By Kate Birkel
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
(Originally appeared in
The Chivalry Of Corell is the name of the entire story arc. The Chivalry is what I call a parallel universe rather than an alternate universe since it runs parallel to the three original movies, filling the little cracks and chinks Lucas left wide open. This series was thought up back in the late 70's, long before TPM was more than a glimmer in Lucas' mind, so there is absolutely no connection to TPM.
This is the second in the series.
Whirl. Whip head around, maintaining focus on target. Kick. “I am not some little porcelain doll!” Whirl. Whip head around, maintaining focus on target. “I will not break into a million pieces!” Whirl. Whip head around, maintaining focus on target. “I hate them!” Whirl. Whip head around, maintaining focus on target. “I am a person, not a symbol!” Sweat dripping into Leia’s eyes, and she dashed it away with the back of her hand. Whirl. Whip head around, maintaining focus on target. “I HATE THEM ALL!”
“That’s not a very nice thing for a princess to say.”
Leia shrieked, nearly jumping out of her skin, her concentration shattered.
Standing a few feet away from the punching bag Leia had been abusing, Han Solo smirked at the disconcerted princess. Like Leia, he was dressed for exercise. He was wearing a ratty sweatshirt with the arms torn out, exposing long, sinewy arms, and baggy pants that had definitely seen better days. He had on low, soft-soled shoes that Leia would have bet had not been cleaned since the first time he’d worn them. His hair, disheveled and sweaty, flopped over a garish rag he’d tied around his forehead. And, miracle of miracles, he wasn’t wearing his blaster.
“Where did you come from?” Leia puffed indignantly.
“Oh, back there.” Han gestured vaguely at the trail Leia herself had just jogged down a few minutes earlier.
Finding itself on a temperate world, the Alliance military had seized the opportunity to create an endurance-training course, and all military personnel were expected to run the course every other day. Leia, even though she was not classified military, attacked the course every chance she got. Han was the last person she ever expected to meet on it, especially looking as though he was exercising as vigorously as the planners had anticipated.
“So what lit your jets, Your Worship?” Han wiped his forehead with a piece of toweling stuffed in his waistband. “Or is it just that time of the month?”
“Wha’?” Leia’s face flamed. “You can’t… I mean… Arghhh!”
Han chuckled, mischief sparkling in his eyes. “You should see yourself. You don’t look a bit like royalty.”
Still sucking wind, Leia straightened up and tried to give her tormentor a dirty look. But it was hard with sweat dripping down into her eyes, and her body feeling every inch of the course she had run, and the effects of every exercise station. With a heartfelt groan, she bent over, bracing her hands on her knees. “Go away,” she mumbled.
Instead of doing the honorable thing, Han simply tucked the towel back into his waistband. “You done with the punching bag?”
“I’m done with you.”
Han laughed, and took up a fighter’s stance, addressing the hanging bag at close range. “Tell your Uncle Han all about it,” he invited, as he began a series of carefully choreographed strikes at the bag.
Uncle Han? Leia snorted to herself. Han Solo was the least avuncular individual she could imagine. Dropping to the ground, she began watching him. The routine he was executing was almost more of a dance than an exercise routine, each movement merging smoothly into the following one without hesitation or thought. “Where did you learn that?”
“The way you’re using the punching bag.”
“Oh, this.” His foot lashed out, making a solid thunk as it connected with the bag, then struck again, higher, even more solidly. “It’s an old Corellian army drill.” To Leia’s disgust, he didn’t even sound winded. “It’s better if you have a sparring partner.”
“What are you doing out here on the course any way?”
White teeth flashed at her in a wicked smile. “Gotta keep in shape for my next dramatic rescue.”
Of course he would have a smart-mouthed reply. Han Solo never took anything seriously, except maybe the Millennium Falcon. Peevishly, Leia wondered what it would be like to be able to go through life with such a lackadaisical attitude. Then she corrected herself. Han’s attitude might leave a lot to be desired on occasion, but his actions showed something completely different. Once he had decided to assist with the Rebellion’s evacuation from Yavin Four to its current location here on Qianj, he had shown a remarkable talent for organization and planning. Without him poking his nose into every nook and cranny, chivvying everyone from the newest recruit to the Council itself, the evacuation would have taken a lot longer. Even Jan Dodonna, no slouch in the planning department himself, had been impressed by Han’s unflagging energy.
