Leia checks her location with the R2 unit. They should be arriving at General Kenobi's home soon. When the house appears on the horizon, she is surprised--it's tiny. She brings the borrowed speeder to a stop outside and watches as a figure appears at the door of the small dwelling. He is dressed in robes typical of a desert dweller but Leia recognises them from her father's description as Jedi's robes. If this is Obi-Wan Kenobi, he looks older than she expected. Her father said that they were a similar age but there isn't a trace of the reddish blond he'd described in this man's white hair and beard. He looks decades older than her father. Her father hadn't dared keep an image of such a notorious Jedi so she can only go by the description. She glances at the R2 unit, who beeps in confirmation that this is the man they are looking for.
"Hello there," the man says, with a faint smile as she approaches the door. "You look like you've come a long way. I don't get many visitors out here.
His expression is quizzical but there is something in it that Leia trusts. She takes the risk and asks, "Obi-Wan Kenobi?"
"Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time," he says thoughtfully.
Leia holds her breath. Has she let a very dangerous loth cat out of the bag?
But to her relief, he continues, "I usually go by Ben Kenobi now, but that's me."
She prepares what she wants to say. She has one chance to get this right and convince this general to help the Alliance. She wonders why he's been hidden away here, his skills would have helped the Rebellion. But now things have moved from secret guerrilla attacks to full scale battles, they desperately need skilled generals.
"Come in, young one. You must've had quite a journey." His gaze sweeps over her, taking in her bruised forehead and dusty white dress.
Leia raises her chin and follows him into the house. It has been quite a journey. She'd had no intention of ending up in the escape pod with the R2 unit she'd entrusted with the plans. She'd followed the droid to the pod to confirm its escape, but the ship had lurched and she'd half fallen through the entrance after the droid. The peculiar little droid had somehow gotten caught on her dress, and had dragged her in further as feet had pounded towards her. It had been too late to back get out--that would've delayed sending the plans. She'd been furious with herself. The whole purpose of using a droid was because the Imperials could track life signs and she didn't want to leave her crew to the mercy of the Imperials. Her presence would have been some protection. The presence of the protocol droid in the pod was even more baffling, but its babbling had distracted her from her fears until by some miracle, they'd made it close to the surface of Tatooine without being shot down. But that was only the first stage, she knew they'd be followed.
She doesn't remember much between the crash landing and coming to with the face of a blond boy and the protocol droid hovering above her. She must have passed out again, as the next thing she remembers is being in moving speeder. The boy, Luke Skywalker, had taken her to his home and she'd been tended to by his aunt. They'd been very kind, giving her shelter and food. Luke had been very excited by the protocol droid's admission that they'd been part of the Rebellion, and she'd hoped Luke could keep his mouth shut. That wretched droid was overdue for a memory wipe.
She knew how dangerous Tatooine was from her reading so she'd heeded Luke's family's advice not to search for Kenobi's house that night, but she'd sneaked out early and "borrowed" Luke's speeder. Her mission was urgent, there was no time for moral qualms.
Kenobi's home is tiny and doesn't look much like the Lars farm. It is much simpler, befitting an ascetic Jedi. She wants to look around in fascination but she has a message to deliver.
"Come and sit down my dear and tell me who you are, and why you are looking for me."
Leia stays standing and he raises an eyebrow but takes a seat himself with a faint sigh as if his bones are stiff.
She gathers her thoughts and clasps her hands in front of her. She has addressed the senate, this should not be this nerve-wracking, but so much rests on her and her father trusts her with it.
"General Kenobi. Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the empire. My mission is to present my father's request to you in person and to bring you to Alderaan. I am carrying information vital to the survival of the Rebellion in the memory systems of this R2 unit. Help me see this droid delivered safely to him on Alderaan." She thinks of the tiny disc Artoo is carrying and all that depends on it. Images of the destruction of Scarif are seared into her brain, and it's unbearable to imagine that or worse happening to another planet. She lets all those feelings bleed into her speech. "This is our most desperate hour. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope," she pleads. It is a relief that she made it through without her voice cracking.
"Ah. You must be Leia," Kenobi says, frowning in concern but he doesn't seem surprised. His immediate recognition reassures her. This must be General Kenobi. She has the strangest feeling that he already knew exactly who she was. "I've been waiting for you for a long time. I can't refuse Bail's request."
