Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Upcoming Novels, Novellas, Fairy Tales, and Short Stories

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

The Summer Strikes Back (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.

Coming Up Next:

Star Wars Original Trilogy

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.

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.

Star Wars Sequel Trilogy


Babes In Toyland (Alternative Universe - 1980's/Fantasy) - 8-year-old Barbara Beatrix "BB" Dameron (never call her Babs!) loves visiting her brother Poe where he works at Skywalker's Department Store. He's worried that the store may shut down if Leia Walker-Solo, it's owner, is pressured by nasty Alexander Snoke, who owns the First Order Mall. After meeting her brother's friends Rose, Finn, and Rey, Henry the security officer and his big dog Chewbacca, and the kindly old man who manages the toy department, she falls asleep and dreams that she's in Toyland, where nursery rhyme characters come to life. Leia Hubbard may be thrown out of her shoe by mean old Barnaby Snoke unless BB and all her new fairy tale friends can bring the tin soldiers to life to stop him!

Fairy Tales

Beauty and the Frogs - 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 - Rose, Rey, and Kaydel - in a cottage in the country.

On his way home from buying gifts for his womenfolk, Luke stops by a misty old mansion surrounded by an overgrown garden and a deep well. Luke is inspecting the golden ball he bought Rey, his favorite of the girls, when he drops the ball down the well. An old frog agrees to retrieve the ball, if his sister will come to the castle and eat and sleep with him and his three frog sons.

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 frogs here, for the wrinkly old toad is accompanied by three younger amphibians, all of whom are far more positive that one day things will get better. The youths are the toad'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

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


Star Wars Sequel Trilogy

Resistance Kids: The Last Good Cop (Alternative Universe - 1950's) - Rey is the first student at Luke's new police school, but he's wondering if he should give up teaching after the destruction of his previous school. Meanwhile, the First Order Gang is back on the street, including Ben Solo, and they're gunning for blood...and for Finn to rejoin them. Then Poe's beloved sports car blows to bits in front of his eyes, and Hank vanishes and his business is ransacked.

Hello Leia! (Alternative Universe - Musical-Inspired) - Leia Solo-Levi is the best-known matchmaker in New York City in 1907.  She's hired by her ex-husband Harold Solo to find a match for their son Benjamin, who can't make up his mind between the severe police chief's daughter and anarchic son of one of New York's richest men. What she wants is to re-marry her husband, but he has his eyes on a woman in town. Meanwhile, she engineers a meeting between Harold's clerks Poe and Finn and two cute girls in Manhattan, Rey and Rose. They all come together at Harmonia Gardens, the restaurant owned by Leia's brother Luke, for a most memorable evening. 

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.)

Western (Alternative Universe Western Adventure) - It's 1867 in the untamed plains of Coruscant, Kansas. Former homesteader Luke Walters longs to be a sheriff, like his late daddy Anthony was before him. He may get his chance at an apprenticeship when the current sheriff, Ol' Ben MacKenner, deputizes him to help rescue rancher's daughter Leia Ortez from the bandits who have raided and burned her home. They also get more dubious assistance from Harry Solo, a shady gunrunner, and his partner, Native American warrior Chewbacca.

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

Little Red Riding Hood

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.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Introduction - The Adventures of the Crimson Hawk

And here it is, after much delay...my first novel! At six months in the making and over 104,000 words, this is my longest completed work to date. I've always loved swashbucklers. I've written them for the TV shows Perfect Strangers and Remember WENN, but this is an even more epic undertaking. The Star Wars franchise already has some elements of old-fashioned, sword-and-pirates tales, as well as Japanese samurai stories. I decided to play up the former, adding in a bit of steampunk with the airships and light guns and odd machines.

Warning - this is neither light reading, nor a quick, easy read. It's 31 chapters and may take a while to get through. If you have time on your hands, I hope you enjoy the tale of spirited Duchess Leia Organa and the dashing bandits she met one fateful summer in Europe, the roguish Crimson Hawk and his ward, the mysterious and kind-hearted Golden Eagle...

The Adventures of the Crimson Hawk, Part 1

The Adventures of the Crimson Hawk
Rating: PG-13 (violence, language, smoking)
Franchise: Star Wars (Original Trilogy)
Pairings: Han/Leia, Bail/Breha, Luke/Wedge, Chewbacca/Maz, Jyn/Cassian
Disclaimer: The franchise belongs to George Lucas and the Walt Disney Company.

Imperial Road, Naboo, May 1877

Leia Organa leaned back in the carriage, between her Aunt Breha and her trunk. “When are we going to arrive at the inn?”

Within the hour. There should be someone waiting for us when we arrive. Some envoy from Miss Mothma's household.” Her aunt shivered, looking out the rain-spattered window. “I hope this spring rain ends soon. It may delay our crossing.” Duchess Breha Organa was a handsome woman, with her silver-streaked dark hair, sharp brown eyes, and pursed red mouth. “I don't know if staying in Naboo was a good idea, either. Mon Mothma is a good friend, but Naboo's not always known for its hospitality, especially right now.”

Bail Organa looked up from his newspaper. His suit was an elegant but simple cut. The emerald-green cravat was perfectly tied and his pearl cufflinks were straight as pins. “It'll be worth it. Coruscant's Diamond Jubilee is supposed to be the biggest event in the country's history. The Royal Regatta, the Diamond Gala Ball before the coronation, the Lothal Art Festival and Exhibition...you'll love it.”

