The blue sun seemed to wink at her from outside the huge glass doors. Unable to resist the temptation, Leia stepped outside, stretching languorously as she let its warm rays bathe her. For the first time since Alderaan, she almost felt at peace.
It was a fine morning in Caperni. And it followed after a finer evening when the Rebel Alliance signed on one more allegiance to her course. Tucked between the Mid and the Inner Rim, the beautiful little planet of Caperni was reputed to be more interested in the pursuit of art than war and her loyalties in the war had been undeclared. It was a surprise then when twenty years later, the Royal Family had a secret request to join the Alliance. Mon Mothma had immediately ordered her pet trio – Luke, Leia and Han – to visit the world and finalize their entry into the Alliance.
The Royal Family had welcomed them well, hosting them in their glorious palace and feasting them with meals so artfully prepared it seemed almost sinful to eat them. While a dancing troupe entertained the guests, the three bluebloods laid out their complaints about the Empire to the trio.
“Palpatine is a monster,” the old King said solemnly to Luke. “He places bans on the artists of my world.” Tears had stood in his eyes and he pressed Leia’s hands painfully.
“Nothing is allowed except art that praises him,” said the young Prince fiercely to Han. “His task masters are everywhere, teaching our musicians, painters, storytellers what to sing, paint, tell… A hum of an old sonnets can cause a singer his life.”
“Last tri-moon, he ordered that the library of old manuscripts be destroyed,” the King said. “We tricked the stormtroopers by smuggling them away and filling the building with blank sheets. But we don’t know how long that will work.”
His mother, the Queen, had stared at Leia with eyes that were both old and powerful. “This moon, his task force cancelled our bi-moonly presentation of the epic tale of Betrix and Bent. That is the last straw. We will fight him before he destroys our heritage.”
“A Jedi, you say?” The King asked Luke who nodded uncomfortably. There was look in the King’s eyes that was positively hungry. “There was a Jedi in Xar’s sonnet of Betrix and Bent. Do you have any stories to tell us?”
All in all, it had been a very successful visit and it was with a wistful heart that Leia watched the sunrise beckon in the new day and their departure. In another life, she would have enjoyed this planet. What a wonderful little treasure Caperni was. She breathed in deeply, determined to relish the last moments of her stay. Nothing could spoil her mood.
Leia blinked slowly. She had spoken too soon. She knew that voice. And it seemed to be talking to her.
She turned her head slowly and saw Han Solo leaning out of his own balcony flashing his cocky grin at her.
“Are you talking to me?” She said coolly.
His grin widened. “Sure. Monster.”
“I guess that makes you a gargoyle then,” she declared, utterly irritated. With a sniff, she turned to step back into her room.
“Hey!” Han shouted. “Can’t a fellow say good morning to his neighbour without getting his head hacked off? Hey, come back! I’m talking to you.”
She slammed the glass doors shut.
Five minutes later, he was at her door.
“Leia, open up!”
She looked up from her packing. “Buzz off, nerf-herder.”
“No surprise, there. What’s your problem, Your Highnessness?”
“I don’t like being insulted first thing in the morning. But of course, a couthless banther-rider like you won’t know anything about that.”
“Insulted? By whom, me?”
Leia sniffed loudly and bent back over her pack.
“I was saying good-morning. Mornin’ sir. What did you think I said?” Han asked.
She almost smiled. Almost. “Morning, sir. Yeah. Right.”
“You must think I’m one of those bimbos you roll around with back in Correllia, right, Han? Big bust. Tiny brains.”
“Sweetheart, no offence, but whoever told you you got ’em big up there, wanted something really bad.”
“What!?” Now she was really mad.
Clearly on a roll, Han was still talking. “And I sure hope you didn’t give it to him ’cos the truth is Your Worshipfullness, you could do lots better for yourself. For example – ”
His words were cut short when the door flung open to reveal Leia standing there, brandishing an ornate statuette in one hand.
“You, for example?”
