“Leia!” Luke cried, throwing open the door to the house. “Leia!” he said, racing through the hall, nearly running over his aunt in the process. “Oh, Aunt Beru!”
“Goodness, Luke!” Mrs. Lars said, a dirty rag in her hands, “Whatever has gotten you so flustered-- and wherever is your sister?”
“Whatever is the matter?” Leia said suddenly, appearing in the doorway of the little sitting room. In her hand she had a book, one of her ribbons tucked inside. Unlike Luke or Mrs. Lars’ muddy clothing, Leia’s white dress was nearly spotless. It had been raining all morning at the Longbourn farm, Luke having only escaped it by traveling into town to meet with one of his companions. Leia, though she longed to join them, had been unable-- as her aunt and uncle certainly would not let her leave the property in that sort of weather without the use of the cart, which they wouldn’t permit for such a little errand.
“Oh, Leia!” Luke said, “Han is coming back to Meryton!”
“He is?” Leia’s eyes brightened as she grasped the book to her chest. Luke nodded eagerly. “Why didn’t he write?” she asked, but then shook her head, “I mean-- it doesn’t matter, Luke, I don’t care for him.”
Their aunt snorted, “You’d better not, my girl. That man is a scoundrel if I’d ever met one. He has no good name, no fortune of his own-- you were so lucky as to inherit one when your foster parents had passed, but if you should decide to marry, as you should…” she eyed her niece, “You should chose a respectable man, one who shouldn’t mind offering your brother a job in his business should need be.”
From behind her, Luke made a face. Leia knew he wanted more than to simply be a farmer like their relatives, and certainly more than just a worker in her future husband’s business. Leia giggled.
“Oh hush, you,” Mrs. Lars said, “Luke, you should be so lucky to have your sister find a husband with a good fortune himself, as you were not so lucky when you were situated with us.”
“Oh Aunt Beru, you know I don’t mind that my parents left me with you instead of them.”
She snorted, though unladylike, “Oh I bet you wouldn’t mind a piece of her inheritance, though, wouldn’t you? And quit this talk of your parents,” she said sharply, causing Luke to sigh. He met Leia’s eyes over her head.
“I wouldn’t mind it, Aunt Beru, but you know it isn’t everything.”
“Oh for an eligible bachelor, you wouldn’t be saying that,” she said, waving her finger at him. “You should find yourself lucky to ever marry with your lot in life, my boy.”
Luke sighed, “Yes, Aunt Beru.”
“Oh Aunt Beru, can’t Luke and I be dismissed before dinner?” Leia pleaded. Mrs. Lars looked towards the window, and seeing it was still lightly raining, nodded her head. “Oh good!” Leia said, clasping her hands together. “Luke, let me see the letter,” she said, taking it from his hands and opening it as she walked back into the sitting room. Luke followed her eagerly, Mrs. Lars shaking her head at their young fancies. In her day, one did not simply read another’s letter, but she supposed the twins had taken some liberties with decorum after growing so close in the past four years.
“He writes that he’ll be here for the whole winter!” Leia said, collapsing onto the couch to read the rest of the letter addressed to her brother. “The militia is coming to Meryton? Oh won’t that make Aunt and Uncle happy, they’ll be insisting that I meet all of the other officers.”
“They aren’t trying to force you to marry, Leia,” Luke said, sitting beside her. “They know perfectly well that you’ll chose someone when you’re good and ready.”
Leia looked somberly at the letter. “I just wish that they didn’t feel the pressure to have me marry,” she looked to Luke. “Oh why couldn’t I have been born a boy, for at least then I could have been awarded my fortune early, before I married? Or at least help with work around the farm. I hate feeling a burden when they were so kind to take me in after my parents passed.”
“Leia, you’re never a burden,” Luke promised, but knew that both of them were, financially, often more than their relatives could afford. Sitting up from his own slouching upon the sofa, “Don’t concern yourself with that at the moment,” Luke said, reaching into his pocket. “Here, I’ve brought something for you from town.” He handed the two pieces of paper to his sister, whose eyes lit with joy.
“Tickets!” Leia yelled, throwing her arms around Luke, “To the ball at the assembly next week! I don’t know how you could afford to buy them, Uncle said we couldn’t this season.”
Luke smiled, “I saved up for them. Happy birthday, dear sister.”
Two days before the ball, a letter was delivered to Leia at supper, signed by a Mr. W. Antilles.
“Whoever has sent you a letter, my dear?” Mr. Lars asked when he handed the letter to his niece after answering the door.
Leia frowned, peeling the wax from the letter, and looking inside. Leia, the most educated in the household, though Luke was taught to the best of his aunt and uncle’s ability, was a quick reader, and had divulged the letter in moments. She threw the letter to the table in annoyance, just barely missing her plate.
“Was it Han?” Luke asked, putting his fork down beside his plate. He peered over, knowing Leia wouldn’t mind. But the signature at the end was of a man Luke had never met. “Who’s Mr. W. Antilles?”
“My dreadful cousin,” she said in disgust, of the cousin of her adoptive mother. “He said he’s coming to Hertfordshire and will be arriving soon! I hope he’s not here on my behalf,” she frowned.
“What’s wrong with him?” Luke asked, forgetting about his dinner. Their aunt and uncle had exchanged glances and resumed eating.
“The last time I saw him had been at my parent’s house after they passed,” she recalled the day, sitting alone in the parlor, no one daring to speak to her. “He must have been four-and-twenty at the time, but he didn’t say a word about my parents’ deaths! All he wanted to talk about was managing the estate till I married, and then lectured me for not taking a more ‘active role’ in all of it! I was fifteen!”
“What does it say he wants, dear?” their aunt asked.
“I don’t know,” Leia admitted. She handed Luke the letter, and he began reading it himself.
“It says he’s letting Netherfield!” Luke said, looking up from the letter. “That old place?”
“Oh Netherfield is actually quite lovely,” Mrs. Lars said fondly, “When we were young the most wonderful balls were held there.”
“Of course, that was when your grandparents were still with us,” Mr. Lars chimed in, “and Longbourn was one of the most prominent farms in the country. None of those tenant farms that have been dissolving family-owned properties all over the counties.” Luke nodded along with his uncle. Tenant farming had begun to take rise in the area since before Luke could remember. Just last year after an unprofitable season two of their neighbors had been forced to sell their farms. “You say that it’s Mr. Antilles that’s taken Netherfield?”
Luke nodded. “Do you know anything about him?”
His uncle paused, and then said, “I haven’t heard anything for certain, but when I was last in town, Watto told me that he’d heard that the man leasing Netherfield was a single man of large fortune, possibly even nine or ten thousand a year.”
Luke let out a low whistle that his aunt shot him a glaring look for, but even she was suitably impressed by those numbers. “My, ten thousand a year? Leia, that’s comparable to your twenty thousand inheritance. And you already know him! He sounds like a fine match for you.”
“No!” Leia said, startled into crying out. She settled, exchanging her wide-eyed look for one much more reserved, “I mean, no, I don’t think we would be. Our tempers are not much alike.” Luke had watched Leia carefully for years, and knew when there was something else on her mind, but he would not press her.
He didn’t think it was truly Mr. Antilles who caused his sister so much distress, so he didn’t think it would hurt to voice his curiosities about the man, “Leia, what’s he like? I wonder if he’s handsome.”
Leia snorted, and quickly apologized to her aunt for her unladylike behavior, and then said, “He could have a face full of warts for ten thousand pounds a year and half the town would still try to marry him.” She caught Luke’s expression, and then said quickly, “He doesn’t, though. Not that I can remember anyway. All I remember is that he was exceedingly dull and bent on lecturing me.” Not the sort of people Leia liked to keep in good company.
“I wonder if he’ll be in town in time for the ball at the assembly,” Luke wondered aloud.
“I hope not,” Leia said at the same time her uncle said, “I expect so.”
“Watto said he was inquiring about land, so I expect him to be staying awhile,” her uncle continued, “Though I dare not say that he would like to attend the assembly with the likes of all of us. Why do you ask?”
Luke shrugged, “I was just wondering.”
The night of the assembly, Luke and Leia climbed aboard the family’s cart and Luke drove the two of them into town. When they arrived, the ball had already started, and was in good time. The pair of them quickly joined the party, each grabbing a willing partner for the next dance. After the first dance, the two of them stopped by the refreshments and each took a cup of wine. Luke took a sip, but wine always made him flush red, so when Leia was finished with her own cup, Luke gave the rest of his to his sister, and the two joined another dance. Another hour of dancing, and Luke was out of breath.
He handed his partner off to another willing dancer, stepping to the side to allow the dancing to continue in the next song. He backed up, nearly running into another man. He apologized, and then turned back to the dancers. After the next dance, Luke realized the man beside him was standing stiffly and didn’t look much like he was enjoying himself.
“Don’t you fancy dancing?” Luke said, by chance, to the man.
The man looked almost startled to be addressed, but then shook his head. “I cannot say I’ve ever really fancied dancing.” Luke surveyed the man. He had dark eyes and hair, and a rather beak-like nose, but overall Luke regarded him as rather handsome. He was dressed finely, finer than most in the assembly, Luke included. If Luke were to speculate, he thought the man might have been a merchant or a nearby land owner, but certainly new to the area.
“Then how have you found yourself at our assembly? Are you escorting a relative?” Luke craned his neck to see if there was anyone in the room who looked like they might belong with such a man. He couldn’t imagine going to a ball for any other reason for dancing, Luke enjoyed a lively time as much as any young man.