He smiles as Leia tries to hide the relieved slump of her shoulders. The first part of her mission is complete. "Thank you, General Kenobi."
He strokes his beard. "You should tell me more about this information. Sit down, child. You need to rest after your ordeal." He pours a glass of water and hands it to her.
Leia accepts it and drinks thirstily. She opens her mouth to explain but General Kenobi holds up a hand and stares past her into the distance. "I fear you brought some company with you."
Leia scrambles for her blaster. What has he heard?
"Not to worry," he reassures her after a moment. "I believe it is friendly. You rest there and I'll see what this is about."
She ignores his instructions and follows him out of the hut. Raising her hood when he does. He doesn't seem surprised that she ignored his instructions. They walk for a while, it's further than she expected, he must have good hearing or it's the fabled Jedi senses. Kenobi looks more and more concerned as they travel.
"Careful now," Kenobi says, as they reach the top of the ridge. Looking down they see a man being beaten by robed beings. Leia recognises Luke's blond hair and has a moment of guilt. He must've been following her. He's delaying her again, she thinks, irritated. She raises her blaster, but Kenobi swiftly holds her back with a practiced motion. She's used to acting fast. But her father had advised her to listen to Kenobi, who had saved his life many times in the Clone Wars.
"Wait. There's faster way," Kenobi cautions her. He throws back his head lets out a cry like a wild beast. She can hardly believe that sound is coming from a human mouth and she jumps despite herself. But whatever it is effective and the robed attackers--Sand People, she remembers from her preparation for this mission--scatter in fright.
Luke is dazed as they help him onto the old bulky speeder. It's barely worthy of the name, and makes a terrible noise, which is why she didn't borrow it. They rescue Threepio and return to Kenobi's house. When they get to the house, Luke shoots her a betrayed look as he pats his speeder, clearly his pride and joy. Leia refuses to feel bad. She had a mission and she was planning to return the speeder if possible.
She listens as Kenobi explains who he is to Luke and Luke learns about his father. It's hard to believe that this farm boy is the son of a Jedi Knight. She lets out a cry of protest as Kenobi invites Luke to come to Alderaan with them. Luke is a sweet boy but what use is he compared to a highly skilled Jedi general? All he's done so far is slow her down.
Luke shoots her a hurt glance, but he doesn't accept the offer. He does agree to drive them to a nearby settlement, which puts them one step closer to getting to Alderaan.
Leia has never felt as bad as she does when she sees Luke's face when he returns from his home. He doesn't even need to say anything, before she knows what happened. He looks lost, but there is new steel in his eyes. She's seen that look before. The fight against the Empire has become real. She gives him a brief hug but he stays stiff in her arms.
"If the Imperial presence is this intense we'll have to be very careful in Mos Eisley," Kenobi says, his face sober. "We need to make young Leia less recognisable. You don't look at all like you're from around here." He surveys her. "Hmm. What are young Tatooine women doing with their hair nowadays, Luke?"
"Uh, Camie mostly wears her hair loose, I guess," Luke says. He still looks lost.
"My hair's too long for that," Leia says. Especially if she's to spend any more time in an open speeder.
"I guess some girls braid it, at the back." Luke gestures at his hair in illustration." Nothing fancy though."
Leia pulls her buns down and starts to braid her hair. It is filthy, and the sand in it feels rough against her fingers. Kenobi nods approvingly.
Luke pulls something out of a compartment in his speeder. "Will these help?" He shakes out a poncho and a floppy brimmed hat. They are crumpled and look well worn.
"Hmm," Kenobi says, and pulls off part of his belt. There is another one underneath. "Do you have leggings under that dress?"
Leia nods absently, all her concentration on the braid. She isn't used to hiding who she is. It feels wrong.
"Kilt up your dress with this belt and put on the poncho. And tip the hat over your face, Kenobi instructs. "Luke, can you lend her your leg wraps?"
Luke blinks as he bends to help wrap the covers over her boots.
Once Leia is finished with her disguise, Kenobi stands back and looks at her, his hand stroking his beard. "Good enough," he says. "You could be any girl from Tatooine."
"She's a lot prettier than most of them," Luke says, and ducks his head, flushing.
"That isn't much help. I very much doubt the Stormtroopers have been here long enough to know that," Leia retorts, rolling her eyes.
