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Every Version of Me

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1BBY - One Day after Empire Day, One Day before Leia’s 16th

White paste sticks to her skin and weighs heavy on her delicate frame. She peers at herself in the mirror as her aunts do her hair. Her deep brown eyes stare back at a face she does not recognise, features wiped clean with the strokes of a brush, a blank canvas. Women chat behind her. She searches the reflection for the face that would comfort her, her eyes darting from side to side. There is a lull in the conversation behind her and movement but she can’t see who or what it’s for. The pull on her hair is released and finally a firm but gentle hand finds its way to her shoulder.

“Leia, you look beautiful.” Breha rests her head just above Leia’s head. The faint orange glow of her pulmonodes seeps through her dress, the metallic lungs gently ringing in a comforting pattern. Her soft hand squeezes Leia and she kneels down beside her to allow the women to continue doing Leia’s hair. Breha smiles and motions for a handmaid to bring her a box. “I know that you have spent much time on Naboo, and that you have devoted your service to its people. But you are still a Princess of Alderaan, and you are still my daughter.” Breha’s eyes shimmer in the pre-dawn light, and her lungs have slowed their rhythm. She opens the box to reveal a small silver necklace, ten identical squares, and a bracelet, the same shining silver. “The Chalcedony Waves, passed from mother to daughter, from queen to princess.” Breha unclasps the necklace and lays it gently on Leia’s collarbone, the cool metal tingling against bare skin. The Queen’s hand rests on Leia’s neck as she fastens the clasp, letting the squares sit upon her tanned neck. Handmaids pull the high collared dress over Leia’s shoulders and swift hands make quick work of the buttons and clasps along the spine. There is a shift in the air and Leia lifts her head slightly, pulling away from her mother.

“Your highness, you have a guest.” Sabé stands in the archway at the back of the room, her dark hair elegantly braided and twisted, dressed in a Nabain-purple robe. Her face is stern but her eyes soft and wise. Beside her stands a Tortuga woman, her face and lekku covered with a crimson veil. Breha stands up and faced Sabé, and they nod, the two women sharing an unspoken conversation. Leia had learnt the art of these conversations, it was a skill shared by queens and senators alike, but she could not discern the nature of this one. She looks at the Tortuga woman, the air of familiarity surrounding her, seeping into the room. Breha breaks Leia’s focus on the woman by placing a tender kiss on her forehead.

“I will see you very soon, my little songbird.” Breha and Sabé leave, handmaids bowing and following, their shawls and skirts fluttering and swirling as they move out of the room. The air stills once more, leaving Leia with her back to the Tortuga. In the distance, a door finally closes, leaving the two alone. Then, all at once, Leia lets the Force go, letting it pool at her feet and spill into the room.

“Ashla.” Leia says.

“Leia,” Ashla says, “Or perhaps I should say Queen Ileiana?” Leia rolls her eyes and flashes a small grin. She lifts herself from her chair and wobbles a little. Ashla catches her with the Force, not moving from the doorway. She raises an eyebrow at the girl who smiles meekly.

“The hair’s a little bit heavier than I’m used to.” She stands loosely, letting her shoulders slump from the weight of the decorative pauldron. Her small frame is both swallowed by the fabric of the dress and enlarged by the hefty jewellery that surrounds her. “Perhaps waiting to be a senator would have been a better idea, no?”

“What’s this? Princess Leia of Alderaan wanting to wait? The girl who was Princess of Theed at 12? The girl who is about to become Queen of Naboo at 15?” Ashla snorted, and look at Leia pointedly. Leia made a feeble attempt at shrugging while smoothing her dress. Their shadows spread across the marble floor, long and unmoving, dawn spilling red over the horizon, bathing Leia’s white face with warmth. “Is the old man coming?”

“Ben? He said he would. But you know him, he’s fickle.” Leia’s eyes sparkle with amusement and her eyes flick to Ashla. “Why did you come? You know it’s not safe for you here, especially now.” Ashla moves closer to Leia and pulls her hands close to her chest, leaning in. A door opens down the hall and Leia knows that they have only moments left.

