In shadows, there is light. In strength, mercy. In duty, sacrifice.
I believe that inside one, there are two. A balancing.
I believe we create our own light and our own darkness – and that in the universe and the Force exists a grey, an essence that is good, bad and neither at the same time. Through that impartiality, we create our footsteps. We trap ourselves in our own cells. We create our own happiness. We decide our own right and wrong.
We kill ourselves slowly, gently.
I believe the trap is to trust that there is only one side to a surface, that the angles have become curved.
I believe that consequences should be decided before actions. That innocence should be claimed before guilt. That youth should never be lost before age.
I uphold the principles of honour, loyalty, and obligation. I realise the significance of what was entrusted to me. Know that I did not ask for this sacrifice, but that it cannot fall to another.
My responsibility weighs upon me. It is the heat on my shoulders, the nightly suffocating pressure on my chest and the weariness in my bones come morning. It is also my voice and my tool. It is a part of me that I never wanted. It is the part of me that calls for judgement. It is my little voice that demands.
It thinks it has won. I have made a decision I thought I would sooner regret than accept. Know that it was never my only choice. Know that freedom of choice makes life more individual, unique. Fact. But a promise is a vow that should not be broken.
My birthright is my burden and my promise to life and each breath.
In dark periods, there must be light. In night, there must be stars. I believe that there is no balance without contrast.
There must be grey. There are more sides to my struggle.
I must find personal balance.
“Queen Mother, can you hear us?”
Thought, confusion, frustration – all one.
“She is drifting back into unconsciousness!”
Shaking, definitely shaking.
“Queen Mother, you have ingested…” Ah, explanation. “We require you…”
Too late. Vertigo.
“In Dathomiri culture, stories have a much deeper meaning than on Hapes. The art of storytelling is just as valued as the story itself. Good stories, my daughter, do not find creation on flimsy. Tales of the heart are most often fact. Stories that are fantasy and exaggeration lose their enchantment with every generation. A priceless story is one that can be enjoyed by all because it is familiar to all. A story is a legacy. It is an entity that can be passed and shared amongst many people.” Patient pause. “Do you understand, Tenel Ka?”
From my vantage point in a room atop one of the Palace’s spiral towers, I can observe the entire Hapan capital. The sun’s red-golden hue cloaks the city structures in a gesture I find quite beautiful and distracting.
“Daughter, your mind has wandered.”
I refocus my attention on Mother.
“My thoughts are with the sunset,” I respond.
Mother leans over to examine the view for herself. “Most appealing,” she agrees. “Such a sunset would be more breathtaking on Dathomir.”
“I am sorry, Mother. Please continue.”
Mother returns to relaxing in her chair. Her features are tranquil and I sense she has many pleasant memories of times spent exchanging stories with our kin.
She resumes the lesson slowly, contemplating every word. “Pace is imperative. A story with a rapid pace will leave listeners feeling deprived and unsatisfied. However, if the story is far too slow, listeners will lose interest and the result will be same. You must seek to find a balance, Tenel Ka.”
Mother’s words echo in my head. I feel an unexplainable connection with her choice of phrase. In the back of my mind, seemingly at a distance, I hear something snap and ricochet.
“Mother, you speak of balance,” I say.
“I must speak of many things with you, daughter.”
I frown. “I find your words perplexing, Mother. What more does this lesson concern?”
Mother strokes her palms along the arms of the chair. “The lesson was merely secondary to the genuine issue. It is your story that needs to be addressed.”
“But I have not crafted anything,” I argue.
“Tenel Ka,” Mother replies in a tone that is both gentle and reprimanding. “Life is your greatest story of all. You have nothing that is of a higher value.”
Mother meets my gaze. There is intensity in her eyes.
“Concentrate,” she instructs. “In the years of your childhood, Tenel Ka, I desired to be there for you when you encountered a crack or stone in your path. I was also mindful of my culture’s teachings. I did not want to create a daughter too consumed by secular values. It was required of you to be both a daughter of Hapes and witch of Dathomir. You will find those two elements are frequently incompatible. I struggled with this task.” Mother’s tone lingers on the last sentence.
“I know you also grappled to find your place. But, in hindsight, I feel I distanced myself from you. I was Queen Mother. I was leader. I had learnt how to rule sixty-three worlds, but I could not guide my daughter. It was in those times, I saw your courage and determination. There were moments when I wanted to express how proud I was of you, but I could not find the words.”
I grasp my mother’s hand tightly, entwining our fingers. “Mother, please, what must you say?”
“When you returned to Hapes, following your mission into the heart of the Yuuzhan Vong, I felt a change in you. I knew there was a weakness inside you that was horribly penetrating. But, Tenel Ka, there was always hope. In one, there are two. You drew your greatest strength from periods in your life where you refused assistance. My inability gave you resistance to such deep sadness.”
