Chapter Eight:

Within moments there was blaster fire pouring at them from both directions; the Jedi stepped forward to deflect the bolts. "Well these guys are certainly efficient." Han muttered from his position in the centre of the group.

The enemy forces were slowly being taken out by the deflected blaster bolts; now they redoubled in size as reinforcements arrived. "We have to get out of here!" Leia's voice sounded over the ruckus; Sarah hit a door panel, seeing another holding cell.

"In here! We'll figure out a way to deal with them later!" She watched as Han, Chewie, Leia and Mara dove through the door. Sarah followed them; they were soon joined by Luke and Corran.

"What's the plan?" Han asked as he inserted a fresh Tibanna cartridge in his blaster.

"I am." Sarah said with certainty, extending her arms to activate her spring loaded holsters. "It would have taken too much strength to keep a shield up over everyone for very long; I can protect myself and take out the shooters now without having to worry about anyone else."

Corran frowned. "I can deal with them too…"

"But you want to keep your clothes, don't you flyboy?" Mara asked with a smirk.

Sarah wasn't listening, instead muttering, "Stay here." And leaping out the door, wrapped in a crimson blanket of energy as she flung her daggers at the guards; her intended targets went down hard. She headed towards one end of the hall, ignoring the blaster fire pouring at her from the other as she leapt at the enemy forces.

Disarming them quickly, she dealt them blows that would have them out cold as they tried to defend themselves. When she finished the last one with a hammer fist she turned to face the other end; she noticed black suited figures retreating. She laughed, but it was soon cut off as the door to the cell the others were hiding in slid closed; she heard banging as a figure rounded the corner.

She swallowed as she eyed the figure nervously. "That won't hold them for long, Runorlan. You know that as well as I."

"It doesn't have to; it won't take long to deal with a whelp like you and then I can deal with your friends, one by one." He raised a hand, lightning crackling at his fingertips. Sarah raised a shield, and he peered at her curiously. "It seems you have learnt some knew tricks." The lightning dissipated harmlessly when it hit her shield, Sarah smiled grimly, drawing her sword.

He pulled out a lightsaber, and Sarah strode forward. The sound of hissing heralded the Jedi's attempts to break through the door; they were trying to carve through it. What the hell is taking them so long? Sarah thought, glancing briefly at the section of the wall she was certain they would appear through. At her moment of distraction Runorlan swung his lightsaber at her; she barely managed to parry, preventing her head from being sliced off.

She attacked in earnest, lunging and swinging the Yamani blade around as she fought tooth and nail to gain any ground; she almost faltered as she felt herself take first one, then two steps backwards. He scored an injury down her arm; she cried out as the flesh burnt and seared; her left arm hung uselessly at her side.

His next attack drove her to one knee; he hammered at her as she held her sword above her head, driving off his attack. She rolled under his guard, coming up behind him and swinging at his side; he parried easily, turning to face her once more, bloodlust on his face. Sweat poured down her face, obscuring her vision as she struggled to deflect what was little more than scarlet blurs coming at her from every side; I need to end this, now, before I get any worse off…

Sarah gritted her teeth and redoubled her efforts, surprising him with a front flip over his head- boosted by the Gift, though she would never tell Wildcat that- and a reckless swing at the back of his unprotected neck.

Three things happened at once; The Jedi finally managed to carve through the durasteel door; Sarah saw the segment that fell from the wall was at least twelve inches thick. They ran out into the corridor just as her blade dug deeply into Lord Runorlan's neck, and he exploded in a burst of brilliant blue energy. Sarah was flung backwards ten feet, into the wall as the energy hammered her; driving her into unconsciousness.

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Her eyelids fluttered as she heard Luke calling to her. Someone was shaking her arm, and when she opened her eyes she groaned, her right hand reaching for her head as she struggled to sit up. "Careful, easy now." He soothed, and she shot him a dirty look.

"Do they always explode when they're killed?" She asked, grumpily massaging a sore spot on the back of her head; when her hand came away it came away red.

Corran laughed. "Yep. That was some good work you did there, kid."

"I'm not a kid." Sarah muttered as she wiped her hand on her shirt before reaching for Luke's outstretched hand. He levered her into a standing position; she had to lean hard against the wall to avoid falling back down. She hissed as she bumped her arm. "What the hell took you so long, anyway? Twelve inch metal too thick for you?"

