It was the perfect opportunity! The Queen Elect would be in office soon and the word was out. Applications were being accepted for Handmaidens. I was very qualified. I had training in protocol and diplomacy from my mother, who was an ambassador. I had martial arts and covert ops knowledge from my father, an important lieutenant working closely with Captain Panaka. There was just one problem. I was two weeks shy of my 18th birthday and the cutoff date for application was in one week. We didn't elect our leaders very often and many times the situations called for certain physical types. I might have never gotten this close to a chance again, so I had to try anyway.
Although I had the connection, I did not want to get the job based on just who I knew. So I didn't tell Panaka I was going to apply. I went to the Guard's office near the palace in Theed, and hoped for the best.
I handed my application in to the officer at the desk, a middle aged woman that I had never seen. She looked it over, started smiling, then the smile turned to a frown of regret.
"I'm sorry Dear, really I am. You're just not going to be of legal age before the cutoff date. And you have so much going for you too. Excellent grades, an internship with Governor Bibble's office, and many honors in Theed's top martial arts competitions. Why don't you reapply in a couple of weeks? If an opening comes up, I'm sure you'll have a great chance." She was doing her best to be kind and I appreciated it.
I just smiled, thanked her and turned to leave. At that point, Panaka entered the office.
He greeted me, "Sabé, good to see you again. How are your parents?"
I smiled, but felt embarrassed. The woman at the desk had heard Panaka come in, and was looking our way. I didn't want this to happen. I was ready to accept defeat gracefully, one of the few times I was willing to do so.
But I responded politely, as I had been taught. "Fine, Captain. We are all looking forward to the coming reign of our new queen. Your preparations are going well?"
"As well as can be expected." Panaka continued," This will be such a breath of fresh air, with a new ruler that can be trusted. I look forward to seeing you and your parents at the coronation ball. By the way, is there anything I can help you with, did your father send you on an errand?"
I was about to wave him off, and excuse myself, but the secretary intervened. "Captain, she's submitting her application for a Handmaiden position. Don't you believe she comes well qualified?"
Panaka gave me an appraising look. I just wished that a hole would open up and swallow me right then and there. "I know her qualifications very well. I've watched her grow up. Sabé, if you wanted a job, why didn't you just ask me?"
"Captain, I thought that if I went through channels, then no one could accuse me of pulling strings to get the job. I want to get it on my own," I replied. I still did have my pride.
I could see him tallying up what I had to offer. I had seen the same look on his face in crucial strategy sessions. "I'd like to see anyone make a case against you, just because your family and I work together! Your record speaks for itself. And as for the age problem....if we can elect a queen that's 14, I don't see why one of her handmaidens can't be a few days younger than 18." The Captain looked over at the secretary. "Accept this young woman's application," he instructed. He looked to me. "We'll find a way to make it work." It seemed like a promise.
The next day, my father called me to his office. He was beaming with pride. "Panaka told me about your application, Sabé, I'm so proud of you." He gave me a hug. "I think you will get the job. No, I'm certain of it. The board wants to interview you this afternoon." I was aghast. This left me no time for preparation. However, it would prove that I could react to the unexpected quickly and with ease.
There would be one problem. My mother. She had another dream for me, and it would upset her very much to find her dear little girl becoming the Queen's handmaiden and pursuing a career in the service rather than going to college, finding a nice young man with a rich family and good prospects and getting married. Well, we would deal with that when I got the job. If I got the job.
As if he knew my thoughts, my father winked. "We'll wait till the board makes its decision before telling your mother," he said. I smiled. Father and I were always close.
A couple of hours later, I faced the board. Captain Panaka gave me a pep talk out in the waiting area before he had to step inside and take his seat. When I was called in, I was glad to see another friendly face. Governor Bibble was present as well. That would be two votes for me, I knew he was happy about the work I'd done in his office. There were two other members I didn't know. I supposed they were from other cities in Naboo. And then there was the Queen Elect, Amidala herself. She was already starting to wear the ceremonial costumes of the monarchy. It made for an impressive appearance.
The board began discussing my application. As I expected, Panaka and Bibble spoke firmly in my favor. They used my record to demonstrate my suitability for this job. The two members from outside the city were less enthusiastic. They wanted this opportunity to try to establish some influence on the young Queen. They suggested that my connections and favoritism got me this far. That I should not be seriously considered. That I was underage so this was an invalid application and a waste of time anyway. The underage argument naturally got a cold response from the queen, so that was dropped. I was beginning to feel it could go either way, the Queen had to cast the tiebreaking vote.
