Monday, February 6, 2017

Upcoming Stories and Story Ideas

This is a list of stories I'm working on, hope to work on soon, and am developing ideas for. Keep in mind that this list can and will change depending on what I'm interested in at any given time and what else is going on in my life.

Currently Working On:

Star Wars Original Trilogy

Novel/Novella-Length Stories

Tales of the Gold Wookie (Alternative Universe 1930's Adventure) - It's 1939. Layla and Luke Skylark are fresh out of the University of Arizona and ready to change the world. She's an archaeologist; he's a reporter. While Luke is content to be an intern for world-weary veteran crime reporter Benton Kennally, Layla is far more ambitious. She wants to find lost treasures for her idol, museum owner Marta Mothma. Her current obsession is rescuing the (reportedly magical) lost royal jewels of the Kingdom of Alderaan from nasty General Tarkin and the Empire.

Luke convinces her to hire Harry Solomon, a pilot with a dilapidated plane who runs his own charter service, to take them to where the treasures were last seen. Layla's not happy with the idea at first. Harry is rude, arrogant, and only cares about getting his share of the treasure. Not to mention, some of his former bosses make Tarkin look like a kitten. Tarkin has his own formidable underling, the corrupt industrialist Derek Vader. After Kennally gets into trouble with Vader, Luke insists on bringing along venerable old Asian archaeology professor Takamashi Yoda as their guide.


Coming Up Next:

Star Wars Original Trilogy


Swashbuckler (Alternative Universe 1870's Action/Adventure) - It's 1877 in the (fictional) European country Naboo. Having fled the invasion of her native Alderaan, the next country over, Leia Organa is currently living with Mon Mothma, a wealthy older woman who also runs a secret revolutionary society. Leia spies for her guardian, keeping tabs on the evil Prime Minister Palpatine and his right hand, Vader. While posing as a socialite in glittering Coruscant, she encounters the mysterious Han Solo and his ward Luke Skywalker. According to the rumors, Han had once been a naval officer, then a pirate...before a bullet in the leg ended his career at sea. He took Luke in as an aide and caretaker after the boy's aunt and uncle died. He refuses to get involved with the country's troubles, claiming they're none of his business or his ward's, no matter how much Leia argues with him over it.

Leia isn't the only one hiding her identity. Nor is Mon Mothma's revolutionary society the only group fighting for the rights of the citizens of Naboo. The Crimson Hawk and his men are legendary figures in the country. They act as local Robin Hoods, robbing from rich nobles and rescuing poor farmers who were unjustly imprisoned. Leia admires this bold desperado, even as she disagrees with his methods. Han scoffs at his antics; Luke admires them.

As she increasingly comes in contact with the Crimson Hawk and his sidekick, the Golden Eagle, she starts to understand why they're continuing this charade...and what Palpatine is really after. 

Original Snow Queen-Inspired Action/Fantasy - Set in the three years between New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and my first story set within the regular Star Wars universe. Han, Chewie, Leia, and Luke are on a diplomatic mission to buy supplies from a snow planet that's remained neutral in the battle between the Empire and Rebellion. Leia's hoping to sway them to the Alliance's side. Unlike Hoth, this planet is inhabited, mainly by criminals and nasty goblins. It's queen is a shrewd magician with her own ice-based powers. The goblins, determined to make mischief, get slivers of a Force-sensitive crystal in Luke's eyes and heart. It turns him into the opposite of his usual self...making him cold and distant to his two best friends. Leia, Han, and Chewie have to dodge the planet's shadier citizens and a summer witch with her own plans in order to free Luke from the goblins' spell and find out just what the Snow Queen is up to.

80's Summer Story (Alternative Universe 1980's Comedy/Action) - Leia and Luke Walker are just out of high school and are celebrating their last two months of freedom before she goes to college for political science and he joins the Coast Guard. Uncle Ben, a local beach bum, owns a series of dilapidated cottages on the beach at the edge of town. He'll let them rent a cottage and keep an eye on them, and they'll run chores and help him with the cottages' upkeep. 

Things go south very quickly when Leia discovers that a nasty corporation wants to buy the cottages, tear them down, force out the permanent residents, and build an elaborate hotel and mall in their place. The Imperial Gang, a motorcycle group, has been threatening the residents and Uncle Ben for months. She and Luke rally the residents, including shady fisherman Hank Solokowski, his British buddy Charlie Bachman, Luke's Coast Guard friend Walter "Wedge" Antilles, and foreign nerds Chip and Arturro, to help fight back.


Remember WENN

Once Upon a Time In the Land of WENN (Alternative Universe Fantasy/Fairy Tale) - Even when Elizabeth and the others leave Port Harbor, looking for the Emerald Talisman, trouble follows. Lady Gloria Redmond has no desire to even discuss the magic that caused her so much grief. There's also the evil candy witch Pavla Nemcova, who has both Jeff Singer and Sir Victor Comstock in her grasp, to contend with.

In Development: 

Star Wars Original Trilogy


Dark Medieval Fantasy (Han/Leia based fantasy) - Inspired by this Tumblr post. Leia is in search of her missing brother Luke, who was in training to be a wizard before their parents were killed and he was kidnapped. He's not the only one who has disappeared. The queen is dying. Her greedy, power-hungry adviser Palapatine is taking over the throne. The queen once had a son, Prince Hannel, but he vanished and is presumed dead. It's rumored that Palapatine is really a dark sorcerer who worked some terrible enchantment on the missing prince.


Leia finds a man imprisoned in a dungeon in a remote corner of the kingdom. The bedraggled man with the auburn hair had once worn fine robes, but now has no idea who he is. All Leia knows is he's insufferably stubborn, an excellent shot with a bow and arrow, and is always accompanied by an enormous Wookie wolf. The two are eventually joined by an eccentric old wizard and a mysterious unicorn with sad blue eyes as they try to find out who the silent man is and avenge Leia's family. 


Superhero Story (Alternative Universe 1970's Superhero/Action Fantasy) - Leah O'Malley is an intern in corrupt Coruscant City by day in 1977. By night, she's Force Girl, a superheroine who is a member of the Rebel League, a society of superheroes and vigilantes who fight the regime of the evil Mayor Palapatine and the devious Chief of Police/super villain Derek Veder. Lucas Weston is a geeky college kid and major comics fan who discovers that the owner of a local book store/comics shop was once The Negotiator, a great World War II/Golden Era superhero...and that Lucas is the inheritor of a superheroic dynasty. Lucas seeks help from Harris Arietta, a carpenter and handyman whose dog Chewbacca always rides with him and acts as a Team Pet.

Fairy Tales


Thumbelina


Star Wars Sequel Trilogy

Fairy Tales

Beauty and the Beasts - Leia Organa and her brother Luke were driven from their fine mansion in Alderaan by a wicked magician and her own son. Believing her husband dead, Leia and Luke raise three orphan girls - Jess, Rey, and Kaydel - in a school in the city. When the school fails, they find themselves forced into the country.

Luke thinks he may have prospects in the city and returns there. The women all ask for gifts. Leia wants books, Jess tools, and Kaydel ribbon trim. Rey, who loves plants, only asks for one perfect rose, for none grow around their cottage. The former teacher is stranded by a blizzard in a seemingly abandoned mansion. He hears voices and knows someone is bringing him food, but he can't see who. The mansion has extensive gardens, including stunning roses. But Luke barely picks one when he's attacked by a hideous monster with a familiar gravely voice. The monster says  he'll let him go - if he sends Leia in his place.