But the man shook his head, admitting, “I had heard the assembly would be a place for acquiring contacts within the town but so far.... I have been less than successful in my endeavor.”
“That’s because you aren’t putting yourself out there, Sir,” Luke said with a hint of mirth. “I had to introduce myself to you!”
“Where are my manners?” the man said, almost affronted. “My name is Wedge Antilles,” he said with a slight bow of his head.
Luke raised an eyebrow in surprise. He looked at Mr. Antilles keenly with renewed interest. So this was the man Leia despised! To Luke, he’d been nothing but courteous, truly affronted when he forgot his manners. Perhaps her displeasure at him had been nothing but a teenage folly. Luke knew all too well of Leia’s temper when someone crossed her path. “Mr. Antilles? I’ve heard of you, you’re the man letting Netherfield! I did not recognize you when I first spoke to you. I’m Luke Skywalker.”
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Skywalker.”
“Please,” Luke said, with a smile, “Just call me Skywalker.” Luke had always been too friendly for his own good, but he preferred it that way. Unlike Leia, he had little to lose. No money or prospects afforded a freedom that Luke wore well.
Mr. Antilles nodded curtly, and then said politely, “Then I insist you call me Antilles.” Luke nodded, looking away from Antilles towards the dancing crowd. The previous song had ended, and Leia was no longer on the dance floor. Luke wasn’t worried. Leia could take care of herself, and she hated when Luke acted more like a parental figure than her brother and closest companion when it was just the two of them.
“Why is it that you’re in Hertfordshire?” Luke asked, making polite conversation. Was he in town to find a wife? Or a husband? Luke didn’t know if the man had any siblings, but he was surely wealthy enough to not have to worry about heirs if he had any siblings to pass his wealth onto, and could afford to marry for love, if he so chose. Luke wanted to know his intentions, if just for Leia’s sake-- he couldn’t stand the idea of her marrying a man she didn’t love, just because he controlled her estate. Luke doubted he’d reveal his true intentions to a stranger he’d just met, but Antilles seemed a straightforward man.
“I have come into the country for business,” Antilles told him. “I heard that land here was in great quantity, and of a great quality.” He paused, and then asked, “What is your profession, Skywalker?”
“My family are land owners. We’ve been in the area for generations. My uncle’s father-- my father’s stepfather-- farmed the land like his father before him,” Luke told him with a sigh, “I fear it is my lot in life to join them as my uncle has no children of his own.”
“A farmer?” Antilles said, seemingly interested. “Perhaps this meeting has been beneficial after all. I am--”
But Antilles was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Leia in front of her brother. She was giggling, and leaned upon her brother. “Oh hello!” she said, her words almost slurred. Luke couldn’t help but grinning. She looked like she was having a good time, who would it hurt? Leia’s reputation wouldn’t go far past town, and she would never marry anyone dissuaded by her actions.
“I see someone is having a good time!” Luke said, standing her upright.
She smiled at him widely, nodding. “Yes! A lovely time, thank you. The apothecary’s son-- whatever his name is--” she waved her hand, nearly sloshing the wine from her glass onto her brother, “has already asked me to dance twice! I think he might ask a third time so I thought it best to hide from him.”
Luke laughed, “That’s probably best. Porkins is rather fond of dancing.”
Leia scrunched up her nose. “Yes, dancing is the right word.” She turned to Luke’s companion. Antilles was standing stiffly, his jaw clenched as he tried his best to give them a semblance of privacy while standing almost pressed to Luke’s side in the crowded assembly. Her eyes widened in surprise as she regarded him. “Mr. Antilles!”
He nodded at her stiffly, “Miss Organa.”
She turned back to Luke, ignoring the other man. “Won’t you dance with me?”
“I fear it wouldn’t be proper,” Luke said, trying to stifle his laughter. He’d danced with Leia many times in the privacy of their own home. It was she who taught him to dance properly. His aunt had tried, but it wasn’t until Leia had joined them that she thought it improper that her own brother couldn’t lead a woman in a dance.
“Fine!” she said, “I shall go dance with someone else who wants me!” she lifted the pewter glass to her lips, downing the whole cup, before nodding at the two of them-- nodding at Antilles much more harshly than her nod at Luke-- and rejoining the dance.
Luke looked to his companion, who was still standing there stiffly with a tight expression on his face. On his right breast pocket, there was a spot of red. “Oh no, she must have spilled some of her glass on you,” Luke said, reaching into his pocket for a handkerchief.
Antilles hesitantly accepted it, blotting his pocket. “Truthfully, I had not noticed.” After deciding the stain would not be removed, and looking at it disdainfully, he offered the handkerchief back to Luke.
“Oh no,” Luke said, “I insist you keep it. Your ensemble is worth much more than mine.”
He nodded, folding the piece and putting it in his own pocket.
“I have… heard of public balls,” Antilles said, looking around the crowd, “but I had not thought them so… less varied, than London balls.”
Luke laughed, startling the man. “You’ve only just gone to one, surely that can’t hold your opinion forever. This is the first ball of the season, you must attend more to see if they are more ‘varied’ as you’re used to.”
“Do you not find it full of… common people?”
Again, Luke laughed, “You must be newly from London. Whilst I don’t know of half in the room, I know that some of the most varied families in the area are here!” He looked around the crowd, and then pointed to a few people that he knew. “That’s Mr. Porkins, the son of the apothecary in town. Mr. Watto, he’s a merchant who worked with my father when he was still alive. The Ersos,” he said, towards a family of three, with another man standing next to the daughter, “And Captain Andor-- he’s just proposed to Miss Erso, I believe.” Miss Erso was a friend of Leia’s-- one whom their aunt complained ‘snatched the only eligible naval officer from Meryton.’
Antilles surveyed the room, locking eyes with something towards the center of the dancers. “Yes,” he said, “I know of one or two people here. A relation of mine-- though, at this time, I scarcely desire to call her that-- looks to be continuing to make a spectacle of herself. I haven’t seen her with a single relation all evening,” he said, stiffly, “I dare say she might not have brought an escort.” Luke frowned, wondering who Antilles could be speaking of. Perhaps a business acquaintance? He turned to Luke, a look of disdain on his face, though Luke had an idea it wasn’t for him, “And the way she draped herself all over you, without even a proper introduction! What desperation she must have to find a husband to escape the impoverished conditions that she has found herself in,” Luke’s mouth dropped open, realizing what the man was speaking of, “I would have thought a woman raised by my esteemed cousin would have held herself better than that. I do say you might have handled it better, but I cannot hold you at fault for what her guardian must be lacking.”
“That’s-- Leia!” Luke sputtered, too angry to think properly in the moment.
Antilles’ eyes were drawn back to the man standing before him. His manner had changed from the way Luke had seen him first. “By the way you speak of her, you must know her well after all--”
“Of course I know her well!” Luke said, standing tall, “She’s my sister.”
Antilles shut his mouth immediately, eyes wide, appearing alarmed. Luke stared him down, his arms crossed on his chest, daring him to say another word about Leia. He stood stiffly, his jaw locked. But he didn’t say anything at all, not a word.
“You must excuse me, Mr. Antilles,” Luke said stiffly, addressing the additional insult. “I must rejoin my sister on the floor.” He bowed in his direction, and walked off, finding a partner of a sister of one of his companions. When he looked over at Mr. Antilles later, his brow was still furrowed, and he had not hardly talked to any of the women who introduced themselves to the man, and Luke thought, good.
By the time they’d made the trip home by the light of the full moon, Leia was nearly sober. She was leaning on his shoulder when they arrived back at the farm, and he helped her down off the cart so she’d avoid any mud puddles with her dress. Inside the house, he’d just changed by candlelight when there was a light tap on the door, his sister following.
She sat down on the bed beside him, her hair down her back in waves, as she pressed her cheek to his shoulder. “So you met my dreaded cousin,” she said. “I must have made quite a spectacle out of myself in front of him.”
“Shush,” Luke said, “it doesn’t matter what he thinks. Now though, I think, he has no desire to marry you, if he had any inclination before.” He felt her smile against his shoulder. The man had secured Luke’s dislike of him at the assembly, though he’d tried to keep an open mind despite what Leia had said. “I see his character much better now, Leia. He seemed unmoved by the ball, and inclined to lecturing me when we’d just met! You should have heard the way he said ‘common people’!” Luke fumed, “He thinks himself so above us all.”
“I think he rather liked you before I showed up,” Leia said somberly. “I’m sorry for interrupting like that. I don’t know what came over me. My parents would be so ashamed to have raised me like that.”
“Don’t say that, Leia,” Luke scolded. “He was being a pompous ass, and I shan't see him ever again so it does not matter, because even if he were once so inclined, I doubt he shall call on you now.”
“Luke!” his uncle called from inside the house, “Come here, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
Luke ducked inside the house to the entrance, where he saw his uncle standing with a familiar face. “Uncle Owen-- and Mr. Antilles,” Luke said, nodding in his direction without a pause. “I hope you are well?”
Mr. Antilles stared at Luke, then blinked, “Yes-- I am, thank you.”
Mr. Lars looked between them, “Luke! You did not say that you knew Mr. Antilles, nor you, Mr. Antilles, that you knew my nephew!”
“I did not think it pertinent,” Luke mumbled the same time as Mr. Antilles said, “I did not know he was your nephew.”
