Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars and am making no money from this fanfiction.
Characters: Senator Palpatine and Queen Amidala.
Summary: A meeting in the gardens of the palace of Theed - two beings whose destinies are entwined meet for the first time.
Author's Note: The inspiration for this story was The Art of Tickling Trout and Other Sensual Pleasures, featuring "an old and apparently sensuous poaching technique which involves an act of hypnotic predation by seduction." An old story moved across from my journal.
A wrist bends back, allowing slender fingers to dip beneath the surface of the ornamental pool, pale beside bright water lilies and sleepy fish. The water is cold, reflecting winter moonlight. Lanterns are strung along ornamental trees, looking slightly too heavy for such thin topiaries. The paper lamps illuminate smooth, orange scales as up-turned fingers daintily creep up its well-fed belly, eventually reaching that spot under the gills which – had the intention been deadly – would have resulted in the vicious splash of seizure aloft. As it is, there is sport enough tickling the fat fish, in enjoying the silk-slime feel of its trust.
There is a noise from the other side of the garden: a rustle-tussle of leaves and hushed voices. The man jerks his head up from the pool and a long swathe of his over-robe, previously restrained by his other hand, slips into the dark water. Mouthing a silent curse, he yanks his hand back. The fish is gone.
The voices haven't noticed him and their rhythmic gasps chase him away much like the fish – slipping behind a vine-curled trellis to flee into the curved paths of carefully laid out royal rose gardens. So even with a new queen, this palace is still the same.
It is a soft-sharp face etched in the moonlight, paradoxical in its combination. The brows are lightly feathered, arching deliberately over droopy lids, from which gaze wide, melancholic, blue eyes. His mouth droops too, its small, prim line cast down about the edges. The forehead is very high, framed by fine, ginger-grey hair, neatly cut and brushed back, curling slightly over the back of the man's collar. All of this is dominated by a large arc of nose, which blunts the rest of his unremarkable face away with its chiseled definition. The only real distinction given to such plain features is in a certain enigmatic fastidiousness of expression.
There are no roses at this time of year, just a maze of bare, spindle-sharp, bushes. "Senator Palpatine?" It is a young voice, though the accent is formal: sen-aat-tor-paal-pit-tin. Basic deeply fused with the long inflections of the Naboo court – the commanding tone might have belonged to a woman, had not the grave words issued from the lips of a fourteen year-old girl. Her steps are soft on the gravel, her starry gown trailing behind her. There are twin crimson daubs on her painted, moon-pale face, warm against the darkly jewelled velvet of her dress and the glossy waves of her brown hair. But her almond eyes are what capture all of the senator's attention as he turns toward her with a low reverence.
"Your Majesty." The phrase expresses everything it ought to and no more. He is a model courtier. A twitch tugs at her lip – she expected nothing less of him. They have never met before.
"We had intended to receive you tomorrow morning, senator." Her thin eyebrows are raised in reproof.
"I am aware, Majesty, alas…" his careful mouth edges into a small smile, "I find rest difficult tonight."
The girl – the queen– clearly did not expect this; his self-depreciating mockery as he lets he know that he is well aware that she plans to relieve him of his duties tomorrow morning. "If you would, senator, who told that your queen walks here in the evenings?" She is enjoying herself as much as he, but she doesn't let it pierce her facade.
His secretive smile widens but doesn't give anything away. "As a beneficiary of happenstance, I cannot say that I can – only that it is a pleasure to finally meet you, regardless of the circumstances."
Her cynical smile is adult as she moves to walk beside him. Their steps are a lazy promenade on the sandy gravel. Both possess a stately gait: Queen Amidala has the practiced tread of ritual (every movement a measured containment of young energy), whereas her companion's footfalls are the unhurried progression of the truly patient.
She is direct: "You were King Veruna's advisor."
"Rest assured that I am under no illusions, Your Majesty. You need to make your own appointments. In your position, I would do the same." The smile disappears into the senator's serious eyes. "With whom do you intend to replace the governor?"