“So, you gonna tell me about it or not?”
Leia gave up. “It’s the Council,” she admitted glumly. “They seem to think that I’m some sort of porcelain doll to be carefully stored away on a shelf, then dragged out and dusted off for ceremonial occasions.”
Han made a neutral sound.
“I can’t live like that!” Leia exclaimed. “And I hate it!”
Han backed away from the bag, made a ceremonial bow to it as if it was alive, then came to sit next to Leia, not close enough to make her uncomfortable, but close enough to be companionable. “Have you told them that?” The towel came out again, and he began mopping sweat from his face and arms.
“Over and over and over. They simply won’t listen. I hate being short and cute!”
“You could always put a bag over your head,” Han deadpanned. “But there’s not much you can do about your height, unless you start buying special shoes, like the women on Arrin. Adds six inches in a flash. I can pick you up a pair the next time I’m out that way.”
Leia made a face at him. “It still won’t do anything about me being the symbol of martyred Alderaan.” She stopped, squeezing her eyes shut. Alderaan. With every passing day, the loss ate at her more and more as the blessed numbness that had first coccooned her wore off. She woke half a dozen times each sleep period as her brain replayed for her that instant when Alderaan had exploded. She took a deep breath.
“Not much you can do about that, either, unless you run away and hide.”
Like you? Leia wanted to retort, but didn’t. “I can’t do that.”
“Then you’re just gonna have to deal with it.”
“I’m eighteen, and I’m in excellent health,” Leia continued with her tale of woe. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t take training with the military personnel. It’s only logical to assume that sooner or later, the Empire is going to catch us on the ground. Right?”
“You better hope not,” Han said grimly. “If that happens, you rebels are in bigger trouble than you think. And what did the Council say?”
“The Council went nova.” Leia’s shoulders slumped. “’It’s too dangerous,’” she mimicked. “’You are too important to us in other capacities.’ Other capacities! They don’t listen to my opinions because I’m too young and inexperienced. ‘When you’re older, Your Highness. When you’ve gained some experience.’ I served in the Senate! My father trained me in politics from the day I was born! I know what I’m doing! I don’t want to be stuck in some corner to be dragged out only on ceremonial occasions.”
Han made an encouraging sound.
“You were in the Brigades, weren’t you?”
Abruptly, Han’s face closed over, his eyes darkening, and Leia cursed her all too quick tongue. For some odd reason, it felt so comfortable, so natural to be sitting here with Han, pouring out her frustrations that she had forgotten that he might have demons of his own to deal with. “I’m sorry, Han; I shouldn’t have asked that.”
Han continued to look at her for another long moment. Then he smiled, although, Leia noticed, his eyes remained shadowed. “Nah, that’s okay, Princess,” he said easily. “Yeah, I served in the Brigades when I was young and stupid. What of it?”
For an instant, Leia tried to imagine Han’s lean body encased in the elegant black uniform of the Corellian Brigades, silver buttons and facings glittering in the light. By the time she had reached the Senate, the Brigades were long gone, so she had never seen a live Corelli in full panoply. But her father’s youngest sister had, and had sworn there was nothing handsomer. “The Brigades always had women in them, didn’t they?”
Han snorted. “Try and keep them out.”
“And they were noblewomen, too, weren’t they?” Leia pushed on. “Even Crown Princess Tava was an officer.”
“That was different,” Han said. “Tava wasn’t born a princess, Princess. She was a Tallison before she married Ethnil. And once she married, she resigned her commission.”
“But she fought in the Siege,” Leia argued. “And look at General Westrier. She’s a noblewoman, and she heads up the Council of Regency. But she served in the fighting ranks when she was younger. She fought in the Clone Wars. And what about Dame Patris of Ryne, Lady of Ystred? She fought in the Siege, and she was married to Sir Rimni, Lord of Ystred, the Iron Lord of Corell. The only woman who outranked her socially was Crown Princess Tava."
Han was beginning to eye her with growing displeasure. “How come you’re so interested in the Brigades all of a sudden?”
“Because they’ve always had women in combat units,” Leia said promptly. “If it worked for Corell, why not for me?”
“Because,” Han said.