His eyes went up to Leia. “They just opened the new Naboo Khyber Works factory, too, the first of its kind to process khyber crystals anywhere. The old Jedi Guards always processed them by hand, before they were disbanded.” He sighed. “We need this vacation, what with everything going on. I'm glad we managed to escape for the whole summer.”

So am I.” Breha sighed, wistfully leaning back in her seat. “A full month of nothing to do but have picnics, watch horse races, buy jams at fairs, and attend the occasional ball. It sounds like heaven.”

Leia's dark eyes glittered. “There's so much unrest in Naboo and Coruscant these days. I can't believe they're even wasting money on a Diamond Jubilee Celebration or a coronation! If the Jedi Guards were still alive, surely they wouldn't allow this.” She took the paper from her uncle. “This is all propaganda. Palpatine calls himself 'prime minister,' but he's really a dictator. The real royal family died when Coruscant invaded Naboo.”

She may have been tiny and slender, in her white traveling suit and veiled hat with its dashing ecru feather, but Leia Shimi Organa was as tough and feisty as any man or woman alive. She held her matching white parasol with the ruffled trim and steel shaft on her knees.

He's also the only ruler Naboo has at the moment. When he's crowned, it'll unify Coruscant and Naboo.” Bail patted his niece's knee and gathered the paper. “You'll like staying with Mon Mothma. Chalindria Court is big enough to fit two of Aldra Castle, with a vast library and many fine gardens.”

Senator Mothma?” She nodded eagerly. “Oh yes. I've read about her. She's very influential in political circles. I've wanted to talk to her for years about the situation in the Naboo Empire.”

His lips fell in a grim line. “There's a blurb on the front page about a fire at the Erso Shipyards in Scarif. Everyone there was killed, including the owner. Galen Erso was a friend of mine and of Senator Mothma's. The Shipyard was one of Coruscant's major suppliers of battle cruisers other military vehicles.” He stopped at one page. “Including experimental flying craft. It would seem Erso designed a fleet of flying battle cruisers. They're calling them airships. There was a fire that started while they were testing it, and it got out of control.”

I think it's ridiculous.” Leia made a face as she read over her father's shoulder. “Everyone knows Baron Vader is just the prime minister's lap dog, and he stole his title from the previous consort. Palpatine and Tarkin are the ones who made the rules. They censor everything – the press, artwork, every aspect of day-to-day living. People are starving or losing their homes or their lives, and they want to crown him king!”

Breha shuddered. “I heard they're even using slave labor from Kashyyak, Naboo's protectorate in Africa, and are forcing them to work with the khyber crystals. No local will do it. Khyber crystals are unstable if they're not handled properly.”

Her husband nodded. “I agree. I've been arguing against these atrocities for years. I intend to talk to Tarkin and Mon Mothma and find a way to put an end to them while we're here.”

I hope the driver hurries.” Breha shivered. “I've heard there's bandits on these roads. The Crimson Hawk and his men. They'll steal from any cart that passes through their territory.”

Bail wrapped his arm around his wife's shoulders. “The Crimson Hawk is just a Naboo myth. These are more than likely just desperate men who think they have no other recourse but to steal.”

Leia's fingers tightened around the parasol. “I'm ready for them.”

I don't think anyone can be ready for them, my Lelita.” Bail folded his newspaper neatly as the sun began to break through the clouds. “I've heard of them, too. They catch you by surprise, then take your valuables.”

Leia was just beginning to doze off when the carriage jolted to a stop. She and her aunt tumbled to the floor, a mass of arms and legs in stiff cotton suits. The door had been flung open, giving Leia a quick glimpse of feet in shiny knee-length boots and tight black breeches. The sound of guns firing and swords clashing clanged in her ears.

Everyone out!” The carriage was surrounded by men on horseback. Each one wore a white blouse with a black vest trimmed with brass buttons that shown as they caught the emerging late afternoon sunlight. Red bands encircled each right arm. Their heads were covered by black masks that completely obscured their faces and hair and thick, dusty goggles that covered their eyes. Three held guns or swords on their drivers. Another two held swords on their valet's throats. The goggles and the muscles bulging under some of their shirts gave them a rather sinister air.

One small fellow with wisps of black hair under his hood whipped open a burlap bag. “Start handing over your valuables, people. Make it snappy.” He nodded at one burly fellow who had to be over 7 feet. Leia could see thick hair sticking out of his mask. “Or our friend here will start removing arms from sockets.”

This is an outrage!” Bail stepped out first. “I am Duke Bail Organa of Alderaan, and I demand to know what this is all about!”

Two more men galloped out of the shadows, as if they'd simply emerged from them. The taller of the two sported a bright red blouse with a red sash under the black vest and rode a proud black stallion. The smaller rider's blouse was gold, his sash black, his horse a white and gold palomino. Both men carried finely etched guns. The shorter thief had a long, thin scabbard on one hip and a strange contraptions of wires and pipes on his back. The taller one had a knife in a scabbard on his leg.

The taller of the two gave them a lazy smirk. “Well then,” he said in a long drawl, “since you're obviously so well-off, why don't you give the Crimson Hawk a donation to our little charity fund? Say, all the money in your purse?”

Uncle Bail, no!” Leia grabbed his arm. “Don't give in to him!” She turned angrily toward the man on horseback. “You're nothing more than a thief and a scoundrel. Preying on innocent travelers! You could be hung for this!”

