Lady Amilyn Holdo had seen many things in her time as lady-in-waiting to Duchess Organa. Engagements, war plans, whispered liaisons and duels at dusk had all taken place under her watchful eye since she had come of age with her mistress, though if you asked any of the maids and servants of the manor, they would swear to you that she was only thirty-six in age, not the near half century that she was.
Amilyn credited that to knowing how to keep to herself, her blonde hair never giving away the streaks of silver that should have been on the crown of her head. Truly, her age never showed unless she frowned, her wise gray eyes flashing with displeasure. It was a rare occasion when she frowned, but nevertheless, in the damp and slowly brightening morning, she was fixing Lady Rey Dameron with one such look.
She knew that the young woman could see her despite being perched up in one of the garden’s fruit trees. In the early spring light, the noblewoman’s cheeks were flushing pink like the apple blossoms that she took cover in, and the look that she gave Amilyn was a beseeching one.
“Please, Amilyn, don’t give me away.” Rey looked down at the lady-in-waiting, who stood unflinching at the base of her tree. Both parties wished that this wasn’t a well-practiced routine, but it had been fifteen years since Count and Countess Dameron had lost their lives in a skirmish with a group of thieves and their swords, and so Rey had grown up a ward of the duchess.
If anything, this scene constituted a typical Sabbath.
Really, Lady Rey was getting better at hiding herself, Amilyn had to admit. If she wasn’t accustomed to scanning the trees for foolhardy spies as the duchess took counsel in the garden, she would have missed the freckled visage of the little countess. Of course, the countess wasn’t so little anymore, and she had a reason to spy this particular morning. It was the only reason that Amilyn sighed, her face softening as she beckoned the young woman to climb down.
It was a fortnight from Rey’s twentieth birthday, and the duchess had been talking of her hand to yet another interested suitor’s father. Some would scoff and say that the girl was an old maid by now, that she should have been given away as a bride years ago, but Leia, the duchess, had promised the new Count Dameron that his sister would not be married off until she was twenty and he had returned from the war.
When that promise had been made, Rey was a mere slip of a girl at age fourteen and her brother, Poe, had just newly turned 27. With how the war had dragged on, no one had really believed that she’d marry. If anything, they expected that Rey would have been in a convent by now, away from prying eyes as she mourned her brother’s inevitable death.
But Poe was very alive and due back from the war any day now. Amilyn sighed at the fact as she watched Rey slowly make her descent, shaking her head with exasperation and mirth as the girl dismounted the tree and turned to her.
“You stole your brother’s breeches again, m’lady.”
Rey sniffed at the accusation, “I did no such thing.” Still, a smile was slowly stretching across her face and she primly swept a hand across the fabric. “In faith, they are from my Lord Solo’s drawers.”
“Reyna Dameron! We did not teach your fingers to be sticky!” Despite her scold, Amilyn chuckled, shaking a finger at the maid. “You’re lucky that the duchess loves you so. What would she say if she saw you in her son’s clothes?”
“That they’re ravishing on me, and he is still at war at my brother’s side so why shouldn’t I make use of them?” Rey’s voice lilted upwards on the supposed question, batting her eyelashes at the woman who had served as her governess since the days she toddled instead of ran.
Amilyn offered her arm to the younger woman, Rey willingly reaching for it so they could stroll arm in arm, in each other’s confidence, as if the elder hadn’t caught the younger in a tree again.
“And what will we tell Ben when he gets back from the war, hm?” The words were a light tease, and Amilyn simpered at the becoming blush that brightened on Rey’s cheeks.
Ben was the only son of the duchess and the bearer of his late father’s title. He was three years younger than Poe, but taller and paler and just as handsome. In youth, he and Rey had a special affection for each other, and many around the manor whispered that a good match could be made between them.
However, the duchess insisted that a marriage should not be made on childhood sweethearts. It was a fact that Amilyn disagreed with but would never tell her mistress. She was only there to serve, not intervene. She had learned that much in her time at the manor, and she would not leave that path now.
If anything, the only people who could possibly dissuade the duchess from her belief were either at war or on Amilyn’s arm right now.