Kenobi sighs. "We'd best get going if we are to go to Alderaan. Remember we need to keep a low profile." He looks them in the eye in turn to emphasise his point. "Leia, you had better call me Ben," he says. "It'll be less conspicuous."
Mos Eisley is about as appalling as Ben Kenobi described. Leia thought she'd visited some awful places but she feels intensely uncomfortable here.
Leia is fascinated as Ben messes with the minds of the storm troopers who let them into the city without identification. Her first thought is that it would be a very useful skill to have. But the more she thinks of it, the more the creeping horror of it dawns. No wonder people were afraid of the Jedi.
"Would you do that to me?" she challenges him. "If I didn't do as you wished?"
Ben Kenobi shoots her a sharp look. Some of her horror must have come through. "The force has a strong influence on the weak minded. I don't believe that even the most skilled Jedi would ever be able overcome you." The look he gives her is significant as if there is something he isn't saying.
He takes on a tone of instruction, directing his comments to them both. "Of course an already compromised mind would be vulnerable. One must be subtle. Most humanoids are highly susceptible but there are some species where it will not work. Hutts and Toydarians for example. It can be--," He hesitates and Leia wonders what the story behind that is, "--awkward to try and fail. And failure rarely goes unnoticed."
"Would you teach me to do that?" Luke asks eagerly.
"Maybe in time. A Jedi," he lowers his voice, "must think carefully about their choices. When such an action should be taken will depend on the guidance of the force and there may be less intrusive paths to take."
Leia wants to know more, but they pull up outside an appalling looking bar and Ben directs Luke to stop outside it, before she can ask more about the ethics of mind manipulation.
"We need to find a freighter pilot. Low profile, remember." Ben directs that comment to Leia.
"Here?" Leia protests. "This place is a dump."
The cantina is even more appalling inside. She plans to stick close to Ben. She wants some say in the choice of pilot. Her skin crawls from the eyes on her from the minute she enters, but she ignores it. It isn't any worse than a senate party and she's been navigating those for years. Kenobi gets directed to a freighter pilot by the first person he asks.
It's fairly standard practice to ban droids from bars, but Leia is reluctant to let Artoo out of her sight with his cargo of precious information. It would look out of place to make a fuss and walk out, so she squares her shoulders and keeps walking towards Ben. He is talking to a Wookiee and Leia struggles to follow the Wookiee's half of the conversation. The Empire is making it impossible for Wookiee's to get to Alderaan so she hasn't been able to get much practice. She looks around the cantina. Maybe she can spot another potential pilot.
Leia quickly finds herself separated from her companions in the crowd. A scruffy-looking spacer in the booth in the corner stares at Leia with insolent, assessing eyes, despite the girl on his lap. When she glares at him, he winks and slides his hand up the girl's back. Leia turns on her heel and catches sight of Luke at the bar. Ugh. She doesn't want to touch the kind of things they drink here.
Luke is surrounded by threatening beings and doesn't seem to be doing anything. Idiot. How could he possibly get into trouble that fast? She starts to push her way back through the crowd but then Ben is there, trying to de-escalate the situation. It doesn't work. Luke goes flying across the room and crashes into Leia knocking them both off balance. Blaster shots ring out and then there is a twitching arm on the floor. She barely saw Ben move. He holds his lightsaber ready. So much for keeping a low profile. Reports of a lightsaber will bring the Imperials down on them faster than anything. But the crowd immediately starts to turn away as if they see beings literally disarmed by antique weapons every day. There is still truth in Ben's reputation as a warrior, then.
Ben hustles Luke away, scooping up Leia on his way and they follow the Wookiee over to a concealed booth in the corner. To Leia's horror, it is occupied by the man who winked at her.
His name is Solo and the Wookiee is Chewbacca. Everything about Solo screams Correllian. If there is any truth in his nonsensical boasts, he's good at what he does. She is trying to trust Kenobi.
"Hello, sweetheart," Solo says when the introductions are over, and smirks. "I knew you'd come looking for me sooner or later."
Luke bridles at this and moves closer to her around the already crowded table. "Hey. Don't talk to her like that."
"Your sister's a feisty one," Solo says. Leia rolls her eyes. Solo has a smart mouth and she supposes people would think he was good looking.
