Bid Time Return by Danielle

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Part 8: To Foreign Passages.
(Richard II act I, sc. 3 l. 271)

Tatooine was hotter than Padmé remembered, though admittedly she was wearing a different outfit the last time she had visited this planet. A part of her wished she could slip into the anonymity of those peasant robes once more, but she had mission to fulfil here, one which required the Queen and not the handmaiden decoy.

Accompanying her were a small retinue of handmaidens, along with Captain Panaka, and the Jedi who the Council had sent to assist her. She had been quite surprised when she welcomed the being on Naboo before they travelled from there to Tatooine together, to discover that it would be Obi-Wan, who was undertaking the negotiations as his trials for knighthood. It felt odd to be here with Obi-Wan instead of Master Jinn, or Anakin, when he was searching for his mother, though she was relieved that Master Jinn was not with them, because she feared that his presence might merely incur something of a repeat of her last visit to Tatooine, taking Anakin to join the Jedi Order and disowning Obi-Wan. However she was glad to have a familiar Jedi joining her, rather than a stranger, someone whom she knew and respected for their skills in negotiation. Granted Obi-Wan was somewhat younger and his skills had yet to be tested without those of his master to fall back on, but Padmé had little doubt of his success in their endeavour.

She had requested that the Tatooine representatives show her the slave quarters owned by the Hutts and other beings who conducted their businesses here, as well as being allowed to speak with a slave and slave owner. Partly in the hope that she might see Anakin and his mother, although she had no idea what she was to say to either of them if she did. The last moments between her and Anakin still featured prominently in her mind, compared to the first time they met. She had been little more than curious then, concerning the hitherto strange planet she was seeing, its practices and customs, though a precocious nine year old youngling professing a desire to marry her did catch her by surprise.

Her curiosity did not alter when she learned that the boy was to accompany them back to Coruscant and hopefully join the Jedi Order. She had felt sorry for Anakin, to be separated from his mother and rather annoyed at Master Jinn for not being able to free her too, but nothing more than that. Her love for him came later, when she met him as a Senator, ten years after their first meeting. Though she had been disturbed by him then, at his intensity concerning her, and the strength of his desire for her despite that he had not seen her for a decade.

She had been a little nervous about his love surviving the distance between their first acquaintance and their renewed one, concerned that he idolised her, rather than truly loved her. During the brief time that they were married, this worry did not lessen, especially when they disagreed over the way the Republic was governed by Palpatine. If he had not fallen to the darkside, she was not sure how long their marriage would have continued, though that uncertainty was influenced by his descent and loyalty to Palpatine, not the extent of their love for each other.

Before they left for Tatooine, Padmé had decided that she would try to save Anakin from falling to the darkside by whatever means she could. If that included being unable to marry him, or making sure he was not discovered by the Jedi, then she would make that sacrifice. It would enable a difficult handling of how she managed to free him and his mother without Obi-Wan learning of the unique abilities that Anakin possessed, but she was hopeful that this could be accomplished.
As Tatooine was governed by a series of local councils, Padmé had arranged to meet with their representatives in Bestine, a city that was some distance from Mos Espa; the one place she wanted to visit the most. She did intend to visit that city at some point during her negotiations however.

Her royal yacht had landed in the spaceport, which was not far from the building where the delegates had arranged to meet. Padmé also intended to visit all of the major cities if she could, and deal with the local councils individually, in a effort to ensure a measure of fair play. In her absence from Naboo, her government would take care of running her home planet, and one of her handmaidens was ready to step into her sovereign shoes, so to speak, for a time. Eirtaé had been a rival of hers during the elections, only joining her retinue after she had become Queen, and then remained very reluctant to be friends with the woman who had beaten her to the throne. But Padmé persisted in befriending the blond handmaiden, as Eirtaé came to be known, and eventually her efforts were rewarded.

