Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars, except on DVD. I definitely don't own any of the characters. Princess Isoldé does belong to me, although I named her in honour of Prince Isolder from Dave Wolverton's novel The Courtship of Princess Leia. Ta'a Chume and Secciah belong to Dave Wolverton as well.
A/N: Yay, Sweet Christabel is back from the dead! I can't remember the last time I posted a new story. My bad. Anyway, I feel I should point out that while I did read up on Hapes' history on Wookiepedia, I did alter a few things to suit my storyline, so this is technically a Hapan AU (on top of being a regular AU). Also a quick note regarding the character of Ta'a Chume: It's thought that Ta'a Chume is actually her title rather than her name, but since she doesn't go by any other, it is used as her name here.
Special thank you to River Winters for her encouragement and help, and for coming up with the title :)
The Hapes Charade.
Chapter One: The Diplomatic Mission.
Padmé Amidala was a woman who faced weighty political decisions on a daily basis. She felt the need to remind herself of the fact as she studied her schedule for the week. Two day's time would see the execution of a decision that had been harder to make than most.
'And why?' she chided herself. 'Because you let your heart rule your head, that's why.'
It was the decision, bizarrely enough, to include her best aide on a mission. She had never before hesitated to assign Sabé where she was needed. But this was different.
She had agreed to accompany Duchess Satine Kryze on a diplomatic mission to Hapes. The sixty-three planets that made up the Hapes Cluster were all neutral in the war, like Mandalore, the Duchess's homeworld. The Duchess spoke for the many neutral worlds in the Senate. Hapes was considering joining the Republic, and Padmé was going as its representative. Duchess Satine was going in case they changed their minds.
As both Padmé and Satine had been recent targets of troublemakers, Chancellor Palpatine had thought it prudent to assign them extra protection from the Jedi. And so it was that Padmé learned her secret husband, Anakin Skywalker, and his former Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, would be joining them. That caused her dilemma.
As she readied herself for bed, her body took her through the routine of make-up, accessory and gown removal, leaving her mind free to wander. She knew she would be best off taking Sabé with her. Her chief handmaiden had been in her service for over a decade and had been her best friend even longer. Satine was a more recent acquaintance, but the two had grown quite close. Padmé knew that if she brought Sabé and Satine together they would both be faced with spending time in Obi-Wan's company. Only she was aware that her two friends were both in love with the same man.
Satine had the prior claim, and Obi-Wan had returned her feelings at one point when they were both younger. But the Duchess had spoken of her suspicions that that was no longer the case. He had told her that he would have left the Jedi Order for her when they first met, but he had said nothing in the present tense.
Sabé had fallen in love with him while they were stranded on Tatooine during the invasion of Naboo, and had suffered in silence for many years before she admitted her feelings to Padmé. Although she and Obi-Wan had become good friends, Sabé was acutely aware that they could never be anything more.
Padmé was very unwilling to put her friend through the pain of seeing him again, but she eventually put her personal feelings aside and concluded that she needed Sabé on the mission. Pulling the final pin from her brunette locks, she glanced at herself in the mirror and resolutely decided to tell her friend first thing in the morning.
Sabé bore her instructions without flinching, but inside her mind was reeling. She wasn't keen on Duchess Satine, for obvious reasons, but never slipped to the unprofessional level of showing her emotions. She shut her uncertainty firmly behind her stoicism.
"You can say no," Padmé told her. "I'll understand. I can take Dormé instead."
"Thank you for the thought. But I'll be perfectly fine."
And that settled the matter.
Sabé prepared for the mission while Padmé and Teckla rushed around packing the right wardrobe. It was an important task, but one that Sabé was glad to avoid. Since Padmé had taken the sweet-faced, mild-tempered Teckla from Varykino Lodge and into her full-time service, Sabé and the other handmaidens had been removed from the chores of keeping the senator's clothing and accessories organised.
Sabé retreated to the balcony and tended to her vibrosword, ensuring that the high-frequency blade was clean and sharp. It was a weapon she was proud of, bestowed on her when she became fully qualified as a handmaiden. It had barely left her side since. The elite royal handmaidens who, like Sabé, were members of the secretive Order of Sanctuary all carried swords, although most preferred blasters.
