Padmé felt the starfighter's crash as if she was the one in the cockpit. She felt the spiralling, nightmarish descent into the swamp forest, felt the impact against the tall perennials rip through the hull, pierce through the glass and impale her in her seat. She felt the seatbelt snap free as a particular branch cut through it, felt her body bounce out of the seat, through the cockpit and fly until it broke through the shrubs, to rest on the hard ground, metres from the vessel itself.
She felt the death come slowly.
"My lady!" Captain Panaka shouted as she broke cover, scrambling from her feet and running towards the speeders hidden within the tall shrubs. "My lady, this is foolhardy!"
She ignored him, already gunning the vessel and flying, not bothering to latch on her helmet.
She rode through the forest like a mad woman. Every breath that she swallowed in, swallowing the sobs of fear, was one more second that her handmaiden was dying, her life slipping away in slow, slow murder…
Behind her, she could hear Panaka's speeder follow.
The handmaiden's pain was a throbbing aching compass in her lungs that led Padmé unerringly to the small glade, where Eirtaé lay facedown in a twisted, broken heap. Padmé felt Eirtaé before she saw her friend.
The speeder came to a swift halt. The renegade Queen released her nerveless fingers from their iron-grip on the wheel, and slipped off the seat.
"Eirtaé," she whispered, her heart pounding. "Eirtaé…"
"M…My l..lady?" They were barely words. If Padmé was not so used to hearing them she won't have understood the mangled language that her friend spoke.
She fell to her knees beside Eirtaé, trying not to stare at the blood, at the strange angle of her legs beneath her torso, at the mat of blood covering honey-coloured hair. She touched Eirtaé's shoulder to reassure her, that yes, it was Padmé, not an enemy droid and Eirtaé screamed.
Padmé snatched her hand back. "I'm sorry." She would have nightmares of that scream for the rest of her life.
"N…no," Eirtaé whispered through what they would later realize must have been a broken jaw and a cut tongue. "I-I f-failed you."
Padmé's throat tightened. "No. No." Her right hand clenched helplessly by her side, as her left pounded the ground in frustration. She wished she could hold Eirtaé, at least turn her around, but she was afraid of hurting her.
"You did well, Eirtaé," she said instead, speaking as firmly and as cheerfully as the double loss would let her. "You did brilliantly."
"Th-they ex…ted us."
"Don't talk," Padmé said frantically. "Save your strength." But even as she said the words, she knew they were hollow. Even if they could somehow carry Eirtaé safely back to the camp, they simply did not have the medical facilities to mend her broken body.
Eirtaé fell silent. She knew the truth about her fate better than anyone else.
Let the tears come later, Padmé thought furiously as she held them back with vicious will. This moment, filled with only the sound of Eirtaé's blood bubbling in her lungs as she breathed, was for her friend alone.
The silence was broken by the roar of a speeder. Padmé spun, battle-ready, her blaster drawn up to her chest. But it was only Panaka. He climbed off the speeder and walked to them.
He glanced at the combination of flesh and bones that was Eirtaé and under his dark skin, his face paled.
"We must go now," he said, the words coming out with the stiffness of forced… necessary detachment. "Droid scouts have already found the fighter. They'll soon be here." His eyes softened. "You did well, Handmaiden."
Eirtaé choked an inaudible reply.
As if on cue, the distant whine of speeders filled the air.
"G-go…" Eirtaé whispered. Even now, she was protecting Padmé…
Padmé swallowed in a deep breath. Then another… then another… She couldn't do this again… She couldn't…
The strong hand of Panaka fell on Padmé's shoulder.
"My lady," he said softly. "Perhaps I should…"
Padmé snatched away from his hand, from his suggestion. They burned. Anger, that faithful companion, had returned to drive back that fleeting visit from hysteria.
"No," she hissed. "She is the Queen's handmaiden. It is her prerogative.
She heard the pause, then the soft thread of his boots as he moved away.
The whine sounded nearer.
Careful not to touch Eirtaé and cause her any more pain, Padmé bent low over her.
Eirtaé's shoulders rose and fell in a sigh.
Padmé straightened. Blood had leached into the ground beneath Eirtaé. Padmé's left hand was red from pressing into the soil. When she used it to grip the blaster that was still in her right, it made a wet, slick sound.
She placed the weapon against the base of Eirtaé's skull and drew.
There was no sound.
Padmé hoped there was no pain.
"Go to peace, my friend," she whispered and with one brutal motion, she pulled out a lock from the dead woman's hair. She got to her feet and started back towards Panaka and the speeders.
He didn't say a word, and she ignored the pity in his eyes.
The droids did meet them, shooting at their departing speeders but the Naboo soldiers were too far ahead, and they lost them easily.
The renegade Queen tucked the blood-blonde lock into her combat vest and let the wind take her tears.
This story was written as a response to the "Darth Padmé" challenge over at TFN. Feedback is more than welcome!