By the D23 Team
May the 4th is just around the corner, and Star Wars fans everywhere are prepping to celebrating the galaxy far, far away. In between your movie marathons and The Mandalorian rewatch, you might be looking for some new intergalactic reading—and you’re in luck! From May 1 until May 8, you can download a free copy of the ebook Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston here.
Set in between Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, discover what happens when Padmé Amidala steps down from her role as Queen of Naboo to pursue a role in the Galactic Senate. Alongside her loyal handmaidens, Padmé must navigate her new political situation—and her new identity.
Jump into the action of Queen’s Shadow with this exclusive excerpt:
Padmé Amidala was completely still. The brown halo of her hair spread out around her, softened here and there by white blossoms that had blown through the air to find their rest amongst her curls. Her skin was pale and perfect. Her face was peaceful. Her eyes were closed and her hands were clasped across her stomach as she floated. Naboo carried on without her.
Even now, at the end, she was watched.
It was no more than was to be expected. Ever since she’d entered the arena of planetary politics, her audience had been unceasing. First they had commented on her interests and ideals, then later on her election to queen. Many had doubted her strength in the face of an invasion, when the lives and well-being of her people would be held ransom against her—hers to save if only she would give up her signature—and she had proven them all wrong. She had ruled well. She had grown in wisdom and experience, and had done both rapidly. She had faced the trials of her position unflinching and unafraid. And now, her time was ended.
A small disturbance, the barest movement through the otherwise peaceful water, was Padmé’s only warning before her attacker struck.
An arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her down into the clear shallows, holding her there just long enough to let her know that she had been bested.
The Queen of Naboo surfaced, sputtering water in the sunlight as her handmaidens—her friends—laughed around her. Yané and Saché, who had suffered for their planet during the Occupation. Eirtaé and Rabé, who had helped make sure their suffering meant something. Sabé, who took the most frequent risks and was the most beloved. Together—young and seemingly carefree—they were a force that was often underestimated.
No matter how many times they were proven able, people who looked at them were blinded by their youth and by their clothing, and dismissed them yet again. That was exactly how they preferred it.
The lake country was renowned for its privacy. Here, even the queen could go unnoticed, or at least be easily overlooked. Naboo’s natural heritage was to be protected and treasured, even before new treaties with the Gungans had been signed, and this had reinforced the isolation of the lakes in the region. The bustle of the capital was far away, and Padmé could have, for however small a moment, some time to herself. Well, to herself, her handmaidens, the guards Captain Panaka deemed appropriate, and all the household staff. Solitude, it turned out, was somewhat relative.
From the beach, Quarsh Panaka watched his charges frolic in the sun with an all-too-familiar expression on his face. He had argued to bring ten of his people down to the water’s edge with him, and Padmé had conceded. Eventually. This give and-take had once been his custom when it came to dealings with the queen—even if their relationship had grown colder and more formal of late. He was a professional, so he stood there and glowered, knowing that today of all days, his interference would not be welcomed.
“You let me do that,” Saché said. The youngest handmaiden wore a swimming suit cut in the same style as the rest of them, but where the others bared skin to the sun, she bared a large collection of mottled scars that wrapped around her arms, legs, and neck. Yané paddled next to her and ran her fingers through Saché’s hair.
“I couldn’t have stopped you,” Padmé said. She shook her head, shedding drops of water—and the last few blossoms. Waist-deep in the shining lake and speaking in her own voice, she might have been mistaken for a normal girl, but even now there was something about her bearing that hinted at more. “Though I could have cried out and got a mouthful of lake water for my trouble.”
“And Captain Panaka would have felt honor bound to rescue you.” Sabé said it in Amidala’s voice, and Saché and Yané both straightened out of reflex before Yané sent a wave of water toward the older girl as repayment. Sabé merely swept a flower from her cheek as it landed on her, and continued to float, unbothered by the ruckus. “So really, you were preserving the dignity of many, not to mention a fine pair of boots.”
Unbothered, but not unaware, Sabé spoke loudly enough to be heard by all those who were swimming, as well as several of the guards, who did little to conceal their amusement. “You have aged me prematurely, my ladies,” Panaka said. There was a hint of warmth in his tone, but the uncrossable distance remained. “My wife will hardly recognize me when I go home.”
“Your wife has no such problem,” said Mariek Panaka from her position three paces away from him. She was not in uniform, because she had been in swimming with the queen. She was wrapped in a bright orange sarong that made her brown skin glow in the late morning sun, and her dark hair dripped down her back while the rest of her dried.
“Well,” said Padmé, wading toward the shore with Sabé, as always, in her wake. “Soon we will all be able to rest.”
