with Obi Wan this way. It was something he had always longed for.

"If I were you," Obi Wan continued, "I would hold off on the bragging until I have proven myself worthy of it."

Anakin's brow furrowed. "I've never doubted the promise you made me. You will be a fine master, Obi Wan. Why would you think otherwise?"

"I'm inexperienced. I've never trained a jedi before. It's a tremendous undertaking. A responsibility not unlike that of raising a child." Obi Wan paused, his mood growing more serious. "The Force is so strong in you, Anakin. Your grasp of it so far is what has enabled you to excel here. But I know you have yet to realize your full potential. You haven't mastered a tenth of the powers within you. When you finally do, you will be one of the most powerful jedi ever. Qui Gon sensed this about you. He knew this to be true which is why he was so adamant about you being trained. He believed in you."

"He believed in you too, Obi Wan."

The older jedi flashed a smile. "And I'll do everything I can to guide you and help you become the jedi knight Qui Gon saw in you." His eyes took on a distant look. "One day, you will know your full power and you will rise above the greatest evil in the galaxy. You will be the master and with one fateful act of unselfish courage, you will bring balance to the Force. Evil will no longer reign."

Anakin's eyes were as wide as saucers. "You've seen this for me?"

Obi Wan nodded. "Qui Gon saw it too."

Anakin was stunned. "But Master Yoda has always said my future was clouded. Too difficult to see."

"It is clouded. I don't have a precise picture of how and when all this is to come about, I only know that it will. It is the reason I find the task of training you so daunting. Until you learn to control your emotions and utilize the Force in the way of a jedi; there will always be the chance you could be 'turned.'"

"Turned?" Anakin didn't understand.

"To the dark side," Obi Wan said gravely. "There is that threat. Especially if the Sith Lords ever get wind of you. They would teach you to use the Force for evil." He paused and took a deep breath. "The darkness can enslave you. It seems easier, stronger. It can control you beyond your values, your morals, your beliefs. It will strip away the person you are and mold you into someone your mother wouldn't recognize. The Sith don't even retain their own names. They take new ones. You are truly lost if you succumb to the dark side. Fear, anger, aggression. Hate. You must never give into those feelings."

Anakin felt cold, despite the high temperature in the room. He couldn't imagine anything that would make him turn to the dark side. He would rather be dead than use his knowledge of the Force in the service of a Sith.

Obi Wan sighed. "Which brings me to the reason for our assignment," he stated. Anakin perked up.

"You mentioned it might be unpleasant," Anakin hinted.

Obi Wan nodded. "It could be quite unpleasant, but necessary. We can only hope it won't come to that." He looked at Anakin and frowned. "For a young jedi in training, and even an apprentice alone, the galaxy can be a dangerous place. And now, with evidence of activity in a new Sith faction, a young and inexperienced jedi on their own poses an even greater risk. Not only to themselves, but us all."

"Who is it, Master?" Anakin asked.

"Tamerlane Merl," Obi Wan announced. "I doubt you've heard of her. She was chosen as an apprentice six years ago by Master Elle Zack. Four years ago, Master Zack developed an illness. She died recently. Tamerlane was left alone quite suddenly and at nineteen, she still has quite a bit of training left before she can face the trials that would make her a full fledged jedi. Another master, a longtime friend of Master Zack's, came forward and offered to take Tamerlane as his apprentice, in memory of his friend. His name is Master Brock Seal Erons. His intentions were good, but he wasn't aware or chose to ignore the fragile emotional state of his new apprentice. Their shared feelings of grief and loneliness became misplaced towards each other. Well, it was only a matter of time before circumstances errupted between them."

Anakin was trying hard to grasp Obi Wan's meaning. "What happened? Did they get in a fight?"

"There was an altercation of sorts. In the end, Tamerlane interpreted this mutual grief as something else. Master Seal Erons rejected her. Now she's gone off on her own. It's up to us to find her."

Anakin still didn't understand. "Why doesn't her master go after her?"

"Two reasons mainly," Obi Wan explained. "The council fears his pursuit of her would only make her flee even further. And secondly, Master Seal Erons does not want her as an apprentice anymore. He accepted her as his apprentice for the wrong reasons. He sees that now." Obi Wan paused and took a deep breath. He could still see the confusion in Anakin's eyes. He tried to rephrase his explanation. With Anakin, it was easy to forget he was talking to a twelve year old boy. "Quite simply, she believed that she was in love with him. Now she's feeling rejected and betrayed. It devastated her emotionally. She's run away."

***

Chapter Two

Anakin and Obi Wan walked purposefully through the gleaming halls of the temple. Students they passed eyed them curiously. Using the Force, Anakin could feel their dislike and jealousy for him and their great respect and admiration for Obi Wan. Walking beside someone whom they admired so much, filled Anakin with a sense of pride and took the sting out of the negative jolts in the Force directed at him.

At twelve, Anakin was already up to Obi Wan's shoulder in stature. If he kept growing the way he had been, in a few more years he would be taller than his classmates, as well as Obi Wan. Anakin liked that idea. He wanted to be tall, just like Qui Gon. In every possible way, Anakin wanted to emulate him. He wanted to honor the master's memory by doing well and showing everyone that Qui Gon had been right about him. He would make him proud.

Anakin's thoughts were interrupted by the hum of numerous ship engines as they arrived at the docking bay. A transport was in the process of boarding passengers. Obi Wan turned towards it and quickened his pace. Council member, Adi Gallia was waiting for them at the bottom of the boarding ramp. Obi Wan quickened his pace and stopped before her with a respectful bow. Anakin bowed as well, then leaned close to Obi Wan, to hear Adi Gallia's voice over the drone of the engines.

Adi Gallia handed Obi Wan a data pad and two different holoprojectors which he slipped into an unseen pocket in a bag he had slung over his shoulder.

"It's everything you need. All the information we have on Tamerlane Merl, as well as her last reported sighting. She's keeping company with an older Maschan female named Skya DiArta. We don't have much information about her other than she is a con artist and a petty thief. Not a good companion for a young apprentice, but at least we know DiArta is not a 'known' enemy." She paused and licked her full lips apprehensively. "I know Tamerlane, Obi Wan. Try not to judge her on her actions. She's a fine student and will make an honorable jedi someday. She's only temporarily lost her way. We need to bring her home."

Obi Wan nodded thoughtfully. "Try not to worry, Master Gallia. We promise you our best effort."

Anakin's heart skipped a beat upon hearing Obi Wan's inclusive reference. It made Anakin feel like he was Obi Wan's partner now. A part of a working team.

Adi Gallia's large dark eyes fell on Anakin.

"This will be your first assignment, young Skywalker. Utilize your training and obey your master," she advised. "This can be a great learning experience for you if you let it. In not only the ways of the galaxy around you, but inside your own mind and body."

Anakin found himself tongue-tied. All he could do was nod and bow. The presence of the Force was overwhelmingly strong around her and Anakin felt it direct everything she did and said.

The ship's engines changed pitch, signaling a readiness for take off. All three jedi turned towards it with a knowing look.

Adi Gallia raised her hand, fingers splayed, then turned her wrist and curled her fingers into her palm in her native farewell gesture.

"Be on your way and may the Force be with you both," she said.

Obi Wan repeated her gesture, then bowed. Anakin hurriedly offered her his own sign of farewell. She smiled warmly at him and touched his cheek with her hand. Then she turned and seemed to float across the hanger bay, her long dark robes billowing behind her.

Anakin followed Obi Wan to their cabin. He touched his cheek with his hand. The skin was warm and tingled slightly.

"She must be a powerful jedi," Anakin murmured to Obi Wan.

Obi Wan smiled easily. "That she is. She can do more with the power of her mind to obtain her means than any other master I know. There isn't a species in the galaxy that's immuned to her mind suggestions. It makes her a most sought after diplomat."

Obi Wan took the bag off his shoulder and set it carefully on the large table which occupied a good deal of space in the small cabin. He slipped off his cloak and draped it over the back of a chair and seated himself with a long sigh.

Anakin stood in the middle of the room, not quite sure what to do next.

"You might as well relax and make yourself comfortable," Obi Wan suggested. "We've a long ride ahead of us." He gestured at the bag. "We'll pass the time studying the data we've been given on the missing apprentice."

Anakin settled himself at the table, tucking a long leg casually underneath him and pulled his cloak tighter around him. "How do we know where this girl's at? How did the council find out about this Skya DiArta?" he questioned.

"We've sent word out to all the jedi throughout the galaxy on different assignments to use the Force to try to get of sense of whether or not Tamerlane was travelling within their given star systems. A jedi can always sense the presence of the Force in an individual, especially another jedi." Obi Wan sat forward and withdrew the data pad from the bag and activated it. He studied the information flashing across the screen briefly before handing the device to Anakin. "A jedi knight stationed on Mascha discovered Tamerlane and reported her location back to the council," Obi Wan continued.

Anakin looked up from the pad, confused. "If she has already been found... why are we still looking for her?"

Obi Wan smiled indulgently and tapped the data pad Anakin was holding. "Read a little further and you'll answer your own question. Always use the information made available to you before wondering about reasons."

Anakin focused back on the data pad and continued reading. He nodded suddenly. "So the jedi who discovered her lost track of her when she boarded a transport with the female Maschan, DiArta."

"Right. There was no time for him to intercept her and prevent her from leaving," Obi Wan explained. "But at least we know she is traveling with someone and we know where she was heading."

Anakin was flipping through page after page on the data pad screen, taking in every detail. Suddenly he gasped and looked up at Obi Wan with an incredulous expression.

"Naboo!"

The older jedi smiled brightly. He knew Anakin would be pleased. "Yes. The transport Tamerlane boarded was heading for that system." He locked eyes with Anakin. "That was one of the reasons I wanted you along on this mission. We both know that planet. We know the government." His smile broadened. "We have many friends there who would be willing to help us out if need be."

Anakin's breath was coming in gulps. His pulse began pounding in his ears. After all this time. Finally, he'd get to see her again. "Amidala," he whispered to himself.

"This was why the council chose me for this assignment," Obi Wan continued. "Those simple facts increase our chances of success on this mission." He placed a hand on Anakin's shoulder. "I couldn't have possibly gone to Naboo and left you behind, Anakin. I know how much Naboo means to you. And why. So you see, I'm not entirely heartless," he teased.

Anakin looked back at his master with gratitude and affection. He smiled.

"Thanks, Obi Wan," he sighed.

Obi Wan's brow furrowed. "Of course, you'll still be expected to keep this assignment top priority. You mustn't allow yourself to be distracted from it."

Anakin hurriedly assured him with a quick nod. "Yes Master. I understand. I am entirely devoted to the success of this mission."

Obi Wan nodded acceptance, but held Anakin's eyes with his for a moment longer, letting the boy know that he appreciated his conviction even if he didn't wholeheartedly believe it. Anakin could feel Obi Wan's skepticism.

"Master, I promise you. I want this mission to succeed more than anything. I want to prove to you, and everyone, that I can do what's expected of me. I want to show them I have the skill and the knowledge. It's all at your disposal."

Obi Wan's eyes narrowed. "The motivation for our success should not be based on our own gains, Anakin. We should only be motivated by whatever is the right thing to do in a given circumstance."

Anakin blushed at the gentle rebuke. His first impulse was to defend his words, but instead, he merely lowered his eyes in submission and uttered a quiet, "Yes Master."

Obi Wan leaned forward. "Take heart, young padawan. I trust your allegiance. I can feel the integrity behind your promise."

At that, Anakin brightened. He set the data pad aside and reached inside the bag for the holoprojectors Adi Gallia had given them. He turned it on and the shimmering image of a young woman suddenly stood before them, rotating slowly. Vital statistics and general information was projected above and below the image. Anakin sighed.

"She looks sad," he noted. He studied the features of the girl closely. "She's very pretty," he added.

Obi Wan nodded. "A sadness can sometimes lend itself to beauty."

Anakin looked up at Obi Wan. There was great sympathy in his eyes. Anakin took a deep breath.

"We'll find her, Master," he announced with a certainty he hadn't felt before. It became very important to him that this beautiful lost apprentice know someone cared about her. He turned back to the hologram. He wondered what she was thinking. How she was feeling. Did she feel alone and unloved with no one to turn to in her grief? Anakin knew those feelings. His heart went out to her, wherever she was. He suddenly turned to Obi Wan, sensing the jedi's eyes on him.

"Your compassion is admirable," he told Anakin quietly.

Anakin lowered his eyes. "Master...what if she doesn't want to come back with us? What are we to do then?"

Obi Wan sighed heavily. "There's always that possibility. If she chooses not to continue her training under a new master, then she still must go before the council and present her statement of decline formally."

"What does that mean?" Anakin pressed.

"It means she must take an oath and swear before the council to never use her knowledge of the Force for any evil." Obi Wan looked increasingly uncomfortable. "In doing so, she gives us her permission, and gives us the right, to take action against her should it become known to us that she has broken her oath." Obi Wan leaned back in his chair and turned off the holoprojector. "It's very important that we bring her back with us. Hopefully we can persuade her to come willingly."