Her brother refuses at first, but Leia is determined to go...and the girls won't let her go alone. All four women are eventually detained at the mansion. Turns out there's four beasts here, for the monster is accompanied by three younger animals, all of whom are far more positive that one day things will get better. The youths are the Beast's apprentices, changed spitefully by the wicked magician Snoke and Leia's own son Ben.


Leia and the girls have mysterious dreams their first night there. They imagine themselves in stunning gowns in the garden, accompanied by four handsome men. The eldest, rugged and silver-haired, is familiar to Leia...but he can't tell her the truth, for in the dream world, he's mute. His three wards speak for him. They're all taken away by a shadowy figure who seems to hold a terrible power over them all. Leia and her three adopted daughters become determined to solve the mystery of the decaying mansion and find out who's the real monster...and who's the prince.

The Water of Life - Queen Leia, in mourning for her lost brother and her husband, who was kidnapped by a wicked wizard, is dying. She tells her son Prince Ben and her adopted children Hux and Rey that whichever of them finds Luke, who alone has the water that can restore her, will rule her lands when she passes on. Hux and Ben are determined to find the water first...but it's kind Rey who proves that a gentle heart and good nature can triumph over the strongest evil.

Remember WENN 

Captain Victor, Man of Power (Alternative Universe Superhero/Action) - Set directly after the first season episode "There But Before Grace." Tired of dealing with (and being run all over by) sponsors and confused about his feelings for Betty and Grace Cavendish, Victor Comstock imagines himself as one of those new superheroes that have become popular with the kids, Jeff as his sidekick, Betty as the new girl reporter on the block, C.J as a scientist, Ceila as the daughter of a missing scientist and Victor's other sidekick, Hilary as a snooty actress-turned-society-reporter, Mackie as their boss, and Grace as a Dragon Lady-type villaness.

The Best Radio Christmas Pageant Ever - A kind of "missing scene" story set during the early first season. Victor wants to present the story of the Nativity on the airwaves, but the kids starring in the show are unruly, Hilary wants a bigger role, the sponsor is turning the show into a commercial, and Ceila will have nothing to do with it. And there's reports of a major snowstorm heading for Pittsburgh...

On the Edge of the Precipice Series

The Fox and the Falcon - Betty finds herself head over heels involved in espionage when the true leader of the spy ring becomes known...and Victor Comstock returns with startling news...

Remember WENN Fairy Tale Series

Hilary's Story: Beauty and the Beast - Wrap-around segments set day after fourth-season episode "You've Met Your Match." Story based around third and fourth season. Angry at Scott and Jeff for their behavior the night before and in the past few months in general, Betty and Hilary concoct the story of two sisters who discover that the beastly owner and manager of a dilapidated theater may not be what they appear on the outside...or even inside...

Mr. Eldridge and Gertie's Story: The Man Who Minded the House - Set after and based around the fourth season episode "Work Shift." Mr. Eldridge recalls the story of how a man and a woman (him and Gertie) learn that the grass isn't always greener in someone else's work area when he takes over her household duties and she works in the fields.

Story Ideas: 

Star Wars Prequel Trilogy


The Road to Coruscant (Mid 20th Century Alternative Universe) - Ben Kenobi and Anakin Walker are singers taking their vaudeville act on the road. Anakin is forever coming up with moneymaking schemes that get them into a few little problems with the law, to the annoyance of Martin Windu, their long-suffering manager. They have no problems romancing the ladies, either...until they encounter beautiful, elegant dancer Patricia Amidala. Patricia, a genuine noblewoman, is in a heap of trouble with the nasty Count Dooku and Lord Palpatine. Anakin says it's up to them to get her out of it. Ben...wishes they could just go home to Los Angeles, but Anakin is his best friend, so he does it anyway.


Fairy Tales


Swan Lake


Star Wars Original Trilogy


Han Solo, Galactic Private Eye (Alternative Universe) - Han is a laid-back private eye in his dilapidated ship, with his wookie partner Chewbacca by his side. Old Ben Kenobi, who sometimes gives him work, finds him a doozy - help his friend Luke Skywalker find Leia Organa, the daughter of a prince, who was carrying some very vital information to Alderaan when she was kidnapped by a nasty war lord. (Haven't decided if this one is going to stay in the Star Wars universe, or be moved elsewhere.)


Star Wars Sequel Trilogy

The Wizard of Oz (Alternative Universe Fantasy-Wizard of Oz-inspired) - Rachel "Rey" Gale lives with her Aunt Leah and Uncle Harry and their two farmhands on a farm outside of Jakkuson, Kansas in 1939. She feels like her life is as gray as the world around her, especially after the nasty man who runs the First Order Manor near-by threatens to take her beloved Westie Terrier BeeBee to the pound and her grouchy cousin demands his share of the farm. A tornado whisks Rey and BeeBee over the rainbow and into the land of Oz. Oz is under the tyrannical rule of the Warlock of the West and his apprentice. Queen Leia was imprisoned in her own magic bubble and banished to the lands of the South, where she amasses an army to stop him. She once ruled with her husband and her wizard brother, but her husband vanished after he was attacked by her son, and her brother is hiding in the Emerald City. Rey has to go to the Emerald City to find the Wizard Skywalker, with the help of a cowardly lion-soldier, a scarecrow who had once worked for the queen, and the Tin Smuggler, who seems to know a lot more about the queen and the Warlock of the West and his apprentice than he'll let on...

Fairy Tales

Rumpelstiltskin
Little Red Riding Hood

The Frog Prince

Remember WENN

Maltese Falcon Film Noir Spoof II (Alternative Universe Film Noir/Mystery) - Wrap-around set during the late third or early fourth seasons. Hilary and Scott give two different sides of the tale of a dame who may or may not have gotten a private eye involved with smuggling and murder.

Ceila Short Story - Missing scene set during the first season episode "A Capitol Idea." Ceila says good-bye to the station after she's hired by the guy who wanted her to promote Blondie cartoons.

Fairy Tale Series

Jeff's Story - Aladdin and His Magic Lamp
C.J's Story - Jack and the Beanstalk
Victor's Story - King Arthur
Ceila's Story - Goldielocks and the Three Bears
Mackie's Story
Eugenia and Mr. Foley's Story

Original Children's Short Stories

Stories based after childhood memories, including:

Painting someone else's fence.
Little kids running through other people's yards when Mom and Dad aren't looking.
Beach frolics - walking home from the beach.

The Resistance Kids Go Camping - A Star Wars Short Story

After much delay, here's the second "Resistance Kids" story, a short inspired by the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "The Horror of Slumber Party Mountain" (with a very different ending). Don't look for any more for a while. I'm going to try to concentrate on stories that focus on the Original and Prequel films until publicity for the second sequel film starts to emerge and we learn more about it.

The Resistance Kids Go Camping
Rating: PG (violence)
Pairings: Background Han/Leia
Disclaimer: The franchise belongs to George Lucas and the Walt Disney Company.
Notes: The ghost story Leia tells is fictional. It was actually inspired by the Tiny Toons Adventures episode “The Horror of Slumber Party Mountain”...with a very different ending.

