The young man straightened his freshly-pressed clothes as he looked at himself in the mirror. He had gotten the hang of dressing himself with his new hand and no longer required assistance. The metallic hand hung loosely at his side, the wide tunic sleeves obscuring all but the golden fingertips.
Even though his beloved had assured him the prosthetic didn't change her love for him, he still felt self-conscious about it and had avoided touching her with it if possible.
Don't think on it now, Anakin reproached himself, it's your wedding day. He knew he and Padmé were destined to be husband and wife since he first laid eyes on her as a boy. Now it was all coming true. The thought made him tingle with excitement and nervousness. He recalled having the same feelings when riding the turbolift up to her Coruscant suite with Master Obi-Wan. He had them again only a few days beforehand when he knelt humbly before her, head bowed, and requested of her the honor of becoming his wife.
He grinned, recalling the joy and elation that surged through him when she said, "Yes." Then they made their plans, both of them knowing there was only one place in the universe where they would exchange their vows. When the question arose as to who could be counted upon to perform the ceremony in secret, Padmé had said she knew the right place to seek out an officiant.
Once on Naboo, secretly ensconced away in the Lake Country, Padme had guided Anakin uphill on an unpaved path toward an ancient abbey. The two had gone alone that morning with the droids back at the retreat. Their cloaks had been drawn to conceal their identities as much as to ward against the chill morning air...
They reached the top of the hill and the massive wooden door entrance to the abbey. The archway above the doors bore a motto in Naboo's pre-Aurebesh cuneiform, the kind Anakin had seen on the royal starfighters. "There is no higher law than love," Padmé translated.
"I couldn't agree more," Anakin said, favoring Padmé with a lopsided grin.
"We'll find what we need here," she replied, smiling back at him. An old-fashioned bell and a thin rope hung above the doorway, just below the painted motto. Anakin pulled on the rope, clanging the bell.
Moments later, a holy man dressed in the simple vestments of his order opened the wooden door. "Good morning, my children," he said with a formal bow. "How may I be of service to you?"
"We wish to see a pater," Padmé said.
"Ah, I see," the holy man beamed. "Right this way, my children."
The holy man led the couple across a courtyard into one of the abbey's old vine-encrusted buildings. Its halls were cool and silent but for their footsteps. The holy man stopped at a door, gently knocked, then entered. He turned and beckoned Anakin and Padmé to follow him.
The room was the study of another holy man, an elderly fellow, who had been studying ancient written texts on actual parchment. The chamber was as sparse and simple as any Anakin had seen at the Jedi Temple, but the furnishings and old scrolls reflected a different tradition.
"Welcome," the holy man said, getting up from his studies to bow before Anakin and Padme. "Brother Morteno says you require a pater?"
"Yes, Father," Padmé replied.
"We wish to be married," Anakin added.
The holy man smiled knowingly. "It is our duty to Love to bless those hearts who wish to be united as one. When do you plan to have the ceremony?"
"Today, at sunset, if possible," Anakin said.
"It shall be done. And where is the ceremony to be held?"
"At the retreat, Varykino," Padmé replied. "Do you know where it is?"
"Indeed I do, my child, on the south side of the lake." The holy man quickly explained the nature of the wedding, or what he called handfasting, ceremony. He would recite the ancient texts of marriage, a sacred ritual among the Naboo for centuries. Padme and Anakin would then exchange their vows, concluding with the holy man asking for divine blessings, and the couple joining hands.
"One last thing, Father," Padmé said. "We require discretion. The only witnesses to the ceremony will be our droids."
"I understand. It shall be as you request."
Anakin and Padmé started back down the trail, his left arm around her waist. When they rounded a bend obscured by an overgrowth of trees, he pulled her aside, removed her hood, then his, and kissed her. It was a deep, hungry kiss, one that bespoke of their longing for one another.
"We can't do that in front of the pater," Padmé chuckled when their mouths parted.
"I know. That's why I'm doing it now," Anakin said with a wry grin. His expression then became wistful. "Are you sure this is going to be all right?"
