She was a handmaiden but that was a long time ago.

Not that long by the standard of chronological time but it was still felt like an eternity behind her. Sometimes she wondered if all of it was a dream, that the past she remembered was some figment of imagination conjured up by little girls who dreamed such fanciful beginning in their innocence. She refused to believe it even though it would make things so much simpler if it were. Sometimes, she wished that she were just another ordinary person, not one charged with such a heavy burden of responsibility, whose life was spent watching and waiting for enemies and playing guardian to a promise.

The irony of it was, that should she chose to walk away and leave it all behind her, it was relatively easy enough to do. She thought of disappearing into the mists one day and returning to the estate where her father and mother, once aristocrats of good fortune had raised her in their embrace of love but they were gone now, disappeared just as surely as all the others. If she wanted to leave, she doubted anyone would stop her because she had served Queen and country more times than she could count and one dedicated to a service of another as she had been, had more than earned the freedom to live her own life.

Except she could not because of the promise.

The promise was ingrained into her as if it were branded into her skin with fire. It defined her existence, made up the salt that was her inner strength and kept her dedicated to its fulfillment forsaking all other aspects of her life. She was shackled to it as if bound by the strongest chains and yet it was bondage that gave her life its meaning and purpose. The one to whom she had made the promise was gone now, broken by despair over so many wounds that she sometimes wondered how one person could be injured so tragically over so many occasions. It was partly because of the suffering that she was so determined to carry out the promise made to the one who had charged her with the only thing that still mattered before passing beyond the veil. It was more than just a promise but an oath that had to be kept if the future was to be salvaged from the decay of the present.

Her name was Rayne.

Her family no longer existed so there was no need to remind herself of their loss by keeping their names with hers. To all, she was simply Rayne. She was the last of her kind. The last of an elite group whom had trained from adolescence to take on the role that would occupy their entire life and it was a vocation she was more than happy to partake for the one she served had been a lady of great distinction. At court, she had been designated a handmaiden but in truth, she was much more. Trained by the finest combat experts in the galaxy, the rigorousness of her training could only be bettered by the training of the Jedi and the Mistral warriors of Emberlene. She was not simply a handmaiden but a bodyguard, a combat expert and tactician. She could fly any ship, fire any weapon. Her training had been that extensive. To serve the Queen of Naboo demanded nothing less.

At the age of sixteen, Rayne was sent to court in order to serve as handmaiden to Queen Amidala of the Naboo, known to those whom she considered friends, as Padme. It had been an honor to serve the Queen for the lady was one of those rare things in the galaxy; a ruler who genuinely cared about her people. Rayne had stood at her side for as long as Padme ruled the Naboo, until the dark times came and everything that was the Republic evolved into something dark and sinister, calling itself the Empire. Padme had stood in the center of maelstrom, swept away by the forces she was powerless to stop, bound prisoner by her heart and doomed forever because of it. After it was all said and done, the sparkle of life that so many had loved would fade from Padme's eyes and in Rayne's opinion, that is when she really started to die. The physical death took place years later but deep inside, Rayne knew better. By the time Padme had died, all those who served as her handmaidens had almost met their demise, gone to their end in one way or another. Only Rayne remained for Padme to make her final bequest and since that day, Rayne had stood by waiting for the inevitable day when she would have to carry it through.

Now Rayne was a permanent fixture in another court, on a world not unlike Naboo, serving not as handmaiden but rather as nurse and bodyguard to another member of royalty. This time, it was not allegiance that bound her to Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan but rather a promise. Before Padme had died, she had asked only one thing of Rayne but it was a big thing nonetheless. She had asked that Leia be protected at all costs and there were other instructions as well, ones just as entwined with saving the child's life as the promise she asked Rayne to make. Rayne had been happy to make the promise because Padme had been more than just her employer and liege, she had been Rayne's friend and in her life, there were not many friends at all. Her profession did not permit that luxury. To have friends was to let one's guard down and Rayne could not afford to do that ever.

To do that was to break her promise to the friend she still cherished and thought of late at night, when she was overcome with dreams of better times.

When being a handmaiden meant something.