Here we are!” The door to the old cabin swung open. Leia Organa-Solo dropped her suitcase on the rustic wooden floor. “I am so glad we were able to borrow the family cabin from my brother. I think we need this trip.” The movement caused a cloud of dust to drift up into her round face, making her sneeze violently. “Luke spent three years up here, and he couldn't clean this place?”

It's not very big, Leia.” Rey Rider left her old, cracked leather suitcase on the couch. “I'm sure it won't take long to do if we all work together.”

I think it's cute.” Kaydel Ko Connix bounced in next, carrying a tote bag. “It's not like we're going to be living here. We're just here for the weekend.”

Jessica Pava was last, carting a bag of food in one arm and an army-issue duffel bag she'd borrowed from fellow Resistance Kid Poe in the other. “Could you guys help me here? Unless you want to spend the weekend foraging for nuts and berries.”

Let me get that.” Leia took the bag over to the tiny kitchen. “It's nearly winter. Most of the wild nuts and berries are done for the season, if the birds and small animals didn't get to them first.”

I could hunt.” Rey pulled her Swiss Army Knife out of a pocket in her suitcase. “I could kill a quail or a rabbit if we really needed it.”

Oh no!” Kaydel's blue eyes widened in horror. “Oh Rey, you wouldn't hurt a poor innocent bunny! It didn't do anything!”

No one is hunting anything, except the occasional stray marshmallow.” Leia lit the fireplace. “At least Luke had the sense to clean out the chimney.”

Rey had already gone back outside on the wide front porch, with its split log railings and triangular wooden chairs. “What a view!” A dusting of snow frosted gray-stone peaks and windswept valleys. It looked like the cakes Maz sometimes made for the kids during the winter, all thick and craggy with fruit, nuts, and glaze. “I feel like I'm in Lord of the Rings. There's no mountains like this in southern England.”

It's so beautiful here.” Kaydel shivered in her wasp-waisted blue coat. “But so cold! I can't believe how cold it already is. It hasn't even snowed in New York yet.”

Leia and Jess joined them, sitting on the steps on the porch. “I love this place. Mama Breha and Papa Bail used to take me here. I thought it was a fairy land, with how the light used to spill through the trees in the evening, and all the little nooks and crannies where little creatures lived.”

Kaydel pulled her blue coat further around her arms. “They were your parents, right?”

Technically adopted parents. They took me in when I was just a baby.” She sighed. “To me, they'll always be my real parents. They came up here from Mexico with nothing in the late 1800's. Faced a lot of prejudice, but Papa Bail eventually went through law school.” She shook her head, then smiled. “Why don't we go tackle that dusting? I'll see if I can find pictures of them while we clean.”

They did clean. They dusted and polished and scrubbed until the tiny cabin sparkled. Leia found a framed photograph of Bail and Breha Organa to show the girls. “This is them, right after they were married.”

They remind me a little of Poe.” Rey ran her finger over the man with the goatee and the gentle, strong eyes. “Especially him.”

Kaydel grinned over her shoulder. “Your mom was lucky. Mr. Organa was really handsome.”

Leia hung the photo back on the wall. “You know, Papa Bail used to tell me the most wonderful ghost stories about these mountains and the surrounding towns. Maybe I could share a few of them tonight.”

Oooh, ghost stories!” Jess grinned. “I love scary stuff.”

Over an open fire,” Rey added. “Like we were camping in a tent.”

With marshmallows!” Kaydel finished. “And all of us burrowed under every blanket in the cabin.”

What else would you do on a camp-out?” The woman detective put her dust rag in a small cloth bag by her bed. “But first, we all need to eat real food, or no one will be getting marshmallows or anything else.”

As Rey went to sweep the front porch, she swore she heard rustling in the bushes, even though there was no wind tonight. A gruff voice said “guys, hush!” before all went quiet. Rey stopped and listened for more sounds. When none were forthcoming, she shrugged and continued sweeping.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The four women enjoyed a lovely dinner of canned tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, then pulled out the s'mores. Leia made sure the grate was around the fire and admonished them not to sit too close, or let the blankets get too close. She gathered blankets while the other girls changed into their nightgowns and pajamas.

They all gathered around the fire as Leia pulled out the bag of marshmallows she'd picked up before leaving New York. Rey revealed sticks she'd gathered outside. They all put their candy as far into the fire as they dared. “Hey Leia,” Jess started, “how do you like yours?”

Oh, just a little brown on the sides.” She pulled hers out to see if it was done. “Luke likes his char-broiled. He'd stick it right into the fire and let it burn. Please don't do that here. I don't want to burn this place down.”

Blech!” Rey stuck out her tongue. “I'd rather have it a little burned. They don't taste good covered in ashes.”

Kaydel frowned as something smacked against the side of the house. “Did you guys hear that?”

Rey made a face. “Heard what?” Her eyes widened when her marshmallow caught fire. “Whoa! I don't want it that black!”

Blow on it!” Jess blew quickly on hers as Rey did the same.

Leia shook her head, pulling out a perfectly golden-brown marshmallow. “Maybe that's enough sugar. I'll never get you girls to bed if you eat the whole bag.”

Leia, we're not five-year-olds.” Rey peeled off the blackened outer shell. “We go to bed when we want to.”

Yes,” Leia pointed out, “but if we don't stop now, we'll never get to telling those ghost stories.”

Kaydel shivered as the wind pounded on the door. She looked over her shoulder...and nearly screamed. “Eeeek! Leia, I saw a face in the window! A hideous face! Really!”

All four raced onto the porch. “Kay,” Leia began slowly, “there's nothing here. It's just the shadows from the trees playing tricks on your eyes.”

No, Leia.” Rey was already checking under the porch and around the sides of the cabin. “I heard something earlier, too.”

Jess was checking around the wood pile. “All I see is wood and dried grass.”

Leia shivered. “We'll figure it out later. Let's go inside, before we freeze to death.”

That killed anyone's appetite for sugar. Leia took the marshmallows and sticks back to the kitchen while the girls reorganized the blankets and pillows in front of the fire. “This is so cozy.” Rey flopped down on the pile when they were done. “It beats the heck out of that corrugated tin shack I used to live in when I first came to America.”

Well,” Jess flopped next to her, “you don't have to do that now. I'm glad we were able to get the weekend off at work. Han only looked slightly disappointed when we told him we wouldn't be around on Friday afternoon and Saturday.”

He'll get over it.” Leia dropped the marshmallows in the cupboard. “It's not like he doesn't have Finn and Snap there.”

Jess rolled her eyes. “Poe was such a baby. He said you never give him assignments that involve cabins in the wilderness.”

He never asks for them.” She put water in a tea kettle for hot chocolate.

Kaydel giggled. “Baby tried to go. She kept jumping in my suitcase. I told her we didn't want her getting lost.”

She's a city dog.” Rey pulled a thick knitted blanket around her. “She wouldn't know what to do in a green place with no fence or buildings around.”

Leia brought them all steaming hot chocolate on an old tray. “Here's to a relaxing weekend, ladies.” They all clinked mugs together.

Amen.” Rey sipped hers, then put it aside. “Ok, who wants to tell the first ghost story?”