Anakin looked up startled. "And if not?"

Obi Wan frowned. "If not, we will have to take her anyway," he answered tonelessly. "She must swear that oath. She must also... surrender her lightsaber."

"Her lightsaber?" This was the last thing Anakin expected. "She's not allowed to keep it?"

Obi Wan shook his head and looked back at Anakin gravely. "No. To do so, would be to dishonor it and what it represents. Only jedi carry lightsabers." He paused and bit his lower lip. "And rogues who have no business carrying them. And the Sith."

Anakin felt chills run up his arms. He pulled his cloak tighter around him.

Obi Wan stood suddenly and began pacing off agitation he rarely displayed.

"That is the worse case scenario," he explained. He could feel the turmoil of emotions beginning to brew in Anakin and himself and wanted to turn their thoughts to something more positive. "I'm confident, with both of us working together, we can reassure her and convince her to come back to Coruscant with us to complete her training. Master Gallia has, after all, taken a pointed interest in her. It would not surprise me if she accepted Tamerlane as her padawan."

Anakin nodded. "What an honor for her. I hope this is how things turn out."

Obi Wan looked at his own padawan and sighed. "We mustn't dwell on any anticipated negative aspects of this mission. We must channel our energies to ensure a positive outcome."

Anakin smiled slightly. Obi Wan seemed to have a passion for using big words. Especially when his emotions were surfacing. A lot of the time, Anakin had to encourage an interpretation from him. "Are you saying, we should be more optimistic?"

Obi Wan smiled and visibly relaxed. "No. I'm saying we should be more confident in the ways of the Force."

***

Chapter Three

Anakin couldn't get to sleep. His mind refused to shut down. So much had happened in such a short time. So many things had changed. He glanced over at Obi Wan who was lying in the bed across from his. He didn't move and his eyes were closed, but Anakin knew he wasn't asleep either. Perhaps he too, was thinking about how things had changed.

Anakin smiled to himself. Finally something interesting and positive to tell Amidala. Her face immediately came to him; his very own Iego moon angel. It had been such a long time since he'd last seen her. He wondered if she had changed any. He knew he had and wondered if she would even recognize him.

He picked up the long braid that was draped over his shoulder and examined the tightly bound end. It was only half this length when she'd seen him a year ago. He smiled and found himself proud of his braid for the first time. It was a distinguishing feature of an apprentice and was yet another way he was set apart from the other students at the temple. At first, he resented having to wear it, but now, it felt right. He wondered if Obi Wan missed his braid, for he had worn one for years as Qui Gon's apprentice.

"No... I don't miss it," came a quiet reply from across the room.

Anakin smiled. Obi Wan opened his eyes and rolled over on his side to face him.

"Not at all?" Anakin questioned.

Obi Wan shook his head slightly. "My time to wear one has passed." He took a slow, deep breath and folded his arm under his head. "Things change Anakin. It's the one truth you can entirely depend upon. Nothing stays the same, ever." The jedi paused and looked away briefly. "To miss my braid, or more directly, what it stood for, would be to reject change in my life. One must always embrace change. The good and the bad. To fight against it, to long for a never ending status quo, is an exercise in futility."

Anakin considered this. "Surely, we can accept change without having to 'embrace' it." His mother's words concerning change came quickly to mind.

Obi Wan smiled at him. "I sense the changes in your life, like the ones you were pondering before, are worthy of embracing. Very well, my young apprentice. Accept the bad. Embrace the good."

Anakin sighed. "I do admit, there has been good changes in my life."

"You're thinking of Queen Amidala," Obi Wan noted.

"Yes," Anakin confessed. "It will be good to see her again." He suddenly frowned. "Obi Wan, does she even know we are coming?"

His master nodded slightly. "In a way. Through the senate representatives, the council has informed the government on Naboo that two jedi are being dispatched to her planet for an assignment. Of that much, I'm certain."

Anakin wasn't sure if this bit of information was good or bad.

"I'm sure," Obi Wan continued softly and with a distinct glimmer of amusement in his eyes, "that Her Majesty is, at the very least, hoping one of those two jedi will be a particular young apprentice of whom she is quite fond of."

Anakin felt his heart beat faster and the warmth of a blush cover his face. He turned away from Obi Wan, embarrassed that the mere mentioning of Amidala's affection for him would provoke such a strange biological reaction. He quickly directed his thoughts to something else.

"She'll be pleased to see you too," he told Obi Wan flatly. "She's just as fond of you as she is me..." Anakin's voice drifted off as Obi Wan's infectious laugh filled the darkened room. "What?!" Anakin demanded, not understanding what he had said that had sparked the older jedi's mirth.

Obi Wan gazed at his young apprentice with a tactful expression. "I'm sorry Anakin. But you've no reason to feel ashamed. What you feel for Her Majesty, and vice versa, is endearing." He paused and sighed. "You are sharply intelligent and in possession of a worldly wisdom far beyond your years. Because of that, I too often forget with whom I'm speaking. I need to remind myself that there are certain subjects, certain truths, that you still approach with the naivete of a twelve year old boy."

Anakin still didn't understand. "Like what?"

Obi Wan refused to make it easy for him. "Tell me what it is you feel for Amidala and you'll have your answer."

"... Friendship, I suppose," Anakin responded. He leaned back, hoping to conceal his blushing in thicker shadows. "She's my friend."

"Of course she is," Obi Wan continued. "Like your friends back on Tatooine."

Anakin thought for a moment. "Well, no. Not exactly." He looked up at his master for some kind of hint as to what he was getting at.

"Trust me, Anakin," the jedi consoled. "Tell me what you feel."

Anakin, still embarrassed, shook his head to refuse, but words tumbled from his mouth before he could stop them.

"I'm not sure what I feel about her. It's different from anything I've ever felt before. I have to concentrate hard sometimes, not to let thoughts of her preoccupy me. It's as if I could lose myself in thoughts of her." Anakin frowned. He was sure he had answered badly. A jedi should hardly be spending most of his time thinking about a girl. Even if she was a queen.

"You must understand," Obi Wan began gently, "that what you are feeling is perfectly natural."

"So what am I feeling?" Anakin asked, impatiently.

"It sounds to me like you're in love."

"Love?!" Anakin snapped. He covered his eyes with his hand and groaned. "Then I must suppress it," he announced with a confidence he scarcely felt.

"Suppress it? Why?" the older jedi asked.

Anakin was beginning to get irritated. "Master, are you purposefully trying to confuse me? Wasn't it just yesterday that you were commanding me to control my emotions?"

"Control, yes. Suppress, no," Obi Wan stated. He hoped wholeheartedly he had not instilled that idea in Anakin. Was the boy truly confused or just baiting him? He took a deep steadying breath. "Listen closely, Padawan. It is always wise for a jedi to keep his emotions in check. A calm heart and a quiet mind is what enables the Force to guide us and speak to us. But don't ever think you are not allowed to feel anything, Anakin. Especially the tenderness and wonder of love."

"Love is a complicated feeling," Anakin replied quietly. "It's clear to me that not everything about love is tender and wonderful. Tamerlane Merl felt love for Master Seal Erons. Now she's run away, leaving behind the only life she's ever known and he's abandoned her to her fate."

Obi Wan nodded in solemn agreement. "It's not that they were really in love, Anakin. Sometimes love is hard to recognize, and sometimes something else is mistakenly identified as love."

Anakin sighed heavily. "Then how am I to know if what I feel for Amidala is really love?"

Obi Wan rolled over on his back and stared momentarily at the low ceiling. "Because, you are too unselfish for it to be anything else."

Anakin smiled. He let his thoughts drift back to Amidala and suddenly felt warm and happy. Maybe love wasn't such a bad thing after all. "Obi Wan, have you ever been in love before?"

There was a long moment of silence before the jedi answered. "No."

This struck Anakin as being rather sad. "Well... maybe someday."

"Yes," Obi Wan sighed. "Perhaps someday." He paused then effectively ended their night's conversation by saying, "Sleep now, Anakin. Tomorrow is going to come early."

Anakin turned and closed his eyes tightly. "Yes Master. Sleep well."

***

Chapter Four

"Tell me again... about the palace."

Tamerlane Merl eyed her companion warily.

"I've told you everything I know. It's all second hand anyway. I've never been there myself. My master once described it to me. She attended a funeral there. For a slain jedi."

"And the queen? Did she wear many jewels?" Skya DiArta was mesmerized by any talk of power and wealth.

"I suppose she wears jewels," Tamerlane shrugged. "She is a queen, after all."

DiArta smiled, exposing a mouthful of jagged pointed teeth. Her gray eyes glittered in the morning sun. Despite her young friend's reserve, DiArta knew finding this rogue jedi would be the beginning of profits galore. No one would question the integrity of someone befriended by a jedi. It didn't matter that the girl was only an apprentice. She still looked like a jedi. She still wore the billowing brown cloak, the ecru tunic, the utility belt, and most significantly, the jedi sword. Yes, DiArta thought, with a jedi beside her, she could go anywhere, do anything. She didn't have to force the smile directed at Tamerlane, just the sentiment behind it.

"You're extra sad today," she noted and layed a clawed hand on the girl's shoulder.

Tamerlane looked out into the bustling streets of Theed. "I'm starting to think this wasn't such a good idea."

"No! Don't think that!" DiArta was quick to assure her. "The goal is simple. It cannot fail." She paused for emphasis. "You do for me, and I do for you."

Tamerlane closed her eyes and sighed heavily. "What makes you think the queen will even receive me?"

"Just do what you must, but get me into that palace," DiArta said and ground her teeth together, out of habit.

"Why is it so important for you? What is it you are not telling me?" Tamerlane gave DiArta a stern look of warning. "I sense deception... all around you."

"So this is the thanks I get. Poor lovesick child," DiArta taunted. "You can't make sense of anything. I thought you jedi could see the future. So tell me now, without me around to help you, what does your future look like? Is he still in your future? I think not. He's ashamed of you. They are all ashamed of you. You can't ever go back there because if you do, they will kill you. You betrayed a sacred trust. The only chance you have is to find your own way. I can help. But you have to do this for me first."

Tamerlane licked her suddenly dry lips. "They won't kill me. That's ridiculous. I could go back there anytime I wanted. Every student and apprentice is free to leave the order under honorable circumstances. They tell you this from the beginning." She stopped, suddenly realizing what she had just said.

DiArta caught it too. "You hardly left under any honorable circumstances," she jabbed. "Admit it, you're a rogue now. And that's why they search for you." DiArta dug her claws deeper in Tamerlane's arm. "Remember the jedi knight on Mascha? If it wasn't for me, he would have captured you. You'd be dead now. You think about that. Without me, you wouldn't have stood a chance." She released Tamerlane suddenly and turned with a jerk. "I'm off to find some food. You stay here. Out of sight." With that she left.

Tamerlane felt sick. She'd had that dream again last night. She was standing at the bottom of a large hole that had been dug out of the ground. She could look up and see daylight. Then 'he' was there. Above her, looking down at her, but she could not see his face because the light was behind him. He pointed at her and when she looked down, she saw that the ground was beginning to fill the hole. She felt trapped. She couldn't move. Looking back up, she saw two outstretched hands. Both seemed to offer her a way out to safety. One hand she thought could be 'his' hand. The other was clearly DiArta's. Both hands called to her, but she couldn't decide whose hand to accept. Meanwhile, the ground continued to bury her.

Tamerlane moved away from her position, having caught the curious stare of a passerby. She withdrew into the mouth of a shaded alleyway to wait for DiArta's return.

The dream could be interpreted so many ways. Perhaps DiArta was right and the hole symbolized her grave. The only way out would be to accept the Maschan's hand. The hole could also symbolize her current situation. She had gotten herself into something she was surely going to regret. Instead of getting out of trouble, she was allowing herself to get in deeper and deeper. So should she accept the other hand? Whose hand was it anyway? Could it really be her master's hand, reaching towards her in love and forgiveness? Tamerlane sighed. She doubted it.

Somehow, the dream left her feeling cheated. Her only other alternative was DiArta. Skya DiArta was hard to trust completely. She spoke so many half truths, Tamerlane couldn't discern what was believable and what was not.

One thing was for certain, if DiArta had not helped her get off of Mascha, Tamerlane would now be in the hands of that jedi. To Tamerlane, for a stranger to offer assistance to someone in trouble was always an admirable and unselfish act and was the sole basis behind the odd friendship they'd formed. At first, DiArta seemed to want nothing in return but Tamerlane's companionship. That was until she found out about the palace on Naboo.

Knowing their transport was heading for the Naboo system, Tamerlane had casually mentioned that her former master had been there and told her of a beautiful palace on top of a mountain and a young queen who was no more than a girl.

DiArta became obsessed by it. She just had to see it for herself. She just had to meet this young monarch. She told Tamerlane it had always been a dream of hers to go to a palace and be the guest of a queen. Surely Tamerlane could find it in her heart to help a friend fulfill a lifelong dream? Tamerlane would no doubt be received with open arms. She was a jedi, after all. In return, DiArta knew someone who knew an older jedi knight who had left the order due to injuries suffered in an accident. With the help of DiArta's friend, they could go to this jedi and Tamerlane could finish her training under his guidance.

