CHAPTER ONE: VISITORS TO THE ISLAND TEMPLE
It had been pointless suggesting that he wait behind. Of course, he had nodded meekly enough when she asked him to. But when Padm? reached the harbour, the barge was already afloat and Anakin was seated in its middle, an oar in each hand.
Once again, he got his way.
At first, as he paddled away from Varykino, the peaceful silence between them was interrupted only by the occasional cry from a seabird and the far-off braying of the herd animals on the island. The sweet perfume of the water lilies in the cold night air wafted between them, imprisoning them in its poignancy. Then at first tentatively and more excitedly later, Padm? broke their quiet to point out an old sight or memory she wanted to share with him. He listened with silent attentiveness, his eyes fixed on her every gesture, and her heart twisted inside her at how much she wanted to share with him, how little time they had together now and how impossible it was that they should be together at all.
They approached the small island; the dome of the stone-hewn structure in its centre loomed over them like a large cloud.
"I came here almost every day with Winama, the summer before I was made Princess of Theed." Padm?'s voice rose and fell as Anakin took hold of her hand and then her waist to help her out of the boat. She broke contact with him as quickly as possible and stepped on ahead of him. "It was a second home to me after Varykino."
If he read any significance into her actions, he chose to ignore it.
They walked side by side on the beach. Soon, the soft sand underneath their feet tapered out into a sandy path that ran through low shrubbery. The sweet smell of grass and fruit filled the air. The braying of the herd animals sounded increasingly louder and Anakin's eyes followed her pointing hand to see the sleek, white animals pacing against the far horizon. A thin old man in white robes appeared to be herding them. Padm? stopped and waved at him and he looked up and returned the gesture. The motion of his hand seemed to cut like an arc through the strong Force-signature of his aura. He was a trained Force-sensitive but not Jedi. Anakin stopped and stared. But Padm? was already moving along, walking ahead of him and he stifled his curiosity and hastened to catch up with her.
They reached the stone-hewn Temple and at Padm?'s unspoken request, Anakin waited outside the open doors while she went in. He watched her count her prayers as her steps took her around the perimeter of the circular interior. Her song-prayer echoed between the bones of his ribcage and his hands shook with hers as she lit her candles, white and black. His own eyes smarted when she blew them out softly, one after the other, still singing her prayer.
She was walking back to him as the edge of the second moon glinted against the horizon, its blue glow outlining the blades of grass in sharp blue relief and the woman in ghostly beauty. It made Anakin want to reach out and touch her, to ascertain that she was real and not just something that came and went with the moonlight and the wind.
Instead, she was the one who reached for him, and enfolded herself in his embrace.
Are you really here? Are you real?
She did not ask the words out loud. They seemed to cry out from her heart into his.
"Padm?," he murmured aloud. He tried to pull back in order to see her face but she clung to him fiercely and refused it. "What's the matter?"
She shook her head silently against his chest, then suddenly pulled away from him. She was walking ahead of him so quickly, he wondered if they had been holding at all.
CHAPTER TWO: THE BABA OF THE ISLAND TEMPLE
There was a well-worn concrete path that ran along the side of the Temple to its back, cutting a road through the carefully swept floor to the small wooden building that stood a few yards away from the Temple at the very edge of the meadow. It was a humble building, made entirely of wood, with a sparsely furnished interior that was basically one large room with three windows that faced North, East and West - the direction that the Naboo deities chose to send the winds. It was a proud building, with riches in history, peace and good memories that more than made up for its humble insufficiency of material possessions. It was the home of the Holy Man, or priest, or simply the Baba of the Island Temple and its doors were open at all times to everyone. That day they opened to the Senator of Naboo, Padm? Naberrie.
Like every man of the cloak, the Baba was a steeped traditionalist and he practised the most traditional laws of hospitality in the land. After ensuring that his guest was seated comfortably on the wooden floor, he brought out the drinking set and the special brew of Iojie, the most traditional of Naboo wines. The seed from which the drink was brewed was native to the Lake Island.