“I will tell him that he’s gotten too fat for his breeches and so they had been given a better home.” Rey laughed at the light cuff that the back of her head received, Amilyn clicking her tongue in disapproval.
“You’re no longer a mere maid, Reyna. You cannot jest in meanness.” The lady fussed for a moment over the countess’ hair, brushing a wayward petal from the smooth tresses. Her lady Rose must have brushed her hair this morning, she thought blithely, turning her eyes to inspecting Rey.
She spoke the truth--the lady was no longer a girl. In the six years since the war had began, she had shot up in height and manners, her lithe frame and sweet face not betraying the jesting tongue she had behind her unchapped lips.
Poe had always shrugged off any concern that his younger sister had too sharp of a tongue, saying in her defense, “You won’t let me teach her how to wield a sword, so why should I curb the dagger that she keeps in her mouth? You’re only jealous that your wit is not as quick.”
Like a dagger, Rey had used her wit to keep suitors at bay until now. Amilyn would be lying if she didn’t have a bet running with the lady’s personal maids as to how many suitors would be sent storming off.
Yet, no matter how many were sent off in a huff, there was always more to replace them. That was the problem with being a noblewoman who was a ward of a duchess, Amilyn supposed. There was always someone vying for the crown in some way, and if it was through a countess who was possibly eleventh or twelfth in line for it (once you went through all the dukes, duchesses, their male children and wards and so on, of course)... then so be it.
Rey squeezed Amilyn’s hand now, bringing the lady from her thoughts, a frown marring itself deep into her cheeks.
“Please, Amilyn, tell me about the man our grace was speaking with this morning.” There was that beseeching look again, and the lady cast her eyes up to the treeline again to excuse her gaze from not meeting the hazel one that was looking at her. She brushed her hand against the lavender colored skirt of her dress and cast her eyes doubtfully to the young woman.
“Are you sure you wish to know?” She asked, sighing at Rey’s eager nodding, dropping her voice low so that no one-- no servant, washerwoman or worse, the duchess herself-- could hear the conversation between them.
“That was the lord Snoke talking with our grace this morning. He has no natural child, but he does have a ward, a Sir Armitage Hux, who he has put forward to be your husband.”
Rey nodded slowly, her eyes glinting as she looked to Amilyn again. “What does he look like?”
“Sir Hux? He has red hair--” The lady-in-waiting barely got the words from her mouth when Rey scoffed, muttering:
“Red hair? I didn’t know that her grace wished to put a carrot in my garden--”
“Reyna!” Amilyn admonished, gasping loud and all but clapping a hand over the girl’s mouth. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a pair of gardeners milling about, and she hastened to pull the squirming woman from the yard and through the door they were approaching.
The hallway that they entered was empty, thankfully, but still the elder pressed a finger to her lips, hushing any protest. After all, the stone halls echoed all too loud and though both women wanted to believe that everyone was truly loyal within these walls, they knew better.
"Are they still talking of my dowry?" Rey whispered to Lady Holdo, whose eyes were trained everywhere but the young woman's face. She sighed, finally glancing back at her when she was satisfied that they were alone.
"Yes, but only because the man wanted to speak of your maidenhead."
"What has my maidenhead have to do with my worth as a bride?" Rey hissed back, ignoring the exasperated sigh that answered her. "Lady Phasma was a virge when she laid with her first husband and she says she had no maidenhead-- says she lost it while riding horses."
"Lady Phasma's father had no sons and plenty of dowry to make any man overlook an untraditional upbringing. Her grace is trying to elevate you much higher than Lady Phasma."
"My purity shouldn't have anything to do with it," Rey sniffed. "Why must mine be worth weight in gold when my own brother did not preserve his? If my virginity is gold, his is like a bowl of porridge to a line of beggars: generously given and to the first open mouth he found."
“Your humor is very foul this morning, my lady,” Amilyn sighed, shaking her head. She made a note to herself to corner Poe and demand why his younger sister would know of his bawdy habits, and insist that he curb them or not speak of them. It was improper, after all.
