Rey watched the soldiers, sons of peasants and lords alike, marching through the open gates of Alderaan Kingdom from a small balcony that overlooked the main road. They had returned home victorious, to fanfair and open arms of loved ones. Rey longingly observed as wives greeted their husbands, children ran to their fathers, young lovers embraced as they were united once more. Joyful sights that filled the air with celebration. But Rey held her breath, her nervous hands trembling as she knotted them in the fabric of her blue overdress. Her eyes scanned the faces of the men, trying desperately to swallow a lump of dread that knotted in her stomach and rose to her throat. Surely she would have heard, would she not? Surely word would have spread if he had fallen in battle.
She turned away from the crowds streaming through the gate, forcing her lungs to take in air. Her back against the cold stone arch, she covered her eyes with her hands, closing them for a moment as she sent up a silent prayer to the gods yet again. She’d prayed more these past few months than she had her whole life. Bring him home safe. She’d pleaded. Just let me see him smile at me once more. I need no more than that.
Slowly, like a child who had counted to a number in hopes that when they reach it and open their eyes, their wish would be granted, she let her hands fall to her lips, kissing her fingers before pressing them together in a last desperate prayer. Then she turned, letting her tear-rimmed eyes flutter open.
The last of the caravan of soldiers were coming through the city walls. The crowd of armored men dwindled, and then the gates were empty. She leaned over the railing, trying to see into the road beyond the wall. But there was nothing but the settling dust of the road.
Suddenly, her bodice felt like it was laced too tight at her ribs. Panic seized her, rushing through her veins and turning her blood to ice. Her heart ceased it’s frantic beat for a moment as her world stopped turning. There was no way she’d missed him earlier, no mistaking his form, his unique armor, his striking silhouette. Reality hit and swung the Earth back into motion in a rush, a hysteric pulse driving through her so that she swooned on her feet and grasped the railing as to not faint.
He’d not returned. The words he’d whispered into her ear that she’d replayed over and over again, as she cried herself to sleep at night with worry, as she watched the horizon for any sign of his return, was but a broken vow.
The memory of that moment, and those words, now felt like poison, like a bitter pill that burned and cut her throat. She heard his voice, low and sweet, as if he’d spoken but a moment ago, shivers running down her spine at the remembrance of his breath caressing her ear. She felt the burn of his lips where he’d pressed a stolen, delicate kiss to her cheek, almost as if his mouth had branded her. Her fingers traced the invisible scar of his lips as her eyes flooded with tears and cascaded down her cheeks.
And then she heard the thunder of horse hooves from just beyond the gate, and the crowd’s cheers grow louder, every face turning to the archway of the outer walls. She rubbed and blinked her vision clear as the Dark Knight of Alderaan rode through the gate and into the city. Rey couldn’t stop the sob of relief that came from her at the sight.
Covered head to toe in his obsidian armor, his gleaming sword hilted at his hip, she had to admit that he must look a menacing monster to his foes. But Rey knew the boy underneath the metal and leather. The boy who’d defended her honor when cruel peers had flung names at her because of her unfortunate parentage. The boy who’d stolen sweets from the kitchen to spoil her with when they’d sit by the river. The boy who used to play at being her knight in shining armor, calling her “my lady” - when to call her a lady was just shy of blasphemy.
The boy who’d grown into man before her. A man whose voice made her tremble and whose gentle touch ignited fire in her veins. The man who still called her “my lady”, despite their stations and her protests.
The man who she knew to desire the way she did would only end in heartbreak or shame. More than likely both.
The Dark Knight reached up and removed his helmet, tucking it under his arm as he shook the sweat and dust from his long, dark hair. She watched as he scanned the crowd, nodding at the people and offering small waves and gestures of appreciation and gratitude to the masses. And then his eyes landed on her, his dark gaze warming and his features softening as they beheld each other for the first time in months.
That’s when she noticed the angry, red slash bisecting his face and she gave a small gasp, more tears falling down her cheeks at the thought that he had been injured. It wasn’t fresh, but it also was still healing. Some soldier must have helped bandage him up, or, knowing how stubborn he was, he probably tried to do it himself mid-battle. It would scar, and deeply, too. She could tell that much even from this distance. Perhaps if they got a moment alone he’d allow her to clean and apply a poultice to the wound...