The Senator was as much a traditionalist in her own right. Right sleeve held back with the index and thumb of her left hand, left knee pressed against right ankle and jug handle daintily balanced between right thumb and middle finger in the customary way, Padm? carefully poured out the precious golden liquid into the ancient goblets. She caught the lingering drops at the sprout of the jug against the white handkerchief and with one hand, folded the cloth into a perfect triangle. She then set the jug carefully on the triangle and bent her right knee to touch with the left one. Only then did she let go of her sleeve, sit back on her haunches and place both hands on her knees.
"Bravo!" The old Baba clapped and wheezed delightedly. "That is something that no Etiquette Professor at Theed can ever teach you, I promise you."
Padm? laughed. "Winama would have been an Etiquette Professor herself if she didn't make so much money out of her sewing."
They fell silent when the Baba raised his hands to bless the Iojie and then settled into cross-legged positions at the wooden table, sipping the honey-liquid in mutually companionable silence.
The present reality blurred sleepily with his memories and he allowed himself to imagine he had somehow stepped into the past. There had been many evenings spent like this: long after the last Halo Thee, seated cross-legged on his bare floor across a tray of wooden crockery as he sipped the honey liquid in companionable silence with a petite, dark-haired, black-eyed young woman, a child really, but with wisdom beyond her years on her face. Of course, the girl from the past answered to Winama not Padm?; and while her brow was high and intelligent and her eyes grave and inquisitive, they had not been weighted and dulled with the heavy responsibilities that came with the dubious privilege of being a three-time public servant of Naboo.
Those were very old memories, indeed. Evenings with Winama and Iojie had become fewer and fewer in between after her marriage and the Naberries' exodus from their family home. The dark-eyed, dark-haired girl of the past became a white-haired tiny old widow. Many more evenings had come and gone and finally there came the evenings when Iojie could not be taken in quiet companionship between the Baba and his old child, but had to be shared with the increasingly restless presence of a small, dark-eyed, dark-haired girl child who had adopted the Baba's cloister as the childhood playground she had never had.
Those were good memories, he decided as he refocused on the present reality and the child in front of him. The past had been kind to him.
"We missed you at the Festival of Lights," Winama's granddaughter was saying. "The new Baba said you went to Theed for the Solemn Lights at the Temple."
Yes. How he had missed the Island. Canonical debates were all very well and good but academic life had long since lost its appeal for the old Baba. Now, he existed only for the pleasure of life itself: the simple Island people and their humble piety, and the animals he made-believe that he had domesticated who were both companions and sustenance. During his absence from the Island, the carpenter's son had finally wed the smith's widow (an event the Baba had been subtly orchestrating since the smith's demise last two seasons), and Nuka had delivered twin foals. His replacement, an ambitious young Baba from the Order in the North, had sent the old priest regular correspondence, and kept him up-to-date on records of the Temple accounts and local attendance at the solemnities. Births, weddings and deaths had been recorded dutifully in the appropriate ledgers and kept in waiting for the old Baba to read at his leisure. So the results of his match-making and Nuka's twins were just two more events that he had been completely unaware of until his return to the Island he called his home. And the old Baba was filled with irrational despondency when he realized how much had changed in his short absence.
Happily, the welcome of the Islanders more than made up for that. On the night of his return, the sky was shot through with fire sparklers and he officially gave the First Blessing to the stone-cutter's first-born girl-child.
The Baba pulled himself out of his reverie. "I was told you were here. Indeed, I had been surprised at not seeing you in Theed. You have never missed the Festival there before."
Padm? looked down at her goblet. "I was engaged elsewhere," she said quietly.
His brows furrowed. He had heard things in Theed, of course. The Order of Holy Men was an ascetic one, not an ignorant one. No matter how much they would want to, the Babas were not ignorant of the goings-on of their world and the galaxy at large and this particular going-on had struck very close to home.
"The point of the arrow is no longer facing you." He intoned gravely. "The danger has now spread like a cloud over our whole world."
Padm? shuddered slightly. After a moment, so did the Baba at his own words. They bent back over their drinks and sipped in a now uncomfortable silence. It was heavy, anticipatory.
