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Pretty Dresses

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Padmé had slept the night on the one spare bed at the Lars homestead, and when she had woken up she discovered there was nowhere to wash. Because there was, of course, no water.

She felt stupid for not having realised that earlier. She had been to the planet before, after all, and she should have remembered that it was the most unbelievably uncomfortable place. If you didn’t need to wash, you weren’t going to get to.

So she changed into her most Tatooine-appropriate dress, which also by a stroke of luck was the very last clean one she had, and went to find her hosts. She was worried about Anakin and didn’t much feel like being sociable, but she figured she should at least show her face.

Beru was in the kitchen cooking, and she was wearing the exact same clothes she had worn yesterday. There was a jug of water on the side, and Padmé badly wanted some to drink, but she thought she had better wait til it was offered. Beru looked up at her, and then did a double take. Padmé realised with some discomfort that this one dress of hers was probably worth more than the Larses’ entire farm.

“Why have you changed your clothes?” Beru asked, after a moment.

Padmé wondered what answer would make this woman not loathe her. “It’s customary on Naboo to change clothes three times a day, at least,” she explained. “After you wake up, and once after every meal.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know the exact reason,” Padmé said, and she felt extremely vapid and foolish. “It’s part of our culture. Historians think it was done for hygiene reasons originally. But it’s not important.”

Beru nodded and continued to cook whatever she was cooking. Eventually she said, “Do even the farmers do it?”

“Yes,”

“How do they get the money for it?”

“Farmers on Naboo are rich,” Padmé said, guiltily. “They’re rewarded very well for what they do.”

“Wish we were,” said Beru, with no malice, which was what Padmé had expected.

“Can I help you with anything?” she asked her host.

“No,” said Beru, “it’s fine.” She gestured to the jug on the table. “You should have some water.”

So as not to be rude, Padmé poured out only a small amount. It wasn’t nearly enough to quench her thirst, and mere minutes afterwards her throat was dry and scratchy again.

*

Before long Anakin had been gone for over a day and a half, and Padmé had run out of distractions. She had polished both droids several times already, and she thought they were probably sick of it. She had attempted to talk to C-3PO, but the Larses insisted on powering him down when he wasn’t needed.

Every offer of help she gave was rebuffed, but there was nothing else to do on the farm except work. Owen and Cliegg would sometimes pass her and grunt a statement of reassurance, but that didn’t help her much.

“Owen says you used to be a Queen,” Beru said to her as the sun was setting on the second day. Both of them were outside, but the heat was no less oppressive out there.

“Yes,” said Padmé. She was thinking about how unfair it was that Beru was almost pretty but not quite. With the right make-up she could be pretty, but of course there were no such luxuries on Tatooine.

Beru was fixing a machine that Padmé had no name for. It was rusted and brown and it made little pinging noises every so often.

“Security device,” Beru said, seeing where she was looking. “No good. Never been any good. Wouldn’t have helped when-” She hit it rather hard with her hydrospanner. “Tusken Raiders know how to get round them anyway, so I’ve been hearing.”

“I’m sorry,” said Padmé, not knowing what else to say. This girl would think her so despicable if she had known that just seconds ago she had been thinking about their respective levels of beauty and about make-up.

“Anyway,” said Beru, switching back to the earlier subject, “I’ve seen you on the holo, you know. Hard to miss those dresses.” She smiled a little. “I saw you denouncing slavery once. Thanks for that.”

“For all the good it did.”

Beru shrugged.

“I’m sure Anakin will be fine,” she added, putting her tools away in a cloth bag. “The way Shmi talked about him, he sounded like he could kill all the sandpeople on the planet without breaking a sweat, let alone just a handful of them, you know?”

These violent words shocked Padmé, but she had to choke it all down and remind herself that this was a very different world with different laws. That didn’t work. She said, “But, surely you can, um, negotiate with them…?”

Beru gave her a look that was actually almost angry, and it looked very wrong on her almost-pretty face, but then she just laughed. “No!” She put her hand on Padmé’s shoulder in either sympathy or pity. “They’re monsters. If you lived here you’d know. When I was young they raided our neighbours, killed the men, took the women and burned the bodies of the children on the roof as a warning. Me and my mother and sister, we took them down and buried them, but there was so little left to bury…”

Padmé had no idea what to say, so she said nothing. But the silence hung until she said, “I…I liked Shmi, when I met her. I don’t want to think she’s dead.”

“Nor do I,” Beru said sadly, and Padmé desperately hoped that the conversation was over. It seemed to be. “You should come in, have something to drink. It’s easy to get dehydrated out here.”

It was also getting dark, and the world was starting to seem even more dangerous and unfriendly than it had before.

*

When Padmé awoke the next morning, there was what appeared to be a pile of clothes at the end of her bed. Puzzled, she reached for them, and found that they were indeed clothes and furthermore, they were quite nice ones.

Beru stuck her head round the door, which struck Padmé as quite the invasion of privacy, but she figured she could forgive it. “Oh good, you’re up,” Beru said. She gestured to the clothes. “Finest I could find. Old ones from-”

“Beru, I can’t accept these,” Padmé said instantly.

“Old ones from my mother,” Beru said, paying her no heed. “See this white one? She wore this on her wedding to my father.” She gave a strange little smile. “Didn’t do her much good. Maybe it’ll do you better.”

