Leia wakes to gentle but insistent shaking, and her mother’s soft voice calling her name. She blinks and sits up groggily, mumbling a sleepy, “What is it, Mama?”
“Come,” Queen Breha Organa, the second of her name, ruling monarch of Alderaan, says to her one and only daughter. “Get dressed, while Seltha packs a bag for you.”
Swinging her legs out of her bed, Leia stands unsteadily. “Where are we going?” she asks, as her mother helps her pull her nightdress over her head. Leia drops it on top of her unmade bed, shimmies into a fresh pair of underwear, and then pulls on the dress her mother offers her silently. The buttons on the front are difficult for her sleep-numbed fingers, and it takes her mother kneeling in front of her and lending her aid to get them fastened.
“We’re going to Dinu,” says her mother.
Leia crows, suddenly wide awake. Though she is five, she has never been to Dinu, a small moon that has been transformed from savannas and plains and jungles to one large amusement park. Various districts across the world sport different attractions, from immersive campgrounds to state-of-the-art rides that offer exhilaration and excitement for even the most daring and courageous of children.
“Shh,” her mother chastises, and holds up a coat. It is spring in Aldera—but spring nights are still cold, the last remnants of winter clinging to the stars and dark skies. Leia fits her arms into the sleeves, then allows her mother to button the coat up as well.
Seltha, Leia’s nursemaid, appears in the door to her bedroom. “Her bag is all packed, my lady,” she says, addressing Leia’s mother.
“Good,” her mother says, taking Leia’s hand firmly in her own. She brooks no argument about whether Leia will hold her hand, even when Leia tries to pull away with an anguished, “Mama!”
“Hush,” her mother says again, firmer this time than before. “Now is not the time, Lelila. Now is the time for you to be quiet and good.” She kneels in front of Leia, tucks a finger under Leia’s chin, and turns Leia’s face up to meet hers. “Please, Lelila,” her mother entreats. “Be quiet. Be good. Come along without a fuss.”
Sensing something dark—something dark and unknown—in her mother’s voice, Leia just nods. Her mother smiles, then presses a quick kiss to Leia’s forehead. “Good,” she murmurs. Then, “Thank you, Lelila.”
She rises, and turns to Seltha. “Are you ready?” she asks the older, gray-haired matron.
“I am,” says Seltha, shouldering a bag and carrying a second bag in one hand. “Lead on, my lady.”
Leia’s mother guides the two of them out of Leia’s room, and out into the family’s larger suite of rooms. She pauses at the doorway to their rooms, tugs the hood up over Leia’s head, nods once, pulls the hood of her own cloak over her hair, and then leads the way out into the palace, Leia’s hand still firmly clasped in her own.
Through the palace they walk, quick and silent, Leia trotting to keep up with her mother’s rapid pace. The lights are all strangely dimmed, casting a strange pall throughout the air; the light is the grey of twilight, or of predawn, devoid of the cheerful, yellow-gold warmth that usually fills the corridors at night. It chills Leia, making her skin crawl and her heart flutter in her breast. She wants to turn around and run back to her room—her safe, warm, comfortable room—but her mother’s hand around hers keeps her moving forward—relentlessly, endlessly forward.
They reach the speeder hangar. Here, at last, the lights are on in full. The cavernous room is filled with the sound of speeder engines revving and men shouting and women calling to one another. Leia’s mother ushers her forward toward a nondescript speeder halfway down the first line of vehicles. Leia sees her father standing by the open back door to the speeder—and she runs to him, her mother finally, finally, finally releasing her hand. She flings herself into her father’s arms, and he scoops her up into a tight hug.
“Good morning, my little Lelila,” he says, and kisses her on the nose. “How are you doing?”
Leia stifles a yawn. “I’m good,” she chirps, and settles against her father’s shoulder. She never feels safer than when she is in his arms.
Her father looks over her shoulder to her mother, who nods. Leia sees the movement out of the corner of her eye—and then her father is sliding into the back seat of the speeder, still holding her. Her mother joins them shortly thereafter, though she places one of the two bags Seltha carries onto the floor of the backseat first.
Couched in her father’s lap, Leia sees a shadow fall across her. She looks up to see Malothar, the Captain of Alderaan’s Honor Guard—an elite group of twenty warriors who train from twelve to twenty-two, and who are sworn to serve and protect the royal family of Alderaan—bending over so that he can see in through the half-open door.
“We’ll be right behind you,” he says, and then closes the door and knocks on the roof.
The engine turns over and revs to life. Only then does Leia see that it is Rebécca sitting in the driver’s seat, Kara beside her. Both of them are also Honor Guards, and Leia knows and loves them well.
Bail shifts Leia so that she is seated between him and her mother, fastens her safety belt, then his own. Beside her, Leia’s mother does the same. Then they are off, speeding out of the hangar and out into the night. A stream of speeders merges around them, cutting off in every direction once they are out of the hangar in groups of four and five and six. Three others remain with their speeder, two ahead and one behind.
Leia, confused, turns to her mother, then her father. “What’s going on?” she asks. She is used to processions and caravans, but this feels strange to her. Never before have they gone on a procession in the middle of the night—plus there is no one out to watch them pass. Her mother’s strange pleading is also odd, and leaves a sour twang in Leia’s belly.
It is all very strange, and Leia does not know what to make of it.
Her father leans over and kisses her on the head. “Never mind that, Lelila,” he says, and wraps an arm around her shoulders, drawing her against him. “Are you excited to go to Dinu?”
Leia yawns again, but nods. “Yes,” she says fervently.
“Good,” says her father. “When we get there, we are going to have so much fun together. Your mother and I will spend all day with you, and it will just be the three of us—well, the three of us and Rebécca or Kara or Malothar. How does that sound?”
Leia perks up, all traces of tiredness forgotten for the moment. “You mean it?” she asks, elated. It is only during breakfast and on her birthdays—and even then only for an afternoon or a morning—that she has both her mother and father to herself.
“We mean it,” says her mother. “We’re going on a little vacation. It will be great fun.”
They reach the Aldera spaceport fifteen minutes later. Those fifteen minutes had been filled with Leia’s excited chatter, and her mother and father’s laughing replies, filling the speeder with light and a sense of warmth and joy. Though it did not ease the tension in Rebécca’s or Kara’s shoulders, both of their lips were quirked when they got out of the speeder, after Rebécca threw it into park, and opened the back doors.
Once they are out of the speeder, Leia’s father hoists her up into his arms once more. She giggles, then lays her head on his shoulder again, wrapping her arms around his neck. Though she is still excited, and wants to continue chattering, she is very tired, and her father is stolid and warm.
They walk through the dark spaceport, but they are not alone. Hooded figures shrouded in shadow walk all around them, more and more joining the stream of people every second as they pass through the main doors and into the reception hall. By the time they have reached the doors that lead out onto the tarmacs of each landing bay, there are at least two hundred others around them.
Her parents peel off at a nondescript door leading out onto a nondescript landing pad, on which sits a nondescript shuttle. They board, Leia half asleep, and settle themselves onto soft seats. Rebécca, Kara, Malothar, and Seltha join them a few moments later, seating themselves and buckling up as the engines hum into life. Less than a minute later, the landing rap hisses shut, and they lift off.
They are on their way to Dinu.