A battalion of soldiers, resplendent in white tunics and surcoats, swung their axes against the door to Castle Tantive. It was well-fortified for a summer residence, but certainly would not stand long against the might of the Empire.
Behind the door, a mass of men and women gripped their weapons more tightly, preparing for another fruitless battle.
A young demon, more or less human in appearance, darted past a shower of arrows. “Arta? Arta, where are you? Oh dear!”
The demon Arta gave a shrill cackle, then scampered towards the stables, clutching a bag of scrolls.
“You can’t,” the first demon shouted. “You know we’re not allowed -- not the Prince’s horse! Arta!”
The Prince straightened. “Lady Vadé,” he said, lips twisting into something that might have been second cousin to a smile. “Only you could be so bold.”
Others in his position might have had rather stronger words. Lady Vadé was both the pride and terror of the Empire: one of the greatest swordmasters in the world, a fearless, black-armoured warrior who fought beside her soldiers -- and a dark sorceress, driven half-mad by her own powers. To contradict her was to risk death; to defy her was to ensure it.
Her own officers didn’t know where she came from, or what she looked like, or even if she were human at all. Nobody had ever seen anything more than the helmet and armour, etched with incomprehensible runes; it was said that she wore them even to bed.
The inevitable lewd jokes always seemed to trail off uncertainly.
Arta was sulking in a corner, her bag still drawn about her shoulders. Cipia loftily ignored her and addressed their new mistress.
“I wouldn’t know about that, my lady.”
“It’s Leia,” she said, setting down a lamp. Tendrils of untidy pale hair fell into her eyes and she impatiently pushed them aside.
“I see, Lady Leia.”
Leia laughed. She didn’t look very impressive -- even smaller and younger than Prince Luke, and something about her gave Cipia the impression that she wouldn’t have known what to do with a knife even if she had one.
“No -- just Leia.”
“Oh!” She looked kind, and at least they were away from those nasty battles. “Well, I am Cipia. I’ve been trained in human and humanoid languages, relationships, and etiquette -- and this is my counterpart, Arta.”
Arta, still covered in dirt and dust, sneezed.
“Hello there,” said Leia. “Would you like me to wash you down?”
“The demon -- the small one -- says she belongs to someone named Obiwa Kenobi,” Leia announced. “Do you know what she’s talking about?”
Her uncle and aunt exchanged a brief, horrified glance.
“I thought it might have something to do with Bea Kenobi.”
“That witch is just a crazy old woman,” said Rowena. Beren’s eyebrows shot up.
“But what if this Obiwa comes looking for her?”
“She won’t,” Rowena told her. “I don’t think she exists any more. She died at about the same time as your mother.”
Leia’s head snapped up. “She knew my mother?”
“I told you to forget her,” Rowena said flatly. Her sister had been a constant specter since they’d taken Leia in; had mother and daughter been able to spend their lives together, they could scarcely have been more similar than they already were. There was no need to make matters worse. That Kenobi woman wouldn’t have the chance to destroy Leia the way she had Anna.
Leia dropped her head again, poking listlessly at her food. “Yes, ma’am.”
Beren reached out to cover his wife’s hand with his own. “She can’t stay here forever. Most of her friends are already gone -- it means so much to her.”
“I’ll make it up to her next year,” said Rowena.
“She’s just not a farmer, Rowena.” Beren smiled affectionately, remembering his fierce, restless, kind-hearted sister-in-law. Even as a girl, Anna Skywalker had always seemed to be dreaming of more, always staring at the horizon with a longing expression that even Rowena couldn’t misinterpret. “She has too much of her mother in her.”
Rowena’s lips thinned. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Leia stared at Obiwa.
“My mother didn’t fight in the wars,” she said. “She was a sailor on a spice freighter.”
Something almost like anger flickered across Obiwa’s face and was gone. “That’s what your aunt told you,” she said evenly. “She didn’t hold with your mother’s ideals, thought she should have stayed here.”
If Mother had listened to her, she’d still be alive, Leia thought, but without resentment. Of course Anna couldn’t stay here. Far better to die quickly, achieving something great, than to watch your life slip away in bits and pieces.
Leia understood that. Somehow she always understood her mother.
“You fought in the Blood Wars?” she asked.
Obiwa laughed. “Yes. I was once a Jedi Knight, the same as your mother.”
“I wish I’d known her,” Leia admitted wistfully.
“She was the best rider in the world . . . and a cunning warrior,” said Obiwa. She looked less grieved than – distantly regretful, perhaps, her eyes fixed on something above Leia’s shoulder.
My mother, Leia thought.
“I hear you’ve become quite a good horsewoman yourself,” Obiwa added, her smile at once forced and approving.
Leia blushed and shrugged. She’d been sneaking out to see the horses since she was a little girl. She’d always been good with them and she did ride well – but she was no Anna Skywalker. Not yet.
Obiwa’s voice broke into her thoughts. “And she was a good friend. Which reminds me, I have something here for you.” She went to a large wooden box, pulling out a gleaming sword with such ease that Leia’s brow furrowed.
“Does it work?”
