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Pander

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The market bustled around Padmé. Hundreds of people and aliens alike wandered through the cobbled streets. A muddy, slush of snow covered the stony road. Huge, fully, banthas lurched through the crows, weighed down by all kinds of wooden crates and packages. Tiny, monkey-like men clambered through its thick fur and screeched at the people below. Market stalls lined the brick walls. The loud clamour of voices thundered in her ears. Everyone was bundled in layers of clothing, their heads down as they ventured about their business. There were a few clusters of people, but they drew cold glares at others as they walked by. The sky above was grey, dark clouds blocked out the light from the sun. A chilling wind blew through the streets. Small, granite houses with cracked walls and snow-covered roofs rose tall beside the streets.

Padmé was swaddled in rough, itchy fabric. Her breath rose in plumes, cradling her red cheeks. A deep hood was pulled down to her nose. Her long cloak flapped about her heels. A woven basket hung from her elbow and squeaked every time it collided with her hip. It's lid was shut over. The contents rolled around and thumped the edges in time with her swaying steps. Her frozen finger tips poked out of her woollen gloves and were bright red. The end of her nose nipped and ran, causing her to sniffle every once in a while, despite the thick scarf that was wrapped around the lower half of her face. The hair that was squashed into her hood itched at the back of her neck.

A squad of white storm troopers were marching down the street behind her, shouting orders and commands at all those who got in their way. Her heart was hammering in her chest, her breathing hard and heavy. The clanking of their armour sent chills colder than the bitter wind racing down her spine. The harsh, metallic voices made her stomach twist. At the sight of their blasters, her stomach tensed.

Weaving through several familiar streets, her shoes clicked against the solid ground. Keeping her head down, she slipped out of the village. The noise of bartering and screeching faded to a gentle whisper that was drowned out by the wind. Breaking out of the last row of houses, she was faced with a vast, white landscape. The glittering snow rose into peaking dunes. A mucky, pebble road cut through the shimmering plains. Distant forests could be seen poking out of the never ending whiteness. The brown bark was just visible. Not far from Padmé, a huge wolf was tied to a wooden pole. It's fur was void black and tufts of its grey undercoating poked out around its mane and on its belly. When it saw her, it's ears perked up and it's long tail swayed from side to side. It's golden eyes fixated on her. It let out high pitched whines, bouncing from paw to paw. "It's good to see you too, Max," Padmé chuckled, approaching him with a renewed spring in her step. The canine towered over her. His powerful jaws could easily swallow down her whole torso in one bite.

Padmé could hardly feel the rough rope beneath her fingers as she struggled to untie Max from the wooden pole. He licked her face, knocking back her hood and leaving her features covered in hot slobber. "Max," Padmé groaned, wiping her face with her sleeves and returning to untying him. The moment he was free, she turned and scratched his gargantuan head. His fur was thick and soft. Once again he licked her, soaking her face once more. Laughing, she wiped her face clean and tugged her hood back up. "Alright, that enough you," she scolded him gently. "Down," she commanded.

Max lay down on the floor instantly, his tail still whipped frantically from side to side. Smiling to herself, Padmé sat down on his back, placing the basket over her lap. "Let's go," she told him, patting his thick neck. Max stood, effortlessly lifting her clean from the ground. His hard muscles shifted beneath his fur. Cocking his head up, his golden eyes stared back at her. "Home," she instructed. With a huff of air, he began trotting down the stone path. Padmé swayed with his movement. His shoulder blades moved under her legs. Pinning the basket with her forearms, she wove her fingers into his fur. The heat from his body immediately began thawing her frozen hands. Max let out a low grumble the moment her cold skin touched his. "Sorry buddy, but I've got to hold on to you somehow," she chuckled.

They rode for a long time. The icy landscape yielded some glittering wonders. Frozen lakes that wooly, antlered creatures pranced across. A white mountain range that disappeared into the grey clouds. Leaning trees that had icicles dripping from their leaves. The chilling winds cut her to the bone. Her forehead ached with the cold.

Eventually, they peaked over the top of a snow covered hill. At the base of its towering height, a small cluster of houses were nestled in its shadow. Their brick chimneys blew out plumes of dark smoke that dissolved into the greying, tangerine sky. The snow on the thatched roofs was thinner than the ground. Dangerously sharp icicles dangled down from their edges. Orange light glowed in the windows. The slope levelled out into a flat valley that stretched into the distance before rising into a dark forest. Huge herds of the wooly, antlered animals, known as Quen, browsed the landscape and dug at the snow. They were closed in to an expanse of the flat ground by sturdy, wooden fences. A smile curled her lips.