"The first battle was on Geonosis, a planet in the Outer Rim. Did you know this?"
Her voice was low, soft, and filled with rhetoric nuances that the Baba immediately recognised from his long experience. She was not starting a conversation; she was beginning a confession. He sensed that this unburdening of her spirit was the true purpose of her visit.
"I was involved in that battle, you know. You could almost say that I was at the centre of it all." She raised her head and alarmed him with her humourless smile. "We had our victory, but it was an empty one. So many were lost. Almost two hundred Jedi Knights died in the battle and even now, so many of the wounded are yet to be completely healed." She added softly, "And there are some wounds that will never heal."
The Baba was not privy to all the exact particulars of the battle, but, of the casualties, he was fully aware. The hollowing in the Force that day as hundreds of Force-sensitives died violently had screamed out to him in the middle of a Halo Thee. He had been physically paralyzed for a week after that.
Padm? was still speaking. "But it might have been worth it if we had captured that ? criminal. The murderer of my friends; the terrorist whose conniving kept me a prisoner and powerless when I was needed most in the capital; the instigator of that horrible battle, this war. And even now?" Padm? faltered.
The Baba sent her a Force-whisper of fortitude.
She swallowed hard and started again. "Dooku was trying to escape and we were chasing him, gaining on him and then, I - I fell." Her mirthless, self-disgusted little laugh was frightening. "I don't know what happened after that. They left me behind and I followed them after this criminal. By the time I caught up, it was too late. Dooku had already overpowered the Jedi who had been with me. I shot at him but he was too far away. I went looking for the Jedi. Both were injured. It was only later that I was told what happened, and even then, I know there are things that were kept from me."
The hands that Padm? had wrapped around the goblet of Iojie were shaking violently.
"I should have gone after Dooku."
The self-loathing in her voice was so tangible that the old Baba flinched.
"My child -"
"No, Baba." She slammed the goblet onto the floor. The action was as violent as her voice was calm but it was the former that echoed in harmony with her spirit. "There was no excuse. I had the means to chase him as far as the stratosphere if I had needed to. Shooting a blaster after a flying vehicle was pointless. I should have taken off after him. But it never occurred to me at all. It was hours later, when I was being treated in the infirmary, that the most obvious of options" - the bitterness in her voice was poisonous - "presented itself to me."
Abruptly, she swung herself from the floor and strode to the other end of the room. The Baba placed his own goblet on the floor and forced himself to remain silent. There was something she was not telling him. Even as a small child, Padm? had always been her own worst taskmaster, forever a perfectionist whose self-expectations were higher than natural. But there was more to this than Padm?'s idiosyncrasies. There was something else, hidden, secret, shamed - and that something desperately needed to be purged from her or it would harm her badly. And he knew, not just from the sense he was gleaning from her aura, but from his own personal knowledge of this strong, wilful child that it was no light matter that she wanted to divulge to him. It was going to take time. And there was nothing he could do to hasten it.
So the Baba did the only thing that he could do: He called on the Force for guidance.
CHAPTER THREE: THE BABA HEARS A CONFESSION
It was purification - this emptying of her soul. After a while Padm? found her voice again and it was as if a dam had been broken. The only problem was tempering the emotions long enough to articulate them. Nothing was held back.
She relived the anger that inflamed in her during the sham interrogation, the bantha-court Dooku set up to intimidate and humiliate her. She relived the poisonous hatred that mounted in her as her suspicions about Dooku - that he was responsible for the assassination attempts on her life and the death of her two handmaidens - were confirmed.
She relived the moment when she finally came to terms with the fact that no rescue would be forthcoming, that she and Anakin would be killed like criminals. And she relived the emotions of fear and helplessness that overwhelmed her at that realization, the sensations of loss and immeasurable grief at Anakin dying - dying precisely because she had insisted on going on this unfathomably reckless mission.