“Careful, sweetheart,” Han said, slowly stepping back. “You don’t want to annoy the Capernitti by breaking one of their precious pieces of historical art.”
Leia came even closer. “It’s a statuette of Palpatine’s mother, recently commissioned. They’d probably give me a medal of honour.”
Han almost tripped in a hurry to move quickly in the narrow corridor without showing her his back.
“Good point there, sweetheart, but let’s be reasonable now. It was a joke, you know. Can’t you take a li’il joke, your Highnessness?”
Leia merely brandished the statuette.
Han gulped. “Guess not.” And he took off at a run. Leia was at his heels at once. He got to the end of the corridor, saw the three members of the Royal household coming and spun back at once.
“Leia, cut it out!” He hissed, trying to wave his hands frantically without the curious looking family noticing. “Cut it-”
But either she hadn’t seen them coming or her momentum or her rage was too high to be halted abruptly. She collided fiercely with him and the two came down in a heap. Han’s head hit the floor hard and he groaned. Fortunately for Leia, he broke her fall. She ended up in an inglorious heap, her legs straddled over his waist, the statuette held aloft in her hands in panic – she had been afraid she would drop it.
It took her a few seconds to realize that both she and the statuette were in one piece and though Han was also, he was not entirely unharmed. She stared down at him, gloatingly.
“Next time, I’ll drop this on your head,” she whispered fiercely and tightened her knees painfully.
“Is that the best you can come up with, Solo the solo comedian? ‘Ow’?” She hissed maliciously.
“I’ll let the audience decide.” Han groaned, glaring at her balefully. And it was at that moment that Leia noticed the small crowd that had gathered to watch their performance – the King, his wife and son, and Luke who had stepped out of his door at the sound of the commotion.
“What,” whispered the Queen harshly, “is the meaning of this?”
Suddenly Leia was shockingly aware that her robes had ridden to above her knees and how… everything must look.
The blood rushed to her face.
“Nice work, Princess,” Han whispered. And despite his obvious pain, he winked. Then grimaced when Leia poked him with one knee.
“Leia? Han?” Luke muttered, looking shocked and crushed. Leia felt awful. Luke adored her. She could only imagine what was going on in his mind.
“Luke, it’s not what it looks like.”
“It’s exactly what it looks like!” Han said cheerfully.
“Shut up or I’ll kill you!” Leia poked him again. Luke blanched further. “No, Luke, I can explain…” But Luke had already spun on his heels and taken off. “Oh no!” She moaned and fell forward with her elbows on Han’s chest.
“Take your time, Princess,” Han muttered. “I’ll just lie here until you’re done.”
“You idiot!” Leia shouted, getting back on her knees and smacking his chest. Hard. He was in real pain by the time she had got to her feet: she had poked and kicked him all through out the progress.
“Your Majesties, Your Highness,” she gasped, “I can explain!”
“Explain?” hissed the Queen.
“Yes, you see, Han here,” He was almost on his feet but Leia’s ill-timed kick sent him sprawling to the floor again, “Han here started - ”
“Hey!” Han cried, in protest and agony.
“There’s nothing to explain,” the King said sadly. “We have seen it all. Your treatment of each other is unmistakable.”
“Please, wait. You don’t understand.”
“Oh we understand everything!” the Prince shouted. “That you are a pair of ill-talented actors who have come to Caperni to steal our most beloved drama – to plagiarize the greatest comedy romance in the history of art and drama.”
“What?” cried Leia.
“Ill-talented?” roared Han who had finally got to his feet.
The Queen sniffed imperiously. “Ill-talented indeed. Such bad acting could not deceive the youngest adept in the village School of Drama. Don’t tell us that you didn’t come here to copy the story of Betrix and Bent, the two ill-matched, sharp-tongued pair of whom songs and paintings have been done for centuries.”
“Betrix and Bent?” Leia gasped.
“Bad acting?” Han shouted.
