Part 12: Let us Sit Upon the Ground.
(Richard II, act 3, sc. 2, l. 155)
They were in the midst of the long green grass that was typical of the Lake Country. A rural idyll of Naboo, never urbanised, made up of vast lakes, lush meadows and spectacular waterfalls. She was playing with the grassy blades that surrounded their makeshift picnic area in an effort to hide her embarrassment as he teased her about her first boyfriend, a boy named Palo who went on to become an artist rather than remain in politics.
After commenting that Palo was wise to remove himself from such a career, causing her to observe that he did not like politicians, which was odd considering one of his mentors and heroes was Chancellor Palpatine, not to mention the profession of herself, his current company. He confirmed that he liked one or two, but then went on to say something else, which took the conversation in an entirely different direction.
"I don't think the system works," he revealed.
She stilled her focus and her gaze upon him, intrigued by the serious tone of his comment, which for once had nothing to do with trying to get her to return his obvious interest in her, an attraction which was forbidden from being encouraged by his commitment to the Jedi Order, despite his argument to the contrary.
"How would you have it work?"
"We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what's in the best interests of all the people, and then do it," he answered.
"That is exactly what we do," she replied. "The trouble is that people don't always agree. In fact, they hardly ever do."
"Then they should be made to," he added.
"By whom?" she countered. "Who's going to make them?"
He shrugged, as though he felt uncomfortable about answering her question. When he did respond, it with a vagueness which clearly suggested that he was choosing to hold back his real answer because he believed that she would not like to hear it. "I don't know. Someone."
She did not need to speculate as to who he had in mind. His ego knew no bounds, as confident as the boy she once knew. "You?"
"Of course not me," he protested, but not very convincingly.
"But someone," she prompted persistently, a sense of irony in her tone.
He nodded, relieved that she had returned to his original vague response, missing the subtlety that lay behind her words. "Someone wise."
She looked at him, wondering if he was still thinking about himself, or whether he had someone else in mind and if so, who. Obi-Wan? Palpatine? Master Yoda? Only two of the choices she agreed with, and she was still uncertain why she felt that her former Senator was not a wise choice. However, what he was suggesting had a different system of governance in mind to the current platform which was followed by the Republic. And it was one that she had no desire to agree with. Or fulfil a role within. "That sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me," she remarked slowly.
"Well, if it works," he commented, only with nothing of the grin that had accompanied the original confirmation. Instead his words carried within them a certain conviction that she found decidedly disturbing. Added to this, his normally bright blue eyes had acquired a certain yellow lustre, which she had last seen in them upon the volcanic surface of Mustafar, during the last hours of the Republic, when she had lost her husband forever.
Abruptly the scenery changed before her eyes, transforming into the events that occurred later in her enforced vacation from the Senate, when her Jedi protector was trying to ride a Shaak. She stood watching him as he attempted to mount one of the beasts, managing a brief success, it before rising to stand upon his feet across the animal, an aerobatic stunt which caused him to fall off, the Shaak stampeding over him in his terrified wake.
She ran to him, all previous bemusement gone, replaced by a sudden concern for his life, one which ran much deeper than she cared to admit, at the time. Kneeling in the grass she leaned over him, knowing she would find a big grin blazed across his expression, along with the sense of triumph that he had managed to fool her.
Instead, she found the Anakin she had seen on Mustafar, perhaps even earlier, on Coruscant when he returned to her, after the Jedi Temple was set on fire. Or when he had lashed out blame at Obi-Wan on Tatooine before admitting that he had massacred an entire tribe of tuskens after his mother died in his arms, as a result of her injuries gained during their capture of her. He gazed up at her with a hard, betrayed set of features, convinced into believing the worst of her, when in truth it was he who was in the wrong.
He held his hand out towards her, his fingers encased within his fist, his focus trained intently upon her throat. She clutched her skin there in an attempt to protect herself, but to no avail. Slowly she felt the gradual loss of breath, the frantic struggle of her body to regain the function, worsening her state. Desperately she tried to calm her the fast rapid beat of her heart, hoping to subdue the fear within her enough to lengthen her life. But he was determined and resistance was futile.
Slowly she fell to the floor.
Padmé woke with a startling rapid descent upon her bed, as if she had been floating above the furnishings, a familiar sensation to anyone who experiences dreams that end when one is falling towards the ground. She remembered hearing once that if you ever touched the surface of that which you found yourself falling towards, it meant you would never wake. Shivering, she brushed such dark thoughts away, grabbed a robe and rose from the bed.
Stepping out on to the balcony, she took in the glorious view, the vivid blue depths of the lake in which she would swim to the island that lay within the middle of it, the lush greenery of the flowers and trees that encircled the water. Usually such a sight would cheer her, but not today. Her mind was too preoccupied by what she had dreamt of to direct her focus towards the beauties of nature.
