I only met him once. Well, once that I can remember.
Warm tea, warm smile, warm hug. Remember those and stop shivering, Leia.
I ran into Dad's chambers, worrying about how he would react to my appearance. But someone had had to climb that tree, after Jorena had thrown the ball up there. Being so small and skinny, I was the best choice to get all the way into the upper branches and retrieve it. My real problem came with getting down, but I didn't fall too far before I caught a branch.
Oched made a snide comment about me being good for nothing but that kind of thing. I suppose that didn?t matter so much, but then she started talking about my family...
When offworlders call the Alderaani a peaceful people, I just want to laugh.
I flumped into a chair outside Dad's office. My eyes stung when I remembered what Oched had called Daddy, and the First House of Alderaan, into which I?d been adopted. After all, it was a matter of pride.
Several minutes passed. Undersecretary Antilles said that he'd been in conference since tenth chime. I knew I had to stay here, though. My teachers would certainly have sent a message about me trouncing Oched Davos by now. It didn't matter that the girls who took issue with me were usually bigger or older, it was always my fault. I tried to just keep to my schoolwork and play with Winter and Lorene, but I rarely got through a whole week uninterrupted by some sanctimonious twerp or another.
I plucked at my ankle-length school skirt and tried to brush away some of the dirt stains, though the ripped sleeve was beyond repair. I was in for it again. Would Dad restrict the use of my speeder bike again, or would he actually take it away, like he'd threatened to do so many times?
After ten minutes, I sneered at the door. What is going on?! Dad always clears his schedule for me when I'm in trouble. I crept close and pressed my ear to the door, listening to Daddy's soft tenor voice, and an unfamiliar one, a little deeper.
The stranger: "Don't force...fate on her...Leia be free for...while longer."
Dad: "...just wish...more focused...fights almost...vry day."
I was positively indignant. Not every day!
Stranger: "...will grow up before...should. They both...heavy burdens...soon enough. But...be okay."
Both? That was confusing.
I shouldn't be listening. I made it halfway to my chair when I heard my father approach from behind his office door. Mustering a grave look, I trotted back to the door and stood as close to it as I could. Might as well get it over with.
Dad opened the door and jumped a little in surprise. "Leia," he sighed. A deep chuckle issued from the room, from someone I couldn't see. Dad took my chin in his hand and raised his eyebrows.
"It's not my fault," I began.
"My dear, your news can wait," he interrupted. My mouth dropped open. He'd never delayed discipline before. I bowed my head in submission, glad of the reprieve.
I caught sight of a long, brown robe, a booted foot, and looked up again. Dad's visitor was coming into view.
He was a few inches shorter than Bail Organa, though they looked about the same age. Fifty, maybe fifty-five. Old. Light-colored eyes pierced out from under grey brows, watching me keenly. His hair was grey, too, almost white around his face. There was something familiar about him. Something nice. I smiled, the day's troubles momentarily forgotten. The visitor also smiled gently, wizened eyes crinkling up.
"Sire Kenobi, meet my daughter, Leia. My dear, this is Ben Kenobi, an old friend." I gathered up my soiled school uniform skirts and curtsied, and Kenobi bowed. He continued to watch me closely, but I didn't mind.
Then he spoke to my father. "Thank you, you've taken a great deal off my mind. But I must be getting back. Ten is a very trying age." He ran a hand through his short, coarsely chopped hair.
Daddy laughed and put his hands on my shoulders. "Yes, it is," he said meaningfully.
Thanks a lot. I sighed. "I'm right here, Dad," I grumbled. He kissed the top of my head in apology.
"Have you time for tea, Ben?" my dad asked.
"Yes, thank you."
"My dear," Dad prompted.
I blinked with surprise. He usually arranged it so that we could visit alone. Then again, I was in trouble...this might be a good thing.
I contacted the kitchens through Dad's intercom. After I excused myself, I went into the adjoining refresher. I groaned when I saw my reflection: one braid had worked its way loose from its mooring against my scalp and was dangling at an odd angle. I plucked the vegetation out of my hair and unpinned the whole mess, then tied it back. Oched had gotten one lucky hit in; there was a rough scrape on my cheek, too.
Once my hands and face were clean, I rejoined my father and his guest in the office proper. Tea for three was handed to me a few minutes later. The tea was already steeping; it was ready to be poured into the cups and served, but there was more to it than that. Dad had long ago taken this ritual and turned it into another lesson. "What language today?" I asked.