The men around her all laughed. The Crimson Hawk was about to reach for her, but she smacked his hand with the sharp end of her parasol and slapped it away. “You'll not harm me,” she hissed, “or my aunt and uncle. If you do, you'll be missing fingers.”

Ignoring her anger, he took her unoccupied hand and kissed it. “You're beautiful, my lady,” he whispered. His thumb ran softly over her knuckle. “What do they call you and that temper of yours?”

Duchess Leia Organa.” She glared down at her hand. “Stop that.”

The Crimson Hawk barely noticed. “Stop what?”

Stop that.” She nodded at him rubbing her hand. “My hands are dirty.”

And mine are in gloves.” He raised her chin. “What are you afraid of?”

Afraid?” She pulled away. “I'm not afraid of anything.”

Bail coughed, and the smaller man on horseback tapped his shoulder. “Uh, Crimson Hawk,” the man said in an odd, high, crackling voice, “we really need to get going. The Lady Pirate is expecting us.”

The Crimson Hawk blinked, as if coming out of a dream. “Oh. Oh, yeah.” He put out his hands. “All I ask is a tribute, and you can be on your way.”

Bail finally pulled a wad of money from his wallet. “This is all I have on me, but it's yours.” He placed it firmly in the man's palm. “As long as it goes to people in need, not in your pockets or to some gambling house.”
Don't worry.” The smaller rider gave them a sunny grin, one too sweet and gentle for a highwayman. “We'll make sure it goes to good people.”

Mr. Hawk.” The very tall man tapped the Crimson Hawk on the shoulder. “The Rogues and I saw twenty of Palpatine's men on the road further back. We really have to go.”

Right, Rogue Three.” He grinned at Leia, winking at her. “Maybe we'll meet again sometime, Your Highnessness.”

And maybe you'll rot in the seven pits of hell.” Leia glared at him as he and his men took off into the woods.

Bail turned to his wife. “Breha, do you still have the emergency savings in your...er...special place?”

His wife sighed and turned around. Her slender fingers dug into her maroon traveling suit, between her corset and her bosom. She emerged with a matching purse. “You know I never travel without my pin money. You don't know what you'll run into. This should be enough for a meal at the nearest inn.”

Good.” Her husband put his hands over hers. “I suspect we should get back into the vehicle now. The bandits may still be watching us. And if they aren't, there may be others who are far less easy-going patrolling the roads.”

Leia was still fuming. “Uncle Bail, he tried to flirt with me! A wanted criminal, and he treated me like some bar maid!”

Breha's husband offered her a hand as she gathered her skirts and stepped back into the carriage. The older woman sniffed. “I thought he was far too forceful, even if his manners weren't as terrible as you'd assume a bandit's would be.”

I wouldn't worry about him, dear.” Bail helped his niece into the carriage. “We'll probably never see him again.”

They were about to start again when six men on horseback surrounded them. Unlike the bandits, these men wore the shiny white and black uniforms of the Naboo army. Leia shuddered at their heavy muskets and the narrow swords. Each man wore a thick white metal helmet and goggles that protected their heads, but made their faces no more visible than that of the bandits.

Their leader sent a chill into her heart. Vader was the most imposing man in the Coruscant Empire. It was rumored that he wasn't a man at all, but a half-man, half-machine hybrid. His black Naboo uniform with its shiny red and silver braid trim barely fit over the full body armor. A hard rubber mask with one large green lens and one smaller black one and a breathing apparatus covered in thick tubes extended down to panel of nobs and levers on his chest. His long jacket billowed around him like a cape. Leia wondered if he used the steam from his apparatus to make it flare out for dramatic effect.

Your Grace.” He gave them a small bow. “I wasn't expecting to see you on the road at this time of the year. I thought you'd be in Alderaan, attending the spring galas there.”

Bail gave him a small smile, but it was quite stiff it was. “My family is on its way to visit Senator Mothma for the summer. We're meeting her envoy at the Takodana Inn. We've heard it's going to be quite a party.”

Vader snorted. “I would have preferred doing without all this pomp and frivolity, but our leader insists it's good for the country and to show our might to the rest of the Alliance.” His hiss grew more pronounced. “We have my new airship projects for that. The only reason I agreed to it was to introduce the public to the new Naboo airship fleet. No one will dare oppose Naboo now.”

If,” Leia pointed out, “you ever get them off the ground. We heard about the fire.”

An unfortunate accident, but not a major one. The Death Star fleet will be off the ground in time for the coronation.” Vader waved it off. “Two of my soldiers saw men in masks here a few moments ago. Would you have any idea where they went? They're the notorious Crimson Hawk and Golden Eagle gang.”

Leia opened her mouth, but Bail shook his head. “I'm afraid we were all too traumatized to see where they went. They stole almost all the money we had on us.” Bail gave Leia a sharp nudge to her ankle. “Thankfully my wife had some hidden.”

Oh, yes.” Breha fanned herself. “It was so frightening! The way those ruffians behaved!”

We'll escort you to your destination.” Vader's hiss now sounded more like a growl. “But if your keeping anything about the attack from us, you will be arrested for withholding information. These bandits have been nothing but a menace. Nobles who pass through here have reported having everything from jewelry to their purses stolen. Other times, they've released prisoners that were being taken to Theed for trial.”

Bail only gathered his newspaper. “We'll do anything in our power to aid you.”

Uncle,” Leia whispered, leaning against him as the carriage jolted to life again, “why didn't you tell him the truth?”

