The gentle buzz of engines driving the giant Mon Calamari cruiser through space hummed a soft lullaby to the sleeping infant, lying peacefully in the crib in the far corner of the small suite.
Tate Obernal watched her for a few moments, his silver eyes taking in his tiny charge once more. His probing glance roved over the fine carpet of chestnut hair, the tiny fingers curled around a rattle, which was elaborately carved with Naboo flora and fauna.
Tate had been a Jedi all his life, arriving at the temple when he was only a few weeks old, serving as an undercover agent for five years after passing the Trials, then battling in the worst of the Clone Wars, and fighting evil throughout the galaxy. Yet, this baby girl made him nervous, almost...afraid.
A Jedi knows no fear, he recited to himself, dismissing the idea.
But that was it; that was what he was feeling. He was afraid; of the child and for the child; for the galaxy, should the rising forces of the Dark Side tap into her potential; should he, Tate, fail his mission. So he kept a silent vigil over her, checking and rechecking her state, visually, and through the Force.
"She's fine, Tate," a quiet voice murmured from across the modest chamber.
He glanced over as Raj? shifted herself into a sitting position on the double bed, hazel-brown eyes full of overdue sleep.
"I know," he replied gently.
They shared a wry smile at his customary response, as he padded over and sat lightly at the foot of the bed.
"You look like you could use some sleep," he said pointedly, eyeing the shadowed circles rimming her tired eyes.
The young handmaiden softly blew her cheeks with a sigh out and ran a hand through her tangled hair.
"I could," she admitted dryly. "Then again, so could you."
He shrugged a shoulder, unconcerned.
"I'm not worried about me. I'm worried about you and her."
"She's fine," Raj? repeated. "Sleeping like a baby."
She gave a half smile which faltered when Tate didn't return it.
"And I'm fine too, Tate."
"You know, there's an old Corellian expression..."
"'Don't tell me the odds'?"
"That's one. Another is 'Don't lie to a Jedi. It insults the intelligence of all parties.'"
She avoided his piercing gaze and said nothing.
"You've been having nightmares. I've sensed the disturbances while you sleep."
She shot him a sharp glance, anger thinly overlaying dread mixed with guilt.
"Stay out of my head, Tate!" she hissed, tears welling in her eyes.
He reached out a comforting hand, but she pulled back, glaring at him as he watched her with the understanding of one who has suffered the same burden. Their silent deadlock was suddenly broken by a high-pitched wail from the other side of the room. The little girl had awoken.
"I'll get her."
Raj? was out of bed and over at the crib in a few heartbeats, lifting the small bundle into her arms and rocking it tenderly. Murmuring sweet nothings in a soothing tone, her momentary anger was now dissolved by the needs of her young charge.
"There, there, it's alright now. Don't cry, Leia, don't cry."
A few hours later, Tate was still awake, lying on the floor of the cabin, attempting meditation (upon first seeing the double bed, he had flushed crimson and declared that he would sleep on the floor.) But even meditation did not come easily, as the usual silky embrace of the Force had transformed into a storm-tossed ocean of fury and terror under Palpatine and his New Order.
He was also disturbed for another reason; each time he did manage to slip into the stream of the Force, he experienced the same, recurring vision.
Leia, grown up in breathtaking resemblance to her mother, was running, pursued by someone, something, obscured by the shadows. She could not see her hunter, nor fight against it. Defenceless, she scrambled desperately to stay in the fading light, but the shadows and the creature advanced, fast creeping upon her. The last things he saw were always her eyes, glazed over with dark emotions of terror and betrayal, as she finally saw her shadowed hunter.
Tate frowned thoughtfully, musing over the image and Master Kenobi's final, explicit instructions.
"You must explain to them that they are never to tell the child about her birth parents," Master Kenobi had said.
They no longer had identities; the child, birth parents. Fixed identities were dangerous for the hunted.
Master Kenobi had continued, gripping Tate's shoulders tightly as he bore the instructions into him with sapphire eyes.
"She cannot be told. For her own sake, for all our sakes, she must never be told. They must understand that they are her parents now," he had intoned.
Tate had nodded in agreement and still did agree. Distractedly running a hand through his dark, shoulder-length hair, he reflected on the reasoning behind the decision. If Leia knew her true parentage, she would no doubt seek out her real parents and would unquestionably be drawn to the Dark Side, armed with no abilities or skills to resist it.
Yet this persistent vision disturbed him. She was being pursued by the dark truth of her heritage: vulnerable against its terrible impact, susceptible to the Dark Side, through reaction to the perceived treachery. And yet they could not tell her, for the danger was even greater if they did.
He breathed deeply and silently hissed out the breath, moving his thoughts to reflect on his more immediate problems. It sounded like the start of a bad joke; a former Senator's aide, an outlaw Jedi, and a Sith's daughter, traveling covertly on one of the few remaining Star Cruisers. Yet here they were.
Raj? moaned softly, disturbing Tate's thoughts. She twisted roughly as the nightmares arrived once more. Tate pulled himself to his knees, throwing a wary glance at the crib.
The child was extremely sensitive to vibrations within the Force. Being unable to interpret speech or actions, she could only feel the emotions behind them and reacted accordingly, as when she had begun to cry during the heated discussion hours beforehand.
Sliding over to the bed, he reached a hand out to wake Raj?, but pulled back as a flailing arm flew in his direction. She cried out, obviously desperate to stop someone or something in her dream.
Tate reached over and placed a hand on her forearm, but did not wake her. He was tempted to use the physical contact to ground a Force connection with her, allowing him to enter her dreams, but knew immediately that she would not approve of this, especially given her earlier, aggressive accusation.