She voted in my favor!
I thanked the board and bowed to the Queen. I made a dignified exit, but as soon as I got outside, I leapt for joy. Then I ran to Father's office. We had to put our heads together and figure out how to break the news to Mother.
It wasn't an easy night. We had dinner, then Father moved us to the den. He told the news to Mother and she was in tears. She begged me to change my mind, told me that her darling child could not be in this kind of risky work. I stood firm and Father supported me.
I tried to explain it to her. "This is my destiny."
"Destiny! You sound like those Jedi you've studied for years!" Then she was gone.
"Never mind Sabé, I'll take care of it," said Father.
"But why is she like this? I'm no baby anymore," I exclaimed.
"She has her reasons. I hope one day she'll be able to tell you about them," Father said, sadly. Then he went after her.
The next morning I reported for orientation and training with Captain Panaka. Although there were other selections to be made for the group, Panaka wanted to get a head start with me. After a few days of the usual drills and lessons, he called me for a confidential meeting.
When I got to the office, led me in. Inside was a young girl, also dressed in training garb. I acknowledged her with a nod. I supposed she was another recruit. I just didn't know why she would be in on a confidential meeting.
Panaka began," Sabé, you have done very well. The Queen and I are pleased with your progress."
"The Queen knows of my progress in training?" I asked. I had never seen her around.
"Indeed, she does, and she has commanded that you be assigned the position of lead handmaiden. She would like you to train her in the art of self defense. Considering your expertise, I think that's a wise decision," Panaka beamed proudly.
I'll have to admit, I blushed. It was nice having Panaka's respect. I knew my father would feel the same way when he learned of my achievement. "I can hardly wait to meet the Queen and express my gratitude for this honor," I said.
The other girl in the office had been quiet until now. She stood up and looked me in the eyes. "The honor is mine that you would accept this position. But the captain has not yet told you of the danger it entails."
I was stunned. This was the Queen, Amidala of the Naboo, here in front of me. She did not look the least bit imposing. She was the same height and build I was. Even the color of her eyes was close to mine. I recovered and bowed before her. "Your Highness, I know there is risk in protecting you. How is this more dangerous?"
Panaka cleared his throat. "One of the responsibilities of the position is the enaction of a plan that is used in emergencies, where the safety of Her Highness is in grave danger. You will be the one to impersonate the Queen. It could mean that you would sacrifice your life for her escape. Are you prepared to do that, Sabé?"
I looked first at Panaka, then the Queen. "I consider it a privilege to serve you in this capacity, Your Highness." I tried not to smile too broadly, I sensed this was a serious moment.
"Very well, here is a schedule of when you are to work with the Queen."
The sessions with Amidala went well. She learned what she had to, even though defense training was far from her favorite pastime. She was quite optimistic and fervently hoped that she would never have need of what I was teaching. As we progressed with improving her skills, we also started a friendship.
One day, during a break, Amidala asked me, "Sabé, what's it like out there?"
Puzzled, I responded, "I'm not sure what you mean, Your Highness."
She explained, "I was handpicked and groomed for leadership at an early age. I was instructed privately by the best and brightest teachers on this world. I've managed Theed, been thoroughly prepared to become Queen. I do it because I believe I can serve Naboo. But I have wondered about life in the everyday world. At my age, other girls are going to classes, spending time together, talking about boys, meeting boys...." She trailed off.
"Ah, Your Highness, well, I can tell you only my experiences," I replied. "It seems to me that often the girls who spend time together are those in the popular groups, and try to keep themselves elite and above the rest of the crowd. You care about others, so I don't believe you would enjoy their company. You would do well with leading a faction that was interested in service of the common good, I'm sorry to say there aren't many of those around with members of your age." I went on, "As for boys, I don't have experience there. With the skills to best most of them at marksmanship and martial arts, as well as an imposing father, there were none who were confident enough to ask me out. Father assures me that situation will improve later."
"Oh," the Queen looked surprised. "I would have never guessed. You're confident, skilled, pretty enough. I'd have thought you'd be very popular."
I sat back and mused. "Perhaps I could have been," I told Amidala. "If I played the social games that my mother taught me. I preferred spending the years working to be the best student that I could be. I just wasn't interested in climbing the ladder of popularity. I have a feeling I'd look pretty silly at the spring dances, " I winked. "Not like you. If you were ever asked to a dance, you have closets full of elaborate gowns to wear." I grinned.