Tamerlane sighed and leaned against the side of the building she was hiding behind and let herself slide down to the ground. She folded her legs out in front of her and picked a flower from the vine climbing the wall. She thought about what DiArta had said, about the jedi looking to kill her now.

It was true, the jedi knights clung to their ancient sacred codes and certainly would not tolerate someone such as herself in their midst. Maybe she wasn't a rogue per say, but she was still an apprentice, who in a time of weakness had broken several codes. She sighed. She would just have to rely on DiArta for now and her promise of helping her get to this 'retired' jedi. Besides, Tamerlane thought, what possible harm could there be in showing DiArta the palace?

Tamerlane reviewed the plan once more in her mind. It was rather simple and should work. DiArta would disguise herself as another jedi in some of Tamerlane's clothes. They would go to the palace and posing as two jedi on assignment, would ask to be given an audience with the queen. It was customary for jedi working in a given system to formally greet the governing official. More than likely, their request would not raise suspicions. Once inside the palace, DiArta could at last live her dream and revel in the splendor of a royal court.

Tamerlane shrugged. It was the least she could do. DiArta had saved her life, after all.

***

Chapter Five

Anakin looked up from studying the data pad as Obi Wan strode into the room.

"Gather our things. The ship is dropping into sublight engines now. In a short time, we'll be docking in Theed."

Anakin turned off the pad and rose slowly. He yawned and stretched stiffly. "I didn't sleep well last night," Anakin explained. "I kept having strange dreams."

Obi Wan started to reply but was distracted by Anakin's belt. "Where is your lightsaber? Why isn't it on your belt?"

Anakin gestured innocently at the bed he had used last night. "It's right there."

Obi Wan frowned. "Anakin, always keep your lightsaber on you. You never know when you might need it. Sometimes, even the most innocent-looking situations are the ones in which you suddenly find yourself in real danger."

"Yes Master," Anakin replied dutifully and crossed the room to retrieve the lightsaber. Obi Wan intercepted him by laying a hand on his chest.

"Call it to you," he instructed.

Anakin met his master's eyes with a skeptical look. "I haven't quite mastered that yet."

Obi Wan merely smiled. "All the more reason you should want to practice." He stepped aside. "Concentrate. Feel the Force between you and your weapon. Feel the distance separating you from it. Know its size and weight. Now, reach towards it and pull it to you, as surely as you would pull it to you if it was within your reach."

Anakin took a deep breath. He closed his eyes momentarily and stretched out his hand.

Obi Wan turned to look at the lightsaber on the bed. It jerked and rolled, then suddenly flew up towards Obi Wan's face. The jedi ducked, narrowly avoiding being struck on the nose. Anakin had to jump to the left to catch it before it crashed into the back wall. He reluctantly faced Obi Wan and offered him an apologetic look.

"I see what you mean," the older jedi noted. He walked over to Anakin and held out his hand. Anakin gave him the lightsaber. "You'll do it again," Obi Wan continued, "but this time, call it to your hand. Not just to you, but your hand." He placed the lightsaber back on the bed. "In the event you should find yourself disarmed for some reason, you can always rely on this method of retrieval."

Anakin was determined this time. He could feel the lightsaber. He knew exactly where it was. This time, when he stretched out his hand, he did so as if to merely pick the weapon up and in an instant, he felt the hilt of it in his palm. He smiled triumphantly and closed his fingers around it.

"Good," Obi Wan breathed, a little surprised by the boy's success. "Very good." In this simple exercise, Obi Wan had felt Anakin summon an incredible amount of power, focusing his mind and energy with an enviable precision. The lightsaber had no other choice but to do Anakin's bidding. "I'd say you have now mastered that technique," Obi Wan added. "I sense when you truly want to succeed, you do."

Anakin activated his lightsaber and twirled it around a few times before deactivating it and attaching it to his belt. "I always want to succeed. I hate to fail." He walked passed Obi Wan to pick up the bag on the floor.

"Then why didn't you succeed the first time?"

Anakin faced him. "I'm not sure. I don't feel very good this morning. I feel... out of sorts."

Obi Wan looked both concerned and annoyed. "Distracted, perhaps?" he suggested.

Anakin frowned. "It's not what you're thinking. Something's not right. I can feel it. It's a disturbance." He studied Obi Wan and wondered at his perfectly calm demeanor. Why couldn't he sense it too?

"I feel it," the older jedi stated as if to answer Anakin's silent accusation. "Or rather 'her.' "

Anakin's eyes narrowed. "You mean Tamerlane?" He looked skeptical. "Master, I've felt the Force in other jedi before. It never has affected me like this. Surely there is something else. Something's wrong, I tell you."

Obi Wan conceded. "Maybe." He paused, thinking. "We've no way to know for sure until the situation presents itself. You must realize, Tamerlane is a very negative presence at the moment. More than likely, it is her energy disturbing you. But we won't dismiss what you are feeling as just that. Stayed tuned into your feelings and use them to guide your actions. Remember what I said about the most innocent-looking situations."

Anakin nodded. He was more than a little pleased that Obi Wan didn't ridicule the disturbances he felt.

"Come," Obi Wan said and turned towards the door in a whirl of cloak. "It's time."

For the first time this morning, Anakin appeared enthusiastic. He snatched up the data pad on the table and stuffed it into the bag, slinging it over his shoulder all in one fluid motion.

Obi Wan started down the ship's passageways and Anakin hurried after him. Once they had disembarked, Anakin looked around hopefully. He sighed.

"I half expected Amidala to meet us," he confessed. "You did say she knew we were coming right?"

Obi Wan shook his head. "First of all, she's only been made aware that two jedi are coming. Secondly, she is the queen, Anakin. Royalty hardly wait for ships to dock in hanger bays. Don't be disappointed. We'll go see her as soon as we get settled in.

Once outside the bay, the two jedi started walking briskly towards the heart of the city.

"Where will we be staying?" Anakin asked, looking around him at the lush greenery and colorful flowers that were so abundant here, even in the midst of a capital city like Theed. It was so very different from Coruscant.

"I was told quarters would be made available at the palace," Obi Wan informed.

Anakin smiled. His large blue eyes glittered knowingly in the sunshine. "I'm sure Amidala had something to do with that."

Obi Wan nodded. "Most certainly. Our instructions are to ask for the Gungan ambassador once we reach the palace," he continued. Anakin noticed the strange look on Obi Wan's face.

"Hey... you don't think it could be...?

Obi Wan was trying hard not to smile. "Stranger things have happened."

Jar Jar was late and he knew it. He deliberately tried not to hurry because that always seemed to make matters worse. His assistant, an older Naboo woman named Terza, had informed him that the jedi he was to receive had already arrived. In fact, they were waiting just down the hall from his offices in the south parlor. Lunch would have to wait.

Struggling to don the garments and trappings of his official status, he started to trot down the hall, then stopped short.

"No hurry. No hurry," he chanted to himself and proceeded at what he considered an appropriately safe pace.

People in the palace halls were passing by him at a normal walk and giving him curious looks.

Jar Jar stopped again to consider this.

"Mmm. Mebbe mesa goin too slow. Mmm, too carafull?"

One of the courtiers came up behind him. When she was beside him, Jar Jar started walking again, matching her pace. Surely she knew how fast to walk.

"Are you walking with me for a purpose, Ambassador Binks?" she asked, after they had walked together for quite awhile in silence.

"No reeson," Jar Jar stated. "Walken too slow and mesa never make it to da parlors. Haff ta meet wit da jedi." It was then he realized he had walked with the courtier right past the parlor. He suddenly skidded to a halt, whirled around, and began stalking back up the hall. "Bye now." He pointed up the hall. "Gotta go meet wit da jedi, you know." He turned around again, temporarily losing his sense of direction and almost hit his assitant with one of his long ears.

"Where have you been? I told you they had arrived," Terza chided him in a loud whisper. She took his hand and pulled him quickly up the hall and into the parlor.

Jar Jar peered over the top of her head at the two uncomfortable looking jedi knights who were both seated awkwardly on one sofa.

"Mesa here!" he announced in a booming and excited voice. Both jedi jumped, startled. "Inna case yous habn't guessed, mesa da Gungan embassy-a-dor to da Naboo. Mesa Jar Jar Binks!"

The two jedi slowly turned towards each other and exchanged wary looks. Somewhat reluctantly, they stood up. The tall human female extended her hand in greeting. Terza gestured at her as Jar Jar shook her hand enthusiastically.

"This is Tamerlane Merl," she introduced.

"Ooh, mesa lova da jedi. Welcomb to Naboo!"

Tamerlane tried to smile. "Please let me introduce my apprentice, Skya DiArta."

The second jedi stepped forward. She bowed deeply.

"Ambassador, we are most honored, " she began.

Jar Jar studied the creature bowing repeatedly before him. He'd never seen one of her kind before. She seemed to have odd mannerisms for a jedi, he decided, since he was very nearly an authority on what made a good jedi. This one's eyes shifted constantly around the room and she kept grinding her teeth together distractedly. Jar Jar reached the conclusion she must seem strange because she was only a jedi-in-learning. Jar Jar also noticed how the master jedi kept giving the learning jedi dirty looks.

"Ambassador Binks' life was saved by a jedi once," Terza offered, to break the ensuing silence. "He loves to tell the story."

Both jedi turned to Jar Jar expectantly. He smiled widely and looked a little shy suddenly.

"Coulda no hepp but be saved!" he began excitedly. "Big bombad jedi, runnin right atta mesa. Ten of tousans of macaneeks ever where. No where to go so jumped on da jedi." He paused, remembering his friend fondly. "Biggess jedi yousa ever see."

Everyone waited but he didn't continue. He stood motionless, lost in memories. Finally Terza cleared her throat.

"Perhaps, you should escort our guests to their quarters now?" she prompted.

"Oh! Butta course! Yousa all muss be plenny beat. Quarters thes way."

The two jedi looked at each other again in silent communication. Tamerlane suddenly spoke up.

"We wish an audience with Her Majesty. Will she receive us?"

Jar Jar slung his arm around her shoulders.

"Quinn Padmee is bery closs fren of mine. Terzaha will tell da quinn. Yousa follo me now, okeday? Muss be plenny beat."

DiArta faced Terza. "I thought the queen's name was Amidala."

Terza hid a smile. "He calls her Padme. It's a long story. Don't ask."

As they came to a branching corridor, Terza turned into it.

"I'll inform Her Majesty that you have arrived and request an audience. The ambassador will be happy to take you to her once you are settled in."

Jar Jar smiled widely. "Oooh! Yess. Mesa bery happe. Bery happe."

***

Chapter Six

Amidala looked up, surprised.

"The jedi are here? Now?" She rose slowly, gathering her skirts in her hands. "Who are they?" she asked, unsuccessfully trying to sound nonchalant.

"The jedi knight Tamerlane Merl and her apprentice, Skya...something or other. Forgive me Your Majesty, her name escapes me."

For a split second, Amidala looked crestfallen. Her pretty face formed a perfect pout before shifting into a benign smile of acceptance.

"Yes, of course I'll receive them. As soon as they are settled in, have Jar Jar bring them before me. We will do our best to welcome them." She paused and took a deep breath. "Whatever they need, be sure they have it. They are to receive this court's full cooperation."

Terza nodded. "I'll tell the ambassador. We are honored to have the jedi as our guests, Your Highness, and we'll make sure they do not want for anything while they are here." She bowed and hurried out.

Amidala walked slowly to the large window overlooking the courtyard. Her handmaiden and close friend, Sabe', came up quietly behind her.

"You were hoping to see...someone else?" Sabe' guessed.

Amidala continued looking out the window. "Yes."

"You miss him a great deal."

Amidala smiled slightly. "Perhaps more than I should." She sighed and faced her friend. "It's been so long since I've even had correspondence from him. I wonder what he's been up to lately."

Sabe' placed a comforting hand on the queen's shoulder. "Try not to be sad, Your Highness. I'm sure he is thinking of you," she offered.

Jar Jar was pleased. The meeting with the jedi had gone well. Maybe, he was beginning to get the hang of this ambassador job, he thought to himself.

With his honorable guests resting in their rooms and with no other pressing duties he could recall, Jar Jar ambled back to his office to send for a messenger to have his lunch served. His stomach was rumbling and he placed a hand over it.

"Soon. Bery bery soon. I's promise." Visions of plums and cakes with sweet meats filled his mind and made his mouth water. He was so absorbed in anticipation, he didn't notice the palace guard hurrying to catch up to him.

"Ambassador!"

Jar Jar shrieked and jumped, startled. "Right herra! No need yellin scarin mesa outta ten skins!"

"Forgive me, but there are two jedi knights at the palace gate. They are asking for you, Sir," the guard explained patiently.

Jar Jar's eyes grew wide with surprise. "Whatta? Mur jedi?" He looked back towards the guest quarters where he'd just left the last two. No, he thought, it couldn't be the same ones over. These must be new ones. He moaned. "Oooh, no munchin fer now. Sweet cakes haff ta wait." He looked down at his stomach. "Bery so sorry." He moaned again and reluctantly followed the guard down the hall.