“Betrix and Bent,” the King said gravely. “The pair of sharp wits who loved each other on a dare and whose courting was filled with such antics and laughter and jokes and rough-housing that they have been beloved for generations. There are numerous theories of their origin; So many ancients claimed to have first written their story; but no-one knows exactly when they were first brought to life. Now they have been immortalized in all the forms of art that you can think of.”
“The performance you just gave now was straight out of Act 2 of Arisl’s version of their story,” the Prince said fiercely. “When Betrix broke the statue of the old woman on Bent’s head.”
“Guess we missed that part. Thank the stars for bad acting,” Han said in an undertone.
“Shut-up,” Leia whispered fiercely. “Your Majesties, believe you me until this moment, we had no idea whatsoever of this specific part of your heritage. We certainly didn’t come here to steal it.”
“No way,” Han added enthusiastically.
The Family looked unconvinced. “Then how come your scene was an exact replica of the episode? Down to the part when Betrix knees Bent in his nether regions?”
“I didn’t knee him there!” Leia exclaimed, blushing furiously.
“Not for want of trying, Princess,” Han said in another undertone.
“Shut up!” Leia shouted, rounding at him. “You started all this!”
“They talk to each other like Betrix and Bent. Always punctuating their words with insults; and he calls her Princess, just like Bent.” The King said slowly to the Queen. “Look at them.”
“OK. Maybe they are not such ill-talented actors after all,” the Queen said grudgingly.
Han’s chest puffed up, vindicated.
“See the way her eyes flashes at him?” The Prince said slowly. “And the way he sneers at her with that mixture of leeriness and affection? Isn’t that how the poems speak of their gazes? No pair of actors have ever been able to capture that glare and that leer with such accuracy?” There was a dawning look of excitement on his face.
Han’s chest deflated with an angry exhale. “Leering affection?” He roared.
“Han, shut up!” Leia screamed.
“That’s Betrix’s siren cry alright,” the King said and for the first time since they had arrived on Caperni, he actually smiled.
“Tell them to stop talking about us as if we weren’t here then, your Worshipfulness,” Han retorted to Leia.
“Did you hear that?” The Prince shouted. “Your Worshipfulness! Did you hear that?”
“They act like that all the time.”
The two parties spun sharply to see Luke where he was standing at the end of the corridor. There was a mixture of amusement and irritation on his face.
“Even before we got to Caperni. When they first met. They’ve always been at each other’s throats. And you should hear the language they use to each other.” Luke drawled.
“Luke, how could -”
“Farm-boy, just wait ’til I get my - ”
The Queen was looking almost as excited as her son. “Since they met, you say, Jedi? You were there?”
“I sure was. From the very first moment they laid eyes on each other.”
The Royal Family huddled together and started discussing in rapid whispers. Leia and Han started shouting at Luke at the same time. He grinned back languidly. He was probably getting his own back at the both of them.
The Family parted. Three heavy gazes turned to Leia and Han and they fell silent.
The King declared solemnly: “I am inclined to take your companion’s words because he is a Jedi and the Jedi do not lie.”
At this moment, Leia made up her mind to get hold of Luke before Han did. She was going to kill him personally.
There was a look of excitement on the Family’s faces as the King continued.
“But you understand that this is too much of a coincidence to be taken lightly. So… We will make a deal. You will stay with us a moon longer and we will place hidden vision-recorders in your rooms. We will observe your behaviours and your interactions with each other. And if we are convinced that they are not rehearsed, that you study no script, use no cues and all your words and actions are perfectly natural and intrinsic to you as individuals and as a couple”
“We’re not a couple!”
“Then, and only then, we will be convinced that you are not plagiarists… but simply bear some uncanny likeness to Betrix and Bent.” And at this the old King looked so excited that Leia feared for his heart. “And we will honour our arrangement with the Rebel Alliance.”
“A moon?” Leia shrieked. “We can’t – ”
“And if we refuse?” Han interrupted.
“Then we will pledge our allegiance to the Empire by revealing to them the secrets of your base and operations that you told us last night,” the King said gravely.