Eventually, she calmed, visibly and emotionally, tears staining her cheeks. Without waking, she pulled away from him and turned over. He sighed inwardly, crawling back to his makeshift bed. He wished Raj? would allow him to help her, but knew that any aid had to be requested; he could not impose it upon her.
She had been having nightmares ever since they had seen the broadcast on the Holonet. Grass fields and swamps ablaze, villages awash in a sea of blaster-fire, the bodies of so many innocents slumping to the ground, lifeless. Theed City reduced to a burning shell of its former glory; the beautiful palace utterly destroyed.
Tate had been dimly aware, through his cold horror, that Palpatine had ordered this, the razing of his entire home planet as a punishment for rebellion against his newly installed dictatorship and a clear message to the rest of the galaxy; no one who defied the Empire would be shown any mercy. He had felt hollow, watching the carnage behind a mask of Jedi calm.
But Raj? did not have that training, buckling and falling to her knees as she saw the destruction of her home and her people. And now, she was plagued by dreams, dark manifestations of her hurt and helplessness. She knew, deep down, that there was nothing she could have done to stop it. Indeed, had she been there, she too would have been dead or enslaved, but that did not stop the guilt from overwhelming her.
Tate desperately wanted to help her. He understood all too well the complete pain and remorse of watching the destruction of ones people, ones family. The worst periods of the Jedi Purges had passed, but the pain still dug at him, like a claw mark across his soul.
Climbing to his feet, he walked softly to the crib to perform his routine check of Leia.
Raj? will ask for my help if she requires it, he told himself forcefully.
He had picked up some bad habits while undercover, trying to give aid those who didn't want it being one of the more prevailing traits. He pulled his concentration back to the small figure, lying sleeping in the cot.
Leia, he thought, I cannot let them tell you. Perhaps my vision is wrong.
He didn't believe his own words, unconvincingly stating a case that had already judged. Perhaps your heritage will not haunt you, they will forget...
He broke off his train of thought suddenly. Forget...
She cannot be told.
Tate peered down at the tiny child for a moment, an idea forming in the back of his mind.
The vision is a prompting of the Force, of that, I am sure, he mused. She cannot be told, yet she must know.
Master Kenobi would disapprove. Tate didn't know if he approved of it himself. It was extremely risky. If she was ever captured and her mind was probed, the possible consequences could be disastrous.
But she has to know her situation - she has a right to know her heritage.
Reaching down, he ran his long index finger through her short, soft hair, establishing a physical connection, before closing his eyes and connecting with the Force and then, with the child.
He entered gently into her mind, brushing her consciousness, before delving further, diving deeper into the newly-formed subconscious. Within this uncertain realm, her thrumming life force and the Force itself were almost indistinguishable; flowing, pure and light. Here he hovered, pausing slightly before softly whispering secret truths to her soul.
You are Leia, daughter of Padm? and Anakin.
You have a twin brother: Luke. You are both filled with the strength of the Force; a gift that you share, but which will lead you down different paths in separate lives. But, perhaps it will one day bring you together. The Force nurtures its children: perhaps it will draw you together from your differing paths, and your lives will finally converge. And then, you will help heal the hurts that have been inflicted.
Pulling back, he showed her how to bury the messages, even from herself. It was a complicated exercise for one so young, hiding memory triggers within a mind, usually taught to Initiates at the age of three years. But Leia was the daughter of the Chosen One, and easily took the threads of her mind to seal the secret cache which, perhaps, would one day be exhumed, like a long-buried treasure.
As he felt the final gaps close over, he whispered a final statement for the time capsule.
You are an heir of Skywalker and inherit his legacy-both a blessing and a burden.
May the Force be with you, Leia, daughter of Padm? and Anakin.
Opening his eyes, he eased out of her mind. He looked down at her, surprised that she was staring back at him. For a moment, her dark eyes seemed to shine, seemed to understand, and promise to remember, one day.
A vision of the future flashed before Tate's eyes, and he smiled slightly as Leia blinked her eyes sleepily, once more an ordinary infant, and rolled over, returning to her slumber.
Consciously, she had already forgotten. And she would never be told by her adoptive parents, this he would ensure. But she would know once more, at the right time.
The Force would guide her.
Moving over to the cabin windows, he watched his two charges sleep for a moment, before turning to watch the star lines fade, as the hyperdrive shuddered to a halt. He was immediately presented with a large planet, a blue-green jewel against the velvety blackness of space.
The lush green forest cocooning the Ewok village was dark and still, swallowing the faint sounds of chatter and music that floated from the nearby cabins. Fire-lit torches cast a flickering light onto the narrow catwalk, leaving its occupants, each focussed on the other, between fleeting shadows and evanescent light.
"Yes. It's you, Leia..."
Luke had spoken the words so softly, his urgent tone conveying the immense importance of the truth they were finally bringing to light; yet calmly, obviously aware of the shock they should have brought to his newly found sister.
Leia did not feel shocked, or torn, or even numb. In those first few moments of the rest of her life, she felt...whole, in a way she could not explain, as if she had received a timely reminder of something that she had always known, and had accepted, since the innocence of childhood. As if this revelation fulfilled a higher purpose or an old promise.
"I know," she responded, brow furrowed as she searched through vague recollections for ghostly answers, there, but transparent; intangible.
Logically, it made no sense that she had known. Yet she had.
She could feel it.
She hesitated, vividly recalling a half-memory, or perhaps a dream, of silver-grey eyes, intense, yet filled with gentle wisdom.
"I've always known."
Original cover by Cereth. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.