When she walked to the landing platform to meet Duchess Satine with Padmé, the sword hung at her side, discreetly hidden under her crimson velvet cloak. The cloak was an old one, worn by Padmé's handmaidens back when she had been Queen of Naboo. Its concealing hood hid Sabé's untidily braided hair and allowed her dark eyes to take in much while all attention was on the senator.
The senator attracted attention even when she wasn't seeking it. For a diplomatic mission to Hapes her wardrobe, at least, ensured that heads turned to watch her go by. Her gown managed to be impressive yet elegant, and her dark hair was fastened in one of her usual elaborate upsweeps. Despite their extraordinarily similar looks, Sabé knew that she faded into the background when Padmé was around. She liked it that way.
Ahead, the Duchess stood waiting in the shadow of Padmé's Nubian ship, which the senator had thoughtfully offered for the mission. Padmé headed towards Satine, Sabé on her right, Captain Typho on her left. The Duchess was flanked by her usual two guards, who seemed as silent and disinterested as ever, garbed in their imposing armour.
The Duchess was a picture of sophistication, robed in the traditional gown that female Mandalorian leaders wore when conducting meetings with dignitaries from other worlds. The blue and green layers of the dress brought out the vibrancy of her eyes, and her blonde hair was concealed beneath a large harp-like headdress. Her features were attractive, but sharpened by her stern countenance.
"Padmé!" she said, her face brightened by a rare smile.
They exchanged greetings and pleasantries.
"The Jedi will be meeting us any minute," Padmé explained.
"I think they're here now," Satine pointed out.
A small speeder was approaching the landing platform. Sabé took a deep breath, glad she could hide her sweaty palms beneath her cloak. The speeder smoothly landed and two of its three Jedi occupants got out. Anakin Skywalker turned back to the driver.
"Stay out of trouble, Snips."
His red-skinned Togruta Padawan looked at him incredulously. "How am I meant to do that following your example?" Ahsoka asked validly.
"Fine," Anakin replied, good natured. But Sabé didn't miss the flicker of disapproval at Ahsoka's casual lack of deference. "Follow Obi-Wan's example. We'll see you in a few days."
"Bye, Masters." She piloted the speeder away, and Obi-Wan and Anakin approached the group gathered at the ramp of the ship. They bowed respectfully.
Satine and Padmé both nodded, and Sabé gave a bow of her own. The whole thing struck her as terribly false. There was so much more going on within the group than a few cordial greetings could ever say.
"Duchess Satine," Obi-Wan began, the very essence of courtly politeness. "You're looking well. Senator Amidala, a pleasure as always." To Sabé's surprise, his gaze moved behind Padmé. "Captain Typho, good to see you. Sabé…it's been too long."
She nodded, but chose to keep her words to a minimum. "Master Kenobi."
"We are always grateful to see two old friends such as yourselves," Padmé said to both Jedi. "You are very welcome."
"Thank you, Senator," Anakin said.
"Shall we board the ship?" Padmé asked. "After you, Duchess."
Inside the small Nubian cruiser, watching the others quietly talking amongst themselves, Sabé tried hard not to stare at Obi-Wan. She was having varying degrees of success. She wasn't the sort of woman who made a habit of staring at handsome men, but she made an exception for Obi-Wan. He looked well enough at first glance, but she could see how the stress of the war had affected him. His eyes, although still the same entrancing azure she remembered, had a shadowed, haunted look of one who had seen too much death. She could spy one or two strands of premature grey among the reddish-brown of his hair. He was not yet forty.
Occasionally he would interrupt her reflections by looking in her direction, and she was eternally grateful for the shadow her hood cast over her eyes.
She did not miss the strange glances he sent the Duchess's way. On the surface they were unremarkable and perfectly polite, but there was an undertone of inquisitiveness and unease. Satine looked back at him with adoring eyes. Sabé suspected that the Duchess was unaware that her gaze was so unguarded. She was obviously an intelligent woman, not one to risk scandal, no matter what her personal feelings were.