He must have noticed her worry and tears streaming down her cheeks, for his brows creased with concern and he made a small pout with his plush mouth as his brought his hand to his chest, holding it over his heart, as though her tears wounded him. With a mischievous smile, he then reached into the top of the breastplate of his armor and pulled out a small length of simple, blue ribbon. Her heart soared at the sight and she felt her cheeks flush, which she tried to hide beneath her fingertips pressed to her face, along with the smile that curled her mouth. He twisted the ribbon about the leather of his gloves and then brought it to his lips. His intense gaze held hers as he kissed the delicate silk, then he gave her a wink and a roguish grin before continuing his journey home into the city.
The ribbon . Rey felt her stomach knot in a delightful way. That knot expanded and burst into elation, flooding her with joy and settling low in her belly, melting into an agonizing heat. He’d kept the ribbon. That memory played in her mind as uncontrolled as the pleasant burn between her thighs.
She watched as he bid his goodbyes to the rest of the ladies of the court before heading off to war. She rolled her eyes as they all fawned over him, feigning tears and throwing perfumed, silken handkerchiefs edged in lace with their initials embroidered in gold. “To remember me,” several of them sighed. “Carry my favor into battle in hopes that it may bring you luck and home safe.”
Rey stood back, watching the spectacle from the shadows. Not a true lady, she knew she had no place with the rest of the swooning coterie. She hoped he’d be able to steal a moment later, down by their tree at the river, to bid her farewell without all the pageantry. She saw him catch her eye from where she stood, giving her the smallest of nods, but offering no other indication that he’d seen her lurking in the shadows.
After making his way down the line of well-to-do Lord’s daughters, he’d made his flourishing exit, and the ladies of the court began to trickle out, dabbing their eyes. Rey had to bite her cheeks to suppress her amusement. She knew they shared the thought that most of the ladies of the court were frivolous and silly.
She snuck out of the main hall as it began to empty, entering a corridor that she knew wasn’t as used as the main one. As she was passing a drapery-shrouded alcove, a hand snuck out from the curtains and grasped hers. She made a small shriek, but a playful, almost boyish face snuck out from the parted curtain, finger to his lips to indicate to keep quiet. She covered her mouth, a little giggle escaping, as she allowed him to pull her into the alcove, letting the fabric swallow her into its heat backwards.
“Does my lady not wish to also bestow a favor on the Dark Knight?” his deep voice had crooned in her ear.
He kept a hold on her wrist, thumb tracing small circles into her pulse point that beat faster with every stroke. His arm weaved under hers at her side to wrap around her waist and pull her closer to him, her back suddenly pressed against the wide, warm expanse of his chest. The way his large hand nestled against her belly, splaying out to almost span her entire abdomen, made her feel an instant sense of safety and security. Since they were children, he’d been her sanctuary, her protector. But in recent years, a kindling fire had begun to burn between them, that stoked and grew with each touch, each whisper, each gaze. His hand at her belly, that gentle soothing hold on her wrist, and his lips at her ear caused that little flame to burn bright and sink down low to a place that made her flush.
“My Lord,” she whispered, wriggling from his grasp to put some small distance between them, “I believe you have enough favors to keep you protected until the end of days.” She loosed his hold on her wrist and twisted to face him, meeting his darkened gaze before averting her eyes and backing herself up against the wall. Those eyes of his; they always threatened to undo her, whether they were begging her to run through the meadow as children, or insisting she allow him to call her things like “my lady” and “sweetheart”, when she could be neither to him.
He advanced on her, taking two steps to cage her against the velvet wrapped stone. But he stayed a step from her, simply taking one of her hands in his, turning it over in his palm to trace the lines there with a fingertip. “But yours is the only one I wish to guard my soul.”
“My Lord,” she’d breathed out, unable to take her hand from his. He shifted his weight, inching closer to her, and she felt the heat from his body pressing her deeper against the wall. “You are being too familiar.”
“We’ve been familiar since we were children,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. A twinkle that sparkled with a wicked charm. He reached up to brush aside a lock of her hair from her collarbone. “We’ve sparred with sticks. I’ve let you braid flowers into my hair. We used to swim together in the river in nothing but our undergarments.” His fingers idly toyed with the light frill of the neckline of her clothes as his voice dropped a little. “A white shift leaves little to the imagination when drenched.”