Leia glared. “You’re just like all the rest of them! You can’t come up with a real reason, so you try to make it sound as if I’m the one in the wrong.”
Han rolled his eyes, “It’s different,” he insisted. “Corell and Alderaan are different. Hell, you Alderaani got rid of all your weapons centuries ago. You’d never see a Corelli give up his weapon for anything. Which reminds me; where did you learn how to handle a blaster?”
“From my brother.” Leia tried to smile through the hurt. “Gael and some of his friends got away from traditional Alderaani pacifism, and smuggled some weapons through customs. He thought it would be wise for me to know the basics. He was always afraid that my bodyguard would somehow fail, and I would be kidnapped.” She swallowed. “I don’t think even Gael anticipated that I’d end up shooting my way off the Death Star.” She stood up, wiping dirt and leaves from her clothes. “I’d better finish up here before the Council gets worried and sends out a search party for me.”
Han stood up. “Bet you five credits I can beat you to the end.”
Leia eyed his long legs. “No deal, flyboy. I’d have to take three steps for every one of yours.”
Han laughed. “Let’s go before we both stiffen up too much.”
Showering—with real water, not sonics—Leia thought over her strange conversation with Han Solo, and wondered just exactly what had possessed her to spill her thoughts to him. They had only known each other for a very few short weeks, and they had absolutely nothing in common, yet she had confided in him as though he was an old childhood friend. It just did not make sense that she should feel so at-ease with a complete stranger.
Later, over a solitary dinner taken in a crowded mess hall, Leia suddenly discovered why she had found it so easy to confide in Han. Of all the hundreds of people surrounding her every day, Han was the only one who treated her as a fellow human being instead of an idol to be adored from a respectful distance. He talked to her like she was a younger sister, not a stranger at all. Even Luke Skywalker tended to hold back, regarding her with a slightly awed shyness, although it was plain to anyone with eyes in their heads that he had a huge crush on her, which she found sweet but could be just the tiniest bit tedious after a while. She could never imagine Han Solo gazing at a woman in such silent adoration. Lust, maybe—shy adoration, never.
Watching Luke Skywalker play with his light saber and seeker ball was giving Han a headache. Granted, his own form with a sword had never been anything to brag about, but this was ridiculous. Finally, unable to stand the sight any more, Han pushed himself away from the tree he’d been leaning against. “Give me that thing before you kill somebody.”
Luke swatted uselessly, yelping a little as the seeker ball stung his right arm, then shut the saber off.
Dinner was over, and Luke had come out to the Falcon to practice with his light saber. They were off to the side of the hardstand where the Falcon was parked since Han wouldn’t let Luke inside his ship with the light saber because he didn’t want the crew’s lounge torn up.
“I thought you didn’t believe in light sabers,” Luke gibed.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to use one.” Han held his hand out.
Luke handed the weapon over. “You know how to use a light saber?” he asked incredulously.
Han peered closely at the metal hilt. It was a lot plainer than Trav’s had been, and it showed a lot more dents and wear. He switched it on, needing a few seconds for his hand and arm to adjust to the back thrust of the energy blade. For Luke, the blade had glowed green, but for him, it was blue, just like Trav’s had. Trav had explained the blue color was because he was so insensitive to the Force. He made a couple of practice passes, trying to gain a sense of the weapon. Then he shut it off, and glared at Luke. “Okay, kid, didn’t old Kenobi show you the basic stance for sword fighting?”
Luke looked down, shuffled his feet into the correct stance. “This?”
“That,” Han said, assuming his best tutorial voice. “Everything starts from that. Now, watch me.” He, too, took the correct stance, feet and shoulders aligned. Igniting the saber again, he started moving his hands, feet and body. “First position, second position, third position,” and so through the basic positions, holding each one long enough to give Luke a good look. Finally, he stepped back into the opening stance and switched the saber off again. “Did you get that?”
“No,” Luke said frankly. “There were too many.”
“There’s not that many,” Han growled, rolling his eyes. He tossed the light saber at Luke, who barely managed to catch it, then looked indignantly at Han as if the older man had just committed sacrilege. Probably thought light sabers were some sort of holy relic instead of just another useless antique, Han thought. “Okay, kid, put your feet where they’re supposed to be.” Luke complied. “Now, switch it on.” The light saber flared green. “Now, keeping your feet where they are, bring your hands up like this.” Han demonstrated, watching critically as Luke strove to do the same thing. “Switch off, relax.” Luke returned to a normal stance. “Okay, let’s do that again.”