DiArta was roaming the room, touching everything. Her eyes gleamed hungrily at all the fine art and decor around her. Tamerlane was watching her.

"Strange, they acted like they were actually expecting us," she said, more to herself than DiArta. "They must be expecting some other jedi knights. Why else would they already have rooms prepared? And that ambassador spoke as if the queen was actually waiting to receive us. I don't like this. I don't like it at all."

DiArta just grinned. "You should be counting your blessings." She spared a glance at her leary friend. "Relax, will you. Don't be so gloom and doom."

"I have every right to be gloom and doom," Tamerlane countered irritably. "It's my life that's in danger, especially if two real jedi knights are coming here." She stood up and began pacing. "After we have seen the queen, we're going to leave. Something's not right about all this."

DiArta sighed heavily. "I'd say everything was perfect." She turned and walked over to the window, reveling in the warmth of the sunshine that was streaming in.

"I trust my senses with good reason," Tamerlane said quietly. She stood thinking, twisting her long apprentice's braid distractedly.

DiArta scowled at her. "I told you to cut that thing off. You're supposed to be the master here. You're not supposed to have braided hair."

Tamerlane frowned. "Why have me cut off my braid and then maintain all the other, much more obvious trappings of a jedi I have." She tugged at the lapels of her cloak. "We could move more discreetly if everyone in the city didn't recognize me as a jedi." DiArta didn't answer. Tamerlane shrugged. "Besides, no one here will realize that my braid identifies me as an apprentice. And despite everything, I'm not ready to cut if off."

"Why?! You still are hoping to be an apprentice again? 'His' apprentice maybe?" DiArta snapped, losing her patience.

Tamerlane raised her eyes. "Anybody's apprentice," she murmured. Her mind was off and running. Remorse flooded her heart suddenly. "Surely if I go back, go before the council and plead with them...Surely they would not sentence me to such a severe fate. I'd be willing to face punishment if they would only take me back." Her eyes lit with renewed hope.

DiArta saw her meal ticket slipping out of her grasp and hurried to set the girl straight. "Don't be stupid! That's just how they want you to think. They want you to surrender yourself. Remember, you broke the code. You're a disgrace to the order. They'll punish you all right. They'll split you in two with your master's lightsaber!" DiArta looked at the young jedi with disgust. "What kind of fool have I been nursemaiding here? Why am I even wasting my time with you? Trying to help you. Why bother?"

The light of hope left Tamerlane's eyes and a tear spilled down her cheek. "Why would they hate me so? I haven't committed any crime. I only made a mistake. I turned to someone I thought I was in love with for comforting. That's all." She wiped her eyes roughly with her fingertips. "I only wanted to kiss him. I wanted him to know how much he meant to me. I... was wrong. I don't deserve to die for it."

DiArta smiled cruelly and moved close to Tamerlane. "Tell me my lovesick child, why do you think the jedi pursue you if what you did really didn't matter?"

Tamerlane faced the Maschan. "Maybe to bring me to the council for the disarming oath." Her hand instinctively and possessively rested on the hilt of her saber that was attached to her belt.

"No, child. They chase you to stop you. They know you can still learn their ways and skills. They fear what you might become. They would rather 'sacrifice' you, than have you grow strong and use your powers against them. The legends all tell how they hunted down the last of the Sith lords with one singular purpose. One lethal intent."

Tamerlane paled. "Don't ever mention me in the same breath as a Sith lord."

DiArta merely smiled. "If you are not friend then you are foe," she quoted from a well known proverb. "They see in you... the potential."

Tamerlane closed her eyes and shook her head.

DiArta picked up a jeweled tray from a table and slipped it into her robe. "You must come with me. Learn from my friend, the ex-jedi. He will teach you all you need to know in order to survive. It's really the only way my dear."

Tamerlane looked over at her. DiArta smiled compassionately.

***

Chapter Seven

"Strange," Obi Wan whispered to Anakin. "It's as though they weren't expecting us."

Anakin shiftd his weight from one foot to the other impatiently as he and Obi Wan waited at the palace gates. He felt restless and irritated but wasn't sure why.

"I can really sense that disturbance now, Master," he relayed.

Obi Wan nodded. "Yes. Tamerlane is close. Very close." He took a deep breath and glanced around at the stately, picturesque courtyard. Everything certainly looked peaceful enough, but Obi Wan knew better than to rely on surface impressions. "There's trouble brewing as well," the jedi continued. "Try to stay as focused as possible and believe what you feel. Don't dismiss anything."

Anakin nodded. "Yes Master." He sighed and tried to clear his mind. It helped ease some of his tension.

A palace guard was approaching them. Anakin squinted his eyes against the sun and peered through the gates. The guard was followed closely by the Gungan ambassador. Anakin recognized him immediately and broke into a huge smile.

"Jar Jar!" he called out excitedly. "Jar Jar! It's me! Anakin!"

Jar Jar placed his hands on his head in surprise. "Anny!!!" he yelled. He ran over the the gate. "Whatta yousa doin here?"

The palace guard opened the gates and allowed the jedi to come through at last. Jar Jar almost knocked the guard over trying to get to Anakin. He seized the boy and swung him around in an exuberant hug.

"Anny! Whoa, looka you! Big bombad jedi!!"

Anakin squirmed. "Jar Jar, put me down," he laughed, "You're breaking my ribs."

Jar Jar set the boy down and turned to Obi Wan, who was eyeing him warily.

"Obi One!!" Jar Jar exclaimed and caught the jedi up in his clutches before he could get away. He crushed him to his chest in a suffocating hug.

"Hello Jar Jar," Obi Wan gasped. "You're looking well." The jedi smiled in spite of himself.

"Ooh! Mesa doin grand!" Jar Jar grinned. He gestured at the embroidered brocade patch on his shoulder. "Mesa da Gungan embassy-a-dor to da Naboo!"

"I see that," Obi Wan said with an impressed nod. "An ambassadorship suits you well. After all, you were the one responsible for bringing the Gungan and Naboo together as a people."

"That's right," Anakin added. "If it weren't for your diplomacy, the Gungan and the Naboo would still be regarding each other with hostility."

"Ah, go on!" Jar Jar blushed, waving off the praise. "Mesa no do nottin. Was jus out fer lunchin one morning and... say," he stopped himself and made a sweeping gesture with his long arms. "Speekin a munchin... an seen as yousa come by, how bout a bit of munchins, okeday? Mesa yet ta haff any lunch." He shook his head regrettably.

Anakin looked over at Obi Wan. "Sounds good to me. I am getting hungry."

"Mesa gettin plenny hungree," Jar Jar urged.

Obi Wan nodded. "We accept. Thank you for the invitation, Jar Jar."

Jar Jar clapped his hands together gleefully. "Lunchin atta lass!" He turned an about face and stalked back through the gates and into the courtyard. "Alls follo me!"

Obi Wan and Anakin started off after the Gungan towards the palace.

Terza knocked on the door of the guest quarters and waited. It was DiArta who answered the door.

"Do come in," she said quietly and stepped aside. "My master and I were only having a chat."

Tamerlane walked over to Terza and quickly asked, "May we see the queen now?"

Terza nodded slowly. "Of course. I'm here to take you to her. That is if you are rested and feel up to it. The ambassador was to escort you, but I can't seem to locate him."

Tamerlane offered her a reassuring smile. "We'd be pleased to have you serve as our escort. We would really just like to greet Her Majesty and be on our way. We won't be needing these rooms, but thank you for offering them to us." Tamerlane kept her eyes on Terza but could feel DiArta bristling with anger behind her.

"Naturally. You must be anxious to begin your mission," Terza smiled. She motioned to the jedi to follow her and led them quickly through the palace corridors. "I never met a jedi who wasn't entirely devoted to their missions," she went on amicably.

Tamerlane nodded. What the woman was saying confirmed her suspicions even more.

"Here we are," Terza announced and held up her hand. "If you will permit me, I will inform Her Highness that you are here to see her." With that, she knocked once and slipped inside the throne room.

Tamerlane's heart was beating faster by the minute. Every living fiber inside her was telling her something was wrong. She knew coming here was a big mistake, but it was too late now. She could feel the Force around her pulsing with distortions. There was a disturbance growing but she couldn't identify its source. She struggled to calm herself and clear her mind. Terza suddenly immerged from the throne room and waved them inside breaking any concentration Tamerlane had achieved. She sighed and reluctantly followed DiArta inside.

Jar Jar had just popped a cake into his mouth when Anakin asked him a question. He hurriedly chewed so he could answer the boy.

"Jar Jar, tell me, how's Queen Amidala been lately? Is everything all right here?"

Jar Jar nodded, chewing faster.

"Obi Wan and I have been sensing a disturbance in the force," Anakin continued. "It's been stronger since we got here. There isn't any trouble in the court that you know of, is there?"

"No. No. Troubles, pah. Tings here are grand." He gestured at Anakin. "Quinn will be plenny pleesed ta see yousa. Heppy surprise fer her." He faced Obi Wan. "You too, Obi One! Bery heppy. Bery suprised. Be live you me."

Obi Wan responded as though he'd been pulled out of a meditative state. "What? Oh yes...It will be nice to see Her Majesty again."

Anakin looked over at his master worriedly. Obi Wan glanced at him and shook his head slowly.

Jar Jar carried on unaware of the exchange. "Wate'll shes sees yousa, Anny! Yousa growin so big."

Anakin lowered his eyes with a shy smile. "I'm anxious to see her." He pushed his food around on his plate and sat back with a sigh. He didn't feel up to eatting anything despite being hungry. He noticed Obi Wan had barely eaten anything either. The disturbance they both felt was glaringly obvious now. Anakin faced Jar Jar once again.

"You're absolutely positive that nothing is out of the ordinary? Anything that might spell trouble later?"

Jar Jar could tell the boy was troubled by something. He wanted to reassure him and give the right answer. He leaned back in his chair and thought long and hard.

"Mmm. No troubles Anny. Hunist." Satisfied, he picked up a large yellow fruit from the bowl in front of him and took a long sniff before biting into it. He grinned, thinking how the palace was currently overflowing now with jedi. "Neber felled safer," he added.

Anakin seemed to relax but Obi Wan shook his head.

"All that means is the trouble has yet to manifest itself," he stated solemnly. He looked at Anakin. "Right now, it is gathering strength, nourishing itself, growing and waiting for the proper time to reveal itself." His blue eyes blazed as he spoke but his expression was one of intimidating calm. "When it does reveal itself, we shall be ready for it."

Anakin nodded. Chills ran up and down his spine. The idea of a possible danger in the palace, right where Amidala lived, made his heart constrict. He understood now that what he and Obi Wan were sensing was much more than a runaway apprentice.

***

Chapter Eight

"Thank you, Your Highness. Your hospitality has been most gracious," Tamerlane was saying. "But we must be on our way now."

"Of course," Amidala replied with a benevolent smile. "Know that the court's doors are always open to you. We are pleased to have you as our honored guests. While you are in Theed, please, consider these walls your home."

Bowing, Tamerlane nodded and quickly turned to leave. DiArta stepped forward however.

"Thank you, Your Majesty!" she gushed and bowed deeply. "We shall do just that!"

Tamerlane's hand was on her arm, pulling her towards the door.

"Come visit with me again before you leave Naboo," Amidala said and bid them farewell. As soon as they had gone, she faced Sabe' with a troubled expression.

The young handmaiden was quick to recognize the look in her friend's eyes.

"Your Highness? Is something wrong?"

Amidala pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Of all the jedi I have met, those two were the most un-jedi like pair I've encountered." She smiled to herself, realizing she was being kind in saying that much. There was something strange about those two, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what it was. "That master seemed very young to me."

Sabe' smiled. "There are young masters about these days."

Amidala returned her smile. She knew her friend was referring to Obi Wan Kenobi. He was a jedi knight Sabe' particularly admired. On Tatooine, he was the one who had stayed behind with her on the crippled ship. Afterwards, Sabe' had told Amidala how he often stayed close to her, knowing she, as queen, was distressed over the plight of her people. His kindness had meant a lot to her then, for he probably sensed that she was frightened, and he frequently offered her words of encouragement and consolation.

"Yes," Amidala agreed. "Perhaps circumstances brought those two together as it did Obi Wan and Anakin." A thought suddenly occured to her. "Did you notice, the jedi Tamerlane was wearing a braid? And the apprentice was not?" She remembered when she'd first met Obi Wan, he sported a long thin braid just behind his right ear. At the time, he was Qui Gon's apprentice. And then, she recalled Anakin telling her about his own braid which now identified him as an apprentice.

"Yes, I saw her braid," Sabe' said, interrupting her thoughts. "What of it?"

"It's the apprentice who wears the braid," Amidala stated. "I thought there was something odd about those two."

"Maybe in their case, the opposite is the norm," Sabe' offered.

Amidala sighed. Sabe' was right not to think anything of it. Perhaps it was disappointment that made her so judgmental all of a sudden.