I have one.” Leia slowly drank her cocoa, savoring it. “Papa Bail used to tell it to me all the time when I was little.”

The other three girls gathered around her. As she began, Leia swore she heard a soft snickering and a cough outside, but she ignored it. “There used to be, in a huge old stone house in the valley, a chemist who fled here from New York when his ideas were rejected by society.”

What, you mean Snoke?” Rey smirked as the other two snickered. “This isn't his kind of place. Too sane and peaceful.”

May I continue?” Leia waited until the giggling died down. “This man had been experimenting on animals in the woods, hoping to create the perfect specimen to put him back at the top of the scientific community. One great creation, and he'd go down in scientific history!”

The fire crackled and popped as her voiced dropped. The girls leaned in to catch every word. “It was a snowy night in winter, not unlike this one. Most animals were in hibernation, but one lone deer was separated from the herd.” Her voice became a near whisper. “This dear wasn't a cute Bambi-like fawn. It was a great, hulking buck, an old-timer who had been driven out by a younger leader. He was so in despair, he didn't look where he was going. He never knew what happened until he saw the headlights...and then, it was too late.”

Rey shivered. Leia's small smile almost seemed sinister in the light. “The scientist had been busy that night. He'd offered a ride to a younger man, an immigrant hitchhiker looking for work. He didn't know what hit him when the scientist drugged him and bound him. He had plans for that buck and the youth.”

If blankets had edges, the girls would have been on the edge of them. “He managed to drag them both into his laboratory. The young man was strapped onto a table, the buck alongside him. 'Don't be afraid,' he told him. 'You're going to be a part of a new species. You will have the intelligence of a human with the strength and stamina of a buck in its prime.' The young man screamed and screamed, but he was drowned out by the ancient machinery as it crackled and sparked.”

The fire cast ghoulish shadows on Leia's face, giving it a nearly evil cast. “The youth awoke to discover he was neither human nor a deer, but a hideous monster that walked upright, with horns sprouting out of his head, dark eyes too large for his long face, with hooves for hands, long, sinewy arms and legs, and fur covering his body.” Her grim look was nearly frightening. “Something went wrong. His mind couldn't handle what had been done to him. He now had a deer's mind and a human's mind, and the two did not mix.”

Well,” whispered Rey, “what happened?”

He turned on the scientist. Some say he killed him with the same scalpel he'd used on him. Others say in his horror and confusion, he shoved the man into the wires from his machine, accidentally electrocuting him. The entire building burned to the ground that night, either from the wires catching fire, or the deer-man burning it himself.” She nodded at the windows, with their views of mountainsides drenched in soft indigo and pale blue-white. “They say the deer-man still wanders these hills. He went mad from the shock and horror, continuing to seek out those who use nature and innocent wanderers for their own gain.”

Wow.” Kaydel's eyes were wide. The three girls barely breathed. “Is all that true?”

No one knows.” Leia shrugged. “I thought it sounded crazy, too, but Papa Bail insisted he'd heard the story from someone who had lived near the laboratory and saw the fire.”

The other three told their stories next. Jess told of a white ghost of a woman and two children who haunted a certain road in the Philippines, where her parents were from, and caused many accidents. Rey related tales of the many ghosts in the Tower of London, which she'd passed every day on her way home to school from the orphanage. Kaydel loved going to the movies. One of her favorite theaters, the New Amsterdam in Manhattan, had its own ghost, a beloved Ziegfeld showgirl who died tragically and was said to still be haunting the dressing rooms.

Leia settled back after the last one. “I think it's time we started considering bed. I wanted to get you girls up early for a nice, long hike tomorrow. There's a really beautiful lake down in the valley that has some amazing fishing...”

That was when they heard it. It was the eeriest, creepiest howl Rey had ever heard. It was like a banshee, wailing through the pine trees. The howl was followed by a series of moans, each one louder than the next, and then something thumping on the porch.

L...Leia....” Jess jumped up from her blanket. “Now I know I see something! I saw a face! A deer...person...thing!”

Leia shook her head. “Jess, you're just spooked. It was only a story.”

The moaning continued. Kaydel screamed next. “I saw antlers scraping against the side of the cabin! Really, I did!”

Rey went into the bedroom she and the other girls were sharing and came out with her knife. “We may need this.”

Really, girls. It's just the wind.” Leia sighed. “All right. Go get your coats, and there's flashlights in the left drawer in the cupboard in the kitchen. We're going to catch ourselves some intruders.”

They all grabbed their coats and heavy rubber boots. Leia handed out flashlights, while Rey tucked her knife in her pocket. Kaydel grabbed a pan. Jess settled for a pillow. Leia pulled her gun out of her purse.

Are you sure that's a good idea, Leia?” Jess asked nervously. “We're not in the city.”

I always carry this with me.” She swung the door open. “You can never be too careful.”

Rey shivered as she stepped onto the porch. Sometime in the last few hours, it had started snowing. It was a light, graceful shower, with snowflakes dancing gently around her nose. It would have been very pretty if she wasn't so nervous.

Look!” Kaydel shined her light on the porch floor. “Footprints!”

Leia knelt beside them. “They're about the size of an ordinary snow boot. Much larger than any of ours. Either a man, or a very big woman.”

Jess raised an eyebrow. “Why would a half-man, half-deer-thing wear snow boots?”

To keep his hoof-feet warm?” Kaydel shrugged when the others turned to stare at her. “What?”

It's not a half-man, half-deer-thing. That's just an urban legend.” Leia followed the prints into the snow, the girls trailing after her. “Looks like we're out of tracks. The snow just keeps covering them.”

Kaydel had been looking behind the woodpile when she stopped. “L...l...le...”

The older woman turned towards her, noticing the fear in her voice. “What is it, Kay?”

She pointed at the lumbering creature coming up behind them. The long, gray shadow had horns on its head...and quite human feet. “Um, would now be a good time to get out of here? I think it found us.”

Rey gasped as a tall...thing....trundled out. The shadows partially obscured the mask-like deer head and towering, fur-covered body. Another shadow, this one sporting a long coat like doctors wore and a scalpel, stalked behind them.

I have come for you.” The creature kept walking, even as it moaned. “I will feast upon your brains! I will gnaw your knee bones! I will make all of you into half-animals, so you know the horror I once faced! I will...owww!”

One thing Rey had not expected to see sticking out of the back of a deer-man was a familiar brown winter coat with orange trim. She knew that coat. She jabbed the back of the monster in mid-stream, then cut the badly-sewn cords holding the fuzzy brown cloth together. Emboldened, Kaydel smacked the creature in the rear with her frying pan. Jess leaped onto the man in the white coat, hitting him hard with her pillow.

Leia turned her gun to the woods. “You can come out now, boys. Joke's over.”

Finn dropped the man in the deer mask into the rapidly deepening snow. “Ow! Kay, what was that for?”

For tricking us!” Kaydel held her frying pan. “We thought you were a real monster!”

Hey fellas,” said Poe's voice under the deer mask, “I'm stuck! I can't get this off!”

Let me help you.” Rey put her knee into his stomach and pulled with all her might. It came off with one great whoosh. She studied the head in her hands. “Where did you get this?” Her fingers traced the hairs down the nose and across the chin. “It looks like a real deer.”