“You’re a beast.” She batted away his hand as it started to stray to the bare skin of her neck. She narrowed her eyes at him. “I was a child of six who looked like a boy. And you were naught but fourteen, all long limbs and big ears.” She gestured at the tease, and he made a face at her, the slight sight of those ears peeking out from under his hair pinking at the tips. “We’ve changed, my Lord. We are no longer those children.”
“We are not. I’ve watched you grow from that scrawny scrap of a girl to the woman you are now.” Another shift in his steps and there was barely any space between them. He didn’t touch her, but he leaned into her, his voice barely above a rumble. Yet it rolled through her like a summer storm across the field, filled with as much lightning and fire. “And believe me, I’ve imagined how you may look now, emerging from the water with your sheer gown clinging to the curve of your hip, the swell of your breast.” His hand ghosted over her body, following the curves of her so that the warmth of him permeated her clothing without laying his hand to her body. It came to rest by her head, pressing to the wall as he captured her eyes. “I could throw you over my shoulder right now and take you down to the river. Toss you in the water and see if my imagination lives up to reality.”
“I’ll scream,” she said, trying to sound defiant, but her voice came out a strangled, breathy whimper.
“I’m sure you will,” he replied, and the look in his eyes, the note of want in his tone, made her certain he was no longer talking of swimming in the innocence of childhood.
His gaze burned her, an embarrassing slickness pooling between her legs as she squirmed against the wall. They’d played at flirtation before, teasing each other gently as only a man and a woman could. But this was stepping over that careful line they’d always walked. The air felt thick, like she couldn’t get enough oxygen, her chest heaving against the ties of her bodice. She felt him lean in more and she turned her head, fearful of holding his gaze any longer. “My lord, I should be leaving.”
“Not yet.” He jumped on her words, his thumb and forefinger carefully grasping her chin and turning her face back to his. “I want to memorize every detail of you to keep me company on the lonely days and nights ahead of me.” A finger lightly traced the line of her jaw. “And none of this ‘my lord’ nonsense. It’s just us. There is no ceremony to uphold. Call me Ben. How many times must I ask you to call me Ben?”
“At least one more time, my Lord.” She gave him a small smile, removing his hand from her face. The gesture made him lean back and the rush of cool air from the absence of his body heat made her shiver. “We are no longer children. It is not proper.”
She began to turn away from him, but he grasped at her skirt to stop her from going far. “Fuck propriety.” He suddenly knelt, like a knight to a true lady, gathering her skirts in his fists, laying his head against her stomach. “I have no shame to fall to my knees before you, my sweet Lady. I beg of you, would you truly see me go off to war without hearing you say my name, my true name, once more?”
His words broke a dam she wasn’t even aware she had been building. Tears blurred her vision and she tried, in vain, to blink them away as she whispered, “Please don’t speak of the war to come.” She allowed her fingers to rake through his hair, tucking the silky midnight strands behind his ear as he rested his chin against the tie to her bodice. “To speak troth, I’m terrified for you. To think of you in battle, fighting. That there’s a chance you might not return—“
“I shall,” he swore, his voice tender.
“You cannot promise that, and you know it.” Her knees felt weak and her hands began to shake. Unbidden tears streamed from her eyes as she gasped out, “Please don’t leave me alone in this world. I cannot bear it. Please, Ben…”
“You’re not alone, Rey.” He surged to his feet, pulling her to his chest, stroking her hair and shushing her gently. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I will come back for you, sweetheart. I promise.” And then he nuzzled his cheek to hers, pulling back just enough to press his lips there. At the touch of him, her breath stuttered and her tears ceased. His lips lingered against her skin, burning their imprint to her. An exquisitely torturous heat began where his mouth marked her cheek, connecting to where his fingers stroked at her shoulders and smoldering away at that fire deep within her belly.
When he finally pulled back, he let his nose trace along the line of her cheekbone, following down her own nose before pressing his forehead to hers. His lips lingered just a breath away from hers. If she leaned in just an inch, if she took too deep an inhale. If he’d just surge forward to claim her mouth…
But then he lifted his face from off hers, brushing the tears off her cheeks and taking a small step back. She followed him to teeter on her toes, the energy between them pulling her in his orbit. He steadied her, broad hands at her shoulders. When she dreamily fluttered her eyes to his, he spoke. “Now, wilt you leave me so unsatisfied as to have no remembrance of my Rey for the months ahead, no favor to carry with me into battle?”