She had to admit, when she had first heard that the jedi council was sending two jedi to Naboo, her heart had soared. Surely it would be Anakin and Obi Wan. Instead, the council had sent this young master and her much older non-human apprentice. Naturally she would think there was something wrong with them. Quite simply, they weren't the right jedi at all.

Amidala waved the rest of her handmaidens over and addressed the guards and courtiers milling about the throne room.

"I am retiring to my chamber for the rest of the afternoon. I want to be left alone for awhile. I won't be receiving anyone else until this evening. Please see to it that I am not disturbed."

The guard nodded and bowed. "Yes Your Majesty."

Tamerlane thanked Terza and walked calmly into the room with DiArta at her heels. Once the assitant had left and the door securely closed behind her, Tamerlane turned and glared at DiArta.

"What are you thinking? We can't stay here! We can't prolong this charade any longer. We need to leave this place now. Right now!"

DiArta passed her long tongue over her teeth and turned away from the irate jedi without showing the slightest bit of concern. She picked up a small ornate clock from a shelf and examined it closely.

"We'll leave when I'm ready," she said flatly. "I'm not ready, so pipe down, will you."

Tamerlane moved to confront her companion. "Don't you realize they've rolled out the red carpet because they are 'expecting' two jedi to come here? Two real jedi knights are coming here!" DiArta seemed unphased by this bit of information. Tamerlane took a deep calming breath. "Look, for all the disturbance I'm feeling, they are probably already here! The jig is up! We have to leave!"

DiArta just shook her head. She took the clock and tucked it into one of the pouches on her belt. She didn't care if Tamerlane saw her or not.

At first Tamerlane was too startled for words. Then she appeared too numbed. She closed her eyes and swore softly, dragging her hand through her bangs in exasperation.

"What are you doing?"

DiArta ignored her and continued pawing the contents of the room.

"Answer me!" Tamerlane yelled.

DiArta shot her a warning look. "Mind your tone, girl. We have to eat, don't we? We need money for transports. Supplies. How do you think we got this far?"

"No!" Tamerlane countered. "You will not rob these people. I will not allow it."

DiArta turned to face Tamerlane and put her hands on her hips. She stood silently regarding her, then ground her teeth together in irritation.

"So, you think there are other jedi about? Here in the palace maybe? You think maybe they are here on an assignment?" She paused and slowly walked over to where Tamerlane stood. She leered up at her forcing Tamerlane to sway backwards. "I just have to wonder what kind of assignment would lead the jedi here of all places. Maybe they are looking for someone."

Tamerlane paled. "That's exactly what I think. That's why we need to leave."

DiArta just smiled. She took a step back and sighed. "No. I say we stay here for the night. It'll give me a chance to wander about. See if there is anything else that catches my eye. Who knows what treasures could turn up."

Tamerlane turned from DiArta in disgust. She took several deep breaths and tried to clear her mind. If she thought she was in trouble with the council before, she was ten times in trouble now. Her dreams could only be interpreted one way now. She was getting herself in deeper and deeper. It was time to look towards the other outstretched hand.

Summoning her shredded courage, she faced DiArta again. This time with steadfast resolve.

"I'm leaving the palace now. With or without you. But if you choose to stay and insist on pursuing your criminal intent, I have no choice but to intervene."

DiArta frowned deeply, then slowly, the corners of her mouth turned upwards and then she burst into laughter.

"Spoken like a true jedi!" she cackled. "Still clinging to your senseless code of ethics. Oh how those jedi abhor evil." She waved Tamerlane away. "Go on and leave me. I'm tired of you anyway. You're too pathetic for the likes of me." She walked back over to the shelf of ornaments and began pocketing several other items.

Tamerlane felt a rising anger at DiArta's defiance.

"You have been warned," she seethed.

"And you have been warned," DiArta shot back. "Go on. Get out of here."

Tamerlane turned, then decided to try one last time. "If you don't stop this insanity now, I will be forced to turn you over to the palace guards."

At that DiArta dropped what she was holding and spun around to confront Tamerlane in a frightening display of fury. "You do that, my little snitch, and I'll go straight to those phantom jedi you sense and turn you over as well! They are the ones who are hunting for the kill!"

Tamerlane didn't answer. She turned slowly and walked steadily through the door.

DiArta suddenly panicked. She tried to convince herself that Tamerlane lacked the courage to go to the guards. By doing so, her pretense would be exposed. Surely the girl must realize that. If anything, she would only leave the palace and disappear into the city.

Something else told DiArta she had underestimated Tamerlane's devotion to her training and beliefs. Tamerlane just might follow through with her threat.

In a split second, DiArta decided not to hang around.

***

Chapter Nine

Jar Jar, Anakin, and Obi Wan walked towards the throne room in relative silence. Jar Jar had eaten too much lunch and was feeling groggy; Obi Wan couldn't shake his sense of unease, and Anakin was too busy envisioning his first meeting with Amidala in over a year.

Jar Jar went inside the throne room first to do all the official and formal introductions. Obi Wan and Anakin waited in the hall beside a guard. When Jar Jar returned, he looked decidedly lost.

"Thesa nobodee dare!" he announced.

Anakin immediately bristled with concern. Obi Wan turned to the guard.

"Where's Her Highness?" he asked simply.

"Her Highness has retired for the afternoon to her chamber and does not wish to be disturbed," the guard replied. "She will receive guests this evening however. Those were her instructions."

Everyone visibly relaxed.

"Her Highness wasn't taken ill was she?" Anakin inquired.

The guard shook his head. "Her Highness was radiant," he replied admiringly. "Certainly feeling well. She had received guests earlier and was if anything a little tired."

Anakin sighed. He chastised himself for being too jittery. Jar Jar looked disappointed. He had been looking forward to this surprise gathering of his favorite people almost as much as Anakin.

"Well then," Obi Wan said at last. "We'll just return later." He looked up at Jar Jar. "If you wouldn't mind, Jar Jar, could show us to our rooms? We'd like to freshen up. Then we'd like to mill about for awhile and just check things out."

Jar Jar appeared to be thinking long and hard. "Rooms, rooms...ah mesa know off some rooms fer spare. Dis way, in sout wings." He offered them an apologetic smile. "Guess rooms got used up. Nottin elss mesa fear."

"If there are a lot of guests staying at the palace, it's no wonder Her Majesty got tired out," Anakin observed.

"Any rooms will be fine, Jar Jar," Obi Wan assured. "A room at the palace is very gracious of Her Majesty. It will indeed be a luxury. Jedi do not take shelter for granted when on assignment."

Jar Jar nodded. "Mesa could neber be a jedi. Too hard a life." He began leading them down long corridors, farther and farther away from the heart of the palace. "Sout wing not bery farther. Mesa like if yousa all clossa to me. Thes rooms all I's ken do. If wesa knew yousa wass comin, mebbe had time ta fine somtin close." He walked along casually, not realizing he was walking alone until he went to turn a corner and saw the jedi standing several paces back. "Huh? Whatta?" He hurried back to them.

Anakin and Obi Wan were staring up at Jar Jar in surprise. They both wore confused expressions.

"What do you mean, you didn't know we were coming?" Obi Wan asked. "Didn't you hear from the representatives?"

Jar Jar looked panicky. What did he mean exactly? he thought. "Umm, well... sure."

Anakin stepped towards him. "You mean you heard from the representatives that two jedi were coming and you are just surprised to see us? Isn't that right?"

Jar Jar sighed, relieved. "Yess! Dat's it. Espictin jedi allalong."

Obi Wan wasn't convinced Jar Jar had understood Anakin's meaning. "So you were expecting jedi? From the council?"

"Right, right?" the Gungan replied slowly, his certainty waning. This conversation was confusing him. "Espictin toes jedi. Wesa no espictin yousa. Okeday?"

Now Anakin was confused. He tried a different approach. "So you weren't expecting the jedi dispatched from the council to be us, that's what you are saying."

Jar Jar moaned and clutched his head. "Ahh, mesa gettin brain-bog!" He paused and took a deep breath. "Wesa so hopin jedi wer yousa. Haff espictin jedi to be yousa. Mesa glad yousa come inyways." He nodded for emphasis, sure he had made himself clear this time.

Obi Wan did understand, but was not pleased. "But Jar Jar, we are the jedi dispatched by the council. We are the ones you were to expect."

Jar Jar's eye stalks stretched to their limit in surprise. "Huh? Council no sent out more jedi mebbe?"

Anakin and Obi Wan simultaneously shook their heads.

"No, we are the only jedi dispatched to Naboo," Obi Wan explained.

Now Jar Jar was getting exasperated. "Den whosa dos udder jedi?"

Anakin's jaw dropped. Obi Wan leaned ominously close to Jar Jar.

"What other jedi?" he demanded.

DiArta made her way down the halls back to the throne room. She stopped herself short, spying the guard outside the throne room door. She wondered briefly if Tamerlane had spoken to any guards yet.

Taking a deep breath, she decided not to chance it. She turned and made her way down a different passage and through a series of large open rooms. If she could find somewhere to hide until nightfall, she could move about the palace with ease and help herself to any trinkets she found, before sneaking out.

She passed through another open room and down a short hall. She spied one of the queen's handmaidens turning down a passage. DiArta suddenly got an idea. She followed the handmaiden down the hall and watched her go through a large ornate door.

The handmaidens rarely strayed far from the queen, DiArta thought. Find a maid, find Her Majesty. Visions of jewels and precious metals filled her mind with greed. She stood back momentarily, hastily constructing a plan in her head. Then with a wicked smile, she jogged up to the door and pounded on it forcibly.

Amidala and Sabe' looked up, startled. Rabe' crossed the room to the door and peered through a viewscope.

"It's one of the jedi, Your Majesty," she informed. "Shall I let her in?"

Sabe' stepped out from behind the chair Amidala was sitting in where she had been helping style the queen's hair for the evening. Instinctively she switched to her role as bodyguard.

Amidala looked puzzled, but otherwise unconcerned, despite the frantic pounding.

"See what she wants," she told Rabe'.

The handmaiden opened the door and DiArta rushed in, uninvited. Rabe' moved to intercept her, but Amidala motioned her back.

"Forgive me, Your Majesty," DiArta began and bowed clumsily. "It's come to my attention, your life may be in danger."

"What are you talking about?" Sabe' asked tersely.

DiArta glared at her momentarily, then focused back on Amidala. "The jedi master who was with me, she tricked me! She's not my master! She used some kind of mind control on me to use me to gain access to the palace. She means to kill you."

The handmaidens exchanged worried looks. Amidala remained outwardly composed. Such news was alarming, but panicking wouldn't do anyone any good.

"Who is she? Why does she want to kill me?" Amidala asked quietly.

"Your Majesty, she's coming this way! There is no time. You must flee your chambers. I fear I cannot defend you against the likes of her. You must go and alert the guards."

"Your Highness," Sabe' began. "We need to get you to safety. We'll sort this out later."

Amidala held up her hand. Her voice, still eerily calm. "You didn't answer my question. Who is she?"

DiArta ground her teeth together in agitation and thought fast. "Your Highness must leave now. She's taken my lightsaber. I have no way to defend you. I only came here to warn you."

A flicker of irritation marred the young queen's fair features. "Answer my question."

DiArta swallowed hard. What was the one thing she could say that would frighten the queen enough to make her leave? Ah yes..."She's a Sith, Your Highness."

The very word made Amidala's heart skip a beat. She rose slowly, gathering her robes around her. She spared a disquieted look at Sabe'.

***

Chapter Ten

"We'll split up," Obi Wan told Anakin. "We have a lot of ground to cover. It will be more efficient that way."

Surprisingly, Anakin felt his confidence slip.

"But Master... if I should find her first, how will I be able to stop her? Alone, that is?"

Obi Wan faced his apprentice. He put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Trust your abilities, Anakin. Rely on your training and let the Force guide you." He could still see a hint of uncertainty in the boy's eyes. "I'll be with you. You'll be able to feel our connection even though we are physically apart. Trust me." He paused and took a deep breath. "Go now. The Force will be with you."

Obi Wan turned, but Anakin suddenly seized his arm.

"Master! My dream! I must tell you my dream."

Obi Wan knew Anakin must believe his dream held some significance if he insisted on relaying it to him now of all times.

"Tell me then," he urged the boy.

Anakin hurriedly sorted through the details of his dream. "In it, there was this evil. An unseen evil. From an unexpected source. You and I and Tamerlane were all fighting. We wanted to fight the unknown evil but instead we fought each other. The evil had distracted us this way until it could get away." He paused for a breath. "When I couldn't fight anymore, the evil was able to steal something good from us. None of us realized it until it was too late. The evil got away. Something precious to us was taken."

Obi Wan stood unmoving for a moment, digesting the information Anakin had just told him. "Of course, the queen," he said. "We'll need to ensure her safety."

Anakin smiled gratefully. Obi Wan turned and sprinted up the hall.

"Ahh, exsqueeze me, Anny, butta whatta mesa ta do when yousa all fightin da evilles?" Jar Jar inquired.

Anakin thought quickly. "The guards, Jar Jar! Someone should alert the guards! Tamerlane and her companion must be found."

