"Thank you. General Kenobi. It was kind of you to come all the way to the Sith to tell me yourself. You could have sent a message."

Darth is dead. Jessha's thoughts scurried round and round like a small prey-creature cornered by a hunting-cat. Darth was dead and the small, the precarious, security she had gained from the threat he represented to Koric was also gone. Koric's first move, now that he knew that Darth was dead....

No, Koric DIDN'T know, she realized; not yet. Kenobi would have come to her first, as Darth's wife, in the manner of the Empire, not to the lord of the House as Sith propriety demanded. Koric would not know yet, and she had thereby that much of an advantage, that much time.

My son, she thought. I must get my son away from Koric to safety. Not herself. She could cover the child's tracks for a time, long enough, she hoped. She had little to fear for herself. The former wife of a deposed - deposed and dead - Dark Lord, a woman of Koric's own blood and a woman known to have been disloyal to her lord, was a woman utterly without a party of her own. No Sith lord, no matter how discontented, would follow her now, and not even Koric could see her as a threat, surely.

But her son was something else. Now that Darth was dead, his Heir was the only being standing between Koric and a completely legitimate claim to lordship of Sith, as Darth's nearest living male relative. The boy was no longer any use as a hostage; he was a prime target.

Jessha felt a dull pain stir in her. She would never have thought, once, that she would have to defend a four-year-old boy, and her own son, from her brother. But Koric had changed; she could not avoid recognizing it. More and more since he had declared himself Dark Lord, he had retreated from her and from everyone into himself, trusting no one and seeing threats to himself everywhere. The slightest hint of disaffection among lords or the people brought harsh reprisals: scourgings, impalings, the burning of whole villages for the commons; the ax and the block for nobility, attainder and expropriation of estates. Even the little Alderaani that Koric had seemed so fond of, Pera'u, had been accused of treason and executed not a tenth-year earlier, for repeatedly requesting leave to return to his home planet against Koric's wishes. No, Koric had ceased entirely to behave as a reasonable Dark Lord should. He was driving the people of Sith into the very revolt he feared.

Darth's Heir would be the perfect figurehead for that revolt. Even Koric, and even Koric in this new, fey mood of self-destruction, could see that. So Darth's Heir must be eliminated.

I must get my son away to safety, Jessha thought again. Where could she send the boy, and whom could she send him with? Nowhere in Sith was safe, and any of her people were suspect.

Kenobi cleared his throat, and Jessha's attention returned to him with a start. The general was watching her closely, and Jessha wondered how much of her thoughts he had been able to follow in the Force through his Jedi methods - or how much he had guessed. Did he know Darth had a son? Did he understand the political situation in Sith? The Jedi were far from inexperienced in the intricacies of power, and General Kenobi, Jessha was well aware, was no fool.

He was also a Jedi master, a general of the armies of Alderaan, a figure of power in the Empire-and completely outside Koric's authority. Perhaps, Jessha thought with a stirring of incredulous, unexpected hope, perhaps the solution was standing right in front of her.

But how far could she trust Kenobi?

The unease she had always experienced in Kenobi's presence came back to her, along with her awareness of the nerve-rasping alienness of the Jedi Force-signature. Then, even as she concentrated on it, Jessha felt the out-of-phase Force resonance fade and slip away from her. Uncertainly, she tried to recapture it. It eluded her, and as it vanished, a wave of blind panic swept over Jessha. Jessha heard Kenobi addressing her without understanding the words, the tones soft, soothing, faultlessly polite... terrifying. Terrifying...  Jessha blinked and caught her breath.

Why terrifying? Surely there was nothing to fear from this harmless, kindly man. He stood patiently in front of her, a dignified smile of helpful, almost fatherly, sympathy on his face. Distrust Kenobi? No, of course, no one could distrust Kenobi.

And it did not seem strange to her at all when Kenobi said, "You are concerned for your son's safety, your Highness. I can help you. Let me take him away with me to safety."

"Yes, of course," Jessha murmured.

"And-" Kenobi prompted. Jessha understood at once what he wanted her to say.

"And you must not tell me where you are taking him, General Kenobi. You must tell no one at all, for the sake of the child's safety. What we do not know, we cannot tell, under any means of... persuasion."

"Even so, your Highness," Kenobi said, with a bow. "Your Highness is most wise. I am at your Highness's command."

Jessha turned to practical details. It was hard to think. There seemed to be some dull confusion in her mind, and all her rational processes were inexplicably muddled. A thought slowly formed. "You must take the child's nurse with you to care for him. He would pine if she were not with him."

"Certainly, your Highness."

There seemed to be something else she should think of. Under the muffling surface calm there were faint alarm bells ringing in the back of her mind, trying to tell her something... something.... She tried to identify it, but there was nothing except the vague sense of formless dread, the conviction that her child was in danger. Danger.

"And I shall send one of my guardsmen with you, to protect him."

"I hardly think that will be necessary, your Highness."

Kenobi's calm certainty only intensified her fear. Her voice was sharp as she answered, "Nevertheless, General, I shall send a guardsman with you."

"As you wish, your Highness." Kenobi's bow, if she had noticed, was almost a shrug, but she paid it no attention.

* * *

Several timeparts later, Kenobi sat in the lounge of his small ship as it hurtled through hyper space away from the Sith Worlds; sat and studied his trio of passengers.  Beru, the child's nurse, was calm as she held the blond boy on her lap, humming softly to him. A practical woman, Kenobi decided, and not overly imaginative. She would confine herself to caring for the child and would no doubt make him a good mother. The superfluous guardsman (what was his name? Ah, yes - 0wen) looked less cooperative. A surly type, suspicious, and probably full of Sith prejudices against the Jedi. Kenobi noted the man's furtive glances in Kenobi's direction, half fearful and half hostile. No, Kenobi thought with mild amusement, this Owen did not look at all amiable. It would be best to have as little to do with him as possible. Where they were going, he would provide Kenobi with a perfect cover for anyone trying to connect the child with the Jedi. Yes, he would keep Owen after all....

Kenobi turned to the little boy, Luke, blinking sleepily against Beru's shoulder. Darth's son, and not much younger than Darth had been when Kenobi first met him. The boy's resemblance to his father was unmistakable. Kenobi could feel the echo of Darth's overwhelming strength in the Force, joined with that of the Princess his mother, in the child. Luke might yet prove to be even stronger in the Force than his father, given proper training. And this time, Kenobi thought, there would be no other loyalties to subvert his purpose for the boy, no ties to Sith, no ties to his father, no ties at all except those Kenobi would choose for him, and they would be ones easily broken when the time came for Kenobi to claim the boy as his own. This time, Luke, Kenobi silently promised the child, you will be all mine, and when the moment is ripe, you will be the means to fulfill my purpose: the destruction of the emperor, the revenge of the Jedi.

The boy Luke was hardly more than a baby, but the potential was there, beyond any doubt. All he had to do was wait. And Obi-Wan Kenobi was good at waiting.

He would wait on Tatooine.


Winter's Tales