Title: The Queen Timeframe: the Clone Wars Summary: As one queen fades, another one rises. The Queen When her life ends, Jamillia is standing at the window, looking out over the palace courtyards. The sky is turning grey, and raindamp. Soon, it will be morning. The birds have started to scream and scream in the gardens. But she can still see the candles glowing and tongue flickering all over the lawns, and as far away as the river. They float them in little handmade paper boats. Soon, the candles will burn out, with a hiss of smoke, into drooled heaps of melted wax. The servants will come out and collect them. The crowds had all gone home, after the election results were announced. The palace is still dark, and almost echoing with quiet. There is only the housemaids’ footsteps whispering past, like little mouse paws, out in the corridor. Then she can only hear the birds, as their voices turn into a rainstorm. Jamillia turns away, and goes back into her room. The room. She has heard that the girl, Apailana, doesn’t plan to use these rooms, but they are no longer hers. The bed, with its pulled back, rumpled white sheets, isn’t hers. She had flopped across it and shut her eyes, and finally, after the election results came in, after she made her concession over the holonet, but she hadn’t been able to sleep. She couldn’t even shut her eyes. The mirror, in its antique frame, made from a tree that only grows on one of the islands near the Southern Pole, is not hers. Once again, Jamillia looks at herself in the mirror. This is the first time she has seen herself, instead of the porcelain doll face she wore, in years. Her handmaidens had applied the paint too thick, to cover up her brown skin. That morning, or rather, the previous morning, they had done so for the last time. She smiles, or smirks, though she isn’t certain if she is amused or sad. She had wiped the paint off again after she looked over the concession speech her senior aide had prepared, and returned to her quarters. Alone. Once, she would have been surrounded by five handmaidens. They are all gone. Astarta, Lilias, Megira, and Una, and Silvia. She didn’t even see them before they left, and disappeared. Of course, they have their futures, and their careers, to think of, and it won’t do to be associated with her. She knows that, just as she has realized that she never knew them. Even Silvia, her principal handmaiden, the girl who looked like her sister, who would have been her decoy, if Jamillia had ever used that trick, had not been her friend. Only a girl, or woman, who served her. Who worked for her. She is ready to leave. Her traveling cloak is arranged over the vanity bench, and most of her luggage has already been sent ahead to her parents’ house. Only Apailana, Queen Apailana, knows she won’t be following. It’s for her own safety. She hasn’t taken any of the gowns stuffed in the closet, or the matching shoes. Only the pearl necklace she is wearing, a plain strand of pearls smudged dull from her fingerprints. This is the necklace she bought, on a whim, at a highway stand the day after her sixteenth birthday. She had just gotten a position as the senior aide for the Thane of Vis, over a woman who had spent most of her career in his service. Jamillia hasn’t thought of her in years, but now, she knows why she remembers. Finally, she understands. --- How that woman must have felt when she looked at her. A dark girl with night black, deathbird black hair she still wore, on occasion, in long, shaakwhip braids. A girl who was fresh, and eager, and star eyed from the Youth Legislature, and daydreaming of saving the world, and saving the galaxy. A girl who was now her superior, her boss, her lady. How her teeth must have ached, when she clenched them tighttight, and smiled. --- Apailana has to try not to look, or be, nervous as she walks down the hallway to the Queen’s quarters. No, Jamillia’s quarters. She has to remember that. Her handmaiden follows her, hidden away in her hooded cloak. The hallways are still empty, and there is only one guard stationed at the doors. He would have been to told to expect her, because he only nods. She nods, and almost smiles. Her mouth shakes, and she has to swallow too much silverslick spit, but he can’t know. She waits while he enters the code to unlock the doors. “Thank you,” she hears her voice tell him. Her handmaiden lets out a deep, endless breath. “Of course, Your Highness,” he says. He is tall and plain, with rugged red hands, for a farmer or a mechanic. He looks old enough to have been here during the Trade Federation invasion, that happened before Apailana herself was even born. Apailana doesn’t hesitate before she walks into the anteroom. She is prepared. She is wearing a red gown, an elaborate thing with a cream underdress and starstones glowing on the hem that she had to practice walking in. She