Palpatine nods amiably, "A worthy choice. Naboo needs a governor who will not tolerate the traditional perquisites. And he won't go after your authority either… yes… good. What about the Advisory Council?"
"They rightly forced Veruna's abdication. We do not intend to change any of the seats."
"With respect, Your Majesty, if I may venture an opinion...?"
She nods, her face very young and very serious. "Of course – it is our duty to listen to the opinions of our subjects."
"There is no question that Veruna needed to abdicate. But what the councillors did was unconstitutional. The Advisory Council is appointed by the monarch and only the people and their elected representatives have the right to demand a monarch's resignation..." He turns away and the queen can no longer see his face in the dimly-lit gardens. There is the fluting cry of a bird in the distance, gradually, the cries fade into the whispers of the leaves. The senator turns back to her, his blue eyes earnest: "I do not doubt their intentions, but... you see what a dangerous precedent it sets? In the future, a more unscrupulous Council will be able to cite their actions as permission to unseat the sovereign. I therefore urge you to dismiss the Advisory Council and declare the precedent void. I'm sure no one would censure you for choosing your own councillors, and those who were sorry to see Veruna leave office would certainly look upon their new ruler more favourably..."
The queen blinks owlishly up at him. Why did I not see this before? And why did no one tell me? The answers are all too obvious. Suddenly, she desires this man as her Governor of Naboo, not Bibble. And Sio's warnings against the too-clever, too-smooth senator are now seen for what they are. He is afraid I will give reform-hungry Palpatine his place at my side. "Are you one of those citizens, senator?"
"I cannot pretend that I am. My ties to Veruna were those of master and servant, nothing more."
"You attended the Eriadu trade summit at the time of Veruna's abdication. How badly will the taxation affect Naboo?"
"Well, Your Majesty, we are a Mid Rim planet and..."
They talk until the moon is at its zenith, curious handmaidens in soft cloaks shadowing their path. He is everything and nothing of what she expected. Amidala has been served the gossip, of course:
...bewitched Veruna with delusions of grandeur – more interested in pan-galactic affairs than the plight of his own people – has served under seven monarchs as senator – unparalleled success as Prince of Theed – never sought royal office – ability to out-talk and out-fox any opponent...
Why wouldn't any king or queen want such a man as their spokesman in the galactic arena? Provided Palpatine was loyal. Amidala broke the thread of his conversation: "They say you are more interested in senatorial politics than in the plight of your own system. Is that true?" Certainly, the disquisition on the Trade Federation and its shipping lanes she has just received is evidence of it.
"It is necessary for a senator to embrace larger concerns than a planetary ruler. A senator's duty is to be the monarch's eyes, ears and voice on the galactic stage... besides which..." here he lowers his voice, leaning down so that his words are not overheard, "there is a mood gathering force in the Senate, a passion for change, and every day the Federation and their ilk stall our progress, this thwarted desire grows stronger. I believe that we are fast heading toward events of monumental interest, Your Majesty, events which will transpire in our lifetime, and be written across this galaxy for years to come. Now, we can look to our own interests like a thousand other systems, buffeted hither and yon by circumstance, or we can grasp the opportunity of shaping this galaxy for the betterment of all." His blue eyes are alight with enthusiasm.
Her breath is restless – this is her dream too – it as if he just dove into her soul and fished out the words which are in her heart. There is no thought of manipulation, of suspecting a man who has bound seven monarchs to his ideals. Tomorrow, she will announce that she will retain him in the post of Senator of the Sovereign System of Naboo. At this moment, endorphins are rushing to her head, and she is a fourteen year-old girl in love with possibility. Queen Amidala holds out her small hand to him, "That," she whispers, voice thick with emotion, "is my dearest wish."
Fingers curl around her own, almost caressing her palm, and his thin mouth dips to plant a gentlemanly kiss across her knuckles. "Thank you, Your Majesty."