She caught the humor and responded in kind. "Those gowns can be murder, don't think they can't. There's this one red number they're running up for me. I saw the headdress for it, and if I start swinging my head while dancing in that one, I'd put somebody's eye out."
We laughed out loud at the image. It was sweet relief to be a couple of friends talking for awhile and not Queen and Handmaiden burdened with the service of the entire planet
Time seemed to fly during the month between beginning my new job and the coronation of the Queen. Soon she was competent with weapons and basic self defense. We practiced our fighting and with the weapons we learned to conceal in our gowns and capes. Amidala and I devised a name and character for her disguise, settling on Padmé, an uncomplicated but intelligent farm girl. We tried the character out and she was able to make it work. Panaka was proud of us.
As I learned more, I also became acquainted with the other girls on the team. Rabé was the one who most impressed me. She was attractive, self-confident and had a lovely exotic accent. She was pleasant company as well, managing to soothe us when the training got a little rough. She'd had no previous weapons or defense training, but she was something of an athlete, having done some gymnastics. She picked up on new things quickly, so it was easy to work with her. She had a great sense of style, designing hairstyles and arranging clothing combinations. Amidala picked her as the hairdresser. It suited her perfectly.
Eirtaé was from a river valley town. She had won her position through her talent with protocol. Her specialty was knowledge of all the niceties that go with court life, so we had to consult with her on mannerisms. She had a knack for observation too, she was able to recount settings and events in great detail quite easily. There was a problem between the two of us, though. When she spoke to me, I sensed a slight tension that I did not see with the others. I wondered what bothered her about me, but I decided to give the situation some time to work itself out before I spoke to her about it.
Saché was an interesting choice. She was from a good family, but had been orphaned at an early age. Shuttled from home to home as she was growing up gave her a variety of experiences that proved useful in the Queen's service. She was already talented in defensive arts, so I didn't need to work with her much there. She was a bit on the coarse side, streetwise, but still quite sweet. Eirtaé took on the challenge of refining her, and while she behaved during working hours, she was the one to go wandering about the city, or entertain herself flirting with the Palace guards.
Yané was the one I almost felt sorry for. She was very intelligent, picked up on the necessary skills during her training period, but she still seemed a bit on the shy side, uncomfortable with herself and her role. I saw her smile at inappropriate times, and I asked Panaka if she was really in the right job. He assured me that she would grow into the part, so I trusted his judgment on that.
By the time of Amidala's ascension, we had formed into a workable team. I could hardly wait to begin our real service.
The day and the night of the coronation was one of the most splendid of my life. We accompanied the Queen everywhere. The ceremony and the parties afterward were of the grand Naboo tradition. The highlight of the festivities was the ball, glittering and sumptuous. My parents were present, of course. They approached the Queen to pay their respects. I saw them wink and wave at me as they passed by. Mother had finally come to accept my choice. At last, she was happy for me and eager to see me do well.
That ball was beautiful. The music played, everyone danced. It seemed the future held nothing but promise.
It was not to last.
The month leading up to our escape from our home was difficult for many, fatal for some. The Trade Federation's blockade was depriving us of supplies necessary for a population of our size. We had to import much of our food and many medical supplies. The Queen knew that one of Veruna's legacies was a world that was not self sufficient in these resources. She had planned to take action to correct that during her reign. But this had come too soon-we wouldn't have been able to reach that goal for a few years. The Federation saw that and took advantage of our weakness to their benefit. Over the petty matter of taxes! I had to keep reminding myself that rage would not help, it would only distract me from the business at hand.
When the time was near for our capture at the hands of battle droids, I wished to stay and fight it out. The Queen had to calm me and remind me that we were outgunned, fighting at this time was not the answer. I was going to insist on attempting to conceal some weapons as she helped me get into the black velvet dress that was to be my disguise. I even rehearsed my speech to her while I waited for her to join me. I did begin to wonder what why she was delayed when Amidala entered the dressing room at last. Saché was on her heels, the most earnest look on her face.
"But, Your Highness," Saché pleaded
"No! That's my final answer," the Queen said. Her voice was firm, and it was clear she would not discuss the matter any further, whatever it was.
Saché bowed her head. "Yes, Your Highness," she replied meekly.
Amidala's manner softened. "Saché," she said, touching the young handmaiden's shoulder. "I appreciate your thoughtfulness and concern. I know you meant well. Perhaps your preparations will be useful at another time. For now, this is the plan we are going to follow. You trust me, right?"