Strong loyalties or not, personal vendetta or not, she had known her position in the matter. By getting involved in the conflict, she was directly defying an Executive Order from the Supreme Chancellor and almost certainly inflaming an already volatile situation. Apart from that, it had been foolhardy to attempt the rescue with just one Jedi as back up against a whole planet of hostiles. If she only had allowed a mind that had studied, in theory and in practice, the art of military stratagem to reason for a little longer, she would have realized that Master Kenobi's transmission would not have escaped the enemy's awareness. An elaborate trap was undoubtedly set in place for any would-be rescue mission and she had walked right into it, taking Anakin with her.
"You should not blame yourself, child. You had the right intentions."
"No, you listen to me now, child." She heard him get up from the floor and walk towards her. Her back was to him as she gazed sightlessly through the window. "We are human beings, not machines that cannot feel or err or act on anything other than hardwired programs. Our emotions do not make us weak, they make us strong. They make us loyal and brave and courageous. And to keep fighting even while afraid is the greatest kind of courage."
"Oh, Baba." Padm? sighed and finally turned to him. "I have not finished." And she turned away again, determined not to look him in the face until she completely condemned herself.
"We were to be executed in an arena. Dooku planned a grand-scale exhibition for our old friend, Nute Gunray, to watch. You must remember him, Baba. The stands were full; the whole city had probably turned up. It was going to be a big show - the troublesome Senator Amidala and a pair of Jedi fighting for their lives against wild animals." She laughed harshly. "Before we were led into the arena, we were left by ourselves in the hangar, tied to the cart so we could not escape. I was so afraid. My heart was almost beating out of my chest with fear. We were about to die. And it was all because of my foolishness. I had led him to this - I who had promised myself not so long before that I would never again be the source of pain or sorrow to him. The last person in the world I would ever want to bring harm to."
She could hear the whistle of his sharply indrawn breath.
CHAPTER FOUR: THE SENATOR AND HER MENTOR
The implication of the child's words seemed to fall over the Baba like shards of ice on his neck.
"What was death to me?" Padm? whispered fiercely. "I was dying already. Each day with him showed me everything I could ever want or need but never have. If he could be spared for my life, it would only be a continuation of the sacrifice I was already making. And I intended to continue to make it." Her voice rose. "I intended to."
She jerked away from his outstretched hand, strode across the room to the other window. "He told me, 'Don't be afraid' and I felt him then. Felt everything he felt for me. And I couldn't do it, Baba!" She wailed out the last sentence. "I couldn't send him to his death without letting him know. I couldn't go to mine without him knowing, without allowing myself to feel that one happiness, even if it was something we could never have alive. I couldn't. Oh gods!"
The Baba went back to the table and resumed his cross-legged stance. He needed the physical equilibrium not only to deal with the impact of her confession but with the tangible tremors her anguish was making in the Force. Her senses were completely agitated now and with his burden of empathy, his own senses quailed in resonance with her powerful emotions.
Determinedly, she continued. She spoke about a battle with the beasts, their escape, a surreal rescue by the clone army, the battle that ensued. She spoke less pragmatically and told him about her emotional instability in the battle: the way she rode on battle adrenaline and near-hysterical euphoria at Anakin's proximity; the way she had been unable to separate herself from him so their strengths could be more effectively targeted at different points in the battle. She had been a distraction to him, she claimed; he would have been more effective in the heart of the battle, fighting alongside another Jedi, but she had not wanted him to leave her and had not even tried to make him.
"And perhaps, you both worked very well as a team together," the Baba ventured. "You are too hard on yourself, child."
She ignored him. She repeated what she had first told him about the chase after Dooku and how she had failed to go after him.
"All I could think about was Anakin. He was hurt. I don't know how I knew it then even before I had seen him. I didn't even think about it until later - how I had known so certainly when I was not even there. He was badly injured. He lost his arm. And I just wanted to get to him, to see for myself that he was alright." She made a hissing, disgusted sound. "And how do you think he must have lost that arm? Master Kenobi told me. He came to me before my return to Naboo and he had a small heart-to-heart talk with me. After I had fallen off the ship, Anakin had wanted to drop down immediately and go to me. Master Kenobi had to plead with him to continue after Dooku. Anakin told him that he did not care if he was expelled from the Jedi Order." She gave out a muffled choking laugh. "And his Master didn't tell me in so many words, but I have no doubt why Anakin fared so badly against Dooku in that duel. I have no doubt where his mind was when he was supposed to be fighting. Just as my mind was nowhere on Dooku when I felt Anakin's pain."