Rey laughed at that, letting go of Amilyn’s arm now, her eyes sly and grin mischievous. “Dear lady, I thought you’d know that from my wearing breeches. If you wish, I could cause a bit more trouble.”
“Reyna, you are to be a bride in less than a year’s time. Your time for making trouble should be no more.”
To an unpracticed ear, the words sounded like a scolding, but it was something more bittersweet than that. After all, it was not as if the young woman had an option of marriage or not. There really wasn’t a woman alive who had that option, but if it was, Amilyn would wish it for the girl before her.
“You say that, my lady, but my brother and his friend are due back any day, any hour now.” There was that grin again, the twinkle in her eye bright and fierce. “If you think that I won’t get in trouble when I am in their company, before I am wed, then we should let Artie the Jester go from his post.”
Another grin over her shoulder, and the young woman was skipping down the hall, singing all too loudly, as if her maidenhead wasn’t being auctioned off to the highest bidder, as if she was just a sprite darting from one magic source to another.
“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day ,
All in the morning betime ,
And I a maid at your window ,
To be your Valentine .
Then up he rose, and donned his clothes ,
And dupped the chamber door .
Let in the maid that out a maid
Never departed more .”
Amilyn huffed a laugh to herself. Of all the bawdy songs to sing to wake the castle, of course it was one such as this. The only thing that she could think to console herself was that neither Ben or Poe had taught the girl this ditty. No, the countess had bothered one of the wet nurses for it years ago, when she was barely waist high, and so had begun her mischief.
In the distance, she could hear Rey laughing and her maids’ voices joining hers in cacophony, the attempts at scolding lost as the noblewoman issued instructions:
“You are to sing ‘a-down, a-down’, and you, Rose, shall sing ‘Call him a-down.’ We’ll make it a round.”
The lady-in-waiting didn’t bother to muffle her laugher now, hearing the other maids tittering as Rey continued on.
“By Gis and by Saint Charity ,
Alack, and fie, for shame!
Young men will do ’t, if they come to ’t .
By Cock, they are to blame .
Quoth she, “Before you tumbled me ,
You promised me to wed.”
He answers ,
“So would I ha' done, by yonder sun ,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.”
Out in the yard, there were shouts of excitement, a calling of familiar names, and Lady Holdo was sure that if she strained to hear, she would be able to make out the stomping feet of horses riding up to the manor and through the gate.
She turned to make down the hallway and paused, the sound of feet pattering up behind her. “Lady, please wait!”
It was Rey again, yanking a nightgown down over the clothes she still wore, her face newly washed and pinked with a smile. She caught the waiting lady’s arm again, murmuring a question. “Can you see my breeches?”
Amilyn snorted, taking a glance down to check. “In truth, no, I cannot. But do not run or else they’ll notice.”
“Who? The men that have returned or the men that I am meant to impress and give my dowry to?” She didn’t let the lady respond, shrugging instead. “I’m already improper for rushing out of bed to see who makes this much noise at so early an hour. They can deal with the impropriety if my breeches show.”
Amilyn rolled her eyes, but still she clutched the girl’s hand tightly as they made their way out to the courtyard together. Yes, she had seen many things in her lifetime, and she counted it as a blessing that she was a witness to seeing the talkative countess fall silent with wonder, if but for a moment, at the broad-shouldered man who sat astride a dark horse.
Lord Solo. Back again and even more handsome than Rey could have possibly remembered him.
Since I'm a giant literature nerd, I couldn't help but model Rey's comments about husbands with beards after Shakespeare's character Beatrice in "Much Ado About Nothing." Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you like it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Poe Dameron considers himself observant when it comes to the important things. True, he couldn’t tell you if that barmaid that he just tumbled was the wife or daughter of the tavern owner or if he had left his book out in the garden while it rained, but he could tell you a great many things.
For instance, he could tell you (and gleefully too) how his dear friend and somewhat brother, Ben Solo, had fallen off his horse in his haste to get down and greet Rey. He and his squire, Finn, exchanged a look as the noble Solo attempted to scramble to his feet, only his pride hurt as the young woman looked on, the smirk being confirmation enough for Poe.