Leia was pleased to note that even Luke turned green.
The Queen turned to her husband sharply and the Prince whispered something in his father’s ear.
“Oh and you’ll be killed, of course,” the King added.
Ten moons later, Caperti time.
“How was the mission?” Mon Mothma asked Luke. It was a week after the delegation had arrived from Caperni and the pair were walking down a corridor in the Hoth base.
“Successful,” Luke said in surprise. “As you well know.”
“Then how come Leia and Han don’t want to talk about it?” And you, as a matter of fact.
“What’s there to talk about? We went, we saw and we convinced.”
“That was almost one year of going, seeing and convincing. And what did the King mean when he said that by sending to us the ‘natural treasures’ he was sending to us more proof of their loyalty that we could ever imagine? What natural treasures? Or we got was their seal of allegiance?”
“The Capernitti are really strange people, Mon Mothma,” Luke said solemnly, and started walking ahead of her, rapidly.
“They and the rest of the galaxy,” she retorted after him. “What was so strange about this mission that it took the better part of one year? I hear it’s a beautiful planet. I hope for your sakes you didn’t all decide to take an extended holiday!”
Luke had already escaped.
“Extended holiday!” Betrix – Leia shouted. “I’d give her an extended holiday. Living in a glass house – literally! Having the whole planet come watch as we gave our live performance as their beloved Betrix and Bent!”
“They made us call ourselves Betrix and Bent,” Han whispered. He lay curled up in his bunk, looking scared. “Betrix – I mean Leia – started calling me Bent. Did you know that?”
Luke nodded comfortingly and patted Bent’s – oops, Han’s hand. “I did.”
“I almost forgot my own name,” Han moaned. “We were practically their slaves, Luke, did you know that?”
“I did all I could to get you out of there, quickly, you know that, don’t you?” Luke asked earnestly. He had been feeling guilty about the whole thing since the second moon. That was when the Royal Family altered their mutual agreement (with those terms? Yeah. Right.) and declared that the private viewing was unfair to their people. They had moved Betrix and Bent – Han and Leia – out of the palace to the specially created house in the centre of the Capital where they had lived out the rest of their stay on Caperni.
“No privacy. Not even in the showers.” Han moaned.
Luke turned green at the memory.
“I cursed Bent – Han, sorry,” Leia muttered. “Cursed their whole Royal fragging Family. Their whole stupid fragging world. And they enjoyed it!”
“You guys were a hit,” Luke said encouragingly. “You were their reality show. They loved everything you did. You were famous, you know. You’d probably be very wealthy if you had accepted all the money you got from the viewers. The episode – night, I mean – when you kicked Bent, Han down the stairs broke all the theatre sales records.”
“Arrgh!” Leia shouted and resisted the urge to kick Han again just for getting them into the mess in the first place. What had been supposed to last for one moon went on for almost seven because of Leia’s tendency to abuse Han physically and verbally. She had learnt the hard way to stop that. It was only when the insults had been toned down that the Royal Family and Capernitti people had agreed to negotiate terms with Luke about terminating the ‘show’.
There was a pause during which Leia and Han relived their more harrowing experiences and Luke garnered up his courage.
He finally decided to venture it. “I never got the chance to ask you guys and I know this may not be the best time but… how did the whole thing get started?”
Leia’s fists clenched. Han flinched. Months of her undiluted abuse had trained him to duck whenever her hands made that cracking noise.
Luke looked guilty.
But when it came, Leia’s anger wasn’t directed at either of them.
“I stepped out that morning and thought what a beautiful place for a holiday Caperni was,” she hissed. “But believe you me, if I never see that Force-forsaken little world again, it wouldn’t be too soon! It’s a good thing for them we’ve accepted them in the Alliance. Or I’d gladly set the Emperor on them just to see the end of fragging Betrix and Bent!”
“Hear, hear, Betrix, I mean, Leia,” Han said.
It wasn’t easy. But she didn’t kick him.