Padmé guided her comparatively small personal cruiser into the docking bay she'd been allocated. As she carefully manoeuvred between the large doors she'd spied a welcoming party just waiting to greet her, and couldn't help but roll her eyes in annoyance. She wasn't here in an official capacity, all she wanted was to be left alone. It was already going to be hard enough to locate and meet up with an unsuspecting Anakin.
"Shall I gather your travelling bags Miss Padmé?" Threepio's tinny voice asked from behind her as she smoothly touched the craft to the ground.
Padmé turned and shot her companion a tired smile, the anticipation of senatorial duties already beginning to weigh her down.
"No thank you Threepio," she guided her husband's droid. "Could you get my purple cloak for me though?"
"Of course Miss Padmé. Right away."
The senator watched the warm cabin lights reflecting off his new plating as he waddled away. It was but a temporary distraction, she knew she couldn't hide in here forever. Still, for a moment more her mind lingered on the thought of her young husband. The promise of running her fingers through his thick hair and looking deep into his piercing eyes made any planetary representative tolerable.
Without any more delay she found her feet, traversing the narrow corridor to the lowering ramp and slipping into the cloak a waiting Threepio offered her.
A small delegation of dignitaries took eager steps towards her as she confidently emerged from her private sanctuary.
"Senator Amidala, you honour us with your presence," a shortish humanoid leader greeted her in a soft voice. "We had no word of your intentions or our party would have been much more substantial I assure you."
Padmé reached out and took the woman's hand, clasping it daintily as was a customary sign of respect on many mid-rim planets.
"I did not mean to attract all the attention of an official visit, I felt it necessary to gain a first-hand understanding of the war's progress…?"
Padmé trailed off, uncertain what title to put on the end without knowing whom the woman actually was.
"Viceroy Kataira," the woman inclined her head. "I would be honoured if you would join me for dinner tonight. I have many questions myself about the war, and the part our planet is expected to play in it. From what I have seen so far, I fear that role is increasing."
The flame-haired viceroy turned and begun pacing out of the hanger bay. Padmé followed at her side, noting the significantly rural population that interacted amongst themselves outside the continent's biggest docking port. Obviously this mainly agrarian society had not been under-rated. Then she thought about how odd that statement sounded. An increasing role? For these people? What could they have that would possibly be a commodity to either side?
"Oh?" Padmé questioned, hoping to subtly push for information without seeming pertinent.
"First the Jedi and then yourself, Kumarat certainly seems to be attracting the Republic's attention."
Padmé swallowed, drawing her cloak further round her shoulders in an attempt to hide her almost trembling joy. Jedi. Jedi were here. My Jedi better be here, she silently threatened everyone and no one.
"It was my understanding the Jedi were trying to conduct their business covertly," Padmé noted.
"At first yes. But exciting news travels fast amongst our small and scattered population, and it has been many years since the public imagination has been so greatly stirred. Reports were soon too numerous to deny, and they have been moving around quite openly the past few days."
Good. Her hands twisted together in the dark fabric folds, the anticipation bubbling up inside her. He will be much easier to find if he's become the folk hero these people seem to need.
"I am sure the Jedi have important business to attend to, but I am glad their presence offers such necessary diversion for the people in these times of war."
It was the perfect thing to say – neither here nor there – pure politician speak. And it effectively moved the topic of conversation away from the covert motive of her trip, and to the cover story she'd planned for just this eventuality.
"I was hoping to move amongst your people, learn of their experiences and fears first-hand, without any political sugar-coating."
"Of course Senator. If there is anything at all we can offer you, please do not hesitate to ask. Until evening meal."
Padmé bowed to the Viceroy, then stood watching in surprise as the woman and her entire entourage turned and walked away without another word. She would never have gotten away so easily on a more economically-developed world. Where were the hours of ceremony she was so used to?
Threepio cluttered up behind her as Padmé shifted uncomfortably in her intricately embroidered cloak as she looked towards the bustling marketplace of simply dressed people before her. Many eyes were drawn to the clean delicate lines of fabric that swathed her.
"Come on Threepio. I need to change and then we can go looking."
"Looking?" he queried as they hurried into the terminal.
By the time he caught up to her she was rummaging through her closet, pulling out the plainest wrap she could find and slinging it over her shoulders.
"For Anakin," she clarified.
"Oh Master Anakin is here? I didn't know!"
That's because I didn't tell you – we're not even supposed to be here, let alone know that he is.
"Well, apparently he is. Could you go do a scan of their databases and see if you can find his current location?"
"Of course Miss Padmé."
While she was alone she loaded a utility belt, in no way naïve about what to expect. Just because they weren't a hub of technological innovation did not mean people weren't aware of who she was. Or the value of threatening her. The last carbine snapped into place on her blaster just as Threepio returned.