That statement was full of bad implications, but Padmé didn’t press her. “I really can’t.”

“Well, I don’t like to wear them. Can’t fit them, anyway.” Beru smiled a little. “Owen says that on Naboo it’s considered the height of rudeness to wear unclean clothes, or the same ones two days in a row. Wish I’d known that. You must think we’re all such primitives.”

“Of course not! Anyway, we’re not on Naboo.”

“Pretty clothes aren’t of much use out here,” Beru said, “but I have them, and - it’s not like you meet a Queen every day.” Padmé was struck with a bizarre thought: if she married Anakin - not that she was exactly planning to, but if she did - what would that make her to Beru? Step-sisters-in-law?

“I really can’t keep them,” she said guiltily, before realising how rude a flat refusal would sound. “I mean, I can’t keep them without giving you something in return.”

“It’s fine,” said Beru. “Honestly.”

“At least let me help you with the farm,” Padmé said. “I can’t mend things as well as Anakin can, or as well as you can, but I can help, I promise.” She thought of all the many things she could do, and then considered with unhappiness that few of them were much good out here. “I can sew.”

“Oh,” Beru’s face lit up. “Oh, that’s good, then. I don’t always have time to sew, but I’m the only one who can do it. You could work on Cliegg and Owen’s clothes.” Padmé nodded. “It might take your mind off things,” Beru added.

“I hope so,” Padmé said.

She spent the rest of the day sewing the mens’ overshirts. It wasn’t the sort of work she was used to, but she ended up taking a bizarre pleasure in it. All she ever wanted was to help people. Clothes could help.

*

Night fell eventually. There was a sudden knock on the door.

“Padmé,” said Beru. “One of our neighbours contacted us on the comlink.” Padmé hadn’t even known they owned one. “A man on a speeder was spotted not too far away from here. They said,” and her face flickered with grief, “that he was carrying a body.”

“Oh,” said Padmé. She had expected that, she had held out almost no hope whatsoever, but it still hurt. Beru suddenly sat down next to her on the bed. She was in her nightclothes and her hair was down. Padmé rarely saw women with their hair down and no adornments in it at all. She wasn’t sure how to comfort her, so she settled for a very awkward one-armed hug.

“I knew she was dead,” Beru said quietly.

“I know,” Padmé said. “I’m so sorry.”

There was another knock at the door, but Owen Lars came in without waiting for an answer. Padmé figured the concept of privacy was just one more thing denied to the residents of this godforsaken planet, but she also figured that wasn’t a very charitable thought and tried to force it down.

“Anakin seems to be a man of his word,” Owen said gruffly. He extended a hand to Beru, which was pretty much the only physical contact Padmé had seen pass between them. “I hope he avenged her.”

“I don’t know,” Padmé said. This was not a subject she wanted to think about much at the moment.

Owen sighed. “Not the Jedi way?”

“I don’t know much about the Jedi way,” said Padmé. It was almost true. “Where’s your father? Is he okay?”

“He’s outside,” said Owen. “Digging a grave.”

*

“I suppose this isn’t how you’re used to doing funerals, either,” Beru said. Outside, Owen and Cliegg were propping up a very simple-looking headstone. Anakin was out there too, but doing nothing.

“No,” Padmé said forlornly. Anakin’s confession had shaken her. She thought she could justify the killings of the men and women. Self-defence. But the children…no, not children, she couldn’t justify that. What was she going to do? “I’m not dressed for this.” She was wearing the white outfit Beru’s mother had got married in.

“No-one here cares what you’re wearing,” Beru said patiently. “And the dead absolutely don’t care.”

“But pure white at a funeral,” Padmé said. “It just feels disrespectful.” Whites symbolised new beginnings, not death, or that was the case on her planet. For funerals Padmé had always worn dark colors, and she had assumed that was the case throughout the whole galaxy. No color more vibrant than blue, for a sad occasion. Silver was acceptable if you were young, but not if you were over twenty. Queen Tasia II had once worn silver to a funeral at the age of twenty-one and it had nearly spelled the end of her career.

Beru’s shawl was a sort of yellowy colour. At Nabooian funerals there was certainly no yellow, not for the funeral and not for weeks after if you were one of the mourners. The codes of costume on Naboo were complex, but they had always made sense to her…

“We don’t see it that way,” Beru told her, interrupting her train of thought. “You’re not being disrespectful.”

“I know, but…”

“I’ve never thought funerals were the place for pretty dresses,” Beru said. It was the closest she had come to a rebuke. “We don’t do candles and music and ornate coffins. Who’s going to see them? We think the best way to honour the dead is by living.”

“You’re right,” Padmé said.

“I need to go to Owen,” Beru said, and she left. Padmé didn’t feel like going to Anakin just yet, though. Instead she retrieved her hopelessly unclean dresses from under her bed. By the rules of her own culture, clothes left unwashed for more than two days ought to be thrown away, but her actual senses told her that the clothes were fine. She folded them up and left them in the doorway, where Beru would find them. Funerals weren’t the place for pretty dresses, but surely some occasion, some happy day would come when she’d be able to get some use out of them.

Both dresses were light blue, which on Naboo symbolised happiness and a long life. Padmé hoped they would bring Beru good luck. True, she didn’t seem to believe in things like that, but maybe she would also just enjoy getting to look pretty.