The stench of garbage filled her nose as she scraped and crawled her way along the path and for a brief moment, she wondered if this was where she would die. Leia followed the path before her, certain that she would soon find an escape, a way out. Just ahead, Leia kept telling herself as she crawled through the narrow tunnel.
Four hours earlier
Leia was bored. Bored as eight year old's get when made to sit through drawn out dinners with politicians. It was almost a weekly occurrence recently. Different people, important people from how her father talked, would come to their home and have long dinners full of words that Leia didn't understand. She would rather have been in her room playing, or outside counting the stars. She loved counting the stars. On nights when there wasn't a fancy dinner, Leia and her dad would sit outside and count the stars. That was where her mom was. She had gone to the stars a few years earlier, and Leia missed her terribly.
But this night Leia had been in luck. One of the guests had brought another young child, and for what seemed like the first time in her short life, Leia had a playmate. As soon as the dinner had been served, and dessert had been cleared, Leia and Chancey had been excused.
Leia was thrilled. She had it all planned in her head. She would show Chancey the stars. But when the two young kids stepped outside, Chancey was less than thrilled about them.
"Big deal," he'd said. "I see the stars all the time. My father takes me on all his important trips. I've seen stars that you can't even see from here." He stood there, his chest stuck out, proud of his boast.
Leia glared at Chancey, her feelings hurt.
"I don't want to stare at some stupid stars," Chancey added as he smirked at Leia.
Leia crossed her arms and raised her chin up proudly. "Well, Alderaan's stars don't want you looking at them anyway."
She had started to go back inside, giving up trying to play with this boy.
"Wait!" Chancey called running after Leia. "We can do something else. We can play hide and seek!"
Leia looked at his face, expectant for her answer. Inside she thought it was a splendid idea, but she was still a little mad at him, so she just shrugged in response.
"Good!" Chancey looked around. Leia followed his gaze, seeing the tall flowering trees and the short, cropped grass between the paths that wound around the property.
"Nowhere to hide out here," he had said to Leia. "What about inside?"
That was how it began. An innocent game of hide and seek. Now, hours later, Leia was lost in the bowels of her home, helpless to get out and clueless on how to alert anyone to her whereabouts. The stench of garbage began to fade and Leia was glad. Her knees were already sore from the hard tube, the last thing she needed was to be sick from the horrible smell of garbage.
Leia continued through the narrow, white tube when she felt a sudden blast of cold air on her face. She paused and desperate to escape she started to crawl faster; sure this was a way out. Ahead she saw a T in the piping. She stopped at the T-junction and considered the situation. As she sat she felt another blast of cool air to her left, and making up her mind, she chose that path.
The cool air continued to blast at random times in her face. Sometimes it was powerful, other times it was weak. Each blast Leia was certain she could smell the flowers from the vast gardens outside that she spent much of her time in.
Now more certain than ever that she was on the right track, she hurried her progress, and as she rounded a slight bend in the pipe, she was euphoric to see light ahead.
The pounding of her hands and knees on the pipe echoing loudly and she tried to hurry even more.
Leia stopped, certain she had heard her name.
There is was again. Leia started to crawl faster, sliding through the pipe when she could, ignoring the burns on her knees from the friction.
"Here!" She yelled as loud as she could. "I'm here!"
As she neared the end of the pipe the light disappeared and for a moment Leia was afraid they hadn't heard her, that they had moved on or given up looking for her.
But her fear was soon replaced with joy as her father's gentle, but worried face appeared in the opening. Leia wanted to burst into tears at seeing her father, but she was older now, and didn't cry like a baby.
Leia reached the end of the pipe, and let her father reach in and pull her out, holding her to him so tight Leia could barely breathe. She grasped him back, as tight her tiny arms would allow.
"Thank the Force, Leia. We were scared to death," he released her a bit and they looked at each other. "I was scared to death," he whispered as he hugged her again, collapsing on his knees to the ground.
Leia pulled back and stroked his face with her hand. She loved the feel of his rough, prickly beard.
"Don't worry, daddy. I won't leave you. I wasn't ready to go to the stars just yet," she smiled at her father.
Bail Organa who had grown to love this little girl more than his own life felt his heart almost explode with abundant love, fear, joy, sadness…and so many more emotions than he could ever define. Bail Organa, who had buried a close friend in Padmé Amidala, who had buried a beloved wife, and who was fighting for his life and a safe future for this little girl, pulled Leia into another fierce hug and felt he would never be able to let her go.