----It’s a hard lesson to learn but eventually one realizes that there are really no permanent friendships in life. There are only permanent interests. If I had learnt this early enough, perhaps I won’t have made so many permanent enemies. ----
From the diary of Lady Naberrie
Padmé could tell by the quick flutter of her lashes that Cannila was not pleased to see her but other than that small self-betrayal, the Queen hid her feelings well.
Padmé was almost impressed.
“Your Majesty.” She bowed low.
Queen Canilla, once Sabé Jankerrie of the Northern village, inclined her head in acknowledgement. Her eyes flashed at her handmaidens, and without a single word exchanged the trio of leaf-clothed women left.
Despite herself, Padmé felt her skin prickle with envy.
“Lady Naberrie,” Canilla said in her strong, melodious voice. “It’s been a long time. I was not expecting you.”
Padmé smiled sweetly. “Your handmaidens passed on your regrets, Your Majesty. I realized that the only way I would gain audience with you would be in person.”
The Queen’s eyes flashed beneath the thick kohl. Padmé cringed inwardly at such an unbridled display of temper but all Canilla said was: “What did you wish to discuss with me?”
Her father would have preferred to approach the manner more obliquely but dealing with Sabé Jankerrie warranted such finesse. The two women had known each other since they were small children in the Junior Legislative Academy. Theirs was a multi-layered relationship.
“The Parliament is opposing my application for Senator on the grounds of my age, my lack of political experience, and my relationship with Chancellor Palpatine. Your vote of confidence will be most welcome.”
Canilla stared. “You speak as if I have a choice.”
Padmé stared back.
It was Her Majesty that looked away.
Her gown, a contraption of lotus petals and peacock feathers, seemed to whisper on the marble floor as she drifted to the large windows.
“Why do you hate me so much, Padmé?” She whispered, her back to Padmé.
Padmé started, genuinely surprised. “What? I don’t hate you, Sabé.”
Canilla laughed bitterly. One right hand rose a little as if she wanted to make a gesture, then she remembered herself, her office, and who she was. It fell stiffly to her side. “No, you just blackmail and undermine me at every opportunity.”
“Can an innocent woman be blackmailed?” Padmé mused aloud.
“I made a mistake when I was fifteen and now I have to pay for it for the rest of my life?”
Padmé shrugged. “You could have resigned. You chose not. You chose to keep your office and buy my silence. We both win from this arrangement. I don’t understand why we need to have this conversation over and over again.”
“Because you would have kept silent if I had resigned?”
“At least you would have suffered the consequences as a private person, not the woman on whose head the whole of Naboo rests.”
Slowly, the Queen turned around. The sun was behind her so her face was in shadow and for a moment, Padmé did not recognize her old acquaintance under the Queen’s heavy make-up. For a moment, Padmé could not see Sabe in Canilla’s face.
“That’s what you hate about me, isn’t it?”
The moment of disorientation passed as swiftly as it had come. “What?”
“My being Queen. You were so ambitious in the Academy and then suddenly, you killed your career. I rose from Princess to Sovereign while you were aspiring to be Chief Handmaiden. You hate me for that.”
Padmé took her time answering. Let Canilla read weakness in her hesitation. It would be less damning than if she were to let loose the hot spew of rage that had risen within her at the other woman’s words.
Clearly, it had been a long time since someone reminded Sabé Jankerrie of just what role she played in their relationship.
“Why should I envy you your office, Your Majesty? I am Lady Naberrie, daughter of the Chancellor of the Republic and free to do as I please within the limits of the law and society’s expectations. You are Queen Canilla of Naboo; in one hand, you hold the emblem and with the other hand, you sign with the seal of your office. But is it truly your right hand that dictates the law of this land, or your left that governs its people? A lowly little orphan girl may not be Queen in name but you and I both know who really rules Naboo.”
And Padmé smiled, a wide cat-like grin that she had once spent a whole summer perfecting.
She was still smiling when she left the Palace, the picture of Canilla’s enraged face a cherished image in her brain.
