Chapter IV: Counsels and Stratagems

Yan Dooku was a master at reading understated signals. Padmé had only to motion with her eyes away from the crowd of Jedi Masters surrounding her, and he instantly understood. None of the other Jedi had even seemed to notice her look.

They escorted her politely but firmly out of their temple, and she waited as patiently as she was able while Master Windu explained that, due to concern for her safety and to issues of security, she could not be allowed to see the prisoner for some time. The Council believed him to be unstable, and they were unwilling to risk the Senator's life with him. She reminded them of the Republic's laws concerning the visiting rights of prisoners, namely that they could not be refused visitors for more than a week at a time, except in cases of violence on the prisoner's part. The Jedi reluctantly agreed that she would be allowed to return within a week, but added that they intended to keep Vader in isolation until that time.

Padmé very nearly told them just what she thought of that, but she restrained herself. She was waiting to speak with Dooku, and it would not do to make the other Jedi suspicious of her motives.

When Master Windu had finished speaking with her, Dooku very politely offered to escort the Senator to her apartment. It was clear to Padmé that the other Jedi Masters seemed somewhat leery of this suggestion, but they could find no grounds to oppose it. After all, Senator Amidala often requested an escort when leaving the temple. If nothing else, it helped with keeping the media hounds at bay.

They were there as usual, a full pack of them, with their holocams and their sound recorders and their datapads, crowding about the steps of the temple and shouting questions to anyone who cared to listen, and, as it turned out, to everyone who didn't.

Once, she would have been offended by the deeply personal and sometimes downright obscene nature of the reporters' questions, but it had been eight months now, and she had grown used to them. She was even mostly able to ignore them.

Today, however, they were particularly oppressive. She found herself wishing almost desperately that Anakin were there to make them go away.

And then a deep, silken voice behind her said, "I do not believe the Senator wishes to comment," and her oppressors scattered like leaves before a gale.

She turned and regarded her rescuer with a look of intense relief. "Thank you, Master Dooku," she said sincerely, then added, more lightly, "Is that one of your Jedi mind tricks?"

"Hardly, Milady," Dooku replied, a sarcastic lilt to his voice. "I'm afraid I have something of a reputation with holoreporters, however, and it seems to have preceded me."

"Well, I'm not complaining," she said, guiding the Jedi Master towards her speeder. "I wouldn't mind developing something of a reputation myself in that regards."

"Indeed," Dooku murmured. "Qui-Gon used to say that there is only one evil greater than politicians, and that is holoreporters. No offence meant, of course," he added with a sardonic smile.

"None taken," Padmé said, grinning. She was surprised by his reference to Qui-Gon, and filed the information away as something to ask about later. "Actually, I think I'd have to agree with him. Here we are," she said, indicating a blue open-top speeder. Dooku seemed only mildly surprised to see that she did not have a driver waiting for her. Senator Amidala was famous for avoiding ostentation.

"You wished to speak with me, I believe," Dooku prodded, after several moments of silence. The speeder moved along at a languid pace through Coruscant's busy traffic lanes.

Padmé bit her lip, agitated, her eyes darting out over the city. "I can't leave him there, Master Dooku," she said at last, favoring him with a piercing glance. "He may think he deserves it, but this captivity is breaking him. I'm afraid it may even be killing him."

"It is," Dooku admitted softly. "But the Council will not see."

"Then we must make them see!" she snapped, but her voice softened as she added, "I won't let him die, Master Dooku. He saved me, and I intend to return the favor."

"Then perhaps," said Dooku, stroking his neatly trimmed beard in thought, "you ought to plead your case with a higher authority."

"What do you mean?"

"The Jedi Council answers to the Senate, does it not?"

Padmé nodded, uncertain where he was going with this.

Dooku actually smiled. "It has come to my attention," he said slowly, "that Supreme Chancellor Organa has come into possession of some highly critical documents that once belonged to the late Emperor. However, the Republic's best technicians have thus far failed in their efforts to decrypt these documents."

"Anakin could do it," she whispered.

"And perhaps receive a pardon in return," Dooku whispered back, folding his arms over his chest and regarding her closely.

Padmé was utterly silent following this revelation, but a soft smile played across her face and there was a new light of hope in her eyes.

"Thank you, Master Dooku," she said at last. "You may have just saved his life."

"I believe, Milady," Dooku replied, "you said you wished to see Jedi compassion truly acted out. Compassion has never been my strong point, I fear, but in this case, I am willing to make an exception."

Padmé smiled gratefully at him. "I owe you a great debt, Master Jedi," she said. "But I must admit I'm curious—what made you decide to help us?"

Dooku gave her an appraising look, and she saw that there was a twinkle in his black eyes. Evidently, he found her question amusing. "I suppose, Milady, that your husband and I understand one another," he said carefully. Padmé was rather delighted by his reference to Anakin—he was the first Jedi she had known to admit their marriage as a fact. The others simply referred to her husband as Vader and steadfastly refused to acknowledge any sort of relationship between them.

"He reminds me of someone I once knew," Dooku was saying.

"Oh?" Padmé asked, curious. She doubted a Jedi Master would have had occasion to know anyone who might remind him of a Sith.

"Oh yes," Dooku said, looking at her almost mischievously. "A rather brash and disobedient young padawan, actually. Though you mustn't tell him I said that."

Padmé laughed aloud. It was surprising how much easier it was to laugh, now that she knew there was a real chance Anakin might be coming home to her. "No," she said, "I don't think he'd like that at all! He doesn't think much of Jedi, you know," she added with a bit less mirth.

