Star Wars AU Episode I: The Puppet Master

Chapter 21

All around Naboo, there had been great celebrations. Long-delayed ships bearing supplies had arrived with food for the Naboo in the wake of their crop disaster and the release of the blockade. So, too, a ship arrived, bringing in the new Supreme Chancellor, Akhil Palpatine. Yet another had brought the Jedi of the High Council, while others trickled in from other corners of the galaxy. An additional ship had taken Nute Gunray and Rune Haako, along with the other surviving Nemodians away to Coruscant. In irons, they awaited the justice that the holovids of Palapatine had promised would greet them there.

Obi-Wan still felt numb as the High Council had taken Deak into a room for further examination. He had changed clothes, no longer wearing the torn garments which bore witness to the struggle that had taken place just a few short days before. Soon, the funeral would take place, and Obi-Wan contemplated the promise he had made to his dying master.

Interrupting his thoughts, Yoda walked out of the room towards Obi-Wan.

"Master Yoda." Obi-Wan moved to close the distance, giving the elder Jedi a deferential bow.

"Confer you the rank of Jedi Knight the Council does, Obi-Wan." Yoda nodded in acknowledgment of him. "Decided about the boy, we are. Progress he has made."

"Then he is to be trained?" Obi-Wan felt a knot in the pit of his stomach.

"Impatient you are." Yoda's ears swiveled forward. "So sure are you of our decision?"

I made a promise to Qui-Gon.

"A great warrior, Qui-Gon Jinn was. Much more he could have been--but so fast he ran. Proceed slowly, you must, Obi-Wan."

"He understood the boy." Obi-Wan sighed. "When others did not."

"Be not hasty to reach conclusion. Not everything, is understanding. All revealed, not at once it is. Years it takes, to become a Jedi Knight. Years more, to become one with the Force." Yoda walked to the window where the light announced the approach of sunset. "Trained, the boy shall be."

"Thank you, Master Yoda," said Obi-Wan. I shall be able to keep my promise.

"Pleased you are? So certain this is right? Clouded, his future remains, Obi-Wan. A mistake to train him, it may be." Yoda turned to Obi-Wan. "Thank me not."

"But the Council ..."

"Yes, decided." Yoda's eyes drooped as though he were sleepy. "Agree, I do not."

Obi-Wan stared at Yoda for a long moment as the sounds of funeral preparations and arriving dignitaries could be heard in the background.

"I understand." Obi-Wan picked through the eddies of the Force, "I will take Deak as my Padawan, Master. I will train him as best I can and bear in mind what you have said here. I will keep close watch on his progress, and I will go carefully."

"Your promises, then, remember well, young Jedi," said Yoda. "To Qui-Gon Jinn. To me. Sufficient it is, if you do."

"I will remember."

"To funeral, walk with me. It is time."

Obi-Wan bowed in acknowledgment, and the two walked out into the reddening light of the approaching sunset.

Qui-Gon lay in state atop the pyre as Obi-Wan entered.

About the pyre, a large group of individuals had gathered to pay their final respects towards the fallen Jedi Master. Queen Amidala stood near his head, surrounded by a half dozen handmaidens. She wore a subdued black and violet gown, her handmaidens in hooded garb of blue and violet. Captain Panaka stood near his queen. Behind them, a hundred Naboo Royal Guard were resplendent in their dress uniform. Some distance away, Obi-Wan noted the Gungans--Nass Rugor, Ianthe Naiia, and two dozen other Gungans who had been chosen to honor the outlander. Between them, Jedi--the remainder of the High Council, clusters of those who had named Qui-Gon friend, and with them, Akhil Palpatine and his guard. To one side of the Jedi cluster, Obi-Wan saw Deak.

Yoda shuffled into his place. Obi-Wan stepped behind the younger boy.

The light of sunset struck through a window of the temple, magnified by the pane. The tinder at the base of the pyre began to smoke, and then a flickering flame traced along the window-side of the pyre. The Naboo Royal Guard played a low drum roll as the flickering grew to blaze, separating into multiple fingers, merged, and finally engulfed the pyre.

Flames lit the face of Qui-Gon for a moment, and then he was gone, with only ashes remaining to be seen. Lids on several boxes slid back, and a flight of snow-hued doves rose, fluttering away in silence.

From what has been, to what shall be. The door to the past is closed, thought Obi-Wan.

His reverie was disrupted when he realized Deak had been staring at the remains of the bier. It took him a moment to recognize that it was the audible sob that had brought him from his thoughts.

"He is one with the Force." Obi-Wan put a hand on the youth's shoulder to comfort him. "You must let him go."

"I miss him." Plaintive words.

"I miss him, too." So many things that I wish were different. Now I am a Knight, not a mere padawan; yet what I would give for another talk over a cup of tea--especially now. Obi-Wan shook his head, and said, "I will remember him always. But he is gone."

"So what happens to me now?" Deak wiped away his tears.

"I will train you, as Qui-Gon would have." Obi-Wan took a deep breath, preparing for the step through the threshold to the next part of life. "I shall be your Master, Deak. You are to study with me, learn from me, and ... I promise, you shall be a Jedi Knight."

The exchange had not gone unnoticed, as Mace Windu bent to speak with Yoda. "And so it is--one life ends, and a new one begins."

Yoda shook his head. "Not so sure of this one, do I feel. Troubled, he is. Wrapped in shadows, difficult choices."

