For all the talk about quarrelling females, sometimes women did like other women. Not out of morbid curiosity, or a desire for gossip, or the family’s convenience: they just liked each other. It wasn’t anything extraordinary.
Beru liked Shmi. In fact, she’d liked her from the very first.
At fourteen, Beru couldn’t imagine any life other than the one she lived, or any world beyond the homesteads. Even Anchorhead seemed impossibly busy and exotic; Mos Eisley might as well have been on another planet. Slavery she knew only as a terrible thing that happened far away, to people she didn’t know.
“Hello?” Beru knocked again, her knuckles stinging. “Is anyone home? It’s Beru. I’ve brought the fruit you asked for.”
She whirled around, heart thudding until she saw a woman standing by the kitchen door. She was older and taller than Beru, her dark hair knotted at the back of her neck and her face lined. She looked almost as startled as Beru felt.
“Oh, hello,” said Beru. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you. I’m Beru Whitesun.”
The woman smiled. “I am Shmi Skywalker. Would you like to come in? You must be tired, walking all this way. I can get you some milk.”
“Yes, please,” said Beru, and found herself shepherded into the kitchen before she quite knew what had happened, a glass of cold blue milk in her hand. She wondered vaguely if Shmi didn’t like milk; at any rate, she didn’t pour herself any, but started taking the fruit from Beru’s basket and putting them in a bowl.
“Thanks - uh - Madam Skywalker,” Beru said.
Shmi started, her hand stilling on an apple. “It has been – a very long time since anyone called me that,” she said, almost to herself, then glanced back at Beru. “You may call me Shmi. Everyone does.”
“They won’t if you stay here,” said Beru frankly. “My stepmother and Madam Darklighter have been friends for over twenty years, and I don’t think they’ve used one another’s proper names more than twice. Oh, let me help you.”
“Thank you,” said Shmi, looking surprised. “I do think I shall be here some time, though I won’t have this name for much longer.”
“Oh, you’re going to be married?”
“So I have been given to understand,” said Shmi, with an odd twitch of her mouth.
“That’s nice.” Beru hesitated. “Nobody ever used your surname, at the place you lived before?”
“Mos Espa, and no.”
Beru dropped an orange. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” she cried, snatching it up and checking for bruises. “Um, I think it’s fine. I – if you need anything, my family only lives about a half-mile to the east. My sisters or my stepmother or I – well, you’ll be the only woman here, and farm life – it’s probably not what you’re used to. I mean – ”
“I understand,” Shmi said gently. “Thank you, child.”
Beru didn’t think the older woman would actually take her up on the offer, though it was not less sincere for that. However, Shmi sent for her within the fortnight, a few days after her marriage.
Madam Whitesun blinked at the droid. “Of course it’s not inconvenient,” she said, “though I can’t imagine what your mistress wants with her. Beru, are you – Beru! How could you mismanage tying your boots?”
“I don’t know.” Beru grinned. “But I think I’ve got them fixed now.”
She followed the droid to the Lars homestead, then made her way to the kitchen, where Shmi was tinkering with a reconstitutor.
“Oh, Beru! Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“Good morning,” said Beru, amiably confused. “The droid said you needed my help with something. Uh, I’m not good with machines.”
Shmi laughed. “Oh, I can manage this. I requested your assistance in another matter. It seems I am expected to make bread.”
“Well, yes. Probably.” Beru’s brain caught up with her. “You don’t know how?”
“Somehow, cooking was never included among my – ah – duties,” said Shmi, her soft, lilting voice sharpening a little. “Your stepmother, however, mentioned that you have something of an aptitude for it. I fear my incompetence might prove tiresome for a woman of my age, but I thought you might have rather greater patience for me.”
Beru beamed. “Of course, ma’am.”
Ten minutes later, she had discovered that Shmi didn’t know anything. Well, not about bread. She’d got the ancient reconstitutor working better than the Darklighters’ bright new one, and a droid fetching her ingredients even though it didn’t have hands.
Beru stole a glance at Shmi and looked down again.
“You can ask,” said Shmi, fumbling with the dough.
Beru turned bright red. “I was just wondering, where are you from? I can’t place your accent at all – it’s not Coruscanti or Corellian or anything I’ve ever heard before.”
“I am a daughter of Tatooine, as much as you or any of your sisters. My mother’s house was about – fifty miles northeast of here, I think, though of course I cannot say for sure.”
Shmi’s gentle eyes hardened. “Certainly not.”
“I am Alsaraian. I beg your pardon, but we were on . . . less than friendly terms with the Sand People.”
“I’ve never heard of Alsaraians.”
“The Hutts slaughtered my people before you were born,” replied Shmi. “You would have had no opportunity to hear of us.”
“But you lived.”
The corner of Shmi’s mouth twisted into something that nobody could call a smile. “A handful of us were . . . spared.”
Beru flinched. “I’m sorry,” she said inadequately. “It must have been awful.”
“Well, rather.” Shmi laughed a little. “Still, I was better off than many of the other slaves. We had certain freedoms. Even when I got pregnant, I was only beaten a little, and it never got so bad that we couldn’t look after one another.”
Beru decided that she wanted to be Shmi Skywalker Lars when she grew up.
It wasn’t that she felt the slightest desire to become a slave of the Hutts. It wasn’t even that Shmi had lived an extraordinary life, though of course she had. It was Shmi herself.
“Was your life hard before that?” asked Beru, setting a loaf out to raise. “With your people, I mean?”
Shmi considered, pounding her dough into submission. “No,” she said finally. “I had some small difficulties and tribulations, of course, and they seemed enormously significant at the time, but they were nothing. Credits and authority and all the comforts of life came easily to me. By nineteen, I had everything I’d ever wanted.”
Beru suppressed a twinge of envy. Whatever Shmi’s life had once been like, it had turned out worse than hers could ever be. “I guess you didn’t stay home?”
“Oh, no.” Shmi laughed, eyeing her misshapen loaf. “I was a navigator on a spice freighter.”