Part One — Once Upon A Time

Rating: PG-13

Nine Months Later

He stepped into the hut, out of the icy night, and saw a woman in robes the colour of a wind-worn desert, sitting in front of a blazing fire.

She showed no reaction as he let the oilskin curtain fall back across the doorway behind him, nor as he walked towards her, circling round the fire. Beside him, the flames snapped and lunged at the night air, making the darkness coil back into trembling shadows.

In her arms, the young woman cradled a swaddled child, and she was singing. He did not understand the language of the song, if there was one, but he understood the grief and pride and wounded love, subtly mingled in the cadences of her soft, ululating voice. Blood, and sweat, and tears.

She was looking down at the child, the hood of her cloak pulled forward to hide her face in shadow, though in counterpoint, the loose, shapeless sleeves of her mantle had slipped down to her elbows as she lulled him. Bare in the firelight, the skin of her forearms shone like beaten copper, and in the darkness beneath her cowl, he caught the golden gleam of blonde curls.

But still, he did not recognize her. Not until she raised her head, and looked at him.

He saw a face most infidels would have called pretty, made beautiful by the the flecks of living firelight in her eyes, and the faded caste-scars on her forehead.

"Tahiri," he hissed, reaching for the coufee he knew was sheathed at his belt. As his fingers closed around the hilt, the coufee became a sharpened stake, the tip glowing red-hot, still smouldering from the fire, and he was no longer in the hut on Tatooine, but striding across the Shaper's clearing on Zonama Sekot.

This is a dream, he realised.

He was still bearing down on Tahiri Veila, though - only now she was trussed in sinew lashes, struggling desperately as she stared at the fire-hardened spike in his hand.

She was trying to scream, he realised - or perhaps to plead - but her mouth had been sewn shut, the suture-cord black and tight against her soft red lips.

As he walked, he smiled at her, and rammed the butt of the stake hard home into the sheathe strapped to the stump of his other arm. Then, still grinning, he grabbed a hank of her hair in his good hand, tangling and twisting, forcing her to look at him.

"Adept Kwaad," he grinned. "Jedi Solo."

He could almost taste the mingled horror of their thoughts as he drew back his arm. His grin widened, and he watched her eyes bulge wider still in terror - calmly aiming the crude spike at the dilated black pupil of her left eye.

The black disk, ringed in fire-flecked emerald, looked as large as a nakker's maw - and it was still growing, just like his grin.

He drove the stake hard home.


He came awake with a start, his one good eye flashing open - to find himself lying naked in a tangle of worn hide blankets, on a cold stone floor. Shivering.

Slowly, he remembered where he was.

In the cavern. On Zonama Sekot. With her.

She rolled over, and smiled at him, a smile with the cruel, playful beauty of a blade. In the moonlight, he saw her face, the same face he had just seen in his dreams, but animated now by mischief rather than grief or fear.

Her eyes, however, were almost fathomless.

"It's you," he breathed, sweating in relief. He pulled a face, and scowled playfully. "No Solo brats?"

In answer, she just laughed.

"No Solo brats, Nom Anor," she promised him.

To Part 2

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