I don't trust Vader. Why would he care about an ordinary bandit? He's after something.” Bail put his arm around his niece. “Stay close to your aunt and me, and watch what you say. It's rumored that Vader has the power to read men's minds, some trick he picked up from ancient Jedi texts.”

Leia only nodded as her aunt curled up on his other side. “I'm ready for anything.”


Why did you let 'em off easy, mate?” Chewbacca shook the Crimson Hawk's shoulder as they dashed through the forest. “You could 'ave taken them for a lot more than just'a few gold coins.”

It's the lass, isn't it?” Another man with blue eyes and thick black hair and a mustache peeking under his hood snickered. “Admit it, mate, you fell for the girl.”

I can't say I blame him.” A taller man gave them a toothy grin. “She was mouthy, that one.”

You know me. Can't resist a good-looking lady.” The Crimson Hawk showed off his lazy grin. “And the aunt wasn't bad lookin', either.”

The younger man with the golden hair sticking out of his hood held up the bag. “This is more money than we can gather in a week! Do you know how many mouths we could feed with this?”

Not to mention,” the tallest man added in his strange accent, “we need to start working on releasing the slaves at Nabarrie Palace and the airship grounds.” He growled. “If they've harmed my son and father, I'll...”

I have connections, Chewie. Last time I checked with them, they were tired and hungry, but still alive.” The Hawk held up one of the coins in his hand. “Some of it has to go into my 'special fund,' too. We'll pay off Jenkins yet.”

The Crimson Hawk patted the younger man on the shoulder. “And there's our secret weapon. Just needs a few more tweaks, and she'll be ready for operation. In the meantime, we need to work on our plans for for the Lothal Arts Festival, an' the kid an' Kenton need to finish updating his old man's light sword.”

He turned to his men. “I'll see you boys at Lady Mothma's party tomorrow night. She's honoring some rich dignitaries coming from up north.” His grin grew nearly feral. “Tarkin and Vader are going to be there. So will a lot of other rich people. Shouldn't be hard to swipe a few thousand credits' worth of trinkets off that fancy crowd. Maybe we'll even make enough money to take the Falcon and get out of this mud hole.”

The man on horseback tilted his head thoughtfully. “Han, that girl...there was something about her. And not just her being pretty. I felt like I knew her.”

The Crimson Hawk's lips curled into a sneer. “A grand duchess? Girl like her wouldn't have time for working stiffs like us. You probably just saw her face in the newspaper when they did articles on Alderaan.”

I need to get going.” The Golden Eagle looked at his pocket watch, a large gold piece with the insignia of a crown and a star engraved on the cover. “I told Lady Mothma Ben and I would meet those dignitaries for her. Ben went on ahead to talk to Maz.”

Great, kid. I'd join you, but I'm due for a chat with Governor Tarkin about delivering crystals to the new factory.” The Crimson Hawk turned his black stallion in the opposite direction. “I'll meet you back at Chalindria Court. Our parlor is still bein' repaired. Mothma offered hers.”

You be careful.” Chewbacca patted the Crimson Hawk's shoulder. “Huttman's out for blood because you lost that shipment of opium. You don't need Palpatine and Vader on your tail, too.”

Don't remind me. It'll be better this time.” He flashed his friend a wide smile. “Trust me.”

The Adventures of the Crimson Hawk, Part 2

The carriage arrived at the Takodana Inn within the hour. Vader and his escort left them even before they arrived. “We need to continue our search.” His breathing grew heavier. “If you or your family can remember anything about the Crimson Hawk or his men, tell me or General Tarkin at Nabarrie Castle. We can't have bandits driving people off the roads.”

Bail nodded. “We'll do that, Your Excellency.” Leia was a bit torn. On one hand, the bandits were criminals. On the other hand...something told her Vader wasn't much better. He'd been callous about the deaths in the factory fire, caring more about his airship than his people.

Two rather large, unshaven men in cheap suits helped her and her mother down the rickety wooden steps provided. Breha eyed the men warily. “What kind of place is this? I think the Crimson Hawk's men looked more reputable than these two. At least they were rather clean and well-trimmed, for mercenaries. These fellows look positively frightening.”

Leia shrugged. “I don't care what they look like. As long as the food's decent and no one kills us, I'm willing to eat anywhere.”

She was surprised at how big the place was. The old stone house, with it's wide round turrets and narrow windows. was more like an ancient keep than an inn. This was born by the main lobby, which was furnished with clean but shabby dark wood furniture that looked like it had been in the same place for hundreds of years.

Even as Bail rang the bell at the heavily polished cherry wood desk, Leia could hear grumbling from beyond the main room. “I'm coming, I'm coming.” The old woman was the tiniest person she had ever seen. She had reddish skin and a shock of wild gray hair under a bright paisley head scarf. In fact, she looked more like a gypsy than a typical inn keeper, with her shapeless, patched blouse and baggy man's trousers.

May I help...” The delicate old wrinkles on the old woman's face lifted into the widest, most toothless grin Leia had ever seen. “Bail! I haven't seen you since the last time you were here after the Coruscant invasion.”

Maz Kantana.” Bail grinned. “You look as healthy as ever. Still running this place? I'm surprised Vader hasn't tried to shut you down. If he knew about all the raids you used to go on as a young woman...”