Mr. Lars shook his head, then addressed Luke, “Mr. Antilles here has inquired about land in the area and requires our assistance. It seems even city folk want to invest in tenant farming! Ho hum, it seems that there are no others left in the area who know a thing about tobacco farming besides our family!”
Luke regarded the man in front of him. He was wearing leather riding breeches, and a dark blue coat. His hands were clasped behind his back, and he seemed to be looking at Luke the appropriate amount, but Luke could see the man was clearly uncomfortable. Served him right.
“Luke?” Mr. Lars said.
“Oh,” Luke said, jolting himself out of his thoughts.
“I have told Mr. Antilles that you know the land around here as well as I, and that I wouldn’t mind sparing you for an afternoon or two.”
“Uncle,” Luke said, his voice strained, “May I speak with you a moment?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Lars said, as Luke lead him across the room, hopefully out of Mr. Antilles’ hearing range. The man in questioned turned from the two of them, giving them some semblance of privacy, and was busy looking very interested in the woodwork of the door. “Whatever is the matter, boy?”
“I don’t like Mr. Antilles,” he told him.
His uncle shook his head, “Not you too! There’s enough of this with your sister, whatever do you find lacking in his character?”
Luke paused, and then shook his head. It wouldn’t do to tell Leia’s secrets. “I just don’t find him… an amiable companion.”
“He seemed perfectly gentlemanly when I was speaking with him! Very courteous.”
“Must I help him?”
His uncle paused, “I won’t force you, Luke,” he said, “but I’ll have you know Mr. Antilles offered to compensate us generously for our time, and you know everything helps…”
Luke groaned, shaking his head. “Alright, alright, I’ll do it.”
“Very good!” his uncle clasped him on his shoulder.
“Come on, Mr. Antilles,” Luke said begrudgingly to the man, “I’m assuming you brought a horse?”
Luke didn’t like the idea of spending so much time with Mr. Antilles, but for his family, he’d do anything. At least with this outing, he’d be able to tour some of the countryside, and wouldn’t be enlisted by his uncle to help at the farm. He’d admit that while he wasn’t fond of farming, he found the country charming, and had always desired to see as much of it as possible. And he was able to take the horse, though Luke had to admit he was rather fond of walking.
He knew of several properties that could be inquired about that were near enough to Longbourn that they could take the day to survey them. If Mr. Antilles were to think them suitable, Luke would inquire with the owners for him as an introduction as the Lars family was well known in the county.
They stopped at the fence of one such property, Luke and Mr. Antilles dropping from their horses and tying them to the fence. Luke climbed over the fence, and waited patiently for Mr. Antilles to follow him. On the ride to the property, Mr. Antilles had told Luke what he told his uncle. Wanting to diversify his assets, he was thinking of testing out farming on a single property or two in the country, since tobacco was quite profitable if one had the resources. Of course many were resourcing to the Americas, but with the distasteful farming methods there, Mr. Antilles much preferred to stay closer to home.
When they neared the fields, Luke spotted the farmhouse on the property. Pointing to it, Luke said, “This property belongs to the Darklighters. A friend of mine used to live here until he joined the clergy. They used to farm tobacco here, generations ago.”
“Used to?” Mr. Antilles inquired.
Luke nodded, walking along the edge of the barren field. The Darklighters hadn’t lived there in years. “Tobacco farming is quite a lot of work. Independent farmers can hardly afford it anymore, it requires so much extra help. Of course,” Luke looked towards his companion, “with tenant farming, all of your help is hired so you can afford the extra help, and thus the extra payoff.”
“Does your family not farm tobacco any longer?”
He shook his head. “No. We haven’t farmed tobacco since I was a child and my grandfather was still alive. Before Leia came to live with us.”
The man was silent for a few moments, and when Luke turned to look at him, he said, "I’m surprised that your family could maintain a farm of Longbourn’s size with only your family.”
“We do fine, Mr. Antilles,” Luke said stiffly, “farming is good, solid living.” Then, spotting a green plant a little ahead of him, he hurried to the plant kneeling down. “Ah, here’s a tobacco plant here. I’m surprised it’s still here-- this land doesn’t seem the most forgiving. I wouldn’t recommend this particular plot.”
Mr. Antilles kneeled beside him, reaching out to touch the green seedling. But instead of commenting on the plant, he turned to Luke beside him. “I think that you would make a fine steward someday.”
He couldn’t help snorting, “You are too kind, but I fear I could never leave my family. My uncle has no children of his own, so farming Longbourn is left to myself.” He stood, offering a hand to Mr. Antilles. After a moment of hesitation, he took it. He looked to the distance. “We’ve spent quite a while surveying this property, but we might have enough time to get in another property or two today, if we time our trip better,” Luke said. Mr. Antilles nodded, and followed Luke.
Mr. Antilles had insisted on escorting Luke home, though Luke insisted he knew the roads better than Mr. Antilles possibly could. After several more times insisting on account that he was a gentleman, Luke finally relented to the man and allowed Mr. Antilles to escort him home.
Before Luke even had time to dismount from his horse, his aunt was standing at the door in an apron with a rag in hand. “Luke!” she said, “Are you not going to invite Mr. Antilles to dine with us?”
Luke looked to his companion with an apologetic look on his face, expecting the man to reject the offer, but the man instead bowed his head. “I wouldn’t like to impose.”
“Nonsense,” the woman said, “please, we insist. We have a great pleasure in meeting any relation of Leia’s.”
Mr. Antilles looked to Luke, and then followed Luke in dismounting from the horses. “I’ll take your horse to the stable,” Luke said, taking the reins from Mr. Antilles, “So he can rest while we’re dining. Please, join my family in the dining room.” Mr. Antilles almost looked like he was going to object to being left alone with them, but he didn’t voice a thing. Luke sighed. He didn’t know what Mr. Antilles was so very worried about. The house they lived in was fairly nice, much nicer than many that Luke had seen of farmers, vestiges of a different time when the whole region was much more prosperous. They had enough rooms for every member of the family, a dining room and a small sitting room. The halls had once been full of servants and cooks, but with such a small family, they hadn’t been needed-- or afforded-- in years.
When Luke returned from the stable and entered the dining room, his family was seated with Mr. Antilles. Mr. Antilles stood suddenly at his appearance, and then was seated besides Luke. Across from Luke, Leia sat stiffly, and only regarded Mr. Antilles when absolutely insisted upon, regardless of their aunt and uncle’s looks between themselves that Luke was sure Mr. Antilles had seen, but was politely ignoring.
After dinner, Mr. Lars invited Mr. Antilles for a brandy in the drawing room, but Mr. Antilles respectfully declined. Luke walked him to the door, and then took him by the stable to unlatch his horse. Instead of waiting outside of the stable, Mr. Antilles followed Luke inside. Luke had mucked the stable that morning, so it was fairly clean, but the mule was braying in the corner, and Luke was suddenly embarrassed about the state of things. He’d put Mr. Antilles’ horse in the empty stall beside Luke’s horse Artoo-- they hadn’t been able to afford to replace their last horse after he’d died the previous summer and they’d be forced to make due with only one.
Mr. Antilles glanced around the barn as Luke unhitched his horse, the man stroking Artoo’s face. As Luke handed him the reins, Mr. Antilles commented, “You have no carriage?”
Luke shook his head, “When one can scarcely afford one horse, one cannot afford a carriage. We make due with the cart,” he nodded in the direction of the cart that they used for both taking long trips and for market.
“I see,” the man said, and then took leave of them with a promise to return in a few days to conclude their business to decide on a property for Mr. Antilles’ business endeavor.
At breakfast, it was Mr. Lars who informed the two of them that the militia had finally arrived in Meryton. “Really?” Luke said, sitting up, “May we go to town and see them marching?” Luke, at one point, had entertained the idea of joining the militia or the navy, but as things were, those dreams had never come to pass.
His uncle contemplated, with Leia being oddly silent, till he finally relented at Luke’s insistence. “You may see them after the chores are done this morning.”
“Thank you Uncle!” Luke said, hastily getting up, and rushing off to finish the morning’s chores he’d started at dawn while Leia and his aunt had made breakfast. By the time he’d finished, the sun was high in the sky, and Leia was anxious about whether they’d missed them.
The walk to Meryton from Longbourn wasn’t more than an hour, as it was just a mile to town from the farm. Leia’s fears were for nothing. By the time they’d arrived in town, the militia was still marching. The two of them stepped into the shade of a few shops to watch the officers going by in a crowd of waving women whom Leia deemed ‘silly.’
They craned their necks trying to spot Han among the officers, but as they were both fairly short, it was proving difficult. Finally, Luke spotted him. “Where?” Leia said, rising up onto her toes.
“There!” her brother pointed. Leia finally located him also, and then joined Luke in waving frantically at him till they gained his attention. Rather than breaking rank to look in their direction, he winked at the two of them.
The parade was well from over, but Luke had seen Han already, so he said to Leia, “I know you want to stay and watch the parade, but I must go speak with a few acquaintances of Uncle’s for business. You’ll be alright alone here, won’t you?” Leia nodded, the ribbons of her bonnet flying up in the wind. “If I’m not back by the end of the parade, I’ll know where to find you.”
It was a few hours later when Luke was done with his business. He was to inquire, at his uncle’s bequest, to several merchants in town about the upcoming harvest, and to speak with a few people about possibly buying a horse. Then, Luke had his own business: none of the three properties Luke and Mr. Antilles had surveyed were to their liking, and he wanted to inquire what other properties might be on the market. He gathered the names of several other properties, and then visited a companion or two in town before heading back towards Han and Leia.