An hour later, Luke was able to execute the first two positions in creditable form, although Han had had to threaten to nail his feet to the ground a couple of times to keep him from shuffling around. The sun was setting, and Luke was running out of both patience and energy.
“That’s it for one night, junior,” Han declared. “Just keep practicing that until I get back here to Qianj.”
Luke fumbled around, trying to attach the saber to his utility belt. “Where are you going?”
“Some where,” Han said vaguely. “It should only take us a few days—I hope.”
“Is it for you or for the Alliance?”
Han’s eyes narrowed. “You’re asking questions again, kid.”
Luke heaved a long-suffering sigh. “I don’t understand why you’re always so touchy about answering questions. It’s just you and me.”
“In this instance, you don’t need to know anything about where I’m going or why.” Han shook his head. “You sure have a lot to learn about military discipline and security.”
A troubled look came to Luke’s face, and he looked at Han out of the corner of his eyes. “Hey, Han?”
Han didn’t like the sound. “Don’t tell me you’ve got another damn fool question?”
“Well, yeah,” Luke admitted.
Han wait a moment. “Well, are you going to ask me or not?” he finally growled.
“Well, you don’t have to be so grouchy about it,” Luke complained. “I mean it’s something I really need to know.”
“Out with it!”
Luke managed to look even more troubled. “Well, it’s like this,” he started uncomfortably. “I’ve been talking to some of the other pilots and the mechs and they … well … this is so …” He took a deep breath. “What’s the problem between Corell and the Alliance?” he blurted. “People keep telling me not to trust you, because you’re Corelli and Corelli can’t be trusted, and … and … “ His words petered out in an embarrassed mumble.
“And Solo can’t be trusted because he’s Corelli,” Han finished for him.
Luke’s face lightened. “Yeah, that’s it. And I just don’t understand it. I mean—you saved the entire Alliance. Doesn’t that prove something? What is it between Corell and the Alliance?”
Han rolled his eyes. It was too much to expect that Luke wouldn’t have picked up on the Corell-Alliance animosity. And explaining it to him would only lead to more questions—questions he was in no mood to explain: such as why he had saved the Alliance and what he was doing still hanging around, even accepting missions on behalf of the Alliance. But, it wasn’t going to go away, either.
Finally, Han pointed to the ground. “Have a seat, kid. This is going to take a while.”
The collection of jewelry laid out on Leia’s cot was pathetic. The diamond earrings she’d been wearing when her ship had been waylaid by the Death Star, the matching pendant, and an anklet with a single ruby. This was all that remained of the chests full of jewelry she had once owned. In fact, it was almost all she now owned in the entire galaxy aside from her senatorial robes.
Leia rolled the pendent between her fingers. The Alliance could not afford to pay anyone anything above and beyond room and board. And while she could draw clothes and shoes from Supply, there were just some things Supply didn’t carry. And she was embarrassed not to have two credits to rub together—she, Leia Organa, who had once been fabulously wealthy. Not that she missed the money and the possessions. She would give four times, five times, no, a hundred or a thousand times as much to restore Alderaan and her family.
No, the pendant would have to go. She would save the earrings and the anklet for another day; not that the anklet would fetch more than a few credits.
Outside the administrative quonsets, Qianj’s sun was nearly gone, and the evening air was cool. Had Leia been on Alderaan, the capital city would have been experiencing summer. While not unpleasantly hot, the air would have been many degrees warmer and she would have been dressed in something light and gauzy, not this clunky, one piece, unisex coverall that everyone else wore. And the streets would have been well lit and filled with laughing, chatting people visiting thousands of tiny shops and beverage kiosks.
Leia blinked away threatening tears, steeling herself to reality. Alderaan was gone, never to be reborn. The here, the now on Qianj, that was what was real. Her job now was to make sure what happened to Alderaan did not happen somewhere else. But, oh how she missed her beautiful, wonderful Alderaan.