“This is your mother’s flamesword. She wanted you to have it, when you were old enough, but your aunt wouldn’t allow it.” She placed it in Leia’s hands, confirming her suspicions that – somehow – it was little heavier than a carving knife.
Leia swallowed. Obiwa was still talking, but she didn’t hear her. She couldn’t think of anything except that her mother’s hand had once rested where hers did now. It didn’t matter that the weapon seemed unlikely to cut through much more than butter. This was my mother’s. My mother’s.
There was an odd indentation near her hand. Curious, Leia ran her thumb over it – and three feet of blue-white flames shot out, twining about the blade.
Leia gasped, but she didn’t scream, and she didn’t drop the sword. After a moment she recovered herself a little, swinging the sword carefully. The flames crackled at her slightest movement, but they didn’t seem to burn, exactly. It had to be some kind of magic.
Magic, in a flaming sword? We’d better call the magistrate and warn him that water’s going to be wet this week! The jeering thought sounded suspiciously like her friend Camus. Well, it was right. Of course the sword was magic, just like Obiwa was.
A witch, Rowena had called her, and Leia could tell she hadn’t been making that up. Obiwa did have some kind of power, something she could feel even if she couldn’t name it. There was a whole world full of it, just within her reach – her mother’s world and Obiwa’s, that Rowena had kept from her all this time, and –
Rowena. Rowena and Beren. They weren’t – they’d never adopted her. They’d taken care of her because there was nobody else to do it, and they were too kind and dutiful to abandon their own niece. They’d never seen her as theirs and Leia didn’t think they’d even wanted her to be.
But they’d loved her. They’d brought her up. It didn’t matter that Anna’s daughter might as well have been emblazoned across her forehead. They needed her on the farm, not buried on some far-off battlefield like –
Leia’s throat felt dry. She moved her thumb, letting the hilt swallow the flames, and looked directly at Obiwa.
“How did my mother die?”
The hologram vanished.
For a long moment, Obiwa stared at the spot where it had been. Then she sighed, squaring her shoulders, and turned to Leia with a meaningful smile.
“You must learn the ways of the Force if you are to come with me to Alderaan,” she said.
“Alderaan?” Leia laughed. “I’m not going to Alderaan! I’ve got to get home. It’s late, I’m in for it as it is.”
“I need your help, Leia,” said Obiwa. She paused. “He needs your help.”
Leia glanced at the demons, longing writ large across her face, then grimaced. “I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do! It’s not that I like the Empire – I hate it – but there’s nothing I can do right now! And – and it’s all such a long way from here.”
“That’s your aunt talking,” Obiwa said coolly. “Learn about the Force, Leia.”
Leia picked up the sword. Obiwa had given her this, given her mother back to her. Her real mother, not the dreary merchant Rowena had invented. It was – she couldn’t even describe what it was. She could never repay her for that, but she had to do something.
She bit her lip. “I can take you as far as the Anchor’s Head. It’s not on the water, but you should be able to hire a transport to Mos Eisley or wherever you’re going. You can get a ship from there.”
“You must do what you feel is right, of course,” said Obiwa.
Governor Tarkin stalked into the room, sweeping a cold glance over her fellow officers. To the horror of all, Lady Vadé followed closely behind her.
“The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us,” Tarkin said dismissively. “The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.”
Respectful silence exploded into astonishment.
“What about – ”
“When will we – ”
“How will the Empress retain control with the bureaucracy?”
“Fear will keep the local cities in line,” said Tarkin. “Fear of this fortress’ weapon.”
“The the Empress – ”
“Nothing can stop this now – ”
“The Rebels will try to exploit – ”
“This weapon is now the ultimate power in the world!” Admiral Motti said with a smirk. “I suggest we use it.”
Lady Vadé gave her an unfriendly look – which, despite the mask, was immediately recognizable as such. “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed,” she said sharply. “The ability to destroy a city is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
Motti sneered. “Don’t try to frighten us with your sorceress’ ways, Lady Vadé. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen papers, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels’ hidden fort—”
Her eyes bulged and she gasped for air, clutching at her throat.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” said Vadé.
Leia’s horrified eyes went from the caravan, to the slaughtered Jawas and demons, to the clusters of arrows, too deeply embedded to retrieve. Behind her, Arta keened and Cipia tried to console her between her own whimpers.
Obiwa was saying something. “—to hide their numbers. Only Imperial archers are so precise.”
“I don’t understand.” Leia’s mind felt cold and dull. She could hardly grasp at her own thoughts, hardly think at all, but something – there was something, glimmering at the edges of her stupor. “Why would Imperial troops want to slaughter Jawas?”
By instinct, she glanced behind her, and met Cipia’s horrified yellow eyes.
“If they traced the demons here, they may have learned who they sold them to,” she said slowly. “And that would lead them back – ” the realization blazed through her mind – “home!”
She dropped everything but her mother’s sword, and started running.
“Leia, no! Wait! It’s too dangerous!”
She didn’t even know – or care – who had spoken. Leia sprang on her horse and raced home, the wind burning against her face, her sluggish thoughts now tumbling over each other so fast that she couldn’t catch them.
“Aunt Rowena! Uncle Beren! Aunt Rowena!”