Her voice tapered to a whisper and fell silent. For long moments, she stood still and unyielding by the window. The silence in the room was too profound for the Baba to dare break it. Then her shoulders rose and fell in a loud sigh and slowly, she turned to face him. Her face was completely dry of tears but he had a strange feeling that they were there all the same, running down the insides of her cheeks, making little tracks on the underside of her skin.
She had finished her confession. Now it was his turn.
The Baba started to speak and then stopped. He was at a complete loss for words. No matter how many times he met a penitent in this state, he would always find himself weakened and floundering with indecision. How was he to help someone who felt so undeserving of aid? And he was wrung out and exhausted by the proximity of her emotions, her agony.
He calmed his spirit and sank into the Force again, calling on it for more specific guidance. The Force swelled in and around him, connecting him to everything that had life and he felt, not only the emotional turbulence of Padm? Naberrie, but the spirits of all the living things on the Island (there was one that blazed with such power that he knew it to be the Jedi that she had come with), he could feel all their hopes and fears, dreams and aspirations. On the subject of what to do with the child in his home, the Force was silent.
Apparently, the Force had a lot of confidence in him.
The Baba opened his eyes, stared at once at the child's unhappy face, and tried to instil as much confidence in himself. He had tried to appeal to her emotions and had failed. Perhaps simple cold logic would be more amenable to her.
"There is a connection between the both of you, you and your Jedi," he said matter-of-factly. "It generally happens when such a strong emotional bond is made with a powerful Force-sensitive."
There followed a long and heavy silence during which Padm?'s eyes widened and filled. He flinched instinctively in expectation of the emotional backlash. It came, but not all in the way he expected.
The child burst into laughter. While he looked on in shock, her voice rose in a hysterical scream and she collapsed smoothly onto the wooden floor, sliding down to it with her back against the wall.
"Oh, Baba! How proper! How dogmatically defined. A connection! An emotional bond!"
The laughter was an alarming sort of relief. Hysteria was purging some of the bitterness and self-condemnation. She was now looking at him with frank fond amusement.
"What would you have me say?" he murmured with wry caution. "A grand passion? Unfathomable and overwhelming love?"
The child giggled hard. Then she bent her head into her hands and sobbed.
Oh my child.
"Oh, my child!" He sighed. "Believe me, when I say that you are not the first to be seduced by a Force-sensitive -"
"Ani did not -"
He cut off her sobbing protest. "Or to seduce a Force-sensitive, if you prefer," he corrected. His voice became deliberately teasing. "You are, after all, the extremely attractive older participant and the Jedi is what? - an adolescent Padawan? What a scandal, Senator Amidala!"
She made a snuffling noise that sounded like a strange mix of sob and laugh.
"Even the more religious of Force-sensitives have strayed, you know," he continued conversationally. "Even," his voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper, "the Babas of Naboo."
Padm? made the noise again, but it sounded like the laughter was winning. "You old virgin fraud!"
It was winning and she becoming distinctly irreverent.
"Excuse me," he said in only partly mocking indignation. "Just because I'm old now, doesn't mean I wasn't young and dashing at a time. I cut quite a figure when I first came here as a young man. Caused a scandal or two of my own, you know." He puffed up with mock-pride. "I could teach that Jedi of yours a thing or two about women, you know."
"Yes. And first would be: never go for a self-righteous politician." - Another snort from Padm? - "A self-righteous woman, yes. A corrupt politician, yes. But a combination of both? No way." She raised her head and he could see a tremulous smile through all those tears. He winked at her. "Lousy in bed, too."
"You are a dirty old man," she declared, thickly but firmly. "Winama would be rolling in her grave by now."
"Now, Winama - I can tell you a thing or two -"
"And I will practise the one or two moves I've fantasized about using on Dooku on you," she murmured sweetly.
