"What do you say to a nice piece of chor-cake?"
Six year old Mara Jade looked up into the kind green eyes of her governess and blinked. "Chor-cake…what's that?"
Mrs. Caslinger clucked her tongue while mumbling something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like criticism of the Emperor. But Mara knew she must've heard wrong. No one ever said anything bad about her guardian.
"Why chor-cake is the traditional dessert eaten during the Winter Solstice, child." The woman who had been with Mara since the beginning of the year pulled out a white box tied in a bright red ribbon and smiled. "You go to the cupboard and get us two plates, while I figure out a way to remove the ribbon without cutting it."
Wanting to please the lady whom Mara had grown so attached to, she scrambled from the table and pulled down two delicate Alderaanian bone china plates. By the time she got back, Mrs. Caslinger had the box open and the ribbon draped across her palms.
"Oh…you picked out lovely plates, Mara. Now come here a moment and we'll put this holiday ribbon to good use."
Mara placed the plates on the table and hurried to her governess' side. She loved the way Mrs. Carslinger smelled. It reminded her of something that she couldn't quite place…almost like ginger spice. Every time she was near, Mara would close her eyes and breathe deeply, trying to remember where she had first encountered the fragrance. She smells like...home. Mrs. Caslinger turned Mara around and wrapped the ribbon around her head, tying it in a large bow that dipped saucily to the side.
"There now…you look festive indeed, young lady, take a look." Mrs. Caslinger held up a silver tray that sparkled with Mara's reflection.
"Ohhhhh…" Mara whispered and then threw her arms around the woman before her, hugging her with all her six-year old might.
"Goodness, that's a fine hug, Mara—thank you." She kissed the top of Mara's head and squeezed her arm. "Now, I think it's time we sample some of this delicious cake, don't you?"
Mara nodded and hitched herself up into the chair. Her governess took a silver implement and sliced into the frosted delicacy casting a luscious aroma into the air. Placing the first piece on the plate in front of Mara, she picked up her fork and scooped a large bite crunching against the nuts in the spicy cake.
"Do you like it?"
Mara smiled and gobbled up another piece. "The icing is sweet, but the cake is…"
"Spicy or maybe…nutty?"
Mrs. Carslinger laughed. "You're absolutely correct, my dear. It is both, isn't it?" She poured two cups of hot wassail from the delicate porcelain tea pot and encouraged Mara to drink hers. "Now what finer way to spend this wonderful holiday season, I ask you?"
Mara sipped from her cup and felt a contentment she had never known before. Watching her governess sample the cake, she relaxed against her chair and reveled in the blissful feeling of peace.
"Would ye' like to sample a bit of chor-cake, Miss?"
"What?" Mara looked up at the shop keeper behind the counter and blinked. She had just dropped off her last shipment two doors down and was making her way back to the spaceport when it began to rain. Ducking into the nearest shop, she cursed the foul weather that interfered with her plans and was therefore a bit nonplussed by the clerk's question.
The old woman reached across the counter and handed Mara a small plasteel plate with a thick slice of cake nestled on top. "It's freshly baked, it is, on account of Midwinter Festival and all."
Mara looked down at the plate and breathed in the spicy scent. Memories of happier times wafted over her, bringing a smile to her seldom amused face. "I used to eat this as a young girl…during Winter Solstice."
"Ah…you must be from one of the inner core planets, Miss. That's what they call Midwinter Festival on the planets near Coruscant." The lady smiled as she wiped down the counter top.
Mara broke off a piece of cake with her fingers and popped it into her mouth. Immediately the spicy, nut flavor began to compete with the sweetness of the icing. She closed her eyes and munched down on the nuts as her tongue savored the spicy sweetness. "Mmmmmmmmm….."
She froze, her eyes opening wide as she fought the blush that threatened to spread across her face. Fool… she chided herself, tossing the rest of the cake into a nearby trash receptacle. She glanced at her wristchrono, accessing that she was late. Karrde did not pay her to gad about eating cake during some silly holiday.
Mara crossed to the doorway, palming the doorknob but then stopped, caught by the sight of several small white boxes tied in various colored ribbons near the counter. The image of her governess' twinkling green eyes came to mind and how she had always tried to make the holiday special for her.
She swallowed, remembering how devastated she was when Emperor Palpatine declared that Mara was too old for Mrs. Carslinger's machinations. It broke her heart to say goodbye to the older woman who was the closest thing she'd had to a mother. Twelve years of age was far too young to lose the one person who brought tenderness into her life.
Mara looked over at the shop clerk as a rueful grin tugged at her lips. "I'll take one of the chor-cakes, please."
The shop keeper nodded, reaching under the wide topped counter.
Mara pulled out a credit chip and then paused. "Do you have one with a red ribbon?"
"I've got the chor-cake right here, love."
Mara looked up into the earnest blue eyes of her husband as they dashed into the turbolift. Suspended on the very top of several packages was a small white box, tied in red ribbon. "When did you buy that?"
