The Viceroy was in our hands and the droid army deactivated. The battle was over but naturally there remained much for me to do: I had to arrange secure quarters for the captured Neimoidians, organize tranports to ferry my people back to their homes, find food and medical supplies not only for the Naboo but our new allies the Gungans, and deal with the usual hundred people with a thousand problems all needing the Queen's decision now. But for all that it still took me an unforgivably long time to realize the Jedi were missing. Not until after Commander Olie reported in and told me it was Anakin who'd destroyed the control ship. It seemed my small friend had been in the fighter that fired on the droidekaas before taking off. If only I'd known! Not that it would have done any good. Oh well, at least Ani was safe, I sent Eirtae to look after him.

Then I finally began to wonder where the Jedi were. It was odd that they hadn't reported in. I asked but nobody seemed to have seen either of them since we left them in the hanger facing that terrible creature with the red and black painted face. I felt the first twinges of worry ordered a search of the Palace's lower levels and tried to get on with the rest of my work.

Finally Panaka returned. "We found them." he reported, grim faced.

I felt all the blood in my body drain down into my toes and congeal there. I had time to think 'How am I going to tell Ani?' before Panaka realized he'd frightened me and hurriedly explained.

"They're alive, your Highness, apparently unwounded but unconscious." he gestured helplessly, "I don't understand their condition. They've been taken to the Healing Center."

To hell with dignity, I ran all the way and burst in red faced and panting. Luckily the doctor assumed from my dress I was one
of my handmaidens. She was as mystified as Panaka. "Jedi have strange powers," she shrugged, "some kind of healing trance
perhaps? In any case it's passed, they're sleeping naturally now."

"Then they'll be all right?" I asked.

She smiled. "I don't see why not."

I'd just heaved a sigh of relief when the door opened and Ani hurtled through into my arms. "They said Qui-Gon's hurt!" he sobbed breathless.

I gave him a hug. "He's fine, Ani, they just told me so. This is the Jedi Master's ward, Anakin Skywalker." I continued to the doctor

She smiled sympathetically at the boy. "Would you like to see him?"

"Yes! please!"

Anakin and I peeked around a barely open door into the resting room. I've seen coma and saw at once that the doctor was right they were just sleeping. Still it was strange to see the two of them looking so...vulnerable, especially Qui-Gon. I hadn't realized until that moment just how much I'd come to depend on the Jedi Master over the last three - or was it four? - days.

We'd been through so much together in that short time. Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Ani, Jar Jar, even Artoo Detoo, had become part of my 'family' my inner circle like my handmaidens or Captain Panaka. But the Jedi would be going away now their mission was completed, and taking Ani with them - I found I didn't want to think about that.

Qui-Gon opened his eyes and smiled at us. Ani slipped from under my hand and ran to him. "They told me you were hurt!"

"I'm fine," the Master reassured him with a hug. Ani shot a quick, worried look at the second bed where Obi-Wan hadn't so much as stirred. "Is Obi-Wan okay?"

"Just very tired," Qui-Gon answered, but it seemed to me there was something odd, not quite worried but thoughtful, in his eyes as he looked at his apprentice. Then he smiled at me. "I take it your Highness's plan succeeded."

I grinned happily back and came further into the room, no reason to hover in the doorway now. "Thanks to the Gungans," I told him, "and to Ani for blowing the Control Ship just in time."

"Ani?" Qui-Gon frowned at his ward, "what's this?"

"It's not my fault!" he said hastily, "really you told me to stay in the cockpit -"

"Unfortunately the ship didn't stay in the hanger," I finished for him.

They both looked at me; Ani reproachfully, Master Qui-Gon bemused and beginning to be alarmed. "Perhaps you'd better tell me the whole story." he ordered.

Ani swallowed and began; "Well, Master-sir, there were these destroyer droids blocking Padme, I mean the Queen's, way-"

"Ani," I broke in, "you can go on calling me Padme if you want to, I've always liked it better than Amidala." which is true, though I admit 'Queen Amidala' has a much more impressive ring to it than 'Queen Padme'.

He flashed me a grateful grin and I knew I'd been forgiven for telling on him. He resumed his story: "Their hand weapons couldn't get through the droids' shields but I figured the fighter's turbo's could and they did but I hit a few other buttons before I found the trigger and, well, the ship just took off."

Qui-Gon settled back against his pillow eyes fixed on Anakin. He seemed to be entering a mild state of shock and I was beginning to enjoy myself. It was worth invasion and battle to finally see our ever-serene Jedi Master nonplussed!