The old Baba laughed and watched her fondly. The hysteria had been good for the child. She was visibly calmer now. He sighed with satisfaction and began the increasingly awkward process of gathering his limbs to him to push off from the ground. Padm? hastily rubbed her hands against her face, got to her feet and despite his rebuttals came forward and helped him.
"Your Iojie must be stone-cold by now," he said when he was on his feet. "You came to my house in the middle of the night to waste my carefully brewed Iojie and scandalize me with your salacious affairs with Jedi Padawans."
"One Jedi Padawan," she corrected him needlessly. She wiped her hands vigorously with the sterilizing cloth he handed to her, then started clearing away the Iojie. The etiquette for clearing, like that of setting, was steeped with complete customs and Padm? seemed determined to get every one right. "And I am not having nor have I had a salacious affair with him. For your information, we have an emotional connection. Not a physical one."
Padm? missed the last step. If the Baba had not over-anticipated her motion as she handed him the kettle, the old piece of crockery would have shattered on the floor.
A pair of troubled brown eyes were looking up at him. All trace of lightness had vanished.
"Baba," Padm? whispered. "Are you encouraging me, Baba?"
He gave her a sideways glance, his old ears hearing far more than her words, his old eyes seeing far more than her face.
"Are you ready to accept anything else?"
She blushed a little but she also lifted her chin. "I came for your advice, Baba."
He took his time answering, taking the kettle to the window and cleaning out the drinking goblets with the hot water before emptying it out and placing it carefully with the rest of the Iojie cutlery on the side table. He shook out the sterilizing cloth and spread it on the window to dry. All the while, Padm? followed him and assisted him with her eyes never far away from his face. He finished at last and turned to her.
"Come here, child." She gave her hand to him at once and stood before him, staring up at him with trust in her eyes. "I have known you since you were eight and your grandmother lodged you while you schooled in Theed. I may be an old religious recluse, but I am not completely unaware of the affairs of my home world. I know the courage with which you have served Naboo." She started moving her head and he shushed her at once. "I know the tangible and personal sacrifices you have made for your people. There is only so far you can carry a burden without needing a shoulder to share it with. You were a woman in need of love. And this Jedi came and gave you his heart. This man whom you have admired and have been indebted to since he was a boy of nine. And yet, you fought against your feelings for him, denying them, making him and yourself utterly miserable in the process." He smiled slightly. "But for how long can one battle against one's heart? I do not believe any other woman could have fared as well as you against this temptation."
"Oh, Baba." She cried despairingly. She closed her eyes and shivered. "What do I do? What do I do?"
"What does he want?"
"Anything I want. He would do anything I say. How perfect can a man get?" The child's mouth twisted into a sad smile.
None of that again! He quipped at once, "Well, if only I was a little younger?"
The sadness faded into soft laughter.
He insisted, "So what do you want? You have spoken to me about your feelings. You have spoken to me about your duty. But of your desires, of the - yes, selfish - wishes of your heart, you have made no mention. Tell me now, my child: if there was nothing standing in your way, if you and your young man were just two ordinary people who lived in a galaxy where the Jedi Temple and the Senate Dome did not exist? what would you want for yourself? What would you take?"
The effect of his words were instantaneous. She glowed - her face and her soul, so brightly and freely that he was overwhelmed by their sheer brilliance. She stood in front of him, burning him with her incandescent aura and it was a relief when she slipped her hand out of his and walked away.
Her steps took her to the third and last window, the one that was shuttered against the Northern winds. The deity that sent this wind was the bringer of gifts. He was the one to fear, for his blessings always came with a curse. A light breeze raised the tiny hairs on his skin when she lifted the shutters and the Baba just barely reined in the superstitious urge to dash forward and shut them. Instead, he bravely came to stand behind her and, wincing slightly, followed her gaze to the meadow below. The sight that met his eyes sufficiently distracted him from thoughts of vengeful deities and old folk-lore. His wild/tame herd were moving in a rough but definite circle around the wiry, blond man who stood in their centre, gloved hands outstretched to hold up the half dozen or so small birds that perched on his arms. But more than the strange behaviour of the animals, what fascinated the Baba was the bright Force aura of the man. Even shielded as it was now, it was as brilliant and as powerful as a supernova. The Baba had never seen anything like it. It was incredible.