She had taken the precaution of informing her Senator that she would be within the Arkanis system for a few days to lead her new initiative of eradicating slavery - she had been deliberately vague about her exact location - only to find that Palpatine was too concerned with problems of his own. As she had suspected the end of Valorum's second and final term as Chancellor was near, and all of the Galactic Senate were scrambling to fund or court the hopeful candidates campaigns for the executive office. Wishing her Senator good luck, - a lie she hoped he would not see through - she had casually asked for a moment with the outgoing Chancellor, not expecting to be granted such a liberty, and consequently, was surprised when Palpatine promised to arrange it for her upon her return from the Arkanis system.

He would be less eager about arranging such conversations when he learned what she planned to say to Finis Valorum, but hopefully he would never find out that she was going to warn the outgoing Supreme Chancellor to be careful during his retirement. In her future Valorum died in a tragic accident aboard his freighter, the Star of Iskin, after the second battle of Jabiim. The attack was attributed to terrorism, possibly from the Separatists but Padmé knew that there was more behind the explosion than just the war. Valorum had been meeting with Senator Organa and speaking out against Palpatine, warning the Republic not to trust him. If only they had heeded such advice, but perhaps by then it was already too late.

Rousing herself from her reflections, Padmé collected her thoughts, preparing herself for the meetings that lay ahead. It would not do for her to become distracted by her memories, as useful as they were for reminding her of the tragic future which she had to prevent from repeating itself. Keeping Valorum alive could wait. Freeing Anakin and his mother from slavery could not. Almost immediately she tempered that resolve into a determination to free all of those she could. For if she singled one or two out from among the many, not only was she condemning the rest to their fetters forever, she was also placing the Skywalkers in unnecessary danger. Anonymity was the best way to prevent her future husband from falling to the darkside, as much as Anakin might be unhappy with her for ensuring it. Besides his need for such praise derived from his own insecurities, a character trait which would not be resolved by keeping him under public scrutiny.

The delegates awaited her arrival at the head of the decorative steps which lead to Bestine's local council building. Returning their greeting bows, Padmé cleared her mind before mounting the short staircase to meet them.

"Welcome to Tatooine, Your Highness," the head of the Bestine Council declared when she had reached him and his associates.

"I thank you for the welcome, Councillor," Padmé returned. "It is a pleasure to be here. I am glad you allowed me to come and share my views. I hope we can reach an understanding which is beneficial for all concerned."

"As do we all," the Councillor replied. "It is an honour to have so distinguished a being from the Republic take an interest in our troubles."

"I believe many beings would be gravely concerned if they came to know of and understand your plight," Padmé returned. "I can only apologise for their ignorance, vow to enlighten them, and myself, if I may."

"A sound promise," the Councillor mused. He took a step to the side and with an expansive sweep of his arm, gestured to the entrance which lay before them. "Come. Let us begin our education."

When Padmé emerged from the building, the heat from the twin suns was slowly dying, preparing to be replaced by the sharp, bitter cold of the night. Bestine's streets were relatively deserted, most of the city's citizens either hurrying home or already safe in their beds. Captain Panaka and Padawan Kenobi encircled about her protectively, keeping a wary eye on those beings who still trod through the dusty streets. Few places on Tatooine were immune from the hive of scum and villainy that the planet had become notorious for, and Bestine was not one of them.

She turned from her security chief to observe the Jedi, an action which had become something of a routine during the day. Her meetings with the local council delegates had indeed been very educational. Despite Tatooine's reputation, they were also orderly and eloquent, as well as committed to the cause of eradicating slavery from their world. Everyone present had contributed to the discussions, expressing sincere concerns, and equally sincere promises. Of course it would take time to see how long these promises lasted and how far the concerns extended, but overall she believed that they had made good progress.