The three of them had been intimate friends for years, since the first time since Leia had moved in with the Lars’ that the militia had come to town. Then, Han had been a much different man, much more carefree to Leia’s standoffishness. It had taken them months to even stand being near each other without one of them storming out. But as Luke and Han had become good friends, Leia could scarcely avoid him, though their aunt had tried to ban him from the house on multiple occasions. Over the years, he’d changed Leia’s manner to something more like his and Luke’s gaiety, and Leia had somehow persuaded him to take many of his responsibilities more seriously, including showing up for pre-arranged meetings.
Luke found the two of them in their usual location, just near the lake beneath the willows. The two of them were standing very closely together, with Leia’s hands on her hips, looking up angrily towards the man. Whatever Han and Leia had thought of him, Luke was anything but blind, though he often pretended to be for his sister’s benefit.
When they heard his approaching footsteps, Han threw his hands in the air and said to her, “Fine! Go off then!”
“I will!” she said, turning from him abruptly ending whatever argument they’d been having.
“Wait! Where are you going, Leia? Han’s just arrived!”
“I’m going to the Ersos’ to speak with Jyn!” Leia told him over her shoulder as she marched back towards town and away from them, “I’ll borrow her chaise to drive me home!”
Luke looked back towards his friend with a pleading expression, “Whatever have you done now?”
“I don’t know! Don’t ask me! One moment we were having a nice conversation about the assembly you two went to and then another we’re getting into a shouting match!” Han collapsed onto the fallen tree that they’d often used as a seat over the years.
Luke sighed and then joined him. “Leia told you about the ball?”
Han shrugged, “A little. She told me her cousin was there and was making the whole evening difficult for the both of you. Can’t imagine anyone making an evening difficult for her highness.”
“Yes,” Luke said, scrunching up his nose at the thought of the man, “Mr. Antilles was quite… difficult.”
Han’s head jerked up, “Mr. Antilles?”
“Yes, do you know him also?” Luke turned to his friend, who was looking off into the lake. He’d been tearing pieces of bark off and throwing it into the water as they spoke.
“Once, briefly,” Han said, “it’s not relevant,” he shook his head. It was curious behavior, Luke noted, but continued with his own conversation.
“And Aunt Beru kept insisting that Leia invite him to dinner, as though she would marry the likes of him!”
“Marry?” Han sat up straight, “Who’s been talking about marriage? To Leia?”
“Just our aunt,” Luke told him. “Certainly not Leia.”
“She’d better not,” he mumbled, shaking his head. “And certainly not to Mr. Antilles!”
“She wouldn’t. She can’t stand him, and I’m half inclined to agree. I’ve been forced to spend a few days with him helping him decide which plot of land to buy! I can’t imagine what kind of life it must be to have the only worries be of choosing a plot of land and a wife!” Luke said, shaking his head. Han had relaxed again, back leaning up against the tree. Luke heard the sound of approaching horses, but paid them no heed as he continued his conversation with his companion. “Aunt Beru would happily marry Leia off to have the burden of her lifted. I myself may never marry,” he said, shaking his head. “I daresay we can’t afford it until my aunt and uncle themselves are dead! You know of our precarious situation.”
“Yes…” Han mumbled, “it would be a good time for Leia to be married….”
Luke was about to disagree when he looked up at the passing horseman, startled to find his face so familiar. “Mr. Antilles!” Luke said. Han’s head jerked up as the rider slowed to a stop on the road. He clearly hadn’t seen Han at first, but then Luke saw their eyes meet, and Mr. Antilles’ brows furrowed and eyes went dark. Instead of saying a thing to either man, he stormed off, leaving Luke puzzled.
His companion, however, seemed much less alarmed by the sudden retreat. Luke noted, “What was with him? He looked like he knew you very well! Have you managed to anger everyone in this town?”
Han sighed, looking down at his hat. “In another life, maybe.”
Luke shook his head, and then said to his friend, “Tell me about your travels. You’ve been lapse in your letters.”
Later that evening, Luke deliberately sought Leia out. She’d been avoiding him all day, since he’d returned from his meeting with Han. He knew she wasn’t asleep, he could see the burning light from her candle under her door. He knocked, and she didn’t say otherwise, so he entered her room. She was lying in bed, with the blankets wrapped around herself, staring in her reflection in the glass of the window.
He climbed onto the bed with her, and was in his own bedclothes. He hadn’t hardly known her the first fifteen years of his life, but she was his sister, his closest companion, closer than Han or Biggs or any of them had been.
He just laid beside her for awhile, until she finally spoke. “I’m in love with Han.”
He didn’t ask her anything about it. If she wanted to tell him, she would, in her own time. Instead, he said, “I know,” and extinguished her light.
Over the course of a fortnight, Luke and Mr. Antilles traveled to nearly all of the farms looking to sell in the area. Though most were of poor soil quality, as many were not actually farmland, they’d found a few farms to Mr. Antilles’ specifications. It was growing late as they left the last location Luke had scouted for the two of them. After nearly an hour traveling in the dark, Mr. Antilles insisted that the two of them stop at a nearby inn for supper, with Mr. Antilles paying for both of them. As they finished their meal, he stopped Luke from leaving to go get the horses by placing a hand on his arm.
“Mr. Skywalker,” Mr. Antilles said, “I had thought, since Meryton is at least a four hour’s journey from here, that we might stay the night. I, of course, would cover your room as well as mine-- it’s only fair as I’m keeping you from your family.”
Luke hesitated, thinking of what that would cost. He did not want to be a burden, even if Mr. Antilles had offered. “Four hours isn’t completely disagreeable, the moon is out,” he said reluctantly.
“I-- insist,” he said. “The horses need rest.” Luke realized that Mr. Antilles’ hand was still on his arm, as his gaze flicked from his arm to Mr. Antilles, and then back to his arm. Mr. Antilles realized this, and removed his arm stiffly, covering as he said, “Then, in the morning, we can waste no time in traveling to the estate of the land I’d decided to purchase.”
Luke nodded his head stiffly, “Yes, alright.” Of course, they were not friends. Luke had been the one to make sure of that, though Mr. Antilles had been acting courteously since, and often treated Luke far better that one might normally be treated by an employer. Mr. Antilles was simply a quiet man, whom Luke had insulted his pride-- of course, he had wounded Luke’s first. Despite that, Luke thought, time permitting, they might one day be friends.
Then, for once, Luke was the quiet one. He didn’t know what it was, exactly, that seemed to bother him so much-- he wasn’t even sure if he really even liked the man. But Mr. Antilles spoke again, “I--” he hesitated, “I rather like the country.”
“Hertfordshire or the country?”
The man paused, “Both, I suppose. But I must admit I’ve grown… fond, of Hertfordshire in particular. The country is quite refreshing. And quiet,” he said, looking around the crowded inn. Luke snorted.
“I suppose the country is.”
After supper was finished, the two were escorted to two adjacent rooms. Luke’s was on the right, and Mr. Antilles’ was on the left. As Luke was handed the key to his room, and Mr. Antilles his own, Mr. Antilles looked to Luke, as if to say something. Luke waited a moment, but the man seemed at a loss for words. Then, for a lack of anything else to say, Mr. Antilles said a hasty, “Goodnight, Mr. Skywalker,” and hurried into his own room.
After the conclusion of their business the following morning, where Luke facilitated a meeting between Mr. Antilles and the landowner of the chosen lot, Luke left the men to discussing contracts and traveled the hour or so back to Longbourn himself. Mr. Antilles seemed almost hesitant to say goodbye, but since his duties with the man were finished, Luke had duties to attend to at the farm, as it was approaching winter. And since they were not friends, neither man made any attempts to call on the other. That is, until Leia begged an invitation to Netherfield several weeks later.
“Why must I ask? He is your cousin!” Luke said as his sister followed him around the house.
“It would hurt my pride to ask when I’ve already professed to want nothing from the man,” she said, crossing her arms.
“I still know not why you want to visit!” Luke said, collapsing onto the sofa.
Leia collapsed beside him, “Jyn-- Miss Erso-- told me that she’d visited--”
“And so you want to go too?”
“No!” Leia said, “Let me finish. Jyn told me that Mon Mothma, who once worked in my mother’s household, now works at Netherfield for my cousin, managing his house! I so long to see her. Luke, please? It’s been so long since I’ve seen any of my parent’s staff, who were once like family.”
Luke sighed, “Oh very well, only because you asked. Do you have paper and a quill?”
Leia bounded up, “Yes! I shall be right back,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. She returned shortly with the writing utensils and Luke got to work. They sent the letter out, and by the next morning they’d gotten a reply, surprising Luke with it’s haste. The letter invited both him and his sister to visit the estate at their earliest convenience, which, to Leia, meant as soon as they finished breakfast. Though visiting her companions in town was not enough of an errand meriting the cart, their relations couldn’t say no to Leia taking the cart to see Mr. Antilles, providing Luke escorted her.
When they arrived at Netherfield Park, Luke and Leia both stayed a moment to admire the grand estate. Though, as Leia oft reminded Luke, the estate was nothing in comparison to her parents’, the estate was quite beautiful, especially for letting. A footman took the reigns of the cart from Luke, and the two of them stepped down to enter the mansion.
They were announced in the parlor, where Mr. Antilles stood immediately upon their entrance. Luke bowed shalowly, and Leia curtseyed impatiently. “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Antilles. May I enquire about Ms. Mothma?”