And there it was: the veermok in the room addressed at last. Because the end was coming, and neither the beauty of Naboo’s lake country nor the best of company could stop it. When the election was over and the new ruler of Naboo was announced, Padmé Amidala would be in search of a new task or calling or profession, and so would most of those in her service. Some, like Panaka, looked forward to retirement, as much as anyone on Naboo ever retired. Padmé guessed Panaka had received several job offers, but they were past the stage where they discussed such personal matters, now. The younger ones, like Eirtaé and Saché, sought the future on their own terms. Musicians, doctors, parents, farmers, and all combinations thereof—it was a time for dreams. Change was coming, and it was coming fast. No one, not even Sabé, had dared to ask the queen about her plans.
Rabé stood up and followed the queen. Eirtaé dove down one more time—a sort of farewell—and then joined the others as they gathered themselves and left the water, too. They didn’t have to, not with so many guards and Sabé besides, but they would always choose the queen when they could, and soon, they would no longer be able to.
Away from the lake house, Naboo was voting. The gears of democracy were well oiled, and centuries of tradition made the biennial event run smoothly, even with the inclusion of Gungan voters for only the second time in the planet’s history. Though few of them chose to vote, Padmé knew her efforts to include them were appreciated because Boss Nass had told her as much. Loudly. Naboo was not quite as united as she might have liked it to be at the end of her four years of service to it, but the people were happy with what she had done.
Almost too happy, it turned out. A faction had tried to amend the constitution so that Padmé could run again. This had been tried only once before, during a time of great upheaval in Naboo’s past, and Padmé could see no reason to fight for something she neither wanted nor believed was right. She had given four years to Naboo, and now it was time for someone else’s vision, someone else’s hands, to select the course. That was the soul of Naboo’s democratic body, that change and service in short stretches were better than stagnant rulership, and Padmé was happy to play all the parts her role included.
“You weren’t even tempted?” Sabé had asked when the messenger had come with the amendment for Padmé to read and she had returned it unsigned after the barest of glances. It was the closest they had yet come to discussion of the future.
“Of course I was tempted,” Padmé had replied. She settled back in her seat, and Sabé resumed brushing her hair.
“I thought of at least ten more things I could do with another term while I was reading the proposal. But that’s not how our legacies work. Not here. We serve and we allow others to serve.”
Sabé had said nothing more.
Now, wrapped in vivid sarongs on the beach, they retrieved their sandals and followed the guards up toward the house.
When they reached the grassy hill at the base of the wide stone stairs, Padmé stopped to brush off her feet. They all halted with her.
“Sand,” she said, by way of explanation.
“I’m sure the housekeeping droids appreciate your efforts, Your Highness,” Eirtaé said. Her face was handmaiden-straight, so only a few people got the joke.
The steps weren’t very steep on this side of the house. The port—for water vessels in this case; there wasn’t really a place to land an airship—was on the other side of the estate, and those steps were cut straight into the spur on which the house was set. This way had been purposely constructed as a path to the water, and therefore it was both more beautiful and more leisurely an ascent. Padmé and Mariek led the way up, with Panaka behind them and the rest of the handmaidens and guards strung along like so many ducklings.
Sabé had paused at the bottom to fasten her sandals. Padmé saw her grimace slightly when she realized that there was, in fact, still sand between her toes. Sabé shook her shoes as clear as she could and then began to climb at an almost leisurely pace. Sabé didn’t often allow her mind to wander when she was with the queen, but here and now, with so little at stake and peaceful change rapidly approaching, Padmé was happy to see her relax as Sergeant Tonra fell into step beside her. He was somewhat taller than Panaka, with white skin that was usually pale, though two weeks in the sun had reddened his face significantly. He had come down the steps just as Padmé had decided to return to the house but was not the least bit winded by his exertions.
“There are several messages for Her Highness.” He spoke quietly to Sabé, but Padmé still overheard him. “None of them are urgent, but one is official and will require the queen to open it herself.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Sabé replied, ever competent. “We’ll get to them presently.”
Tonra nodded but did not fall back. Padmé expected Sabé to bristle, as she usually did if she thought someone meant to guard her person, even though she granted more leniency to those who had fought in the Battle of Naboo, as Tonra had. Sabé was as protective of her own privacy as Padmé was of hers—albeit for different reasons. Perhaps, Padmé decided, Sabé was finally allowing herself to appreciate the view.
