Chapter 1

It was a beautiful afternoon.

More than beautiful, it was perfect.

The temperature was mild, the sun shone and the soft breeze smelt of ripe grass and dusty leaves.

A few avians circled above his head, crying sharply before diving into the lake some twenty meters below them. Most of them emerged spraying sparkling clear water around, a shuddering, silvery prey caught in their beakers.

The lake was a shallow basin of the purest blue green, surrounded by low hills and occasional protruding granite boulders, as the one he was currently perched upon. The mass of trees that covered it all, of a deep green touched with black where the sun did not reach, was almost a living presence. No wonder that the local deity was a forest Goddess.

Alderaan was a gorgeous planet, even more than what the tourism brochures transpired. It reminded him a little of Corellia, somehow, even if his planet of origin was mostly farmland and the Alderaanians preferred to leave the not inhabited zones as untouched as possible. They were rich enough to import most of their food, anyway, while the stubborn Corellians made a point of honor on not depending on anyone for anything.

The young man stretched in the sun and sighed.

He had been on planet for a week but nothing was developing as he had hoped. He wondered if it was time to make some drastic choices. Tomorrow he would have to take that transport back and he would be one hell of a coward if he left without saying anything.

That was why he had come to this retired place in the hope that its renowned peace would help him make up his mind, find an answer to the questions that plagued his nights. This narrow rocky ledge just beneath the hilltop seemed the ideal spot to contemplate the lake... and his life.

Splash

A rock tossed from above his head broke the crystalline surface of the lake.

Splash Splash

"Stop it, Jorlyn... Leave the birds alone..." A muffled female's voice said.

Shavit. So much for peace.

A male's voice said something he couldn't understand which was answered with giggles from the first voice, followed by the unmistakable sound of dry leaves being crunched by two bodies. And more whispering and giggles.

Kids... Oh, hell.

They must have hiked up from the other side of the hill, aiming for... Well, whatever Alderaanian teenagers did when all by themselves these days, although he suspected it was exactly the same all teenagers in the galaxy did at the first opportunity when they thought that no adults where around.

It was almost time for him to go back to his hotel to get a shower and dress for the evening, anyway, yet he had hoped for a few more minutes of quietness before he was paraded again in front of...

"Jor, please..."

No, no, no, no. Not the afternoon holo-soap.

"Stop it, Jor!"

His ears perked up. Something was not right.

"I said no, Jorlyn Nornen!"

That was it. The girl did not sound afraid, in fact her voice was quite commanding but he jumped to his feet all the same. Just in case...

A small figure burst into his ledge, crashing into his chest and winding the breath out of his lungs. Her lithe body bounced against his much heavier one and he instinctively circled her with his arms, trying to regain his balance, but she pushed him away at the same time her knee flew up to his groin.

Had she stopped a split second to aim more carefully, the hit would have disabled him for quite some time but fortunately she missed her target – barely. Still the unexpected attack made him loosen his grip on her and the girl stepped backwards, dark eyes widened by the surprise. Before he could warn or catch her, she slipped on the rocky edge and fell down to the water giving a brief, sharp cry.

He peaked over the edge but the only thing he could see was a pattern of concentric ripples sailing away from its center. "Sithspit," he swore.

Without hesitation, he dove after her.


The water was cooler than what he had thought it would be. His body speared through it until his hands grazed something he hoped was underwater vegetation. Opening his eyes, he followed the rays of light up to the surface, where he found the object of his worries.

Kicking swiftly he propelled himself up until he broke the surface next to her. She was struggling to swim and keep her long hair out of her eyes at the same time.

"You alright?"

A wet hmph was the only answer. Then he noticed she was using only one arm to propel herself so he tried to throw one of his around her waist to help her float.

"Don't touch me!" She pushed him away with her good arm and sank under the water immediately.

"Hey, I'm only trying to help!" He protested, lifting her over the surface again.

"Who are you?" She gasped, spitting some water.

"I'm Han, nice to meet ya too. Will ya let me help now?"

She growled something under her breath but relaxed slightly and let him grab her more securely.

"Good girl," he breathed into her ear and started to propel himself backward, dragging her with him.

She was petite and almost submerged in the water as she was, she did not weight anything at all. Her waist was very small, like a child's, he could have circled it with one arm if he wanted to. Still, she was no kid anymore, that was clear too, the evidence of it peaking proudly over the waves. Maybe thirteen or fourteen years old, probably.

"Leia, are you all right?" A small voice called from above.

She raised her good hand in a rather rude gesture for all answer.

"Uhu, nice," Han sniggered. "I take it you two didn't part in very good terms..."

"He's a nerfherder... He thinks that because his father owns a few lousy cruisers that he can do whatever he pleases..." She answered furiously.

She was silent the rest of the time they needed to reach the lake shore. Suddenly Han's boots scrapped on rocky bottom and soon they were standing under the trees, soaking wet and dripping.

"You alright?" He asked again. "How's your arm?"

"It's not broken," she answered, supporting one elbow with the opposite hand and moving the shoulder carefully in a slow circling motion. "I think I just twisted it when I fell into the water... Thanks to you." Her face frowned into a deep scowl.

The young Corellian's jaw dropped as his hands went to his hips. "Ain't you a little young to go with boys to lonely places? Maybe that's what made you take an unexpected bath, Missy."

Leia's small frame straightened visibly and she fixed her furious eyes in his. "I'm fifteen, I'll be a legal adult in less than a year, Mister..."

"Solo, Han Solo."

"...Mister Solo, and I can defend myself perfectly."

The man released a heartfelt laugh. This tiny specimen of a woman-to-be looked so funny in her righteous mood. "I don't doubt it, sweetheart. C'mon, I'll take you home..."

"I can walk."

"The sun's setting. You'll catch a cold."

"I'm not cold."

"You're trembling."

"I'm not tr-trembling." Her bluff was betrayed by the chattering of her teeth.

The last rays of the sun crawled away from the valley and a thin mist started to cover the surface of the lake.

Han rolled his eyes. "C'mon," he repeated. "My speeder's just behind those trees."

Without waiting for her answer, he turned and started to walk. Huffing and stomping, Leia Organa followed him.