"She isn't my sister," Luke protests, but quietens after a sharp look from Ben. Ben looks exasperated and downs a glass of something pungent before continuing with the negotiation.
Solo quickly sizes them up and realises that they're in trouble. She's impressed. His expression changes when he realises that it's Imperial trouble. And she can see him sizing up whether it is worth the effort. They've got far more firepower and reach than the Hutts.
"That'll cost you extra, but to help you sweetheart, I'll only make it ten thousand," he says. "In advance."
"I don't need any favours--" Leia starts to say. She has almost enough credits with her to pay that, but she bridles at paying it all in advance.
Ben interrupts and offers Solo a modest deposit, as well as an outrageous sum of money to come when they get to Alderaan. It seems crazy at first, but it occurs to her that the promised fee is big enough that it significantly reduces the likelihood of anyone paying Solo enough to betray them. Ben really does know what he's doing.
"Now, my dear, you must tell me more about the data you're carrying," Kenobi says when they are safely in hyperspace. Luke is in the corner practicing training exercises with his father's lightsaber. The repetitive movements are almost like the self-defence forms she learnt as a child but they are new to Luke, who takes to them easily. Solo and Chewbacca are fixing something in the bowels of the ship and they have the living area to themselves. The Millennium Falcon is the biggest piece of junk she's ever seen. A typical smuggler's vessel, but there's enough evidence of extensive modifications and the external weaponry looked decent. She isn't sure that they'll make it to Alderaan but Ben seems calm. She's impressed despite herself, that was a very neat escape from Tatooine. Maybe Solo isn't just boasting.
Leia tells Ben about Scarif, about the group of Rebels who'd transmitted the plans of the space station just before the Empire had destroyed half the planet.
Luke stops still as he hears and whispers, "Do you think they fired on Tatooine?" He looks sick and Leia freezes.
"No," Ben reassures them. "I would have felt it. Death on that scale causes a disturbance in the Force that can be felt across the galaxy. I've felt two disturbances recently, Scarif and another, although I did not know what it meant." His eyes are sorrowful. "The Empire knows we escaped Tatooine, but not our destination."
"We can't fight against the Empire if it has a weapon like that," Leia explains. "The Rebellion has come out if the shadows now and if there is any weakness in it we can exploit, we must destroy it. My father and Mon Mothma are ready to stand openly against the empire. But a Jedi could make all the difference."
When she mentions Vader's presence during the battle, Ben's blue eyes grow cold. "You had a very close escape. Vader is a master of evil." The conviction is his voice makes her shudder and she suddenly realises what a close escape she had.
"Let go of your fear young one," Ben advises her. "Accept it and release it. You will be able to think more clearly."
She is confused. Accept her fear? What does that even mean?
Ben smiles at her. "Do you ever meditate?"
"Not really," she says. She's always preferred to be active, that sort of concentrated reflection isn't for her.
"You are very like your father," Kenobi says. People frequently compare her to Bail, and Leia feels a warm glow every time it happens, but this doesn't quite feel like a compliment and Leia frowns. "Meditation can help you," he says.
Leia is sceptical but she lets him instruct her in mediation and Luke joins them shortly after. She isn't sure what use it will be. It's difficult and it's especially frustrating that Luke takes to it so easily. But she thinks she maybe feels a little calmer.
"I can show you more when we get to Alderaan," Ben says. "Your father and I have a lot to discuss with you."
"I like you like this," Solo says to her as he enters the lounge again, slouching in the corner with his hands in his pockets. "Silence suits you."
All tentative feelings of peace desert her and she rounds on him, yelling.
Leia is fascinated as Luke manages to deflect the remote blasts with his lightsaber, blind. She's done enough remote training to know that it is clearly more than just luck, despite what Solo might think. She could do without his commentary, even when she agrees with him--there is no substitute for a good blaster. Inelegant and uncivilized or not.
Solo is an idiot, who doesn't know when to shut up. She's been stuck on this ship with him for far too long and she can't wait to leave him behind. Ben Kenobi's presence is probably the only reason she hasn't punched him.
An alarm blares.
"We're coming up on Alderaan," Solo says.
They leave hyperspace and Leia had never been so relieved to see the familiar blue mass of Alderaan through the view screen. She's completed her mission. Maybe there is some hope for the galaxy.