Mother cups my face tenderly. Her hand slides down my cheek, and in that movement, I feel intense sorrow.
“You accepted the throne, the crown, and the responsibility and tradition that explicably bind the Cluster. But, unknowingly, you created a thinning in your barrier between surface and core. You lost your perfect control of emotion. Daughter, you’re continually waiting for the shape to shift, to perceive the other side. You will never admit, but you want someone to force truth upon you – truth that this life cannot remain the same. Truth that it is just the beginning of a much longer journey.”
Mother sighs and hidden lines of age strike discord across her features.
“But who do you have to serve that purpose?”
I consider the recent turmoil in my life. I picture those who have stood at my side when my shoulders fell imperceptibly and my back was turned. I recognise their duty to the war effort. I do not criticise them for leaving me after the coronation.
His memory makes me falter. His death through the Force persists in making me lose… semblance. I know there is no way I will see his face again. I grieve. I mourn in silence… for there is no one who would hear me; still I know that does not make my pain any less.
Mother senses the tidal wave within me. She reaches out and pulls me into an embrace, where I rest my head in the curve of her neck. She soothes me in a way I’ve always associated with warmth.
“Mother.” My voice is shallow. “Your distance never made me wary of your love. You were never cold to me,” I insist. “You are my mother. I miss you terribly.”
Mother tightens her hold on me.
“Each night, I yearn to hear your teachings and to sit in this room once more. I regret you never had the chance to prepare me for the throne. I always felt you withheld something.”
“I never expected you to be Queen Mother.” Mother chuckles. “You are a Jedi, daughter. A protector of law and justice, a defender of innocents, and an exceedingly skilled warrior.” Her voice becomes stoic. “Your place is not mine.”
Mother sighs and I draw back. Her eyes appear clouded.
“I suspect I could have never given the throne to anyone so young and full of life.”
“But I am Queen Mother.”
“Fact,” Mother answers. “As you shall always be from the moment the crown is transferred.”
“I was as you are. My first year as Queen Mother was a beast I felt I could never defeat. My life was living between the very thin lines of professional and personal. Isolder was, at times, utterly alien to me. I felt I had never been so alone in my life. I felt it in my entire being.
“But there was light inside darkness. As darkness lives within the purest being or object. There was eventual balance.”
“Mother, forgive me, but the circumstances…”
Mother interrupts me. “Tenel Ka, you have learnt my teachings well. However, when you are troubled, you will not listen to yourself. There is always balance. There is never one side but two, three or more.”
Mother grasps my shoulders and pulls me to my feet. “You must not worry if you have erred in your decision. It is far too late to undo what has already been done. You must accept, my daughter, that the Force has a special path for you.”
“Now,” mother says casually, turning her attention to the elegant Hapan tableware set placed on the stand beside her chair. In the back of my mind, I question why I did not notice the setting. “Please attend to our guests, daughter. They have been waiting.”
We have guests? Does the setting necessitate guests?
Mother looks at me and then indicates to the door with her eyes.
Someone is knocking. Did I not notice that before?
Mother does not seem concerned by her visitors. Mystified by the sudden turn of events, I walk to the door. The visitors continue to knock until their incessant pounding rings in my ears. Glimpsing over my shoulder at mother, I see she has stood to greet the guests.
“Will you not open the door, Tenel Ka?”
I reach for the keypad, but the door slides open before I issue any commands.
Odd. The hallway is empty. The visitors are… absent.
I step across the door’s threshold. The door immediately slides close behind me and Mother is gone. I spin around, searching for the keypad. Another peculiar circumstance. The door has no keypad or access panel. How does it open?
The hallway is still and empty around me. The Palace is not renowned for a lack of activity. This causes my curiosity to intensify. Attempts to open the door are not successful and I begin to suspect I should follow the hallway.
I should honour her. I should listen. The guests; they must be somewhere.
A voice breaks the silence. I recognise the familiar tone. I strain to calculate its origin, but it is not until I hear several faint shuffles on the marble that I am certain. I break into a quick walk, following the long length of the corridor, listening, inspecting. The voice is closer to my location. I turn a corner and from nowhere, I am bombarded with a stretch of activity.
Before me, Colonel Jagged Fel and several of my Fleet admirals are in deep discussion. Jag’s, however, is the only clear voice amongst the assembly.
They halt their conversation and acknowledge my presence.
“Queen Mother Tenel Ka, where have you been?”
Jag strides towards me, worry entrenched on his face.
My reply is jumbled. “I am…seeking…visitors.” I clear my throat. “My mother has lost her guests.”
Jag frowns. His expression softens and his tone loses its sharp edge. “Queen Mother, I am sorry, but Her Majesty is dead.”
