All things must come to an end, and so it is with this journey. Many, many thanks to all of you that wrote in such nice reviews over the course of the series. The following epilogue is merely to satisfy those who ask 'Well, what happens to them now?' I hope you all enjoy it!
A Journey of Discovery
Mara Skywalker absently rubbed a finger over the faint scratches on the back of her wedding ring, scratches earned some years ago while scaling a rocky cliff in pursuit of a murder suspect. But her sharp gaze this afternoon was focused on the brood of children playing on the back lawn of her sprawling home. A Skywalker brood. Three boys, two girls. Mara allowed herself a small grin. Just as the yellow and blue flower petals — now preserved in an airtight case on her bed stand — had predicted all those years ago.
Domini, the oldest of the lot, barked a terse order to one of the younger children. Mara narrowed her eyes, but fought down the impulse to interfere. The children would work out their differences on their own, she knew from past experience. If Luke were here, he'd probably already be out in the yard, reciting his well-worn platitude about anger leading to the dark side. By the gods, she still loved the man, but on rare occasions he was simply too uptight when it came to Jedi dogma. Children were children. And children sometimes fought. Siblings especially were prone to spur-of-the-moment squabbling. And they made up just as quickly.
Shading her eyes, Mara peered across the lawn to discern what Evin, one of the twin boys, was up to. He was crouched close to the ground under a twisted biba tree, his back turned to Mara, and was furtively gesturing for his brother Eron to join him. Soon, his mirror image caught the bidding — probably through the Force, Mara thought with a touch of pride — and wandered over to investigate. Those two could be as mischievous as their father. Mara breathed a sigh of relief when Evin stood and held out his cupped hands, then laughed quietly as a small skitter-toad leapt from its short-lived capture and the two flaxen-haired boys gave chase, right through Luke's freshly planted plot of hawresh beans. Farmboy had reverted to his roots and had taken up gardening as a hobby, though it was a far cry from the moisture farming he'd labored at as a boy.
Mara's gaze shifted back to Domini, who was now playing the role of teacher to her younger sister Kadi. Soon, Deytan, only two years older than Kadi, ambled over to join the girls. It wasn't long before a loose branch began levitating — by the direction of which child, Mara couldn't be certain. Domini was more than capable, but Deytan had developed remarkable skills at an early age. There had been some rather heated discussions in the past concerning at what age a young child should be allowed to practice the Force without adult supervision. Han had voted for never, when his and Leia's children had begun displaying their powers. But Luke and Mara had tentatively given their own offspring a great deal of leniency ― perhaps too much at times, Mara reflected. For all her declarations of Luke as a soft touch, she knew she had to take some of the blame. Or credit, as the case turned out.
Relaxing back into her conform lounger, Mara enjoyed the cool breeze wafting across her veranda. She sensed Luke's approach long before he appeared at the garden gate, Artoo-Detoo trundling faithfully behind him. All five children abandoned whatever they were doing to run and leap at Luke, nearly knocking him down in their exuberance. Prying Kadi, the youngest, from the stranglehold on his neck, Luke set her atop Artoo's curved top. The droid slowly rotated his dome in a complete circle, and Kadi squealed with delight.
"Luke, don't you dare let her fall," Mara called out.
"She won't fall," he returned dryly, waving a hand dismissively.
Of course she wouldn't. Not with Luke standing right there. But it never hurt to remind him not to be so overconfident. Or indulgent.
The children adored Luke, naturally. And he adored them. Mara had known of Luke's gift with children from the first moment she'd seen him interact with the youngsters of the village of Zembuhl.
Mara occasionally wondered about the good people of Zembuhl. Had Jaco and Aerie become the proud parents of a half dozen daughters? Were they still living in the picturesque village? How had Merta, Hiley, and the others fared after her and Luke's departure? How far had the inhabitants progressed in the development of technology? Perhaps it depended on whether Hiley and Jaco ever disclosed their knowledge of the strange metal machine that zoomed through the air.
Luke and Mara had eventually confided in Han and Leia of their hypothesis of the origins of Zembuhl's inhabitants. They'd even researched all the information they could find on Jephram Zembuhl. The cult leader had indeed been last seen in that sector of space some five hundred years earlier.
But Mara and Luke had never returned to the shrouded planet in the Crestar Nebula. Had never even considered it. Perhaps someday one of their offspring would follow the coordinates that Luke had recorded, then hidden. Perhaps some other traveler would stumble onto the planet. But Mara was satisfied with the memories she held of the villagers, and the old-fashioned boarding house, and her wedding in the quaint chapel. She was more concerned with the future than the past. And her future was once more playing happily in the warm afternoon sunshine.
After helping Kadi down, Luke finally ambled over to where Mara sat. The twins were now climbing on top of Artoo, who endured their antics with his unflappable metallic patience.
"You're too much of a pushover, you know," Mara scolded lightly, automatically leaning forward to receive Luke's welcoming kiss on her cheek.
"Is that so?" Luke settled into his matching lounger next to hers. "Deytan told me that you allowed him to trim the falla bushes with your lightsaber this morning."