"Oh moi moi!" the Gungan exclaimed excitedly as he bounded off in the opposite direction. "Dis iss bombad jus lika beefor!!"

Anakin grinned, then whirled around and headed for the queen's private chambers.

Tamerlane walked briskly passed the hall which led to the throne room. She had decided to inform the captain of the guard of DiArta's thieving and then hopefully, in the ensuing melee' that was likely to follow, she'd be able to slip away unnoticed.

The Force was crackling with energy. She tapped into it, fine tuning all her senses to acknowledge everything around her. By doing so, she sensed the two jedi knights long before actually seeing them. Their combined power was impressive and intimidating, to say the least. They were drawing freely from the Force, amassing its strength.

Tamerlane slowed, gliding along the wall while trying to look inconspicuous to the occasional courtier who happened by.

The jedi were near. She had to leave this area before they located her. The thought of having to confront them was unnerving at best. She toyed briefly with the idea of leaving the palace without speaking to the guards, but DiArta was right about one thing, she was still bound to the jedi code of ethics and sense of honor. She would not let the Maschan rob the palace, even if it meant exposing herself.

The sensation of the two jedi she felt wavered slightly and divided. This told her they had separated. Tamerlane wasn't sure if this was especially good or bad.

Tamerlane stopped walking and pressed herself against the wall behind a pillar. She wondered who these jedi were and if they were actually here in pursuit of her. Maybe they were here on a mission totally unrelated to her. She hoped, but doubted it. There was no trouble in Theed worthy of their attention except her. And now DiArta.

Tamerlane started walking again, stretching out with the Force, concentrating hard to try to locate the positions of the two jedi. It became harder since they had split up. Their lifeforce was not as obvious as it had been before. One of them was definately moving away but the other was close. Very close.

She began to wonder what would really happen to her if they found her. She knew for a fact she would be hauled back to Coruscant and subjected to punishment. But maybe she would only be forced to surrender her lightsaber. But then maybe, they would sentence her to death like DiArta had said for even considering training outside the order.

She stopped walking suddenly. A sensed presence striking her like a blow to the face. She turned and looked behind her. There, at the opposite end of the hall a lone figure seemed to materialize before her eyes. Tamerlane gasped.

The jedi continued calmly walking towards her, his long mahogany colored cloak swayed gently at his heels, making his stride appear fluid and graceful.

Tamerlane inadvertantly began backing away from him. The jedi knight slowed deliberately, sizing up the situation. The force began to flow between them allowing them a connection all jedi shared.

Tamerlane's heart began pounding. She licked her lips nervously and placed her hand on the hilt of her lightsaber. "Don't come any closer," she warned him.

The jedi obeyed, slowing to a stop. His icy blue eyes locked on hers with an intensity Tamerlane found mesmerizing. She stared back at him and stood her ground, summoning the courage to respond if he chose to challenge her.

"I know what you want," she began sharply. "You've come to arrest me."

The jedi knight shook his head slowly. "No." He took a moment to let her feel his sincerity through their connection. "You've nothing to fear from me, Tamerlane. I've only came to bring you back home."

His voice was soothingly deep and melodic and Tamerlane's tension eased somewhat. She took a deep steadying breath. "Please, just leave me alone," she whispered.

"Tamerlane--"

"No! I'm not going back. I'm never going back there. I'll never be able to live down the shame I've brought on myself. So just leave me alone!" For emphasis more than anything, she drew her lightsaber and activated it. Her face became illuminated with its white gold light.

The jedi merely sighed heavily and shook his head. "Don't make me fight you," he said wearily and without the slightest trace of concern in his voice. "It's inane for you to even suggest such a thing. You can't beat me. I'll win."

Tamerlane found his arrogance infuriating. "Is that so?" she spat. "I think you might be in for a surprise." She lunged at him and he jumped back. He seemed surprised at least, that she was actually following through with her threat. He regarded her through narrowed eyes and reluctantly drew his lightsaber, circling to her left.

"This is pointless," he told her, irritation edging his voice.

Tamerlane struck at him again but he parried and shoved her away from him with his free hand.

"Caught you off guard there, didn't I?" Tamerlane teased.

The jedi smiled slyly. "Hardly." He swung at her ankles and she was forced to jump high to avoid his blade. "I really don't want to hurt you," he went on as they circled each other. "But if you insist on baiting me, I'll have no choice but to teach you a lesson."

Tamerlane shook her head. "In fencing perhaps?" She lunged and released a flurry of blows directed at him. He blocked each strike with his own blade, the sabers locking together and sizzling with lethal energy.

"I do have a reputation as an accomplished duelist," he informed.

Tamerlane grinned. "Do tell..." She lunged at him once more.

Anakin was running, not knowing where he was going exactly, but trusting the Force to take him where he needed to be.

He turned down one corridor and then the next and found himself in a series of spacious rooms. The oppulent furnishings and the crest on the wall told him he had found the royal apartments. He spied a closed door and strode purposefully towards it. Before he reached it, a handmaiden whom Anakin did not recognize came out. She spied Anakin and stopped, blocking his path.

"Who are you?" she demanded. "What is your business here?"

"My name is Anakin Skywalker. I need to see Her Majesty," he began, but the handmaiden refused to move. "Just tell her I'm here. I must be allowed to speak with her."

"Her Majesty is not receiving anyone at this time," the handmaiden countered. Anakin could feel an intense fear coming from inside her, although outwardly she appeared confident and calm.

"I need to know if she's all right. Please tell her I'm here. I know she'll want to see me."

The handmaiden glanced behind her at the door. She folded her arms across her chest defiantly and stood her ground. "No one is getting through that door."

Anakin eyed her warily. "What do you mean by no one? Are you expecting someone beside me trying to get in?"

The handmaiden didn't answer. Anakin sighed. He didn't like the idea of having to resort to jedi mind control, but presently saw no other option.

"What's your name?" he asked quietly.

She seemed surprised that he would ask such a thing.

"Charne'."

"How pretty," Anakin smiled. He raised his hand slowly and passed it once in front of her eyes. "Now Charne', you will take me in to see Her Majesty without further delay."

The handmaiden looked away as if suddenly deep in thought. "I will take you to Her Majesty without further delay," she repeated automatically.

Elated, Anakin struggled to keep concentrating. He could barely believe he had actually been able to pull such a thing off considering he had never actually tried it on anyone before.

The door opened and Anakin followed Charne' inside. At first glance, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Amidala was not there however, but Sabe' was dressed in royal robes with another handmaiden standing beside her. She stood up and looked at Anakin in shock.

"Anakin? Anakin Skywalker? Is that really you?" Sabe' asked breathlessly.

Anakin was grateful he was at last recognized. "Yes, it's me." He looked around quickly.

"Well, what are you doing here?" Sabe' continued.

Anakin shook his head. "I don't have time to explain all that. I need to find Amidala. Is she here?"

Sabe' gestured behind her. "She just left, out the back way."

It suddenly occurred to Anakin that Sabe' was not dressed as a handmaiden and that only meant one thing. She was once again acting as a decoy. But for what? Or who?

Anakin bit his lower lip and crossed the room to where Sabe' had directed. "I have reason to believe Her Majesty may be in danger," he began to explain.

Sabe' simply nodded. "We know. That is why she left. If you hurry, you'll find her. But don't worry, Rabe' and the other jedi went with her."

Anakin faced her, alarmed. "Tamerlane? Tall, blonde, pretty?"

Sabe' shook her head. "No, the apprentice."

Anakin inhaled sharply. "Tamerlane is the apprentice."

"Her Majesty was right then. She thought it was odd that the jedi who claimed to be the master was the one wearing the braid." Sabe' exchanged worried glances with the other handmaidens.

Anakin dashed towards the back door.

***

Chapter Eleven

DiArta's plan to get the queen out of her chamber in order to gain free access to her jewels had worked, up to a point. What she hadn't anticipated was the insistence of the queen and her handmaidens that she, as a jedi, accompany the queen to safety.

They hurried along the back corridor towards the passage which led to the courtyard. DiArta looked back longingly at the queen's chambers, knowing the farther away they got from them, the more unlikely her chances were of carrying out her plan.

Resigned and annoyed, DiArta's mind changed gears. By now, Tamerlane would have had time to alert the palace guards about her. Perhaps, since they were heading for the courtyard anyway, now would be a good time to simply escape.

Something else DiArta had not anticipated was a jedi running to catch up to them. DiArta panicked then, shoving Rabe' away from the queen and backhanding her so fiercely, the handmaiden was rendered unconscious. Amidala screamed, shocked and confused by the jedi's action. DiArta drew the blaster she had been given, having told them she'd lost her lightsaber, and trained the weapon on Amidala. She concluded that her only chance now was to take the queen as a hostage. Everything was happening so fast, DiArta really didn't have the luxury of thinking through her actions.

"No!" Anakin screamed. He drew his lightsaber, prepared to do whatever he had to in order to get Amidala out of danger.

"Stay back!" DiArta growled.

"Anakin..." Amidala's voice was an expelled breath.

"Let her go," he seethed and took a challenging step towards DiArta.

DiArta jabbed the nose of the blaster into Amidala's neck. Anakin saw her wince in pain and stepped even closer.

"Don't you dare!" DiArta snapped. "Or I blast her....and you. I'm getting out of here now and she's coming with me to make sure I'm not detained any longer. So you just back off."

Anakin exchanged looks with Amidala. She appeared more concerned for his safety than her own. Her eyes pleading him not to do anything rash.

"Do what she says Anakin. I'll be alright," the queen assured him.

Anakin sighed heavily and lowered his lightsaber, then reluctantly deactivated it.

"Good!" DiArta told him. "That's very smart of you. Now, put the sword on the floor and kick it over here," she directed.

Anakin tightened his grip on the hilt of his saber, staring back at the Maschan in defiance.

Angrily, DiArta seized Amidala's wrist suddenly and twisted her arm roughly behind her back, pushing her up against the wall. "Tell the boy to do as I say."

Amidala remained silent. She tried hard not to let her expression betray any pain or fear she was feeling. She didn't want him to act irrationally out of concern for her.

"All right," Anakin said evenly. "Just don't hurt her." He carefully placed his lightsaber on the floor in front of him, his eyes never leaving DiArta's.

"Now kick it over here," DiArta said impatiently and tightened her grip on Amidala's arm. The queen closed her eyes against the pain.

Anakin could feel the anger rise in him. He kicked the hilt hard, sending it skidding down the hall, and coming to rest well out of DiArta's reach.

"Now let her go," he demanded, struggling to quell his emotions.

DiArta just glared at him. She pulled Amidala away from the wall and forced her to walk ahead of her.

"I'm telling you for the last time, boy, don't try anything or Her Almightyness, gets it. They walked over to where the lightsaber was and DiArta snatched it up, tucking it securely in her belt.

Anakin watched them move slowly down the hall away from him and disappear around the corner. He rushed over to where Rabe' lay stunned on the floor and helped her up. Her lip was split and bleeding and she still looked a little dazed.

"Are you alright?" Anakin asked. She nodded slowly, then looked around in alarm.

"Her Majesty?"

"Come on," Anakin continued. "We can't lose track of them."

"Which way did they go?" she asked and gingerly touched her lip with her fingers.

Anakin's mind was racing . He knew his emotions were getting the best of him and saw this as a test of his control. He commanded his anger to leave him and cleared every thought from his mind, welcoming the presence of the Force in its stead. It filled him with a great sense of calm and he was able to hear its guiding voice.

"This way," he told Rabe' and started up the hall.

His dream suddenly came to mind. The evil from an unexpected source. Fighting Tamerlane. Being distracted and losing something precious. It all made perfect sense now. He stopped and closed his eyes. He could see Obi Wan. He knew exactly where he was at. He called to him, letting the Force carry his thoughts to his master. Obi Wan could intercept DiArta. He had to stop fighting Tamerlane and see the real enemy, the real danger that DiArta posed.

Tamerlane circled and advanced again. Her arms were sore and one of her wrists was burned. She was tired and beginning to see the pointlessness of this duel. Neither one of them wanted to actually injure the other but neither one seemed willing to back down either.

"You may as well give up now," the jedi said, retreating from her advance. "You hold your own in a duel, I'll admit that much. But you will not get the better of me."

Tamerlane swung low and was blocked easily. She stepped back, swung again and this time caught his upper arm, searing the sleeve of his cloak. He jumped back and winced. When he looked at her again, his eyes betrayed his escalating indignation.

"So where's this lesson you promised to teach me," Tamerlane taunted him.

The jedi nodded. "Very well. You want a lesson?" he panted. "How's this?" With lightening speed he rushed her and attacked. Tamerlane scarcely had time to block one blow when he advanced on her with another. He drove her back relentlessly, and Tamerlane realized how easily he could seriously hurt her if he truly wanted to. She tried lunging at him once to push him back, but he stood his ground and their sabers locked, their faces mere inches apart.

He must have seen the fear in her eyes or felt her weariness, for he backed away from her suddenly and merely stood watching her from the distance he'd put between them.

Gratefully, Tamerlane retreated as well and took the opportunity to catch her breath and wipe the sweat from her brow.