Snap came out of the woods. “My dad knows a guy who makes really authentic animal heads for decorations in cabins and lake houses. We borrowed it from him.”

Leia smirked as she dropped her firearm back in her purse. “You can let your prisoner go now, Jess. I think my husband has been thoroughly humbled.”

Jess and Snap helped Hank Solo to his feet. He rubbed his arms and chest where she'd smacked him. “Sheesh Jess, what's in that pillow? Lead pellets?”

Well, you scared me!” Jess shrugged. “I thought I was defending my honor!”

The way you smacked me around,” Hank moaned, “I think I should have been worried about defending mine!”

All right.” Leia glared at her husband and the three sheepish young men behind him. “Would one of you like to tell me just what you're doing here?”

Poe made a face. “We wanted to go on a vacation to the mountains, too.”

Finn nodded. “It wasn't fair you girls went on some big trip and left us in New York.”

I was going to borrow my buddy Lance's RV for the weekend anyway,” Hank admitted. “So when the boys started complaining about not getting to go anywhere, I bundled them in and took them to the campground down in the valley.”

Hank told us the story about the deer-man and the scientist.” Poe held up the deer head. “He said you told him that old wives' tale, and it was one of your favorites. That's when we came up with the idea of scaring you.”

We didn't mean any harm,” Snap added. “Just wanted to get you back for not bringing us.”

Rey rolled her eyes. “Please. You're all a bunch of babies. Can't we do anything without dragging the lot of you along?”

And you, Hank Solo, should know better.” Leia crossed her arms. “Really, did you have to encourage them?”

Hank was pulling the old, red-spattered doctor's coat off his shoulders. His “scalpel” was a sharp stick. “Hey, I thought it might be a nice way to liven up the weekend.”

Well,” Kay began with a smile, “it was kind of funny when Jess jumped on you.”

And you know, that deer head did have me fooled.” Rey smirked. “For a minute or two.”

Oh please.” Finn chuckled. “You were all scared to death!”

Leia rubbed her arms. Han pulled her into his warm embrace. “We're all going to catch our death of cold if we don't get inside. I think you boys are going to have to stay with us tonight. We'll send you back to the RV in the morning, after the snow ends.”

That was when they heard a long, low moan. It rattled the trees and shook the snow loose from branches. It was followed by an ear-splitting, heart-rendering deer call. Finn's eyes widened as a long shadow, with antlers ten feet tall, crept across the forest floor.

Uh...” He gulped as they all stared at the shadow. “Last one at the cabin is a really melted marshmallow!”

Hey!” Rey started after him. “Wait for us!” They'd never run so fast in their entire lives. Hank grabbed Leia's hand and pulled her along after them.

The little deer stumbled into the clearing a minute later. “Ow!” His mother rubbed his tiny hoof. “I'm sorry, Mommy! I didn't see that rock! It bit me!”

You're all right, sweetie.” She pulled the rock out of his hoof. “There.” The doe looked up just in time to see Hank and Leia's retreating backs. “I wonder what that's all about?”

Her son giggled. “Maybe it's some human game!”

The mother doe sighed. “Humans can be so strange.” She nudged her little one back. “Let's go home, before the white frost becomes worse.”

Ok, Mommy!” The deer just giggled again as he heard the door slam and saw all the humans tumble into their caves. Human ways were very strange, indeed.

The End

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Introduction - Cinder-Han

This took a LOT longer than I originally planned! First, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died, and I ended up doing two short stories to deal with my feelings. Then I discovered my rent was being increased, not to mention I continue to have financial problems, both of which I discuss in more detail in my regular blog. I also joined Pinterest, which proved to be a huge distraction.

Most of all...this story just ended up being a lot longer than a simple fairy tale. I don't think it came out too horribly, for all the problems I had while writing it. I've seen Star Wars versions of Cinderella that had Obi-Wan as the servant and Qui-Gon as the princely Jedi, as well as Luke/Han and quite a few Finn/Poe. Oddly enough, I've never seen one used for the original Star Wars couple, Han and Leia. Maybe people didn't think of it for them because Leia's nobody's little cinder girl...but what about her swaggering smuggler swain? As with The Girl and the Sorcerer, I thought a gender-reversal was in order. Here, Han is the put-upon servant, while Leia is the dashing royal in search of a groom.

Incidentally, my next project will probably be (finally) The Resistance Kids Go Camping. I'll then either finish the Original Trilogy 30's adventure story I started last year, do the Luke/Han/Leia Snow Queen, or do the Sequel Trilogy Beauty and the Beast. We'll see how things go.

Cinder-Han, Part 1

Rating: PG (violence)
Pairings: Han/Leia
Disclaimer: The franchise belongs to George Lucas and the Walt Disney Company.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Harron Solo who lived in a grand estate on the edge of the the Kingdom of Corellia. Well, sort of. Actually, he only worked there. It had belonged to his family, once...until his father Lord Josiah, a wealthy nobleman, died. He barely remembered his father. He was only two when a plague swept through the Kingdom of Corellia, taking his father with it.

His mother didn't know what to do. Lady Jania Solo was lost without her husband. Lord Josiah had been in the ground for two days when the ugliest troll she'd ever seen oozed across her door. He was slimy and grotesque and covered in wrinkles, with a fat, cigar-like tail. His name was Jabba the Hutt, and he claimed everything – her home, her furniture and jewels and clothes – belonged to him.

It turned out her husband had worked for him for years, smuggling illegal drugs and contraband into Corellia and other kingdoms, then gambling away the profits. Three large shipments had been lost in a severe storm, and coupled with a bad run at the tables, His Lordship had been completely bankrupted. He'd been forced to sell the manor house and its contents, his business, and even his family's services to Jabba and his company.

I won't let you turn me out of my home.” Lady Jania held her shoulders high and pulled her son close to her. “You can have everything else, the jewels and furniture. They mean nothing to me. Just let us stay. I need a place to raise my son. Harron is all I have left.”

Oh, you two can stay,” the old troll laughed. “As my servants. You'll make an especially pretty maid, my dear.” Harron could vaguely recall hiding behind his horrified mother's skirts when Jabba reached out to pet his hair. “And is that your son? He's a skinny brat. Too much pampering will do that to a boy. My adopted sons will soon toughen that little runt.”

Jabba claimed he was a merchant. Actually, he was a criminal and a troll, with a fat finger in every illegal pot in the kingdom. His men, including several of his relatives, slept there, often destroying or blanketing with smoke from their cigars anything they didn't outright steal. His adopted sons were no better. Boba in particular tormented him, hating anyone who could be as strong, intelligent, or good-looking as he.

By the time Harron was in his late 20's, Solo Mansion was falling apart. He was grateful his mother hadn't lived to see it. Jania was never really well after Josiah's death and the loss of her home. One of the first things Jabba had done to pay off Lord Solo's debts was fire almost all of the servants. Jania, who had been raised a noble and had never cooked or cleaned in her life, now found herself doing most of the mending, cleaning, repairing, and cooking, as well as raising a young boy on her own. She sold everything she could to make sure her son was relatively well-fed and educated, and at least could go to the village school with the other boys.