Bail Organa, leader of Alderaan and Senator of the newly established Imperial Senate entered the courtyard before the Floriade Gardens of the Royal Palace. Although he was by no means a dictator, he was still considered a King though he preferred to be known as diplomat rather than a ruler. It seemed that too many people were forgetting themselves because of their titles and being a King in a galaxy governed supremely by an Emperor seemed as shallow as any he had heard in recent times. However, King he was of Alderaan and though he played the part of politician these days, his personal life was fraught with all the intrigues that royalty and aristocracy was meant to incur.

He did not need this to come so soon but it had and it renewed the sorrow he thought he had banished to a distant place inside his heart, suddenly returned spewing forth like a hidden spring inside him. It had been months since her death, months and though Bail knew that it was unrealistic to think that determination alone would stem the tide of his grief, he prayed that it would because he missed her so very much. Padme had been his for a very short time and in truth, he still did not think that she ever truly belonged to him. Oh he loved her just the same and was intensely grateful that of all the people in the galaxy, it was he that she had come to for help, it was he that she chose to guard her and her child. She had married him for that very purpose, Bail did not delude himself by thinking it was any more than that although Padme did in her way love, he thought. But not once during their entire marriage did he ever look into her eyes and ever see the same fire that burned whenev er she had looked at the one who came before him.

The one who was Skywalker.

Even now, Bail felt the rage bubble inside him when that name surfaced in his mind. She had loved Anakin Skywalker beyond belief, beyond everything and it had destroyed her. First it took away her life as Queen Amidala and then it took away her child and finally it took away her life. Bail hated him intensely because he would have died to have the love that Anakin Skywalker had so carelessly disregarded for a destiny that would see the blanket of darkness sweep through the galaxy and change it forever.

Bail entered the extensive gardens that surrounded the palace and was immediately greeted by a manicured lawns containing all manner of exotic flora, garnished by colorful flowers that created an amalgam of scent that seemed almost like perfume. His eyes swept across the perfectly tended lawns and immediately spied his daughter playing near the topiary. A small smile crossed his lips when he heard her small voice speaking the language of two years olds to the animal shaped plant life. Leia was little more than two but she was easily the delight of his life. He knew that much of the reason he loved her so much because here was a part of Padme that was unconditionally his; who loved him as a father and never thought of another whilst doing it.

It was so easy to forget his troubles when he saw Leia bounding barefoot across the garden, her dark auburn hair swinging over her waist, catching the sunlight as she moved. Her playmate at this time was a golden protocol droid, gleaming under the sun and though Bail had wished he could rid himself of the cursed machine once and for all, he knew Leia adored it. Why should she not? Her real father had built it and her mother had kept it as another reminder of him, as if Leia herself did not fill that capacity as it was. However, Padme had not much to bequeath her daughter when she passed away and Bail who had since purged the protocol droid's memory banks of any knowledge of Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala, could not bring himself to deny Padme's wishes.

However, it was his love for his daughter that snapped Bail out of his reverie and forced him to turn his attention to the dark, lithe young woman who stood close by, watching the child closely in her capacity as Leia's guardian. Bail was certain that Rayne had already seen him but was attempting to size up the reason for his sudden appearance as something that ought to give her concern. The sun was high in the sky and normally, they would not expect to see Bail until later that evening. Affairs of state usually occupied his afternoons and his appearance at this time, meant an interruption that could not wait.

She moved towards him first, her eyes always keeping Leia in her peripheral vision as she had done when Padme still lived. She was not especially likeable this handmaiden of Padme's but Bail could not deny that he would trust his daughter in her care before the entire Imperial fleet. She was clad in crimson robes, not especially anonymous but the garments made her look like a cleric of some sort and she was beautiful in her way, even if her mercurial expression dulled that beauty somewhat. Brown eyes studied him closely as they closed the distance between them and her brow knotted, indicating that she was aware that there was some danger to her young charge.

"Your highness." Rayne met him with the customary bow that always made Bail so uncomfortable, especially when he was in Coruscant and surrounded by other diplomats.

"Rayne," Bail responded shortly. "We have a problem."

She did not react. She seldom did. The most response he received at his statement was a slight twitch on her sculpted brow. "What sort of problem, your highness?" she asked calmly.

"He is coming here."