The blonde-haired admiral, D’jarna Paarn, adds delicately, “With all due respect, Your Majesty, what you say cannot be true. Queen Mother Teneniel Djo has been cremated. You were in attendance.”
Placing my hand on Jag’s arm, I ask, “What is the current situation?”
“I am preparing the Hapan fleets to cooperate with the New Republic and Imperial taskforces, by your order.”
I search my mind. “This is a fact.”
With a bow of their heads, the Fleet admirals continue their discussion. Jag takes me aside. I remove my hand from his arm and lean closer to hear his hushed words.
“Are you well, Queen Mother?”
“Tenel Ka,” I correct.
His voice has takes on a more personal tone. “Are you ill, Tenel Ka?”
I shake my head.
“It is just as well. Your Hapan admirals are not pleased with your decision to give me command of the fleets. They believe it very obtuse of you to entrust a matter of such importance to a man, much less a non-Hapan.”
“It is not their place to question,” I say.
“It is normally not my place to command Hapan fleets.”
“You will adapt,” I say, flatly.
Jag leans against the wall, his arms fold across his chest. “Have you adapted, Queen Mother Tenel Ka?”
The answer does not come to me at once. “I believe…that in adaptation, there is a stalemate. A form of balance between two sides.”
Jag smiles. “A politician’s answer.” Straightening his uniform, he declares, “I will command your fleet, Tenel Ka. The war will end.”
He glances back at the admirals, studying the females, monitoring. “It is your crown, Tenel Ka. They are your people. You are the law. You may do as you please.”
He does not wait for my response. Jagged Fel and the Admirals depart just as hastily as they were encountered. I have a feeling I cannot follow them.
I take the opposite path. The corridor bends in a manner I find disconcerting. The real Palace does not have such twists and turns. It is based on symmetry. I become even more cautious when the corridor starts to narrow until such time my arm space is depleting. The further I trend, the darker it becomes.
I recoil when I feel the wispy touch of vegetation brushing along the length of my arm. I spin on my heel and see only darkness where I have walked. At least ahead of me, there is a chance the undergrowth blocks the light. I continue and the growth embraces my sides, enclosing.
My suspicions are fact and I picture the bizarre pathway ending at the light. It illuminates the vegetation. Gaudy vegetation. Kaleidoscopic.
My heart jumps. I quicken my pace. The light nears.
An invisible wind blows the vegetation. It shudders, trembles.
My heart leaps into my throat when I feel slick hands encircle my legs. I’m yanked to the floor, red hair whipping around my face. I am winded, my lungs burning. That does not delay my surprise at seeing a Yuuzhan Vong leap onto my chest. I growl at the alien and struggle as it attempts to subvert me. My hand is around its throat, fingers clawing at the mutilated skin.
I feel its upper body tense. I strike with my legs, knees colliding with its midsection, and then retract. I deliver another blow with the same potency, which throws the being. I scramble to stand, ready for the next assault.
My eyes widen at the sight before me.
The Yuuzhan Vong has disappeared and in its place is a breathtaking sight.
His eyes lock with mine.
Solo. But how?
Jacen is dead. He’s dead. Gone. He was ripped from me. But my mother, also gone, yet… here.
He smiles and I mimic.
He motions for me to leave the narrow corridor and experience the light that bathes him. I do not bother to resist. We embrace on the threshold of light and I can feel his face in my hair and his lips against my neck. My breathing is still heavy from the fight. My hand wanders to the back of his neck. I clutch him.
He whispers words against my skin several times. His voice thrills me as I clearly hear him say, “Your Majesty.”
It radiates through me.
He pulls back and looks into my eyes. “Is this how you greet a friend, Queen Mother?”
“You are not a friend, Jacen.” Our foreheads touch. “Who sent you?”
I should not question him.
He smiles. “Your mother. She says love has balance.” His hand strokes my hair. “True?”
I nod. Jacen steps away from me, his arms returning to his sides.
I do not recognise the room Jacen occupies. The walls are intended to be a stark white, but living Yuuzhan Vong vegetation clings to them. It infects, invades, the white. This white space has no furniture. It is bare. Bleak. A deception. My mind rebels at the thought of captivity in this white sea.
Jacen drifts across the space at… home, as strange as it sounds to me.
“Tenel Ka, do you remember when you pretended to be anything but a Hapan Princess? Do you remember that feeling?”
“Refreshing,” I interject.
“Lying,” he counters. “A lie inside what you considered to be another lie.”
He touches the wall, dangerously close to the living plant organism. “But you should understand that you’ve always been special. Your birthright is special. Hiding the truth isn’t going to change the fact you’re an extraordinary woman. You’ve helped to define yourself with the crown.”
The organism senses a presence and edges closer. “I know you believe you’re killing yourself,” he states. “I know you believe you can’t see the stars through the clouds. I know I’m… missing.”
