The solitary figure stood near one of the large arched windows overlooking the immaculate gardens of the Organa palace, peering out at the many guests gathered under the starlit sky. Partially hidden by the hood of her garment, the young woman's kind but tired face held an echo of a once regal beauty.
Two other handmaidens giggled pointedly as they passed by her, their voices echoing in the cavernous corridor, causing the young woman to glance in their direction. She stared after them for a moment then sighed as she turned her gaze once again to the garden.
Cassiel knew the others disliked her.
She heard the remarks and rumors, always whispered just a bit too loudly, regarding the strange, sad handmaiden. But Cassiel didn?t care. Some of it, she knew, was fueled by jealousy. Being a personal handmaiden to the Organas' only child was a coveted position, and the others could not understand why this honor had been given to someone with less years of service to the family. It did not help matters that the Organas gave Cassiel a freer rein than they allowed the others.
Cassiel had no interest in socializing and making friends. She kept to herself much of the time. Of course, this attitude only made the already vicious rumors worse. The only time Cassiel seemed truly happy was when she was caring for her young charge. Through the years, the two had formed an unusually close bond.
The handmaiden was startled from her reverie as a loud explosion marked the beginning of the light display, the culmination of the day?s celebrations. As the colorful sparks illuminated little Leia's excited face, Cassiel couldn?t help but smile. The little girl had had such a special day. Dignitaries from across the galaxy had gathered to help Bail's little girl celebrate her Fifth Lifeday, and the Organas had spared no expense in planning the festivities.
Musicians had entertained throughout the day, and the children had enjoyed numerous games and activities. The kitchen staff had prepared a veritable feast consisting of Leia's favorite foods. Then, of course, there were the gifts. The table next to Leia was overflowing with trinkets, toys and other items brought by the guests - presents given, Cassiel believed, more to impress her father than out of genuine love for the child.
Leia clapped her hands in delight as more and more colors filled the sky above her Alderaanian home. Cassiel's smile faded, and she felt a stab of jealousy pierce her heart as Bail's wife bent down to wrap her daughter in a hug. Cassiel turned from the window and began to walk slowly down the ornate hallway, tears stinging her eyes.
The air finally grew quiet, and as Cassiel passed by another window, she noticed the guests beginning to disperse. As she watched the garden gradually empty, her mind wandered to another planet and to another child.
How was her son celebrating his Lifeday, she wondered. The Lars household could not afford the same luxuries that Leia enjoyed, but Owen and Beru were good, caring people who loved Luke very much. Cassiel had no doubt that her son was being treated to his own special, albeit simpler, celebration.
She wondered if Luke had received her present.
Cassiel knew that Owen and Beru would report her foolish move to Obi-Wan, and he, in turn, would be furious with her. He was so certain that Vader and his minions were watching the Lars family, waiting for any sign that his estranged wife might still be alive.
"You must understand. From this moment forward, you are to sever all ties with your son. If Vader intercepts a communiqu? from you, then Luke's true identity will be revealed, and all of us will be in danger." These were Obi-Wan's final instructions to her on that fateful day almost five years ago.
Having listened to his edict, she kissed her son gently on the forehead and inhaled his scent, desperate for even a moment's more time. Too soon, however, Obi-Wan was gently reaching for the newborn. She struggled, clutching the child even more tightly to her breast, pleading tearfully for another solution.
"Milady, please," she heard Dorm? whisper as her friend's gentle hands came to rest on her slumped shoulders.
In her heart, the former senator knew this was indeed the only way. If she truly loved her child, she had to send him away. As the others watched and waited, she gathered every ounce of courage that remained within her. With a final whisper of promise to her son, she surrendered the infant.
"I'm truly sorry," Obi-Wan murmured as he took the child from her embrace and hurried to his ship, leaving her to suffer with her grief.
As she watched the ship disappear into the twilight, the young mother sank slowly to the ground, oblivious to her friend's efforts to console her. Now she had lost both a husband and a son. The only thought that gave her a moment's solace was the knowledge that she would soon be allowed to return to her daughter.
Until now, she had abided by Obi-Wan's decree and had attempted no contact with Luke, but the empty ache inside of her grew stronger with each passing day. She did not know what her son looked like. She had never even heard the sound of his voice.
Cassiel could not bear to let another day pass without being a part of Luke's life in some small way, especially now that her health seemed to be deteriorating even more rapidly. The Organas had summoned the most respected healers, but no one could offer an explanation or solution for the handmaiden's condition. It was if, they said, the young woman had simply lost the desire to live.
She knew she had been taking a risk, but Luke was her son.
It hadn't been difficult to find a smuggler who didn't ask too many questions. In her heart, Cassiel had always known the lightsaber belonged to Luke. He deserved to have a part of his father with him. Unlike Obi-Wan, Cassiel still believed there was good in him, that the man that she had loved still existed somewhere behind the hideous mask, and it was this part of his father that Cassiel hoped Luke would someday come to know.