Within a few months, that which she dreamed of would have taken place. Yet this time she knew it would not occur, for several reasons. Anakin was still on Tatooine. Since her return from arranging the treaties, she had kept connections with beings that lived in the Arkanis system, who informed her on where he was and what he was doing. Though both he and his mother were now free, they had not left Tatooine, or Watto's employ. Shmi had married Cliegg Lars, but she commuted between the moisture farm outside Anchorhead and the Troydarian's warehouse in Mos Espa, a long journey even for a good speeder. Evidently her son must have tinkered with the mechanics, or Watto could not bear to part with either of them, even if now he was forced to treat them as employees as opposed to slaves.
Anakin had not been discovered by the Jedi, another factor which prevented their reunion here, at her villa in Varykino. Her life was not in danger due to her political position, for instead of stepping down from her throne and entering the Senate, she had conceded to the desire of the Naboo for her to reign another term. Coruscant's governing bodies were managing to run the Republic well enough without hers or Palpatine's interference. There were no signs of systems preparing to cede themselves from the Republic, or an intention to form a separatist movement.
Running for a third term as sovereign of the Naboo also enabled her to keep an eye on her former Senator. Since retiring from the Core, Palpatine had taken a seat on her council, a relatively minor position which allowed him to split his time between Theed and Convergence, his family's estate in the Lake Country. Whenever she could, Padmé would go to a room located in the secret passages of the Palace, where she had set up a series of holo surveillance streaming monitors, their cams and coms trained on the interior of Convergence, Palpatine's office within the palace, and his apartment in Theed, so she could collect evidence on what Palpatine was doing whilst he was there. So far nothing had pointed to the Separatists, weapon stockpiling, cloning, or sith related activities, but that had not deterred her from continuing the surveillance. However she was a little daunted by the passage of time. Ten years had passed and still there was no sign of anything that could lead to Geonosis, or anything else that might pave the way to turning the Republic into an Empire under his despotic rule.
For a time she had wondered if he was not evil in this world, if her previous future had merely been a warning from history and nothing more. Yet she could not bring herself to trust him, or his actions. Not when everything else repeated itself and with frightening accuracy. In it of itself, living through these events was a disturbing experience. Knowing who she would see next, exactly what they would say and how she was meant to respond. And to respond, with seemingly no idea of the future that lay before that response, with an appearance of ignorance at the consequences, that was hard. There was times when she wanted to deliver a warning, yet knew she could not, for what she wished to say was something that she could not possibly know, not from any of the information she was currently given. Keeping silent was the hardest thing to do, and yet she had no choice.
A sense of isolation was the ultimate consequence of that silence, one which grew more profound with every passing year. No matter how deeply she tried to involve herself with her friends, or busy herself in fixing what she could of the Republic from her position as an elected sovereign of a world, as opposed to a Senator, the loneliness of her future knowledge continued to plague her. She longed for someone to confide in, to talk to without having to conceal what she knew or withhold a warning which she desperately wanted to give.
But there was no one with whom she could do so. Not even Obi-Wan, of whose life in her previous future she knew the least of, because each time she talked with him, she could see how content he was with the life she had given him, a knight without the burden of a padawan, or the mourning over the death of his master. Though it was so easy to talk with him and to listen and laugh as he told her stories of the Temple and missions, of the life on the Jewel of the Core Worlds, she held back because she could not bear to make him sad, even if the sorrow was only directed toward her, for suffering through a future she had sought to spare him.
"Milady?" a voice called out a little nervously, drawing Padmé away from her mournful introspection. She turned to find Cordé waiting for her in the bedroom. "It is almost time to go back."
Today was the last day of her brief vacation away from the capital. Initially she had welcomed the break to the Lake Country, a chance to get away from the hubbub caused by her acquiescence to the desires of her people that she reign for a third term. There had been almost as much fanfare and parades as had welcomed the celebration of the treaty between the Naboo and the Gungans. But now as she came to the end of her relative solitude, Padmé was relieved that she would soon have other demands placed upon her once more. She needed to keep busy in order to prevent the build up of the emotional turmoil which she had begun to experience this morning. A return to her duty and politics was welcome.
When Captain Panaka chose to escort her back across the lake which encircled her Villa at Varykino, Padmé did her best appear surprised by his decision and her utmost to conceal that she already knew the reason why such a precaution regarding matters of her security was necessary. It was about this time that the contract negotiations for the spice miners broke down, causing tightening of security around the Queen, her Council and her Senator.
Horace Vancil was still serving as her representative on Coruscant, having replaced Palpatine soon after he announced his desire to retire from the Senate. There had been a brief intermediary period between the transition from Palpatine to Vancil in her time, fulfilled by Janus Greejatus, which lasted two years, but since that xenophobe had proved to be such an unwise successor before, Padmé saw no need to inflict him upon the Senate a second time. In light of how close an advisor he came to be for Palpatine, she also took care to keep a close eye on Greejatus' career outside of the Senate, making sure he and her alleged veiled sithly Councillor rarely met outside of the Council meetings.
Padmé listened to Panaka's detail of the changes to her security in light of the protests from the spice miners throughout the journey from Varykino to Theed. While she had known of the riots from before, she had been just a Senator on leave from Coruscant then, with Panaka's nephew Typho in charge of her security, and his uncle had been more preoccupied with the dual nature of keeping Queen Jamilia safe, and her own safety amid threats to her life as a result of her stance on the security amendment during her return to Coruscant. The decision over whether the Republic needed an army in light of the growing Separatist movement had been more of a concern to her than the local disputes on her home planet. As sovereign however, the concerns of the miners were hers as well, thus it was necessary to pay close attention to her safety minded companion, while he updated her on the progress of the latest talks, along with changes of guarding safety such riots involved.