"I don't imagine he would," Dooku said. The thought did not seem to trouble him in the least. "And, under the circumstances, I can't say I really blame him. I myself haven't thought much of the Jedi for years."

Padmé looked at him, mildly shocked. He was an eminent and well-respected Jedi Master, and he was saying this?

"Don't look so surprised, Milady," said Dooku, almost gently. "We are not all blind slaves to the Council's whim. I'm sure you observed that Master Jinn, at least, was a bit unorthodox."

"Yes," she said softly. She had known Qui-Gon Jinn for only a few short days before the galaxy had been plunged into darkness, but she had always treasured his memory. "Did you know him?"

Dooku simply nodded. "He was my padawan," he said quietly.

She looked at him in surprise and whispered, "I'm sorry."

But he merely shrugged, though she could see it cost him more than he let on. "As I told your husband, it was not your doing," he said. "But thank you."

Padmé nodded and they spent the rest of the journey to her apartment in silence.

Sabé was in her mistress' bedroom unpacking the last of her senatorial wardrobe, and Dormé had just left with the movers for the last load, when Padmé returned from the Jedi temple, Master Dooku in tow.

She was used to Padmé coming back from these visits raw and weeping, and it had always been her duty to provide a shoulder to cry on. She did this without complaint or judgement, and she knew Padmé appreciated that more than anything else. Her mistress had so few allies, and even fewer who truly understood her love for her husband. Sometimes, Sabé thought she must be the only one.

So it took her by surprise to see her friend return, rather later than expected, chatting animatedly with a man who appeared to be a Jedi Master, and wearing an expression that looked almost like a smile. She wondered if Padmé had finally cracked.

"I'm certain Chancellor Organa would support such a bill," Padmé was saying, almost excitedly, "and of course there are others who—"

Sabé cleared her throat, rather carefully, just in case.

"Oh, Sabé, I didn't see you there!" Padmé exclaimed. Sabé thought she sounded almost cheerful. "This is Jedi Master Yan Dooku. He's been very kind, and most helpful."

"He has?" Sabé asked, rather weakly. She was somewhat overwhelmed by her mistress' inexplicable change in mood, and was beginning to wonder if the Jedi had altered her mind in some way.

Padmé nodded, bustling about the future sitting room to clear them a space, and in the end simply giving up and perching on the edge of a packing crate. She reflected wryly that Anakin probably would have found it more comfortable than the infamous chair in any case.

Sabé was beginning to look very worried by her strange behavior, however, so she gestured to the surrounding boxes and said, "Please sit down, and Sabé, I'll explain everything." And she did.

Sabé was silent for a time, considering everything that Padmé had told her, both about her visit with Anakin and about Dooku's plan. But when she did speak, she was blunt.

Optimistic and trusting were not words often used to describe Sabé Elinai. She was by nature highly suspicious, a trait which had served her well in her work as Queen Amidala's decoy, and later as Vader's agent. But no one had ever accused her of tact.

"And what do you get out of all this, Master Dooku?" she asked coolly.

Padmé seemed half shocked by her question and half curious as to its answer, but Dooku himself did not seem in the least perturbed. For some reason, Sabé found that vaguely annoying. She'd hoped to rattle his composure, at least a little. Yet he acted as though her reaction were normal, even expected, and managed to look perfectly regal, despite the fact that he was perched on the edge of an upturned packing crate.

She wondered if his manner had annoyed Anakin as much as it already did her.

"A fair question," Dooku replied smoothly. "I might reply that I get the pleasure of doing what is right, but somehow, I doubt that would satisfy you." She glared at him, but he seemed not to notice. "So I will say, instead, that I gain what the rest of the galaxy will gain if Anakin is freed—and that is peace."

Sabé narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean by that?"

Dooku sighed. "Let me start by saying that I do not in fact believe it is right of the Jedi Council to keep Anakin imprisoned. I sense no darkness in him. However," he added before Sabé could voice whatever protest she might have had, "I do sense great danger in his continued isolation. Senator Amidala believes it is killing him, and that may very well be. If it does not kill him, it will drive him back to the darkness."

"And here I thought you trusted him," Sabé snorted, her voice ripe with sarcasm.

"Oh I do," Dooku said easily. "But it has been my own experience that nothing is more fully of the Dark Side than despair."

Padmé looked up in alarm. "But I thought anger—" she began, but stopped abruptly, biting her lip anxiously.

"Yes," Dooku replied. "Anger, fear, and aggression, as Master Yoda says, can lead to the Dark Side. I do not dispute with him there. But it is despair that keeps one in the Dark."

"He won't turn again," Padmé said fervently. "It cost him too much."

"No, I don't believe he will turn," said Dooku. He sounded almost resigned, and Sabé thought that there was a hint of regret in his black eyes. Against all odds, she found herself almost trusting him.

"So you think that it will kill him," she breathed. It was more a statement than a question.

"If he remains," Dooku qualified. "So I suppose, Milady, that you may say I wish to do this in order to spare the galaxy just one more pointless death. We have had enough of those, I think."

"Yes, we have," said Sabé quietly. "And I apologize for questioning you, Master Dooku, but you must understand that the Jedi have not exactly been our allies in this matter thus far."

"Well, Milady," said Dooku with a half-smirk, "no one has ever accused me of being a typical Jedi."

Next chapter: Padmé has a request of the Chancellor…