The walkway to the hangars and hardstands crunched under her feet as she strode through the evening, disciplining herself to stop thinking of what she couldn’t have. The Falcon was parked clear out on the farthest hardstand, by Han’s choice she had been told. As she ducked under the landing gear, intending to mount the boarding ramp, she heard the sound of voices rising and falling in the growing darkness. She paused for a moment to listen. Han’s was the dark baritone, and the lighter voice had to belong to Luke Skywalker.
Leia smiled. Luke had solved his problem of suddenly finding himself orphaned by adopting Han Solo as the older brother he had never had. Not that she could fault him for that. Han must be absolutely fascinating to Luke, who until a few weeks ago, had never stepped foot off his home world. Here was this older man who had traveled so extensively, had met so many exotic beings and had had such wild adventures according to his dossier. No wonder Luke would be entranced.
She was now close enough for Luke’s words to become clear. “ … prove something. What is it between Corell and the Alliance?”
Leia stopped dead in her tracks, her face screwing up in disbelieving horror. No, no, Luke! Don’t … Then, to her intense surprise, she heard, “Have a seat, kid. This is going to take a while.”
Han was going to explain the Corelli-Alliance situation to Luke? This she had to hear.
Han waited until Luke was comfortable, then began. “See, kid, the whole thing started so long ago, nobody really remembers when it started. Corell’s pretty much been on the outs with everyone else in the galaxy since it was first discovered about four centuries back. To make a long story short, Corell has always been a hereditary military aristocracy. Our nobility has always been a military elite. When the old Republic discovered Corell, we were just finishing centuries of internal warfare. The kings of Arvisam had just consolidated their hold on the entire planet by conquering Dharhelm, the last independent kingdom left on Corell. That’s when they started calling themselves the Kings of Corell.”
“Arvisam?” Luke questioned. “Wasn’t the last battle of the Siege of Corell fought there?”
“Yeah,” Han said tightly, gritting his teeth against the stench of cordite and the screams of the wounded and dying. “It ended where it began. It was Vlarik the Wanderer, King of Arvisam, who began the conquest of Corell. Arvisam was small, but the men it produced were incredibly tough. And every time some new territory was conquered, the King would appoint a Lord to govern it in his name. In exchange, the Lord owed the King military service. He himself would fight for the King as well as provide a certain number of troops, horses, armaments and supplies. For example, when Torger, King of Arvisam, the Northern Plains, the Seran Peninsula and Golquit, declared war on Eilin, Queen of Dharhelm, the province my family lived in sent ten thousand four hundred and sixty men, one thousand two hundred horses, supplies and arms for all those men and horses, the Lord himself, his younger brother, and a few dozen assorted cousins, nephews and uncles, all of them Knights.” It was amazing how, without any conscious thought, the figures tripped off Han’s tongue, after years of not thinking about it. “In those days, only members of the nobility could be Knights. Later, after discovery, after the Brigades were formed, it was possible for a commoner to work his or her way up the ranks, earn a commission and a Knighthood.”
“Were you a Knight in the Siege, Han?”
“I was a young, stupid kid during the Siege,” Han snapped. His words apparently had the intended result, because Luke subsided.
“When Corell joined the Republic, we insisted that Corelli would only serve in Corelli-officered, Corelli-led units, so the Republic created the Brigades. Instead of swearing allegiance to the Republic, the Brigades swore fealty and allegiance to the Kings of Corell, and it was the King who swore an oath of allegiance to the Republic. So the Brigades became an army within an army, and they didn’t hesitate to let the rest of the Republic know that both Corell and the Brigades were better than anyone else. And, not surprisingly, everybody else got mad about it. And so you had about three and a half centuries of Corell thumbing its nose at the rest of the galaxy, and everybody resenting the hell out of us for it.”
Han couldn’t see Luke’s face very well in the darkness, but he could see the younger man was starting to fidget. “Han, why would Corell feel it’s better than anyone else?” he burst out.
“Simply because it was Corell,” Han answered flatly. “Deep down inside, junior, just about everybody feels they’re better than most everybody else. Talk to Chewie some time. He won’t come out and say it straight out, but he finds us humans funny. We’re always doing something dumb no self-respecting Wookiee would ever dream of doing. Have you ever met an Ugnaut? It’s real hard not to feel superior to one of them.”