"Yes." Luke replied evenly, watching as she swayed. "Do you have a concussion? Can you see straight?"

"Yes and barely." She muttered as she pushed herself off her leaning post, stumbling a little before she straightened. "But we have to deal with the shield generators… hey, where's my sword?"

Han grimaced and pointed to the wall, about five feet away. It was embedded at least a foot in; Sarah winced and tried to pull it out. It wouldn't budge. "Oh come on! I can so not be bothered King Arthur-ing it out of the wall, cut me some slack!" When no divine voice answered her plea, she growled and tugged harder.

Sarah had an idea, and turned to Luke. "Can I borrow your lightsaber?"

He shook his head. "I'll cut it loose for you." Sarah shrugged, and he stabbed his lightsaber into the wall, angling inwards slightly to make a cone of durasteel.

Corran was confused. "Why are we bothering with a sword; you've got another one and we need to get moving."

Sarah glared at him. "Because this sword cost a fortune and it was a gift from my teacher."

"I'm sure the New Republic will reimburse you for a replacement…" He trailed off when everyone started shaking their heads. Apparently, he hadn't been told the full story behind Sarah's existence in their dimension.

"New Republic credits are useless where I'm going." Sarah smirked as the sword fell out of the wall; Luke began hacking at the metal, and it fell apart to reveal an unblemished saber. "Thanks Luke!" Sarah said brightly before looking around. "Now, just where are these shield generators, do you think?"

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With Runorlan gone they made short work of the shield generators, and now found themselves running as quickly as they could manage towards their ships. The guards had fled when the shield went down; now all that remained was to get off the planet before Wedge started the planetary bombardment.

Sarah was staggering every few moments as they ran; she saw Han say something to Chewie and the Wookie stopped just long enough to scoop her into a fireman's carry. "Put me down! I can make it on my own, put me down you walking carpet!" She heard his chuckle and growled; each step he took sent her thumping into his back. He didn't put her down until they had made it to the cockpit of the Falcon; Han and Leia went straight for the gun turrets.

She pulled on her crash webbing one handed, wincing as every movement seemed to bump her arm, and Chewie took off, rejoining the quickly ending space battle. Corran rejoined Rogue Squadron for the remainder of the battle, and they helped the New Republic forces mop up a few more of the TIEs. The four remaining enemy capital ships surrendered unconditionally.

When the Falcon took berth in the flagship, the Mon Remonda, Sarah disembarked to a crowd of backslapping and cheering. She watched as the pilots mingled, grins on their faces, as they described a manoeuvre or bragged about how many kills they made in the battle. As Han, Leia and Chewie walked down the ramp a voice nearby called, "Chief of State on deck!" And everyone stood to attention.

Sarah glanced at Leia, who had a slightly amused expression on her face. The knight sidled up next to the woman with a mischievous grin as she asked quietly, "Do you ever just walk back up the ramp and come back down again repeatedly? Like, wait until they're at ease and walk back down the ramp?"

Leia grinned and shook her head. "That's something Han would do. At ease." She called in a louder voice as her husband objected.

"Hey! I was General of this ship once, and I never, never did that." He sounded miffed, until Chewie harrumphed a contradiction.

"Oh, he did, did he?" Leia asked, and they made their way to Luke and Mara, who had berthed some distance away from the Falcon and were just climbing down their ladders. Luke removed his helmet; the reaction was the same as the arrival of the Chief of State.

"At ease, I'm not a Commander anymore." He called loudly, and business resumed once again, until Wedge entered the room. This time the pilots and flight deck officers weren't relieved so quickly, the General strode down the rows of triumphant faces, stopping every once and a while to speak to a pilot or shake a hand. Sarah saw him stop before a pilot she recognized- That's Winter's boyfriend. Tycho…Celchu?- she thought to herself as she wondered briefly whether she should be saluting.

Shaking her head she stood still, waiting with Leia and the others for him to make his way to them. When he did his eyes searched his friends for any injury; he asked in a low voice, "Was he dealt with?"

Han nodded, laying a hand heavily on Sarah's left shoulder as she winced. "Sarah here was worth her weight in gold; she did all the hard work for us."

His eyes met hers, and she shrugged uncomfortably. "That's what I was here for…"

Leia removed her husband's hand with a reproachful glare. "And you're welcome here anytime."