His sister, despite growing taller and fairer in his time away, was still the same sprite as always. He should have known that by how she was greeting them in her nightgown despite the scandalized looks of the few lesser nobles who also made their home in the manor’s keep. The only ones looking unperturbed (and perhaps even crafty, he wondered, noticing the interesting shape of clothes under the nightgown) were his sister’s ladies, Phasma and Rose, who stood next to the duchess’ own lady, Amilyn. As if Rey could sense his doubt, her mouth opened and she spoke.
“Truly, my lord, I never expected the mighty Kylo Ren to fall at my feet in surrender so quickly. Do you mark that, brother?” Her green eyes were mirthful and she playfully nudged at the man before her with her foot. “Hardly a word between us and you have surrendered. And I was looking forward to our verbal spar.”
“The voice is the same, but instead of the little chit that we left behind, it seems we find a fairy queen, Poe.” Ben called back, turning his head to look at the older Dameron. He was still on his knees, and Poe could see the light of some rapturous admiration in his eyes. Bewitched as always.
“Poe, you promised to bring back a fierce warrior called Kylo Ren, who makes others quake in fear in the heat of battle. You lied, and only brought back Ben in shiny armor.” Rey reached a hand out, not caring about the dirt and grime on Ben’s glove as she helped pull him to his feet.
“I’m sorry, sister. To be fair, I was hoping that the ruse would work, but Ben just had to fall from his steed. Perhaps you bewitched us before we left, cast some magic to keep us forever honest with you.” The man stepped around his friend, throwing his arms wide to embrace his sister.
She received his hug happily, grimacing as he pecked her cheeks. “You grew a beard, and I do not like it.”
“I had a beard when I left for the war too,” he reminded her, chuckling at how she shook her head.
“That was more like fuzz, sheep wool that you and Ben dyed and attached to your chins. At least my lord had the common sense to keep his chin clear and soft, with only a bit of hair on his upper lip. You look like a bear,” she huffed, casting a look over her shoulder at Ben, who still hadn’t looked away from her.
“You credit him with too much. I’m still surprised that Ben is able to grow a moustache.” Poe caught his friend by the arm, pulling him in close and looping an arm around his shoulders. In a moment, the nobleman was being pulled down, closer to Rey’s level as her brother presented Ben to be inspected.
“Remember how smooth his face was in yesteryears? He only could grow a moustache after killing a man, I think.” Poe laughed at his own joke, Rey brushing it off with a wave of her hand.
“Let him go, brother. He is not some maid to make sport of. Or your squire to torture.” She turned to Finn, who had come to stand at his master’s elbow dutifully. She smiled at him fondly, leaning forward to mutter something in his ear, and Poe wasn’t sure if it was an apology for his behavior or if it was a promise that Rose, the pretty maid in Rey’s employ, was still besotted with his squire.
Still, she turned to face the dearest people in the universe, hands on hips as she smiled. “Now that you two are home, I can put my prayers on more important things. Like marriage.”
“Is my mother still looking for a man to take you?” Ben’s voice almost seemed like a jolt in the conversation, his deep timbre unaccustomed to the wild teasing that the siblings would hurl back in forth. Poe knew, by the look of his friend’s face, that Ben wasn’t quite sure if he wanted the answer to be a yes or a no.
Granted, Poe only knew that some time in the past, Rey had told Ben that he was the only man she’d ever willingly marry. Ben, being the noble and foolish boy he had been six years before, had sworn never to take her hand, if it meant that she could live free and unmarried.
Needless to say, Poe could also remember how his younger sister had come to him crying that day, with Ben paying him a visit the next day, white-faced and cursing his ignorance. He couldn’t remember what counsel he had given to them, how he had been able to send them away content and at ease, but he could see the look in his sister’s eyes.
So neither had forgotten the promise. Of course not. Especially not now that the deadline that the duchess had imposed for Rey’s marriage looming over them.
