Part 5: Disorder, Horror, Fear And Mutiny.
(Richard II (1595) act 4, sc. 1, l. 142)
Until now Padmé had ignored the fact that the expected arrival of the Chancellor's ship would mean an encounter with Senator Palpatine. But from the moment orbital sensors signalled the craft's entry into the atmosphere, she could not ignore such a fact no longer. Against her will, a strong feeling of disgust rose within her mind as she stood with her retinue, the government of Naboo and the Jedi, watching the descent of the ship. Her mind was filled with memories from the future, of the moment she watched Palpatine declare himself Emperor.
She remembered the hatred she felt for him, the despair for the beings of the Republic for the Jedi being murdered across the galaxy. Her anxious concern for those of the Order closest to her, Anakin and Obi-Wan. At the time she had not known that the newly self-christened Emperor was a Sith Lord, and her husband his willing apprentice. That she would learn later, in a bittersweet conversation with Anakin's former Jedi Master. But due to her involvement within the Senate, she knew enough to remain sceptical and outraged against what her former Senator was proposing.
Her mind kept flicking back and forth between the Emperor's speech to the Senate, and Obi-Wan's declaration that Anakin had fallen to the dark side of the Force. Inside her the hatred grew and grew, the sight before her eyes acting like a countdown to the emotion, which threatened to implode and overwhelm her. She felt helpless to control the wave of revulsion, frantic at the realisation, for she had to because Senator Palpatine would sense what she was feeling and could seek to destroy either her, or the future she was attempting so desperately to save.
Suddenly she felt a calming wind gently stole through her beleaguered mind, easing the hatred away until the emotion was hers to conceal and control once more. She was familiar with this technique, her husband had used it on her once. But Anakin was not here, so another Jedi must have applied his talents.
Padmé turned her head, and caught sight of Obi-Wan, his face directed towards her with an expression of eloquent intent. Inwardly she smiled, and sent out a look of gratitude at his overture. Just as he would in the future, he had sought to give her comfort, to protect her. Requiring no explanation from her about what he must have seen in her mind, respecting her privacy, her right to tell him if she desired to do so. He was a generous soul, both then and now, her true ally and friend.
There was no time at present for her to speculate as to what he could have learned from her memories of the future. Chancellor Valorum was disembarking from his ship, Senator Palpatine close on his heels. She stepped away from the ranks of her retinue and government to greet them.
"Chancellor Valorum, welcome to Naboo." She was careful to make sure that she offered her usual greeting to the man beside him, concealing even her anxiety that he might have sensed what had happened to her. "Senator Palpatine, it is good to see you."
"I am thankful to have the opportunity to travel to our home world and congratulate you, Your Majesty," Palpatine replied. "Your boldness has saved our people."
"I offer my congratulations as well, Your Highness," Valorum added. "Your actions are an example to the rest of the Republic. Be assured we shall take heed and strive to see that no one will come to suffer under such a blockade again."
"I am grateful to hear such a promise, Chancellor," Padmé replied. "And I offer one in return. To provide you with all the support I can in carrying out such an endeavour." She turned her gaze on her representative. "I am sure that my Senator will also provide his support as well."
Palpatine inclined his head in silent acceptance, while she inwardly wondered how much of that was sincerely meant. Her actions had denied him his opportunity to become Chancellor, but that did not mean that he was barred from ever running for the office. Finis Valorum was in the final year of his second term as Chancellor of the Republic. No doubt Palpatine would seize the initiative to campaign for the position when the next election was called. She would have to make sure she took steps to prevent him from doing so.
Valorum moved away from her to speak to the other members of her government, Sabé stepping away from her handmaidens to provide the necessary introductions. Captain Panaka was helping Coruscant security escort Nute Gunray and his lackeys into the containment cells aboard the craft, the sight catching her Senator's gaze. Padmé wondered how much he knew of their actions upon her planet. She suspected that it was possible he was the one who gave orders for the blockade and the events which followed in the first place. Had he foreseen that Valorum would send the Jedi to rescue her? Her knowledge of the Sith was limited, but she assumed that like the Jedi, they were susceptible to receiving visions of the future. Did he also foresee her trip to Tatooine, and the encounter with Anakin? Perhaps not, for there were many planets within that sector, they could have easily chosen somewhere else to seek repairs, or even escaped from the blockade without damage to the ship. Was he aware of what had happened to her and the changes she made? Of this she could not be certain, not unless she found a way to ask him without arising such suspicions within his devious mind.
