To be in prison
Dragonlots aka Dana Bell
The paleness of my hand pressed against the glass as we waited for our clearance code to be recognized somehow surprised me. It shouldn't have. Rarely do I walk under the direct sun. Even now, surrounded by the guards and advisors of my so-called 'father', I am heavily veiled. I have not been seen directly by anyone, except by my maidservants and a favored other, for as long as I can remember.
Why he insisted I come with him, I don't understand. Other than at state affairs, he shows no interest in me. I am a symbol to him, a prize he flaunts to torment those who might try to overthrow him. A reminder his empire will go on, even if he is gone.
Yet, I know fear curling in my abdomen, threatening to choke my breath. Is he keeping me near because, I stop my thoughts. Even if I dare think them there is a chance he might 'hear' and that would not do. Instead I turn my attention to the growing metal orb sparkling like an artificial star, which, in truth, is what it is. A station of power and destruction able to destroy an entire world and innocent lives. The possible needless loss caused sadness to well within me. If only I had not been forced to come!
We landed without incident on his newest weapon and he doesn't even spare me a glance. I follow him down the long ramp behind his trusted purple robed advisors, his scarlet draped guards flanking us. The one that calls him 'Master' kneels on the shining floor, his black presence a painful reminder of my failure. My 'father' had wanted a son. His apprentice filled what should have been my role, had I'd been what my father wished.
Yet, my mother had denied him both the privilege of having a son and being a father, though her secret died with her. She'd held my hand in death and told me the truth, her once beautiful face mirroring the pain ripping through her body. I suspected he poisoned her, though I had never truly learned if my suspicion was correct.
"You are not his daughter," she'd told me, her fingers growing colder in my still warm ones. "Your father was another. Palpatine does not know." Her grip tightened. "For your own protection, Mahalia, NEVER tell him." She'd coughed, blood dripping down her chin. "My people," she'd breathed quickly. I knew death would soon claim her. "Know how to choose the sex of the child. I wanted a girl. For me." Her eyes had opened wide, seeing something I could not. "I am coming, my beloved." Her soul left her and I was alone.
"If you'll follow me, Your Highness." I shook away the memory and turned my attention to the station's commander. "Your quarters have been prepared."
"Thank you," I simply acknowledged.
They were no more than I expected. A fancy prison of metal walls with only one window overlooking the green planet below. Wearily, I removed my cloak and veils, tossing them without care on a convenient chair. Taking a brush I stroked my long auburn hair. The only pleasure I had. For what was life to me but a place with every need attended to, but that which I needed most. A friend to share my secrets with and who would talk to me as a woman and not their future queen.
Though, truth be told, there was one who treated me such, yet we had not spoken for a long time. Could not, because of, again I shook myself, reminding my errant thoughts they were not to stray down that path. He was too near and the full truth needed to be kept secret.
A buzzer sounded and I debated on again putting on the weighty veils. Too tired to bother I called, "Enter." It mattered not if my face was seen.
The dark son walked in, his wheezing breath a reminder of the price he'd paid long ago. Yet too, from this one, came small courtesies, appreciated for their unexpectedness.
"What do you wish, Lord Vader?" Before this one I always appeared superior, even if I quaked inside.
"Your Highness." He bowed respectfully. "The Emperor is sending me to the command ship."
"That is his right."
"He tells me my son will come to me."
Vader had told me of his son. Of his desire to reclaim his child and turn him to the dark side. My 'father' had spoken of young Skywalker as well. The Dark Lord does not know the Emperor's true plan. I do not think Vader would so willingly do his bidding if that were so.
"And?" I grew tired of his game. "If there is a point to this conversation, Vader, please, make it."
"If we succeed. The Emperor has a plan. For you both."
I had suspected as much. Random remarks I'd overheard. Whispers spoken filled with a wild desire for a worthy heir. One to raise and train as a Sith should be.
"My life has never been my own." I knew a time would come when my 'father' would chose a husband for me. I faced the mask wishing I could read the expressions on the face behind the metal hood. "What you tell me, I have suspected."
"It is not what I wish for my son."
"Afraid he will best you?" There could be only one apprentice.
"He is young and his skills are not yet complete."
"Are you so certain? I have heard of a daring rescue on Tatooine."
"He is foolish where his friends," he almost seemed to choke on the word. "are concerned."
"Some would call him admirable."
"I would not."
"I am weary from the journey." I swayed slightly to enhance my point. "You may take your leave, Lord Vader."
He hesitated, as if he had more to say. Instead he bowed and left his black cloak billowing. I shivered the shadow of darkness clinging to my room.
Not long after Vader left the Emperor sent a message. Somehow, I had been expecting it. It had simply bade me to dress in my royal best and be prepared to be summoned. Like I was a servant to come and go as he wished!
I knew better than to disobey and chose with care my gown. The simple fabric of shimmering silver draped over my figure accenting the curves I had never paid attention to. The neckline was a modest scoop, not that it would be obvious under my veil. I styled my hair formally, wishing my maidservants had been allowed to come. For some reason, the Emperor had sent them back to the palace. Again, I wondered how much he truly knew.
Once finished I donned the veil complete with my crown of fashioned silver with blue and green stones. Though I could see to walk, none could penetrate the cleverly designed screen. My face was not known. I put on matching slippers and waited.
Standing next to the Emperor as he waited for the Dark Lord and his son, who carefully glanced side to side sizing up the situation, to join him on the raised platform made me angry. He was always so certain his plan would prevail. Just once, I would like to see him fail. To fall from his lofty heights and be trampled in defeat.
With cold calculated deliberation my 'father' dismissed the guards and waved his hand. "You no longer need those." The shackles on young Skywalker fell to the floor with a dull clatter.
I didn't listen to the banter of words after that. They meant nothing to me. The Force had already decreed the outcome. I had only to wait. Inside the Emperor's taunts began, in the darkness of space ships exploded. The battle waged and I was but a spectator. A pawn to be awarded to the victor.
The clash of light sabers drew my attention as father and son battled. Vader protecting his master, young Skywalker more skilled than either had anticipated. His words drifted down about Vader's feelings betraying him, about how he could feel the conflict.