"Ani, the holy men of this order are renowned for their discretion. If they know I'm Senator Amidala and if they see you're a Jedi, they will keep it to themselves. They serve love only; societal conventions mean nothing to them. That's why people who want to elope have come to them for ages."
"That's not what I meant. I believe you when you say these men can be trusted. What I meant was...you probably had something else in mind when you dreamed of your wedding day. I know you would want your family and friends here. I'd want my mother..." Anakin's voice trailed off.
"Oh, Ani," Padmé said, gently caressing Anakin's cheek, "we agreed to this and...it's the only way."
Anakin turned his head and pressed his lips to Padmé's palm. "I know it is. I just want to make sure you don't have any doubts."
"There are no doubts, Ani," Padmé said. "I will be your wife by the end of this day and you're the man I want to be my husband."
Those solemn words had sent his spirit soaring.
But he had seen little of Padmé all afternoon and was anxious to see her again.
Threepio walked into the bedchamber. "Master Anakin, are you ready? The officiant will be here soon."
"I'm ready, Threepio," Anakin said with a slight smile at the mirror image. "More ready than you'll ever know."
Padmé gently lifted the gown out of the box; both the dress and the veil were a curious mix of old and new, delivered discreetly to the retreat under an assumed name.
No one knew Padmé Amidala Naberrie had returned to the Lake Country. Only Queen Jamilla knew Padmé was home on Naboo, but she'd told the queen she and her Jedi protector would be in the mountain regions instead. Not even her family knew her whereabouts.
Of course, Anakin Skywalker was more than merely her protector now. Soon, he would become her husband. The thought of it made her stomach flutter.
I really am about to do this, she thought. I've found the love I've always wanted, but I'm risking everything for it. As far as she was concerned, it was worth risking everything. After Geonosis, she realized life was too precious and too fleeting to ignore whatever happiness one could find. She also realized she could not imagine life without Anakin in it, Jedi rules be damned. They completed one another in a way no one could comprehend. She recalled how years ago the old Master Qui-Gon spoke to Anakin about the will of the Force; perhaps it was the will of the Force that they be together.
There was no hesitation accepting Anakin's proposal. Only she could cherish him and give him the love he needed. For all of their wisdom, the Jedi could not see that he needed love in his life.
After arranging for the holy man to come to the retreat, she parted with Anakin to go to a village on the far side of the lake. She knew many artisans plied their crafts there, including the famous glass artists.
Anakin had wanted to go with her. He insisted he was still obligated to protect her, that she was still in danger despite the secrecy of their location. But she knew he simply wanted to be with her. Gently she explained the truth; Nubian superstition dictated it was bad luck for the groom to see the bride's gown before the wedding. He acquiesced, but he sent Artoo to accompany her while he saw to final details at the retreat with Threepio...
Padmé strolled the streets of the village with the hood of her cloak drawn up again, Artoo trundling behind her. She felt a combination of excitement over the wedding, worry that someone in the village might recognize her, and sadness that she couldn't share the day with anyone else. She'd always dreamed that she would plan the perfect wedding with her sister and her mother. Her sister had married while she was Queen; Padmé slipped out of the palace one day and left Sabé in her place to take Sola out to find a dress. She had been Sola's maid of honor and had hoped Sola would do the same for her one day. Anakin had sensed keeping their marriage a secret from even her family would be difficult for her. But she knew in time she would be able to tell them and they would probably understand. Life seldom turns out the way we plan it, Padme reminded herself.
It was then she came across a vintage shop filled with old-fashioned clothing and jewelry. Intrigued, she went inside, ordering Artoo to wait for her outside. She had hoped to find such a place. It smelled of spicewood incense and was filled with an eclectic variety of merchandise.
"Good day, milady," the shop's young proprietess greeted Padmé and for a moment, the senator feared she'd been recognized. But then she realized it was merely a courtesy greeting and she relaxed. "How may I be of assistance?"
"I'm looking for a wedding gown," Padmé replied. "I prefer the crafting and style of the older gowns."
