"Princess of Theed"

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: GL owns the SW characters. I'm not making any money from this. So there.

Padmé, Princess of Theed, looked down at her appointment book and sighed in resignation. Thus far, none of the candidates she had interviewed for the recent vacancy on her staff seemed suited for the job. Now there was one last person to be interviewed, and this one seemed the least suited of them all. Darn Lord Malatine anyway, Padmé thought. Why on Naboo did he allow himself to be drawn into King Veruna's web of corruption? Now he has brought disgrace on himself and his family, and created a scandal for me. Not to mention the bother of finding another Chief of Staff. She sighed again, thinking that the person she was to interview next was likely to cause just as much scandal, but of a different nature. Mentally, Padmé reviewed what she knew about Lady Sabé. While the Lady's family, background, and education were all perfectly respectable, unfortunately her behavior very often was not.
Lady Sabé was the terror of the Naboo aristocracy; she was the first of her generation of young Ladies to smoke a cigarette, the first to wreck the family hovercar, the first to get drunk, the first to lose her virginity (to one of the Palace footmen, at a state dinner no less). She could and often did flawlessly mimic King Veruna's odd speech impediment, much to her parents' embarrassment. Though it was unbecoming for a Lady, Sabé was an expert markswoman, and she held black belts in several forms of martial arts and hand-to-hand combat, much to the dismay of several former suitors who had learned the hard way that "no" really did mean "no". One of the young men in question had had several months in traction to contemplate the error of his ways.
Padmé shook her head, wondering how she could gracefully cut short the interview with this notorious young Lady so she could get some work done at last. The intercom on her desk beeped.
"Lady Sabé is waiting, Your Highness," her secretary's tinny voice announced.
"I suppose you'd better send her in," Padmé replied, trying to sound enthusiastic. She had spent all afternoon in interviews; the last thing she wanted to do now was waste her time interviewing a young woman that she knew was patently unsuitable for the position. The door opened and the infamous Lady Sabé entered. She does not look like a holy terror, Padmé thought as Sabé curtsied to her.
"Princess," Sabé greeted Padmé. "It is an honor to meet you finally."
"Lady," Padmé answered, inclining her head slightly. "Do sit down," she added, indicating a chair across from her desk. Sabé sat and regarded the Princess for a long moment.
"Who did your hair?" she asked abruptly.
"I did," Padmé replied, surprised.
"Well, it's all wrong," Sabé said dismissively. The shocked Princess raised a hand to her head to touch the lacquered curls.
"What's wrong with it?" Padmé asked defensively. Sabé shrugged.
"Too much hairspray, too much gel... just too much everything, really. You look like a peasant girl all dressed up to play Princess."
"I am a peasant girl," Padmé reminded her visitor, her voice a bit sharper than usual.
"Even so," Sabé said, shrugging elaborately. "You do not need to look like one." She gestured at Padmé's hands, which were clasped before her on her desk. "That white nail polish is simply too common for words, my dear." Padmé found that she was quite taken aback. Ever since her recent investiture as Princess of Theed, all of the aristocrats she had encountered had treated her as their better. This young Lady did not even treat her as an equal, but instead openly looked down her nose at the peasant girl in a Princess's gown. "Still," Sabé continued in a musing tone. "The potential is there." Padmé's eyebrows went up.
"How good of you to say so," she replied frostily. Sabé leaned forward in her chair, appraising the young Princess with a critical eye.
"With a bit of training, we might be able to make a fitting Princess of you, my dear," the Lady mused as though she had not even heard Padmé speak. "The first thing we must tackle is that accent of yours."
"What accent?" Padmé asked a bit defensively.
"I am afraid you sound like a bumpkin, Your Highness," Sabé said bluntly.
"At least I don't sound like I've got someone's hands around my neck when I'm talking!" Padmé flared, feeling the color rise to her cheeks. Sabé shrugged again.
"Nevertheless, the way I speak identifies me as a Lady, as someone with a background of taste and refinement, while the way you speak identifies you as… well, as a bumpkin." This was simply too much for Padmé.
"I may be a bumpkin, but at least I have never allowed myself to be tumbled in a guestroom by a Palace footman like a common serving wench!" For a long moment, Sabé stared at Padmé, expressionless.
"Well," she finally said, her lips twitching in amusement, "You certainly have spirit. Training you to be a Lady could be fun." She stood. "I accept the position."