By the time they had reached the private palace dock, she was fully acquainted with all of the concerns of the spice miners and their management. Arranging for a mediation to be conducted with the two groups and herself at some point during this week, Padmé turned her attention to the other matter which Panaka was concerned with, her security. He had decided to enlarge her guard detail to include a number of men who were not native to Naboo, and therefore more used to dealing with non-pacifist climates than her current security. It was an unusual step, and Panaka was well aware of this fact, which was why he wanted her to meet with each of the candidates to see if she felt comfortable with them before he proceeded to hire them on a more permanent basis.
Padmé agreed, though privately she had little desire to meet new people and hire new staff. her retinue was of sufficient size already, she did not need additions to worry about. Jamilia had managed through the spice miners contract negotiations without hiring new security, so could she. There was no growing separatist threat, no dangerous journeys to be made to Coruscant, no decoys to be risked. But she knew that Panaka rarely had concerns without good reason. His actions had never served her wrong, even when they had once cost her the life of a dear friend and handmaiden. If taking on additional security meant that her decoys were spared from taking risks, then she would gladly do so.
Inside the Palace she returned to her chambers where the trappings and the finery of Queen Amidala were placed about her. All the simple, flowery dresses of Padmé Naberrie were hidden away, for the handmaiden who was rarely in the Queen's company, except in times of conflict. A sovereign once more, she headed to the throne room, where the new additions to her security were waiting.
She saw him almost immediately, for with his height he towered over the rest. He was everything she remembered of him at this age, darkly handsome, strong, brooding features, his skin and hair tanned from a life spent toiling in the desert. The padawan braid was gone of course, but that was the only difference.
Queen Amidala no longer seemed an attractive role. She wanted to be Padmé again, one of the many helpful attendants upon the Queen, who could direct the future bodyguards to their quarters and make friends with them. Not the sovereign who had to stay within the chamber, confined to her throne, and sit through the meeting with her council which would follow.
Taking a deep breath, she calmed herself, knowing that despite her desires, there was little she could do to accomplish them now. It would not do for Queen Amidala to suddenly turn round and exit her throne room just because she wished to become a decoy, nor would she manage to direct Sabé in whom she wished to become additions to her security, not without making the use of a decoy obvious.
Seating herself upon her throne, she beckoned for the first applicant to come forward. One by one she dealt them, learning their names and personal history, which planetary system they originated from, and their motives for wishing to join her staff. As usual Panaka had chosen wisely, the men were a mixture of ages, hard working, and held great potential which they would need to adjust to the role of her security.
Anakin was the last of the applicants, a piece of chance which provided some relief to her desires, as it meant that the interview would not be conducted in front of the others, who were being guided by a couple of handmaidens to their quarters within the palace. Beckoning him forward, Padmé strove to calm herself for this, the second most important event of her relived journey through the past.
"Anakin Skywalker, your Highness," he replied.
"Tell us about yourself, Mr Skywalker," Padmé began.
"I am from Tatooine, your Highness," he answered. "I grew up there in the slave quarter of Mos Espa with my mother until you and your Nubian delegation reached an accord with the Arkanis sector that gave us our freedom." He paused, his eyes casting about the place as if he was looking for someone. "In fact, one of your handmaiden's visited the shop where I was working during the time when your delegation was on the planet."
"Really," Padmé mused, affecting a curiosity that was lower than her privately held glee at his recollection. "What was her name?"
"Padmé," he replied. "I do not see her here, but then it was some years ago, she may no longer serve your Highness."
"She does," Padmé assured him. "Forgive us, we have sent her on an errand. If we had known of your prior history, she would be here now. Continue, please. How did you come to leave Tatooine for Naboo?"
"After my mother and I were given our freedom, she met a moisture farmer called Cliegg Lars," Anakin went on to say. "He courted her and married her. We lived on his moisture farm near Anchorhead for a time, but the increased Tusken raids caused us to take our leave of the place until some other part of Tatooine catches their interest. We decided to come here for a time. As for why I came to apply to be a member of your security detail, I confess that I wanted to meet with Padmé again and repay your Highness for all the hard work which you went to in order to secure my freedom and the freedom of other slaves in the Outer Rim."
Behind her Queen Amidala mask Padmé smiled. She had hoped that Anakin would not forget their meeting ten years ago and sure enough he had not. Now all she had to do was bring this meeting to a close so she could suffer her way through the Council then change into her handmaiden persona and seek him out once more.
"We are honoured by your service, Anakin Skywalker," she said, before turning to one of her remaining cadre of attendants. "Yané will take you to your quarters and from thence to Captain Panaka's office, where you will be given your assigned duties. As soon as Padmé has returned from her errand we shall send her to you."
"Thank you, your Highness," Anakin replied with a bow before he followed Yané out of the chamber.