“She should be here shortly,” Mr. Antilles said, but was looking at Luke. “Would you like to sit?”
Leia nodded, pulling Luke along with her, sitting opposite Mr. Antilles on the sofas. As soon as they were seated, Mr. Antilles sat as well. The three of them sat in silence for a few moments, before Mr. Antilles asked, “Have you been well? How is your family?”
It wasn’t clear who he was addressing, and both answered. “Yes,” Leia said shortly, at the same time her brother said, “Yes. They are quite well, thank you for inquiring.”
And then they were silent again. Finally, the doors burst open, and a red haired woman glided into the room, announcing her presence as well as any gentry woman Luke had ever seen. Mr. Antilles stood, the siblings following his lead.
“I’m sorry for being late, my dear,” Ms. Mothma said, embracing Leia, “I was held up settling the accounts, I’d gotten behind in the move. Oh look how much you’ve grown since I saw you last! You’ve grown into quite an accomplished young woman! And so very beautiful, too. You remind me of your mother--”
Luke’s gaze flicked from the two women to the impassive figure standing behind them, the man of the household, whose gaze had gone fairly blank. Luke frowned. Surely he couldn’t find displeasure in Leia meeting his household manager, could he? He’d been the one to invite them! Then, Mr. Antilles’ gaze met Luke’s, and the man spoke. “Excuse me, ladies,” the two women turned to him, “I do not want to interrupt your time together, so if you would not mind, I shall leave the two of you alone in the parlor. Luke, would you mind joining me?” Luke shook his head, and followed the other man from the room. Mr. Antilles closed the parlor doors to leave the two women to their business.
Once outside the room, Mr. Antilles turned to Luke, “Would you like a tour of the property? And then perhaps to go riding?”
Luke nodded, “I wouldn’t mind the walk-- I haven’t been around this property before. But I don’t think I can spare the horse for riding today.”
“I can loan you one of mine,” Mr. Antilles suggested, and Luke agreed.
After dismounting their horses, and handing them off to the table master, Mr. Antilles asked, “Would you like to join us for supper?”
“I’m sure Leia wouldn’t mind staying to speak with Ms. Mothma longer,” Luke said, and followed Mr. Antilles inside.
“If you don’t mind, I need to stop by the kitchen--”
“I don’t mind,” Luke said, and the man nodded, heading down a hallway. When he saw Luke had followed him, he paused, making Luke realize that Mr. Antilles hadn’t meant for Luke to come, but the man continued, slowing his pace so that Luke was able to walk beside him.
Inside the kitchen, he told the cook they’d be having two more for dinner, and that Ms. Mothma would be joining them. The kitchen, unlike the one at Longbourn, was large enough to have at least a dozen servants at all times. Luke looked in curiously as Mr. Antilles spoke with the cook. He often helped his aunt with cooking and had never seen a staff so large outside of a private ball.
When they were done speaking, the two men went upstairs to fetch Luke’s sister and Ms. Mothma for dinner, meeting them in the dining room. Though they’d already been through the room on the short tour Mr. Antilles had given him before their walk around the property, Luke had scarcely been in rooms like these-- only with Leia, when she required an escort somewhere.
At approximately six o’clock the party sat to dine over several courses, the first of which Luke declared as his favorite-- a particular soup that his aunt rarely made. That was one of few things remarked upon during the dinner out of politeness, the conversation being often stilted by Leia’s apparent hostility towards their host. At the beginning of the meal, it seemed she’d forgotten her dislike of the man almost entirely. But when her companion brought up the topic of Leia’s growing older, much to all of their dismay, Mr. Antilles began to lecture her on the importance of making wise choices in marriage herself as the executor to her estate. After several arguments going back and forth between them, they changed the topic to something much more agreeable: the weather.
In what seemed like an attempt to appease her, Mr. Antilles invited them for cards and coffee after their meal in the drawing-room.
“So,” Leia said petulantly, placing one of her cards, “all this talk of marriage, and you aren’t married yourself. Why is that? I’m sure you’ve met many accomplished women in your time, and no thoughts of marriage?”
“It is not all about accomplishments, Miss Organa,” Mr. Antilles said, “but frugality and connections.”
“Frugality and connections! But what about love, Mr. Antilles? Luke?”
“I couldn’t care less about connections,” Luke chimed in, “but love is important. Frugality is nothing if there is no love-- but I don’t know if I’ll ever get married, either, Leia.”
Mr. Antilles looked up, “Whyever not?”
Luke’s face flushed, “I shouldn’t have spoken about my family business.”
Leia placed another card, sighing, “He means because I was fortunate enough to inherit my parent’s fortune, and he will only inherit Longbourn, and you know my brother would never marry for money.”
“In order for Master Antilles to marry someone,” Ms. Mothma said, placing a card of her own, “he’d surely have to meet someone first.”
“Ms. Mothma,” Mr. Antilles reprimanded.
She sighed, “You know it’s only because I’ve been worried about you--”
“Worried about him?” Leia said, perking up.
“Yes, I was so pleased to hear that you and your brother had wanted to visit, Mr. Antilles has hardly taken any visitors twice since arriving,” she said. Mr. Antilles was looking down at his cards, and Luke was looking at him curiously. “I was afraid he wasn’t enjoying himself here in the country, he’s been so often alone.”
Luke was just about to remark that he hadn’t been alone, he’d so often been with Luke, when Mr. Antilles said stiffly, “I’m having a fine time in the country, Ms. Mothma.”
“Yes, but your only visitors to call upon you in weeks have been your dear cousin and her brother-- you had so many people call upon you when you first arrived that you declined to see again!” she looked to Luke and Leia across the card-table, “Mr. Antilles is rather quiet, you know, I hardly think he’d even talk to Mr. Skywalker if you hadn’t introduced them!”
“That’s enough, Ms. Mothma,” Mr. Antilles said gently, but firmly.
Leia frowned, “I didn’t introduce my brother to him, they met at the public assembly. Though I hear he didn’t dance with a soul!”
“I don’t like dancing with people I have just met,” Mr. Antilles said stiffly, defending himself. “Surely dancing with no one at all is better than dancing with everyone.”
“Surely there’s no way to get to know anyone at a ball,” Luke teased, meeting the other man’s eyes briefly. Firelight flickered against his unreadable dark eyes.
Leia ignored him, musing, “Maybe it would take another ball to have him gain a second friend!” she teased.
“Why, that’s a fine idea! Why don’t you hold a ball, Master Antilles?” Ms. Mothma asked.
“I don’t think that would be a very good idea,” the man sighed.
“Whyever not?” Luke asked, “Surely with us in attendance it will be more pleasant than the last one.”
Mr. Antilles sighed, “You did suggest I attend more than one before making my judgements. Very well, Ms. Mothma.”
“Whoever shall we invite? We’ll have to invite those that initially called on Mr. Antilles, of course. And your aunt and uncle, the Lars--”
He sighed again, “Surely, Ms. Mothma, you and my cousin must know everyone of importance in the town, and can invite all of them.”
Leia’s eyes lit up, and she and Ms. Mothma relocated to a separate table with a quill and paper to discuss who would best be invited to this, leaving the two men alone.
“I’m sorry,” Luke said, finally, after several games played in silence.
His companion looked up in surprise, “For what?”
“For my sister,” Luke said, rubbing the back of his head. He knew Leia liked to take over conversations-- and while he didn’t entirely agree with what Mr. Antilles had been trying to advise her about, he knew she could be a bit much at times. “She can be a bit much. And it seems she’s found a friend in your housekeeper.”
Mr. Antilles snorted, “That she has.”
“Thank you for having us,” Luke said to Mr. Antilles as they waited for their cart to be brought around with Artoo. The two men stood below on the drive, lit only by the lamplight at the top of the house where the two women stood. They couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Luke thought it must have been about the ball, and other plans that neither men were entirely interested in.
“It was my pleasure,” Mr. Antilles said with a short bow as the footman brought the cart around from the corner.
Ms. Mothma walked with Leia down the steps, and then Mr. Antilles offered his hand to help her onto the cart. She reluctantly took it out of politeness, letting go as soon as she could, moving over to allow Luke room on the seat. Then, Mr. Antilles offered him a hand, surprising Luke. He took it, allowing Mr. Antilles to help him up beside his sister onto the cart, his hand lingering for a second longer.
Upon release, Mr. Antilles turned around swiftly, clenching his fist, as he marched back inside the house.
Several days later, when Luke was out working in the field and Leia was reading under a great oak adjacent to the field, he saw a man quickly approaching on horseback from the direction of the house. Since Luke had taken Artoo with him, he knew it couldn’t have been his uncle. Leia stood, noticing the approaching figure, closing the book in her hand over a ribbon. Luke crossed the field to join her, knowing that if he didn’t, she would cross the field herself, muddying her hem.
When the figure was close enough, Luke realized with a start that he recognized the horse-- and more importantly, the figure riding it. Leia seemed to as well, as she pursed her lips, turning to him in question. Before either sibling spoke, Mr. Antilles was upon them. He dislodged from his horse, sweeping off of his hat, bowing first in Leia’s direction, and then in Luke’s.
“Mr. Antilles!” Leia cried, “What a surprise! We hadn’t a reason to expect you, had we?” she said to Luke, who shook his head.