Wedge was nodding, but Sarah didn't see as a voice intruded in her mind. If you don't want everyone here fainting from the shock of my appearance, I suggest you move this gathering to some place quieter. Mithros' voice sounded dryly amused. Sarah's eyes widened and she cleared her throat. "Um, General Antilles, sir, can we all go someplace more private than this? I figure you don't want to cause mass heart attacks and Mithros wants a word."

He nodded and they set out quickly to his office, which was quite a distance away. When they had reached the confines of the office and the door was closed there was a crack and the god of war was standing before them. "It is time to leave, Messenger."

Sarah's jaw dropped. "But I haven't had time to say goodbye to anyone… what about the kids?"

He wasn't amused. "You don't have a choice; you said you wanted to return to Tortall as soon as possible. You will have the option of returning whenever you wish, like you do with every other realm you visit. As it is, now it is time to leave."

Sarah sighed and turned to the people arrayed in the room. Han and Leia were watching Mithros with a dirty look on their faces, Sarah thought Chewie might be wearing a similar expression. Luke and Mara were watching curiously, and Wedge looked like he was about to have a heart attack. "Well… I guess I'd better go. I can't let those Carthakis hurt anyone back home. I will be back for a visit though." She met Han and Leia's eyes. "Tell the children I'm sorry I couldn't say goodbye, and know you're all welcome in Tortall any time. I'll be back for my weapons later." She directed the last sentence to Luke; half her weapons cache was still on Yavin Four, and nodded to each of the others. "See ya."

Mithros whisked her away, and Sarah landed roughly in her office in Greenstone; she fell on her left arm as she lost her balance. "Ow…" She muttered, pushing herself to her feet as the door swung open, revealing Kris walking in, a frown on his face as he puzzled over what looked like a financial report.

When he saw her his jaw dropped. "Milady- I mean Sarah, you're back so soon!"

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Sarah had ridden to Corus the day she had returned to Tortall at full pelt, rushing into the King's study after palming Topaz off to Stefan, the stablehand. When she saw King Jonathon of Conte sharing a decanter of port with his prime minister, Sir Gareth of Naxen the Younger, and his Champion, Sir Alanna of Pirate's Swoop, all of whom were looking decidedly relaxed and content, she drew up short. "Ah… forgive me, Majesty, but I was under the impression we had a problem with Carthaki rebels. Why are we all just sitting around?"

"Sarah!" Alanna had shot to her feet when the young woman entered the room. "That was a short mission…"

Sarah nodded before looking pointedly at the King. "So, is there a problem with the Carthaki rebels, or was Mithros just being a pain in the rump like always?"

"Mithros appeared before the Carthaki rebels and warned them against angering the gods." Jon answered, and Sarah breathed out a sigh of relief.

"Good. I suppose I should have bowed or something, but the moment's ruined so I think I'm going to sit down…" She thumped heavily into a chair, and Alanna moved to her side worriedly.

"Sarah, what's wrong?"

"Hmm?" Sarah shrugged. "Oh, the usual. Concussion, lightsaber wound, I half drained my Gift defeating a Dark Jedi. You get the gist. Just you wait until I tell you about where I went this time."

Jon poured her a drink; Sarah screwed up her nose. "Uh uh. Don't you remember the last time I tried port? Almost blew up the left wing of the palace, my control of the Gift got that bad." He quickly withdrew the drink, and Sarah put her feet up on his desk. "Oh, and I'd like your permission to invite the leader of the place I was sent and her family here; the kids are just adorable and I want to dispel the 'homeless kid' view they have of me."

Alanna coughed lightly. "It seems you have a lot of explaining to do…"

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"Introducing Her Excellency, Chief of State of the New Republic Leia Organa Solo, princess of Alderaan, her husband, Retired General Han Solo, and their children, Jacen, Jaina and Anakin Solo." The herald announced, and Sarah watched as the family strode through the doors to the banquet hall.

She shook her head as she saw Jacen sulking; he had wanted to visit the menagerie before they attended the banquet in the honour of the 'foreign dignitaries'. When Leia had accepted her offer of a visit to Tortall Jon had decided to go all out, throwing a banquet that rivalled those of Midwinter. And now, Sarah noticed as she listened, he's referring to her as his royal 'cousin'. I never did get that term… She snapped back to focus as the herald announced Luke.