"Of course," Saché blurted out. "You don't even have to ask!"
"Well, then," the Queen smiled. "Bear with me, and all will be well in the end. Now, I must speak with Sabe. Go gather the other handmaidens and we will meet in the Throne Room shortly."
As soon as Saché left, the Queen let her confident manner drop a bit before me. Sadness in her eyes, she helped me dress and prepare for my role as her decoy.
"May I ask, Your Highness-what did Saché have in mind?"
"She has a shelter prepared in the secret passages. It's stocked with enough supplies for a month. She wanted me to hide there while the rest of you were captured. I will not desert any of you to hide. I certainly can't rule from there. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but it's not the plan for me."
"I understand, Your Highness," I said. I started to rethink my speech. It might not be wise to bring up another issue so soon. I decided to try anyway.
"Padmé," I said in the voice she used, "we should be prepared with the weapons so that if we can get the drop on them, we can make the best use of the opportunity."
She stopped dressing me for a moment, lost in thought.
When she picked up where she left off, she started coaching me. "Make the voice a bit deeper, Your Highness, and do your best to drop the accent. You will need to sound stoic. As much as I respect your defense ability, and you know I do, your plan has a brash aspect to it. I realize it's hard to walk and not fight," Amidala said. She stopped fastening the gown in the back for just a moment so she could walk around and face me. "And I know the feeling of violation you are going through, we all feel it. I believe our time will come, it's just not now."
I nodded. At least I had tried.
When she had finished, she stood back and looked me over. She was pleased with my appearance. She quickly changed into the handmaiden orange uniform and just before she pulled the hood over her head, she fingered her amulet. It was a token from her father, and I knew just how much it meant to her. In fact we had gone on a search in the woods that very morning to recover it from where it had fallen the day before.
"Thinking of them?" I asked sympathetically. I was worried about my parents too.
She looked down, not wanting me to see her eyes. When she looked back up again, there was no longer sadness, now I saw concern and determination. Her eyes met mine, and she untied the cord that held the amulet around her neck. She approached me, and tied it around mine.
"Wear this, Sabé. It's a symbol of my gratitude for your bravery."
I was stunned. "I can't take this from you, my Queen. It is an honor to protect and serve Naboo, and that's all I desire."
"Then when Naboo is safe I will wear it once again. Until then, I want you to have it."
"Thank you, Your Highness." I was moved by the gesture. I might have been close to tears, but I had to remember to stay cool. Besides, it would have spoiled the makeup, and it was too near to the time we would have to meet the invaders to take any chance with that.
When the droids came, they captured us and took us as a group. It consisted of me, the other four handmaidens, the Queen in disguise, along with Panaka, Governor Bibble, and six guards. We were going to a camp to be imprisoned until they could get a treaty signed. I refused to cooperate, just as I'd been coached to do. I kept my eyes open for any sign from Padmé, and remained silent as much as possible, so I wouldn't slip and give our secret away.
At the far end of the Plaza, before we headed onto the main walkway, I felt an electric crackle in the air. It seemed to tell me that something was about to happen- something important. I increased my alertness, tensed my muscles, glanced around. No one else appeared to notice it.
Seconds later, three figures dropped from an overhead walkway, two human, one, a creature. The humans I instantly recognized as Jedi. This was thrilling for me, despite our dangerous situation. After years of admiring these warriors from afar, I was witnessing two of them in action.
The older one, obviously a master, was refined and elegant in his approach to the confrontation. He took control of the situation, wasted no motion, and dispatched his share of droids quickly.
I respected the master, but I found myself more fascinated with the younger one, his apprentice. I remembered they were called Padawans, and he wore the braid to indicate his position. My teachers would have fussed at his style, called it showy and reckless. He levitated straight into the air to kick out at two droids, rather than cut them down efficiently. He twirled his lightsaber a bit more than necessary. Still, it got the job done and it did seem to suit him.
The master moved us into a smaller side street, away from where STAPS might spot us. He introduced himself as Qui-Gon Jinn, and the Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and told us the gravity of the situation. He required a decision from the Queen immediately. We had to choose to stay on Naboo and face almost certain death, or accept his help in escape and plead our world's case before the Senate.
It was not my choice. I turned while making a statement to buy time, "Either choice presents great risk, to all of us...,"as I turned to see what Amidala would indicate to me. It was a very unqueenlike gesture, and it could give me away, I knew that. I just prayed that the Jedi did not catch on to the inconsistency.
Padmé responded in the code we had set up. We were to go to Coruscant.