Mr. Antilles was still staring at Luke, and Luke held his head high, though his boots were caked in mud, and he was sure he looked a fright. The other man reached into his saddlebag, and pulled out an invitation, saying, “I had thought to bring you-” he turned from Luke to Leia, extending her the invitation, “the invitation to my ball myself.”
Leia took the invitation, looking down at it, puzzled as she said, “Thank you.”
He bowed again, and then climbed on his horse, turning her in the direction of the road.
“Well, that was particular,” Leia said, sitting back down under the tree to read him aloud the invitation for the ball, fixed for the next Thursday. Luke leaned on his pitchfork, watching the man grow smaller and smaller as he rode away.
Luke’s family dressed with particular care that evening. Though they loved balls, neither his aunt nor uncle had ever attended a private ball in such a manner as was promised that evening at Netherfield. Mrs. Lars had been worried that her dress was far too out of style, but Luke had kissed her on the cheek and promised that she looked beautiful, and then had gone to help Leia, who was carefully pinning up her hair.
By the time they’d traveled the several miles to Netherfield, the party had well been underway for at least an hour, the rooms overcrowded and full of conversation. Their aunt and uncle had parted ways with them early to see to the refreshments, while Luke and his sister grabbed a single pewter cup of wine to take a tour about the rooms, which had been greatly decorated in anticipation of the ball.
Though Luke hadn’t been privy to the conversation his sister and Ms. Mothma had about the guest list, he wasn’t at all surprised to see the officers there. Every time one entered a room, Leia craned her neck as if to see who they were, not stopping until she spotted a particular couple across the floor.
“Look,” Leia said, pointing them out, “there’s Jyn! Or should I say, Mrs. Andor?” she grinned slyly, “This is the first time I’ve seen them since the wedding!” The two of them had attended just a month back, as Leia was one of Mrs. Andor’s closest friends. The wedding had been beautiful, and from what Luke could see, it looked like Mrs. Andor was wearing the same gown she’d been wearing at the wedding-- it suited her nicely. Her husband looked very happy himself in his blue naval coat, talking with another tall naval officer Luke had seen at the wedding, but didn’t know himself. Leia clutched his arm, “Luke, I’m going to say hello to my dear friend, if you see Han--”
“I’ll tell him you’re looking for him,” Luke said, nodding. She handed him her pewter cup, which he handed off to a waiter when he entered the drawing-room in search of the host. Despite their many turns around the various rooms, Luke hadn’t seen Mr. Antilles all evening, and hoped the man hadn’t escaped his own party without at least a hello, especially in light of their last few meetings ending so poorly. Nevertheless, Luke was in good spirits.
As Luke entered the hallway, he ran directly into a man in an officer’s coat, and he started to profusely apologize before he looked up, “Han!”
“Luke!” Han said, embracing his friend, and then pulling back to straighten his coat. “Where’s your sister?”
“The ballroom,” Luke said, as Han continued to pull at his collar.
“How do I look?”
“You look fine!” Luke laughed, “Better go catch Leia before someone else does,” he winked at his friend.
“Right,” Han steeled himself, patting Luke on the arm, passing him to join the dancing. Luke followed him, entering the room just in time to see the dance begin, and for Leia to already have a partner. Han didn’t seem to mind, as he asked one of the young ladies already speaking with an officer in a low bow. Luke took the hand of a smiling woman he recognized from a previous ball, and joined the dance. Though he was enjoying it immensely, he spotted their host halfway through the dance, making note to excuse himself from the woman’s company and say hello as soon as the dance is over.
Luke pushed through the crowed to see Mr. Antilles standing beside Ms. Mothma, looking very lovely in a white gown and speaking to several guests as Mr. Antilles stood alone. “Mr. Antilles!” Luke said, catching his attention.
“Mr. Skywalker,” Mr. Antilles said, pleasantly surprised. “You aren’t dancing.”
“Oh, no,” Luke said, “I saw you and-- I wanted to say hello.”
“Oh,” he said, turning back to the dancefloor. Luke looked out at it as well, but he didn’t see either Leia or Han on the floor. She must have seen Han and decided to move to a more private corner-- Leia always said there’s more privacy in large balls. Suddenly, his companion turned to him, and asked, “Mr. Skywalker, would you like to join me for the next dance?”
“But you don’t fancy dancing,” Luke turned to him, surprised.
“I’ve made an exception.”
“But there are still so many ladies awaiting a partner,” Luke said, looking around the room. It was customary that men and women should always take precedence, though two partners of the same sex would be allowed, should there be shortages of one.
“It is my ball, I don’t want to dance with any of them,” he said firmly. Did that mean that he wanted to dance with Luke? Luke realized he must have gotten lost in his thoughts, because he heard Mr. Antilles say, softly, “Luke.”
“Oh. Yes, I will dance with you.”
The music was ending, signifying the end of the dance, as Mr. Antilles offered Luke his hand, leading him onto the dance floor. Over his partner’s shoulder, he saw Ms. Mothma’s surprised face, and then Leia’s-- as she lead Han back onto the dancefloor. But then he turned back to his partner, and it was like they were the only ones in the room as Mr. Antilles led them in the dance. Luke realized he’d never been quite so close to the man before, despite their many accounts of business together. He felt the man’s hand acutely on his waist. Mr. Antilles didn’t speak, so Luke was given time to think.
He was jarred again from his thoughts when the man finally spoke. He was looking several people down the row of dancers to where Han and Leia were dancing. Voice tight, Mr. Antilles said, “I did not know your sister was acquainted with Captain Solo.”
Luke smiled, saying merrily, “Oh yes! Han has been a very good friend of ours for years. I think only recently he and Leia have become… intimate friends.”
Mr. Antilles’ frown only deepened, and he didn’t say anything else for the remainder of the dance. When the music slowed, he took a step back, bowing, but barely allowed Luke to bow back before crossing the room to Leia, stepping between her and Han. Han took a step back, frowning, and left Leia and Mr. Antilles to join Luke.
“What was that?” Luke asked, confused at his partner’s sudden dismissal.
“He asked her to dance.”
“He did?” Luke asked, surprised. Well then, he supposed Mr. Antilles had gotten over his dislike of dancing fairly quickly then, Luke thought as he asked another of Leia’s friends to dance, Han joining with another. Through the whole dance, he watched Mr. Antilles and Leia, and had a particular feeling in his stomach. Watching them, he had an inkling that his friend, Mr. Antilles-- because he could scarcely call him anything else now-- could have been interested in his sister. He didn’t know why the thought of it bothered him so much.
By the time that dance had ended, Han had decided to march back to Leia and ask for her hand in the next dance, Wedge relenting as he bowed back. But he didn’t look happy. He turned back to Luke, surprising him once again when he asked him for a second dance. Luke, of course, accepted. At the end, his partner bowed back again, this time more graciously, allowing Luke to bow himself. The man then turned on his heel, disappearing into the crowd, leaving a further confused Luke in his wake.
Luke then felt Leia touch his elbow lightly, and say, “Will you get refreshments with me?” Luke nodded and allowed her to pull him from the dance floor. The two of them found sweets positioned in one corner of the dining room, and sat down on two of the chairs along the wall to discuss what had just happened. When Leia asked him if he knew why Mr. Antilles had asked him to dance, Luke shook his head, and asked her why Mr. Antilles had asked her to dance. “No!” she said, “He simply appeared, standing between Han and I-- and you know I couldn’t refuse the dance, it would have meant having to sit out of dancing the entire evening!”
Luke couldn’t help but smile at her flushed face, “Of course that would mean you couldn’t have danced with Han a second time.” Leia’s face blushed darker. “Of course, dancing with a man twice is a public declaration that they’re courting you.”
“You should talk,” she said, slightly shoving her brother’s shoulder. “I can’t believed Mr. Antilles danced with you! That’s more times than I’ve ever seen him dance at all. What does he want?” Luke shook his head, he’d been wondering the same thing. “Doesn’t like to dance my arse!”
“Sorry,” she murmured, but she wasn’t sorry. She took another bite of pastry into her mouth, one of her favorites that she hadn’t been allowed in ages because of the expense.
“Where’s Han?” Luke asked. He knew Leia would have had a third dance with him, though decorum forbade it, if she’d had her way. “I haven’t had a chance to speak with him all evening.”
Leia shook her head, “I don’t know. He made some excuse and left right after the second dance.”
Luke stood, “I’m going to go look for him, do you want to come?” he offered his hand.
She shook her head, “No, you go ahead. I’m going to get more refreshments. If you find him, I’ll be here.” She craned her neck, “On second thought, I see Aunt Beru, I might go speak with her.”
Luke nodded, and traveled from room to room in search of his acquaintance. He asked several of the officers to point him in Han’s direction. One of them said they’d seen him go outside, so Luke followed to a quieter, and darker part of the house till he saw open doors leading outside to the gardens. Before he stepped outside, he heard muffled voices, two of them, talking quickly and sharply, though he couldn’t hear what they said.
Then, Luke spotted Han from behind, recognizing his uniform. “Han, there you are--” Han turned, and as he did, Luke saw that the man arguing with him was Mr. Antilles. “Oh, Mr. Antilles. I didn’t know you were here.”
He nodded in Luke’s direction, and said, grimly, “We’ve concluded our business,” and looked sharply at Han. Luke looked between them, perplexed.
Han looked angry as he brushed past Luke, muttering, “Yes we have,” stepping back inside to rejoin the party.
Mr. Antilles seemed rather stiff as he nodded to Luke, telling him to enjoy the rest of the party. He, too, stepped past Luke into the light of the house.