Still, Rey’s answer was bright, untroubled, “For the time, there is no one who wishes to take me, though there have been many who tried. But now that you’re back, I can focus both my morning and night prayers on praying away a husband, instead of asking our Lord to keep you two from harm.”
“Have you been praying for a husband, rather than against?” Poe teased, pushing Ben forward a touch. “Perhaps I have delivered more than a warrior for you, sister.”
“We both know that our lord Solo will have none of me,” she teased back, reaching up to tweak Ben’s nose anyways, giggling at how he flushed.
“Well, if you’re praying against a husband, then what are you praying for?” Ben asked, his look steady on her face, as if he was trying to spot every change that had taken place while he was away, every freckle that could have possibly shifted elsewhere.
“I’m praying for anything but a husband with a beard. I would rather my sheets be replaced with scratchy wool and briars than to be married to rough-faced man,” She joked, shaking her head at Poe as he joked back.
“Shall I get you a husband who cannot grow a beard yet?”
“Just so I can play dress up and pretend that he works alongside Phasma and Rose? I think not. If he is more than a boy, he is not for me, and if he is less, then I am not for him. You know this, brother.”
“Which is why I offer Ben up as a balance. He has no beard but he is still a man.” Ben cleared his throat at this, shaking his head.
“I have to agree with your sister’s refusal. I did make a promise, and I have to honor that.” He looked almost shy, and Poe faltered for a moment, wondering if he should leave the two alone, see if they could come to an understanding. Or better yet, save everyone a few headaches and a few betted coins and just take off in the night with each other.
Still, he poked his friend. “What if I make you promise to marry my sister? Will you honor that as well?”
Ben seemed to be rolling the question around in his head. He opened his mouth, but the answer didn’t come from, instead from a matronly voice: “He could not, but only because he would need to honor his mother’s wishes first.”
“Your grace,” he heard Rey mutter, Ben echoing the greeting as their heads dipped in greeting. The duchess smiled at Poe, who still looked at her, no bow quite yet. That could come after a jest.
“Madam, did you turn villain and sell my sister to the devil? He is the only one with enough mischief to manage her.”
Leia laughed warmly at the question, shaking her head at him before turning to embrace her son. The mother and son clasped each other tightly, and Poe stood aside patiently. He knew his answer would come soon enough.
“In faith, dear sir, I didn’t extend the invitation to Lucifer. Perhaps I shall try that soon.” Leia’s eyes landed on Rey, who again bowed, letting her eyes only shift upwards when the older woman patted her face.
“I do think I finally found a husband for you, my dear. We shall wait, of course-- he has to travel, and you must age just a fortnight more, but soon enough, you shall be a bride.”
Rey’s lip seemed to tremble for a moment, but if it was to be a sob, Poe certainly didn’t know, his sister instead casting her eyes down, the perfect image of resignation and gratitude. “Thank you, your grace.”
“Excuse me, but I must take my leave.” Ben’s voice was sudden, and Poe looked at him stunned, as did Rey and the duchess. The man cleared his throat, seemingly painfully aware of how loud he had been, but he didn’t wait for permission, instead turning on his heel. He grasped the reins of his horse and lead the steed away, back to the stables, even as his squire Mitaka followed, insisting that his lord didn’t have to commit to the trouble.
Yes, Poe considered himself observant of the important things. And he would tell you that Ben Solo was attempting to flee from news that he felt unable to change.
He didn’t say as much to Leia or Rey, instead turning to them with a smile. “I’m sure that my horse should also be cared for. Is there to be a feast tonight, your Grace?”
“Tomorrow. We need another day to prepare a proper celebration for you. Tonight, it will be only us… and the gentleman who is to be your sister’s betrothed.”
Rey’s smile seemed to echo Poe’s, both tense, cheeks pulled taut in a show of merriment even if it didn’t reach the eyes. Still, she stayed by the duchess’ side, watching her brother take his horse and lead him away as well, the air hanging over them thick with a light fog and impending changes.
A merry homecoming, indeed.
Don't worry, Ben comes a bit more into focus next chapter.
Find me on Tumblr as hersisterskeeper! (Even if you just message me to tell me to update or something.)