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Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
Zero years after the Battle of Yavin (35:10:18) in the Alderaan system: Delaya (Leiliani: Medcenter and Rodney Castle).
Duke Julius Rodney and Lady Zara Rodney.

It was an immensely long and awkward ride back to the medcenter. Zara was concerned about Drusilla and Ewwie. There was no way for her to know if they headed back to the castle or not. Knowing what she knew about Drusilla, she doubted that she would listen to her aunt. She thought of them to distract herself from obsessing over the Duke. There was no love between the two of them. If he had been healthy and summoned her, she would have assumed he wanted to butt heads. Now? Now she had to stay calm. The ride was long until they actually arrived. The ride was too short at that point...much too short. Yet, Zara forced herself to leave the speeder. She was guided back to the private sector of the hospital where Julius was being held. She didn't want to go into his room. She didn't want to see the frail old man again. Against all odds, she made her way into his room. She looked nothing close to professional. There were bits and pieces of Ewwie's hair all over her. Zara's hair was a mess thanks to struggling with the lovable Squib. She took a deep breath. This meeting was going to be about heirs. It seemed like everyone was pressure Zara to work on number two while she was still on number one.

A darkness had fallen over the Duke's room, as Doctor Tohan felt that it would help the man rest, but the Duke of Delaya was not a man who listened to others, and thus the frail old man was shrouded in a column of light from the overhead light he had manually activated. His weary eyes looked towards Zara as she entered, and his lips slightly curled upward in a smile. "Come forward my child," he said, his voice still very much one of command, as he waved the fingers of his right hand to summon her. Weakly, he lifted his right hand so that she might more easily kiss his hand as a sign of love and respect. There was much he needed to speak to her about, but he was not entirely sure if she would understand. The fate of his family, and perhaps his planet, might now hinge on this teenage nothing.

There was only doom and gloom waiting for Zara inside of the room. Death lingered in the room. It was as thick as smoke. Her heart fell into the pit of her stomach while reality slapped her down once more. This man wasn't going to make it. He looked more aged than the previous night. Reluctantly, she moved forward towards where the man laid in his bed. She bent, kissing his hand respectfully. She lowered herself into the seat that the Duchess had occupied directly beside his bed. "I came as quickly as I could," she explained, "We have a lot to talk about, don't we?" In his mind, she was the key to the future of his family. Little did he know; the future heir was less than a foot away from his bed. She summoned Marcus' words for strength. They couldn't tell. No one could know. When all was said and done, they'd retreat home...wouldn't they?

"It is not easy for a man of my position to admit that he was wrong," Duke Julius began, as his tired eyes looked over the teenage that sat before him. She was the age of his granddaughters, but he was still a man, and she was still very lovely. "My son has chosen well. You will grow to fill the role you've been given. In time, we all learn to play the part, so to speak," he said, recounting his long life, and speaking of others as much as he were hers. "When my ancestor won control of Delaya in a bitter political struggle almost 800 years ago he began a line that flows through me ... through your husband..." he said, as he reached out with his hand to squeeze her should, both out of affection and to force her to give him her full attention. "Now I know that doesn't mean anything to you. And, honestly, it probably does not mean much to Marcus, but it has become my very reason for being. I will be the first Duke to fall without leaving a clear path of succession, and that has given me much shame these last many years..." he continued, ruefully, as his eyes focused on the young woman intently. "As it stands now, Claudius will succeed me as Duke, and then either Jelena or Drusilla will succeed him depending on who triumphs in this bitter war of rebellion. Some prince will marry them, and their child will go on to rule, but that child will *not* be a Rodney," he said, bitterly, his voicing raising in anger, which caused his jaw to clench and his heart monitor to beep as his heart rate elevated. "You, girl, are my only hope. You must produce a male heir. Someone who can lead our people through uncertain times and be strong for them. These are *your* people now, in a way..." he continued, but was interrupted as he began to cough repeatedly, and then struggled to reach his water with no success.

The Duke's first words worried her further. Even he was afraid of what happened next. Her focus was completely his. It was hard to believe what he was saying. The Duke's acceptance had been something she had decided she would never have. Zara had only added more fuel to that fire by secretly wedding Marcus...well, as secretly as the HoloNet allowed it to be. She understood what made an heir so important to him. The Rodney family had held power for a long time. It was his responsibility to see to it that his legacy continued on. Before the Duke, she realized how much all this succession nonsense mattered to her and Marcus. It was pressing down on them, threatening to crush them beneath its weight. The information was hard to process. This man wanted an heir. This man wanted reassurance that she was going to create a male Rodney suitable to take over. The beeping heart monitor put her on edge. What if he died before her? His cough had her scurrying to grab his water for him. She gave the cup to the old man. She even went as far as to aid him in bringing it to his lips and pulling it away when he had finished drinking. Now Zara's heart was beating fast too. She was sick again. She only began to talk once she had rested the cup in a place where Julius could reach it easier.

Zara was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She rested a hand on the Duke's. "I understand why it's so important to you that there be a Rodney heir. Marcus and I will surely produce an heir." It was one advantage of her being such a young woman, right? However, if people continued to stress her out, her pregnancy was going to turn into a complicated mess. Even now, she controlled her breathing so she didn't start hyperventilating. She felt like she was signing their son's life away. "What would happen to our son, should we have one? Would he live a good life? When Marcus and I decided to have a baby together, I didn't understand the rules of succession. I feel it's natural to worry about what will happen should we have a boy. I don't want my child to live some horrible life." She sighed, "How can I take care of *our* people and my family? All I want is the best for our children."