Luke smiled, punching the lobby button with his only free finger. "Yesterday, when we were picking up the toy X-wing for Jaina. I saw you eyeing the white boxes and picked one up while you were paying."
"What made you think I wanted chor-cake?"
"I don't know…" Luke shifted several packages and then leaned against the closest wall. "Maybe it was the wistful look on your face."
Mara snorted. "I don't do wistful, farmboy."
"You could've fooled me." Luke grinned as the lift doors opened.
They hailed a skytaxi and stowed the various boxes on the seat and floor between them. Pulling into traffic, Mara breathed deeply centering her emotions. She glanced over at the white box sitting on her husband's lap. "I don't know why you brought it for tonight. I'm sure Leia will have plenty of desserts already."
"Probably," Luke said, looking out the window at the passing vehicles. "I just thought you'd especially enjoy this one."
Mara huffed, folding her arms across her chest. "I couldn't care less about some silly old cake."
Traffic was light and they arrived without incident. Stacking the packages high, Mara guided Luke into the lift and punched the button to the Solo's floor. As the doors closed, the white box shifted towards the front and then fell from the top of the heap.
"No!" Mara cried, almost diving to catch it before the small package hit the turbo lift floor. The square box landed squarely in her palm while her other hand closed on top of it.
"Nice save," said Luke, peering from around the tower of gifts.
Mara stood, cradling the small box to her chest and sighed.
"Good thing you couldn't care less about that cake."
Mara looked into the blue glint of her husband's eyes and grinned. "Shut up."
They laughed like little kids as they exited the lift and walked the short distance to Luke's sister's. Mara pressed the doorbell, as Luke continued to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Han asked, his brows knit together.
"Nothing," said Mara, striding past Han with a flush to her cheeks.
"Aunt Mara!" The Solo children bound from the living room and wrapped their arms around their new aunt. "What did you bring us?"
"Did you get the X-wing I told Uncle Luke about?"
"What's in the box, Aunt Mara?"
"Who cares about your silly old X-wing Jaina?"
"It sure smells good."
"Get your nose away from the box Anakin!"
Mara stiffened, still new to the role of aunt and unsure of how to act around children. Looking for Luke, she scanned the room and locked eyes with her sister-in-law.
"All right you little nerf-herders…give your Aunt Mara some room to breathe."
"Beat it…go climb on your Uncle Luke for a while."
"Thanks…" said Mara, as the three children raced off to find their uncle.
Leia threaded her arm through Mara's. "They can be overwhelming at times."
"Oh no, they're great. It's just that…"
Leia raised a brow. "They can be overwhelming at times."
Mara blushed. "I don't have a lot of experience with children, but I'm sure I'll get the hang of it before long."
"I've no doubt at all. Here, let me take that for you." Leia took the cake box from Mara and placed it on the dining room table. "Now where did I put those cutters?" She walked to the kitchen mumbling to herself.
Mara looked down at the small box tied up in the bright red ribbon. Running a finger over the smooth band she began to untangle the knot, working the ribbon over and under until she had freed it entirely.
She lifted the lid and breathed in the familiar spicy aroma.
"That smells wonderful," said Luke, sidling up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist. "What's that in your hand?"
She smiled, leaning into her husband's strong embrace. "It's the ribbon from the box…"
Mara nodded and turned to face him. "When I was a child my governess used to buy a chor-cake every Winter Solstice and use the ribbon from the box to tie a bow in my hair."
He brushed his full lips lightly against hers and pulled her against the length of him. "She sounds like a wonderful lady."
Mara laid her cheek against his chest, reveling in the sound of his pounding heart. "She was...and she understood children so well. She'd have no problem establishing a relationship with these kids."
Luke tipped her chin up to meet his eyes. "Relax, Mara…just be yourself and they'll come to love you."
Mara snorted. "I'm not sure being myself would make anyone love me."
"It worked on me." He captured her lips with his, deepening the kiss as she melted against him.
"Hey, you two…" Han appeared from the kitchen with a fluted glass in each hand. "The honeymoon's over!"
"Says who?" Luke took the offered glass of gold sparkling wine and grinned. "Drilbian wine, Han?"
"I've got Corellian whiskey in the den," said Han, "but don't tell Leia."
"Don't tell Leia what?" She appeared from the kitchen with a pair of cutters in hand.
Han smiled. "Nothing, dear." Leaning over towards Luke he whispered, "You'll get used to saying that a lot, kid."
"Nerf!" Leia elbowed her husband in the midriff. "Just for that, you get to help me with dinner."
"Well somebody better!"
Alone in the dining room once more, Mara looked up into her husband's eyes and felt all her insecurities dissolve. Memories of Mrs. Curslinger and their chor-cake traditions strengthened her resolve as she ran the red ribbon between her fingers.
Mara rose up on her toes and pecked Luke on the cleft of his chin. "Be right back."
"Where are you doing?"
Mara smiled, her eyes twinkling. "I think I'll go see if I can talk Jaina into indulging me in an old chor-cake tradition."