Daddy looked at our guest. "Ubese?" he asked. Kenobi nodded. We practiced languages this way, conversing in dialects that I hadn't quite mastered yet. I began the ceremony that Daddy and I had concocted through the years as he and Sire Kenobi sat.
I stood before my father and his guest, and steepled my hands in the ancient sign of respect: palms apart and facing each other, fingertips touching. I wanted Sire Kenobi to know that I knew how to behave myself. I poured our guest's cup and handed it to him. His hand was tan and wrinkled, but strong. "Noru dat," I murmured in the alien tongue: Honored guest.
"Mala roy da," he replied, eyes smiling. Honored royal princess. His smooth voice tripped a little over the language.
I nodded my approval, steepling my hands again, then served Daddy. "Dizha dat," I murmured, smiling. Honored father.
He steepled his hands as I had, then took the cup so I could return the gesture. "Duan ch'mir eeoto." Light of my eyes.
Kenobi's avian eyes softened as he watched us. I poured my own tea and took a few biscuits. Now that the formality had been waded through, I could be comfortable, so I shed my shoes and tucked my feet under me as I sat. The conversation continued in Ubese:
Where are you from, Sire Kenobi? I asked.
He smiled. I grew up on Coruscant, he replied.
Coruscant? Oh, Imperial Center. Is it really one big city? I probed. What is it like? I'd never been there.
Sire Kenobi sat there, lost in thought. Then his eyes met mine, and he looked sad. It is bustling, people are always out and about no matter what time it is, but it is... his voice trailed off for a moment. Dead. It seems beautiful from far away, but the closer you get, the dirtier it becomes. There is great wealth and power to be found on Coruscant, but there is a desperate, even violent poverty in the Underground. It is like a cancer. he finished.
I must have looked confused, for he leaned forward, concern etched into his countenance. Forgive me, Princess, I did not mean to upset you.
I did not mean to upset you, I countered.
I tried to find something safer to talk about. Sire Kenobi had spoken like he had a son or daughter. But that might not be harmless, either. I never was able to tame my left eyebrow; it always broadcast my feelings, no matter how hard I tried to hide them. I could see Daddy look at me suspiciously, a little more every moment. Before he could commandeer the conversation, I asked, Do you have any kids?
Kenobi looked at his tea again. No.
You made it sound like you have a child my age, I challenged.
Leia, Dad warned. It is none of your business.
So much for showing Kenobi that I knew how to conduct myself properly. I apologized again, stumbling over the fricatives in the Ubese language. Dad took over the conversation, speaking to our guest about many things of no consequence, inviting me to chime in once in a while.
Tea was finished, and Sire Kenobi stood. My father and I stood, as well. "This has been a lovely respite, but I must go. My transport leaves soon," he said.
Dad shook hands with his friend. "Thanks again for coming, Ben. Nobody else could have done what you've accomplished, your work the last few weeks has been invaluable."
Kenobi nodded and smiled at my father. Then he glanced at me and held his hands in the sign of respect that I had.
I responded in kind, sorry to see this nice man go. "It was nice to meet you, Sire Kenobi," I said.
"The pleasure has been all mine, Princess. More than you know." His brown cloak swished, and he was gone. Dad closed the door.
Even though I'd had my tea, I was still hungry. I grabbed a piece of fruit off the tray and bit into it while my mind raced. What manner of man had the power to take up so much of the Viceroy of Alderaan's afternoon? "Who was he, Daddy? Where'd he come from?" There was something familiar about that voice, the Core accent tinged with something harsher, like sand. Huttese, perhaps? I'd heard a little of it here and there; that language had superb curse words, which is why Daddy wouldn?t teach it to me. Perhaps Oched and her friends would leave me alone if I could just spit a few well-timed profanities their way...
Dad's voice dragged me back to the here-and-now. "He is an old friend, one I've known since I served in the Senate." He sat behind his desk.
"I like him. He's nice." I twisted the stem off the fruit and tossed it into the rubbish bin. "He looked at me like he already knew me. And he liked me anyway," I added happily.
Dad chuckled. "You are very lovable, Leia."
I walked around the desk and hugged my darling dad's shoulders from behind, content. But then a memory stirred. My unruly eyebrow shot up as I drew breath, for I knew he wouldn't like what I was about to say. "He seems sad, though. Like...my Mother."