"He's eight," Mara said, shrugging nonchalantly. "And I was watching him carefully. There's nothing wrong with children helping with chores." Her gaze zeroed in on the little dark-haired tattletale, now tossing a ball to Evin who was still balanced atop Artoo. "I predict he'll be a great swordsman someday, like his father."
Luke chuckled softly. "Still, I wouldn't mention the episode to Ben and Raeyla. You know how nervous Raeyla gets. She thinks we're a bad influence."
"I'm not the one you should be warning," Mara reminded him. "Use your Jedi Master tone, and Deytan won't dare repeat it."
"Then you're the one who should warn him," Luke said. "Your Jedi Master voice is much scarier than mine." He grinned at Mara's mock glare. "Besides, I'm sure he's already bragged to all the other children, so the whole family will soon know."
"Grandpa," a small voice whined from the edge of the veranda.
Luke looked over to see Kadi's sad little face peering around one of the porch columns. "Hmmm?"
"Grandpa, Evin and Eron won't let nobody else have any more turns on Artoo."
Luke held out his arms, and the girl scampered onto his lap.
"Maybe Artoo's afraid if he let girls on, they'd dress him up like a doll again," Mara said with a smirk.
"Aw, Grandma. That was Domi's idea." Kadi gave a well-perfected pout. "Artoo looked cute as a girl droid."
"I doubt Artoo thought so," Luke said with a laugh.
"I remember your mother dressing up Artoo when she was about your age," Mara said, smiling at her youngest granddaughter.
"Minta and Lodie like to dress up Threepio," Kadi said. "They say he's more fun."
"Your cousins have a strange sense of humor," Mara said dryly.
"They get it from Grandpa Han," Luke put in.
"Grandpa Han says I should call him Great-Uncle Han," Kadi pronounced sagely.
Mara laughed. "I'm sure he emphasized the 'great' part."
"Grandpa!" Kadi giggled and squirmed when Luke tickled her on her belly. "I'm gonna go play some more."
Luke gave an exaggerated sigh as the little girl scrambled down. "Guess I'll just have to tickle Grandma, then."
Mara slapped his fingers away as he reached over toward her. "A person could lose fingers that way."
Luke looked down at his outstretched left hand, then pulled it back. "Right. You'd think after all these years I'd remember to use my other hand for teasing you."
"Hmmm ... All these years ..." Mara smiled contentedly, settling deeper into her lounger. Yes, after all these years, the man with the twinkling blue eyes could still bring a smirk to her lips, could still send a thrill through her, could still drive her to distraction. Mara glanced out the corner of her eye to see Luke making faces at their delighted grandchildren. Where had the years gone?
It had been nearly three and a half decades since Luke and Mara had moved here to Dantooine — since shortly after Ben's birth. They chose a grassy plain on the opposite side of the planet from the tribes of Dantari, erecting a moderate-sized pre-fab home that quickly proved too small. One of their early arguments had been about the wisdom of raising their family so far from civilization. Surprisingly, it was Luke who was against the idea. Though he would never admit it, Mara suspected that he remembered the loneliness and isolation of his own upbringing on Tatooine. But she prevailed, and Luke's misgivings gradually evaporated as the family rarely went more than a few months without venturing off-planet on missions, visits, and Jedi fact-finding quests.
Luke had supervised every aspect of the building of their current modest estate, and had done much of the work himself. Not coincidentally, it was located adjacent to the ever-expanding Jedi Praxeum, a rambling series of interconnected dormitories, training halls, and classrooms. There were over a hundred students currently studying at the praxeum, and five times that amount of Jedi Knights and Masters serving the galaxy.
The journey to this point in their lives had been long and often arduous, both laced with happiness and dotted with danger. Luke had made quick work of completing Mara's Jedi training, and she in turn fulfilled her promise to train Leia to knighthood. They traveled the galaxy together, but their seeking out of Force adepts and their searches for information on the Jedi of the Old Republic were frequently put on hold to deal with remnants of the Empire, Sith Lord wannabe's, and ruthless crime lords. And the occasional childbirth.
Leia and Han, now grandparents also, had remained at the heart of the galaxy — Coruscant. Leia's long term as Chief of State was punctuated by strife and war, but the New Republic had grown strong under her leadership. Han's near-fatal heart attack the previous year had given them all a terrible scare, but Han had wisecracked later, in his typical fashion, that he was too ornery to die just yet.
The Solos' older son, Jacen, went into politics, and Mara surmised that he would be the New Republic's leader himself someday. Jacen's twin, Jaina, had chosen a career in the military, eventually rising to the rank of admiral. Their younger brother Anakin was an instructor at the praxeum, and was raising his own family in a home at the edge of the school's grounds.
Speaking of children ... Mara checked her wrist-chronometer. Her own offspring, and their spouses, were due any time now. She looked Luke's way, smiling at his closed eyes and even breathing. Asleep.
"I'm not asleep," Luke murmured, not opening his eyes.
"Stay out of my head, Skywalker." Mara chuckled at the upturned corners of his mouth. "You'd better be more convincing than that when your children arrive. You know how they like to accuse you of getting old."