The proprietess smiled and led Padmé toward the back of her shop. "Perhaps you'll be interested in this." She stopped before a breathtaking concoction of silk, lace, and diadems. "This is perfect for a young bride and interestingly enough, it was created by a local seamstress out of antique lace over new lace and silk."
Padmé reached out to feel the sleeve between her thumb and forefinger. It was a dress that was beautiful in its simplicity and timeless in its style. It seemed right for the occasion--a private, simple ceremony. "It's gorgeous," she said. "May I try it on?"
The proprietess helped Padmé into the dress, risking revealing her identity by removing the cloak. However, with her hair loose and long, no cosmetics on her face, and dressed in a plain blue dress common in the country, she didn't look like a senator or a former queen.
When she saw herself in a mirror, she knew she had found the right dress. It was a little long, but otherwise it fit her perfectly. She loved the way the lowcut sweetheart neckline on the bodice added a hint of sensuality.
"I love it," Padmé said, beaming.
"Milady, there's a veil made by the same seamstress that matches the dress perfectly. Would you like to try it on?"
The veil was made of matching vintage lace and pearls the proprietess said originally came from a necklace. It fit closely around Padmé's head and a train of lace draped down to her shoulders. "I'll take them both," Padmé said. "Are you able to hem the dress by early this afternoon?"
"Yes, of course, milady. If I may say so, the gown is beautiful enough on you, but you have the glow of a woman in love."
Padmé smiled. "I am."
Padmé purchased the gown and veil and arranged to have them sent to an "Amidé Skywalker" at Varykino. Thankfully, they had arrived in time, the dress hemmed to specifications.
The preparations were done; only the ceremony and a romantic night alone with her new husband lay ahead. She wished she had her sister's counsel, but tonight she had to let her heart and instincts guide her. It'll be fine, she told herself. It'll be more than fine. She had already arranged for candles and scattered rose petals in the wedding suite.
By the fading sunlight streaming through the window, she realized she'd daydreamed for too long...she glanced at the chronometer and was startled to see she was late. "Oh, no, the pater will be here any minute!"
Anakin paced nervously on the balcony. The holy man had arrived, the sun was starting to sink below the distant mountains, and Padmé wasn't ready yet. All poor Threepio could do was watch his maker glide back and forth in a purposeful stride, his dark cloak billowing around him.
What if she's changed her mind? What if she's locked in her bedchamber and won't come out? Perspiration broke out on Anakin's forehead as every worst-case scenario played through his mind.
No, wait. I can't think like this. Padmé loves me. She wants this as much as I do. I have to be calm. If anything was truly wrong, I would know. I would feel it through the Force. Anakin stopped his pacing and closed his eyes. The ancient mantras he'd learned at the Temple replayed through his mind, slowing his breathing and heart rate to normal. The Force flowed through him and he could feel the presence of every living being near him, from the patient holy man to the birds singing their evening songs to the insects buzzing around the flowers on the balustrade to the fish in the lake. But one presence in the Force shone brighter to him than Tatooine's suns. It was a presence made up of love, light, and the very essence of this verdant, living world. And it was coming nearer...
A series of cheerful electronic beeps and whistles interrupted Anakin's meditations. "Artoo! Miss Padmé!" Threepio exclaimed as the astromech droid and its mistress appeared in the doorway to the balcony. Artoo rolled toward where Threepio stood, Padmé following behind him.
Anakin could do nothing more but stare in amazement at his bride as she walked toward him. She had never looked so beautiful to him, dressed in an exquisite white gown and an antique lace veil dotted with seed pearls. She was as etheriel as the legendary angels of Iego, whom he had compared to her a lifetime ago in that dusty Mos Espa shop.
"I'm sorry I'm late," she said with a little smile.
"My lady," he said, this time not as a formal address but as a deeply-felt endearment. He took her hand in his left hand and pressed it gently to his lips. He then turned to the holy man. "We're ready to begin, I think." With that, the holy man nodded and began the ancient incantations that bound countless hearts over the centuries.