“Okay, I’ll take your word for it,” Luke said doubtfully. “But what’s all this got to do with the Siege?”
“I’m getting there, I’m getting there.” Han shifted a little, and brushed away the pebble that was digging into his rear end. “See, about twenty years or so ago, the Brigades got chopped up in the Clone Wars. Well, everybody got chopped up pretty badly, but the Brigades really took it on the chin.” He hesitated a moment, considering if he should elaborate, then plunged on. “My father was killed, along with several of my uncles and some of my aunts, and some cousins.”
“I’m sorry, Han.” Luke was quick to offer sympathy.
Han shrugged, already sorry he’d revealed something so personal. “I wasn’t the only one. My best friend lost a lot of his family, too. Both families served in the same Brigade. A lot of families were hard hit.” He didn’t mention that it was the Chivalry that had been particularly devastated. It was inconceivable that a Knight of Corell would ever hang to the rear in any battle, and so the officers had sustained losses far in excess of their actual numbers. “Any way, the Clone Wars showed everyone else that the Brigades weren’t as invincible as they wanted people to believe. Not that the Brigades or the Chivalry or King Chanhome ever thought that. Clear up until the very end, they all - well, most of them any way - still believed that Corell was unbeatable. So, anyway, when the Siege began, Corell was pretty much disliked by just about every one, and pretty well isolated. And when we asked for help, we didn’t get any.”
“Why’d Corell revolt?” Luke asked.
Han rubbed his hand over his eyes. “It wasn’t so much of a revolt, junior, as it was an act of self preservation,” he said tiredly. “But no one else saw it that way. “
“Because no one wanted to think Corell was right. Every one, most especially Bail Organa—”
“Yeah, her Worhip’s father. The Rebel Alliance was in its infancy then, and Bail ran it, and Bail wanted to believe that the Emperor could be contained by strictly peaceful, political action through the Senate. We told him,” Han’s voice roughened with remembered frustration, “Palpatine was dangerous, that he couldn’t be controlled, that every one was in danger, not just Corell. But of course he wouldn’t listen. He just told us to lay down our arms and sue for peace, that the Senate would protect Corell from its own hot-headed stupidity. He never, ever understood that the Emperor was planning to murder every Brigades officer.”
“What?” Luke asked. “How? He couldn’t have gotten away with it, could he have?”
Han remembered the feel of the orders in his hand, transferring himself and every other officer in His Majesty’s Own Royal Corellian Fourth Brigade out of the Brigade into a regular Imperial unit. “The Emperor didn’t trust the Brigades. Every other officer in the Imperial armed forces swore his oath to the Emperor, except for us Corelli. Our officers swore their oath to our King, who swore fealty to the Emperor. The Emperor thought that made the Brigades dangerous to him. He also didn’t like it that Brigades officers were usually better trained, smarter and more effective than most regular unit officers. See, when he seized power, one of the first things he did was purge the armed forces, getting rid of any one he suspected of disloyalty. But he couldn’t do that to the Brigades at first. It wasn’t until he’d made sure the regular units were utterly loyal to him that he dared tackle the Brigades. He arranged for the Brigades to be disbanded, the officers and enlisted personnel to be dispersed throughout the regular units where we’d be totally outnumbered. Once that happened, it would have been a simple matter to eliminate us. Orders were cut, disbanding the Brigades, and King Chanhome was told that Corell no longer enjoyed any special status and was now expected to toe the Imperial line.” Han frequently wondered if his father had not died in the Clone Wars would matters have turned out different. “The Brigades deserted, returned home to Corell, and the Siege began. When we asked for help, Bail told us we were a bunch of paranoid hot-heads and the Alliance couldn’t risk itself by coming out in support of us or sending us any weapons so we could at least defend ourselves. Then, after the Siege, when Bail and the Alliance realized that the Emperor was a lot more dangerous than they suspected, when they asked for co-operation from the Corelli-government-in-exile, General Westrier and the Council of Regency told them to go sit on it and spin. And that’s pretty much where it stands now.”
Luke let out a long breath. “And here you helped rescue Bail Organa’s daughter and the Rebel Alliance.”
Han snorted. “Don’t remind me, junior.”
“If there’s so much bad blood between you and the Alliance, why’d you come back when you’d already left?”