On the whole the journey was unexceptional. Padmé, Satine and the two Jedi spent the time talking, catching up and discussing the mission tasks ahead. Sabé sat silently beside Captain Typho, her presence unnecessary but desired for some absurd reason to do with etiquette. Part of her was glad to be able to overhear what was being said between Obi-Wan and Satine, to reassure herself that it was nothing more than talk between friends. It was a petty part of herself that she was not particularly proud of, but one that she never quite managed to ignore.
She felt a nudge by her leg and subtly glanced down. There was a small data pad on the bench between her and Typho. It had a message on it.
Put your eyes back in.
She thought that was a little odd coming from him, since he relied on his right eye only, having lost his left in the Battle of Naboo. With a stealthy fingertip she deleted the text and typed a question mark. In her peripheral vision she saw him type a new message.
I saw you looking at Master K.
She frowned and put: So?
But she looked over at Obi-Wan again. He caught her gaze and sent her a smile, but it was a guarded one.
Sabé deleted the message and left the pad blank, deciding to ignore Gregar Typho and his all-too-perceptive advice for the remainder of the journey. She pushed the pad across the few inches of bench towards him, then brought her attention back to the others. She realised with a jolt that Obi-Wan was still watching her, and it was evident that he had drawn his own conclusions about her exchange with the captain.
The door to the chamber slid open and the guards admitted See-Threepio, Padmé's protocol droid.
"Mistress Padmé, lunch is served in the galley if you and your guests would come through."
"Thank you, Threepio. We'll be right there."
Typho stood up, pocketing the data pad. "Milady, if I'm not needed I'll run over the security details with the guards."
"Of course, Captain. Sabé, please accompany him."
"My mind will be completely at ease if you know all the security details too."
"As you wish." Sabé bowed and followed Typho out of the room.
"You know I'm just looking out for you, right?" he said as they walked.
"Then why are you treating me like the bad guy?"
"I didn't know I was."
He stopped and gave her a Look, the kind that did not require words. It was a trait he had inherited from his uncle, Panaka.
She sighed. "All right. I'm sorry. I'm just a little stressed about this whole trip."
"I'm not surprised. Having to spend time with the ex of your unrequited love, who also happens to be present, is never easy."
She stared at him, incredulous.
"I'm an observer," he said, "like you. Besides, I'm in a similar situation myself." His face was neutral, but Sabé could detect a glimmer of hurt hidden within.
"Padmé?" she deduced.
He nodded. "Yes. I guess it's obvious."
"Not at all. But I'm an observer, as you said."
"Yeah, well, there are too many complications. And even if she were free there's too great a difference in station. I decided long ago never to let her find out. Instead I watch over her and protect her."
Sabé found a smile on her face, stirred by the obviously genuine affection he held for Padmé. No man would act as such without it. "That's very honourable."
Typho's lips gave a cynical twitch. "Maybe. But my point is I don't let my feelings interfere with my job."
Sabé arched her eyebrow accusingly, her smile fading. "And you think mine do?"
"I didn't mean it like that."
"Yes you did," she replied hotly, her temper flaring. "For your information, Captain, I have been hiding these feelings for twelve years! It would be so much easier if I could just sweep them aside, but the galaxy doesn't work that way."
"No, don't," she said. She didn't need to be apologised to or reassured. She needed to get through this with her heart intact. "I'm here because I am excellent at my job. Any other pressure that comes from this mission I will just have to put up with. I will be fine."
He didn't seem convinced and stepped closer, touching her arm and trying again.
"Look, I was just saying–"
"Gregar, I don't want to talk about it!"
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," Obi-Wan Kenobi said, rounding the corner.
Sabé felt her heart give a jolt, then sink into her boots as she jumped back from Gregar's touch. She knew full well how the situation would appear to him. She tried not to let it matter.
"Not at all, Master Kenobi," she said. "Captain Typho and I were just agreeing to disagree."
"And then some," Typho muttered under his breath. "Excuse me, I must talk to the guards." With a stern parting look at Sabé, he continued down the corridor.
Left alone, the handmaiden and the Jedi spent a few moments in uncomfortable silence.