He twirls around. I see the organism retreat, once again immobile. “If I’m done and buried, show me a body.”
“You may experience a feeling,” I respond, solemnly.
Jacen approaches me. “You’re not alone, Tenel Ka. Don’t do this all by yourself. It doesn’t need to be like this for you.”
Hesitantly, he touches my cheek and, with his other hand, pulls me to him. “There’s pain, Tenel Ka. Things will get better, not worse.” His brow knits and a look of sympathy graces his face. “You haven’t got much more to lose, have you?”
I do not respond.
“I’m there for you, Tenel Ka.” He grits his teeth. “Force, I care. You’re supposed to protect royalty, you know. I’ll protect you, Tenel Ka. If the rain falls, I’ll be there to shield you. If you fall, I’ll catch you. Just give me time.”
We embrace again. I desperately wish he were able to keep every promise he had ever given.
“Do you see how the Yuuzhan Vong plants flourish amongst the white?” For emphasis, he points to the larger specimens.
I find my voice. “What does it mean, Jacen?”
He smiles. “I thought you would know.” He kisses my cheek gently. “It’s balance point, Tenel Ka. It’s a line bordered on both sides by abyss. It’s there where everything has life, symmetry, harmony. And every being, every living entity, has the potential to find balance point. For most, balance point is achieved the moment before death. It’s mistaken for clarity.
“Balance point is the line between everything. You suspect the universe and the Force is grey, Tenel Ka. Good, bad, neither. But balance point is good, bad, and grey. Two concepts sharing much the same foundation, yet innumerably different. Grey is what you are given at conception. Balance point must be found, discovered, and even realised. A form of enlightenment, isn’t it?”
A question surfaces – perhaps one of the most significant I have ever asked.
“Are you at balance point, Jacen?”
He grins impishly. “I am not between everything, Tenel Ka.”
I feel him pull me closer against his chest. And in a very realistic manner, I feel safe.
“You are Queen Mother, Tenel Ka. I can’t tell you if you made the right or wrong decision. You have to accept. You’ll never see yourself as something you’ll always want to be. But there is a balance point for everyone.”
“Is that my truth?”
“Your fact.” I can feel Jacen’s eyes on my lips. “And you wanna know another fact?” His tone is husky in a way I find most alluring. His breath is clammy on my skin and his hands are hot along my waistline.
His lips hover over mine. I feel anxiety and exhilaration in the same instant.
“Is it pleasing?” My lips barely touch his as I enunciate the words.
“I want to kiss you now, Tenel Ka. Do you think balance permits us?”
My hand travels to the back of his neck and I force our lips closer. “Demands,” I answer.
I initiate the kiss. He instantly warms to my action and deepens our connection. Out of habit, I reach for the Force, embrace and probe my bond with my mate. The link remains in tatters. He stands in my arms, tangible, but our heart is still dead.
His kiss is beautiful. It stirs emotions I have always been able to suppress. Yet, in spite of that, I feel something inside me float and then dive. I suppress a flinch.
Jacen ends the kiss softly. I feel as though his infectious grin wants to imprint itself against my lips. He brushes red tresses from my face.
“I am with you.”
I want to believe.
He embraces me firmly. My head rests on his shoulder and I can smell him, an aroma that tickles my nose and has repeatedly kept me awake all night in desire.
I miss you, Jacen Solo.
I push my face against his neck.
“I saw her move, Anaqu! She is awake!”
“At last! Queen Mother…”
My eyes snap open. I see sudden, blurry movement. Women. I momentarily scare them.
“Your Majesty, you must respond. It has been two days.”
My mind is fuzzy. I think of Mother, Jacen, and Fleet Admiral D’jarna Paarn… odd.
Daughter, you’re continually waiting for the shape to shift, to perceive the other side.
It’s balance point, Tenel Ka. It’s a line bordered on both sides by abyss. It’s there where everything has life, symmetry, harmony.
“Balance point,” I whisper. My voice is scratchy.
“Your Majesty? What is balance point?”
I try to smile. “The solution. The… eventual balance.”
The two women talk to each other in murmurs. It does not concern me. My thoughts are with my vision.
“Your Majesty, two days ago, you were infected with a dangerous toxin. It was believed you would die.”
I push myself up on my elbows, but the speaker thrusts her hand against my chest and encourages me to rest.
“How do you feel, Queen Mother?”
The woman raises an eyebrow.
My eyes stray from the attendant to the closed doors of my balcony. Outside, I observe a gust of wind propel a Hapan flag into the air. And as a backdrop, a flawless atmosphere, the sun sets.
In one, there is more than we perceive. Balance will come. I am prepared for the journey, Mother, Jacen… love.
Original cover by obaona. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.