"I have not offered it!" Padmé said, her eyes widening in astonishment at the Lady's audacity. Sabé only smiled.
"If you are as intelligent as they say, you will."

"Hold your head up," Sabé's voice hissed in Padmé's ear as they walked down the corridor towards the Palace's formal reception hall. Padmé nodded, bringing her chin up despite the heavy weight of her jeweled tiara with its trailing veils. They were nothing compared to the weight of the books Sabé had placed on her head during their "Lady training sessions" throughout the previous week. "And don't slouch," Sabé continued. "Aside from making you look common, it ruins the lines of your gown. Remember, you are a Princess, not a village girl!" Padmé squared her shoulders as two footmen moved to open the double doors directly ahead.
"Padme, Princess of Theed!" one of the footmen called out in a ringing voice. She felt the color rise to her cheeks as all eyes turned to watch her entrance. King Veruna turned, smiling in greeting. Everything about King Veruna was larger than life; he was enormously fat, his elaborate robes of state billowed out around him and trailed on the floor behind him, and when he spoke, it seemed his voice made the rafters shake.
"So," he boomed cheerfully. "Our young Princess had joined us at last!" Sabé gave Padmé a sharp nudge, and the Princess moved forward to greet her sovereign.
"Your Majesty," she murmured, dropping him a curtsey that was not as deep as she might have given someone else - someone she respected. As she'd known he would, Veruna caught the slight, his eyes momentarily locking with Padmé's. When the Princess did not lower her gaze, the King's eyes narrowed with displeasure. So, Padmé thought, Now he knows that I do not like him. Good. She had to admit that Sabé's lessons were proving very useful. Along with the improvement in her posture and comportment, she had begun to master the intricacies of life at Court. Subtleties that had previously slipped right past her now stood out crystal clear, and she'd picked up a few tricks of her own, such as the slightly disrespectful curtsey she'd offered the King. As Sabé bobbed a curtsey of her own to Veruna, an older man approached the Princess.
"Your Highness," he said, nodding his head in an abbreviated bow.
"Governor Bibble," Padmé replied, clasping his hand and smiling warmly. She genuinely liked Sio Bibble, who, unlike the King, was untainted by corruption. "It is always a pleasure to see you."
"And you, Princess," the Governor replied. "Come, there is someone you simply must meet." He led her away from King Veruna, speaking in a quiet voice. "Have you heard about the King's latest scheme?"
"The Farm Tax, you mean?" Padmé asked. Bibble nodded. She sighed. "I like it not."
"Given your background, I did not think you would," Bibble replied. Padmé shook her head.
"My background has nothing to do with it," she replied. "I can't imagine anyone with morals would think highly of imposing a land tax on farmers who are struggling to make ends meet as it is."
"Perhaps our noble King has forgotten where the food he obviously enjoys so very much comes from," a new voice said acidly. Padmé turned to see who was intruding on their private conversation. Her eyes widened slightly as she recognized the man.
"Princess, please allow me to present Senator Palpatine," Bibble said. "It is he whom I brought you to meet."
"I regret that I was unable to attend your investiture, Your Highness," Palpatine said, bowing. "It is an honor to meet you at last."
"The honor is mine, Senator," she replied, meaning it. "Long have you served the people of Naboo. You and Governor Bibble have been my role models since I first decided to enter the political arena."
"And King Veruna?" Palpatine asked ironically. Padmé snorted, realizing as she did that Sabé would certainly scold her for such unladylike behavior.
"It is safe to say that the Princess shares many of our views regarding the present monarch," Bibble said smoothly.
"As do most of the common folk," Padmé said. "I wonder how it is that they have not called for new leadership."
"They will," Palpatine said distantly. "And when they do…" His voice trailed off as he stared blankly at a point somewhere beyond Padmé and the Governor. "Heavy your tiara may be, Princess, but its weight is nothing in comparison to the crown you will wear." Padmé was suddenly reminded of a day last fall, when a carnival had come to her small farming village. She and her brothers had skipped out on their chores to walk the midway, ride the rides, and eat popcorn and cotton candy that would only make them sick later. There had been a booth with a spirit card reader. Though her brothers had scoffed, Padmé had paid to have her fortune read. The woman in the darkened booth had had the same blank stare the Senator currently wore, as though she had been looking at something only she could see. In the same distant voice the Senator had used, she had proclaimed that Padmé would be the next Princess of Theed, and would later free her people from some sort of persecution. The fortune teller had scarcely glanced at the spirit cards she had carefully laid out one by one on the table between them; Padmé had gotten the distinct impression that the spirit cards were merely a prop. She suddenly became aware that Senator Palpatine was talking to her.