"Is there something I can help you with, Master Kenobi?" Sabé said at last.
"I thought I should probably go over the security details."
"Oh." There was another pause. "They certainly are popular."
He smiled briefly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disrupt your discussion."
"Don't worry about it. It wasn't important."
"Really? He seemed quite annoyed." He glanced down the corridor after the tall, dark-skinned captain.
"Yes, well, I tend to bring that out in people."
Obi-Wan laughed. "On the contrary, I'm sure."
Sabé, to her embarrassment, felt a blush creep across her cheeks. "It's been a long time," she said. "I've missed our conversations."
Obi-Wan smiled, thinking back to their time spent delayed on Tatooine. "We must have covered every topic under the suns."
"In our boredom."
They laughed together.
"I never properly thanked you for that."
"For what?" he asked.
"I was in disguise, my Queen was gone, I didn't know what to do and I was so worried about the people left behind. You gave me guidance and offered friendship, and you kept my mind off my worries. And when you learned that I was only a handmaiden you didn't retract that friendship."
His smile, which had been broadening at her words, now dropped. "Why would I? You are not 'only' anything, Sabé."
"There's a lot of snobbery in the galaxy. Many of those we consider to be important would never lower themselves to the level of being on good terms with a handmaiden, let alone a servant like Teckla."
"Jedi do not judge so harshly."
"I know. I'm grateful."
She felt her heart swell at his kindness. She could never love him completely without him returning it, but she knew she was well on the way. She had given up chiding herself on the pointlessness of it. It was something she couldn't help, no matter how much pain it caused her. And she, in her stubbornness, wouldn't have it any other way.
"Aren't you missing lunch?" she asked, the thought just occurring to her.
"I'm not hungry. I'd rather make sure that the security is all that it should be."
"Did you want to speak to Typho about that?"
"If possible. Unless you know the plans, in which case I'd be grateful if you'd run them by me."
"I'd be glad to. Shall we?" She extended her arm in the direction of the crew lounge.
They walked the corridor together, and Sabé felt at ease for the first time since their arrival.
Everything was perfect when they landed in the capital city of Hapes. The ship swept down in a graceful curve, coming to a halt on a smooth stone landing courtyard not far from the Queen Mother's residence, the Castle of Per'Agthra, otherwise known among the locals as the Fountain Palace.
The palace was an impressive, centuries old, turreted structure that dominated the landscape of the capital city it watched over. It sat at the very edge of the cliff that the city was built on, looking out across the vast stretches of ocean. The city was surrounded by mountains and huge areas of wild forest, giving a feeling of isolation mixed with the technical efficiency of the town.
Padmé and the Duchess led the procession from the ship, walking down a pathway created by Typho's neatly lined up men. Sabé and the Jedi followed closely, with Typho not far behind. Last came the remaining guards and See-Threepio. Sabé felt out of place walking with the Jedi, but Obi-Wan had insisted, stressing the point that he and Anakin were simply additions to the security.
The air was warmer than Sabé had expected upon seeing the partially overcast sky, and laced with the sweet fragrances of the palace's ornamental gardens. In the distance there came a medley of chattering calls from creatures in the woods. It was peaceful, despite the evidently busy city.
The Hapan Queen Mother, Ni'Korish, stood waiting to greet them. Her two eldest daughters, Princess Ta'a Chume and Princess Secciah, stood at her right, her son, Prince Kalan, at her left. Her consort stood further back, next to a nurse who held the child princess, Isoldé, by the hand. They were all incredibly beautiful, their skin glowing with a healthy tan, their perfect faces framed by their shimmering dark hair. Even the nurse and the security personnel were beautiful. As Sabé scanned the female guards lining the landing platform, their expressions placid, she didn't find a single plain face among them.
"Duchess Satine," the Queen Mother greeted in accented Basic, "Senator Amidala, welcome to Hapes. It is a pleasure to meet you both in person."
"Likewise, Your Highness," Satine said. "The senator and I are both honoured to be here."
Padmé gestured to the Jedi. "This is Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. They accompany us at the command of Chancellor Palpatine, but as our friends."