Dad leaned out of my hug and turned around in his chair to face me. "You know you are not to talk about her." I nodded, and I put as much affection as I could into my gaze. He chuckled again. "I regret the day I taught you about civil disobedience." He glanced at the abandoned tea cup across the office. "You should like Sire Kenobi, Leia. He brought you here. We owe him a great debt because he made sure we got together."
Dad's tone of voice was sprightly, but his words triggered a shock that ran down the length of my body. He...what if he...Daddy never actually said my father was...
Without another word, I sprinted out of my father's office, refusing to heed his calls for me to return.
Hurry hurry hurry, I thought. I didn't acknowledge the servants who bowed as I raced by, though I knew my father would probably punish me later for such rude behavior. I reached the outer doors of our residence and yanked them open. My feet were still bare after taking my shoes off in Dad's office, but I didn't care. I had to find him.
Patches of fog were creeping in from the river, and daylight was fading into blues and greys. I didn't see much of anything except the heavy damp until a patch of brown peeked through. I gathered the skirts of my school uniform in my hands and ran down the steps as fast as I could. My hair escaped from its tie. I'm sure I was an odd sight, Princess of Alderaan, running like a wild thing in a public place.
My lungs were burning, and a stitch was growing in my side as I dashed across the vast city hub. I couldn't see him any more, the fog was thickening by the minute, but I hoped if I just kept running...
It wasn't until days later that I would wonder how he knew. I hadn't called, all of my breath was dedicated to keeping my legs moving. But he turned when I was still thirty meters away, and his tense expression relaxed into a delighted smile. Strong, brown-clad arms held me close when I barreled into him.
Through my rasping for breath, I heard Sire Kenobi's deep voice murmur, "Darling girl, my sweet Leia." A hand stroked my windblown hair, and I buried my face into the soft fabric of his shirt.
Once I caught my breath, he led me to the fountain. We perched on the lip, and he waited for me to speak. One tanned, wrinkled hand held mine. His blue eyes were wise and kind. But now that the time for words had come, I felt shy. What if I'm wrong? What if he isn't?
But I couldn't let him go without asking. My insides were ticklish with nervousness as I drew breath. "Sire Kenobi, are...are you...my father?"
I immediately knew the answer. His smile disappeared, and he murmured, "Oh, no, Leia. I'm so sorry to disappoint you, but I am not."
Oh. Our fingers tangled, and the touch was very reassuring. "Then did you know my parents?" I pressed. "Dad said you brought me to him." I chanced another look at the man's face.
His gaze was on the ground. Fair lashes crisscrossed the baggy lines under his eyes. "Your mother and I brought you here. Your parents were both very dear to me."
I remembered Mother a little, but those few, precious recollections weren't enough. "Tell me something, please, before you go." I opened my eyes wide, using my secret weapon: the pleading look that Daddy rarely said no to.
Kenobi arched an eyebrow. It was mostly grey, but some reddish hairs peeked through. He used to be young, I realized. Looking at his face, I that knew that someday I would get old.
I shivered, and the old man put a comforting arm around my shoulders. "I was there the day you were born," Sire Kenobi began. "We were so relieved when you both were all right." His smile was sweet and bright.
He blinked. "Both you and your mother."
"Oh." That didn't feel right somehow, but it would be very rude to disbelieve him. "Where was my father? My natural father?"
Sire Kenobi shook his head sadly. "He was already gone, Leia. Your mother and I had been friends for years, since she was little more than your age. Losing your father was a terrible thing for both of us, and she was as much of a comfort to me as I was to her. Knowing that you were on your way was all that kept us going, sometimes."
Sounds like they were ?
I kind of knew about grown-up stuff, because Daddy had spoken to me about those matters already. The new idea just popped into my mind. I leaned back for a moment, my traitorous eyebrow arching again. So he isn't my father, but were he and Mother ?
This strange man laughed, his grin shining through the foggy twilight. "It wasn't like that, Dear. We were only friends." I believed him, too worn out to decide if I was relieved or not. He looked happy for a moment as he continued, "I got to hold you first, even before she did. And you were yelling your head off." Sire Kenobi smoothed my wild hair. "I'd never held such a tiny baby before, I was afraid you were going to break. The Wookiee who delivered you ?"
"A Wookiee?" I squawked.
Nodding, he continued. "He said it was normal, you just wanted your mother. You quieted down when she took you from me. And she never wanted to let you go." Then Kenobi said the words I wanted to hear the most: "She loved you very much, Leia. All three point five kilograms and forty-six centimeters of you."