"Not our children so much as a certain daughter-in-law of ours." Luke rubbed one hand across his face in an attempt to look more awake. "Every time Serra looks at me, I get the feeling she thinks I should be in a museum somewhere."
"You're not the only one," Mara groused. "I swear, if she calls me Mother Skywalker one more time ..."
"Now, sweetheart." Luke sat up straighter and gave Mara a soothing smile. "Owen loves her, and she's a good mother to Evin and Eron. We can hardly find fault with her because she holds us in high esteem."
"She thinks we're half senile."
"She does not."
"She does," Mara insisted. "She's always wanting to help me do things. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of my own home." Mara crossed her arms defiantly. "I'm surprised she trusted us to babysit while they were gone."
Luke shook his head in amusement, then glanced toward the back gate. "Be nice, dear. The crew is about to descend."
"What do you mean?" Mara rose gracefully to her feet, having sensed the imminent arrival of her family at the same time that Luke did. "I'm always nice."
Boisterous shouts and enthusiastic hugs abounded as parents and children reunited. The two unmarried Skywalker offspring attempted to disentangle themselves from the possessive clutches of their nieces and nephews in order to make their way over to the veranda. Only Iain succeeded.
"Welcome back," Luke greeted his youngest son, clapping him on the back.
Iain glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Kadi tackle her favorite aunt. "This is why I'm never getting married and having kids," he said, giving an exaggerated shudder.
"But your mother wants more grandchildren," Luke protested, sending a chuckle Mara's direction. "She hardly broke a sweat watching these five."
"Then let Jena find a husband. Or Ben or Paddy or Owen can have more."
Luke raised his hands in defense. "I'm not pressuring you, Iain." He winked slyly. "But I did notice how that new initiate from Ralltiir was eyeing you."
"Quit teasing him, Luke," Mara admonished, happily receiving Iain's hug. "How was your mini-vacation?"
"Great," Iain said, grinning. "It's been so long since all of us could get together for a few days. Paddy especially needed a rest. You guys work her too hard at the academy."
"She works herself too hard," Mara said, her gaze automatically shifting to her older daughter. Though Ben was the official head of the Jedi Order now, he resided on Coruscant with Raeyla and their son Deytan. It was Padmira who had taken over as main administrator of the Jedi Praxeum, a role that she took very seriously. Even with the help of her husband Darden ― the academy's levitation instructor ― it was hard juggling a career with raising two daughters of her own. Domini and Kadi were sweet girls, but they could be a handful.
"Were you able to visit the ruins?" Luke asked, his eyes full of curiosity.
"Wouldn't miss it." Iain smiled at his father. "As many times as we've visited the old place, you'd think by now there'd be nothing left to discover. But we found a new passage off the south trail that led ..."
Mara tuned out the rest of the tale. It was only after Luke and Mara had settled here that Luke had finally located the 4000-year-old ruins of Jedi Master Vodo-Siosk Baas' ancient training center, only a few days' travel by speeder from his back door. Luke had been fascinated by the vast caverns and crumbled foundations, and despite the dangers of Dantooine's many species of menacing beasts, had frequently packed up his young family over the years to go exploring. Mara had to admit, the massive waterfall near the ruins was a spectacular sight, and was no doubt a big part of Luke's obsession with the place.
"... and then we camped last night at the old Rebel base," Iain was saying. "Raeyla kept sneezing the whole trip, though. Said she was allergic to the purple grass. And Serra kept complaining about the mace flies bothering her."
"They just aren't used to the savannas like the rest of you prairie urchins," Mara said. "I kept expecting the lot of you to turn lavender to match when you were growing up."
Iain laughed. "And guess what, dad. I bulls-eyed a voritor lizard from the back of my speeder bike."
Mara gave an involuntary shudder. She remembered shooting one of the two-meter-long predators off Luke's back during one of their long ago excursions. While Dantooine was beautiful, it was also home to a multitude of dangerous animals. It was for this reason that both their home and the academy were surrounded by high duracrete walls.
"Uncle Iain, come back and play with us," the twins pleaded from the edge of the porch.
"Yes, Uncle Iain," Jena added wryly from behind them, her red-gold hair glistening in the sunlight as she stood with her hands resting on her hips. "Apparently you can judge their races better than the rest of us ancient adults."
Iain shook his head, rolling his blue eyes at his only slightly older sister as he allowed his nephews to pull him back out to the yard. After giving her parents a quick greeting, Jena also returned to the family merriment.
Standing at the edge of the veranda, Mara laid her head on Luke's shoulder as he tenderly slipped one arm around her waist. They'd faced many challenges and discovered many truths on their life's journey together — most were welcomed, some were not. All had been met with courage, and love, and tenacity. For them, the realism of life had woven a tapestry with the mysticism of the Force.
Luke and Mara Skywalker cast an approving gaze over their brood, their legacy. Five grandchildren. And five children of their own. Three sons and two daughters.
Just like the flower petals had predicted.
Thanks in advance for anyone who replies to the epilogue. Hope none of you were disappointed. I don't have any other stories in the works at the moment, but I do have other older tales at my webpage. Just click on my name.