"Then they too are welcome," Ni'Korish said graciously.
The Jedi bowed fluidly, but said nothing.
"My ladies have set up the very best rooms for you." The Queen Mother gestured and the two ladies-in-waiting stepped forward. "They will show you to your suites for you to get settled, then bring you to me. Is this satisfactory?"
"Yes, Your Highness," Padmé said. "Thank you."
"Be on your guard," Obi-Wan murmured to Anakin. "I sense deception here."
"So do I," Anakin hissed back.
"From the Queen Mother?" Sabé asked. "Or elsewhere?" She kept her eyes forward and barely moved her lips. In her own way she was skilled at deception herself.
"I'm not sure yet," Obi-Wan said. "Be vigilant. Expect trouble and you'll always be prepared."
"Don't worry about me, and certainly don't worry about Padmé. She's covered. I just hope that the Happy Twins can do the same for the Duchess."
They all glanced over at Satine's wordless guards and hid their smiles. The crowd on the landing platform dispersed, disappearing back to the palace in orderly lines. Sabé and the Jedi moved when Padmé and Satine did, following their respective guides towards the Fountain Palace.
Inside, it was evident that the palace was built for splendour and opulence above practicality. The entrance hall was huge, featuring a central staircase and many archways leading to different routes through the building. The corridors were long and winding, fashioned from light-coloured marble. Everyone they passed was dressed exquisitely and was uncommonly beautiful. Sabé couldn't help feeling unsettled at that. She was by no means concerned about her own looks, but the Hapans' exquisiteness was almost intimidating.
When the two ladies-in-waiting took different corridors, Obi-Wan broke away to follow the Mandalore party, leaving Anakin with the Naboo.
Sabé choked down her disappointment and walked with Anakin, behind the train of Padmé's skirts.
"You know, you've got a bit of a sarcastic streak in you, Sabé," Anakin whispered. "It's bad enough with Obi-Wan, but now you too!"
Sabé smiled and thought she heard a smothered giggle from the senator.
"What can I say?" she muttered. "It's a compulsion."
The lady-in-waiting opened the door to a stunning suite of rooms. There was a bedroom, sitting area and fresher for Padmé, with an adjoining room for Sabé. Captain Typho and his men were housed in smaller rooms close by.
The Hapans prided themselves on the natural beauty of their planets, choosing to make their architecture an extension of it rather than an intrusive man-made blot on the landscape. The suite had huge windows facing an expanse of cerulean sea, making the most of the natural light, with a door out to a small balcony. The view was extraordinary, enough to draw a smile from the otherwise-melancholy Sabé.
"Do you require anything?" the lady-in-waiting asked.
"No thank you," Padmé answered politely. "I'll unpack my things, then speak with the Queen Mother."
"Then I'll leave you to your task." She bowed and left the suite.
Sabé glanced at Anakin. "I'm not sure it would be wise for you to…um…visit…the room later," she said, attempting to find a diplomatic term to refer to the secret marriage between her friend and the Jedi Knight. "There may be more eyes on Padmé than we think."
"I agree," he said, running a hand through his ragged dark-blond hair. "But I don't like it." He grinned impishly at her, then headed over to his wife.
Sabé shook her head, smiling, and turned her attention to Padmé's wardrobe.
As Obi-Wan followed Duchess Satine he had time to reflect on their relationship. He had loved her once, or thought he had. It had been enough for him to consider leaving the Jedi Order. In hindsight he could see what a disaster that would have been, and he was glad he hadn't done it. Being a Jedi was his destiny. Throwing it over would only have led to him eventually resenting Satine. Their relationship would have crumbled.
Occasionally, over the years, he had wondered 'what if?' but had always come to the same conclusion. So he was able to live his life secure in the knowledge that he had made the right decision.
Satine, of course, was not the only woman he had developed feelings for in the path of his life. There had been Cerasi, Siri, Taria. And then Sabé. Obi-Wan had a compassionate heart, but he had never given it to any woman. He suspected, in the case of Cerasi and Taria at least, that his youthful ignorance of the subject had confused that compassion for something more. Siri had been…well, he wasn't sure, but he knew they were both better off following the Jedi path.