"I am relieved to find you unharmed, Your Majesty," Palpatine remarked then, causing her to push aside her speculative preoccupation. "Chancellor Valorum's plan of sending the Jedi to rescue you remained a secret known only to him and Jedi Council. I was not informed of the plan until they began to worry over your continued absence."
Padmé frowned inwardly at the nature of his tone as he spoke, and the honorific he used. She hated the old style of addressing her by Majesty, a title the previous monarch ordered to be used before he was deposed to face charges of corruption. Since her election she had asked to be called by the more traditional title of 'highness', and the Naboo gladly obliged. All except Palpatine, whom she was now sure did it to patronise her. His tone conveyed the same intention at this moment too.
"I apologise for not taking the time to assure you of my safety, Senator," she replied, "but I feared that as the Neimoidians had blocked all planet wide communications they may have been monitoring those from airborne craft as well. I did not want them to use the message to trace my position and thus hazard at my plans."
"No apology necessary, Your Majesty," Palpatine replied. "I am sure you are right about their methods."
She didn't like this tone either. Either she was becoming paranoid, or he was lying and believed her to be at fault for keeping her actions a secret, something which she had every right to do, as he would have undoubtedly warned Nute Gunray of her imminent attack. As much as she found her memories from the future torturous, she was grateful that they still existed, for they gave her a useful perspective in her quest to fix the future.
"There is to be a parade later," she informed him, "to celebrate the new Treaty between our people and the Gungans. As well as the peace in the galaxy being restored."
"I'm sure the Chancellor and I shall be honoured to attend it, Your Majesty," Palpatine uttered. He stepped back from her and bowed before answering the silent beckoning look from Governor Bibble to join him and Valorum.
Padmé breathed a sigh of relief, glad to be away from him once more.
With the welcoming formalities over, Padmé retired to her room to change into her dress for the parade. She stood still as her handmaidens attired her in the white Nubian silk and pink feathered cloak, then fixed her long dark brown hair into an elaborate series of loops before attaching the ceremonial stiff veil to her cloak and the jewellery to her forehead.
Before her were several full-length mirrors positioned to reflect their careful work. Her brown eyes were directed at them but her mind was still occupied, this time on how much Obi-Wan might have seen in her memories. She knew that with her changes to the future, Anakin might never meet him, let alone be trained by him, but she didn't want the future knight and master to be influenced in his opinion of her future husband by the bad memory she recalled when he sought to heal her hatred. A part of her still hoped that she could free Anakin and persuade the Jedi to train him. Despite all, she truly believed that without Palpatine's influence, Anakin would have become a great Jedi.
She searched her memory of what she had recalled, and was relieved to discover that the scene where she learned of her husband's fall was one she had recalled from the middle, rather than the beginning, and crucially, after Master Kenobi had uttered Anakin's name. His younger self had no knowledge of who had fallen to the dark side, only that someone had. Padmé sighed as she remembered that conversation. It had been so hard to keep from breaking down in front of him. To restrain herself from begging him not to leave. She felt wretched for betraying their friendship in the way she did. Especially when there were times that she suspected he knew about her and Anakin. He all but admitted it the morning he came to see her before he left for Utapau. When she was alone, or with him, she never doubted that he would keep their secret, yet with Anakin's constant paranoia, it was always too easy to become fearful of anyone finding out.
To his credit, he had never reproached her, or betrayed her once the truth was known. Instead he cared for her, helped her through the labour, begged her to live. Padmé wondered what would have happened if she had. Would he have joined her in exile, protecting her and her children from the Emperor? Probably, she realised, which drove her to contemplate if the future she left was continuing as she worked to alter the past. Her children's fate could be decided, or perhaps they ceased to exist because she had delayed her meeting with their father. And what would happen to Obi-Wan? Would Qui-Gon still be alive, and would the rest of the Order? Inwardly she sighed at the confusion her speculation had led to.
Her handmaidens stepped away from attending to her, letting her view the finished result. Padmé stared at her reflection, noting the youth within her features, adorned by the robes of her office. Inside she felt far older than the young girl standing before her.