Yet the Dark Lord denied those words and threw his weapon knocking the younger warrior into the shadows below. With deliberate steps he hunted his son, their words drifting like spirits to our ears. I dared to search the hooded face of my 'father', to see the triumphantful toad gloating and wished, just this once there was something I could do to stop all this.
I heard Skywalker's words, "I will not fight you." Vader's angry reply and threat of death. Though what caused the scream of "NO!" and the fury of clashing sparking weapons, I do not know. Vader fell his saber and hand falling to the interior of the station.
The Emperor slithered toward them, his glee evident. "Good. Good. Your hate has made you powerful. Now fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side." So, at last, my 'father' made know his intent.
Closely I watched Vader, wondering what his reaction would be to the unveiling of his master's true plan.
In that moment, I saw Skywalker look to his hand and then his father lying at his feet defeated. With resolve Luke tossed away his weapon and proudly proclaimed, "I am a Jedi. Like my father before me."
Never have I seen my 'father' so furious. Like a spoiled child who had lost all his favorite toys. "So be it. Jedi." He spat. "If you will not be turned. Then you will be destroyed." Pure evil pulsated from his hands throwing the Jedi to the ebony floor. Bolt after bolt rippled over his black clad body, jerking him. I wanted to cover my ears at his screams wishing Vader would listen to his son's pleas.
I closed my eyes not wishing to watch. My breath came fast, and my heart thudded. Then came a pause and the Emperor's final promise. "Now young Skywalker, you will die."
I could no longer just stand there. "Vader," I breathed. "Do not let him do this. Do not allow him to kill your son." My words must not have reached him, for he staggered beside his master, doing nothing.
Tears fell down my cheeks. I could feel their salty path. I did not want to see Luke Skywalker killed. 'Act on your feelings,' a voice I had never heard before urged me.
Where I found the courage to defy my 'father', I do not know. I only knew I flew down the stairs and pounded angry fists against his uncaring body. "Stop!" I screamed. "Stop!"
His flung his fury at me, deadly bolts shredding my nerves, blinding my eyes. I hit the floor hard, unable to rise, pain such as I had never felt binding me to the metal.
"I will deal with your insolence, daughter!" Again the lightening slashed and I screamed. I did not see the final outcome. My next semi conscious moment was Vader's hand upon my brow biding me to wake.
He swayed and Skywalker caught him, his worried blue eyes meeting mine and looking quickly away. "We have to get out of here. Can you walk?"
"I'll try," my voice rasped and hurt my throat. Vainly I tried to rise and found I could not.
"Don't leave her…here," Vader struggled to his feet. "Carry her."
"Father," Luke protested, half reaching to support his father.
"No." The dark lord tried to sound strong. "I'll…manage."
Luke did as he was asked lifting me easily. The halls became a blur and when we finally reached a ship to escape, Vader collapsed on the ramp. I was taken inside, and a short time later, the Sith's body lay on the floor. Of the flight, I remember little. When I awoke, night had fallen, my veil was gone, and the hatch lay open before me. I found Skywalker burning his father's body. His last tribute to a father he did not know, freeing, I hoped, the tormented soul I had always sensed inside.
He turned to me, his face still damp from shed tears. "You realize you're a prisoner of the Alliance."
"Would it be otherwise?" I replied. Truly, I had expected no other response, even though I had tried to save his life. My position as future Empress endangered the victory the Rebels' had just won.
He did not bind me even when I offered my wrists. Instead, as if assured I would follow, he led the way to a primitive city in the trees. Music and voices blended in the great woods, fires flickered, and Princess Leia, oddly dressed in something I would never have suspected she would wear, embraced him. Her expression turned to shock on seeing me and her questioning look spoke more than words ever could have.
"She's my prisoner," is all Luke said.
Leia left the party then, taking me gently by the arm and directing my path to a hut. Sitting down upon some furred chair, she handed me water and I sipped the refreshing liquid.
She broke the silence. "I thought you were still in the palace."
"I was forced to come with the Emperor. I do not know if he suspected me or if his plans, in order to succeed, demanded me to be present."
"Your Highness, Mahalia, you can order any rogue commanders to surrender."
Would they listen? Of that I could not be sure. "Leia,' I put the cup aside. "I am a symbol around which they could rally, undoing your victory over the Emperor."
"You have always been our ally."
"Known only to you."
"We both agreed that was safest." Indeed we had, despite the almost tragic circumstances under which we discovered a common alliance.
"Dear Leia, don't be foolish about this."
"Word is already spreading through the star systems. We're getting reports of celebrations across the galaxy." I knew she tried to comfort me, to reassure.
How could I make her understand? "My presence here must not be known. Find a way for me to disappear. Spread the word the Emperor's daughter died aboard the Death Star."
"It is the only way to save what you have accomplished." Shakily I rose to my feet. "You know what I say is true."
She wanted to argue more. Yet, there were no more words to say. At last she nodded. "I'll try to arrange something." She reached out and we embraced. Two old friends who had too long been apart. With a sad smile she left me to rejoin the party I know she wanted me to be a part of, for we had plotted together to bring down the Emperor.
The party had lasted almost all night and I tried to sleep through the celebration. When quiet finally fell I dared to venture out. I found Leia with her friends sitting together, she in the arms of the man I sensed she loved. His face was familiar and almost I asked before stopping myself in time before too much could be revealed.
The embers of the fire glowed in the early light. I found a place with them, sharing at least one moment of their triumphant. There was a man dark of skin there as well, and young pilot I also did not know. With them were the droids I had seen on occasion, one of gold and a smaller blue and white R2 unit.
"And who is this lovely lady?" The dark man asked a charming smile spreading across his attractive face.
Luke started to speak but Leia answered, "No one you need to know."
"Really?" His deep brown eyes became concerned. "And why not?"
"Drop it, Lando," the man who held Leia spoke up.
"Look, I've proven myself. I blew up the Death Star!"
"You are to be commended." I spoke the words before I thought.
"Oh, she couldn't be." The one called Lando had disbelief spread on his face.