"Give me a minute and we'll pick up where we left off," she panted.

The jedi shook his head. He smiled at her, amused. "I must say, your tenacity is your strongest point. Your strength and stamina is also quite impressive. You've been well trained, Tamerlane. You have the potential to become a powerful jedi knight. Why do you wish to throw that chance away?"

"You still think I should go back?"

"You still have a lot to learn about what it means to be a jedi."

"What do I have to go back to? Humiliation and disrespect?" Tamerlane answered and cursed under her breath. "I don't have what it takes to be a jedi. Surely you can see that." She took a deep breath and lowered her eyes. "Please, just let me go. I'm no danger to anyone."

The jedi's demeanor changed. He deactivated his lightsaber. His voice when he spoke was warm and reassuring. "I see no such thing. You have the desire to be a jedi," he began. "I sense a deep commitment in you. You have courage and compassion. Don't belittle those virtues." He stepped towards her. "Granted, you're a bit unconventional, but I once knew a great jedi who was also somewhat unconventional. It was his compassion and his courage that set him apart. You can still be a jedi, Tamerlane. It's not too late. Come back with me. Resume your training."

Tamerlane deactivated her lightsaber and reattached it to her belt. She lowered her head.

"You make it sound as though I'm just a truant pupil, not a criminal worthy of punishment."

The jedi looked at her confused. "I told you, I haven't come to arrest you. The council is worried about you. They wanted to make sure you were all right. My apprentice and I were sent to find you and take you back to the temple. The masters wish to speak with you concerning your future. That is all. Why do you believe you are a criminal?"

Tamerlane looked up at him sadly. "Don't you know what I did? To make matters worse, I fled the order and have been keeping company with a thief. I'm a rogue." She paused and took a deep breath. "I wanted to go back, but I was afraid."

The jedi regarded her compassionately. "Believe me when I say you have nothing to be afraid of."

Tamerlane swallowed hard. "I have no master," she stated flatly. "He's rejected me. Even if I did go back, he will not train me."

"But there are others," the jedi continued. "Put this time behind you. Regard it as a learning experience and consider yourself all the wiser for it. You're still so young. You have so much opportunity ahead of you. Don't let pride take that from you."

Tamerlane gazed deeply into his eyes. She could feel his sincerity and his concern. She smiled wearily. "Aren't you a wise one," she teased. "And not so old yourself." Tamerlane leaned closer to him and studied his face. "Who are you?"

He grinned. "I am Obi Wan Kenobi," he said and extended his hand in greeting.

Tamerlane clasped his hand with hers and shook it. "I know that name. You should have introduced yourself when we first met. I would have thrown down my weapon right then and there."

"Ah, so I see the rumors of my reputation as a swordsman are actually true," he said and smiled.

Tamerlane nodded. "You are quite a hero in my ranks."

"Tamerlane, I--" he paused, a strange expression suddenly shadowing his features.

Tamerlane could feel it as well. The Force surged suddenly. It washed over them in a wave. A name was carried with it, a call and a plea. Tamerlane glanced around her.

Obi Wan closed his eyes momentarily and allowed his mind time to decipher the meaning behind the silent message. His eyes suddenly snapped open and he turned quickly and started running full tilt back up the hall.

"What is it?" Tamerlane called after him.

"It's Anakin!" he yelled over his shoulder. "I've no time to explain." He disappeared around the corner.

Not knowing what else to do, Tamerlane sprinted after him.

***

Chapter Twelve

Anakin and Rabe' followed DiArta and Amidala at a discreet distance. Anakin felt confident enough to let them out of his sight once or twice, knowing he could still sense their location through the Force. He could feel DiArta's tension ease slightly and looked upon this as an encouraging sign that she might be ready to let Amidala go.

For her part, Amidala walked casually beside the Maschan, her face a portrait of serenity.

After awhile, Amidala spoke.

"It's very obvious now, you are not a jedi. Who are you?"

DiArta frowned. "That's none of your concern."

"The young woman with you, is she really a jedi? Or a Sith?" the queen persisted.

"Unfortunately, she is a real jedi. The part about the Sith, I just made that up to scare you."

Amidala scowled. "That's reprehensible of you."

"I wouldn't have said it if I would have known how all of you were going to panic the way you did."

"How did you expect me to react?" Amidala snapped.

DiArta shrugged. "Everyone knows there aren't anymore Sith. And besides, what is a Sith except for a misguided jedi?"

"A Sith is a dark lord, not a jedi," Amidala corrected.

"Shut up! Someone's coming!" DiArta snapped suddenly and grabbed the queen's arm to haul her back. Up ahead, the Gungan ambassador had gathered up a platoon of palace guards. They were dashing in and out of different corridors, their weapons drawn, obviously searching. DiArta hissed through her teeth in frustration.

"Move it girl, I don't have the time to play around anymore," DiArta grumbled. They were walking quickly now, turning down a different hallway. One DiArta did not recognize. She suddenly realized she had lost her sense of direction and had no idea how to get out of the palace from their current position. Cursing, she pushed Amidala against one of the huge marble pillars lining the walls. She aimed her blaster under the queen's chin. "Get us outside right now," she declared, her voice shaking. "I know you've been misleading me. It's going to stop."

Amidala stood glaring at her. DiArta looked away from her suddenly and frowned. They both heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Amidala spared a glance up the hall.

Two jedi appeared from around the corner, racing towards them. One was Tamerlane and the other was... Obi Wan. Amidala smiled to herself, greatly encouraged by this turn of events.

The jedi both skidded to a stop and drew lightsabers a moment later as DiArta began firing her blaster at them. They deflected the shots with ease and it became apparent to DiArta she would not be able to hit either one of them. Disgusted, she turned the blaster back on the queen.

"DiArta are you mad?!" Tamerlane exclaimed. She couldn't believe the Maschan had resorted to this.

Obi Wan and Amidala locked eyes. She offered him a hint of a smile. She wanted him to know his presence was both welcome and reassuring to her. She drew strength from his unwavering gaze and felt her fear begin to dissipate.

Tamerlane spied movement down the hall at the opposite end of the corridor. Anakin and Rabe' were coming towards them, slowly, distinctly aware of the danger directed at the queen.

"DiArta, look around you. You can't win," Tamerlane began. "If there is one thing that I've learned today it's that recognizing defeat can save you a lot of time and energy." She and Obi Wan exchanged quick, knowing looks.

Anakin was pleased to see his master at the other end of the hall. He knew he had been able to reach him through the Force. He was surprised, however, to see Tamerlane standing at his side, ready to fight if need be. The Force pulsed between the three of them and Anakin drew from it, concentrating.

DiArta's eyes were wild as she darted glances back and forth between the opposite ends of the hall. She really didn't want to have to resort to blasting people, but presently had no other choice. She already knew firing at the jedi was pointless. But the boy and the handmaiden were unarmed. After all, she had his lightsaber in her belt.

"Don't mind us," DiArta seethed. "We were just leaving." She grabbed Amidala's arm and pulled her after her, as she started towards Anakin. Amidala paled and her heart sunk as she saw DiArta raise her blaster and aim at Anakin. "Sorry about this boy, but you are standing in my way."

A high pitched, excited voice suddenly filled the halls behind Anakin. Everyone was momentarily rendered motionless.

"Der dey are! Heer! Heer! I's foun dem!" Jar Jar exclaimed, running blindly into the hall with the guards at his heels.

Anakin sensed what was going to happen and felt himself moving in reaction without having the chance to tell his body to do so.

Startled, DiArta had swung her blaster around at Jar Jar and fired. Anakin stretched out his hand and deflected the laser blast away from his friend. He felt a searing pain up his arm as the blast hit his palm. The impact sent him crashing against the wall. Obi Wan screamed his name and rushed forward. Jar Jar fainted.

Suddenly everyone sprung into action. Amidala had gotten ahold of Anakin's lightsaber, deflected a laser blast with it as DiArta shot at her, and then with one expert stroke, brought the blade down. The blaster and DiArta's arm fell to the floor. DiArta screeched wildly. Tamerlane grabbed her and pulled her away from the queen. The guards quickly surrounded her and took her away. Amidala deactivated Anakin's lightsaber and ran over to him.

Shaken, but relieved to find his apprentice relatively unharmed, Obi Wan knelt on the floor in front of Anakin and helped him sit up.

Amidala threw her arms around the boy's neck and hugged him tightly. "Oh Anakin, I was afraid you had been shot!"

Anakin shook his head. "I'm all right," he stated and hugged her back. He smiled sheepishly. "This wasn't how I had pictured our time together. Considering it has been over a year, I kind of had something else in mind." He looked into her eyes and felt her warm hand touching his cheek. "I haven't even had the chance to say 'hello' yet."

Amidala smiled. "Hello."

Anakin sighed heavily. "I'm so glad you're all right."

"But you're not," Obi Wan interrupted. "You're hurt."

Anakin looked surprised. "I am?"

"Your hand," Obi Wan told him.

Anakin lifted his hand to observe his injury. The skin on his palm was blackened and raw-looking. He frowned deeply. "Ooo, ow. That's nasty."

Obi Wan shook his head at his young apprentice. "It's your own fault," he teased. "And I have no sympathy for you when you pull a stunt like that and could have very well gotten yourself killed. I hope it smarts for days."

Anakin grinned. "I was only doing what the Force was telling me to do, Master. There was no other way to stop the blast. You know what, now that I've seen my hand, it really hurts," Anakin stated."

Amidala positioned herself at his side. "Let's get you to a medic," she offered. She took a hold of his other hand and pulled him to his feet.

"Look at you!" Amidala was saying. She swept her eyes up and down his tall and slender frame. She put her arm around his waist and smiled brightly. "You've doubled in height. In another year, you'll be taller than Obi Wan."

Anakin lowered his eyes and tried hard not to let Amidala see him blush, but she took his chin in her hand and tilted his face up to hers.

"And you get cuter too," she whispered.

Anakin caught Obi Wan's amused grin out of the corner of his eye and knew he must be blushing bright red now.

Sparing Anakin any further embarrassment, Obi Wan cleared his throat and gestured at Anakin's lightsaber, which was still in the queen's hand.

"That was an impressive demonstration of lightsaber skills, Your Majesty," he began. "I hadn't realized you had used a saber before."

Amidala shrugged. "I haven't, actually. I guess I must have a little of the Force in me as well. I don't even remember grabbing it. All of a sudden, it was just there in my hand and without even thinking, I reacted." She held the lightsaber hilt out for Anakin. He accepted it from her with a grateful smile and clipped it to his belt.

Obi Wan furrowed his brow. "Just like a jedi..." He peered over at Anakin, whose eyes were locked on Amidala.

"I gave it to you," he admitted quietly. "I called the lightsaber to your hand. You were very receptive to the guidance of the Force. It was risky, but it worked." He faced his master. "Thanks for that extra practice session. It really did come in handy." He smiled again.

Struggling to keep his voice level and his anger in check, Obi Wan took a deep steadying breath. "Anakin, she could have been seriously hurt if you would have lost control of that blade. Perhaps we need to have a talk about reckless and impulsive behavior," he began.

"I'm sorry Obi Wan. I just didn't see another way. I wouldn't have let anything happen to her. I was in complete control of the lightsaber the whole time."

Anakin was looking up at him with wide apologetic eyes and Obi Wan could feel his temper wane. He sighed heavily and offered his apprentice a reassuring smile. "Go. Take care of your hand." Anakin nodded, relieved.

Rabe' took Obi Wan's place at Anakin's side. She and Amidala escorted him down the hall to the medical offices.

Obi Wan stood staring down the hall long after Anakin had left his sight. He didn't realize Tamerlane was standing beside him until she spoke.

"If I hadn't seen all that, I would have never believed it," she stated. "Who is that boy? He's fearless. And his control of the Force is unlike any I have ever known."

Obi Wan faced her. "My apprentice, Anakin Skywalker." He sighed. "I worry about him sometimes."

"How do you mean?"

"He's just now beginning to realize the things he is capable of. He feels the power inside him and uses it even though he's not sure if he can control it."

"You find that unsettling?" Tamerlane went on. "I would think you would be proud of his courage."

Obi Wan lowered his eyes briefly. "In a way... I am. He's done nothing but impress me. But I am ultimately responsible for any mistakes he might make as he explores his potential. I only hope I can teach him the proper ways to utilize the Force before he tries something and finds he has no control."

"If he makes a mistake, it will be his own fault, not yours," Tamerlane offered.

Obi Wan shook his head. "No. I am his master. His mistakes are mine."

Tamerlane swallowed hard, bowing her head. "I...wish my own master felt that way." It hurt to think he no longer wanted her as an apprentice.

Obi Wan reached up tentatively and tilted her face back until her eyes once more met his. He gazed steadily at her and sighed admiringly. She really was beautiful. He was taken by her aura of vulnerability and loneliness, and felt curiously protective of her. "Don't be sad," he whispered and bent towards her slowly, feeling himself being drawn closer by her large dark eyes. "I'll be there for you."