Throughout the years, Cassiel kept her lost husband's lightsaber, despite her frequent urges to destroy it. From time to time, she would remove the weapon from its box and cradle the cold metal in her hands, remembering.
Now, sending Luke his father's most prized possession had filled Cassiel with a great sense of completion. She didn't even care that Luke would probably never know the identity of the mysterious stranger who had sent him the gift, if Obi-Wan and Owen even allowed Luke to receive it.
Waiting in the shadows of the docking bay, the slender package tucked protectively in her arms, she had replayed every detail of that day - the day that changed her world forever. In her mind?s eye, she could still see Obi-Wan standing before her, wounded and bleeding. She had known before he even uttered a word. As she struggled in vain to fight back the tears, Obi-Wan had gently taken her hand and pressed his dead Padawan?s charred lightsaber into her slender palm.
"I failed him," he whispered, more to himself than to her.
Obi-Wan's words still haunted Padm?'s dreams.
When Padm? discovered she was carrying Anakin's child, it gave her a renewed sense of hope, and over time she had accepted her loss. But then she was faced with a new reality. Her husband had indeed been stolen from her on that fateful day on the volcanic mountains of Geonosis, but not by death. When she learned the truth about Darth Vader, she had once again mourned the loss of her husband. She felt as if, for the second time in her young life, she had become a widow.
Soon, however, Padm? was forced to put aside her sorrows. With the clone army and the planets of the Trade Federation now under his control, Palpatine had disbanded the Senate and declared himself Emperor. Jedi Knights across the galaxy fell as Palpatine waged a war to rid the galaxy of anyone who might pose a threat to his power.
Forced into hiding as the Republic crumbled around them, Padm?, several other members of the former Senate and the surviving members of the Jedi Council had formed an underground resistance movement to fight Palpatine's growing power. In the darkness of her grief, this struggle to restore freedom was the only thing that gave Padm? the strength to live. She was determined to raise her child in a galaxy of peace.
When she learned that in her womb she carried not just one child, but a son and daughter, a happiness and peace began to once again fill her soul. However, as time passed, and the tyranny of the Emperor grew, she began to realize that even this joy would soon be taken from her. The whispered conversations and mournful glances of those around her left little doubt.
Desperate to keep the remains of her family together, Padm? had pleaded with Obi-Wan to allow her to keep her children and raise them on a planet beyond the reach of the Empire, but to no avail. The former Jedi Master knew that both Skywalker children had a destiny that must be fulfilled. It was essential that the infants be separated. Although their father had not known of their existence, Anakin's children would no doubt be strong in the Force, and, if kept together, their life energies would radiate as a beacon for the Emperor.
Padm? reluctantly agreed to Obi-Wan's plan. Accompanied by Dorm?, Padm??s loyal handmaiden and friend, they had fled under the cover of darkness. As rumors of their deaths in an explosion during an attack circulated throughout the Empire, the two former rebel leaders awaited the birth of the Chosen One's children on a remote swamp planet in the Dagobah system.
The pain of childbirth had barely subsided when Padm? learned of her children's fate. Believing the son of Skywalker to be the one final hope for the galaxy, Master Yoda and Obi-Wan decided Luke should be raised away from the scrutiny of the Emperor, lest his parentage be discovered. If trained in the ways of the Dark Side, the boy would be a powerful weapon for the Empire. Luke's aunt and uncle had agreed to raise him as a moisture farmer on Tatooine, and Obi-Wan would remain close by and watch over him.
Bail Organa of Alderaan was one of the few politicians who had managed to survive the Emperor's wrath. Unable to have children of their own, he and his wife had readily agreed to adopt Leia. If she inherited her mother's talents, Obi-Wan believed Padm?'s daughter could one day be a valuable political force and wanted her to be raised and trained in the ways of diplomacy.
Obi-Wan knew that Padm?'s strength and courage could be a valuable influence on her daughter and made arrangements for her to work as a servant in the Organa household. Padm? would live her life disguised as a handmaiden, just as she had done during the blockade crisis that had brought Anakin into her life.
Although the other handmaidens in the palace had never seen the young Senator from Naboo, extra precautions were taken to protect her identity. Hidden behind artificial lenses, the piercing brown eyes that had once so captivated her young Jedi suitor were now a pale blue. Her long raven locks were now short and golden, and her once regal tones were now masked in the accent of the common citizen of Alderaan.
Shortly before Leia's first Lifeday, Cassiel entered the doors of the Organa Palace.
Senator Padm? Amidala-Skywalker was no more.
As the terrace doors were thrown open, cheerful, buzzing voices resounded through the palace wing, indicating that the family had returned indoors. Cassiel quickened her pace along the corridor. She fought back the sudden wave of dizziness that threatened to overwhelm her, making her way resolutely to Leia's quarters.