Obi-Wan's contribution to the meeting had been vital. He had listened to each delegate's words quietly, ensuring that everyone had their say, and the liberty to say it, before offering his own views, which were eloquently and diplomatically expressed. He caught the tone of the meeting admirably and offered a sound, unbiased view which few could disagree with. She could not help but compare it to her other experiences with fellow members of the Order, the result finding them lacking. Anakin had a mercurial tendency to deliver his decisions on a whim, often changing them and insisting that he was right when it turned out to be otherwise. Her one experience with Qui-Gon Jinn had been of a man who was prepared to place everything on a matter of chance, determined that the Force would sort all. She was grateful for Obi-Wan's more measured and practical approach.

It was a short walk back to the spaceport where they were spending the night on her yacht, as she would be making a tour of the major cities tomorrow, in the company of the delegates native to them. First stop was Pika Oasis, followed by Mos Taike, Mos Entha and finally Mos Espa. Padmé was glad that she would have time for only a short visit to the place where Anakin would be, and what was left of the day after that to pause and reflect, before she and the delegates gathered for another meeting in Bestine, after which they would tour the other cites that lay to the south. Too long and she might say something she would regret, or Obi-Wan might notice what was special about Anakin.

Padmé did not blame Obi-Wan for Anakin's fall to the darkside. She knew that her husband was responsible for his own actions, just as much as Obi-Wan was responsible for his. But she did believe that the way in which Anakin had been found by the Jedi, lifted from Tatooine and his mother, at such an age where attachment was formed, did count towards her husband's descent. She knew well that Anakin had vowed to come back and free his mother when he became a knight, and but for her abduction and subsequent death in a Tusken camp he might well have done so. She was determined to ensure his and his mother's freedom, or at least make it possible for him to fulfil his vow, without it costing his soul.

But that meeting was for the morrow, and the short journey back to her yacht lay immediately before her. Though she had no cause to distrust the watchful protection of her security, or Obi-Wan's, it would not do for her to ignore her own caution and become so lost in her thoughts. There would be time enough to prepare for her meeting in Mos Espa when they were back inside her ship, not now in the potentially dangerous journey to where it was docked.

Despite her concerns they reached the silvered yacht without incident. Padmé parted from her security and Obi-Wan, but not her handmaidens, at the door to her suite. Inside they went about their duties in silence, respecting their sovereign's need for contemplation. She let them undress her from her finery without comment, suddenly feeling quite tired. Her mind was torn between both wishing the time away until she reached Mos Espa and for it to never come.

A restless night awaited her and an even more nervous morning. She was both relieved and annoyed that Mos Espa was the last destination on her trip. Yet there was nothing to do but push on and so she rose from her bed to dress in the peasant clothing that she had informed the delegates she would wear, her excuse being that it would cause the slaves and their owners to treat her as they would any other customer, rather than being overly generous just because she was the Queen of the Naboo. Fortunately the delegates had took that as judicious handling, and her security had been glad of her wish to travel incognito. None of them knew that she had chosen to wear them for another reason, because it was what she had worn the first time she visited Watto's shop.

The delegates arrived early for the tour and Padmé graciously offered them sustenance from the ship's galley, which they accepted. The relatively short ride from Bestine to Pika Oasis was passed in a pleasant fashion, as they dined and talked of their hopes concerning what they hoped would be accomplished from this tour.

Pika was famous for producing a sweet fruit native to Tatooine, from which cakes and alcoholic beverages were made. It was also home to Dannar's Claim, Bezzard Farm and Gault Farm. As with most farms on Tatooine, they were moisture based, and family run. And they were also free of slaves, hiring only paid workers if they needed them. A prime example of how things could be done. Here Padmé and the delegates spent an educational hour, as she discovered that some of councillors were slave owners themselves, who seemed surprised at the additional amount of produce paid workers could harvest compared to those who worked for nothing but the whim of their owners.

After Pika Oasis came Mos Taike, which was not far from Xelric Draw; a shallow, open-mouthed canyon where her yacht had landed on her first visit to Tatooine. Mos Taike was a small town, with no shuttleport, although it did have a garage for vehicle reparations and a cantina which sometimes doubled as a hospital. Despite its size, the town was home to a few slaves, some of whom were happy to speak to them about their lives and working conditions.