Maz waved him off. “As long as I don't bother him, Vader won't give a flaming hell about me. He's too busy sending troops to take over every other corner of Europe.” She turned her toothless grin on Breha. “And Breha. You're looking absolutely gorgeous. I will never figure out how this idiot here,” she gave Bail a friendly slug in the shoulder, “managed to win one of the smartest and most charming women in the Alliance.”

Leia laughed as Bail rubbed his shoulder. Breha chuckled. “It wasn't easy. Father objected to my marrying a country lawyer, but I knew Bail was the man for me the moment he took me on a date to a fencing match and an outdoor picnic, instead of some dull tea party.”

And you...” Maz peered at Leia. “You're the niece. I've heard about you.” She squinted under her thick spectacles. “I've lived many years, my dear, long enough to see the same eyes on different faces. Yours...they're familiar. Do you have family in Coruscant? Or perhaps, Naboo?”

Mother came from Naboo.” The young woman sighed. “She died when I was a baby.”

Yes, well,” Bail coughed, “Maz, we're supposed to be meeting a representative of Senator Mon Mothma.”

Bail? Bail, is that you?” The gentleman was old, but not nearly as ancient as Maz. Leia placed him in his early 60's, a few years older than her uncle. His white hair was perfectly combed back, his mustache and goatee neatly groomed and waxed. He wore an elegant khaki suit under a heavy brown cloak, a cane in his hand. “Bail, you made it!”

Ben!” He threw his arms around the older man. “Leia, this is Sir Benjamin Kenton. He was in my unit during the Alliance Wars. Saved my life more than once, the old devil!”

Really?” Leia had heard many stories about Sir Kenton's bravery and cunning battle tactics. Her uncle claimed they had more than once saved his men from a gruesome fate at the hands of the enemy. “It's so wonderful to meet you! Uncle Bail has told me so much about you.”

Ben?” A young man her own age stepped out after him. “Have they arrived yet?” He was slight and slender, with bright, eager blue eyes. The simple pale tan suit, with its narrow brown velvet bow tie, gold blouse, tight trousers, and high, shiny boots, suited him. He held a tweed cap in his slender hands.

Luke!” Ben lead the young man over to the group. “Bail, I want you to meet Luke Skywalker, my apprentice, my best fencing student, and the ward of our employer, Mr. Henry Solo.”

Solo?” Bail raised an eyebrow. “I've heard that name. Wasn't there a pirate who went by name of Captain Han Solo? He was quite notorious, I believe. Must have stolen millions of dollars worth of gold and jewels from half the countries in Europe.”

Luke nodded. “That's Henry. He went legit over a decade ago. He runs a shipping business now.”

I know the name Skywalker, too.” Bail took the boy's hand. “Are you related to Baron Anakin Skywalker, by any chance?”

Luke frowned. “He was my father, sir. I never knew him. He died when I was born.”

He was a good man.” Bail smirked at Ben. “Bravest and most foolhardy knight in the entire Jedi Corps. Ben here was really the only one who could ever keep him in line.”

A small smile played on Ben's lips. “And then, just barely.” He nodded at the middle-aged couple. “Luke, these are Duke Bail and Grand Duchess Breha Organa.” The boy gave them a rather deep bow. “They're the ones who'll be staying with Mon Mothma at Chalindria Court for the Jubilee. And this,” he put a hand on Leia's shoulder, “is their niece, Duchess Leia Organa.”

Leia couldn't help returning his sunny smile. “It's nice to meet you. Do you live near Chalindria Court?”
Oh yes,” Luke admitted. “I live next-door with Ben and Henry. Our home isn't nearly as grand or as fancy as Mon Mothma's, but it's comfortable enough.”

You know,” Leia began, “there's something familiar about you...”

Luke blushed. “I was about to say the same thing. It's as if...I've known you all my life.” Even more than just for ten minutes on the road, he added mentally. Even then, I felt like I knew this girl. “Do you like machines? Have you ever driven one of those new-fangled cars?”

I haven't, but I'm hoping to. I'd love to drive a car, or maybe even fly someday.” Leia sighed. “I've taken every lesson I can – shooting, fencing, archery, riding, running ships, repairing carriages, building things. I even got an old friend of my uncle's to teach me boxing on the sly.”

Do you like to fence?” Luke grinned. “Ben has been teaching me to fence. I'm not as good at it as he is, but I'm getting better. Charles helps sometimes, too.”

Leia raised an eyebrow. “Charles?”

Henry's valet and manservant. They've known each other for years.” Luke beamed proudly. “Henry's really brilliant. You should seen all the ships he's designed and the machines he's developed to haul freight more efficiently. Ben is his manager, and I'm sort of his secretary. I help him with his duties, aid him with his blueprints and building, and even help deliver some important shipments.”

The young man sighed. “He's going to meet us at Mon Mothma's. He's setting up a deal with Governor Tarkin of Coruscant. The Coruscant government is one of our biggest clients. I don't like it, but they do pay us well. Our main parlor is in the midst of being remodeled. It, uh,” he blushed, “got a little damaged when we were working on a new chemical that could clean out steam engines and make them run faster.” Luke sighed. “Henry's friendly when you get to know him, but he mostly hides. He's kind of quiet.”

Luke and Leia spent the rest of the afternoon talking. Leia couldn't believe how much they had in common. “You lost your parents, too?” She asked as they took a stroll around the small, shady gardens.

Luke nodded. “My mother gave me to my Aunt Berta and Uncle Owen when I was just a baby.”