The handmaiden knew there was still something else she must do.
The door hissed softly as Cassiel entered Leia?s nursery. The room was an obvious reflection of parental devotion. It was filled with ornate furnishings, and shelves groaned under the weight of countless dolls and other playthings. From the luxurious fabrics adorning the windows to the soft, plump bed coverings, everything in the room reflected the pastel hues of an Alderaanian sunset.
This room was Cassiel's haven, and she closed her eyes for a moment, inhaling deeply, as if trying to capture Leia's presence. A familiar peace washed over her, and the handmaiden smiled as she crossed the room and began preparing Leia's bed. Soon after, the little brown-eyed child burst excitedly into the room.
"Cassiel, Cassiel! Did you see them? Did you? There were so many pretty colors!"
"Yes, I did. They were beautiful. Did you enjoy your party?" Cassiel replied as she gathered the child in an embrace of her own.
The little girl nodded thoughtfully before responding.
"Yes, but Jarem was mean to me. He kept pulling my hair and trying to take my ribbons," she said, pointing at the colorful strips of fabric adorning her long brown hair.
"That's because he is fond of you. Little boys always tease the little girls they like," Cassiel laughed as she began helping the child change into her bedclothes.
"Well, I don?t like him. I like nice boys!" The little girl exclaimed huffily, her mouth set in a pout.
Cassiel laughed again. She scooped the little girl in her arms and twirled around the room until Leia squealed in delight. When Cassiel put her back down, Leia, still giggling, scrambled onto the foot of her bed. Cassiel sat on the bed behind the child and hummed softly to Leia as she began to unweave the ribbons that had caused such a stir.
"I like that song. What is it?" the girl asked after awhile.
"Oh, it's very old and is a traditional song on my home planet. My mother used to sing it to me when I was about your age," she answered as her hands worked their way through the intricate braids. "It's about a young woman whose true love was taken away from her. She was so brokenhearted, she spent her life watching the stars every night, waiting and hoping for his return."
"Did her love return?" The little girl seemed irritated that her friend wasn't devoting her full attention to her.
Cassiel was silent and her hands stilled for a moment.
After a few heartbeats, the handmaiden began humming again, and Leia imitated the melody as she rocked her favorite doll back and forth in her arms, waiting for Cassiel to complete her task.
A few minutes later, Leia was climbing underneath her bed coverings, and Cassiel was gently tucking them around her small frame. The handmaiden hesitated for a moment. There were so many gifts. Bail would never know, she reasoned. Then, before she could lose her courage, she sat down on the edge of the child's bed.
"Leia, I have something for you, a gift, but it has to be our little secret," Cassiel said in a mysterious voice as she pulled a small box from the folds of her simple garment.
"Oh!" Leia squealed excitedly as she sat up, took the box and began to rip away its colorful wrappings.
"It's beautiful," the little girl gasped as she lifted the necklace from its box and held it between her small fingers. "Thank you, Cassiel."
The handmaiden smiled, but the expression did not quite reach her eyes.
"I'm glad you like it. It was given to me a long time ago by someone very special, and now I want you to have it." Cassiel's voice quivered as she helped the girl work the delicate fastenings. "Whenever you wear it, I want you to remember me and how much I love you," she added as she smoothed the child's brown locks around her shoulders.
"How do I look?" Leia asked playfully as she lifted her chin, presenting her newly adorned neck for inspection.
Cassiel stared down at the little girl, with her beautiful brown eyes and achingly familiar smile.
"Like an - angel," Cassiel's voice caught as she whispered the word.
"What are angels?" Leia asked, a puzzled look on her cherubic face.
Cassiel closed her eyes for a moment as the memories washed over her. She missed him so.
When she answered, it was his voice that resonated in her mind. "Oh, Leia, angels are the most beautiful creatures in the entire universe. They live on the Moons of Iego." She gently cupped Leia's chin in her hand. "Now, little one, it is time to sleep."
Leia settled herself back onto her pillows. The handmaiden kissed Leia softly on the cheek as she turned off the bedside lights and began walking towards the nursery door. When she reached the doorway, she turned to glance behind her. By the moonlight streaming through the window, Cassiel could see that Leia?s eyes were already closed, and she was clutching the japor snippet in her tiny hand.
The handmaiden gazed lovingly at the sleeping child.
"Happy Lifeday, my daughter," she whispered softly before turning and exiting the nursery.
Cassiel had taken only a few steps along the now-darkened corridor before the dizziness began to once again assault her. She leaned against the wall for a few minutes, waiting impatiently for it to pass, angered at the inconvenience of it all.
When she felt her strength return, Cassiel once again began making her way to her sleeping quarters, humming her haunting song as she walked down the lonely hallway.
Original cover by obaona. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.