"Introducing Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, Knight of the New Republic and founder of the Jedi Academy." Luke strode through the door, an air of confidence around him as he approached the dais, bowing low to King Jonathon and Queen Thayet. Sarah had winced at the description the herald had given. I just hope Luke doesn't offend any of the conservatives, as a 'Knight' he'll have no excuse not to duel them if they challenge him.

"Presenting Sir Sarah Gibson of Greenstone, Adept Mage and Shang in training, and the Messenger for the Gods."

Sarah grinned at the herald as she stepped through the doors, striding towards the king and queen in her green, flowing breeches and her brown silk shirt. She bowed, grinning up at Thayet as the queen returned her smile. Jon spoke just loud enough for Sarah to hear. "I hope Master Skywalker doesn't offend anyone; as a knight it will be difficult to refuse a challenge."

Sarah nodded. "I know. I'm just hoping if he does then whoever challenges them isn't smart enough to put a stipulation on what kind of sword he's allowed to use. I'd just love to see Sir Ansil of Groten's face when he finds a melted pile of metal where his Raven Armoury sword used to be."

Thayet let out a snicker, and Jon dismissed Sarah to join the family of New Republicans at the long table on the dais. Daine and Numair were the next to be announced, and Sarah waved them over on their way past. "Hey, Daine, you busy tomorrow?" At the shake of the Wildmage's head Sarah continued. "How's about a guided tour of the menagerie for my buddy Jacen here?" She patted the boy on the shoulder, his eyes lit up.

"Sure." Daine grinned at the boy, but the continued tide of the nobility pushed the pair along before she could say anything else.

Sarah leaned past Luke and Han to grin at Leia. "Consider this a part payment for letting me crash at your joint."

"Sarah, I've already told you-" Leia's response was cut off by Sarah turning to Luke.

"Oh, and Mr I'm A Jedi Knight, don't go insulting anyone unless you want to find yourself in a duel tomorrow. If anyone goads you don't take the bait." She was decidedly cheering, considering the social event had been forced on her and the family by Royal Decree.

"I would never-" Luke look confused, but Sarah cut him off too.

"I know that, everyone who knows you knows that, but the fact of the matter is that you might accidentally say something wrong and end up in a fight with very pointy swords. You have to admit, Leia got the diplomacy genes, and you didn't." She turned to Alanna, ignoring his response as the redhead sat next to her. "And how are you this fine evening?"

She glared grumpily at the all too cheery girl. "I've been ordered to a court function, how do you think I am? Why are you so cheery?"

Sarah smiled cheekily. "I have absolutely no idea."

The long line of nobility dwindled, and the king and queen took up seats on Leia's other side as pages bearing finger dipping bowls made their way from the kitchens, heading to the many different tables in the banquet hall, resplendent in their gold and red uniforms.

Dinner passed without event, although Sarah did notice Sir Ansil of Groten glaring at her from his table. "Oh what's his problem now!" She snapped as Alanna pointed it out. "If he causes trouble he'd better hope he can afford the duelling fee when he loses." Several times since first setting foot on Tortallan soil Sarah had duelled him; each time she beat him without much trouble.

Now, as they stood around the dance floor of the ballroom Sarah watched, her eyes narrowed as he made his way towards the group. His voice dripped with ice as he ignored the women of the group and spoke to Han and Luke. "So, in your realm is it considered acceptable for women to fight alongside the men?"

Han growled at his tone, doing an excellent impression of an angry Chewbacca. Sarah laid a hand on his arm, stopping him as he attempted to step forward. "Why don't you ask Her Excellency, the Chief of State? I'm sure you meant no offence, but some of the greatest warriors of their realm, Her Excellency included, are women."

"I wasn't talking to you, Greenstone." He snarled, and Sarah shook her head.

"I know. I'm just an inferior woman sticking her head into other people's business. But consider this for a moment; the last person to take such a tone with His Majesty's guests is still off running border patrols; he hasn't been back to the palace for four seasons, such was His Majesty's anger. How do you think he would feel about you questioning Her Excellency's integrity?" Sarah kept her voice even, but she saw Alanna stiffen beside her and reach for a riding glove. Meeting the Champion's eyes in a glance, she shook her head. When Sir Ansil didn't reply, Sarah continued. "So, I'm going to make this easy for you. Walk away, and we'll all conveniently forget you came over to address General Solo and Master Skywalker, okay?"