Mine died when I was a year old. I barely remember her.” Leia shrugged. “Just images, really. Feelings.” She turned to Luke. “What about your father? Uncle Bail told me mine was a member of the Jedi Guards and died when they were all killed.”

Luke's sweet face darkened. “Ben used to be a Jedi, too. He just avoided being killed off with the rest of them. He told me Baron Vader betrayed and murdered Anakin Skywalker and stole his titles and land.”

That's awful!” Leia took his hand without thinking. “I'm so sorry.”

Luke blushed at the hand. “I'm going to avenge him someday, though. My aunt and uncle, too. Lord Vader won't get away with this!”

Maz came out, jutting a finger over her narrow shoulders. “Hey you two, chow's on. I have veal stew and fresh bread on the table. Probably not as fancy as you're used to, Duchess, but it's food.”

I'm sure it'll be fine.” Leia sniffed, grinning. There was a wonderful, savory scent drifting in from the kitchen. “It already smells delightful.”

Ben came out just as they came in. “Are you going to eat with us?” Luke indicated Leia. “I can't believe she's a duchess. She likes cars and steam engines and stereoscopes and she can fence and shoot and hunt too and she's been all over Europe!”

It's part of my duties.” Leia shrugged. “I'm expected to attend banquets and major functions with my father. I'll be taking over his job someday.”

I'm glad you young people have found so much to talk about.” Ben shooed them in. “Tell Bail I'll be along in a few minutes. I just need to talk to Miss Kantana.”

He turned to Maz as soon as the duo entered, still chatting away. “All right, Maz. What have you heard? That fire at the Erso Shipyards didn't happen because someone set if off.”

No, it didn't.” Maz took Ben aside, near the wood pile. “The Crimson Hawk isn't the only rebel in Naboo. I've heard from a couple of my boys that there's another rebellion brewing, one that's starting with the gentry. The people who were killed at the Shipyards were their spies. We're pretty sure that's why Vader sped up the completion of the Death Star Airship Line. They found out something big and were silenced because of it.”

I've heard rumors.” Ben played with his cane. “Han says it's none of his business. He just wants the boy to have what's rightfully his and to pay off his debts. I've been trying to convince him otherwise. We could do a lot more for this country than rescue Wookie natives and steal cash from aristocrats.”

Prime Minister Palpatine is up to something, I know that much.” Maz shook her head. “He's the the one who really gives the orders in Naboo. Vader is a glorified errand boy.” She took off her goggles, checking for invisible dust. “That boy Luke...he's not what he says he is, is he? I know those eyes. They're the eyes of a Baron who is now only half a man.”

He doesn't know.” Ben's voice became soft. “I told him Vader killed his father, and that his mother died when the Coruscant Empire invaded Naboo.”

Maz poked a skinny finger in his chest. “You lied.”

I didn't lie, per se.” Ben gingerly pushed her finger away. “I told him the truth from a certain point of view.”

Still lies.” Maz crossed her arms. “Does Solo know?”

Some of it. He knows who Luke really is, but not who his father was...or where his father is now.” Ben sighed. “I'm not entirely sure I can trust him. He says he's given up smuggling, but I know he's still on several crime lords' most wanted lists, including Jenkins Huttman.”

That fat old reprobate?” Maz smirked. “I thought he got blown up or covered in cement years ago.”

Not at all. Though I wish he had.” Ben put his arms around her. “Maz, my dear woman, when was the last time I bought you a meal?”

It's my place. If anything, I should be treating you to the food.” She managed to get her arm around his waist. “I have ale that just came in from Stewjohn County.”

Ah, the old Scottish homeland.” He gave her his small grin. “You always were good to me, Maz.”

I'm always good to regular customers.” Maz chuckled as the laughter of two young people filtered in. “Come on, before that apprentice of yours eats the entire loaf of bread by himself.”


They crossed the Calamari River a few hours later in Mon Mothma's private yacht, the River Queen. It was a sleek beauty, one of the latest models. The rain had subsided, allowing a majestic sunset to give the placid waters a golden glow.

The driver was a handsome, slender man in an orange and white uniform, his black hair pulled back under a white captain's cap. “My name is Captain William Antiles,” he said in a clipped British accent, “but you can call me Wedge. I'm the driver for Senator Mothma. I'll be taking you across the river this evening.” Leia swore he gave Luke a grin and a wink...and Luke grinned seductively back.

Leia was on her own for the first 20 minutes or so, strolling along the deck. When she passed the Captain's Quarters, she saw Luke throw his arms around Wedge as he drove and give him a playful kiss on his ear. Wedge chuckled and pushed him off, reminding him that there were other eyes on the ship.

Leia and Luke stayed by the rail for the rest of the trip, watching the sun set and the fish and birds jump and play. “What do you think,” Leia began, “about everything that's going on in Coruscant? I've heard Baron Vader's raised the taxes again to pay for his new airships. People are starving in tiny villages, and he wants to make more cannons to destroy things!” She slammed her fist into her palm. “What he should be doing is putting that money towards helping people, building roads and schools.”

I agree.” Luke sighed. “I'm trying to get Henry to do more, but he says it's none of our business. We have to take clients, whomever those clients may be, especially with so many of the roads and trade routes blocked.”

Leia didn't like the sound of that. “Why wouldn't he care? He lives in Naboo. It's his home, too.”

That's what I think, but Henry says it doesn't matter who's in power.” Luke shook his head. “I wish I could talk to him, but he's so stubborn.”