Of course Luke had to ask that question. And Han had an answer for him. “Chewie.” Since the Wookiee wasn’t here to defend himself, and no one could have understood him any way, Han had no qualms about throwing his partner to the azbreki.
Han heaved a theatrical sigh. “He may not look it, but he’s a sentimental slob. He couldn’t stand the thought of you rebels getting vaporized. It didn’t bother him that we could’ve gotten vaporized, too.”
“So you had nothing to do with it?”
“Nope. All I did was drive the ship, kid. If it’d been up to me, Yavin would be cosmic dust now.”
“So, they’re right about you not being trustworthy because you’re Corelli.” There was a world of disillusionment in Luke’s voice.
Han really hated it that Luke’s opinion mattered to him. He hated the feelings of guilt, and the urge to show the younger man that he had a better side. But he couldn’t resist, either. “It wasn’t because I ‘m Corelli,” he grumbled. “Sacred Three, I’ve already been through this with Dodonna. It’s because I’ve got a brain between my ears. The odds weren’t looking too good, you know. And frankly, kid, I’ve had my war. I was lucky to get out of that alive and in one piece. Why push my luck?”
“But doesn’t losing the Siege make you want to fight back all the harder?”
“No,” Han said promptly. “It doesn’t make me want to do anything except stay as far away as possible. War’s not pretty, kid. It’s dirty, ugly, smelly and any other adjective you can think of. Your first taste of battle was clean. You fought in the air. You didn’t touch some bloody goo that used to be alive, you didn’t smell the stink of burned, rotted flesh, you didn’t go without sleep or decent food for weeks on end.”
“If that’s the way you feel, why are you still here?”
Once more, Han had the answer. “Chewie. In addition to being a sentimental slob, he's a die-hard supporter of the old Republic.”
Luke slowly climbed to his feet. “You just can’t admit to doing anything good on your own, can you, Han?”
Han bristled. “What’s that supposed to mean, kid?”
Luke hefted his unlit light saber, glancing at the other man from the corners of his eyes. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I can’t always believe you actually mean the stuff you say.” He hooked the saber to his utility belt. “Night, Han. See you when you get back.”
Leia quickly stepped back further into the shadows, hoping Luke wouldn’t see her as he hurried back to the main buildings. Then she started ticking off moments in her head, wanting to wait a decent interval before approaching Han so he didn’t suspect she had been eavesdropping. She gave—or tried to give—a blood curddling scream when a long arm snaked out of the darkness to encircle her waist and a large, rough hand covered her mouth.
“Eavesdroppers never hear anything good about themselves, Your Holiness,” a warm, dark baritone murmured close to her ear.
Leia went limp with relief. “How did you know I was here?” she demanded indignantly when Han dropped his hand from her mouth.
“This is my ship, sweetheart. I know everything that happens around her.”
His arm was still around her waist, holding her close to his rangy form. But instead of trying to push him away, Leia found herself wanting the closeness, enjoying a strange comfort. All too soon, though, his arm dropped and he stepped back, leaving her alone.
“Did you have some reason for coming all the way out here?” There was a carefully neutral note to his voice that Leia forced herself to ignore.
She fumbled in the pocket of her slacks, producing the pendant. “Can you sell this for me while you’re gone?”
Han held out his hand, and she dropped the pendant into it. He held it up in the growing moonlight, turning it around several times. “This isn’t a piece of the Alderaani regalia that someone would recognize?”
Leia shook her head. “No; just a present from one of my aunts.”
Han grunted and shoved the pendant into his pocket. “I’ll see what I can do, but don’t expect to get anything near it’s original value.”
“I know,” Leia said sadly. “It’s value always was mostly sentimental.”
Han dug a small box out of the bottom of a drawer in his cabin. Inside, nestled in a bed of silky fabric was a Knight’s ring, a second ring and spurs and a set of lieutenant’s insignia. He rolled the Knight’s ring around in his hand for a moment, feeling the familiar heaviness. Then he carefully tucked both the ring and pendant into the box, shoved it back under a pile of shirts and slammed the drawer shut.
That night, he dreamed of Arvisam again, the flames, the smoke roiling under leaden skies, the stink of burning flesh, the cries of the dying calling his name. And Gaweine—brave, beautiful Gaweine—smiling sadly at him through the flames.