When her granddaughter Padmé's body is brought home to Naboo, Ryoo Thule suspects a secret that she will guard with her life.
She looks too beautiful to be dead.
That is my first thought upon seeing her. They had brought me here to attend to her according to our customs, one last sacred duty to the beloved dead. Not dead ? just sleeping, my heart insists stubbornly. My granddaughter could not be dead; she had too much life in her.
Yet there she lies, much too cold and still on a bier. Never had I seen her so still, for Padm? has always been light and motion, joy and laughter. For a moment, I weaken and turn away. I cannot bear it.
But like Padm?, I will not shirk my duty. Taking a deep breath, I approach her and reach out with one hand. She is pale, for her cheeks have lost the blush of vitality; her lips are parted, as if her last breath has just now pushed past them. I lean down and kiss that cold, perfect cheek, unable to stop the hot tears that fall. When I rise, it looks as if Padm? has been weeping, for my tears shimmer on her flesh.
I look down at last, to study the bulge of her belly. They had warned me, but the sight of it still shocks me. It makes our loss seem so much worse, and the wound of our grief that much deeper. Her secret love had been fruitful then, creating a child who would never see the light of a Naboo dawn or feel the gentle breezes of our homeworld. She would have been such a loving mother, I think to myself. Now that, too, is gone.
My great-grandchild, dead before I could memorize a tiny face or look for traces of loved ones long gone in perfect newborn features. I reach down and cradle the baby inside her, embracing my great-grandchild for the first and last time. As my hands close around her belly, I frown. I do not feel the tiny limbs I expect to feel, there are no small knees or head to palpate. Something is wrong ? something is missing. I do not think Padm??s baby still rests inside her and a rush of fierce joy runs through me.
I look at Padm??s face, wishing I could read her secrets there. ?Where is the man that you loved so much?? I ask her.
There is a slight noise from the corner and I whirl around. The shadows shift and transform themselves into the outline of a man. For just a moment, I fear I am gazing at a ghost, for the figure seems nothing more than a pale reflection of a man who once was. A dark cloak envelops him and he gives a slight bow, making the hem of the cloak move audibly along the floor. I cannot see his features clearly, but I see that there is loss and sorrow etched on the lines of his face. I feel a sense of kinship with him. He has also lost someone he loved more than he loved himself.
?Greetings,? I say quietly. ?It was you who brought her home to us??
?Yes,? he answers. ?I meant to be gone by now,? he adds apologetically. Then he turns to leave.
?Please,? I whisper urgently. ?Please stay for just a moment longer. I don?t think I can be alone?not just yet.? He shifts uneasily but then nods his agreement.
I turn back to Padm? and lift one cool hand in mine. ?Thank you for bringing her home.?
?This is where she belongs,? the man says quietly. He holds out his hand. ?Here?she would want to have this.?
I reach out to take it and my fingers close around it automatically. A necklace? My mind reaches back, searching for a memory. Yes, I remember seeing her wear this. She never told us where it came from, but the sad smile on her face told me more than she knew. I glance up at him to thank him and I start in surprise, for he has moved into the light and I get my first clear glimpse of him. ?I know you.?
A look of pain crosses his face and he shakes his head. ?I am not the man you think I am.?
I nod my agreement with this mixture of truth and lie. ?Very well,? I reply. ?But you resemble a man my granddaughter respected very much.?
He swallows hard and shakes his head once more, vehemently this time. ?Then she was wrong. That man was a fool who should have seen the truth ? he should have saved her.?
I see that he needs a moment to regain his composure, so I begin to unwrap the last gown that my Padm? will wear, laying it out on the table beside the bier. ?I?m sure he would have saved her if he could,? I murmur as I place some small white blossoms on the table as well. She had always loved the humble little flowers, and she will wear them for this last journey.
?You give him too much credit,? the man grinds out in a bitter voice.
I shrug and say, ?And maybe you give him too little.? Then I wipe her face with a cloth and brush back her hair from her brow.
?I should go.? He folds his hands inside his cloak and hesitates for a moment, as if he is at a loss for words. ?I?I am so sorry for your great loss.?
?It is a terrible thing to lose a granddaughter,? I murmur, ?even worse to lose her unborn baby. Such a comfort a child would have been.? I watch him closely and I am quite sure I see guilt flash across his handsome features.
?Yes?Yes it is,? he mutters, clearly ill at ease.
?You?re not a very good liar,? I say dryly.
He looks almost panicked then and his eyes fly to Padm?. ?I don?t know?what you?re??
I hold up my hand to cut off his disjointed flow of words. ?I see this topic distresses you, so we shall speak of it no longer,? I whisper. ?The man my granddaughter trusted so much would have had a very good reason for keeping such secrets.?
He looks at me, his eyes wide with disbelief and wariness. I smile sadly and shake my head. ?I am old, Master Jedi, but I am not a fool.? I stare down at my beloved granddaughter. ?I know she had a secret, and that she was in love.? My head tilts as I study him. ?Can you tell me?did you know the father??
There is a long moment of silence and then he gives a stiff nod of his head, as if the gesture pains him. ?I did ? or at least?I thought I did.?
I do not fully understand his answer but I sense I will get no other, so I let it go. ?If Padm??s child was alive,? I whisper, ?do you think it would be better if that was not?known??
A slight smile tugs at his lips and he gives me a look that tells me he recognizes me as a worthy opponent in this careful game of words that we play. ?If the child was alive, then yes, it would be best to keep that fact a secret.?
With a nod of my head, I accept what he has told me ? and what he has not. ?I wish that was not the case,? I reply. ?But I believe that what you say is true.? Then I look at him sharply. ?The father? Will he look for the child??
?The father is dead,? he says flatly. I hear his heart breaking in those simple words. I want to reach out and comfort him, but there is something in his posture that tells me he would shatter at the slightest touch. He looks at Padm? one last time and his shoulders slump. ?I must go now, but I?m glad I could bring her home to you,? he says softly.
He walks away from me and he is at the door when I call out. ?Keep the child safe.?
His stride falters for only a second, but it is enough. Then he is gone and I turn back to Padm? and smile. ?He will watch over our little one,? I tell her. ?You rest now, your work is over.?
There is nothing left to do now but prepare her. A sob catches in my throat as I wash and dress her. I carefully arrange the blossoms in her hair, just as I would have on her wedding day. When the last flower is placed, I fall to my knees on the cold floor and I weep for Padm?.
I give my tears to the beloved dead.