Leia gently put a hand on his. “Maybe I could help.”

I don't know if you can.” Luke blushed to his toes, but he did take her hand. “Henry can be pretty mulish.”

Leia's raised her little chin determinedly. “So can I.”


A fine carriage picked them up at the docks. Leia couldn't help but goggle at the magnificence of the homes they passed. There were old stone mansions and timber manor houses alongside elaborate brand-new Gothic revival homes, with their fancy gingerbread trim and tall spires. Luke rode in the first carriage with Leia and Sir Kenton, Breha and Bail having gone on ahead with the luggage. Ben insisted that Luke would be nothing but a gentleman, and he had no difficulty chaperoning them.

Luke leaned out the window as they passed a somewhat simpler stone manor house, one not quite as fanciful as some of the others surrounding it. It had a few cupolas, but mostly looked like the grim square homes of a century before. “There's our home, Corellia Manor. I can't wait to show it to you. There's a small building in the back that used to be servant's quarters. Henry made it over as a workshop for our ideas, a garage, and a place for Ben and me to practice fencing.”

Does Henry fence?” Leia asked as she admired the ivy-covered walls and simple, elegant grounds. “I do take fencing lessons, but I'm better with a pistol.”

No. He used to, in his pirate days, but he can't now.” Luke sighed. “I wish he could.”

Leia was about to inquire further when the carriage pulled up to a narrow iron gate. Sir Kenton nodded at a tall old man in blue livery. “Tell Senator Mothma that Mr. Skywalker is here with Sir Kenton. The Organa family has arrived.”

Within minutes, the gates swung open. The carriages passed down a long, winding path lined with gravel. Gracious old willows mingled with spicy pine trees and pale-green maples in a profusion of elegance.

The house on the cliff, at the end of the drive, was enormous. It sprawled every which way and seemed to consist of every style of architecture to have ever existed in Coruscant, from Gothic to Baroque. The entrance seemed to be fairly recent, with its bell-shaped windows and high, sloping roof. Flowers in a rainbow of colors spilled around the sides in a messy, merry jumble.

Bail! Breha!” Senator Mon Mothma was tall and slender, her copper-colored hair worn far shorter than the fashion. She was resplendent in a rather severe, military-style ecru suit with gold buttons and braid trim, but her smile was warm. “I'm so glad you've arrived. I was worried you had trouble on the road.”

We had a small encounter with bandits,” Bail admitted as he helped Breha out of the carriage. “Nothing we couldn't handle.”

The Crimson Hawk and his men attacked us.” Leia got out of the carriage herself, followed by Luke and Ben. “He stole all the money Uncle Bail had.”

It's a good thing I had my pin money.” Breha gave Bail a look. “Or we wouldn't have had that wonderful meal at the Takodana Inn.”

Ah yes, Maz Kantana. She's something of a local character. Some say she's a seer.” Mon chuckled. “I say that's a load of hogwash. She's just a very smart, very old woman who knows how to run a business and do it well.”

Mon,” Ben started, “is Henry still here? I know he was meeting Tarkin about the steel shipment and the vote for the improved roadways.”

They're both still here. Probably arguing up in my parlor.” A stiff butler in a starched gold uniform, his silver-streaked brown hair slicked back, opened the door for them. Mon Mothma smiled at him. “Thank you, Cedric.” She turned to the others. “This is Cedric, my butler. He's worked for me for years. Before that, he worked for the royal family.”

Those were wonderful days, Senator.” Cedric smiled. “But I do enjoy working for you, too. It's so peaceful here.” He lead them in, fussing with the house boys as they gathered the luggage.

You'll be staying in the West Wing.” Mon pointed at the western end of the house with her parasol. “It's the newer wing, just finished three years ago, with all the latest amenities. I prefer the older wing, from the 1600's. It's drafty and musty, and I occasionally have to share my room with bats, but it's been in my family for years. I'm used to it.”

She lead them through the house at such a brisk pace, they barely had time to stop and admire the pale blue walls with their golden trim, wide marble staircases, and beautiful black and white tile floors. “We eat three meals a day. I try to do them at seven, noon, and six. Cook will put something aside for you if you're out later. She always does for me.”

The stately senator lead them to a small but cozy parlor. Seated on the red velvet and damask chairs were two men having a rather heated argument. The smaller of the two was also the older. His sunken-in face looked like a death's mask, with its sharp cheekbones and hollow, watery blue eyes. His uniform was the starched gray and silver of the Coruscant military.

The other man was younger, maybe in his early 30's. Soft auburn hair, worn longer than the fashion, was slicked back until it shown in the late-afternoon light. His black suit, with its dark vest and blood-red blouse and checked bow tie, was the latest cut and style. He held a cane with an elaborate brass handle that resembled a hawk in one hand. A pair of gold-rimmed spectacles perched on the end of his long, majestic nose. He also had high cheekbones, but they gave him a look of roguishness, not death. A jagged scar slashed his square chin. Though his costume suggested a stiff businessman, there was still something of the pirate in his manner and the way the hazel-green eyes roved over Leia's person.

Mon Mothma waved her gloved hand at them. “Duke and Duchess Organa, this is Mr. Henry Solo, owner of Solo Shipping and my next-door neighbor, and Governor Tarkin, the head of Theed District.”

The governor rose, clicking his heels, as Luke and Ben followed them. “Charmed to see you again, Grand Duke, Duchess.” He bowed before each of them. “And the young duchess. You certainly have grown since the last time I encountered you. You were barely a child then. Now, you're quite a young lady.”