Only Harron and old Maz in town truly mourned when she finally passed on. Shortly after, Jabba withdrew Harron from school. He now had to take over most of the chores she'd done. Jabba and his men never called him “Harron” anymore. He was called “Han,” which meant “cinders, or ashes” in Corellian, for the fireplace was where he spent a great deal of his time now. His “brothers” taunted him, calling him “Cinder Boy” and rubbing ashes from the fireplace in his face.

Han was determined that he wouldn't end up like his mother, dead from exhaustion and heartbreak. He would find a way to pay off his debt and be free of the old troll for good. As he grew older, he started to take more and more trips to other kingdoms, bringing whatever stolen goods Jabba was delivering at the moment to his equally shady buyers. His only real friends in Corellia were Chewbacca, a faithful, furry mutt, and Falcon, the oldest and most worn horse in Jabba's stable.

Jabba, for his part, resented Han. Lady Jania's spoiled brat had grown into a ruggedly handsome man, with all the charm, wit, and exceptional looks and intelligence of his parents. More of his customers had started to request the witty, attractive courier...ignoring Jabba's own adopted sons, whom he wanted to take over the “family” business. He made sure he saw as little of Solo as possible. Han slept in a tiny hay loft above the stables and ate his meals there, or in the kitchen with the few other servants.

One day, Han was delivering a load of illegal gunpowder and fireworks Jabba was selling in Coruscant, the largest city in Naboo, the next kingdom over. Chewbacca trotted by his side. He'd stopped to let Falcon drink and munch on some grass when he heard the screams and angry yelling.

Han crept over to a thicket of blackberries. Peering through them, he saw a group of bandits, surrounding a pretty young girl with dark hair, a handsome youth with hair of spun gold, and an old man in the heavy dark robes of a magician or wizard. They were fighting back a group of leering bandits, but the bandits outnumbered them and kept coming.

The girl shot off three arrows rapid-fire. Han had never seen a girl who could do that before. It made him feel a fire in his belly he'd never felt with other women. “You won't get our gold, you monsters!” she shouted. “You will go on your way and leave us alone!”

Sure we will, girlie.” The largest bandit reached over, yanking off her white hood. Han's eyes widened, not only at her great beauty...but at the fire in her eyes that clearly said these men would be dead in about five minutes, if she had her way.

Let my sister go!” The youth lashed out at them with his sword, but two men yanked his arms behind his back. “Don't you dare touch her!”
Would you look at this one?” The bandit ran his calloused hand over the girl's soft, white cheek. “We could get a fine price for her! Let's hold them all for ransom!”

One of his men reached for her. “I get her first!”

His leader pushed him back. “She's mine. Make do with the old man and that scrawny kid.”

The boy glared at him. “Scrawny?”

The girl gave him a small smirk. “You are very thin, brother dear. I've said you need to start filling out more.”

Wedge doesn't have any problems with my body,” her brother muttered darkly.

Children, this is not the time, nor the place for this argument.” The old man started to raise his own sword, but one of the bandits yanked it out of his hand.

Oooh, would you look at this? Fine Blue Khyber Diamond!” The bandit showed his prize to his master. “We could get some good money for this!”

His leader smirked, grasping the boy's weapon. “Same diamond, but look at the handle! Real sapphires, and such craftsmanship! I may keep this one for myself. It's worthy of a bandit king.”

The girl struggled and scratched and bit and kicked, screaming at the top of her lungs. “No! You put that down! It's been in my father's family for generations! You let us go, you bastard!”

Han fell in love with the girl right then and there. Not only was she beautiful, but she was brave, and quite witty, too. Even in her simple man's tunic and breeches, her hair pulled back into a messy braid, she was the most fiery and brilliant creature he'd ever met. Certainly better than the dim-witted chits Jabba's boys brought around!

The bandit held the sword in front of her brother's throat. “Keep yelling like that, girlie, and we'll take off your pretty brother's head.”

Chewbacca nudged Han. “I can't get involved, boy,” he insisted. “I have to get to Coruscant with this load, or Jabba will have my head.”

The big, shaggy dog growled and remained where he was. Falcon trotted over, nibbling lightly at his arm. He pushed at a saddle bag with his nose.

What can I do?” Han shook his head. “Those guys are twice the size of me...” That was when he remembered his load. “You know, maybe they wouldn't notice if just a little gunpowder was missing...”

The bandit was about to force himself on the girl when something exploded right in the middle of the group, spraying colorful light in all directions. The girl took advantage of the distraction to thrust her knee into a sensitive place. The boy elbowed both of his captors, taking his sword back and his older companion's as well. Chewbacca bit another hard in the leg; Falcon kicked one right into a tree.

Han was the greatest archer in all of Corellia. He could shoot down an apple from twenty leagues away, or take out four bandits with one arrow. As it turned out, the others weren't bad with their weapons, either. The boy was awkward but quick with his sword. The girl was an equal archer, shooting down apples from the tallest treetops to hit bandits on the head and knock them out. The old man felled bandits right and left.

Han tossed more fireworks into the fray. “Let's get out of here, before the smoke clears!” They barely had enough time to rush off into the forest before the bandits realized what was happening.

They raced through the woods and down the main road to Coruscant. Han usually avoided the main roads, given that his cargo was less-than-legal, but it was the fastest way to get out of the forest. He groaned as they heard horse hooves behind them.

Those bastards are still after us!” He grabbed another firecracker, letting it spit and crackle behind them. “Here.” He tossed ones to the boy and the girl. The boy looked a little nervous, but still threw it. The girl threw it without any hesitancy whatsoever.

The firecrackers frightened the bandits' horses. Han looked over his shoulder just in time to see the old man wave his hand. Maybe it was his imagination, but he could have sworn a blue light writhed around the spent fireworks. When the light faded, snakes as long as his arm writhed in the middle of the road. They hissed at the horses, chasing them off the road.

Han shuddered. He knew how the horses felt. If there was one thing he hated, it was snakes. They were pretty much the only thing he was afraid of.

They finally pulled over on the side of the road, near the Alder River. “We thank you, sir,” the old man said simply. “My niece and nephew and I are on our way back to Coruscant. We're...meeting friends there.”

Han gave them his lazy grin, his eyes sliding towards the girl. “Well, I happen to be going to Coruscant myself. Maybe I could escort 'ya. Make sure no one else tries anything.”

The girl rolled her dark eyes. “Thank you very much, sir, but we can take care of ourselves.”

Oh yeah,” Han sneered. “You took care of yourselves so well, those guys were about to jump on you and take off your brother's head.”

Oh, come on, sis.” Her brother shrugged. “What harm could it do?”

I agree. I believe we could use the extra protection.” The older man nodded. “My name is Ben Kenobi. I work for the King and Queen in Coruscant. This is Luke and Leia, scholars who are studying in the city. What's your name, sir?”

Han.” He turned Falcon around. “I'm Han Solo.” He patted the pile of fur by his side. “This is Chewbacca, my right-hand dog. I don't do anything without him.” Falcon nudged him. “Oh, and Falcon. He's the fastest horse in the entire kingdom.”

But he's so old.” Luke frowned. “Surely he can't be that fast!”

He's the horse that made the Kessel Road Run in less than twelve minutes.” He charged past the boy. “Bet your little pony can't catch up with us!”

Of course we can!” Luke nudged his pony. “Come on, Sun Rider! We can beat some old nag!”

Leia charged after them. “Swift Wing is faster than either of your silly horses!”