"Of course not," Leia replied. "She died aboard the Death Star."
"Right." He rose not believing, and I could tell, what she told him. "Think I'll find a place to sack out."
"Lando," he faced Leia. "The Emperor's daughter is dead."
He nodded trotting off. The other pilot had fallen asleep and not heard the words exchanged.
"So what are we going to do with her?" Luke asked my friend.
"She wants to disappear."
"It would be better that I be forgotten," I added. "I want no symbol to remain that could cause any to rally around and try to again raise the Empire."
A low whistle sounded. "Quite a secret you're keeping, Leia," the man with the familiar face commented.
"Han," she laid her hand on his arm. "Mahalia's the one who sent us the plans for the first Death Star."
"Well, then I ought to say thank you." He turned his attention to me. "Thanks. With out your help, I would never had met Leia."
"Your welcome." Did I dare to tell him the whole of it?
"Luke," Leia inquired of her brother. "Can you think of somewhere we could hide her?"
"Hey, why not ask me?" Han sounded offended. He flashed a grin. I would bet he was as successful with the ladies as his, no, I would not think it.
"I've traveled all over the galaxy."
"Exactly my point." Leia smiled up at him, love in her eyes.
"I can think of a couple places," Luke responded.
"Then take her. Don't even tell me."
He nodded and extended his hand to me. "If you'll come with me."
There was little else I could do. Together, as we had come, we left the city in the trees and Luke commissioned a fighter. Gingerly I climbed inside, wishing I could have bathed before we left. He reached up and closed the hatch confidently piloting the craft into the deep blackness of space.
"Where are you taking me?"
"I'll tell you when we get there, Your highness."
How long it took us to arrive, I don't truly know. I slept, sometimes tried to engage the young Jedi in conversation. He seemed most reluctant to talk with me, so I finally gave up. When we arrived at the world he'd chosen, I almost cringed. It did not look at all inviting. He set the fighter down expertly on a brief expanse of limb covering swampy land.
What I noticed first was the mist rising from vast pools, surrounded by huge, almost monster clawed trees. He pushed open the hatch and I heard odd croaks rise here and there and mysterious splashes when I least expected them.
"Over here," Luke instructed as he aided me in disembarking.
The house I followed him to was not a large one. A round hut blending in with the marshy surroundings, something that would not be seen unless one knew exactly where to look. As the Jedi had.
"It isn't much." Almost he seemed apologetic.
"It will do." It was all I could say. The place was dismal.
"I doubt anyone will come searching. Master Yoda lived here for a very long time."
One of the Jedi I'd heard referred to in a sneering tone. The Emperor had not thought well of him. "You don't have to apologize, Luke. I asked to disappear." I entered the hut that had obviously been once well cared for. A bit of cleaning and it would suit me well. Not perhaps a palace, but I doubted I would see my glamorous prison again.
"I hate to leave you here alone." Luke's manner was hesitant, unsure.
"I will be fine," I tried to sound cheerful. My hand reached out and touched his arm. "You've done what I asked."
"When it's safe, I could bring you a 'droid. At least then you'd have some company."
It was a tempting thought, yet much too dangerous.
"There is no need. Go, Luke." I smiled at him. "Return to Leia. Enjoy the victory well earned."
What was the look on his face? A longing? I could not be certain.
"May the Force be with you, Luke." Lightly I kissed his cheek, bidding him a final farewell. I had not doubt I would be forgotten as I wished to be.
He climbed back into his fighter, waving at me with his glove-covered hand. The hatch closed, the ship lifted and disappeared.
Days passed. I used what few supplies Luke had left me sparingly, learning first to dig for roots. In the time that followed I planted a small garden close to my hut. I found utensils for eating, and other useful items. I cleaned out the place and after a time, came to think of it as home.
I took walks and learned the creatures here and their natures, quickly discovering that most were best left alone. In my way, I was happy, closer to personal peace than I ever thought possible. This planet truly suited such activities. No wonder an ancient Jedi master had lived here.
Returning one day from venturing on a long walk, my heart skipped a beat when I saw the fighter resting outside my hut. For a moment vanity took over wishing I had more than the plain brown dress I had managed to make myself. Still, and I laughed, never had I expected to see another living being again.
Inside the fire burned, a small kettle boiling. He sat against the wall, his eyes closed, his posture of one totally relaxed.
"I sensed you'd be back soon," he stated opening his blue eyes and offering me a warm smile.
"Sometimes I am gone for days." I kneeled beside the fire, taking leaves to make into a drink. "I did not expect to see you again." Inside I was delighted and uncertain. Why had he returned?
He sighed, a heavy sound for one so young. "The New Republic Council somehow learned the truth about you. They demanded Leia tell them what she knew." He leaned forward. "She did tell them you were an ally."
"But she could not tell them where I was."
"No. It took awhile but she finally admitted there was only one person who did. Took the Council even longer to find out who." He chuckled, lacing his fingers behind his head. "I didn't know Han had a younger brother." I started at the change of subject. Did they know? "He never told us. At least not until Trent showed up for the wedding."
Trent. Yes, I knew the Corellian. He had been one of my best couriers. I bit my lip. I had never allowed myself to even think about the group of brave pilots who had risked their lives and their ships in the Rebellions cause.
"Your pilots were very angry with us for dumping you somewhere and refusing to tell them where you were." He sounded like he was scolding me.
"Is that why you're here?"
"In part." He straightened, his eyes catching and holding mine.
"They demanded we bring you back. Leia told them we couldn't unless you agreed."
"She is right." They were loyal my pilots. How little I could now do to repay them. Silently I handed Luke a cup.
He took the cup from me. "You don't have to stay here, Your Highness. Even our Council thinks you should return."
Return to what? What had once been the Empire was gone. My life, what little I had, lay in shambles, destroyed by the Rebels. No, that was not fair to them. The Emperor had denied me a life. Here, at least, I could wander where I wished. Do what I wanted. Still, did it bring me true happiness?
"Your pilots are threatening to cause trouble if you don't come back."
"I…would expect them to. Once their loyalty is given, they are not easily swayed."
