Bouquet of Flowers Rating: PG
Diana deRiggs and Csillag, Rosie

This story was inspired by a friend's inheritence from her mother — dishes and mugs coveted for a lifetime, and filled with family stories and deep meaning. The original "art" piece was called Stolen From the Celchu Household?, and that in turn inspired the story here. Much of this tale assumes an A.U. background, which was first written back in the days when Episode 1 was first released in theaters, called The Rise of the House of Celchu.

The Battle of Naboo was over, and everyone felt like celebrating! Nute Gunray, Rune Haako and the surviving Nemoidians were in custody on the red counselor's ship, awaiting transport to Coruscant to stand trial for their illegal attempt to take over Naboo. Sure that justice would be served, the people of Naboo chose to forget all about them and their horrible battle 'droids.

Society as a whole on Naboo was extremely sophisticated and advanced; true, Naboo was heavily dependent on trade to provide them with some basic needs, but they were able to get them easily from other systems in return for natural resources, services, literature, technology, and art. It is in the field of the arts where Nabooans especially excelled.

Queen Amidala, the young elected ruler, commissioned many works to commemorate and celebrate their freedom, the diligence of the people, and the perseverance of the spirit. She also ordered works to memorialize the Jedi Master Qui-gon Jinn, who had lost his life fighting a Sith Lord in the bowels of the palace, as well as to honor the men and women of her security force.

For those who fought by her side, the Queen commissioned vessels for eating and drinking and paid for them out of her personal funds. She felt that the humans and Gungan who supported her deserved to know how grateful she was for their sacrifice and help. What better way than to give them something they could use every day? When they protested that they'd want to keep it forever, unused and unmarred, Amidala explained, "Nothing lasts forever, but if you use these daily, they'll become friends and help you remember me. In time and with use they will accrue more memories. And when they break or are lost, or if you give these away to someone you care about, you won't be filled with regret that they sat in a cabinet with the faded memories of a victory which will bore your children's children when you tell them about me, yet again!" They all laughed and understood, and promised her to use the footed mugs she gave them.

For her handmaidens, Amidala commissioned whimsical dinner sets — a dozen placesettings and serving dishes per maiden — to be used as part of each woman's trousseau. She had hoped they would use the dishes when they had families of their own.

She'd asked a young artist to design them — a man only 5 years older than she, on whom she once had a crush. When he didn't return her affection, Amidala had thought her broken heart would never heal, and she pined for him for several years. But since she'd met the Jedi, she had developed a crush on one of them, and she learned her heart was sturdy and strong. She'd given Palo this commission as proof to both of them that she had grown up, and that she had forgiven him.

In contrast, Palo had thought much of the young girl who used to follow him around when they were in the Legislative Youth program. It was hard not to — she was his ruler now, at the tender age of 14! But she'd grown more beautiful and braver in his eyes, and he regretted being so mean to her in his callow youth.

She had told him she wanted a design to represent her handmaidens and what they meant to her and to Naboo. He immediately painted styalized flowers; the way they dressed, the way they accompanied the Queen, walking with her always in a symmetrical cluster ... they had always reminded him of a bouquet of flowers. But instead of five different flowers — one for each of the five handmaidens — he created six. The sixth was very different. It was a deep, dark red color, a bloom larger and more complex than the five pretty, daintier sisters.

Amidala blushed under her pale makeup when he presented the plates and bowls to the handmaidens at a reception to celebrate her reign. She happened to be wearing the regal red and black gown and headdress which had obviously inspired Palo. The flower was so obviously meant to represent her that she wondered if he'd gotten over her ... And she wondered at her feelings, Perhaps I have not gotten over him so thoroughly after all ...

Winter had met Tycho Celchu just a few days before, and though she knew she had a photographic memory and perfect recall ... but even that didn't explain the feelings she had for him. True, he was a fellow Alderaanian, and in the post-Death Star period of the Galactic War, there were far fewer of them than there used to be. After Alderaan had been destroyed by the Death Star, the survivors were known to cling to anyone from the unfortunate planet. Even people who never would have spoken to one another under normal conditions would find themselves consorting together in a show of sorrow or solidarity.

Tycho was almost anti-Alderaanian compared to the men and women she'd seen these past years. He was proud of his heritage, his merchant-level family background, and he was even proud of his former Imperial service. Unlike other men and women Winter had met as chief procurer and assistant to Princess Leia Organa, Tycho was a straight arrow with nothing to hide. She'd never met someone so honestly stable in her whole life.

Thus his reaction at an auction on this Outer Rim planet surprised her. He had been so cool up to now, but now he was crying and sweating! He was staring at a lot of rather plain, grimy dishes stacked like a warehouse wholesaler's odds and ends, and counting his credit chits over and over in his hands. She heard him comm Wedge Antilles about borrowing credits, and saw his face fall when the answer was in the negative. Wedge never traveled with much money, and Winter realized that Tycho was trying to get enough to buy the rather ordinary pile of dishes and bowls.

She put her hand on his arm, "Do you like them?"