She smiled a bittersweet smile, brushing tears from her cheeks as she cleared her throat. “I have no silk scarves or fine lace to bestow on you. However,” she reached up and untied the length of ribbon holding back her chestnut hair from her face, “if you’ll carry this, my lord. And return it to me when you have come home at last.”
He wrapped the ribbon around his fingers and laid that hand to his heart. “I’ll guard it with my life.”
He took her hand reverently and bowed in gratitude before lifting his head and giving her a signature wink and smirk. He then exited the alcove with a flourish, her ribbon clasped tightly in his fist.
As she watched him leave with the rest of the soldiers later that day, she bit back her tears that had fallen so freely when they were alone in the secret alcove. But each pad of his horse’s hooves that carried him farther away from her made her heart sink a little more until her whole being felt heavy and weighted. She barely made it to her small room before succumbing to the deluge of grief she’d been holding back. She slid down the door and gave herself over to weeping.
“Rey!” A voice called, breaking her from her reverie. “I was wondering where you’d wandered off to.”
Rose stood just inside the doorway with her hands on her hips, the crimson silk of her gown, much finer than the blue linen overdress Rey wore, crinkling beneath her hands.
“I just wanted a better place to view the soldiers returning from war.” She rubbed at her cheeks, trying to banish any tears or heated color that might be painting them.
“I know exactly what you were doing,” Rose scolded playfully before she grabbed her hand to pull her towards her. “So, were you able to see your knight?”
She made a face at her friend. “He’s not my knight,” she rebuked, then gazed toward the vanishing figure in black, sighing softly. “He can never be mine.”
“Maybe he can’t be fully,” Rose said, turning her head back to look at her. There was a softness in her expression, that tender, sisterly love and affection that made Rose her one and only confidant among the ladies in waiting to the Queen. “But never doubt that man cares for you dearly.”
“We were childhood companions,” Rey replied with a wistful smile. “History will always leave its mark.”
“Oh, he’ll leave his mark on you.” Rose gently poked her stomach before grasping their hands together. “And it’ll be a swollen belly, if you’re not careful.”
Rey gasped, “Rose, you’re wicked!”
“He carries a flame for you,” Rose said in a matter-of-fact way, before adding with a smirk, “Practically a torch. It would light the way for the blind.”
Her delightful laugh soon fed Rey’s own joy, and the girls fell into a fit of giggles.
“Eh-hem” another voice broke through their laughter and made both girls cover their mouths and turn on their heel toward the sound. “And just what has you two in such a dizzy?”
Kaydel was standing in the doorway, with her eyebrow quirked at both of them and arms crossed over her chest.
“Nothing.” Rose managed to calm the bubble of laughter in her chest first to speak. “Just a little gossip between friends.”
“Well, there will be time for that later. We’ve been summoned. The Queen is requesting us to help her prepare to welcome her son back from battle.” She beckoned the two girls and then started walking briskly back through the halls. She then called over her shoulder, “Did you see the Prince return? That scar marring his handsome face!”
“I think it makes him look rugged,” Rose said, adding a little sigh as she glanced in Rey’s direction. “More manly.”
“I think it needs a poultice and a good cleaning, or it will fester,” Rey retorted.
“That’s your area of expertise, little Rey,” Kaydel replied as she skipped ahead. “You should mention your concern to the Queen.”
As Kaydel turned a corner, Rose leaned over and whispered in Rey’s ear, “Maybe if you bat your pretty eyes at the Prince, he’ll give you a private audience to—“ she paused for effect, lowering her voice and wiggling her eyebrows— “assess his wounds.”
“Oh, shush now!” Rey fought the color in her cheeks that burned at the implication of her friend’s words. “Hurry, or we’ll surely be scolded for our tardiness.”
Rey grabbed Rose’s hand and the two girls sprinted down the hall to the Queen’s quarters. The image of the Prince with her simple favor pressed to his lips stayed burned in her mind and kept a smile curled on her lips as she helped dress Queen Leia to greet her son.