Next came Mos Entha, a large, sprawling city, dominated by four tall spaceport hubs, measuring five hundred metres in height. Supporting itself through the bustling trade that such buildings brought with them, Mos Entha also used moisture farms and hydroponic gardens. There were hotels, museums, shopping centres and restaurants, some located within the spaceport hubs, others within Mos Entha itself. In a surprising contrast to most cities on Tatooine, Mos Entha had a visible police force who cared more for the rights of the native residents and visitors than those of the Hutts, although that did not mean that some areas of corruption did not exist and continue to ply a lucrative trade.

It was afternoon when they reached Mos Espa, the bustling spaceport which contained the two slaves that Padmé had come here to free, protecting them from those who wished to corrupt them into further evils by striving to free the rest on Tatooine along with them.

She had believed that her nerves faded away through conducting herself and the delegation to those cities where her heart was not so directly involved, yet within moments of reaching the edge of Mos Espa's beginnings, that emotion returned anew.

There had been some discussion back in Bestine whether or not to negotiate with the Hutts, some of whom treated a few cities, such as Mos Espa, as their own corrupt mini empires, at the cost of the local authorities and the poor citizens, who chose to ply their trade independently. Padmé had been unsure whether the complete freedom for every slave could be reached without involving the Hutts in some part of the negotiations, and Obi-Wan had agreed with her. However, the Councillors from Mos Espa, as well as those other cities where dealing with the Hutts was commonplace, assured them that they could secure the freedom of the slaves which were owned by them, by establishing a deal with the independent slavers first. Once the Hutts saw the advantages and profit concerned, they would also comply.

Watto's shop looked the same as when she first saw it, like a weed in bud rising from the desert, near a yard full of junk. Directing a glance into the outdoor area, she saw the Watto talking with a group of Jawas, his Troydarian wings in full flap, as he tried to prevent the small hooded beings from getting the better of him in the deal, or stealing some of his junk right under his nose, as they were known to do throughout the galaxy.

Catching sight of the owner, the Councillors moved forward, heading towards the yard to talk to him. Padmé hung back, wondering if she could slip away from the crowd, maybe find Anakin in the shop. Her handmaidens were dressed in a similar fashion to her, including Sabé, who still doubled as her decoy, and had performed the sovereign duties once or twice already on this mission, which should make an escape from the delegation easier. She threw a discreet glance towards her security. Captain Panaka was standing with her retinue, and as for Obi-Wan, his attention seemed to be captured by a small Rodian, who was exclaiming in a delighted manner at seeing a Jedi. After a moment she recognised him as Wald, one of Anakin's friends who had helped him with the pod racer of the eve of the Boonta.

It was now or never. She took a breath and darted inside the shop.

The place was cluttered with junk, consisting of various mechanical parts, belonging to droids, speeders, swoop bikes, pod racers, spaceships, even vaporators. As she had hoped, a small human boy was minding the counter, ingrossed in fiddling with a small device until her entrance caused him to look up.

"Are you an angel?" He blurted out curiously.

Padmé smiled, pleased that he was beginning with the same line of inquiry that she had first heard from him, in her mind, a decade ago, when all was innocent between them.

"What?" She queried gently.

"An angel," he repeated, never taking his blue-eyed gaze off her. "I've heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They live on the Moons of Iego I think. They are the most beautiful creatures in the universe. They are good and kind, and so pretty they make even the most hardened spice pirate cry."

It felt just as odd now to hear such a line coming from a boy as young as he, as it had the first time she had heard it. "I've never heard of angels," she answered gently.

"You must be one..." Anakin persisted. "Maybe you just don't know it."

She smiled at him, caught by his firm insistent belief. "You're a funny little boy. How do you know so much?"

"Since I was very little, three, I think," he answered. "My Mom and I were sold to Gardulla the Hutt, but she lost us, betting on the Podraces, to Watto, who's a lot better master than Gardulla, I think."

Even though she already knew this, Padmé was aware that she still had to pretend her ignorance, if her wishes were to come true. "You're... a slave?"