Sabé was different again. He'd thought she was the Queen of Naboo when they first met, and he'd struggled to pay heed to the authority of a monarch who was only reputed to be fourteen years old. But she had been calm in the face of danger, brave and astute, and none of that had changed when it was revealed that she was actually a decoy. He had found her to be a loyal, dedicated young woman, who steadfastly refused to show her fear to her enemies. When he had the opportunity to speak to her as herself he found her warm, witty and compelling. There had been nothing romantic between them whatsoever, and yet…
He supposed he was picking up on the potential. Part of him, the part that was just a man as opposed to a stern Jedi Master, seemed to view the situation almost as a missed opportunity. He knew better than to be so flippant about it, but still could not shake the feeling.
Ahead, Satine was shown into an elegant guest chamber. Obi-Wan politely stood by the door as her entourage flitted about, unpacking her things.
"We have no rooms prepared for you and your friend," the lady-in-waiting said apologetically, clasping her lily-white hands. "We did not expect you."
"Don't worry. We will be joining the security teams on patrol."
"The Jedi do not sleep now?" Satine asked dryly.
She had removed her harp-like headdress and was massaging her aching neck. It was something he'd witnessed Padmé and Sabé doing many times before. He wondered who had first decided that the proper etiquette for noblewomen was to make them wear clothes that were as uncomfortable as possible.
"Not on duty," he said at length.
"I saw you talking to Senator Amidala's handmaiden. I wasn't aware that you were friends." He didn't miss the calculating way she looked at him, as if anything he said would be immediately analysed.
"We met a long time ago, during the invasion of Naboo."
"Wasn't that the first time you met Senator Amidala and Anakin?"
Satine nodded. "I only ask because I find it strange."
Obi-Wan raised a quizzical eyebrow. "What?"
"Having such an informal relationship with staff. On Mandalore we're brought up to be much more strict about position."
Sabé's words about the snobbery present in the galaxy floated back to him, and he began to understand why she held that opinion. He did not consider Satine a snob, she simply acted the way she was taught.
"The royal handmaidens are an elite group," he explained diplomatically. "They are highly trained and highly regarded. Even some women of noble birth have been counted among them."
Satine looked inquisitive and slightly envious. "We have nothing like that on Mandalore. Maybe we should start. They could go to Naboo for training, perhaps."
"I'm sure Senator Amidala would be happy to arrange it."
She held his gaze and smiled.
He wished she wouldn't look at him that way, like there was no one else in the room. Once or twice he became afraid that she would burst out her declarations of love, like she had on board The Coronet. He disagreed with fate for bringing them back together when it was clear that Satine needed to move on.
He gave her a brief smile in return and said formally, "I'll wait in the corridor until you're settled, Milady."
Her smile dropped, but she said nothing. She nodded once and faced the mirror, raising a brush to her short, blonde locks.
Obi-Wan stepped outside and leaned against the wall. Matters of the heart were so complicated. It made him appreciate the Jedi Code all the more, even though he so often seemed flout it without meaning to.
He closed his eyes and drifted into the Force. The deception he had sensed on the landing platform was lingering throughout the palace like a fragrance on a breeze. He wondered just what it was the Hapans wanted from this meeting. Padmé and Satine had clear, if opposing, agendas. Queen Mother Ni'Korish was a law unto herself.
His reflections were interrupted by a shout that he recognised as Sabé's.
On sudden alert, his eyes opened and he stepped away from the wall, already jogging down the corridor in the direction of the shout. But her next words made him halt and chuckle.
"No! Threepio, get back here, I was being sarcastic!"
Anakin's laugh followed her annoyed exclamation and Obi-Wan grinned to himself. He turned back to Satine's suite and saw her in the doorway.
"Is everything all right?" she asked.
"Everything's fine. False alarm." Seeing her confused look he elaborated, "Senator Amidala's protocol droid decided to go wandering, it seems."
"Oh. Strange behaviour for a droid."
"Threepio is very…literal."
"…Yes." He sent her a brief smile and once again took up his post outside the room.
A/N: I'd be grateful if you'd leave a review :)