Chapter 6 Prince Han Solo watched the Jedi pilot walk away across the circular landing pad with the Alliance captain. He appreciated the view for a moment, a smile on his face. The sight of her tight-fitting flight-suit as she sauntered towards the waiting X-wings… A polite cough brought his attention back to the job at hand. He turned to find Triad Amidala looking at him with a small smile on her face. The other Alliance diplomat, the Alderaani prince, scowled. "Are you with us, Prince Solo?" "Yes. Yes of course." He gave her his most winning smile. To his surprise, she winked back. "Good. I would hate Lance here to have to shoot you for oggling his fiancé." Han started. He looked at the Alderaani prince again. That explained the frown. He bowed his head. "Of course. No offence, my lord." "None taken," Lance said. Han didn't need to be a Jedi to know the man was lying. “And all my congratulations, of course. When is the happy day?” “We have not chosen a date yet.” The Alderaani prince seemed uncomfortable. “It is… recent.” It must be if my father’s spies haven’t gotten wind of it yet. He would enjoy telling his father this little piece of information himself. It wasn’t often he could surprise Jonash Solo. “Still, I hope it will be a spring wedding. Naboo is so beautiful in the spring.” Han turned back to Amidala, detecting a hint of sadness in her voice. Even in the wan sunlight that filtered through the thick clouds overhead, she was as beautiful if not more so than her daughter. Her white hair and lined face gave her beauty a striking note, like a rose blooming amongst the first fall of snow. Her warm brown eyes seemed to hide a galaxy of sorrow, yet she smiled. A smile that turned suddenly to a frown. "They’re here." Solo looked back to find the Imperial delegation, led by Grand Moff Tarkin, almost upon them. They were framed by the ominous bulk of the Imperial Palace, whose spires pierced the storm clouds with claw-like ease. Behind the Moff strode three senators in formal suits, two governors with their military dress uniforms and a couple of members of the Sith Council in their long white robes. The priests sent a shiver down Han's spine every time he encountered them. Still, years of diplomatic service for his father had taught him to hide those kind of feelings. He did so now, turning smartly and inclining his head to the leading Moff. “Grand Moff Tarkin.” The Imperial delegation stopped as one a few steps away. Tarkin towered over them all, his skeletal frame seeming to creak as he nodded to them. "Prince Solo. I trust you are well since our last meeting?" Han forced a smile. Like every other meeting for the past three months, their last had been a neverending battle of wits as both men had tried to get one up on the other. Table seating arrangements, location of living chambers, even the colour of the Alliance delegation’s robes – it had all been discussed, rehashed, discussed some more and finally argued over. The ultimate decision had made no one happy. Politics. Han couldn’t lie to himself – he loved it. "Very well, thank you. If would allow me to introduce..." "Queen Amidala. Of course. No introduction is necessary. How lovely to see you again." Solo clenched his teeth. As usual, Tarkin was trying to push him to one side. Not this time, Wilhulf. If you do that again, I swear I'll shove a blaster barrell up your... "It's Triad Amidala, actually.” The former queen smiled and allowed him to take her hand in his. "Of course." Solo tried to introduce Tarkin to the other members of the Alliance delegation, but Tarkin only seemed interested in Amidala. He moved closer, neatly cutting Solo out of the circle. “Or should I call you Triad Kenobi?” He smiled. Snake, Han thought. “The Emperor was most pleased to hear that you had remarried. To a Jedi no less. I trust he is well? We hear such reports of Jedi risking their lives in foolhardy missions into the Unclaimed Territories. I would hate to think that he was one of them.” An edge had crept into Tarkin’s words, one that Han didn’t understand. Amidala, though, seemed to understand perfectly. "My husband can take care of himself. I’m sure he is well, the Force willing." "Indeed." Tarkin leaned in conspiratorially. "I have to admit I've never understood this continuous obsession with ancient religions. We live in an enlightened age, after all." "I'm not sure your companions would agree," Padme responded. Nicely played, my lady. Tarkin looked at the two Sith with obvious distaste. "No, probably not." “What about you, Prince Solo?” Amidala asked, forcing Tarkin to take a step back so as to include him in the conversation. “Obi-wan tells me there has not been a single