DEDICATED TO SERVICE

1

The Temple rested on the foot of the hill atop of which the Palace of Theed was situated. The slender figure in the traditional white kimono knelt in front of the altar and sang in silence the Halo Thee. When she had been Queen, she had stood at the dais of the Temple, flanked on either side by the priests of the Venerable and had led the congregation in the tidal consecration to the deities. Now, she was a mere citizen of Naboo - an elevated one no less but no longer double Monarch - Queen and High Priestess - and her stance here was at the foot of the altar in humble obeisance.

Many a time in the reign of Queen Amidala, Padmé Naberrie would come down to the Temple, clad in the same common white, to kneel in front of the altar and ask for mercy on the Queen. She had prayed for wisdom and strength and guidance to Her Majesty in times of difficulties. It had been the last thing she had done just before the droid armies of the Trade Federation had swept onto the fields ten years ago. While the figure of Her Majesty had watched from the highest balcony in the Palace, Padmé Naberrie had knelt at the bottom of the hill and prayed for Amidala.

It was early morning in Theed. The twin moons hovered in the sky and the sun was just a vague red mist in the horizon. The Temple was empty except for Padmé and the cold night wind blowing through the elaborate columns. The candles flickered and she shivered.

There were five candles. Four white candles had been lit for each of her supplications. The first was for Naboo and its Queen, the second was for the Naberries of the small mountain village, the third for the fate of the Military Creation Act that had been indefinitely postponed by the Supreme Chancellor, the fourth for the soul of Cordé Velasu whose body had been laid to rest in a small hollow at the other side of the planet, exactly one week today.

The one black candle should never be lit. She had laid it in the Atonement grate when she had entered and the Halo would not be complete until it was melted into wax. It was the only form of prayer a Nubian could pray for his own sake - the Act of Contrition.

The Halo was ended. The candles were still burning as she left the Temple.

Artoo Detoo and Anakin stood at the entrance of the Temple. The Jedi's eyes were shut, his posture was relaxed and to all intents and purposes, he might have been either asleep or meditating. The droid, in uncanny imitation, had placed itself in its standby mode. It was not the first time it had accompanied Amidala or Padmé Naberrie to the Temple and it was extremely well-behaved. As Padmé emerged from the Temple, it switched into its active mode and still silent, proceeded to accompany her. She walked down the entrance steps and did not look up when Anakin followed.

Against her will, she was aware of his presence. He walked beside her like a silent shadow and she was glad for that. She did not wish for Anakin's conversation. His company had been forbidden and he had defied her in order to perform the service he owed her. And that was all there ever could be between them - duty, service - the senator and her Jedi protector - nothing more or less. She might have known him differently in the past but that was exactly that - past. It was not his business whether she dreamt of a home and family outside public service.

It was not her business whether he had nightmares about his mother.

Unbidden, her hand came up to her mouth. Her fingers pressed against her lips; traitorously, her mind recalled in exact detail how it had felt when she -

Sharply, she put her hand down. Her many more candles did she want to burn?

"I had informed you earlier that I did not wish to be accompanied to the Temple," she said coldly, looking stonily ahead of her.

It took Anakin a while to answer her. When he did, he managed to mask the hurt in his voice but not the anger.

"And that is why, my Lady that I waited outside - in accordance to your requirements."

"I believe I made myself perfectly clear yester night that I did not wish to be accompanied at all."

"You will forgive me for going against your wishes my lady. And you will accept my apology now for occasions in the future which I might have to go against your wishes in order to perform my duty to you."

This unpleasant conversation was cut short by the sudden approach of an officer of the court.

"Good morning. My Lady, Jedi."

The young handmaiden was called Dyiné. She was the youngest in the Queen's court and was actually still in the middle of her training. Jamilla had assigned her to be at Amidala's disposal during the duration of her stay in Theed. It was not the same thing as having her own handmaidens but it was essential Padmé accept her services because that was the courtesy due to a former Queen.

"Her Majesty wishes me to escort you to her chambers when you are ready to join her for the First Meal."

The invitation had been given the night before. It served a dual purpose - a chance for a private conference between the old and the new Queens over matters concerning Naboo; and it also served a more secret purpose - the need for Amidala to communicate with her lesser known allies in an investigation that had been conducted without Senatorial approval.

"Thank you," replied Padmé graciously. "Please return to my Quarters in twenty minutes."

Dyiné nodded and stepped aside for Amidala to pass and then followed sedately. Anakin followed.