Obi-Wan shook his head as the three went charging down the road. One minute, one would be ahead, then the other, then the third. Obi-Wan finally used his magic to make Chewbacca appear in his arms. The dog was large and heavy. It wasn't the most comfortable ride, but he seemed to enjoy it.

Leia arrived at the market place just a split second ahead of Han, Luke very close behind them. She laughed when she arrived. “Ah ha! I won!”

Just barely.” Han gave her his big grin. “You know, you're kind of cute, for a scholar. I thought scholars were dull little schoolgirls hiding behind their books.”

She smirked. “And I thought all servants were silent and obedient.”

Nahh. I'm my own man.” He leaned against her. “You know, I'd love to go out with you sometime. If you're not too busy with your books.”

She shook her head. “I'm sorry, but I can't. I'm afraid I have too much to do.”

Han rubbed her hands. “Maybe we could just share some roasted chestnuts from the nut vendor at the market?”

Leia couldn't help herself. Her brown eyes were locked into his. They were really lovely, his eyes, all hazel and sparkling. “My hands are dirty.”

My hands are dirty, too.” He gently stroked her knuckle with his thumb. “What are you afraid of?”

The girl made afraid. “I'm not afraid! It's just...I like nice men.”

He raised her chin. “I'm a nice man.”

No, you're not. You...” Their lips were about to meet when they were interrupted by a very romantic sigh.

Leia and Han looked over their shoulders as one...to see Luke, his cheek on his chin. He practically had hearts in his eyes. “Don't mind me, you two.” He waved his hand. “Well, go on! This is better than Mother's favorite romance novels.”

I think we'd best move along.” Ben set Chewbacca on the ground, then reached into his pocket. He dropped a small bag into Han's hand. “Here, my boy. We're very grateful for your help, especially me. These two and their parents are all the family I have left in the world.”

Han looked at the bag in his hand...then shook his head. “Nahh. I don't need it. Buy some new robes, old man. Yours are so worn, I can nearly see through them.”

Leia chuckled. “We have been after him about replacing them.”

Still,” Ben began, “there has to be something I could do for you...”

I'm fine, old man. Get these kids back to school, before they land in detention for being out after curfew.” He pushed the bag back in the older fellow's hand.

Luke shook his hand. “Thank you so much! I hope we'll get to race again sometime.”

Sure, kid.” Han turned to Leia. “Well, I guess this is it, Sweetheart.”

Leia tried not to show how fast her heart was beating. “I guess it is.”

Han finally decided to take a leaf from her and try to play it as cool as she was. “Well, don't get all mushy on me. So long, princess.”

Sis,” Luke complained as Han rode across the square, Chewbacca following, “why do you have to drive every man who likes you away? I think Han was crazy about you. Did you see his eyes?”

He's a cocky idiot.” Leia made a face. “Not to mention a bold idiot. He's lucky there's no guards around. If they saw him trying to kiss the Princess of Naboo...”

I think we'll discuss this further at Theed Palace.” Ben nodded at the enormous, sprawling building in the distance. “You two go on ahead. I want to talk to an old friend.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Maz Kantana was one of Han's favorite people in Naboo, and one of his only real friends. She ran the local watering hole, the Takodana Pub. He was hoping she'd know what to do now. He strolled in, making his way past all the usual barflies and strange creatures who frequented her place.

Han!” Maz was a tiny old woman, puckered and reddish, with eyes that blinked under thick glasses. Most people wouldn't give her a second glance. “And Chewie.” The dog barked and ran to her, nearly knocking her down in his enthusiasm. “Ok, ok. I'll give you a treat.”

Hey, Han.” Lando Calarissian, one of Han's other few friends, sat behind the bar. “You still running errands for Jabba? Thought you finally paid him off.” Unlike Han, Lando was a free man. He didn't hold truck with Jabba or his companies, preferring to remain independent. It looked like he'd had some good luck at the tables lately. His blue suit and cape were the latest fashion, his coffee-colored skin was soft and clean, and his glossy black curls nearly glowed.

I should have just about enough with this shipment...” Han reached into the saddlebags...and realized they were empty. He tried to give Maz one of his grins, but it looked stiff. “Or, I had enough.”

Maz looked up from rubbing Chewie's stomach. “How did you lose that shipment? You know Jabba isn't going to forgive you for that. He'll take that money out of your hide.”

Yeah, I know.” He shrugged. “Helped some family on the road. Thought they had money. They...didn't. They were just some poor old guy and his kids.”

Lando raised an eyebrow. “Since when did you start rescuing poor people on the road?”

Han shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. “What could I do? They were being attacked by bandits. I didn't want the bandits trying anything on Chewie or Falcon or me, either. The bandits probably stole the explosives when I wasn't lookin'.”

Sure.” Maz waggled her finger in his face. “One of these days, Harron Solo, you're going to admit you inherited your mother's heart along with her beauty and brains.”

Don't call me that. That's not who I am anymore.” Han settled at his usual table. Chewbacca jumped up on the bench next to him. “I'll have Corellian ale, Maz.”

I'll give it to you when you pay me.” Chewbacca barked, giving her his largest puppy-dog eyes. The old woman finally sighed, shaking her head. “Oh, fine. Ale for you, water for Chewie. But just this once. I'm not running a charity ward here.”

Lando chuckled. “Good boy, Chewie. Those big eyes could melt Alderannian mountain stone.” He stood, straightening his cuffs. “Too bad your owner isn't that handsome.”

Who says?” Han smirked. “I almost kissed a scholar on the way here. She was so beautiful. Like something from one of those paintings of naked Greek goddesses Jabba keeps around the house. Tough, too. She almost took down all the bandits herself. Eyes of a doe and the balls of a knight in shining armor.”

Maz chuckled as she brought Chewie and Han their drinks. Chewie slurped his under the table, while Han sipped his. “It sounds like you're in love with her.”

Me?” Han chuckled. “Well...maybe. But she looks like a classy girl. That man's tunic of hers weren't cheap. I've sold that kind of brocade before on the black market. It costs at least 200 credits.” He shook his head. “What would a classy rich kid be doing with someone like me?”

Lando chuckled. “Who would have thought you falling for the classy type?”

It's not like I'll ever see her again.” Han swished his ale around with a wooden stick “I didn't get her address or anything. Too bad. She was really something else.”

Sounds like it, from the way you're fawning over her.” Lando tugged at his cuffs. “Sorry I can't hang around here, but I have an appointment with my tailor. I simply must dash. I need to do the last fitting for my new suit and cape for the ball.”

Han raised an eyebrow as he gulped his drink. “The ball?”

His friend raised a well-shaped eyebrow. “You didn't know? I thought everyone knew about the ball.”

I've been out of the country, doing deliveries.” Han looked up from his drink as Maz came over with a poster. “What's this about a ball?”

Prince Luke and Princess Leia's birthday ball.” Maz spread the poster out on Han's table. “King Anakin and Queen Padme are celebrating the twins' twentieth birthdays with the largest ball in the history of Naboo.” A crooked, scarlet finger smoothed the wrinkles under the words. “The royal parents are hoping to find their daughter a husband. Prince Luke is already engaged to Duke Wedge Antilles of Corellia, but Princess Leia has turned down every suitor for miles. The king and queen have invited every available man in the kingdom in the hope that she'll find one who will win her heart.”