has seen the headdress she will have to wear later this morning, but for now, she only wears a simple, silver banded headpiece. There is no need to impress, and frighten, Jamillia with the majesty of Naboo. “Your Highness,” the handmaiden says. “Are you all right?” Apailana pauses, and looks back at her. Her name is Brisaé. She is several years older than Apailana, and tall, almost too tall, with honey-brown hair and grey eyes. She has artist’s hands, with cold, pale fingers, and she might even be an artist. “Yes,” she says, and she knows she must. “I’m all right.” Jamillia is in the bedroom, sitting near the window. She hasn’t seen them yet. It takes Apailana a minute, and too long, to recognize her. This is the first time she has seen Jamillia without her makeup. Now, she is only a woman, a young woman, with black hair done up in a crown of braids, and an almost round face. Apailana should have noticed that before. She is wearing a violetred gown, in the Southeastern style. Her arms are bare, and she doesn’t wear any jewelry that Apailana can see. And that blushing warm dress— Jamillia has always worn dark, even black gowns during her public appearances. Or during the meetings she had with Apailana. She looks up, and Apailana knows she must smile. “Milady.” “Hello, Your Highness,” Jamillia says, in the voice Apailana knows and recognizes. “I take it that all the arrangements are in order?” “Yes,” Apailana says. “Your ship is ready for take-off in a private hangar outside the city limits. One of my maidens will escort you out of the palace grounds. I can assure you that we have taken all the necessary precautions. You won’t be followed.” “I’m pleased to hear that,” Jamillia says. She is already standing up, and throwing her traveling cloak over her shoulders. “Then I suppose there is nothing more to say.” Apailana’s mouth is too sticky, and she swallows. Brisaé’s cloak whispershuffles close behind her, and she knows she must look earnest, and wide-eyed, and concerned. Outside, it has started to rain. The temperate in the room is kept moderated, and soothing, always warm, and never too hot. She shouldn’t feel cold, but she does. This isn’t how she had imagined all this, when Amidala convinced her to announce her candidacy. Naboo needs you, Amidala had said. She had smiled, and set down her teacup, in the sitting room in the quarters Apailana had lived in only the previous day, when she was Princess of Theed. Apailana had only stared, moon eyed, and girlish, and her tongue felt too heavy to speak. This was Amidala, after all, the woman she had never before met, but who she had admired and worshipped for years. And she knew that if Amidala supported her, she would win the election. “Milady,” she hears herself say, and Jamillia pauses. “Do you have somewhere where you can stay for a while?” Jamillia shrugs. “Some of my friends have invited me to stay with them, at least for a while. Off-world, of course. It should give me enough time to sort things out.” “That’s good,” Apailana says. “Where do they live?” “Your Highness,” Jamillia says. “You have done a great deal for me, and I-- Appreciate it. But you presume too much in asking me that.” Jamillia doesn’t sound angry. No, her voice is the same soothing, sing-song, bedtime story voice Apailana has always known. She doesn’t seem angry at all. She only looks at Apailana, and her eyes are as dark and unknown as space. Then her mouth twitches up. Apailana doesn’t want to know if she is about to smirk, or laugh. She blushes. “My apologies, Milady.” Amidala had said: Alas, Jamillia has allowed this war to destroy her most cherished beliefs. She has turned bitter and cynical. But you still have that innocence, that purity, that all of our best leaders have had. I know you shall become a great queen— “Oh, there’s no need for that,” Jamillia said. “I’m sure you were only concerned.” (Now, she pities Apailana. Now, she can feel sorry for her.) “But I can’t stay here much longer. I trust you’ve told your maiden where to meet me?” “Yes,” Apailana says, and she tries to sound cold, and distant, with a voice from a wound up, music box. “She should be waiting for you just outside the rose garden. You’ll recognize her signal. And-- I suppose there is nothing more we need to say, is there?” “No, I would suppose not,” Jamillia says. “Goodbye, Your Highness.” Before she turns away, and after stooping to pick up her overnight bag, walks away. The door opens, and then clicks shut again, and she is gone. Soon, she will have gone through the palace, through the private passageways even Apailana doesn’t know yet, and then outside to the rose garden. The gardeners have been given the day off, and no one will be there to see the handmaiden, Caité, waiting for her. No one else will see Jamillia when she disappears. But then, Apailana has decided, she owes her at least that