"I would take him," Padm? whispered fiercely as she gazed at her Jedi. Her own aura was still glowing powerfully. "To own him. To be owned by him. I know what I feel is selfish and wrong. I know what it will take from him if we are discovered. I don't want him to give up his future for me. I don't want him to be the one to give up anything for me.
"So how can I still want him?"
The Baba let her answer her own question.
"Because I feel in my heart that the deep cloud that has spread over the galaxy will not pass by any time soon. I feel in my heart that I will not be there when it does clear. And I want to hold unto the things I love most while I have life within me."
The child's voice resonated in his ears like a far-away echo. And suddenly the old Baba realized that he could no longer feel her presence by his side. He could no see the young Jedi in the meadow. The old Baba's vision had shifted out of the scope of time and space. His eyes were seeing further than the edge of the island, further than the world of Naboo, further than the fringes of Time itself. He had asked the Force for guidance and now the Force was answering. He could hear the echo of Its Will speaking like a guiding spirit in this child's words and he could see the reality of Padm?'s fate in the stark vision of the future that was being shown to him.
For the first time in a long time, the Baba felt the burn of tears sting his eyes.
He blinked them away and the meadow was spread out in front of him. He had returned. He could see now that the herd were moving in a distinct pattern, a kind of rudimentary dance, around Anakin Skywalker; the perched birds were singing in distinctive harmony; the Jedi appeared to be conducting them all through the Force. Padm?'s presence was patient, waiting for his counsel as she looked on at her Jedi and the Baba knew that although he had felt caught up in the vision for years, no time had passed at all. Her aura was still a brilliant infusion of light beside him and it warmed his own frozen soul.
The Baba drew in breath. Three times he opened his mouth to speak. Twice, he shut it in silence.
The third time, he said finally: "People are not possessions to be owned, Padm? Naberrie." His voice, cryptic and dry, had never sounded so old to his own ears' before. "Therefore, I suggest?" He faltered. She looked away from the window and up at him, her eyes wide and trusting.
How could he do this?
But the Force was like a hand on his back pressing down on him and urging him to speak the words that would force its Will and condemn this child. He was a Baba of Naboo, a father of the people, their guide and guardian; but he was, first and always, a servant of the Force. He did not even know how to begin to rebel now. If the Force wanted a sacrifice of one of his herd, then - he would make it.
"I suggest that if you feel so possessive towards this young man, you had better marry him."
CHAPTER FIVE: PENANCE
The sun was setting on the Lake Country, its blazing lights on the surface of the lake reflected back like a sheen of blood. The Holy Man stood between the young couple and guided them through the words of the ancient holy language that joined them together forever.
The young man reached for his wife's hand.
The dying sun seemed to brand them into the Holy Man's memory: her slender beauty, dripping in pearls, her eyes shining with an unearthly emotion as she stepped up to her husband; his face, glowing with exultant joy, burning away his wife's fears.
The Holy Man closed the ancient book and walked away from them.
His canoe was halfway across the Lake when the sun set, its brilliance easing into the night. The Lake was now an inky black surface; the utter darkness seeming to mute even the sounds of the animals. Old instinct guided him as he steered towards his home.
The Force does not like extremes.
It thrives on balance.
The joy you feel now will equate with the price you will pay later.
I would wish you happiness my children.
But I cannot oppose the Will of the Force.
From far-off came the braying of a young foal. One of Nuka's twins was crying for its shepherd. A restless seabird called out into the night and it was answered by another. The edge of the horizon glowed white with the light of the first moon.
By the time the canoe reached the shore, the dim moonlight had turned the Lake to molten silver. He pulled it into the natural harbour, feeling the strain on his back as he did so. He had never felt so old. He turned back to look at Varykino.
Two figures leaned side by side against the balustrade and each other, the splendour of their love made ageless in the moonlight.
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