Corellian Jedi since the War.” Solo thanked Amidala silently. “No. We don’t have much time for esoterism and religion. We prefer complicated politics, fast ships and the reassuring sounds of a gambling table.” Tarkin sniffed. “And Kessel spices.” “When possible.” “It has been too long since I’ve played a good game of sabaac,” Amidala said. She smiled at Han. “Perhaps you would indulge me while we are here?” He nodded. “It would be my pleasure, milady.” Tarkin interrupted. "I must tell you, my lady, that the Emperor has been looking forward to seeing you again. He speaks of you with only the highest praise, despite your ideological differences. He often tells stories of you when you were Queen – it seems you were quite headstrong. Why, just this morning he was telling me how the two of you fought side by side on Naboo.” “Actually, I fought on Naboo. Senator Palpatine remained behind on Coruscant.” Well said. “Fighting on the floor of the Senate, my lady.” “Unfortunately, the Senate was rather powerless in that situation.” “A fact that the Emperor moved to amend when he founded the Empire.” Lance spoke up, his eyes flashing. “At the expense of the freedoms and liberties we had enjoyed for centuries, if not millenia.” Tarkin turned his icy stare on Lance. “Freedoms and liberties your forefathers fought for in the Clone Wars, Prince Organa, but which you…” “Have fought to protect against Imperial encroachments into Alliance space.” “Encroachments? A few ships, no more.” “I’ll remember to tell that to the thousands who died on Galatia.” This was getting out of hand. Han stepped between the two men. “Gentlemen, please. This is neither the time, nor the place.” Both men took a step back. “Now, I’m sure that the delegates and their escort are all tired.” He turned to Tarkin. “I believe you have arranged quarters in the Commerce District, so perhaps it would be possible to…” “Actually no.” Han frowned. “I’m sorry?” “I sent a communique to your office an hour ago, Prince Solo. I assumed you had received it. The Emperor insisted that the delegates receive accomodation in the Palace.” Han stepped forward. “That was not what was discussed.” Tarkin waved his hand. “A detail. The rest of the conference will occur as planned.” Fighting his instincts, Han forced his body to relax. He smiled. “Of course. Please. Lead on.” Tarkin clapped his hands and three servants dressed in white robes scurried forward. They bowed low, their eyes downcast. "They will show you the way." Han stepped forward, in front of Tarkin, bowing low over Amidala’s hand. “A pleasure, as always, Triad.” She laughed, the sound almost a giggle. “How galant.” He grinned at her, wondering whether to risk a wink. He thought better of it, bowing his head again before standing. “I will see you tomorrow.” She smiled again, then turned to follow the servants’ lead. Before she had taken a few steps, though, a shout rang out across the landing pad. “Mother!” Amidala spun round, a look of shock on her face. Han followed her gaze to see a young boy – ten or eleven at the most – racing across the landing pad. He seemed to have come from the Tantive IV, whose loading bay was still open. A young woman scurried behind him, her arms flailing. As the boy got closer, Han saw that he had unruly brown hair and the most piercing blue eyes. The boy threw himself into Amidala’s arms, squeezing her tight. “Mother, you said you’d come and get me.” Amidala put her arms around her son’s shoulders. Han saw her glance at Tarkin and he would have sworn that he saw fear in her eyes. “Kie-wan, I told you to stay on the ship.” “But I saw you leaving.” “Only for a little while. I would have come for you.” The young woman finally reached the group of delegates, her chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath. “I’m sorry, my lady. I just turned my back for a minute and…” “That’s alright, Elissa.” Amidala took a deep breath, then forced a smile on her face. “Gentlemen, I would like you to meet my son, Kie-wan Amidala Kenobi.” As if seeing all of the people around him for the first time, Kie-wan shrank back against his mother, clutching at her diplomatic robes. He looked from one to the other. When his eyes met Han’s, Han winked at him and smiled. Kie-wan smiled back, then buried his face in his mother’s robes. Seems like a nice kid. A bit shy, but nice. “I am sure we can find accomodation for your son at the Palace as well, Lady Amidala,” Tarkin said. “If we had known he was coming, we would have…” Amidala shook her head. “It was a last moment decision. He was supposed to remain behind with his father but…” She trailed off, a hint of disbelief in her eyes, as if she had said something she