He laughed again setting the cup aside. "I know."
I remembered then the Corellian who had served beside him.
"Trent told me to tell you, they'd find a place for you with them. If you didn't want to stay at the capital."
"That is your place now, Luke. I belong nowhere." Tears escaped cascading over my cheeks. My hands shook forcing me to put my brew down.
He hesitated and then pulled me into his arms. His voice whispered soft reassurances while my heart wept. I did not know what I wished to do.
"You don't have to decide now. I can stay a few days."
For that I was grateful.
Luke insisted on sleeping in his fighter though I told him that was not necessary. The hut certainly would have accommodated both of us.
"No, Your highness," he refused.
He could not have been comfortable. Still, he joined me for meals and shared some of the rations he brought. A welcome change from steady diet of various roots and herbs despite the grimace he had when he ate the prepared food.
I watched him sit by the pool, his eyes holding a far away look. "I learned about the force here," he told me quietly.
"The Jedi, Yoda, taught you." I sat beside him on the twisted tree root.
"Ben Kenobi began my training. Yoda completed it."
I'd heard that name as well only with Obi Wan connected to it.
"I rushed off to help my friends."
"A decision you regret."
"I don't know." Torment reflected on his face. "With the Force, sometimes, it's difficult to tell."
My hand rested on his. Why did it seem so natural? I pulled away hoping he did not notice.
He turned to me. "Did you regret betraying the Emperor and helping the rebels?"
My gaze drifted to the ponds where mist rose soaking me with damp. "I was a prize. As was my mother. A pawn to be used to remind others of his power." I shook my head. "No. I do not regret the one who thought I was his child."
"So my mother said. Though who my father was." I shrugged. "His name died with her."
"So you don't know who your father is?"
"Luke," I smiled at him. "I think I just said that."
"So you did, Your Highness." He stayed quiet and we shared the silence. Two old friends comfortable with each other and no need to speak words.
In the end, I agreed to return to New Republic, although why, I was not certain. Only that, for that time, it seemed the right thing.
Leia and Han met Luke's returning fighter. Leia hugged him and me.
"I wasn't sure you'd come back," she told me. "But I'm glad you did."
The palace had changed. Gone were the pompous decorations my 'father' had insisted on to show off his power. They had been replaced by paintings done by artists whose work I had thought the Emperor had had destroyed. He must have hidden them somewhere and they had been finally found.
Once again I stood in a lovely room bringing only memories of my years of captivity. The object that had a use, but no other purpose to exist. I wandered at last to the window and stared out over the city that was both known to me and now a stranger. I turned away when the door sounded.
Trent strutted in. He was so like his older brother in appearance. I knew why Leia had fallen in love Han, if the older were anything like the younger in personality.
"You could have trusted us!" he raged at me.
"Trent," Tiredly I sat down on a richly cushioned recliner. "I did what I deemed best. The rebels had just won a major battle. The emperor was dead. Far better for all concerned to think I was as well."
He sat beside me. "Your highness, we swore our loyalty to you. We would have protected you against the rebels and any Imperials who might have tired,"
"Enough. What is done is done."
"Do you remember how we first met?"
What an odd question. As if I could ever forget. My mind dared, for once with no danger of betrayal, to wander back to that fateful night, the cool breezes of the world I had visited lifting refreshing fingers through my hair despite the heavy veil, for the day had been hot and stifling.
I had retreated to the garden while my 'father' spoke with the regional governor. Tarkin, I believe his name had been. The dinner had been dismal and formal. Already I had forgotten what dishes had been served. A small fountain leaped to life and the total silence without singing insects of the night surprised me.
"Lovely ladies shouldn't wander about alone."
I had started at the sound of a man's voice. I had thought myself alone. "You dare," I began.
His smile had been cocky as if he were quite certain of how his presence affected women. By his dress I knew him to be a freighter pilot. Black pants and high boots, a loose partially opened top. Carelessly his blaster hung at his side.
"I should call the guards." I knew they weren't far. I could see the bit of red by the doors leading outside.
The twinkle of his brown eyes faded as did his grin. "Your Highness, I was sent by a friend. Word I have is that…help is needed."
My breath caught. Though I had expected to one day hear the phrase, this night I had not. Certainly not here. I cast a glance at the door hoping none could overhear.
"Somehow, I doubt my friend knows you." Of that I was certain. He was not the type of man she would know.
"True," he easily agreed. "But there are many who serve willingly and are safely unknown." The edges of his thin mouth turned up. "I'm just one of the messengers."
That caused me to think. She had said there were many who supported them and for the safety of all concerned, she knew only a handful. "What is asked?"
"Rumors say," his voice dropped. I had to strain to hear his words. "That the emperor has a new space station. Technical read outs are needed."
"It will take time."
He shrugged fading back into the night. "I'll be near by."
"No," I replied softly. "I have not forgotten."
He grinned. "Didn't take you long."
A cold I could not explain crept into my body and I hugged my arms. "No."
Since my 'father' rarely noticed me, it had been simple to find what was needed. I glanced nervously over my shoulder as the plans downloaded onto the disk one of handmaidens had gotten me. I'd made some pretext about needing it to copy some of my lessons. Since they had no reason to think otherwise it had been brought to me.
At last it finished and I slipped my betrayal beneath my robes. With careful measured steps, for the robes of state made a faster pace impossible, I returned with the information to my rooms. The emperor had sent me back to the capitol unexpectedly though he'd stayed to confer with Tarkin.
Removing the heavy fabric I sank onto my bed wondering how to send what I had stolen to the rebels. Surely the pilot I had meet could not have known I had left.
With a heavy sigh I hid the disk in a place only I knew of and prepared for my next official function. Since the emperor was off planet there were many meaningless duties I had to attend to in his absence. They constantly needed to be reminded that he ruled even when he was not in residence.
In the highest chair I hovered in the senate while debate raged about me. I dared to spare a glance in the direction of Leia Organa. Not difficult since her voice echoed as she vehemently argued her point. Murmurs rose and soon they dismissed.