He remembers that? I felt tears prickle in my eyes. Sire Kenobi held me close again. How could I be so happy and so sad at the same time? My breath shuddered backwards. "I wish I could remember more about her," I murmured against the soft brown cloak. I craned my head back enough to see his face. Please tell me everything.
The old man's eyes unfocused, remembering. "Your mother was brilliant and precocious, a dedicated public servant and a courageous warrior. She was always thinking of others first, wanting to make the galaxy a better place for us all to live in. And she accomplished a great deal toward that end, when she was only a little older than you are now. She acted upon what she believed, and it was never easy." He brushed a lock of hair off my face. "You look like her, she was just as beautiful as you are."
The silly compliment ? how could he call me beautiful when I couldn't stay out of trouble for very long? ? was buried under a strange concept. "A warrior. You mean politically?" That was an idea I could wrap my mind around; the Mother I remembered was too fragile to be in a real battle.
"She shot battle droids off my back, and your father's. She contributed to the survival of many people during the Battle of Geonosis." His eyes were pale blue, and seemed to look not just at me, but into me.
That seemed so different from the gentle sadness that I associated with Mother. My confusion must have shown on my face. Kenobi touched my chin and added, "Her heart was broken, Leia. I did what I could to help her, so did Viceroy Organa," he added, nodding back toward the home I shared with Dad. "But whatever she loved, she threw herself into with her whole heart.
"And your father took her heart with him. She was never the same after that."
The sadness in Sire Kenobi's voice was too heavy to absorb, if I tried to take it in I'd drown. My heart hurt for her. Think about it later, I decided. Instead, my mind slipped back to the odd idea he had voiced earlier. "The Clone War? Really? Mother...a woman was a fighter?"
Sire Kenobi sighed. His voice was very quiet. "Things were very different back then, Leia. Emperor Palpatine's prejudices against females and non-human sentients have spread throughout the Empire over the last ten years." A rough, gentle finger touched my cheek, and the scrape where Oched had hit me seemed to hurt less.
His eyes burned brightly when he spoke again. "You must be careful. Keep your ears open, learn when to speak and when to keep quiet, and work hard at school, and you will be ready." But then he cast his gaze down, repentant.
Ready for what? I took his hand again in both of mine, ducked my head so I could see his face under his hood. "Sire Kenobi, it's all right." I didn't want him to be so sad. He was so nice, I could tell that he cared about me like Dad did.
He smiled, though grief was carved in deep lines on his face. "You are a worthy heir to both of your parents, Leia. But I've said too much." Sire Kenobi stood and gestured for me to do the same. "I have to go." I wanted to tell him to stay, but I knew he would refuse; he had told Dad he had responsibilities elsewhere. "You'd better go, too. Your father is worried."
One last time, I hugged Ben Kenobi tight. "You are my comfort and my hope," he murmured. Again there was the feeling that he was talking through me, or as if there was someone else he wanted to say that to, too. "Who will you be, my darling?" Then he let me go and pried my arms from around his waist.
Limping a little, he faded into the fog like a phantom. His voice seemed to echo in my mind, over and over: Who will you be?
I answered, though he was no longer there to hear it. "My mother?s daughter." I gathered my long, dirty skirts in my fists and ran home.
It's cold in here.
The memory is becoming foggy, just as he seemed to melt away when we parted. General Kenobi hardly mentioned my father at all, even though my father was why I'd gone running after him in the first place. He only told me of my mother.
Force bless him, I'd probably be some idiot noble's wife, with a couple of pretty, empty-headed children by now, if I hadn't chased him down. A lot of things that I hadn't thought about before took on new meanings to me. Other things that had absorbed my attention before Obi-Wan showed up simply became insignificant.
I've always believed that there were things worth dying for. But when he spoke of what Mother was like, General Kenobi taught me that it was possible to live for what I believed in, too.
Words didn't matter any more, the girls at school could say what they liked. He taught me what was important, and I rarely got into trouble after that.
Now I'm shivering in the Death Star's detention block, waiting for Vader or some other lackey of Tarkin's to return and...dispose of me. Even so, I wouldn't change a moment of the last ten years. And now Obi-Wan is my hope.
I hope R2-D2 found him. I hope he finds his way to the Rebels on Yavin. I hope he wasn't already on Alderaan today. I hope he lives, and continues our cause.
I was wrong that day, I won't live long enough to get old. I'm going to die here.
But I still hope.
Original cover by jade_angel. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.