Mace merely nodded. He knew Yoda's argument well enough, but this was not the place to re-visit their discussion. "Obi-Wan will do well with him. Qui-Gon was right--he is ready."

"Ready this time, he was." Yoda's eyes dropped to a half-lidded look. "To train this boy, certain I am not."

"He defeated a Sith Lord in combat," replied Mace. "Such a thing proves his readiness for anything. And there is no doubt, the one he faced was a master of the dark side."

"And two there are, always." Yoda blinked, and his eyes remained half-lidded. "No more, no less--a master, an apprentice."

"And which was destroyed, do you think?" said Mace. "The master or the apprentice?"

"Know not," said Yoda. "Matter, it may not."

Banners hung from balconies all along the Palace Plaza of Theed. A raised platform before the palace itself stood ready for the arrival of those in the parade. For now, a holy man stood in his place atop it, waiting. Thousands of Naboo thronged along the route, the joy nearly palpable in the air.

As the time for the parade drew closer, Queen Amidala and her honored guests emerged from the palace to take their places-the Queen herself, ten handmaidens, Governor Bibble, and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Also included were the Jedi Council members still on Naboo, as well as the newly knighted Obi-Wan.

At last the celebrations began, as Captain Panaka started down the route astride a guarlara. Resplendent in his dress uniform, new medals gleamed in the sun as the noble black steed cantered down the roadway.

Behind the Captain, a small band marched. Their triumphal melody rang out, echoing against the buildings. The cheers of the gathered throngs rose to a greater volume. By now, Captain Panaka had reached the base of the stairs and dismounted. Quietly, one of the many Naboo workers took the guarlara back to the stables.

Captain Panaka climbed the stairs, moving to his appointed position on the platform from which he would watch the rest of the parade. The band passed the dais, moving to one side, while still playing a joyous tune.

Behind the ensemble, four more guarlara trotted, the Royal Crusaders easily restraining the powerful beasts. Each of the guards carried a pike which was festooned with ribbons and flowers for the occasion.

Roars of approval rang against the surrounding buildings as the open carriage bearing Deak, Ric Olié, and the other surviving members of Bravo Squadron made its way behind the Royal Crusaders. While the pikemen continued past, the open carriage stopped at the base of the steps leading to the platform and the too-few surviving pilots made their way onto the platform.

Queen Amidala stepped forward to greet each squadron member, as well as young Deak, giving them public thanks for the invaluable effort in stopping the Trade Federation.

Another band was playing now as the members marched along the route. Their tune was given an echo by the band which had finished its progress along the road, the two providing a dazzling display of contrapuntal technique.

As the two bands moved into position, each on a flank of the platform, the ground seemed to shake as the fambaa lumbered down the path, led by ornately woven harnesses. Columns of Naboo Security Forces on speeders followed, towing the inert tanks which were festooned with banners of the Naboo and Gungans.

General Ceel, astride a kaadu led the Gungans, much as he had commanded them in battle. Just behind him, Ianthe Naiia, another fresh tattoo swirling around a scar on her thigh, carried the banner of Otoh Gunga as she rode another kaadu. Just behind her, columns of Gungans marched, bearing their traditional spears. The crowded throngs of the Naboo cheered the Gungans, knowing that their freedom had been bought with Gungan blood as well as Naboo.

Last of the Gungans, rode Boss Nass Rugor on his kaadu. Still holding high the banner, Naiia waited at the base of the steps to the platform, her steed led on by Merr Oringo. As her uncle arrived, Naiia ascended with her banner, moving back when he had reached the platform, finding herself a place near Obi-Wan and Deak.

"Great parade, isn't it?" said Naiia.

"Yeah," mumbled Deak.

"Qui-Gon never liked these much either," said Obi-Wan, putting a hand on Deak's shoulder. "But he understood the need for them."

The holy man had handed a large glowing ball to Queen Amidala. She turned to Boss Nass.

"I wonder what he would have made of this one," finished Obi-Wan.

Deak shrugged.

"He would've been proud to see you a part of this," said Obi-Wan.

"You think so?" asked Deak.

"I do," replied Obi-Wan. "Your mother too."

Four hands were placed on one glowing ball-the two small hands of Queen Amidala and the large green ones of Boss Nass. The ball raised high in the air above their heads, an emblem of the genuine peace between the two peoples of Naboo.

"I wish she was here. I miss her." Deak looked away from Obi-Wan and Naiia.

"One day you will see her again," Obi-Wan reassured Deak. "But when you do, you'll be a Jedi Knight."

Amidst the activity, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine looked over, his eyes meeting Deak's for a moment.

He stood on the balcony, the twinkling lights of the multitude of stars the only light. A shadow, he stood alone in the dark. Had any been near to see, his visage would have stood dark and angry.

Years of training, and I have lost my apprentice. He should have been more than the equal of those two. Bad luck, bad chance. Even the full power of the Force cannot always overcome such things ... in the short run. He frowned, his brow furrowing deeper.

That boy, those eyes ... If I did not know better, I would think ... it cannot be. Or ... I shall watch him closely.

He walked to the railing, cool metal meeting the heat of his anger.

Those responsible for killing Iacchus shall be punished. I will not forget. All of them.

His eyes glittered. Not a total loss. I will bide my time for the rest. Now I shall lay more groundwork.

"The day of reckoning will come ... soon enough."

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