Tamerlane placed her hand over his on her cheek. His palm was calloused but his touch was tender. "Thank you," she sighed. She gazed back at him, her heart pounding fitfully inside her. He was so sweet, she thought. And so handsome. Her eyes traced the curve of his upper lip and she wondered what it would be like to kiss him. She parted her lips and closed her eyes in a subtle invitation. He drew her closer to him. She could feel his breath on her cheek and the warmth of his lips just before they touched hers. She felt her heart and time itself stop.

Suddenly a low pitiful whail coming from the floor just behind them made the jedi abruptly turn away from each other. Jar Jar was moaning, struggling to sit up.

"Whatta happen? Did mesa git chot?"

Obi Wan smiled and helped the Gungan to his feet.

"No. You did faint however," he told him.

Jar Jar looked around him. "Whersa very body? Iss it all ober?" He suddenly spied the dismembered arm down the hall in front of him and made a face. "Eew! Yucky!"

"Oh don't worry," Tamerlane assured him. "There were no casualties."

"Thanks to Anakin," Obi Wan added. "He saved your life Jar Jar. He could have been seriously hurt or maybe even killed. Her Highness and Rabe' took him to the medical offices. You should go and see him."

Jar Jar's eyes grew big. He clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Moi, moi, mesa indebited to da jedi agin!" He trudged off with a huge smile on his face, feeling a new sense of purpose and importance.

Obi Wan faced Tamerlane.

She gazed up at him, not sure what to say. He had almost kissed her. Even knowing he was willing to do so made her feel grateful. Perhaps she wasn't such an abhorrent criminal after all. She felt changed somehow. It was as though she was able to think clearly for the first time in a long time. She felt the Force flowing between them, conveying unvoiced thoughts and feelings. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, relishing the new serenity in her mind.

"Tamerlane," Obi Wan began softly. "Will you come back with me to Coruscant?"

She didn't say anything at first, just reached over and took Obi Wan's hand in hers. She turned it slowly over, examining it carefully, then smiled.

"Ah, I recognize it now. You're the 'other hand.' "

Obi Wan didn't bother to pretend he understood. "Excuse me?"

Tamerlane laughed lightly. She squeezed his hand once before releasing it. "Oh, just something I keep dreaming about. It's nothing really." She paused, taking a deep breath, then nodded. "Yes, Obi Wan, I'm ready to go home now."

***

Chapter Thirteen

The balcony overlooking the courtyard offered the best view of Naboo's sun as it set, which was why Amidala had taken Anakin there. Neither one of them was looking at the sky however. They were too busy looking at each other.

"I wish you didn't have to leave again so soon," Amidala was saying. "I've hardly gotten the chance to spend any time with you."

Anakin smiled easily. "You're spending time with me now..." The queen's expression remained unchanged. He sighed heavily. "I know," he agreed. "I wish I could stay longer too. But I get the feeling that no matter how long I stay, it would never be long enough." He turned and leaned his back against the stone wall surrounding the balcony. "Obi Wan and I have to go with Tamerlane back to Coruscant. We need to be with her when she appears before the council."

Amidala nodded. "Oh, I understand, really I do. But I don't have to like it, do I?"

At that Anakin smiled. "You know, a wise old jedi master once told me I have to 'embrace' change, the good and the bad. I told him the most I'd be willing to do is accept it."

Amidala nodded. "I agree with you. Maybe that 'wise old jedi' wasn't so wise after all."

"I'll tell Obi Wan you said that," Anakin teased.

"He said that?"Amidala laughed. "I take it back. Obi Wan is very wise. He's got an infuriating habit of being right about a lot of things."

"He was right about one thing," Anakin continued. "There have been good changes in my life worthy of welcoming. One of those changes was you."

Amidala lowered her eyes briefly. "Thank you, Anakin. That's really very sweet. I feel the same way about you. I think it's wonderful how things are turning out for you. When I watch you with Obi Wan, I can see a connection between you two that wasn't there before. I know it's something you've wanted for a long time." She paused and looked up at him. "You two are a team now. I'm just so happy for you."

Anakin nodded slowly and took a long slow breath. "Now that it's really happening, it's kind of scary. The first time Obi Wan needed me to be his apprentice, I panicked. I wasn't sure if I could do it."

"You did though," the queen stated. "You just need to start believing in yourself." She layed a comforting hand on his arm. "You proved today that you were more than able and I'm sure Obi Wan was impressed."

Anakin grinned. "And pissed off too. I got quite a lecture when I got back from the medical offices."

Amidala smiled. "It's only because he cares about you. He doesn't want to see you get hurt. You took a lot of risks today, Anakin."

"I know. Actually, it felt good, knowing he cares. It's so much better than when I thought he didn't." He paused and turned around, looking out over the courtyard. "I really didn't mean to take risks today. I did what I felt I had to do, that's all. Maybe there were safer alternatives but I didn't see any. Besides, everyone has such high expectations of me, I tend to go overboard trying to find new ways to impress them. You know, most of the students at the temple have been training since they could first walk. They've had their whole lives to absorb it all. I've only been there a couple of years and I'm ahead of them. I know more. I can do more. But I don't understand why."

Amidala sighed. "They wouldn't ask of you anything they felt you couldn't handle. Maybe they expect more from you because they sense you have it in you."

"Maybe." He faced her, his eyes dark with sadness. "I feel so alone there. The other students dislike me immensely. The instructor's seem convinced I already know everything they could teach me. They think I prefer to be left alone. Sometimes I hear talk about me. I'm called 'the chosen one.' But I don't know what they mean by that."

"Things will get better Anakin," Amidala told him. "You are with Obi Wan now. He'll teach you and guide you and look out for you. You're his apprentice and as his apprentice you'll be living the life of a jedi, not just learning about it. Just trust him, Anakin. He won't let you down."

Anakin smiled. "That's all he has ever really asked of me."

The sun had set and stars began dotting the sky like jewels set against black velvet. A cool breeze blew in across the courtyard and hailed the arrival of nightfall.

When Amidala rubbed her arms to warm them, Anakin took off his cloak and placed it over her shoulders. She looked over at him and smiled.

"It is so nice to see you," she began. "I hope you will get to come back to Naboo soon."

"Hopefully it will be a social visit too," Anakin remarked. "Free of life threatening situations in which you get held hostage. I don't like seeing you in danger. My heart can't take it."

Amidala leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. "At least I know whenever my life is threatened, I can count on a handsome young knight to come to my rescue."

Anakin gazed at her fondly. He smiled and placed a tentative arm around her.

"You can always count on me, Amidala. I promise."

***

Chapter Fourteen

Mace Windu leaned back in his chair and sighed. Yoda glanced over at him and nodded. Then he directed his attention back to the young jedi standing before him.

"Understand, you do, the inappropriateness of your actions?"

Tamerlane nodded slowly.

"I know what I did was wrong. I know I broke the code. I'm willing to be punished. Just let me continue my training," she said evenly.

Obi Wan shifted uneasily beside her. "Master Yoda, if I may--"

Yoda's upraised hand effectively silenced him. Yoda wanted to hear from Tamerlane first.

"Wrong you are certain?" he questioned.

"What code do you think you broke?" Mace Windu interjected.

Tamerlane frowned. "I admit," she stressed, "That what I did was wrong..."

"So, what did you do?" Ki Adi Mundi inquired.

"What do you mean? Surely you know?" Tamerlane retorted. "Please don't make me go into details. I'm very shamed by my actions."

"Tamerlane," Yoda began. "What we need to know, is why think you did wrong. Heard from your master, and worried were we. Only because fled you did. From us you turned. Think not that we could have helped you, hmmm?"

"You were still grieving, for Master Zack. Your emotions were unstable," Ki Adi Mundi pointed out.

Anakin, who had stood beside Obi Wan in silent observation of the proceedings now spoke up. "Masters, I think I can understand how Tamerlane felt. What she was going through. Strong emotions, like grief...and love, are difficult to control even in the best of circumstances. I think it would have been easy for her to mistake the bond she had with Master Seal Erons. Knowing you are loved, is a great comfort."

Tamerlane glanced over at him and smiled in gratitude. "I wanted to be loved. Perhaps this intense need I felt convinced me that I was," she explained. "You must know I would have not turned to him, if I didn't think he loved me too." She took a deep breath and bowed her head.

"We understand that the bond you shared with Master Seal Erons was strong. You not only admired him as a jedi master, but as a person," Adi Gallia added. "We understand that the way you reacted to your emotions, however inappropriate, were natural."

"Unfortunate that Master Erons feels the need to sever the bond," Yoda said, shaking his head. He looked up at Tamerlane. "Condemn you for this, we do not."

"She shouldn't be 'condemned' at all," Obi Wan said, determined to be heard. "Master Seal Erons must know that whatever crime he is accusing Tamerlane of, he was responsible for. He's the one who failed to instill in her a sense of propriety. Surely he must have encouraged her somehow, even if inadvertently. She has told me again and again that she thought he felt the same about her. If he stands so strongly in self righteousness, why isn't he here to shed light on those turn of events? He is to be held responsible, for Tamerlane is merely an apprentice. Instead of rejecting her, he should have recognized her misplaced emotions and offered her insight. Her motives are justified by her feelings. She had cause. That should be enough for you."

"Obi Wan," Yoda began solemnly. "On trial Master Erons is not." He paused and exchanged a disquieted look with Mace Windu.

"We have already spoken with Master Seal Erons and have reached a decision regarding his role in all this," Mace Windu explained. "He has been made aware of our feelings and therefore should be no further concern of yours."

Obi Wan sighed heavily, bowing his head to acknowledge the master's gentle rebuke, but felt somewhat justified in what he had just been told.

Adi Gallia sat forward and addressed Obi Wan. "What we are trying to say is that we understand. There is no crime in what she did. What concerns us is that instead of seeking out one of us, she ran away."

"I was frightened of the consequences of my actions. I thought for sure you would make me leave the order." Tamerlane chewed her lower lip nervously.

"That doesn't make any sense," Mace Windu stated. "You were afraid we would force you to take the disarming oath and leave the order, then you flee the order on your own?"

"Maybe she just needed time alone to think things over," Anakin said quickly.

"I was afraid," Tamerlane added. "I was humiliated beyond realms. I thought I had failed everyone. Failed as a jedi. I just had to leave."

"So you do understand what it is that we feel you were wrong about?" Ki Adi Mundi asked softly. "It is important that you do."

Tamerlane nodded. "If I could go back, I would have done things differently. I would have come before you and relayed my fears. I would have asked your counsel and guidance. It was very foolish of me to run away the way I did. But it was a mistake and something I have recognized as such. I will put it down as a learning experience and go forward from here." She glanced at Obi Wan. He smiled, pleased his words had made such an impression on her.

"I am satisfied," Mace Windu said with a nod. "I sense we are all in agreement."

The council members nodded silently.

Tamerlane looked shocked. "Then I am not to be punished? I'm not to be disarmed?"

"Free to continue your studies you are," Master Yoda replied. "Until apprenticed once more you become."

Tamerlane smiled thankfully. Anakin and Obi Wan exchanged triumphant looks. All three bowed deeply and turned to leave.

"Tamerlane, one moment please," Adi Gallia called. "Perhaps later you will meet me in my offices. I would like to speak with you alone."

Tamerlane nodded and bowed again. "Yes Master Gallia. I look forward to it."

Once outside the council chamber, Tamerlane turned to Anakin and Obi Wan. "Thank you both for speaking on my behalf. It meant alot to me to know someone was on my side. I've felt so alone lately. Your friendship is something I will always cherish."

She hugged Anakin and kissed his cheek. "Thank you Anakin. What you said to defend me was so sweet. You're a very special young man." Anakin smiled sheepishly and hugged her back.

"It's hard to find your way sometimes," he offered. "I'm just glad we were there to help."

Tamerlane turned to Obi Wan. "Please don't take this the wrong way," she began softly. "This is just a gift from me to you, a special thank you for everything you have done for me; everything you taught me in the short time we were together. I'm sure you'll be a fine master, Obi Wan." She captured his face in her hands and began to thoroughly kiss him.

Anakin's eyes grew wide and he tactfully turned to look out the window. When he saw Tamerlane's reflection finally step back and walk away, he peered over his shoulder at Obi Wan.

His master stood unmoving, staring down the now empty passageway with a far away look in his eyes. The hint of a smile lit his handsome features.

Anakin turned to face him. He cleared his throat until he had Obi Wan's attention.

"Isn't that what got her into trouble in the first place?" he asked, trying hard to sound nonchalant.

Obi Wan merely shook his head. "No," he began, wrapping himself in rationalism like a cloak. "Like she said, it was just a gift. Of thanks. She knew exactly what she was doing this time. I feel perhaps it was a way to test herself... to prove to herself she knew precisely what she was feeling."

"Master!" Anakin laughed. "Come on! She's had the hots for you ever since Naboo. I could tell she's been wanting to kiss you. She's just been waiting for the right moment so it wouldn't be misunderstood."

Obi Wan turned and began walking slowly down the hall passage. "I know, Anakin, so have I."

There was something about the look in his master's eyes and the slyness of his smile that told Anakin he would have to wait until he was older to understand.

The End


BeElleGee

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