"He was spotted an hour ago in a town fifty kilometres from here m'lady."
A smile spread over her face at the mention of so short a distance.
"Let's go find a speeder then."
Padmé slowed the land-hugging vehicle to a smooth glide before terminating the silent engine's operations altogether. With a speculative eye she glanced around the middle of the largish trade-post, assessing it instantaneously. It was dusty, loud, full of uncouth individuals and definitely lacking the refined artistry that infiltrated even the smallest Nubian village. A pack of animals she'd never seen before were being herded through the market place by two middle-aged men on swoop bikes. The villagers shot them annoyed looks as they were forced to make way. Loud hawkers at roadside stalls tried to spruik their wares without consideration for harmony or peace, only the next sale. There was a hard edge to the entire district, as if a threat lingered in the air that she couldn't quite put her finger on.
"This is where Anakin was spotted?" she asked Threepio again, just to make sure.
"Yes Mistress Padmé."
Padmé climbed out of the rented speeder, red dust flying up around her as her sturdy boots hit the compacted ground.
"We're going to have to be discreet about this Threepio. If at all possible we're to avoid Obi-Wan, is that clear?"
She could just imagine the reaction that particular Jedi master would have if his newly-knighted friend just happened across his long-lost droid in a peasant marketplace. Far too many questions would be asked that she did not care to answer if it could be avoided. After all, she was here to catch Anakin if possible. A few hours in his company during the short Senate recess – the only time of year when her days were her own.
"Of course," Threepio agreed to her order to maintain a low profile.
Padmé pulled the hood of her plain brown cloak up over her head and blended into the small crowd. She could hear metallic footsteps behind her but for once he managed to remain quiet, simply tagging along behind her as Padmé subtly surveyed the area.
For almost an hour she moved carefully from stall to stall, looking but never buying, simply hoping to look busy. Her eyes swept back and forth, looking for the tall familiar form that would have towered above this crowd. She had little luck, and had reached the end of the main street without a single glimpse. Still, she was resolved. She was going to find him and there was only road in and out of this town. It was likely he was here. Besides, she could just…feel it.
Something moved in an alley, just at the edge of her peripheral vision. Her head turned but found the small lane devoid of all life. Shaking her head and assuming she was now seeing things, she returned her attention to the marketplace.
Where are you? she quietly demanded.
Anakin Skywalker ducked into a small alley alongside his friend then glanced around to make sure they weren't being watched. Even as he confirmed it they both took a massive leap, landing silently on the rooftop of a nearby building.
Neither spoke as they crept to the front façade and crouched low to peer down without being seen. A smirk of satisfaction tugged at Anakin's lips. Now this vantage point was much better. No more villagers fawning over him like he was some god. After a life of anonymity, of being able to disappear, he wasn't entirely comfortable with the attention the war directed his way.
Shaking off the mythical status this simple planet's inhabitants held him in, he joined Obi-Wan in surveying the people milling below, presented with a bird's eye view of everything going on in the street. Carefully Anakin shifted the weight to his right foot and steadied himself with his hand, trying to spot the elusive contact they'd been searching for all morning.
His eyes helped him analyse each and every person in that market place, one by one. A young woman, pregnant and giggling with a friend; two shepherds causing trouble as they tried to move their herd; a man pushing for a sale on farm machinery; all were classical farm folk. The kind that could be found in any rural village, on any planet in the galaxy. Except…He shifted his gaze to the next figure and paused. Something didn't seem right with her, and he assumed it was a her, going by the short stature and slight form. Her hood was pulled low, concealing her face, and the garment she wore was plain but something about her movements just didn't seem to fit.
Was this their contact?
He sent a quick glance towards Obi-Wan, but the older Jedi hadn't yet set eyes on this person. Anakin didn't alert the Master, after all it was time he proved himself as an independent knight and not just a following Padawan. Carefully he took a deep breath and reached out into the force, relaxing to let it take him where it would. The small woman's presence in the force was a soft beam of light, like a powerful lighthouse among a sea of candles.
Tilting his head he slid his eyes closed, confused and needing to concentrate harder. She felt eager, and a warmth filled him he didn't quite understand…
Anakin's eyes snapped open in delight. Just as he made a wild and totally irrational guess as to her identity, he spotted the familiar shiny droid following her through the downmarket collection of hawkers.
He spared a quick look to make sure Obi-Wan's attention was still elsewhere, then waved his hand. Her hood flew back as if on a breeze and he caught the smallest glimpse. A smile broke out over his features as he recognised her beautiful face while it was momentarily revealed to him. She quickly tugged the simple cloth back down, looking around to make sure no one had seen her.
High above on a rooftop one man had definitely set eyes on her. Could now not take them off her. And his lips were forming a word he hadn't dared to breathe in months.