much. --- Everyone remembers how, during his coronation, King Veruna held up a penknife and cut his lower lip, to make the scar he would never be able to wear. He smiled, even as blood drooled down his chin, and dripped, one, two, three, onto the floor. The crowds had whispered, awed into silence, before they began to scream, and roar, and cheer. --- When Queen Sofonisba, the youngest queen ever elected, lost to her opponent, (at least one historian claimed, though no one likes to believe it) she burst into tears. Her handmaidens gathered, protective and serious, around her. She was not quite sixteen years old, and was still a little girl instead of a young lady, or young woman. She hadn’t developed her breasts properly or started her menses. But she had remembered what to do. She had wiped her face, smiled, and gone out to greet the new ruler of Naboo. --- Though she had been modest in public, Amidala had turned almost gleeful in private, alone with her elder sister, as the votes came in. She had known she would win. After all, she believed, when she was only thirteen years old, that she could already out-debate Veruna. Veruna must have considered it beneath his dignity to respond. --- Brisaé watches Queen Apailana as she follows her back to her quarters. The hallways are still quiet, and no one will dare to disturb them. The Queen looks relieved. Yes, relieved, Brisaé decides, now that she has finished what she had promised to do. But she would never wish to admit that, and Brisaé will never mention it. She looks down, and realized she has clenched her hands tootight into fists. No one will notice, of course. She is nothing but her dark, hooded cloak now. The guards standing at the Queen’s doors don’t even see her as she walks in, right behind Apailana. She may as well be her shadow. But then, if she had minded that, she wouldn’t have become a handmaiden. Then they are alone, and the doors are shut. Apailana, the Queen, drops down onto a stiff-new sopha. Brisaé lets her hood down, and stands nearby. She hopes she appears to be gentle and understanding. She wants to be. The walls are stripped and painted over white, since the decorators are still in the process of working on the bedroom. They should put up the new wallpaper in several days, when it arrives from the factory in Keren. Finally, Apailana says: “Thank you for accompanying me just now, Brisaé. I know I can count on your discretion concerning this matter.” “Of course, Your Highness,” Brisaé says. “I’m glad,” Apailana says. Then she stands up, and almost trembling, moves towards Brisaé, and Brisaé understands enough to catch her and hug her. Apailana smells like silk, and then face powder and slightly nervous sweat. Brisaé doesn’t need to say anything. She only leans forward, until it is almost as though Apailana is holding her. Apailana is a little girl, and that was why she has been elected. The people watched her picture on the holo, and saw Amidala. They haven’t chosen her because she is qualified to lead their world through this war, even as a figurehead. She knows that. Brisaé knows that, though she would never admit it. But this means that Apailana needs her. “I don’t know what to do, Brisaé,” Apailana says. “None of us do,” Brisaé says. “We shall just all have to pretend, I suppose.” There is a knock at the door, and Apailana lets her go. Aimeé, one of the other handmaidens, is here to assist her with her hairstyle, the one she will wear in less than an hour at her first official appearance. Brisaé goes back into the closet, where she is alone amongst the rustling gowns. She starts looking through them, for the gown the Queen will wear to the inaugural ball, and tries not to feel the blaster bumping against her hip. --- Meanwhile, Jamillia leans back in her seat as her ship, a plain, Corellian model, made for a private citizen, rises away into the air, and then into space. She has already entered her co-ordinates, and the autopilot will take care of the rest. She wraps her cloak tight around herself, and shuts her eyes. Queen Apailana promised to arrange clearance with Theed port control, and Jamillia has to believe her. She has, so far, kept all of the promises she made to Jamillia, during the last weeks of her life. She supposes she really can’t complain. But of course, we are civilized, Jamillia almost says. That’s the difference. This way, she is only twenty-seven years old, and she is already retired, yes, retired. That makes her wish she could laugh, but she is too tired. Perhaps later. Before she falls asleep, she hopes she won’t have any dreams. She doesn’t want to see that young girl, that little girl, that child, the Queen, in her bloodstained red dress, wearing a headdress that had once been hers. She knows the girl, and her white face with its two matching, balanced dots, will smile. Knowing, and judging, forever and ever.