In the open fields, a white blur was hearing Quen into an open barn. Max's head lifted towards it, his ears perking and his tail wagging. He let out a pitchy whine and craned his fluffy head up to look at Padmé. "You'll see Willow tomorrow when we are milking the Quen," Padmé promised him, gently patting his neck. The white blur stopped for a moment, revealing itself to be a pure white wolf with glossy fur, and peered up towards them. She too was ginormous in size, but not quite the giant Max was. After a few seconds, she resumed her herding duties.

Max padded carefully down the hill, using his wide paws to stop them from falling. The snow crunched beneath their weight. He stopped before the cottage that was furthest from the rest. Halting by the door, he lowered himself to the ground and Padmé clambered off. "Good boy, Max," she praised him, scratching behind his ear. He leaned his head into her touch. Dusting some snow from her clothing, she stepped up to the rickety wooden door. Warm light seeped out of its edges. The sound of childish laughter permeated through the wood, melting her heart. She stamped her boots to knock off the powdery snow. With a contended sigh, she grasped the door handle and swung it wide open. A whoosh of heat rushed over her. Behind her, Max let out a gentle whine. "Shake off," she told him, staring back over her shoulder. Instantly he flicked all the snow from his paws and shook out his fluff. "Alright," she sighed, stepping into the house and allowing the huge canine to cram himself through the doorway and into the small residence.

The house beyond was small. A wide double bed, with a rickety frame and animal fur blankets, was pushed against one end of the stone floor. An open fireplace was opposite the door, it's flames were crackling away beneath a bashed, metal pot. Padmé could practically taste the savoury scent of stew that lingered in the air. A little table was shoved into the opposite corner of the house with three stairs around its splintering surface. Animal pelts lay across the floor, where Max automatically flopped down onto his side. In front of the open fire, two little children were staring up at a man with shaggy, blonde hair and a long, scruffy beard. The moment the kids saw her enter the room, they were up on their feet and racing towards her. "Mummy!" they squealed in delight. Padmé flicked her hood back and lowered her scarf as she dropped into a crouch. The basket was all but thrown to the ground.

The two children flung themselves into her arms, nearly knocking her clean off her feet. Padmé pulled them into the folds of her cloak, inhaling their sweet, fruity scent. They wrestled themselves out of her grip and bounced excitedly on the balls of their feet. "Unca Obi was telling us about you fighting a scary monster on Geonosis," a little boy with a sandy blond bowl cut and thick, woolly clothing squeaked. His blue eyes gleamed in delight and his childish voice tripped up over the words.

"He said you were shooting a blaster, like pew pew," the little girl with dark pigtails demonstrated shooting a blaster by clasping her hands into the shape and pretending to fire it off. A little dress swung around her ankles.

"That was a long time ago," Padmé chuckled, pulling off her thick cloak and hanging it on the hooks by the door. Long, curly locks of chocolate hair fell down to her waist. Obi-Wan rose to his feet, stretching his hands high above his head. His beige robes rippled with the movement. "Nearly nine years," she sighed beneath her breath.

"It has been some time," Obi-Wan sighed, his eyes darkened and his face went stiff. A somber stare passed between the pair of them.

"Would you show me how to use a blaster?" the little girl asked. Both twins stared up at her with twinkling eyes and cat like smiles. They clasped their hands together. Padmé's lips quirked upwards.

"You're far too young for that," Padmé responded, ruffling their hair. They sent her a disgruntled glare. "Those days are long behind me anyway." Obi-Wan strode over. "Thank you for watching them," Padmé dipped her head. The children clung to her legs tightly, nearly disappearing into the ruffles of her dress.

"Any time," he smiled. "Good bye little ones," he waved down at them, placing his hand on the door and swinging it open. A stream of cold air whooshed in, washing over her.

"Goodbye unca Obi!" they called in unison, waving madly back. A smile split the older man's face and he slipped out into the frozen air.