The lake spread out as they climbed, its water reflecting the sky with such perfection that, but for a few waves, it was possible to convince oneself that sky and water had been somehow reversed. The green hills that rose up from the shore also descended down into the depths, and what few puffy clouds skirted the blue above were mirrored exactly in the blue below. It was as though two bowls were pressed against each other, their rims forming the treed horizon. There was no sign of human habitation jutting out from between the trees, except for the house they were climbing toward, and the sky above them was never dotted with ships or flying recorder droids or anything else that might puncture the quiet with unwanted noise.
The house itself was made of yellow rock, and roofed in red, with copper-green domes. There were several sections, each with its own purpose ranging from habitation to cooking, all linked by a series of elaborate gardens. The property belonged to the government, and Padmé had used it as a retreat for much of her career, beginning back when she was first in the junior legislative program as a child. She didn’t own any part of it, but she had influenced the layout and décor in subtle ways so that there was no doubting that it was a place she dearly loved. It was an oasis, a haven. Padmé had always come here to relax, and even though this was, in theory, the most relaxing visit she had ever taken here, it was obvious to all who saw her that she could not quite quiet her mind.
The queen had arrived two weeks earlier for the customary seclusion during the final campaign, and today was the election at last. Padmé was officially neutral with regard to her successor, though she had of course done her civic duty and cast a vote. A droid had departed with all of their ballots early in the day, but they hadn’t spoken of politics more than absolutely necessary since their arrival, and not at all since that morning. Padmé had run unopposed in her second term, though there had been a few write-in candidates, as there always were. This was the first time she had been this uninvolved in her planet’s politics since she began her studies. She liked it—and also found it deeply unsettling in a way she couldn’t quite explain.
Padmé had hoped the exertion of swimming would help. The distance to the island was something she hadn’t attempted in several months, though her handmaidens were always game to try. She’d thought the swim would at least tire her out too much to think. Instead, her thoughts had only reordered themselves. Even Saché’s dunking hadn’t helped.
She had a great deal to think about. Who was she, after all, when she was not Queen of Naboo? She had entered politics so early and with such zeal that she had no other identity. She had taken five handmaidens with her, and each of them had been shaped by their roles, as well, to the point where they had all taken names in her honor after she was elected. Who were they, when they were allowed to be themselves? Everyone knew that Rabé dreamed of music, while Yané dreamed of a house full of children that Saché would also call home, and so on and so on with each of the others, but it was more challenging for Padmé to see herself in any of their futures. Would they have room in their lives for Padmé when Amidala no longer held them as queen? And who would she be, even if they did?
“You’re going to trip if you don’t stop daydreaming,” Mariek said beside the queen on the steps. “And won’t that be just the way for you to end your reign, falling up the stairs because you were thinking too hard about things that are no longer yours to think about.”
“I can’t help it,” Padmé admitted. She never could. “But you’re right. I’ll wait until I’m alone before I let myself drift that far.”
“You’ll never be alone, my lady,” Mariek said. “And I don’t mean all of this production, either.” She gestured vaguely at the queen’s retinue and smiled widely. “It will be different, but you will be different, too, and you’re smart enough to figure it out.”
“Thank you,” Padmé said. “It’s strange to want two things that are entirely different from one another. I am ready to stop, but I also feel like I could have done more.”
“I know,” Mariek said. “That’s why I wrote you in, anyway.”
“That’s a spoiled ballot!” Padmé protested, stopping dead in her tracks. Everyone below them on the steps halted, too, and looked up to see what had caused the queen to stop walking. “And you’re not supposed to tell me who you voted for.”
Mariek began to laugh, and Quarsh stepped up to take his wife’s arm.
“Don’t tease the queen, love. I know from personal experience that she has her ways of making you pay for it, and even if she’s pressed for time, I have absolute faith in her abilities.” For just a moment, he was her captain again, the one who had trained them all so well before preparedness had turned to paranoia. Padmé missed him dreadfully.
Mariek laughed harder.
“My lady?” Panaka offered his other arm. “I know you don’t need it, but I am happiest when I know you have my support.”
“Of course, Captain,” Padmé said rather formally. She took his arm and began to climb again. “Since I am so near the end of my term as queen, it behooves me to show measured judgment in all things.”
“You have always done so, my lady, even when we disagreed,” Panaka said. It was almost a peace offering. “That’s why I wrote you in, too.”
The Queen of Naboo laughed in the sunlight as she reached the house with her companions and her guards. The watergate stood thrown open, for this was a place of peace and reflection, and had never needed defending from a hostile force. Before them was the quiet courtyard and sun-drenched gardens where they would wait to hear the news, and behind them was the world that voted on the shape that news would take. Queen Amidala entered the house as the ruler of a planet, one last time.