Again in my chambers I had my handmaids send apologies to other officials. I simply could not attend anything else this day. The weight of my betrayal exhausted me and I could not keep up pretext. I lay on my bed, the lights dimmed, my arm thrown over my eyes. What instinct alerted me to an intruder, I do not know. My fingers slipped under my pillow tightening around the dagger I kept there.
A hand covered my mouth and I tried to strike with my weapon. Easily was I over powered.
"Easy, Your Highness," a voice sounded that I had heard before. Hands released me and the intruder's weight shifted off my bed.
"Your dare," I sputtered.
"Fond of those words are you?" His voice held a teasing note.
In all honesty, I had not idea how to respond. I found myself laughing.
"You have something for us?" he asked at last.
Silently I handed him the disk I'd hidden earlier. "It'll be delivered." Then he was gone.
"We've been through much since then," I said, still cold despite the heat of the room.
"Yeah, we have," he agreed with a lazy smile.
Another voice drifted into the room. "Leave it to my brother to know a princess and not tell me." Han Solo joined us. Despite being married to Leia he still wore the clothes of a smuggler.
"Didn't want you to try and steal her from me," his brother bantered back.
"Got my own princess, thanks." He glanced from Trent to me. "She's about all I can handle."
I found myself smiling. My memories of Leia confirmed his statement. She had always been a willful one.
"Though," his eyes ranged over my body. My face burned. Never had a man so brazenly examined me. They would not have dared! Not when I could have called guards and had them executed.
"Watch it, big brother." Trent's hand had fallen to his blaster.
"Easy, kid." Han raised his hands as if to ward off an attack. "She's a beautiful woman."
Was I? With a frown I turned away from them. Along one wall a long mirror stood and I strolled over to look at myself. My pale oval face stared back at me. My long auburn hair hung nearly to my waist. I had not bothered to style it more formally. Pale blue eyes looking rather frightened stared back at me. My simple gown of mauve draped gracefully over my figure. I hadn't noticed how the fabric accented my features. My many years veiled and robed had hidden my woman's form from prying eyes.
Trent appeared behind me. "My brother has a point."
"Not attention I am use to."
"The emperor's gone. So's the reason you were hidden."
"Though I no longer have a place here."
"Your Highness," Han joined our conversation. "Leia felt the same after Alderaan was destroyed."
"That I can not imagine. Leia has always made a place for herself."
"One thing she hasn't told me," Han looked honestly curious. "How you two managed to become friends and plot the emperor's downfall."
So, she had not told him. Perhaps she had good reason for that. "I leave the telling to your wife."
"I've asked. She won't tell me."
"Than neither shall I. Now, if you two would leave, I would like to rest."
The two brothers exchanged a look I could not read but did as I asked.
With a sigh that said more than I could express I fell onto my bed and tried not to remember how Leia and I had come to be allies, even friends.
The following day a formal dinner was held. Leia seated herself next to me, her husband beside her. A thin faced woman took a place and my friend whispered "That's Mon Mothma, acting president of New Republic until official elections can be held."
I nodded my understanding pretending to examine the plate before me while my eyes darted around the table. That trick I'd learned at state dinners. An easy way to access other guests and not be obvious about it.
Luke joined us as did Trent, accompanied by a very pretty blonde who possessively held his arm. I wondered if she was the one he'd spoken of once that he might consider one-day marrying. The chairs filled with many others, most of which I did not know.
"Many here were part of the rebellion," Luke commented with a slight smile. He pretended to sip from his glass. He had claimed the other chair beside me.
"A strong commonality to form a new government with," I responded.
"Other planets are sending representatives. In a few days, a new senate will be born, and hopefully, a new constitution."
"Following these events are you?" I could not help the teasing tone. My impression of the Jedi, from what few things Vader and my 'father' had said, had led me to believe the lofty ones never ventured far from their temple.
The Jedi shrugged. "Leia talks about it. I listen."
In many ways, I was actually grateful for his presence. The hate filled expressions directed my way were far from comforting. Leia had told them I was an ally and friend, yet they treated me as if I were still, what? A threat? A danger to their precious Republic? Sipping my wine I wondered if I had been wise in returning. Perhaps I should have stayed in my swampy home.
My attention again focused on Luke. His eyes surveyed others at the table before he reached out his hand and gently touched my arm.
"You have friends here."
"Very few," I softly replied.
The many courses were a worse ordeal than I had ever suffered as the Emperor's daughter. At least then I had been accorded respect. Here, now, I sensed, despite what Luke had told me, I was not truly welcomed. When the final dish had been cleared away and others began to rise and adjourn to less formal surroundings, I slipped quickly away, hoping I remembered the way to my chambers. I hadn't gotten far when someone touched my elbow.
"The night is very clear and you can see the stars." Luke stood there looking a little lost himself.
"I've seen them many times." I did not wish company. Just the sanctuary of my room.
"I like looking at them." Why did he seem suddenly to be a very young boy?
"Please, Your Highness, I'd like your company."
"My name is Mahalia." Now why did I tell my name?
"Pretty." He smiled shyly and indicated we should go down a certain hallway.
We stepped out onto a balcony. The sky above had darkened into night and the city that covered the entire planet spread out below us. Sounds of craft hurrying to their destinations buzzed up at us and lights below sparkled. I could almost imagine the millions of souls below us going about their daily lives.
"On Tatooine," he began almost wistfully. "I'd stand and watch the suns go down."
"I have heard of that world."
"I'm surprised anyone has."
"There was a brief moment when Vader," I stopped myself unsure if I should continue.
His face shadowed his grief still evident. "I never truly knew my father. I'd like to know what he said to you."
"He only spoke of having grown up there. He fell silent afterward, as if it were a life belonging to someone else."
And perhaps to Lord Vader that was true. I had never know what his name was before he'd turned to the dark side. He'd been at my 'father's' side for a long time before I had been born.
"I wish I knew more about him." Luke leaned against the railing, his eyes holding a far away look.
"What happened, Luke? After I tried to stop the Emperor and he turned on me?" Until that moment, I had not wished to know.