*

The heat was unbearable. Thick air swirled around her. Padmé was choking. Something was constricting around her throat, coiling tighter and tighter. Two, shaded and angry eyes leered at her. An angular face was illuminated by the orange gloom. There were loud voices yelling, booming. Tears brimmed her eyes, gliding down her cheeks. She scratched frantically at her throat. Her mind was concerned with only one thought. The children.

Padmé burst awake, lying on her back and covered in hot sweat. Her heart was pounding and her chest heaving. Tears itched her skin. Initially, she was disoriented by the orange glow that lit the dark interior of her little home, but the heavy, reassuring warmth of the two children nestled into her side grounded her into reality. The gentle whooshing of their breaths eased her racing heart. The wind howled outside, making her door rattle. She swiped away the tears on her face. Untangling herself from the twins, she slowly sat up. The bed squeaked and creaked beneath her. Peeling the furry pelts away from her legs, she carefully clambered out of bed. The stone was cold beneath her feet, the air refreshingly tepid.

Taking in deep gulps of breath, she padded over to the stone fireplace. A few, vibrant orange embers were glowing amidst the blackened aftermath of the roaring flames. Picking up a few logs, she placed them atop the embers and watched carefully as the wood began to smoulder. Her thin nightdress hugged close to her body. The sweltering heat diffused out of her flushed skin, allowing the cold to creep in. Flames flickered to life atop the wood and began to gnaw away at the crusty bark. It quietly started to crackle and pop. Squatting to the floor she wrapped her arms around her legs and watched the fire dance. On the floor behind her, the hulking form of Max was curled up neatly into a little ball.

Padmé crouched in front of the fire, as she did most nights, absorbing what little heat was produced by the burning log. A longing was clenching her heart in its unbreakable grip. Biting down on her lip, she pressed her eye sockets against her knees. "Oh, Anakin," she whispered. Although he had fallen to the dark towards the end of his life, she knew there was good in him still. If only she'd stayed conscious, she might have been able to talk sense into him. He'd have come around eventually, she knew he would have. Padmé knew Obi-Wan had done what he felt necessary when he killed Anakin, but she couldn't smother the small part of her that resented his actions.

In the silence, the feint noise of shouting could just be made out over the roaring wind. Padmé stood up, her body tensing. The loud voices were hardly audible, so she didn't even know if they were really there. It was only when Max lifted his head and perked his ears that she knew for certain there was something going on outside. Creeping over to the door, she cracked it open and peered out into the darkness. Cold air washed over her, chilling her to the bone. There was a wild snowstorm blowing. The snow was already up to her knees. In the darkness, it was nearly impossible to see anything. White shapes were shifting around, lining up several darker shapes. There were brilliant cones of bright light flicking around the place. They were torchlights of some kind and they were slowly spreading out, coming towards her. Light flashed across the shifting, dark shapes. Padmé's breath caught in her throat and her eyes widened. They were troopers and they were lining up the farm hands for execution. Her heart thumped in her ears.

Closing the door over she leaned her head against the rough wood. Padmé could easily wake the children, collect Obi-Wan and ride Max to safety, but the rest of the farm would be left to fend for themselves. Hissing between her teeth, she made a decision she knew she was going to regret. Racing back over to the bed, she shook the twins awake. They stared up at her with bleary eyes. "What's going on mummy?" Leia asked, her mouth stretching into a wide yawn.

"Get under the bed," she ordered them. Immediately they sat up, their eyes rounding and filling with fear. "It's a game," Padmé strained a wide smile. Their faces lit up. "Whoever can stay under the bed for the longest without making a sound is the winner," she explained slowly. They nodded, prancing to their feet and diving beneath the bed. Padmé got down on her hands and knees. They lay flat on their stomachs, their tiny forms dissolving into the darkness. "Remember, no matter what happens. Stay under the bed or you'll lose," she whispered. "I'm going outside for a little while, but I'll still know if you cheat."

"Okay mummy," they responded in unison. Pushing herself to her feet, she lifted the corner of the mattress slightly, pulling out a small blaster. It's cold metal in her hand was familiar and reassuring. Scampering back over to the door, she thrust her bare feet into her boots and swung her thick cloak over her shoulders. Shoving open the door, she put one foot out of the threshold and momentarily turned back. Max was staring at her with gleaming, golden eyes. Just as he shifted to leave, she raised her hand and stilled him.