shouldn’t have. Tarkin smiled. “Off on important Jedi business. Say no more.” Amidala nodded her head stiffly. “Shall we?” she asked. Tarkin bowed, indicating with his arm that she should follow the servants who were still waiting. Clutching her son, the Triad allowed the servants to lead her away towards the Palace. Han watched her leave, then nodded to Lance, who smiled stiffly and followed the Nabooan diplomat. Holding back, Han reached out and grabbed Tarkin by the arm. The Grand Moff stared down at his hand as if it were some strange beast from the depths of the Western Sea. "I don't want to have to remind you that Corellia has worked very hard to organise these talks, Wilhelm." "And we are most grateful for your assistance, Han. Now if..." Han tightened his grip. "It would be unfortunate if the Unallied Worlds were forced to take sides in these talks." He knew he was taking a risk using such a hard line now, but he needed to reassert his position before Tarkin tried to cut him out entirely. Tarkin's eyes hardened. "Are you threatening me, Prince Solo?" Han let him go, but kept his hand on his sleeve. "Just making an observation. If it hadn’t been for the Solo Line, who knows where the Alliance and the Empire would be today." "Quite. We owe a lot. To your father.” Both men glared at one another for a moment, then Tarkin smiled. “Still, the Unallied Worlds have maintained their independence by remaining unallied. It would be a shame if you were to lose that independence because you decided to back the wrong side. Just an observation, of course." Tarkin shrugged Han's hand from his arm and turned smartly. Han watched him go, unease settling like a lead weight in his belly. Tarkin seemed... too arrogant, if that were possible. As if he knew something Han didn't. Something that had convinced him he no longer needed the Unallied Worlds support in these talks. I have a bad feeling about this. He needed to talk to his father. Jonash Solo, the architect of the Corellia Accords, the man who forged the Unallied Worlds into a force to be reckoned with and gained himself a throne in the bargain. He would know what to do. He turned to walk over to the landing pad where he had left his speeder. It was a short flight to the Embassy and Han could have used the public transport system, but he took every opportunity he could to get behind the wheel. As he turned, though, he caught sight of the young Jedi pilot – Leia – talking to Captain Antilles, and he stopped. He studied her more closely, admiring her full figure once again. Her brown hair was cut short, framing her drawn, sombre features. Han allowed his eyes to trace the strong line of her jaw, down her neck to the slightest hint of her shoulder blades under the Alliance jumpsuit. If he had had to choose between her and her mother, he would have been hard pressed to say who was the more beautiful. The conversation seemed to be coming to an end. Antilles said something in parting, then turned and headed after Amidala and the rest of the Alliance delegation. Leia took a few steps towards her waiting flight mates, paused and swung round. Just for a moment, their eyes met. Han felt a jolt of electricity travel down his spine and into his gut. He grinned at her and for a moment he would have sworn she was about to smile back. Then she seemed to realise what she was doing and she stopped herself. Spinning away, she began to fumble with her cloak. Han headed for his speeder, shaking his head. This was not the time and she certainly wasn't the woman. A Jedi! He had no time for their hokey religion. Give him a bargaining table and a treaty negotiation any day. And a blaster when things don't go my way, he added to himself. Arriving at his speeder – a brand new Qatari 359 – he stopped and took a deep breath to clear his head of the tantalising ghost of her face. The familiar smells of the city-planet washed over him. The heady tang of speeder exhaust fumes and power collection overflow mingled with the foul stench of refuse gathering in the lower levels and the more pleasant aroma of spices rising from a nearby processing plant. Coruscant had almost become home over the past five years. Not in the same way that Corellia was home, it would never be that. But it was close. Han shook his head again. He needed to stay focused. These negotiations might turn out to be even more important than those that led to the Corellia Accords. He had his father’s reputation to live up to. He couldn’t afford complications. Any complications. First, he would talk to his father. Then… Then he would try and find out what Tarkin was planning. Still, he allowed as he walked away, she seems to have a lot of spirit.