The Jedi lowered his head. "Vader stopped the Emperor. Threw him down the shaft and collapsed." There was something else, but Luke chose to keep that to himself. "He finally pushed himself up, half walking, half crawling until he reached your side. I'm not exactly sure how he used the Force to revive you."
So, the Dark Lord refused to leave until he knew I was awake. Odd that.
"How much of what happened after that do you remember?" He lifted his head to gaze at me.
"Not much. I do recall seeing Vader's body on the floor."
"He died before we left the Death Star."
I laid my hand on his. "I am sorry for your loss, Luke. Truly. Vader always treated me with kindness." Strange I should share that. Although I had once asked him why. He had mumbled something about his dead wife.
"Your Highness," I guess he was not comfortable using my name. "How did you come to be our ally?"
I closed my eyes, uncertain if I wished to tell him the full story. "By accident, Luke."
Breathing deeply I finally allowed myself to remember that fateful night. "It began the night the Emperor ordered the Jubilee, to celebrate my coming of age,"
Pyrotechnics exploded in bright greens, yellows and reds, and I listened to the appropriately appreciative sounds made by the Emperor's many guests. My attendance was expected. After all, the spectacle was in my honor. I had turned of age and my 'father' wished the event to be noticed. It would tell all that I held the position to inherit his throne. His ambitious dream would continue, even if he died unexpectedly. Though I doubted his demise would happen any time soon.
Bored, I diverted my attention away from the colorful displays and examined the swarming air below. Flying conveniences zoomed to their destinations, none seeming to notice the bright display above. Quietly I took a few steps away from the main group. The Emperor merely raised his head, as if to question my movement, then he turned to speak to his dark son. Expressionless masked eyes temporarily met mine and he turned to make some comment to his master.
I shivered for no reason I could fathom and slide behind some draperies, which had been hung for the occasion. My absence was not noticed and I made good my escape. Once back in my chambers I threw aside my veil and the ridiculous royal ebony robe I had been forced to don for the celebration. I hated black.
Pacing to the large window, I gazed out. Another red and blue display exploded lighting up the night sky. It did nothing to lift my depressed mood. Earlier in the day my 'father' had summoned me and talked of arranging a marriage for me. He wanted his favorite son to take me as wife and be in line for his throne. When the time came.
I closed my eyes and breathed a deep sigh. Not that marriage to the Dark Lord would be difficult. His demands on me would be much as my life now. Ordered appearances to remind everyone of his favored position and of his eventual inheritance. Still, a part of me longed for a life mate to share my heart and my thoughts with. To be touched and know I was cherished for myself, not my crown.
Silence in the room stretched and I sensed movement close by. I was too far from my bed to claim my dagger. I waited, barely breathing, for the assassin to strike. He, no she, was close. Very close.
I whirled catching my would be killer by surprise and knocking the blaster from her hand. Her brown eyes flashed her surprise and she tried to dive for the weapon. Somehow, it flew across the room and knocked against the wall.
Not too far behind it my finger hovered above the button that would summon help and put this person to an immediate death.
"Go ahead. I'm prepared to die." She tilted her proud chin upward, a show of defiance and courage.
I recognized her of course. Senator Leia Organa was not unknown to me. Her strong opinions in the senate had won her a reputation I am not really certain she either understood, or even knew about.
"I would ask why." Her actions made me curious. Why would one who was a cornerstone to the rebels, so willing throw away her life?
"You knew about the rebellion?" Luke sounded surprised.
"Trent Solo was not my only courier or informant." I said no more. There were a few secrets I still preferred to keep.
"You're a threat." Her buried anger burned in her response.
"And how is that?"
She made a noise blowing air through her nose. "As if I have to tell you."
I pulled my finger back from the button. Strange, that Leia Organa should provide me with an opportunity for which I had been waiting.
"Sit," I invited sitting down on a dully-colored cushion.
She hesitated, uncertain on how to respond.
I relaxed. Here, in my chambers, I ruled.
Suspiciously she took a seat, sitting on the edge as awaiting a chance to flee. Her eyes darted about the room. Perhaps she thought guards hovered just out of sight and would drag her away when I ordered it.
"It may surprise you to learn," I began, suddenly afraid of the path I was about to turn down. One from which there would be no turning back. "That I am on your side. I too, wish the Emperor removed from power."
She smiled cynically. "No doubt abdicating in favor of you."
My expression turned thoughtful. "No. I have no desire to rule."
"What?" Disbelief mirrored on her face and in her eyes. "I don't believe you."
"I am sure you do not. Yet I speak the truth." Closely I watched her expressions. I read doubt I told her the truth, the half hope that I did. "I am certain, you could use my help."
"For passing laws in the senate? No, thank you."
"I am not speaking of the senate. You are more than capable of making your points, Senator Organa." Her breath caught. I allowed myself a smile. "Yes, I know exactly who you are. I also know," I leaned slightly forward, "that you are part of the rebellion. " She opened her mouth as if to deny. I shook my head and motioned for her to be silent. "I am in a unique position to help you. You have only to ask."
"You're trying to trap me."
"If I wanted you trapped, I would have already called the guards."
Leia fell silent, perhaps beginning to weigh my words and consider my offer. "Why?" she finally asked.
"Why have I not called or guards? Or why I would help the rebels?"
She nodded. I think she wished an answer to both.
"I do not wish to see you killed. And I grow weary of the Emperor's rule. The time has come for it to end."
Her look turned speculative. "If you're telling me the truth, you will be an invaluable ally. If not," she shrugged. "I'm sure I can arrange something suitable."
What she implied we both understood. Nor would I blame her. We two women had just revealed a deep secret to each other. One which would get either of us executed.
"How can we contact you?" At least her question was direct.
"There is an old crone who sells baubles on the port. You no doubt have see her." Leia's wrinkled nose answered my inquiry. Few who saw her ever forgot the smelly, ugly, shoddily dressed Kama. "Send your messages through her. Say simply, 'help is needed' and send your request." I caught and held her eyes. "You would endanger us both by direct contact. The Emperor must never know we are acquainted."
Nervously she swallowed and nodded. "I'll do what you ask."