“Oh there you are,” Leia said, catching Luke a few minutes later, “I was looking all over for you! Han left.”
“I just saw him.”
“No, he left,” Leia said, “he left the party. Said something about having business out of town, and left.”
Leia shook her head, “I don’t know. I hope he returns soon.” Luke nodded, and the two of them joined their relations, who had taken to watching the dancing themselves. Luke scarcely saw Mr. Antilles for the rest of the evening, and when he did, he seemed rather gloomy, making no other attempts to speak with either Luke or his sister the rest of the evening.
It was nearing daybreak as the family left the party, some of the lasts of the guests to leave. Luke and Leia climbed into the back of the cart, the way they’d come, as their aunt and uncle took the driving seats. As Leia leaned against his shoulder, falling asleep, Luke looked up to see the watchful eyes of Mr. Antilles on the balcony, sharp and watching.
Within the course of two days, Leia received two letters, one much more heartbreaking to her than the other, which bothered Luke much more than it bothered his sister. One came from Han himself, writing to Leia directly this time, informing her that his business would be taking him to London, and he would not be returning for the remainder of the winter.
The other she scarcely read before tossing it aside for the other, leaving for her room, to sit under the window and watch the rain pour down the windowpanes. It was from Ms. Mothma, informing her that Mr. Antilles had decided that the country was not so favorable to him after all, and that he would be much better suited to the city. He would be continuing to expand his business ventures, but would be hiring someone to oversee the land, and was needed in the city immediately. He departed that very morning.
Luke read the letter over twice, and then gave it back to his sister, who was still sitting in her room. He didn’t know how to feel about not receiving a letter himself from Mr. Antilles, but, he supposed, they weren’t friends after all.
“I don’t know why he even wrote me!” Leia said of Han, “It’s not like it matters to me what he does or where he goes! I won’t even be writing him back, if he’d left me an address to write to!” she clutched a pillow in her hands, seemingly ready to tear it apart. But Luke knew her better than that. He sat beside her, putting his arm around her. She laid her head on his shoulder. Leia, brought up by the highest class, never knew how to express her emotions, and insisted on hiding them from the world-- often masked in anger, when he knew she was acting in sorrow.
“He shouldn’t have done that,” Luke said, not voicing what he thought-- he’d been sure that Han was going to propose to her this winter.
After a few minutes, Leia shrugged off his shoulder, and turned to him. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter! Jyn invited me along with her to the coast where she’s seeing Captain Andor off. I told her I couldn’t come but now I can, so I’m going!” she stood, reaching for a quill and paper, writing her friend a quick note, before throwing open her trunk to start filling it.
Just weeks after Leia left with Mrs. Andor to Lyme Regis, Luke received a similar summons from a longtime companion of his. Biggs Darklighter had moved after his marriage to a local woman when he was offered the parish of a Rosings Park. Having asked his uncle if he could go, Luke’s uncle warned him that he couldn’t stay more than a few weeks-- they were dependant on Luke for planting season. If they didn’t have a good harvest this year, well… Luke understood better than anyone that it would be their ruin.
Luke had a fine time traveling from Hertfordshire to Kent, he so rarely saw much of the countryside. When Luke finally arrived at the cottage that belonged to Darklighter, he was welcomed warmly by the man and his wife. Mrs. Darklighter was quick to show Luke around their home. It was smaller than Longbourn, but it fit their needs quite well, and was larger than the Darklighter farm house had been in Hertfordshire. “It’s lovely,” Luke told her as she showed him the study, and then her own personal parlor for entertaining.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Darklighter said, running her hands across the bookshelf. Luke hadn’t known her well before she married his friend, but she too was from Meryton, and Luke had known Biggs to love her since their youth. She was quite a lovely woman, her blonde hair pinned up in curls. Luke hadn’t the chance to visit since their wedding last April, when Darklighter had taken the position at the parish after his father died.
There was a knock on the door, and Darklighter stepped into the room. “Has my dear Kandji convinced you to off and elope with her yet?” he said with twinkling in his eyes.
His wife went red at his teasing, shaking her head as Luke grinned. “I’ll leave the two of you to get reacquainted,” she said, “I’ll be back with tea.”
“Don’t be long,” he said, kissing his wife. As soon as she’d left the room, he turned back to Luke, smile still on his face. “Luke, you simply must get married.”
Luke laughed, “It’s so simple now, is it? We can’t all run off and become clergymen!”
“Whyever not?” Darklighter said, and Luke sighed.
“You know why not.”
Before either friend could say another word, there came a shrieking from across the house, as Mrs. Darklighter yelled, “Biggs!” she called, “Darling!”
He stood immediately, rushing to her side, “Kandji, what is it?”
She brushed past him, pulling Luke with her to the window, “The duke has arrived! He’s back in Rosings!”
“The duke?” Luke asked, following her to the window. Sure enough, a chaise-and-four rode by the window as they watched. Inside, he saw an older man of his aunt and uncle’s age, and a young woman of theirs. “Who’s that with him?”
“Oh that should be his ward, his sister’s daughter,” Darklighter said. “Oh, Luke, haven’t we told you of the duke?” Luke turned from the window and shook his head, settling down on the sofa beneath the window. “Duke Raymus Antilles is quite a frank man,” he said, chuckling. Antilles? Luke wondered, but didn’t say a thing aloud. He wasn’t sure if there was a relation or not, it wasn’t as though he cared.
“But he’s a good man, once you see past that,” Mrs. Darklighter said, fluffling up a pillow on the couch before sitting beside Luke, making sure to even out her fashionable dress as to not wrinkle it. “I expect that he’ll be inviting us to dinner soon,” she said, “He usually does, every fortnight or so-- he’ll certainly want to meet a friend of Biggs.”
“Then you’ll see Rosings--” Biggs said, reclining in his own chair. “I suppose you’ll like that,” he winked, “We certainly didn’t have a thing like it in Hertfordshire.” His wife shook her head, declaring it to be the truth.
“Oh, good,” Luke said, still thinking.
“Isn’t it marvelous?” Mrs. Darklighter said, as the three of them stood in the garden, admiring the house from afar. Luke couldn’t help but agree at the magnificence of the place. There were several floors, and the place was so large Luke couldn’t see the entirety of it so close. They had been, as his companions had thought, invited to Rosings within a fortnight.
His friends had told him to throw on any old thing he possessed, whatever was best-- but admittedly, that wasn’t much. He’d ended up borrowing a suit jacket from Darklighter, which was ever so slightly too large for him, but it was better than what he’d brought, his sunday best. Luke was rarely nervous, but he felt it then, as he followed Darklighter and his wife towards the magnificent building. He’d never met a duke before.
When they had been escorted into the drawing-room of the duke, Darklighter made the introductions as he bowed, “Your lordship,” he said to the duke, and then bowing to his niece, “Miss Metonae.” Luke and Mrs. Darklighter watched from the doorway, Luke’s eyes transfixed on the pair sitting on the elaborate sofa. Biggs nodded them over, and Luke followed his companion to bow to the duke and his niece himself.
Before Luke was able to introduce himself, the duke spoke. “So you are Luke Skywalker.” Luke raised his gaze to the man, startled for a moment that the man knew of him, but hoping his face didn’t betray him. Duke Antilles looked a stern man, his lips pressed tightly together, his eyes assessing. Luke hadn’t needed to wonder if he and Luke’s Mr. Antilles were related-- it was quite clear that they were. He found his own Mr. Antilles’ eyes in the man, though on the duke’s face they were much sharper. They appeared similarly quiet, though.
“Yes I am, sir,” Luke said.
“Hm,” he said, rather dismissively. Then, he turned to his niece beside him. “This is my niece.” Beside the duke, his niece smiled sweetly. She was rather pretty, Luke thought. Her face was round, and her eyes were soft. She was dressed very finely, her Puce dress very fashionable. She must have been the daughter of the duke’s sisters, because she looked much like the painting of Leia’s mother that he’d seen. Luke bowed his head at her.
Mrs. Darklighter and Miss Metonae appeared to be friends, because they began speaking immediately, his friend’s wife standing very close to her and laughing at a thing she’d said. Darklighter began to say something to Luke himself, but as soon as he began to speak, he trailed off, looking at something over Luke’s shoulder. Luke turned abruptly, and couldn’t help himself as he said aloud, “Mr. Antilles!”
The man himself was standing by the window. Luke was incredibly surprised to see the man standing there. He hadn’t seen him in months since he’d unexpectedly left after the ball. He looked somber as he crossed the distance between them, bowing his head to Luke. “What are you doing here?” Luke finally asked, his breath regained.
“Mr. Skywalker,” Mr. Antilles said, his gaze not leaving Luke’s, “I am a guest here.”
“You know my nephew?” Duke Antilles said, rising. Luke looked to him, glancing back at Mr. Antilles for only a moment, and then nodded.
“Yes, sir. I had the pleasure of knowing him in Hertfordshire.”
At dinner, Luke found himself unexpectedly placed beside Mr. Antilles, as Duke Antilles insisted that Biggs was not allowed to sit next to his wife, and that Luke must take his place. As soon as they had been seated, Mr. Antilles inquired after the health of Luke’s family. Luke told them they were well, but soon found the duke’s gaze upon him.
“Ah, Mr. Skywalker,” he said, “now I remember-- I knew your mother. She was quite a lovely woman in her youth. She was very well spoken, and from a quite well-off family. It’s a shame what came of her.”
