The future Queen of Naboo stood in the middle of the ceremonial grove with thirteen young women lined up in front of her. She had grown familiar with each of them over the last five days, even training alongside them. They ranged in age from 12 to 24, though each had her height and long hair, and enough resemblance to her that they could be made up at an hour’s notice to look like her if need be. Each of them were also brave, strong, and had spent months training for their new duty. But still it overwhelmed her, the idea that thirteen women would now swear the next four years to her, if not eight, and even after that almost their lives.
Captain Panaka nodded to the first. “It is time.”
She approached her new mistress, and knelt in front of the tiny pool of water at her feet. “Padme Amidala, I, Sabé Andierre, swear to you my life and my death. I will serve you ever faithfully, and protect you, until my death, or yours, which will not happen as long as it is in my power to prevent it.” The oath was unchanged from back when it really had been for life, because the position of Queen was likewise. Even now, after she stepped down to the throne Padmé would remain able to call Sabé back into her service if for any reason she should have need for her.
“Stand.” Sabé obeyed, then she walked around Padmé, and stood behind her, though Padmé could see her reflection in the pool. She bent her head, and Panaka placed a dark hood over it, obscuring her face. That was how she would live from then on, standing behind the Queen, noone quite sure who she was.
Padmé could not help but feel her heart clench a little. If Sabé had been older, maybe she wouldn't have been as bothered. But she was only 16. Her eyes fell on the younger members of the group. They lingered especially on the twelve-year old girl. With the exception of the handmaidens of the ten-year old Queen Roninil several centuries ago, there had never been a younger girl to make this pledge in service to her Queen.
Sabé was the bravest of the thirteen, and she was the ringleader. No matter who else was on duty, Sabé would be in command of them, and she would always be the first choice of decoy.
Padmé felt better about the next handmaiden, of only because at 24, Rabe Excenil was the oldest. But this hadn't been her first choice of career; she'd wanted to be a dancer. Yet she might have been the ringleader herself, if it weren’t for her age and complexion, both of which meant more work in disguising her as the future Queen. She came from the less inhabited side of Naboo.
Eirtaé Lasara was 20. She was slightly different in her position then the rest of the principal five, who would be with Padmé at all times. Though she did not lack in strength or skill with a weapon, she had been chosen specifically for her expertise in royal protocol and other diplomatic affairs. It was typical for one of the main five and another one of the thirteen handmaidens to be chosen as such in order to assist any King or Queen who had not been born into a political family, which Padmé had certainly not been. She had run for Queen herself, though she had dropped out of race early, and Padmé suspected that when she herself left office, Eirtaé would run again.
That the final two of the first five had made it that far surprised Padmé, due to their young age. They were the youngest there; Saché Aeyinson was only 13, Yané Carinda only 12. They both were fierce fighters, despite their young age, perhaps too aggressively so. Yané’s father was a weapons maker, and she was the best markswoman of the thirteen.
When Yané had stepped behind Padmé and been shrouded, the remaining eight stepped forward. They would not serve in as many duties as the first five, but their lives would be just as uprooted by their duties, and their pledge was the same. Briné Salmune, 17, not an official protocol expert, but an informal expert on the Gunguns. Coté Lanlin,, 16, who carried around with her rumors of a strange childhood, and stranger powers, which might or might not be like those of the Jedi. She'd begged to not have to talk about it, though, saying only she'd talk if it ever turned out to matter. She'd been so upset Padmé had asked everyone to honor that request for the time being. Lané Catalin, 14, another girl from a political family, the auxiliary protocol expert. Vatié Bibble, 15, daughter to the governor. She hesitated as she spoke the vow, and Padmé, despite all the girl's words to the contrary, feared her father had pressured her into her path, though it was hard for her to imagine Sio Bibble doing such a thing to his daughter.
It was again a comfort to see the next three, who were older. Losté Maiterrie, 19, a fellow farmer’s daughter. Ené Warsilo, 20, born in the Lake country like Briné, but her family had moved to Theed when she was relatively young. Ardré Kartik, 21, who like Coté was said to have a mysterious past and mysterious powers, though she insisted she really couldn't do anything "these days" besides fight.
When only one girl stood next to Captain Panaka, there was a pause. Everyone knew this last girl had not been meant to be a handmaiden. Before she had turned 13, the age of majority on Naboo, her parents had entered her into the running, believing King Veruna would win another term. Those who served a King or Queen began their training before the actual election determined whether or not they would finish it; they had wanted her to benefit from that. But she had been 13 after the election, and to the open shock of her parents, she had declared she would go through with it, and they could not legally stop her.
“You can still leave,” Captain Panaka reminded her. “Once you take the oath there is no turning back, but even now, there is no penalty...”
But without waiting for his nod, she fell to her knees, nearly into the pool. “Padmé Amidala," she spoke frighteningly quickly. "I, Moré Yelnina, swear to you my life and my death. I will serve you ever faithfully, and protect you, until my death, or yours, which will not happen as long as it is in my power to prevent it.” Her fists clenched as she spoke, but her voice did not waver. There was utter silence in the grove.
The Panaka remembered himself. “Rise.”
It was a long walk for Moré, who had been put as the lowest ranking of the handmaidens by a man who had planned to replace her with an alternate grateful to have made it in. His shadow lay over her, and when she stepped behind Ardré the shadows of all twelve of the other handmaidens shaded her face, before Panaka covered it with the hood.
“Follow me.” He walked out of the grove. The women followed him single file, just possibly the only time they would walk together in their current formation. The coronation had been rehearsed with them divided into separate lines, and after that, the lesser eight’s duties would take them in and out of the Queen’s actual presence at such a rate that the fourteen of them might never again be gathered all together.
Single file they stepped onto the open-air transport. Padmé Amidala sat next to her head of security. Her handmaidens sat opposite them.
“As an elite force," Captain Panaka said to them. "You are officially under my authority. However, in dangerous situations, you will likely have to act on your own, as a completely autonomous unit. As you know, you are ranked in the order in which you sit now, starting with Sabé. Each of you is to consider yourself under the authority of the highest-ranking handmaiden within your immediate vicinity at all times.”
Even under their hoods, Padmé could see several of the handmaidens hiding amused expressions. Even if “dangerous situations” did not prove entirely non-existent during the next four or eight years, they were sure to be fairly rare.