"Good." I rose. "Follow me." I led her across the room and shoved aside a heavy gaudy drape. Pulling a hidden a latch, a door opened. "No one knows of this except me. Follow the stairs down and the passage to the left. It will lead to a long tunnel. When you reach the end search for a five finger release, it will open a way into the kitchen. There should be no one there right now and you can exit unseen."
"Thank you…Your Highness." She gave me the honor to which I was entitled.
"Good night, Senator," I replied as I closed the entry behind her retreating back.
"Didn't your handmaiden's ask about the blaster?" Luke was quick to pick up the one detail I did not account for.
I smiled at his question. "Lara and Shara, they are twins, both knew of my activities. It simply conveniently disappeared."
"I see." He took my hand. I was not certain I wanted the look in his eyes to be about me.
"It is late, Luke. I should retire for the evening."
"You wouldn't consider staying for awhile." He made his question more of a statement.
"Best, I do not." I pulled my hand away. As I did a pain knifed through stomach and I half bent over, hugging myself.
"Your Highness?" He was at my side, his arm around me. "What's wrong?"
"It is nothing," I managed hoping the pain would dim. It would not. It kept doubling in intensity.
"Three P O!" He shouted. The golden droid plodded hurriedly to him.
"Yes, Master Luke?"
"Where's the nearest medical center?"
"Four levels down, sir."
He swept me up into his arms. "Tell Leia I'm taking Mahalia there and ask her to meet me."
"Poisoned?" Luke's voice held a shocked tone. "Are you sure?" he asked the hovering medical droid.
"The results were positive." Droids couldn't be insulted. They weren't programmed with human emotions.
"But who would want to poison Mahalia?" Leia wanted to know.
"Got a whole room of potential suspects upstairs," Han put in.
I kept my eyes closed allowing them to think I still slept. Best they did not know I was awake and listening to their conversation.
"We should get her out of her," Trent put in. "She'd be safer with us."
"I noticed the looks during dinner," Luke commented. "Everyone knows she's an ally,"
"But they hate her because of who she is," Leia finished.
I trembled despite the warmth of the room. Leia spoke truth. Why did I ever think it would be different? I should have stayed where Luke had taken me.
"Was," Trent corrected. "There's no Empire for her to rule."
"Still a lot of renegade commanders out there though," Han reminded all.
"Unfortunately," Leia sounded regretful. "We can't risk them finding out about her." She expelled a breath. "Mahalia told me. Why didn't I listen and just keep silent."
"Leia," his love for her was evident in his voice. "You did what you thought was right."
"Besides," Trent added with a rueful laugh. "We got very loud about our demands."
There was an agreeing chuckle in the room.
"How long should she stay here," Luke asked. I assumed he asked the med droid.
"At least tonight," came the response.
"I'll arrange with the others for her to be guarded," Trent offered.
"Thank you, Trent." I felt Luke's hand on my face.
"Careful, Luke," Han warned.
"Come on," Leia urged. "Let's get some rest."
When I sensed all but Luke had left, I dared to open to my eyes.
"How much did you hear?" he wanted to know.
"More than I think you wanted."
"You're still in danger, Your Highness. We don't know who tried to poison you."
"No doubt you will. In time." I struggled to sit up. Luke hastened to lend a supporting arm.
"You should really rest."
"Listen to me," I had to say this before my courage failed. "You need to take me back, Luke. Back to planet where you hid me."
"Your Highness, Mahalia, please, don't ask me to do that."
"Tonight." I reached out and allowed my fingers to stray across his innocent face.
"The Med droid said you should stay here overnight."
I knew if I stayed this night, I would not ever be able to leave. "I am recovered. " I pushed myself off the bed. He caught me as I swayed.
"No you're not."
"Do not argue."
Trent was in front of me. "You should be resting." His hand rested on my arm. "You really wish to leave us."
"It would be best. Even Leia realizes that. As do you both."
The two men exchanged a look of understanding and pain.
"I'll clear the way for you, Luke." Trent trotted to the door and checked to see if anyone was around.
He acted as our advance scout as we walked the corridors, not as fast as I would have liked due to my weakened state, until we finally reached the spacedock. The young Corellian lightly kissed my cheek and waved a final farewell as Luke helped me climb into his fighter.
As the hatch lowered, he asked for one last time. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," I answered, all the while feeling like my heart was breaking.
Just before he left me on that dismal swampy world, again, Luke spent one night with me as man who cared deeply for a woman. His blue eyes held deep regret as his fingers lovingly touched my face as he prepared to depart.
"I'll miss you," he said simply.
"And I you." I kissed him a final time. "You are destined for another, Luke. When you meet her, you shall forget what we were to each other."
"Somehow, I doubt that."
"Time heals all things." I almost wanted to cry remembering that piece of advice my mother had given me. It had only been a couple of days before her death.
"May the Force be with you, Mahalia." He climbed into his fighter and I watched into the sky long after his ship was no longer visible.
Days stretched, perhaps became longer, I do not really know. I had hoped, for a time, that our night together had left me a gift to cherish and raise, but alas, that was not to be.
Alone, I worked my garden, walked and learned the secrets of this world, and kept my small hut spotless. There was little else for me do.
This morning I sat on a twisted root, watching the bubbles rise and heard the splashing sounds of some creature. I lifted my head at the sound of footsteps drawing close.
"Do not fear," a strong voice reassured me.
I watched as a man, dressed in a cloak of thick reddish brown and clothes such as I have never seen lowered himself and sat beside me. His smile was kind.
"I did not hear your ship."
"Didn't come in one," he responded as if it were the most obvious thing in the universe.
"Then how did you come here?"
"There are many secrets in the galaxy." His eyes sparkled. They were a most odd shade of blue.
Long had it been since I played such games. "Speak plainly."
"Now where would be the fun of that." He laughed. A rich sound bouncing through the trees and swamp.
"I am going home." I started to rise. His hand snaked out and stopped me.
"Do not leave, Mahalia."
"And why should I not?"
"Because I am your father."
"But I thought…" My mother had called out to her beloved when she died. I had always assumed it was to my father she went.