He narrowed his eyes. "Don't tell me what to do, progressive. I could buy and sell the likes of you ten times over without breaking a sweat." He spoke with contempt, but his eyes widened in shock as slapped him across the face.

"Good! I guess you won't mind, then, if we settle this on the duelling fields." She smiled at the man, and suddenly he realised just how outnumbered he was.

Snorting like an enraged bull, he nodded quickly. "I shall see you tomorrow, on the duelling fields, an hour after dawn."

Sarah shrugged. "Alrighty then. In the meantime, can you leave us alone? Your over-enlarged head is blocking my view of the dance floor."

In a final huff he stalked away, and Sarah drained her fruit juice. "Well, that was fun. Can you see why I didn't want you to talk to the conservatives, Luke? No matter what you said, if you gave the impression that you encouraged women in the armed forces they'd probably have challenged you to a duel." She sighed. "I guess I'd better report the duel to the king. Don't be afraid to dance, Leia, Han. Just get out there on the dance floor, show everyone an Alderaanian waltz or Corellian foxtrot."

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The early morning found Sarah stretching in a training field, a belt around her waste with her broad sword hanging from it. She was speaking to Leia in a carefree voice as the family, plus Alanna, Thayet and Wildcat, surrounded her. "You see, he wanted to duel this early because he knew- the whole palace knew- that I had been ordered to the banquet. I had to stay there until the very end of it, whereas he got to leave whenever he wanted. So while he was sneaking off to bed at a reasonable hour, I was stuck bowing and scraping to the 'foreign dignitaries', and thus he got a better rest than me. It's just one way the conservatives try to get an edge over us progressives in a duel."

"Right. So that still doesn't explain why you challenged him." Leia folded her arms against her chest.

Sarah straightened. "Would you relax? I do this all the time. He hasn't ever beaten me, and had I not challenged him I would have been negligent in my duty to defend your honour. He might even have been so rash as to challenge you or Han or Luke, and though I would love to see his sword versus Luke's lightsaber, I couldn't allow that."

The other knight was standing at the far end of the pitch, his sword bare in his hand as he waited impatiently for Sarah's fanclub to leave the field. "I guess that's my cue. Go on, wait at the fence, this won't take long and then we'll go to the menagerie."

Leia sighed and shepherded the children before her; Alanna patted Sarah on the shoulder as her and Wildcat left Sarah standing alone. The young knight bared her sword and bowed low to Jonathon, who was officiating the duel. "You are duelling to first blood. Bow to your opponents-" Sarah joined Ansil in bending the bare minimum towards her opponent. "Begin!"

Sarah grinned viciously at Sir Ansil of Groten; the man lunged towards her. Sarah sidestepped, not bothering to block as his sword sailed past. This really isn't fair to him. If he'd had the amount of Shang training I have he might stand a chance. She jabbed a quick attack at him, he parried and returned with a downwards slice. Sarah blocked using the ever useful crescent block; he left an opening which she soon exploited. Her sword kissed his neck. "Yield." She smirked. "Drop your sword, and yield."

He growled. "If we had been tilting…"

Sarah laughed loud enough for the people at the fence to hear. "You forget the last duel so quickly? We were tilting, and I still throttled you! Now yield!"

He dropped his sword, a thunderous look on his face. "I yield." He said quietly.

"Louder. I don't think His Majesty heard you." Her voice betrayed her amusement.

"I yield." He repeated, louder.

"Good." She lowered her sword, bowed to Jon, and turned back to her friends clapping at the fence.

When she strode towards them Alanna remarked, "That was quicker than usual."

Sarah shrugged. "Yeah, that crescent block is really useful." She turned back to Sir Ansil, calling loudly, a grin on her face, "Don't forget my ten gold nobles, Groten! I want them by sundown tomorrow!"

He stalked off without acknowledging her, and Sarah turned back to her friends, sighing in content. "There's nothing like an easy duel to start off the day. Who's ready for the menagerie?"

A/n. The End! I just wanted to add that last bit because… well… the chapter was only 5 pages (in MS Word) at the place that I wanted to end it.