"Max, stay," she commanded. Turning over to the bed, she was thankful that there was no evidence of the children on display. "Goodbye babies," she spoke. With that, she slipped out into the night a closed the door over being her. The wind crashed into her, obscuring her vision with snow. Pulling her hood over her head, she got down into a low crouch. Creeping away from the door, she squatted down by the side of the house. A pair of troopers were marching closer. Their torches illuminated the building's dark wood. Lifting her blaster, she shot two bolts. Her arms jolted with the movement and there was a green flash. The noise was buried by the wind. The troopers had no time to react before they were hit. They collapsed to the floor with smouldering orange holes in their chests.

Padmé blew out a steady sigh. Sneaking over to their bodies, she switched off the flashlight. Her cloak flared out behind her and flapped aggressively in the wind. Long strands of her hair tumbled out of her hood. There were several other beams of light. Steeling herself against the cold, she began sneaking up behind each pair of troopers and blasting them dead. They never saw her coming and they only realised they were under attack when it was already too late. Before long, there was only one beam of light remaining. It was by the main farm house, where she had first seen the troopers lining up the farm hands. The winds had died down. Only delicate flurries of chunky snowflakes drifted down from the dark sky.

With her heart still pounding, she snuck around the edge of the farmhouse. Several people were lined up in the snow, forced down onto their knees. They were muffling sobs, their shoulders shaking. Several bodies were slumped to the ground, spacing out the survivors like missing teeth. Every single one of them were people she knew. Lifting a hand, she placed it over her mouth. All the survivors were all in tattered clothing and completely defenceless. There were even children. A single pair of troopers was marching in front of them, barking down a communicator.

"All my men have been picked off," a trooper shouted at his wrist comm. "We need reinforcements!" Padmé's gut sank. That was exactly what she didn't want to happen. "What do you mean the storm is too heavy? It has just blown over," he growled, his stomping footsteps crunching the snow.

Tightening her grip around her blaster, she shot off two bolts. Only one landed. Only one trooper fell. Padmé's heart leapt into her throat as the trooper on the transmission leapt to one side after seeing her shot incoming. The green bolt sailed harmlessly past him. The trooper's head snapped around to look at her. "So you're the one killing my men," he snarled, aiming his gun at her. Padmé threw herself through the snow to dodge his blaster fire. She swung her body back around the side of the house, out of his view. There were several loud bangs as bolts sailed past her and crashed into the wall behind her. Padmé's heart was hammering.

Suddenly, it all went quiet. A feint, crackling hum filled the silence. Her shoulders relaxed. Poking her head around the side of the building, her eyes immediately found the trooper. His body was impaled on a brilliant blue blade made completely of light. "Jedi!" the trooper managed to hiss before the blade retracted and he collapsed to the floor. Behind him, stood a tall man with brown robes. His lightsaber hilt was clenched tightly in his hand.

Padmé waded through the thick snow towards him. The captives began to struggle out of their bindings, leaning against each other for support. Obi-Wan walked over the them, the dead trooper's lights still illuminated the area. "Why were they here?" Obi-Wan asked gently, clipping his lightsaber to his belt.

"They were raiding our Quen wool," one of the women cried, holding a tiny infant close to her chest. Padmé felt some of the tension in her chest loosen. Obi-Wan and her traded a look of mild relief. The troopers weren't after them.

"You should flee from here," Padmé told them. "The empire will return."

"Who even are you?" one of the field hands she knew vaguely asked, his young face scrunching up.

"Nobody important," Padmé responded truthfully, her chest aching. To these people, she had always just been one of their diligent workers. For the twins, she had hoped it would always remain that way.

A warm hand landed on her shoulder, giving it a tight squeeze. Padmé flicked her eyes up to Obi-Wan. "We need to leave," he told her, his eyes crinkling with pain. She nodded, pressing her lips into a thin line. Obi-Wan turned, beginning his trek back to her home. Padmé followed him, but a glint of metal caught her eyes. A rounded helmet was resting in the snow. There were tiny slits around the mouth area and a glinting, golden visor for her eyes. Reaching down, she scooped it up into her hands. It was light weight and sleek. The butcher often wore it when he was killing the Quen for meat, as was the tradition for the Quen herders of planet Voss. Cradling it in her arms, she carried it with her as she followed in Obi-Wan's trail through the deep snow. Her heart was heavy. This place had been part of her life for six years, she would be darned if she had nothing to remember it by.