He was trembling much more than when they made love the night before. "Yes," he whispered hoarsely, "Oh yes ..."

Winter looked again at the plates, but she still couldn't see what was so special about them. She did wonder briefly if they were distinctive to Alderaan, but she'd never seen plates like these on their home planet. Anyway, what would a set of highly breakable china be doing on Tatooine?

She decided to ask, "What's so special about them?"

Tycho took a deep breath, which turned into a sob. He whispered to her again, "They belong ... these were my mother's ... Someone must have stolen them from the house before the Death Star came ... I never knew, I was at the Academy ..." He was weeping silently, consumed with sorrow and nostalgia.

Winter knew that Tycho had attended the Imperial military academy on Prebsvelt VI, along with Hobbie Klivian and Biggs Darklighter. It was said that Luke Skywalker was to have attended there also if not for stubborn relatives who were intent on keeping him safe. Tycho would have been away from home for the duration of the training, and his mother would not have told him about a robbery of their home. She also knew that he was at the Academy on his first field assignment when Alderaan was destroyed. These dishes — if they were in fact his mother's — might have been the first contact he'd had with his family in any form since he had been a youth.

Winter silently calculated how many credits she could spare in from the Alliance accounts she had access to, and secretly bid on the dishes.

"Your highness, I am pleased with the response to my design for the dishes." The young artist bowed low at the waist at the compliment paid by his Queen.

"Palo, you have outdone yourself. I am also pleased with the mugs you designed for the pilots and my security detail. I would be further pleased if you accepted my mark, so that you may call your business the official houseware designer of the Queen of Naboo." There was no mistaking the warmth in Amidala's voice as she officially thanked the artist for his work.

The handmaidens had been charmed by the almost childish motifs created by the artist Palo. In the Naboo tradition, he chose to eschew a second name upon receiving the Queen's commission.

As this pleasant official chit-chat went on, each of the women wondered if they would have children who would eat from these plates, and how many would be broken before their daughters or sons would inherit the fine china. And each handmaiden imagined which flower represented her.

Rabé knew she was the small, pale periwinkle and purple buds which dotted the vine-like design, in contrast to her height and white-blonde hair and pale complexion. She was unobtrusive, as all the handmaidens were. They had been trained and chosen to blend away from the viewer's conscious sight, the better to protect and enhance the Queen. She thought to herself, The big orange flower in the middle, that's Sabé — she's the decoy, one who could easily be mistaken for her highness ... the many pointy yellowy ones are Eiarté and all her constant moods, and the frilly pinkish one is Saché — so bold and not at all subtle ... while the blue and purple wildflowers must be Yané, she's so straightforward yet deep. But this red and black one ... that can only be Padmé, referring to the Queen by her civilian name. She recognized immediately what Palo had done, and she started thinking of a tale to tell her children about these plates, and how the flowers symbolized her and her very special friends.

"Mama, please! Before we plate the tea, tell us again about the royal flowers?" Rabrinia had told the story of the flowers who were such wondrous friends and companions that they were immortalized on the teaset the Celchu family ate off of every afternoon for tea and snacks. It was a charming tale, of how a Queen had magically turned her friends into beautiful flowers and embedded them on plates, so they might never forget one another.

The children — Skoloc, Tycho, and Mia — all loved the tale, but Rabrinia found it harder and harder to tell these days. The flowers were very real to her and the sweet, pretty girls they once represented were long gone. Some, like her, had married strategically, while others were in service to train the former Queen's daughter for her future role in life. The Queen herself was now dead, killed by her own husband in a fit of jealous rage, and her babies were taken from her as she died in order to save them. It made her sad to tell the disguised tale, and she knew that someday her children would grow tired of it and stop asking. She dreaded that day, too ... but she also knew that they might remember and come to realize who she was, and where she had come from. It was important to keep telling it, while she could.

But she never thought that telling the tale of the "Bouquet of Flowers" might someday be considered sedition! She had to be careful not to mention the real names of the girls, or state too clearly how these plates came to be created. She refused to bring them out when guests came to her home, telling her family they were especially reserved for them. When company came for dinner, the more traditional Alderaanian bisqueware came out instead. It would not do to reveal her true origins in these dangerous times, and she was secretly glad that she had abandoned the name Rabé when she first came to live on Alderaan.

Tycho's heart fell when he saw the final bid price for the dishes. He had lost in his attempts to procure them and had to suppress his anger and disappointment. Perhaps he could go directly to the buyer and beg to buy a single plate or saucer?

It annoyed him that he'd sworn off any material possessions, knowing that they could be destroyed, as all of Alderaan had been taken from him. Why were these dishes so different? Was it the thought that someone had robbed his mother while he was at the Academy sometime before the planet was blown up? Was it because he knew with absolute certainty that these dishes were unique in all the galaxy, and that only his mother possessed plates like this?

With a start, he realized that as emotionally as he was reacting to the dinnerware, he actually knew very little about the dishes. His dimly remembered his mother telling him the flowers represented princesses who served a Queen ... there were six types of flower painted on the surfaces, and he'd always assumed his mother was one of them ... no, he knew his mother was one of them. There was something in the way she told the story that made that fact absolutely certain.