"Let us just say, your mother did us a favor." He scratched his dark hair splattered with streaks of gray. Somehow, I knew he did not know how to proceed.
"You talk but say nothing." I couldn't believe he was my father.
"Mahalia, your mother loved another. A man the Emperor killed when he took her. You know why he took your mother?" I shook my head. She had died when I was very young. "Because she was descended from a very old bloodline. A bloodline he hoped to tap into and raise up an heir that would best Vader and take his place as Emperor."
"But he got me instead." That much I knew.
He winked. "Your mother was a sly one. I donated genetic material for her to use."
"You spent a night with her."
I did not believe him. I knew how children were conceived.
"My people are far older than most. From us came the first Jedi."
This I truly did not believe. Though, and a bit of doubt surfaced. Since the Jedi temple had been burned and all records destroyed, how was I to know for certain? What ancient secrets had been lost forever to us due to the Emperor's cunning plan?
"I do not really expect you to believe me. But I think," and he smiled warmly. "In time you will."
"Why come to me now?" If he truly were my father, why had he not come
"Mahalia," he shook his head as if I were a very small child. "I did not know what had happened. But Kama, bless her old heart, managed to get the truth out of one your pilots."
"Kama?" What did the old crone have to with anything?
"Since the death of your mother, she has been your ever watchful guardian." He chuckled. "And one of us."
"One of whom?" I asked the question before I thought whether or not I wished an answer.
"Have you not been listening?"
"You have not been saying anything!" I shouted at him.
"Palpatine and Vader did not succeed in killing all the Jedi. We first ones," he touched his chest. "Had long since retired from the order and left the youngsters to fend for themselves. We were not much more than legend to them."
The first ones? How could that be? I had always heard that the Jedi been around for, well, what had Luke told me? For over a thousand generations.
"He did not lie." The man smiled again. "But we live much longer than any of them every knew. Myself, " his gaze flicked above. "I have traveled parts of this galaxy, universe actually, and seen things that would absolutely amaze."
"And this is why you were not killed."
"Can not kill a legend, daughter. Not if you do not know it exists." He stretched lazily floating off the root and over the steaming swamp. "Odd thing is, Palpatine had what he wanted. He just did not know it."
Briefly I allowed myself to wonder what it would have been like to be my 'father's' favored child. To have him tutor and love me, as I always felt he should have, rather than be ignored, as I had been raised.
"In a way," The man still floated though his eyes were level with mine. "The Emperor did us a favor. By ignoring you, he never managed to corrupt you."
"My life after my mother's death was…" I could not find the words to express my raging feelings.
"I am sorry."
"Why are you here?" Almost I hated him.
He sighed heavily. "I have come to take you home."
"I am not welcome in the New Republic."
"No. No." He shook his head. "I mean your real home. Where I can train you to be a true Jedi."
My look must have told him of my disbelief.
"You use the Force, Mahalia. You are just not aware of it."
In this, I did believe him. Always knowing when I was in danger, sensing what other's felt, telling Luke he was meant for another, a budding use of the Force? Did I dare even hope?
He sat back on the root. "You do not have to stay here. I can take you away to a place where your brief role as Palpatine's daughter does not matter."
"And where would this be?"
His smile was again warm. "Very far away."
I glanced around at the swamp, the rising mist, listened again to the eerie splashes. I had slowly come to think of this world as home, even though, like my chambers, it was nothing but exchanging one prison for another. Did I truly wish to continue to live in exile? Alone?
My eyes met those of the strange man. He claimed to be my true father. Did he tell truth?
"If you discover I've lied to you, I will bring you back here. But if I am not lying, well, your life is about to change, daughter. And for the better!"
One thing still troubled me. "How was I conceived without," I let my question hang.
"There are ways to use the Force to create life. I did nothing without the consent of your mother."
I touched my empty womb with a sense of longing. How I wished I had known such things were possible!
"You will not want a child for a long time yet." He stood and offered a hand. "Do you wish to know your true destiny?"
Did I? I did not know for sure. Yet, I took one final look at my self imposed prison, I knew I had not wish to stay here for the rest of my life, which, if what my father said was true, might be far longer than I first had thought.
"Yes," I finally answered, placing my hand in his.
"Excellent." A ring began to glow on his hand. "My people have not needed spaceships for, oh, longer than even I remember."
A glow enveloped us, blocking out the swamp and dissipating almost immediately. I found myself standing on another world. One filled with life, and people, and, and, well, other things I had never seen and no words for.
"Welcome to your new home, Mahalia." He threw wide his arms. "Is it not grand!"
Well, yes it was. Still, I did have one more question. "What is your name?"
He blinked as if the question had an obvious answer. "I am your father." I started to protest and he raised a hand. "You know child, it has been so long since anyone asked, I think I have forgotten my true name."
"You do not remember?" How could he not even know his own name?
"Hmmm. Well, mostly I went by a title."
"And that was?" I was beginning to become impatient.
As he told me something passed overhead and I never actually heard his response. But, truth be told, I no longer cared. Not to mention I was too embarrassed to ask again. I finally had the father I had always wanted and he trained me in the ways of the Force and I became a Jedi. I did visit again my old friends in the New Republic.
Luke had found a woman to love. Mara was her name. Han and Leia had had children. Trent had married the blonde woman and they were expecting their first child. Seeing their happiness made me glad I had made the choices I had. It truly was best for all. I left them to follow their own paths to whatever futures awaited and followed my father's example and traveled the universe since I too, had a ring that instantly transported me from one world to another.
Odd, to think I will outlive my old friends and allies. I will live to see what becomes of the seeds they have planted to form the New Republic. Yet, to complete my final healing, I have one more world to visit.
Now I stand on the planet looking into the sky. He died there. My 'father'. My neglectful, arrogant, power mad 'father'. The one who sought a prize denied him, and yet he had all along.
The wind blew my thick bluish silver cloak and my gown of white fluttered in response. My hair still was long and free. As I was about to be.
I lifted my voice transporting it both in the wind and on the Force. "I forgive you!" I called to him.
Only a brief shimmer I saw. And I had to believe it was a response from him. My 'father.'