Padm? Naberrie Skywalker sat on the short flight of steps surrounding the fountain, her eyes closed, listening to the hypnotic music of the trickling water. She had been a onetime queen of Naboo, and later its senator; but now that it came down to her last day on her beloved homeworld, she found herself as far away from the royal palace and Theed as she dared, taking refuge in the beautiful gardens near her hometown. As if to the choreography of the fountain, the air around her resonated with the raucous singing of the many birds that had made these gardens their home, but strangely enough, Padm? knew that she would rather listen to these birds than to an orchestra of the most talented musicians.
Her own feelings remained a paradox to her.
She couldn't leave the gardens, though not for the lack of trying. During the past few days, she had tried to pretend that the gardens didn't exist, tried to find something to occupy her mind, but in the end she had always kept giving in, always kept coming back here. Padm? knew why she felt the way she did, of course. The beauty of the gardens soothed her soul temporarily, but it only threw her deeper and deeper into an abyss of pain and despair.
Only days, or even hours, remained before the clone armies would arrive and destroy her world, and there was nothing she or anyone else could do about it. Her love for her Naboo was as unquestionable as her loyalty, yet she was unable to act according to either.
Padm? was leaving Naboo in the time of her greatest need, and looking at the lush forests and the beautiful gardens only reminded her of what she was doing. There was nothing left that she could do even if she stayed, and Padm? knew it, but she still couldn't stop the guilt from overwhelming her. Perhaps that would be a fitting end: to die with her people when the Imperials came and attacked, and she would have done exactly that. If not for her children.
Leia and Luke Skywalker. Her eleven-day-old children.
She could face the Emperor without a shudder, and she could even fight her husband, Anakin Skywalker, or Darth Vader, as he now preferred to be called; but she could not stand the thought of her children dying. Padm? would do anything to protect them, even forsake her own home. And that was exactly what Padm? was doing.
Padm? sighed in despair. No, Anakin, her darling husband, had died a long time ago, leaving only an evil Dark Lord of the Sith in his place.
During the many months of her pregnancy, Padm? had envisioned a happy life for Luke and Leia, a life that was filled with toys and love, from both of their parents. Padm? could hardly say that she had led a normal life, for even from when she had been very young, she had strove to become a politician, an ambassador for her people. She had become Queen Amidala at the age of fourteen, and her life had gone haywire, almost dysfunctional, since then.
The year and a half she had spent with Anakin after their marriage was priceless, and that was one part of her life that she would never regret. Then they had started fighting, for their views often conflicted. Even from the beginning, Padm? worried that Anakin was slipping to the Dark Side, and she had attempted to shout some sense into his eccentric brain, but it had not worked. And now Anakin was a fallen Jedi, a Sith Lord, Emperor Palpatine's apprentice.
Anakin had chosen his fate, and he had ended up exactly where he started: a slave.
Padm? knew Anakin didn't realize it yet, but he would. He would realize that he had once again become what he hated the most, and the day the realization dawned upon him, he would regret the choices he made, wish that he had done many things differently. But by then it would be too late.
Weary and tired, surrounded by guilt and grief, Padm? pushed herself to her feet and trudged down toward her home, the house in which she and Anakin had stayed during the two years before he had left her. She promised herself to never come back here, to the gardens, again, and she had a strange feeling that this time she would keep her promise.
No, she would not come back here ever again because she could not.
To her surprise, she found Obi-Wan Kenobi waiting inside when she entered. Apparently, Sach?, Padm?'s sole companion nowadays, had let him in. Obi-Wan must have sensed her approach, for he looked at her even before she spoke. The person she had been expecting to be here, Sach?, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen; Padm? assumed she was with the children.
"Master Kenobi, this is a pleasant surprise," said Padm? dully, somehow not surprised at all.
"It's been too long, M'Lady," said Obi-Wan, rising from the chair in which he had been sitting. He was holding a drink that looked hardly touched. Padm? wondered how long he had been here.
"You can dispense with formality, Master Kenobi," said Padm? sighing. "I resigned from my post nearly six months ago."
She hadn't been very happy about it, but it had been necessary.
Padm? liked to find solutions herself, but she knew when to give up and ask for help.
All those months ago when Padm? had at last confided in Obi-Wan about her marriage to Anakin and the fact that she was pregnant, Obi-Wan had not been very happy. Actually, Obi-Wan had been very angry, if his face had been any measure, but the anger had passed quickly. Obi-Wan was ironical but, when it came to certain things, he was as predictable as a Hutt. Padm? had known that Obi-Wan would neither betray her nor her children, just as she knew that he would find someway out of the mess she had gotten herself into.
Obi-Wan had suggested that she resign her post as a senator, for walking around with her stomach bulging would lead to awkward questions.
"What have you decided?" Padm? asked, getting to the point.
"The question is what you have decided, Padm?," said Obi-Wan softly.
Padm? didn't answer immediately. Obi-Wan didn't pressure her; After all, he was a Jedi and had a bottomless pit of patience to draw upon.
"Tatooine is no place for a child." Padm? had been to Tatooine twice, and she didn't have many fond memories of that planet. She remembered her visits quite starkly, as if from a different lifetime. The planet was a bitter wasteland, unbearably hot and mercilessly dry, where the wretched scum and villainy of the galaxy roamed freely. She would rather let Luke die here than let him live there, lest he should fall in wrong hands and become a monster like his father ... like his father had become.
Obi-Wan seemed to know what was going on in Padm?'s mind, because he said, "I will take care of him, M'Lady. You have my word, whatever that may count these days."
"I know you will, Obi-Wan," said Padm? softly, "but.... Why can't I take him to Alderaan with me and Leia?"
"It will be difficult to conceal both their presences from Vader when they are together, M'Lady," Obi-Wan explained patiently, "especially when they are young, and their Force-senses are so feral. It is best if they live on two separate planets. Tatooine is scarcely populated, Padm?," he added with a sigh, nearly before the thought even occurred to Padm?, "and it would be the last place Vader would come looking for Luke."
Ironic, perhaps, that the safest place in the galaxy was in the midst of danger.
"Will you be raising him?" Padm? asked.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Again, too risky." Something came over his face, but Padm? couldn't quite figure out what it was. "Owen and Beru will make better parents," he added in a low voice.
A blanket of silence fell upon them, a silence in which Padm? and Obi-Wan each stared at a comfortable spot somewhere in the room, rather than at each other.
"We should leave now, M'Lady," said Obi-Wan finally, breaking the silence.
Nodding, Padm? headed to her children's bedroom, where Sach? was putting them to sleep. Sach?, the last of her loyal handmaidens, Leia's future "mother." Obi-Wan took Luke in his arms, and Sach? took Leia in hers. The handmaiden, the senator, and the Jedi walked out of the room and toward the hanger bay at the end of the street, in which their respective ships were docked.
"I will leave now, then, Padm?," said Obi-Wan just before he left to his ship.
"I only wanted a family, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan didn't answer. "May the Force be with you, M'Lady."
"And with you, Master Kenobi."
Original cover by Cosmic. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.