There was no reaction. He had not expected there would be. There was not even the need to ask who 'he' was because she knew that there was only one person to whom they would refer to in this way.

She blinked once, her eyes moving instinctively in Leia's direction before she met his gaze again. "How much time do we have?"

"A day," he admitted readily, knowing her long enough to know that her questions were not asked without good reason and it was best to answer them promptly.

"Are we aware of what precipitated this visit?" she asked once again. Inwardly, in the part of her that still dared to hope, she prayed it were not for the reason she feared.

"I have my suspicions that he intends to take Leia as a hostage," Bail replied. "He knows I mean to block the Emperor in the Senate regarding the segregation policy and holding my daughter hostage would ensure that I cooperate."

She nodded slowly. "Why not just kill you?" she asked emotionlessly and that too was something that Bail had become accustomed to since she had come into his home. The woman did not waste time with tact, she spoke her mind directly. After dealing with diplomats and politicians, Bail found it strangely refreshing.

"Palpatine is not a fool. Killing me would make me a martyr and he has enough difficulties with the Rebel Alliance without adding that to his troubles. Besides, it's not the Emperor's way to be so blatant. He would prefer having me under his control than removing me completely," Bail answered.

"Are you certain that taking Leia hostage has no other purpose?" she inquired.

A shudder of fear ran through Bail at the thought but he honestly believed that his premise was correct. They had been so careful about protecting Leia. As far as Anakin Skywalker knew, he had one child not twins. Obi-wan and Padme had agreed that Lei's anonymity was her greatest protection but all that would mean nothing if he was in close enough proximity to the child for his Jedi senses to discover the truth. Leia was two years old, her memories of Padme would be fresh and easily to sense. The child still cried for her mother at night. In later years, her experiences would drive those memories so far beneath the surface that no one would be able to find them unless they were actively seeking it with forehand knowledge that she was daughter to Amidala of Naboo.

"I do not believe so but that does not eliminate the problem does it?" Bail sighed.

"No," she shook her head. "Leia cannot be here when Vader arrives on Alderaan."

"What are we to do?" He looked to her hoping she had a solution. "He claims that he is merely delivering sensitive diplomatic documents from the Emperor but we all know that Palpatine would never used him as a mere messenger. I've heard enough rumors about the Emperor's feelings towards me and our people in Coruscant is certain that this is his intention in sending Vader here."

"We must take her away from Alderaan," Rayne turned to Leia. "There is no question of that but perhaps we can beat the Emperor at his own game.'

"I'd like to know how," Bail retorted skeptically. "If Leia suddenly disappears, Vader is going to wonder why and probably be more determined to take a look at her, not to mention all the agents in Coruscant we'll be compromising when the Emperor realises we were forewarned of the situation."

"I will take Leia away tonight and you will tell Vader that Leia has been kidnapped. That will keep him from coming to Alderaan personally but in the meantime, we must take the proper precautions," Rayne replied, indicating in her tone that there would be no discussion in the matter.

Obi-Wan and Padme had left very explicit instructions as to what to do in the event that Vader ever came near them. The Jedi could read strong emotions and extrapolate from them the content of one's mind but only if the mind in question was weak and undisciplined. Bail Organa was very disciplined nor was he weak-minded. Padme had left her daughter to Bail knowing that he could protect her and Rayne had every confidence that he would be able to shield his thoughts from Vader enough to keep the dark lord from guessing the truth.

"I understand," Bail nodded. "It will be done before I make my communications to Vader. If he should decide to come to Alderaan, he will come to find me worried about my daughter with no knowledge as to anything involving the Rebel Alliance and who might have taken her. Of course, we'll give him more than adequate proof that she was indeed kidnapped."

"I hope it works," Rayne remarked. "If it does not, I do not envy your chances."

"I do not care," he said firmly, staring at his daughter who was playing hide and seek with the protocol droid and found himself smiling. "She is my life, I will not allow anyone to harm her." Emotion welled up in his face and Bail had to look away to compose himself. His daughter was all that he had left of Padme, if anything happened to her he did not think he could bear it. "Where will you take her?"