Han was only half-paying attention to the poster...until he came to the artwork on the bottom, depicting the royal family. “That...that's her.” He nearly choked on his ale. “Those are the kids I met on the road!” It was a perfect likeness...only here, the boy wore a fine golden suit and a crown, and the girl was resplendent in delicate peach-colored silks and satin. It brought out the creamy smoothness of her cheeks, he decided.

Lando burst into laughter. “You rescued royalty? You?”

I didn't know! They didn't tell me! They said the kids were scholars and the old man was their chaperon!” Han shook his head. “I knew I should have taken the money.”

Maz's eyes sparkled. “Maybe you could ask her for it at the ball.”

Me?” He leaned back against the bench. “Me, at a ball?” He shrugged. “Well...maybe. I'm not really much for parties. Jabba's usually involve a lot of grabbing female rears and dirty deals in his back room. But a ball...”

Maz put a hand on his. “Why don't you go, Han? You want to go. I can see it in your eyes. It might be good for you.” She nodded at the poster. “And perhaps, good for her. I suspect what Princess Leia is looking for is a man who can challenge her. She's not the dainty, frilly type of royalty. She needs a lover who is as strong as she is.”

What she needs is a good kick in the pants.” Even as Han said it, his eyes never left the poster. “She'd probably throw me out.” He shrugged. “I might be able to sneak past Jabba, but I still don't have anything to wear.” He tugged at his tattered off-white peasant shirt and black vest. “These are the only clothes I have. Jabba took the rest for his boys when Ma died.”

I can help there.” Maz went in the back room. “When your father first went into debt, he sold almost his entire wardrobe to me. I told him not to, but he insisted. Said he had to pay off his debt somehow.” She brought a long form covered in a cloth bag. “I still have most of his clothes. This is a bit out of fashion, but it may work for you.”

The old woman pulled off the bag and let Han look it over. It had been a fine suit, once upon a time. The navy jacket and soft white silk shirt gleamed in the low light. He recognized the tight-fitting, yellow-striped trousers of the Corellian Army. “Did you know your father was in the Corellian Army, before he met your mother?” Maz ran her finger down the leg of the trousers. “He was wounded in the leg on one mission. Wasn't enough to keep him from walking, but it was enough to discharge him.”

Yeah.” Han looked over the suit. It had quite a few worn patches. “I ain't a shabby seamstress. Ma taught me how to fix a few things. I could probably patch this up a little. Might work.”

Lando looked over it. “You'll need to fix the elbows on the jacket, and it looks like mice may have chewed a hole in the back of the trousers. The collar's too high. The style's a lot lower nowadays. You might be able to replace it.”

You don't have much time.” Maz shoved the suit in his arms. “The ball is in three days.”

Lando grinned. “Maybe if you can get away from Jabba and those jerks he calls sons, we could go in together.” He straightened his own collar. “That princess won't know what hit her. We'll be the two best-looking men there.”

Han raised his chin. “Let Jabba try to stop me from going.”

Good.” Lando tipped his dark blue hat over his perfectly arranged curls. “I'll see you there, buddy.” Han watched him leave, taking another gulp from his ale as he did.

Maz waved her hand, her eyes suddenly worried. Han's eyes snapped up at the entrance as one of Jabba's boys, Greedo, strolled in. He was an ugly sucker, with a long nose, scaly skin, and spiky green hair that made him look more like a lizard than a human. He held a mechanical crossbow right at Han's chest.

Where have you been, Solo?” Greedo's thin lips twisted into a sneer. “You should have delivered that shipment and been home hours ago.”

Han immediately stuffed the suit behind him. “Yeah, well, there were a few problems on the road. I had to, er, dump the shipment.” He started to stroke his dog's fur. “I'll get him that money. I have to talk to a few people. Tell Jabba...”

Jabba's tired of your excuses.” Greedo trained his mechanical crossbow on his chest. “If he's feeling in an especially good mood, he may just sell that lame horse and mutt of yours to the glue factory.”

Chewbacca growled. Han's fingers tensed in his beloved dog's fur. “Over my dead body.”

Greedo might have smirked. It was hard to tell, with his thin lips. “That's the idea. I always thought you were a liability. Jabba can get other servants. I've been waiting for this for a long time.”

Yeah, I'll bet you have.” No one quite knew what happened after that. It was too dark in the back to see who shot whom under the table. While most patrons swore Han did it first, there were a few who said Greedo shot Han first and missed.

Regardless, Han Solo emerged from behind the table as Greedo's head fell forward, an arrow lodged in his chest. Chewbacca followed, growling at anyone who so much as looked the wrong way at his master. Han swept the suit into the crook of his arm. “Sorry about the mess, Maz.” He tossed a coin into the old woman's hand before sauntering out.

Minutes after Han and Chewbacca took off on Falcon, another, smaller figure, this one clad in a heavy brown cloak, ducked into the bar. He sat at the counter, putting out a coin to the bartender. “I need to talk to Maz Kantana. It's a matter of some urgency.”

Old Obi-Wan.” Maz quickly replaced the bartender. “What'll it be? Stewjohn Mulled Wine?”

Just like we used to have at home.” Obi-Wan gave her a wink. “No one makes it quite like you, Maz.”

Spare me the flattery.” She pushed the drink at him. “I heard what happened on the road. Solo is perfect for Leia. They have the same mind, the same spirit.” The old woman grinned, showing her near lack of teeth. “The same sarcastic mouths. They're perfect.”

Obi-Wan nodded, sipping his drink. “I did notice that on the young man who rescued us. He reminds me of Lord Josiah Solo, one of the most dashing noblemen ever in the court.” The old man puckered his lips at the bittersweet drink. “Until he fell out of favor with the king after gambling away a lot of Naboo's treasury.”

That's Josiah's boy, Harron.” Maz took the money he handed her. “He's got his father's charm and quick wit, but thank heavens, he also got his mother's kind heart and good head.”

Obi-Wan quirked a silver eyebrow. “He said his name was Han.”

Jabba's boys call him that. Meant to be an insult, but I think he wears it as a badge of pride.” She frowned. “Jabba will never let him get out of that contract. Han's too good at his job. This may be his best chance.”

Leia's, too.” Obi-Wan pushed the drink aside. “I'm worried Anakin may try to force some prince or nobleman's son she doesn't want on her, just to make a political alliance. He got lucky with Luke and the Duke of Corellia. Leia will resist any attempt to treat her like a prize.”

Maz nodded. “You might want to go to Jabba's tomorrow night and check on Han. I don't think that old troll going to let him go that easily, whether he has his father's suit or not.”

I think I'll do that.” He handed her a coin. “For the drink.”

Maz handed it back. “Keep it. You bring Han...Harron...to your Leia and make them both happy. Jania Solo was my friend. It killed me to see her slaving away for that slug of a troll. I don't want her son to share the same fate.”

He won't.” Obi-Wan raised his hood. “I need to get going. I have to get ready for the ball myself.”

Have a good time.” Maz waved at him. “Give my love to the King and Queen and Lady Tano.”


I will.” The moment the old man stepped outside and into the alley, he vanished in a small burst of blue light. Maz just smiled and returned to wiping down the counter.