"I am a person!" He shot back at her defiantly. "My name is Anakin."

Padmé flinched despite herself. For a moment the face of Darth Vader had glared at her, the darker side of the man she had loved. Blinking the image away, she forced herself to continue with the conversation that one day would come to mean so much to the both of them. "I'm sorry. I don't fully understand. This is a strange world to me."

Anakin studied her intently, and she took care to meet his gaze as she had done once before, all those years ago. "You are a strange girl to me. Anakin Skywalker."

"Padmé Naberrie," she replied, for it was not the Queen he had fallen in love with, but the girl. At least she hoped that was the case. She knew he had idolised her, but it must have been because of her beauty in his eyes, not her position.

He continued to study her, then declared those words which she had found strange and oddly chilling coming from a nine year boy, only to realise the truth of them some ten years later. "I'm going to marry you."

As she had done during this meeting in her time, Padmé laughed at his prophecy, for it would not become true until a decade from now.

"I mean it," Anakin insisted, not deterred by her humour.

She let her laughter slowly die. "You are an odd one. Why do you say that?"

"I guess because it's what I believe," he replied, the strength of his belief frightening her alittle once again.

Taking another breath, she turned him down as gently as she could. "Well I'm afraid I can't marry you, Anakin, you're just a little boy."

"I won't always be," he solemnly assured her, and she was struck for the first time by the truth in this phrase and what it could mean for the future.

The noise outside rose up in decibels, causing her to realise that it was time she rejoined her group outside, before they noticed her absence. Sadly, she darted towards the entrance. "I must go. I'm glad I met you, Anakin."

"I'm glad I met you too," he said.

Stepping out away from the refreshing coolness of the shop's interior back into the full glaring heat of the afternoon suns, Padmé hurriedly immersed herself within the delegation, who were still talking with Watto. Wald had joined them, emboldened to talk to the Councillors by Obi-Wan, whose interest in him managed to combat whatever nerves he might have usually suffered from in his owner's presence.

Padmé listened to their conversation, but her mind was still full of her meeting with Anakin. The harshness of his life had caught her forcibly and she was anxiously wondering if and she could free him and his mother before she left Tatooine. For a moment she was insensible to her past concerns about Obi-Wan noticing the boy's immense sensitivity to the Force, focused only on rescuing him and his mother from their plight.

If anything could break her from her anxiously thoughtful planning, it was seeing Cliegg Lars that did it. Padmé froze as she watched the man she had only known before crippled, by both grief and loss of limb, walk unaided into Watto's shop.

She watched and remembered when she last saw the man; a fleeting acquaintance while she tried to make herself useful; Anakin having left her at the Lars homestead to go and find his mother. He all but ignored the Lars, he didn't see how the hope that his search might succeed reigned briefly on Cliegg's face before his return with a swaddling bound corpse in his arms deposed of it forever.

Anakin's selfishness then caused her to realise her own now, born as his was out of an arrogant conceit that no one could save those who were given up as lost but him, so was hers to save him and his mother now, believing that no one else could, not even her treaty which she had hitherto been so careful to create and prepared to enforce. Even now she was risking the future of her husband in face of a possible encounter aboard her ship with the man who was the image of the dream occupation his youth held. To take Shmi and her son away from here would not cure Ani of his selfish possessiveness which only time and a freedom of his own making or his mother's could reconcile.

It would also deprive Shmi of a loving family that Watto by his continued ownership of her sought to deny, whilst exposing Anakin to a rigid Order more ready to reject him than to make the changes he needed to feel like he belonged. No it would be better to leave him here, to let Cliegg try his hand at freeing them both, giving Anakin the family and freedom he had yearned for. In the future it would be up to him to make the choice to travel to Naboo in the resettlement program which she planned to establish, as part of the treaty, ignorant of the Jedi, or her wayward Senator. She had to protect him just as Shmi and Obi-Wan once did, and hope that the Force still brought them together in the end.
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