The last time I saw you,” Leia said sharply, “I knocked a bowl of soup into your lap because you were insulting my uncle.”

Feisty child you have there, Bail. I always did say she was a wild one.” He took a heavy leather briefcase, turning to Henry. “I'm glad we came to an agreement about the khyber crystal shipments. You'll start shipping them tomorrow?”

Henry nodded. “First thing in the morning. They'll be some of the last things we transport before we leave.”

Leave?” Mon Mothma sighed. “Are you still saying you're going to leave? You've been saying that for at least two years.”

I mean it this time.” Henry tapped the brass top of his cane. “I want to get out of town, before Jen...before things get complicated here.”

Mon Mothma stopped Tarkin as he was leaving. “You never did discuss the state of the roads with me. The Naboo Senate needs to come to a decision, before those bandits do more harm. If we can put more patrols on the road, we may be able to route those men. Not to mention, there's the repairs. The roads themselves are appalling. You can barely travel in the country without your carriage nearly being jolted to pieces by the ruts and pot holes.”

My dear woman,” Tarkin's smile didn't reach his eyes, “right now, we're doing everything possible to track down the Crimson Hawk and his band of cutthroats. We will bring them to justice. You have my word. As for the road repairs,” he gave her a rather condescending smirk, “that's hardly a discussion for small parlors. Let's save it for when the Senate is in session.”

Henry coughed. “Tarkin, the only reason you care about those bandits is they're embarrassing you. Otherwise, you wouldn't give two beans what they do. They've mostly stuck to robbing nobles and releasing Wookie slaves from your smelly prisons.”

Why don't we talk about this further at my ball tonight?” Mon Mothma turned to the Organas. “I'm holding a small party tonight in the ballroom at 7. Black tie, good dresses. Nothing too ostentatious. There will be a more elaborate Diamond Jubilee Grand Gala at Naberrie Palace at the end of the summer. This will be just an appetizer.”

You're all invited, of course.” She nodded at Henry. “Including you, Mr. Solo, and Mr. Skywalker and Sir Kenton. You're my neighbors, and Sir Kenton has been my friend for many years.”

Leia wondered why Henry hadn't risen when the other men did. She got her answer when Luke went to his guardian's side. The young man put his arms under Henry and helped him slowly to his feet, Henry leaning heavily on his ward. “Oh,” Breha said in surprise, “you poor man. You're crippled. You must be in terrible pain.”

Henry's eyes narrowed. “So what? That don't mean noth...doesn't mean anythin'.”

You don't have to be so rude!” Leia glared at him. “It's not Aunt Breha's fault that you take five minutes just to stand up!”

Maybe you should learn a few manners, Duchess.” He bowed as well as he could for Mon Mothma. “Sorry, Senator. I think the kid and I had better get going. We've gotta get ready for your shindig tonight, and we both have things we're working on. Thanks for lettin' me hold this meeting here.” He had the grace to look sheepish. “We're still cleaning up the mess from one of my, er, experiments at my place.”

Mon Mothma gave him a small smile. “Certainly, Henry.”

Luke gave Leia a hug as Henry, leaning heavily on his cane, manage to swagger even while limping. “I'm sorry, Leia. He's a little self-conscious about his bad leg. I'll calm him down, and I'm sure he'll be fine by the time of the party tonight. I'm looking forward to it now. I'll have you to talk to.”

Leia smiled. “Thank you, Luke. I am, too.”

Ben shook his head as Luke hurried past him. “Poor Henry. I don't suppose Luke told you why he gave up piracy.”

Leia watched Luke head after his guardian. “He only told me he'd gone straight. He never said why.”

On his last voyage, Captain Han Solo was delivering a massive shipment of opium and other drugs to the crime lord Jenkins Huttman. He was just outside of Mos Eisley, on the island of Tatoonie, when his ship was stopped by local officials. Not only was he forced to jettison his cargo, but he was shot by an official while attempting to escape. The bullet shattered his right knee. It took him two years to be able to walk again. He's very proud of that. Most men in his position would be paralyzed for life.”

I'm sorry that he can't walk well, but he didn't need to be nasty about it!” Leia grumbled.

Bail sighed. “You didn't have to antagonize him, Leia.”

Cedric will take you to the West Wing to settle down and get prepared for the party. I'll have Sabine bring your meals up to you. I do need to talk to Tarkin here before he leaves.” Mon Mothma sent them off.

Leia,” Breha began, “Henry was rude, but I should have been more sensitive. Perhaps you should both apologize at the ball tonight.”

I will if he will.” Leia shook her head. “How can he and Luke stand living together? Luke is such a sweetheart. He wasn't rude to me once.”

Master Luke is a dear.” Cedric gave them a thin smile. “Such a gentle soul, and so helpful to Master Henry. He and that over-sized fur coat he calls a valet are the ones who take care of him.”

Luke seems like a sweet boy.” Breha smiled knowingly at Leia. “I believe you were interested in him.”

As a friend.” Leia's brow furrowed as they turned a corner into gleaming white and pale gold rococo halls. “There's something...familiar...about him. I've only known him a few hours, but I felt like he's been a part of me all my life.”

Breha's grin grew wider. “That means it's meant to be.”

We'll see, Auntie.” Leia shook her head as Cedric and several young pages in orange and gold uniforms lead them to their rooms.