Sabé opened the doors and followed by the rest of her attendants, Padmé exited the dressing room enroute to the grand staircase outside the palace where the government of Naboo would stand to meet the Gungans. As she neared the exit she could hear the cheers of her people, see the streamers and confetti cascading from the sky to the stony ground. She should be rejoicing with them, for this was a victory, one which shed far less blood than her first attempt. Yet she could not help but think of the tasks that lay ahead of her, and what she might have to endure in order to achieve them.
A flurry of horns graced her arrival on to the grand staircase, the gathered members of the Nubian government parting like waves within the sea to allow her a clear passage to the final stone step before the parade. She veiled her face in the picture of youthful majesty triumphant, hoping it would suffice for her people's sake. It would not do to show her true feelings at the parade, it would call for an inquiry from all who witnessed them.
The musicians silenced their instruments when she reached her place, but there was only a brief pause before those belonging to the Gungans could be heard. Padmé kept her eyes on the archway, wordlessly watching their joyful march up the mall to a space before her. Beside his King rode Jar Jar and the chief General of the Gungan army, the second of that three somehow managing to look regal until his dismount gave way to clumsiness, tangling his foot in the saddle of his steed, causing him to shake it until it was free.
Boss Nass waved to the gathered crowds as he mounted the stairs to stand beside her. Padmé turned to collect the sparkling orb from one of her security that was a gift to symbolise the alliance between their races, then handed it too him, unable to resist letting loose a smile as he raised it to the sky and proclaimed peace throughout the land.
She turned to the people arrayed alongside her, inclining her head in gratitude at the Jedi, lingering on Obi-Wan who smiled warmly at her, making her cheeks flush. Embarrassed she moved on, to Chancellor Valorum and Senator Palpatine, then Governor Bibble and Captain Panaka. Lastly her gaze fixed on the new addition to her household, one she had requested be allowed to attend today via her very puzzled security chief. Artoo was beeping in time to the music, his dome taking everything in, no doubt recording the event for prosperity. Padmé was glad she had taken the trouble to collect him, for she knew that the little droid would undoubtedly prove useful in the days to come.
Around her the celebrations continued, serving to remind her of another victory which she had missed. Her future husband winning the Boota Eve Classic. That's if Watto had let Anakin compete with his own pod, for the Troydarian's needed repairs before it could take part in another race. She had been angry at Qui-Gon for his casual way of bargaining using that dangerous race to win them the hyperdrive for her ship and the boy's freedom, but that negative emotion had faded away in the face of the boy's infectious enthusiasm over his victory. Had he been just as successful without their interference, she wondered. Doubtless she would soon find out.
Padmé knew that she could not simply travel to Tatooine and free the Skywalkers. Her position would bring attention to the act, not just from the holonet and the Republic, but from the Senate and her Senator. She had to free Anakin without attracting the notice of Palpatine, else all her efforts to protect her future husband would be in vain. Nor could she just free all the slaves on Tatooine, for such an expense was beyond the wealth of Naboo's economy. She could not single the planet out, her scheme must include all the inhabited systems within the Outer Rim.
A treaty, she silently concluded, would be the best method in which to achieve her aims. She would provide for Tatooine and its fellow systems the one thing her world had in abundance; water. In exchange, she would ask for them to follow Republic guidelines, which would include banning slavery. She could see to such a ban personally, something she was known for doing since her election, and in the process arrange for the Skywalkers, along with some other families in a similar situation, to have the opportunity to seek employment and homes on Naboo. As long as she took care to make sure Anakin and his mother were absent whenever Palpatine paid a visit, the threat of his influence would be removed.
That was her next task, one which could only be embarked upon when the Coruscant delegation had departed for the Core. Her government would be puzzled as to why she had suddenly decided to care about the Outer Rim, but she would give them a logical explanation if she could, or just let them believe it was a sudden whim. She could not afford to delay as the negotiations might take years, possibly spanning the election of the next Chancellor, and Shmi's encounter with Mr Lars. Padmé did not wish to prevent that match, but it could prevent her from meeting Anakin if the moisture farmer brought Shmi before she managed to free her future husband.
Her head was liable to spin, overwhelmed by the endless possibilities, maybes and what ifs. She could not predict every scenario, prevent every outcome. Whatever happened to her now, or to the Republic, she had to remember that.