"By the time Artoo got us off autopilot we were right in the middle of the space battle." Ani finished.

"Why didn't you turn back once you had control?" Qui-Gon demanded.

"I guess I should have," the boy admitted sheepishly, "Artoo said so, but I wanted to help. You'd all said how important it was to blow up the control ship and the fighters weren't doing so good."

"According to Commander Olie they were getting nowhere, the deflector field was just to strong." I put in.

"Yeah," Ani agreed, "anyway, I got hit and spun into this open bay."

I'd heard the story before but still found it necessary to sit down, rather abruptly, on the edge of Obi-Wan's bed. his leg shifted to give me more room and I saw he'd woken up at some point and was now propped on an elbow listening intently.

"It was this real deep hanger," Ani was saying, "luckily I found the brakes before we crashed into the back wall but everything was overheated and then these droids came at us -"

I think Qui-Gon was beyond speech by now. His expression was indescribable, hilarious, I covered my mouth with my hands smothering giggles.

"The controls came back just in time," Ani continued with a certain gusto, "and I shot up the droids, bam! bam! bam! then I fired my torpedoes and they disappeared through this big door. At first I thought I'd missed but then I saw the fireball and knew
I'd gotten something big! Well we shot out of there just ahead of the explosion and the whole ship went ka-bloey behind us!" his grin faded, "I did stay in the cockpit like you told me." he finished plaintively.

Nobody said anything. Master Jinn closed his eyes, perhaps applying some Jedi calming technique. I mopped up my tears of laughter with a corner of my coat and tried to gather the scraps of my royal dignity around me.

It was Obi-Wan's cool, clipped tones that finally broke the silence. "You're going to have fun with this one."

Qui-Gon's eyes opened. "As long as he doesn't come back with five bales of kretobit fiber," he said drily.

His apprentice huffed an exaggerated sigh. "You're never going to let me forget that are you?" then he broke into a grin, "Be warned, Ani, make one mistake and he'll hold it over you forever."

Anakin smiled back a little uncertainly. I was startled myself. Obi-Wan had always seemed so - intense. I couldn't recall seeing him smile before much less tease his Master. On the other hand neither of them had ever seen me giggling my head off either. Maybe we didn't know each other quite as well as I'd thought.

"What's kretobit fiber?" Ani ventured.

"An insulating material," Obi-Wan explained adding to his Master, "and it did come in handy didn't it?"

"Eventually," Qui-Gon conceded with a mock-frown at Anakin. "I'm going to have to watch what orders I give to you."

"Obedience," Obi-Wan observed slyly, "is a necessary virtue for a Padawan."

"Initiative is also desirable," his Master responded as if quoting somebody.

"Seems to me Ani showed both," I pointed out.

"Indeed he did, your Highness!" Qui-Gon said so ruefully that we all laughed.

"What happened to the dark warrior?" Ani wanted to know after we'd calmed a bit. The atmosphere immediately became much more serious.

"Dead," Master Jinn replied briefly, with another of those thoughtful sidelong looks at his apprentice.

"You'll find the body at the bottom of the melting pit," Obi-Wan told me, "along with my lightsabre. I'd like it back please."

"Of course," I answered. I suspected a story there but doubted I'd ever hear it.

"Was it a Sith?" Anakin demanded.

"I'm afraid so," Qui-Gon said quietly.

He was afraid? How did he think I felt! "I thought the Sith were just one of those old legends?" I ventured uneasily.

"They're all too real, your Highness," the Master told me gently, "We Jedi had thought them extinct."

"We were wrong," Obi-Wan said grimly.

I was still trying to understand what a Sith would be doing on Naboo. "He was working for the Trade Federation?"

"More likely the other way around." Qui-Gon corrected me, "The Sith do not serve, they dominate."

Now I was really scared. Naboo is a beautiful world, it's my home, my kingdom and I love it but it's also very small, out of the way and unimportant. "Why would the Sith want Naboo?" I almost whispered.

"I don't know," Master Jinn admitted. Somehow the warm strength of his voice comforted me in spite of his words.

"Whatever their plan was if failed," Obi-Wan reminded me reassuringly.

I must have been as pale as the sheets and he was probably afraid I'd faint or become hysterical. 'Calm down, Amidala,' I told myself, 'We won, everything's all right now.' I drew a deep breath, tried to smile. "Thanks to all of you Naboo is safe."

But is any world safe if the Sith have returned?