The Duke examined her carefully, and he harnessed much of his remaining strength to lean forward off the bed to move towards her. "Oh my poor child. You need not be afraid," he began, wearily, as he moved his hand up, trembling, in front of her, as if he were giving her a blessing. "Your family goes far beyond your husband and children born and unborn. Beyond even your husband's family. Look around you. Every living beyond upon the world looks to you. To lead. To set an example. They are your family now," he reassured her, his face revealing the heavy strain that he experienced over his unprecedented decades long reign over the planet. "And should you have a son he will be the future of all this. Raised by the finest people. The finest schools. He will want for nothing. It will be the opportunities that every parent hopes for, for their child. And then he will one day take power, not to do harm, but to do good, and look after all of the people of Delaya ... his family," he said, concluding, as he fell back in the bed, exhaling sharply, and desperately grasping the water once again.

She was afraid. In fact, Zara felt like crying right then and there while she expressed her worries for their baby boy. She took his trembling hand and held it. She now looked to guidance from a man she was beginning to hate less. Was she being played? She didn't know. The man spoke wise words. Her memory slowly turned back to the execution of the Ta'em family. Zara, a young girl, scarred forever by what occurred that day. Until Marcus came into her life, she had no family. Sad, blue eyes stared at him. Her head nodded. She understood, yet she still feared that this wasn't the best path for Darrus. "I didn't think of it like that. I assumed the boy would be doomed to a life he didn't love, and that he would hate Marcus and I for thrusting such a responsibility on him. Did you ever feel that way?" Oh shit! Zara scrambled to grab the glass, aiding the elderly man in taking a drink once more. "You should rest." She suggested. "You don't need to push yourself."

The old Duke nearly choked on his water when he heard the words that Zara spoke. "Oh, my dear. Do you really think you can spare your child from all life brings?" he asked, as his eyes scanned upon her young features, noticing the tears. "Could your parents spare you?" he asked, knowing full well her history from the information his agents brought forward. "If you spare him this, the galaxy will simply find another trial for the boy. One cannot escape their destiny. no matter how hard they, or those around them, may try," he said wisely, as he turned his attention back to the more pressing concern of the water. "Did I hate my parents for the life I've had to lead? Never. Not once. We are who we are, and we cannot hate those who make us that way. In the end we, alone, are responsible," he said, reflecting upon his life, as he let his head fall back against the pillow. She was right about needing rest. His eyelids now felt like they weighed a ton. If only he had some wine, he thought silently to himself as he began to drift off.

Oooh, the well of forgiveness for her father-in-law dried up with one comment. She didn't like how he brought her parents into all of this. "I know I can't spare my children of the hardships in life. That doesn't mean that I should line up hardships for him either. What happened with my parents sprung from a choice that they made. My parents wanted to be involved with something that could potentially get them killed. They should have spared me. They opted not to." Zara was ready to leave. The Duke had given her so much to process. She knew it was time to conclude the visit before she said something she would regret. She rose from the chair until she reached her full height. "You sound so confident. There was never a moment, even the shortest moment, where you regretted being who you are? There was never a time where you wished to live another life? If you know my past, you know that Marcus and I have lived different lives. I'm but a pauper to him. This is still new." She sighed, "We'll see each other again, I'm sure. Feel better." She expected no answers to her questions. The man was tired. She turned her back on him and headed for the door. To her surprise, she found that there were tears in her eyes.

"One must never regret who they are, regardless of who they are!" the tired Duke shouted as she left the room. Had he made an impact? He did not know, but he did know he was in desperate need of sleep. The new day would bring more doctors, more tests, more prodding, and less rest. He could barely keep those eyes open now, and just like that he drifted off into sleep, to dream of the days when he was as young as Zara.

The Duke's last words rang out in Zara's memory. They splattered themselves all over every thought that filled her pretty little head. The scene outside of Julius' room was chaotic. There were Rodneys...some she knew, others she didn't...assaulting her with questions about her private meeting with the dying Duke. Zara panicked. The only person she wanted to talk to about that conversation was Marcus. She diverted the questions by telling everyone that she felt very sick. She was going back to the castle. There was a *second* rush of bombardment outside of the hospital. Zara's favorite paparazzi were there to capture pictures of one exhausted, fur-covered pregnant woman. It felt like the day would never end.

She was worked up by the time she made it to the castle. Zara's logical answer to all of this? Run and hide. She scaled the spiral staircase leading up to the tower where they were staying. Her heart was beating quickly. *One must never regret who they are, regardless of who they are*. Irrational and upset, she snatched up the bag in which she had used to pack her and Marcus' belongings. She began repacking it with her clothing. She didn't know what she was doing, nor where she was going. Darrus was meant to be the heir of Delaya. The Duke had made it clear that there was no way out. While carelessly packing her belongings, something slipped free of a small compartment in the front of the bag. It fell on the floor. The object, as she found quickly find out, was the Alderaan watch she had taken from Marcus. Though she didn't always carry it on her person, she took it nearly everywhere they went. She plucked the watch from the ground. Cupping it in her hands delicately, Zara crumbled to the bed where she would stay until her husband came back to her.

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