“Leia, listen to me. You are very intelligent but you are also headstrong and emotional and if you do not control yourself, you will fall.” Ashla pushes two small stones into Leia’s hand. “Take these with you.” Footsteps click down the corridor, growing closer each second. Ashla moves her hand to hold Leia’s face and presses her forehead against hers. “May the Force be with you.” She whispers and steps away as Leia’s handmaidens enter with Imperial Guards. “Your Majesty.” Ashla says as she bows and leaves, slipping silently through the mixture of black imperials and purple handmaidens.

Ryoo stands at the front of the group, her cape fluttering gently in the breeze that swirls the room. The shine of her Imperial boots reflects the Nabian sunrise and her sharp cheeks are a strong contrast with the handmaidens, all imitations of round-faced Leia.

“Commander Naberrie.” Leia says, with the detachment of a queen.

“Princess Amidala.” Ryoo says back, with none of the familiarity of family. “After you.” She gestures out of the doorway and steps aside. Leia lifts her head high and walks through the sea of purple and black, her minute stature infinitely stronger and bigger than all of the Imperials.

Leia walks, Ryoo just a step behind, her cloak brushing the toes of the handmaidens. Leia looks at her cousin from the corner of her eye, Ryoo’s dark hair just fluttering into view. Ryoo is eight years her senior and yet they look the same age, both worn down by duty. She changed her Nabian reds and purples for Imperial blacks and whites when she was 18, leaving the House of Amidala for good. Leia never blamed her, only wondered why.

They enter the Coronation garden and disperse, leaving Leia standing alone, facing a pool of water, staring at an alien reflection. There is a fanfare and the opposing doors open, revealing Queen Dalné, dressed plainly, and the Assembly of Elders. They enter slowly but with purpose. Dalné walks into the reflecting pond and kneels down. As the Elders chant in Ancient Nabian, she washes her face, removing the scar of remembrance, the white paste, the red ink. As she rests in the pool, the crimson and pearl mix and swirl around the ends of her loose hair. “No longer shalt thou been known as Queen Dalné, forgo thy title and pass it to the next.”

The Elders hand her a pot of red ink and a thin brush, her frail hands grasping them with a tremor. The Elders beckon Leia forwards, spindly fingers reaching for her. She steps into the cold pool, her robe absorbing the water, dawn rippling along the surface. Dalné grips Leia’s face, her tanned hands a stark contrast against the white paste of royalty, and hovers the brush just above Leia’s lips, shaking. Leia desperately wants to look away from Dalné, to look anywhere but into the sunken face of a child queen, but she can’t. Dalné’s slate eyes stare deep into the soul of Leia, and Leia stares back, her mind screaming to leave.

After what feels like a thousand cycles, Dalné finally presses the brush to Leia’s lip, red on white, royalty on a child. Stroke after stroke. The brush leaves Leia’s lips and lands on her cheeks, single dots of red marking her. Dalné lets go of Leia’s face and returns the brush to the Elders. Leia stands, facing the Assembly, her head held high.

“From this day forth, thee shalt be known as Queen Ileiana Amidala of Naboo. Thou shalt carry this name until the end of thy reign, whether by death or succession” They crown her, the golden headdress smothering her, choking the last remnants of Leia out of her.

The ruins of childhood disguised by gold.

The procession leads out of the room, heads bowed in reverence and respect. Dalné rests within the pool, her eyes pitiful, having lived so much life at only 16, a withered and broken figure. Ashla watches from the balcony, veiled and hidden. She senses a shift in the Force and scans the area, searching for him. Across the garden stands Obi-Wan Kenobi, disguised in Nabian robes, his sandy hair moving gently in the morning breeze. He looks at her and smiles sadly. Soon all that is left in the garden is three relics of the past; a queen, a master, and a padawan.