Princess Leia Organa stood on of the many balconies of the Imperial Palace. Behind her the luxurious quarters the Cardinal has so "graciously" awarded her during her stay on Coruscant. But all in the Palace knew that the Heir was no guest. No matter how fine the trappings of her suites, the entire planet was a jail for the exiled Princess.
When she looked upon the urban sprawl of Coruscant at night, Leia could almost imagine that she was not a prisoner. That she was living on the city-planet of her own free will. But during the day…
During the day she could see the horrid squalor to the world. Even hundreds of stories above Coruscant's warrens she could see the darkness of the Cardinal's oppression. If she could only break free, run far from the evil that infected the planet to again take up her cause. If only the Cardinal had not hunted down her Rogues. Then, perhaps, she could escape this cancerous world and bring about the end of Palpitine's reign.
But such thoughts were foolishness. The Rogues were gone, dead or in hiding far away from Coruscant. All chance of escape, all hope was gone. She should resign herself to her fate, but her pride would not let her give into Palpitine's whims.
A hand on the sleeve of her gown drew Leia's attention from the forlorn world spread out before her. "My Lady." The voice was husky, deep for a woman but still musical.
Leia sighed and turned to her handmaid. "Yes, Mirax?"
The woman's brown eyes darted towards the suite. "My Lady, the Cardinal wishes to speak with you. Winter is entertaining him, but I doubt that she can…" Mirax ran a hand through her short ebony hair, a nervous gesture she would never let Palpitine see. This one was strong, Leia mused. Stronger than any of her other followers, except for her Rogues, of course. But even such strength occasionally bowed to the whims of the Cardinal. The thought allowed a chill of dread to snake its way through the Heir.
Savagely, she quenched that fear, knowing that during the impending confrontation, she could have no weakness. If she had, then all would be lost. Rubbing her forehead, Leia wished for things that the Force had denied them all. Peace, comfort, freedom. Wishes do not come true. If they did, Luke would still be here. My Rogues would still be safe. Shaking off her melancholy; Leia gestured to her handmaiden. "Show him in."
No amount of preparation could ready her for the presence of Cardinal Palpatine. Though her knowledge of the Force was limited, she still had enough of the damning gift to be able to sense the evil that entwined itself in the Cardinal's soul. It chilled her heart. Only sheer determination kept it from tainting her mind. His wizen visage haunted her nightmares. The same visage that was now studying her intently. "Good afternoon, Leia."
They were alone, so both could drop the facade that she was a guest. There was no reason for him to honor her. She was his prisoner. Nothing more, and the possibility of being even less haunted every moment she spent with the ruler of the Galaxy.
"Good afternoon," she murmured, schooling her features into passivity.
"I thought that since it was such a lovely day, you and your entourage should go shopping."
Imperceptibly, Leia stiffened. She knew what would be next. They had discussed this topic many times. "Shopping, My Lord?"
"Yes, Little One." The pet name made her ill, but the Princess kept her face serene. She would not let him see how much he disturbed her. "I think it is time that you gave up your white and chose a color more befitting your station. A new wardrobe perhaps."
Leia fingered the gauze cuff of her snowy gown. "Sir, my presence already taxes your resources. I would loathe to become more of a burden."
Palpatine smiled and the Heir barely kept herself from cringing. "The Galaxy is mine, Little One. The cost of a few gowns will not shatter my coffers."
Her mind reeled. There had to be a way to dissuade him. Her choice of white was only partially because of its significance as an Alderaanian color of mourning. That was why she had first chosen the color, but as the Rebellion had progressed, it became her standard. When a being saw her clad in her whites, there was a sense of hope, that mayhaps freedom could still be won. To give up that tiny spark of hope…"My Lord, you know I wear white as a sign of mourning. It would be a disservice to all of Alderaan's sons and daughters if I should give up the signs of my grief."
"You have grieved long enough. It is time that you showed the Galaxy that it is time to forget old wounds and look towards the future."
Anger flared bright and hot. "What right do you have to decide what period of mourning is sufficient to honor the loss of an entire planet!"
The look in his shadowed eyes was like a blow. She staggered away, trembling in sudden terror. "I decide because it is I who annihilated your homeworld. Never forget that My Lady or you may forget your place."
Terror warred with rage, causing a curious tranquillity to wash over her. "If I receive the chance, I will kill you."
The hood slipped for a moment, revealing powdery pale features that seemed far too ancient to belong to any mortal being. His hoarse chuckle would haunt her dreams for many nights. "There is power in you, Little One. The Force is strong, as it was with your father. Perhaps someday you will take his place at my side."
Serenity quickly became revulsion and rage. "I would die before I become your lapdog!"
"Believe what you wish, Princess. But someday you will take your rightful place at my side. Either as Lieutenant or Consort." Gathering his robes, he turned away from the beleaguered Heir. "You will go shopping this afternoon. And if I do not see at least one gown in a color other than your precious white…"
Leia swallowed hard, knowing he need not finish the threat. The destruction of Alderaan and her Rogues was warning enough. Bowing her head, she accepted her loss. "As you wish, my lord."
To be Continued...
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