"You must forgive me, Princess," Palpatine said, sounding rather shaken. "Sometimes my mind wanders and I say the silliest things." She smiled at him.
"It's all right, Senator. I am afraid that my mind often wanders too - usually during boring meetings!" As intended, this got a laugh from the two men, though Palpatine's laughter sounded forced.
"Governor Bibble," Sabé said, walking up behind them. "I must apologize for not greeting you earlier."
"That's quite all right, my dear girl," Bibble said fondly. "I saw that our noble liege was bending your ear." Sabé made a face.
"You would not believe what he imagined I would do with him later," she said. "Never have I been so disgusted!"
"He is a pig." Padmé said with open distaste, momentarily forgetting all of Sabé's training in the art of diplomacy.
"He certainly resembles one," Palpatine murmured.
"Forgive me, I have been remiss." Bibble said. "You have not met the Senator, have you Sabé?"
"No," Sabé replied. "I have not." Padmé watched as the Governor made the introduction and Palpatine raised Sabé's hand to his lips and kissed it; a Lord greeting a Lady. His eyes had that distant look again, but he quickly blinked to dispel it. He looked troubled as he released Sabé's hand.
"Do you know," Bibble was saying, "that Captain Panaka has told the King that should he go forward with this Farm Tax, he cannot guarantee Veruna's safety?"
"Really?" Padmé asked, trying to sound as though she had been fully paying attention to the Governor's gossip.
"Does the captain fear there will be an armed revolt?" Sabé asked. Bibble merely shrugged. "Nonsense!" Sabé protested. "We are a peaceful people." Footmen began circulating through the crowd, ringing tiny silver bells. It was their cue to head to the banquet hall for dinner.
"Even a peaceful people can be pushed too far," Bibble noted. Padmé shook her head as she followed the others from the reception hall.
"The farmers would never riot," she said quietly. "They simply don't have it in them." Bibble suddenly stopped walking and turned. The women followed his gaze and saw that they had left Palpatine behind. The Senator stood where they had left him, staring into space.
"It appears that the Senator is having a bad night," Bibble told the women quietly.
"What's wrong with him?" Padmé asked, frowning. Bibble shrugged.
"He usually behaves quite normally, but occasionally he becomes like this. He seems to have spells of some kind." Bibble raised his voice. "Senator Palpatine, won't you join us?" He called out.
"Poor man," Sabé murmured as Palpatine approached, looking like he'd just come out of a trance.
"I'm sorry," Palpatine apologized. "I've got a lot on my mind at the moment."
"Well, put those troubling thoughts out of your head, Senator," Sabé told him, smiling.
"Yes," Padmé agreed lightly. "It is time for dinner. We will have to hurry if we are to arrive before our noble King devours everything."
"His appetites have no limit," Sabé agreed, thinking of the King's lecherous advances and shuddering in revulsion.
"Such talk is treason!" Bibble joked.
"Something tells me that the truly treasonous talk has not yet begun," Palpatine murmured.
"True," Padmé said, nodding. "I believe the Farm Tax will be the last straw for the poor village farmers. Soon our King may find himself at the mercy of the voters once again."
"And should that happen," Bibble said, "I'm sure we can think of a suitable candidate to replace him!" He gave Padmé a wink.
"Surely you can't mean me, Governor!" she exclaimed.
"Who better?" Palpatine asked.
"Why, I am only just becoming accustomed to being Princess of Theed!"
"Don't worry, Your Highness," Sabé said. "When the time comes, you will be ready."

"You did very well tonight, Princess," Sabé told her proudly as their hovercar sped away from the Palace. "We will make a Lady of you yet."
"Or a Queen," Padmé murmured.
"Would you really run?" Sabé asked, glancing over at the Princess.
"Hey, keep your eyes on the road!" Padmé exclaimed, only half-joking as she suddenly recalled Sabé's father's wrecked hovercar. They were silent for a moment. "Yes, I would run," she said quietly. "And I would win."