Rayne considered the question for a moment, having produced contingency plans for numerous situations involving danger to Leia and deciding that the best place to hide Leia would be with the Emperor's enemies. "I was thinking that I would take her to one of the Rebel bases."

The frown on the Senator's face clearly indicated he did not like this plan at all. "Rayne that is exceedingly dangerous. The Emperor is hell bent on destroying every rebel stronghold he can find. If you should be present if they are discovered......"

"I have a specific cell in mind," she quickly spoke up to allay his fears. "I have not chosen it at random, your highness. Do you know of the rebels in the Territory?" Rayne looked at him.

"Only that Mary Travis is in command there," Bail answered, feeling his trepidation ease a little bit because the Territory almost on the other side of the galaxy in comparison to Alderaan and Coruscant. Not to mention Mary Travis was one of their more able commanders and as a hiding place, Rayne could not have chosen better but Bail ached at the thought of Leia being so far away even though he knew that it was for the best. "Are you sure that you must go so far?"

"Yes," Rayne replied, broking no argument on this point because there was a reason she wished to travel to that distant quadrant of space. "I am told that there is a Jedi there."

"Are you sure?" Bail asked hopefully, starting to understand why Rayne would make such an arduous journey upon hearing that. A Jedi could successfully protect Leia from Vader on the unlikely chance that he was able to find her. No doubt once Bail set into motion the lie that Leia was kidnapped, Vader would send out Imperial spies to find the child first in order to use her as leverage against him. Bail would rather a Jedi be on hand if Vader became personally involved. As accomplished as Rayne was, if she were faced with Darth Vader, she had no possibility of defeating the man and they both knew. It was a sensible choice if there were indeed a Jedi in the Territory."

"I would not be going if I was not certain of this," she said hotly somewhat annoyed that he had dared to question her on this matter. She did not leave such things to chance. If there were even the slightest doubt regarding her information, she would have abandoned the plan. "They say that he was friend to Obi-Wan and a great Jedi warrior. If I explain to him, he will understand. If he does not already."

"What makes you think that?" the Senator asked, uncomfortable with anyone else knowing about Leia's lineage. As far as he knew, it was vitally important that Vader did not know about his children, not about Leia and certainly not about Padme's son whom Obi-Wan had spirited away a month after he was born. The loss had devastated Padme and Bail still held memories of how tearfully Leia had wailed in her crib after the separation from her twin. It was as if something physical between the two infants had been severed and though Leia was a happy child for most part, Bail had often had the feeling that she still searched for that missing part of herself.

"Obi-Wan said that he had told a select few Jedi about the twins and their importance to the future, I think it was his way of ensuring that if anything were to happen to him, the children would be safe. It is unlikely that this Jedi would know of course, so many of them are dead now, thanks to Vader," Rayne sighed, her expression bitter. Though she had never wished to be a Jedi, she had respected them as warriors and defenders of the weak. For more years than the galaxy had shown gratitude, the Jedi Knights had been the guardians of peace and justice. It angered Rayne how quickly they were now being forgotten.

"Must it be this way?" Bail stared at his daughter, hating to be away from her, hating that he was powerless to keep her from danger and had to entrust that task to Rayne and a strange Jedi he had never even met.

"You know that question yourself," Rayne looked at him with a hint of compassion in her eyes. He did love Leia, of that Rayne had no doubt. She knew that if he were asked to do so, he would gladly sacrifice his own life to save his daughter. Leia may not have been born of his blood but she was very much Bail Organa's child more than she would ever be Anakin Skywalker's.

"Yes I do," he signed, conceding defeat and resigned not to argue on this point any longer. "Hopefully, we will not have to carry out this ruse for too long. Once the segregation policy has been voted on, I'm sure you and Leia will be able to return to Alderaan. The Emperor would have no reason to harm Leia. In fact, it would be in his best interests to keep her alive until such time he needs to use her again."

Rayne knew all about the segregation policy the Empire was intending to inflict upon the races of the galaxy. Bail Organa was its strongest opponent in the Senate and the only reason that he had not been killed for his opposition was because Alderaan was too powerful for Palpatine's fledgling Empire to make a move against. A dark premonition fell upon her and it sent a shiver through her spine.

May the Force help Alderaan if the Emperor ever ceased to think that.

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