Mirax Terrik was looking over the dust-encrusted dishes closely, her father at her side. Winter had brought them to the expert art dealers to quench her curiosity. She had fallen in love with Tycho Celchu while on a mission on Tatooine, and had noted his reaction to these dishes. Knowing he didn't have enough credits to buy them, she had bid for them and had won them at the Outer Rim auction. But before she would give them to Tycho as a gift she knew he'd love, she wanted to know more about them. Thus her visit to Corellia with the fragile bundle.

"They're unusual, that's for sure," said Mirax, "I've never seen the likes of these. They're hand-done — you can see the variations from one plate to the next. They're not stenciled or decals, and it seems that they were all painted by the same hand. What do you think, Daddy?"

Booster Terrik was looking at another sample of the dishware. "I agree with your observations, but I have actually seen something like this before. They bear no mark or seal, so they were likely commissioned for a lot of money; artists tend to otherwise "sign" their work one way or another. I'm thinking that the artist or the subject was so well known that no such signature was necessary."

"Where else have you seen this, Booster?" Winter was curious, "I don't think this is Alderaanian; at least, I've never encountered these dishes on Alderaan."

Mirax nodded, "And if you haven't seen it on Alderaan, it must have come from elsewhere?"

Booster nodded, too. "Yes, that's my thought. I saw a fragment of a broken plate once on Coruscant at an auction, shortly after Vader and the Emperor died. It seemed that some insiders had ransacked Vader's personal palace and were trying to sell off the pieces they'd had, even broken crockery. I remember being surprised because I'm pretty sure Vader didn't eat in the conventional sense. Also, the pattern had flowers on it, very "unsithy" if you know what I mean ... I don't know what happened to the dealer or the broken crockery. I remember no one was confident enough that Vader was truly dead and very few would touch the auction lot. Anyway, we know Vader didn't live on Alderaan, so these plates are very likely from some other system."

Winter and Mirax were very surprised. "Are you saying these dishes were the property of Vader??"

"Didn't say that," Booster spoke carefully, "the dishes I saw were all in pieces and showed signs of being in bad shape even when they were intact. For all I know, Vader was the one who broke them. This set here is in good condition. Sure, the plates show wear and tear marks, signs they were used, probably everyday for twenty, maybe thirty or forty years. As Mirax points out, these are hand-made by a true artisan; the pieces I saw were the same. And none of us have seen these anywhere else. So I conclude they were made at the same time, in the same place, as part of unique commission, and then never produced again. Hmn, I'm wondering ... Does Tycho's family have any connections to Vader?"

"I don't think so, not from my research into his background, other than he's a graduate of the Imp Academy." Winter's perfect memory was reliable. "He did say they belonged to his mother. There isn't enough information about her, though, not that I've been able to find."

"That's interesting, so these dishes seem to hold some secret connecting Tycho's mother to Vader," mused Mirax. "Come to think of it, these dishes remind me of a pilot I'd once met, do you remember, Dad? An old guy, his name was Ric'co?"

Booster looked thoughtful for a moment, "Yes, though I don't think it was his real name. He didn't respond to it like you'd expect a guy would when his name was used to address him. Spry guy, good pilot. I never thought for a second he was simply a barge operator, but people have their reasons. How do these remind you of Ric'co?"

"They don't, not directly," said Mirax, "I meant the incongruity of Vader with these dishes. Ric'co was a mystery in contrasts too, I remember. He was leathery and rough, but he wore a kind of ratty orange cape-like jacket that looked like it had been elegant and expensive at one time — the age and grime didn't hide the good lines and excellent sewing. But more to the point, he had a set of mugs that were almost dainty — very strange for a hard-drinking barge freelancer. Wait, he gave me one ... do you remember it, Daddy? He was very attached to it, but he said he wanted me to have it for some reason?"

"The ones molded to look like ice? Yes, you had forwarded him some extra credits for antiques he sold you, dating from long before the Clone Wars. He was pretty old then, I think he wanted to make sure the mug was taken care of, I remember he was really attached to it, too ... in turn, you gave it to Kaarde for his birthday. Funny ... Kaarde liked it so much that he found some more, he still keeps it on the Wild Kaarde for special occasions. Last time I saw him, he showed off a pitcher he found that matches the mugs, it has little feet, too. He never lets me drink out of them, the bastard!" Booster looked deliberatly upset at the memory.

Mirax giggled, "Daddy, don't say that ... you know you'd probably break them!"

As father and daughter good-naturedly picked on one another, Winter mulled over all she'd learned from the Terriks. She contemplated showing the dishes to Talon Kaarde, but locating him would take time and effort, and she had already indulged enough of each on her personal quest. Her feelings for Tycho Celchu could easily consume many more hours, but she would have to get back to her work with Alliance Intelligence.

Instead, she looked forward to the time she could present the whole set of hand-painted dishes — with their charming depiction of a bouquet of flowers — to the object of her fancy.

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