He didn’t have the influence in Theed that he did before – no Gungan really could boast of that – but Jar Jar Binks somehow managed to wrangle an audience with the Lady Naberrie before she left Naboo. There were whispers that the Queen would nominate her to replace the departing Senator. Lady Naberrie had never been a friend of the Gungans but it would have been foolhardy to ignore a woman who was about to become a doubly powerful player in the politics of his world.
The tall Gungan stepped into the antechamber, stumbling a little over the instep. Padmé’s hand flew automatically to the knife in her sash – a throwback from her old handmaiden’s days – but other than that, she remained still even though her heart was beating faster than a raging reek.
“Lady Naberrie, itsa so good to see yousa.”
She let him bow over her hand and considered slashing the back of his neck with her knife. Instead, she spoke softly and offered him a seat while she remained standing by the other door, and listened with every indication of patient attention as he explained to her the reason for his appointment.
He had nothing to tell her that she wasn’t already aware of: She had already heard the rumours of the proposed Amendment, the latest in a never-ending series of Amendments to the Gungan Registration Act. If she wanted to, Padmé could have told him how much of the proposed relocation of the Gungans was fiction and how much of it was real. She could have told him the schedule of relocation, and the Gungan settlements affected. She could have gone even further to give him a date for the next Amendment and outlined the overall plan for the complete Gungan expulsion from Naboo to the moon settlement of Ohma d’Un. And when he looked at her with horror filling his dark eyes, she would have explained to him that that was the better alternative to what was once her original plan for the ‘welfare’ of the Gungans of Naboo.
Of course, Padmé had no intention of telling Binks anything of the sort. She smiled more kind smiles, and made more attentive comments and finally, she walked him to the door, one hand affectionately but firmly on his elbow, the other hand holding firmly to her sash and the weapon underneath it.
It was only after she had seen his gangly frame disappear down the corridor that her rapidly beating heart slowed, and the hatred and fear within her began to dissipate. After a while, she was even smiling.
Jar Jar Binks walked slowly back to Otoh Gunga, pondering, not for the first time, over the problem of Lady Padmé Naberrie and her secret vendetta against the Gungans. Now that Lady Naberrie was about to become Senator Naberrie, the finding a solution to that problem was no longer an academic exercise. It might mean their very survival.
The first threat amused her. The second irritated her. She didn’t burn the third quickly enough and to her eternal fury and embarrassment, her Father discovered it during an after-hours visit to the Office of the Naboo Delegation.
She seethed and stammered that she would have told him if it was of any importance and that really, “the situation was not that serious”, and with every word she could see the worry lines growing deeper in Palpatine’s face.
She knew what he was about to say but that didn’t make hearing the words any easier.
“Perhaps you require additional protection.”
Padmé gritted her teeth. “No, Father, I do not. The Trade Federation is obviously behind this. Why can’t CorSec just do their job?”
“Your quarrel was with Nute Gunray and he’s been in prison since the Battle of Naboo. The last I heard, he hasn’t left.”
“He still has his contacts, his allies in the Trade Federation. That entire organization is illegal!”
“Keep your voice down, child.”
He spoke quietly enough. But Padmé had learnt to listen for that edge of steel. The angry flush bled out of her cheeks and her hands went cold.
“I’m sorry, Father,” she said quietly.
Palpatine said nothing. He had turned his face away from her as if he couldn’t bear to look at her. Padmé swallowed down the urge to plea or persist in any form. It would be useless. At this moment, he was ashamed of her and her lack of self-control and she felt the same way herself.
Stiffly, she stepped back and dropped into a formal bow.
“If you’ll excuse me, Your Excellency,” she said softly. She turned on her heel and walked to the door.
She stopped, and spinning on her heel so swiftly that she stumbled a bit.
Even though his face was still turned away from her, his voice was warm. “If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of extra protection, then I will recommend someone you’re familiar with. Perhaps… Anakin Skywalker?” He turned to her then, and she could see that his eyes were twinkling. “Do it for me, my daughter. The thought of losing you will be unbearable.”
It was relief that filled her first. Then anticipation. She walked towards him with a cat-like smile that she knew was the mirror image of his own.