Like most Republic citizens, the Naberries have never spent much time thinking about the Jedi. But that changes with the birth of their daughter Ilaré.
All children born in the Republic have their midichlorian count tested at birth. Ilaré is no different. The only difference is that her count comes back above the cutoff point. For the first time, the Naberries are thinking about the Jedi.
It’s an honor, they’ve always been told, to have your child accepted by the Jedi. And of course it ought to be. It is. The Jedi are a noble institution. It’s just…
They don’t dare talk about it aloud. But at night, in the dark and secret, Jobal whispers it to Ruwee, and Ruwee to Jobal. They don’t want to lose their daughter.
They don’t have a choice.
When Ilaré is just shy of two years old, the Jedi come for her. Padmé, newly elected queen, comes from the palace, giving all but one of her handmaidens the slip, to see her sister off. The Jedi who takes her is a tall, narrow-faced Quermian, and Ilaré shies away from him, tries to hide behind her mother’s leg. For one wild, impossible moment, the young queen thinks about fighting back. But this is Republic law. This is the way of things. It can’t be otherwise.
It should be otherwise, a tiny part of her thinks. She holds that thought secret and buried deep, like a seed asleep beneath winter snows. She thinks, perhaps, that she has buried it forever, but seeds hidden in the dark have a way of growing.
Ilaré wails as the Jedi takes her away. Ruwee clings to his wife and Jobal stands like an unmoving stone. Sola is sobbing quietly. Padmé watches it all and feels strangely distant. Her sister is going away, going forever. They will never see her again.
It’s only a few months later that she meets a slave boy named Anakin, a selflessly kind and prodigiously talented child who offers her friendship when she needs it most and saves them all by destroying the Trade Federation’s control ship.
He wants to be a Jedi. He was taken from his mother, too, but she sent him full-willing, because even the unknowns of Jedi life in the Core had to be better than the life of a slave. Padmé can’t stop thinking about that. She can’t stop thinking about Shmi Skywalker’s face, and remembering the look on her own mother’s face when the Jedi took Ilaré away.
She doesn’t trust the Jedi. She didn’t to begin with, though she’d tried to work with them because they were the Chancellor’s ambassadors. But what she saw of Master Qui-Gon on Tatooine – willing to gamble on her ship, willing to gamble with and on a child’s life, simply because he trusted in the Force – did nothing to reassure her. And Obi-Wan, while polite and more open to discussion than his master, is cool and distant. She wonders if Ilaré will be like that, someday, and the thought aches in her.
Anakin wants to be a Jedi, but it seems they don’t want him. He’s withdrawn and apologetic – it must be his fault, he tells her. There’s something wrong with him that makes them not want him. Master Yoda said so.
And Padmé is furious. How dare they! How dare they take her sister, who was so wanted in their family, who never had any choice, and then refuse this boy, this kind-hearted and wonderful boy who has never owned anything in his life, not even himself, and yet has given more generously than anyone she’s ever known?
She tells Anakin that he can stay with her. That she’ll do everything she can for him. And she prepares, against the advice of her royal council, a strongly worded letter of protest to the Jedi Council.
But she never sends it. Because Qui-Gon is killed fighting a Sith Lord on Naboo, and suddenly the Jedi have changed their minds. Now they want Anakin after all.
Padmé almost hopes that he’ll refuse out of spite, but of course he doesn’t. He wants this, and he’s terrified and uncertain of his place and, she can almost see him thinking, at least with the Jedi there will be order. Someone to give him orders. The thought makes her shudder, and she’s not sure where it came from.
She tells Anakin about Ilaré. It’s the first time she’s talked with anyone outside her family about her lost sister, and she’s surprised by just how much it hurts. How much she hasn’t forgiven, and how much she still doesn’t understand.
They don’t know anything about Ilaré’s life now. Jedi initiates aren’t allowed to contact their families, and families can’t request information about them. That’s how it goes. She knows that. It’s the law of the Republic.
Anakin nods. That is how it goes, he says. Masters don’t let separated families keep contact. Everybody knows that.
Padmé shudders again. She thinks that she should tell him this is different, that the Jedi aren’t like the masters of Tatooine. She doesn’t, though.
He’s being apprenticed to Obi-Wan. Padmé asks if he’s excited, and watches the careful way he picks his words in answer.
She gives him her comcode and her datapad’s code before he leaves for Coruscant. They’re the private, encrypted channels she uses to talk with her family. She gives him a secure datapad to go with the code, and watches as he hides it in the folds of his new Jedi robes, twisting and wiggling to make sure no movement will show the shape. They both know he’s not supposed to keep in contact with her.
“I’m going to find your sister,” he tells her. “I’ll let you know when I do.”
Padmé hugs him fiercely. “And I’m going to free your mother,” she says. The Jedi won’t do it. She has no illusions about that.
Anakin goes back to Coruscant with the Jedi, and she doesn’t hear from him for a long time. Padmé goes back to her palace, to the slow and painful task of rebuilding. It takes her a while to convince her council, but after all Anakin is a hero and the people of Naboo are horrified to think that their hero’s mother is still a slave. Padmé gets authorization for a mission to Tatooine. She leaves Sabé wearing the queen’s face and goes herself, back to the dusty little hovel in Mos Espa.
Shmi is surprised to see her, and even more surprised by why she’s there. Padmé hates the idea of buying her, hates the idea of placing a bet on a person’s life even more. She doesn’t know what else she can do.
Shmi looks at her for a long time. There’s a calculating kind of gentleness in her eyes, something that reminds Padmé oddly of the person Anakin could be, someday. It’s nothing at all like the wisdom she saw in Qui-Gon.
“Do you really want to help?” asks Shmi at last. “Or do you simply want to do right by Ani?”
It’s a devastating question. Padmé’s first instinct is to answer quickly, all outrage and moral certainty, but she respects Shmi too much for that.
Finally, carefully, she says, “I want to want to help. But I’m not sure what’s best to do.”
Shmi gives her a warm, approving smile. “That’s a start,” she says.
Padmé gives her a datapad, the twin of the one she gave Anakin. Shmi closes her hands around it like it’s the most precious thing in the universe.
Padmé also has several hundred thousand Republic credits, converted into the currency of the Hutts. She gives it all to Shmi. It’s enough to free her, and Kitster too, and enough left over for a small place in Mos Espa, not far at all from the slave quarters, and a variety of medical equipment. The equipment looks rudimentary to Padmé, but Shmi seems pleased with the technology.
“Do you really want to help?” she asks Padmé again, the day before Padmé is due to leave.
This time, Padmé says, “Yes.”
“Give us a place to go,” Shmi says, raising the datapad Padmé gave her. “Ani’s told me about your world: a green place flowing with water. The desert road is dangerous, but if there’s green at the end…”
“There will be,” Padmé promises.
She goes back to Naboo. There’s resistance, as she expected there would be. Few Naboo politicians would claim to support slavery, but then, few want to risk the possibility of conflict with the Hutts, not to mention the risk of offering sanctuary to a group of people the Republic Senate has made no move to protect.
But Anakin is a hero, and a recent hero with the kind of story that inspires sensation and pathos. The people of Naboo love him, and the people of Naboo know, too, something of what it means to be captives. The survivors of the camps are many, and their healing will take much longer than rebuilding the damaged architecture of Theed.
Padmé sends Anakin a message when the bill passes. It takes him three days to reply, but when he does, she can feel his exuberance in every letter he writes.
But he’s apologetic at the end of his message. He finally managed to make a visit to the crèche, he says, and there are eight girls from Naboo the right age to be her sister. But none of them are named Ilaré.