Luke looked at the man, frowning, “Oh no, sir, you are mistaken. You must be thinking of my sister, Leia. She was raised by Mr. and Mrs. Organa, not I.”
The man snorted, “I certainly know my own cousin’s child,” he said, shaking his head. “No, son, I was speaking of your real mother, Padmé Amidala-- have your father’s family been so remiss in your education?” he practically sneered the word father, Luke’s face burned. It took all of his strength not to defend them. He was grateful, for once, that his sister was not there. She would not have been able to help herself.
“Of course not, sir,” Luke said, feeling the bite in his own words. Duke Antilles appeared not to have noticed. Beside him, he felt Mr. Antilles stiffen. “I have been very fortunate to have been raised by two people who were willing to take me in after my parents’ death, to have taught me the value of hard work.”
Duke Antilles waved his hand, and said, “Fortunate, yes! My, my cousin Breha must have been a very generous woman indeed to have taken in your sister after your mother off and eloped with that Skywalker boy-- the scandal of the decade!” Luke felt his face burning, and looked down at his place, steadfast in refusing to look at anyone else in the room. The duke prattled on, oblivious to the silence of the other guests at the table. “Your mother’s sister-- I daresay you’ve never met her-- was lucky to have been married at the time, otherwise she wouldn’t have found a match!”
“Yes, very lucky,” Luke mumbled, clenching his fist underneath the table.
The man was shaking his head, “Running away together! And dying in poverty! The shame--” there was the sound of a chair scraping against the floor, causing all five others to look towards Miss Metonae, who looked appropriately embarrassed to have interrupted her uncle.
Luke looked down at his own clenched fists in his lap, grateful at her. He wasn’t embarrassed, per se, of his parents. There was no shame in marrying for love, he was proud of them, and wished he knew them, but-- he hated how others spoke of them! Even his aunt and uncle, who were all so careful that Luke and Leia not follow in their rash footsteps that they rarely let them out of their sight. Everyone seemed to think they needed warnings and supervision! They couldn’t dare even speak of their parents lest they get any ideas from them. Luke glanced to the man seated beside him, Mr. Antilles, just enough to see his face-- but Mr. Antilles didn’t look surprised to hear about Luke parents the way Mrs. Darklighter did. Ah, so he knew, then.
Later in the evening, Luke had calmed down about his parents. Time and wine had diffused it, especially after Miss Metonae had changed the subject of the conversation to Mrs. Darklighter’s continuing musical education there at Rosings. After a fairly pleasant rest of the dinner, the six retired to the drawing-room to enjoy Miss Metonae’s own musical talents while they talked with Duke Antilles. Luke, eager to escape the duke he now found fairly unpleasant, joined her at the pianoforte.
“Thank you,” Luke said as she played to the mumble of voices behind them.
She smiled cheekily, and said, “Whatever for?” Luke smiled back. He rather liked this relation of Mr. Antilles, she seemed to be the only member of the family he’d met to share any sense of decency.
Then, as if being called, Luke heard light footsteps, and the man himself joined them. He stood straight, his hands clasped behind his back, but he didn’t seem in a foul mood. Instead, he almost smiled at Luke. Miss Metonae looked between them, and asked, “What was my cousin like in Hertfordshire? I daresay I’ve never been, perhaps I shall force him to take me next time.”
Luke couldn’t help smiling broadly, “Prepare yourself for something dreadful-- he attended two balls and hardly danced with a soul, though there were plenty of willing partners.”
She laughed, “My darling cousin has always been rather shy.”
“Shy!” Luke said, turning to look at his companion.
If Luke was not mistaken in the dim lighting, he saw a dusting of red on Mr. Antilles’ cheeks. But before the man could defend himself, his uncle called out, “Wedge!” and Mr. Antilles bowed, excusing himself to the duke’s side.
“He’s sweet, is he not?” Miss Metonae said. “He doesn’t much like conversing with people that he does not know, but I think he’s rather talkative with you.”
“What? Sweet?” Luke said, turning back to see the man speaking with Duke Antilles intently.
“I don’t think you know my cousin very well at all,” she said coyly as she switched to another page. “Has my cousin’s exterior been fooling you? He’s painfully shy, he tries much too hard to do what’s right.” She sighed, hitting a wrong key and wincing. Luke watched her graceful fingers glide across the keys. “He cares far too much about duty, though all gentlemen should. I heard that he recently came to the rescue of our cousin-- though, surely, you must know of it.”
Luke frowned, confused. But he had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I would?”
She raised her eyes above the page, “My cousin, your sister? He saved her from an imprudent marriage just this winter.”
Luke froze. “Oh,” he said, “Yes. My sister, and her… imprudent marriage. Had he... given a reason for their separation?” Luke asked, his mind suddenly racing back to that night in the garden.
She shook her head, “No, I haven’t the faintest.” Then, after a moment, she said, “I had heard talk that the match wouldn’t be appropriate for the Antilles name…” Mr. Antilles had…. Luke couldn’t believe what he’d just heard, but suddenly it all came into focus. The abrupt leaving of Han, the way Mr. Antilles had danced with Leia that evening! Luke looked back at Mr. Antilles, and in that moment, Mr. Antilles looked up, and their gaze met for a very brief moment. Luke wrenched his eyes away.
“You will have to excuse me,” Luke said suddenly, feeling numb. He felt trapped, needing air. He walked past the party, made an excuse he could barely remember, and then raced out of the room, barely waiting to be escorted outside. He left his confused friends behind, and wasn’t able to breathe properly until he was racing down the steps of Rosings. When he reached the bottom steps of the barely lamp-lit outside, he registered a voice calling his name.
“Skywalker!” he heard, and then the sound of footsteps running down the stairs. When he was wretched around, he’d expected Darklighter-- but instead, came face to face with Mr. Antilles!
“Mr. Antilles,” Luke said, shaking off the hold on his arm. Mr. Antilles released him easily, looking a little ashamed to have grabbed him so roughly. The man opened his mouth to speak, and looked at Luke longingly. Luke almost didn’t want to know what the man had to say, he dreaded what it might be.
“I must--” Mr. Antilles finally said, but the words seemed to fail him, “I must-- ask you to put me out of my agony. I must ask something of you. I have struggled in vain and I can bear it no longer.”
Luke sucked in a breath, suddenly feeling lightheaded. Mr. Antilles was going to ask his permission to marry Leia. It was why he’d told Han off, why he’d been insistent that Han hadn’t been worthy of her--
Mr. Antilles looked more lost than ever. But then it all came spilling out, the man talking more quickly than Luke had ever seen him. “I-- I came to Rosings with the sole purpose of seeing you-- I had to see you, I should have never left Hertfordshire but--” he paused, “I fought against the expectations of my family, the inferiority of your birth-- and I have something to ask of you.”
“I don’t-- I don’t understand,” Luke said. It had begun to rain, and they were only barely sheltered from it, it seeming to match the miserable mood his companion was in.
“I love you,” the words spilled from Mr. Antilles’ mouth. Oh. Luke had been very, very wrong. “most ardently. Please do me the honor of accepting my hand.”
“I thought-- that you were going to ask to marry my sister,” Luke said, unable to formulate any other words.
The response seemed only to confuse Mr. Antilles further, “No I-- I thought I had made it clear, at the ball that-- that my affections lied with you.” Oh. Luke thought back to the two dances at the ball, and… oh. How very stupid Luke had been. “Your sister is….” he seemed to struggle with summoning appropriate words, “a very well-bred woman.” He seemed satisfied with that, “But she and I would never be a compatible match. I have never met anyone like you, your dedication to your family, even against all odds.”
Luke felt a burning rage inside, then. Surely if Mr. Antilles had truly desired to marry Luke, truly admired that about him, he would have known that insulting his family would not win his affection. “I… apologize for any pain I may have caused,” Luke said, his fists balled at his side. “But I am sure that your feelings you told me that have hindered your regard will help you in overcoming it.”
“Is this your reply?” he asked stiffly, his eyes never leaving Luke.
“Yes,” Luke said, turning away from the man. How could he think that after-- that after what he’d said about his family, what he’d done to his beloved sister…
“Might I ask why? With so little endeavor at civility?” Mr. Antilles said, his face became pale with anger.
“I might inquire,” Luke said, with his own rising anger, “why you chose to tell me that you liked me against your better judgement?”
“No, I didn’t mean--” the man looked alarmed, his eyes widening as he took a step back. His dark hair was becoming heavy with the spray of rain.
“I have other reasons! You know I have,” Luke said accusingly, “Do you think that anything would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved sister? Do you deny it, Mr. Antilles? That you separated a young couple who loved each other?”
Mr. Antilles stood before him, stone-faced. “No, I do not deny it.”
“How could you do it?” Luke said, his voice cracking.
“Because I believe that I was saving her from the same fate as your mother! To marry well below herself, to elope with a--”
“What? A scoundrel? My father was no scoundrel, no more than Han is.”
Mr. Antilles was seemingly resigned, “Than I daresay your father is a scoundrel, for I know Han to be one.”
“Very well,” Luke said. Their faces and bodies were so close together that, perhaps in another situation, they might have kissed. Instead, Luke took one last look at the man’s face. “I had-- hoped that you might consider us friends. But now I cannot imagine us even being joined in friendship, much less matrimony.”
“So this is your opinion of me?” Mr. Antilles stood straighter. “Can you expect me to rejoice upon the inferiority of your birth?”
Luke found himself growing angrier by the moment. “From the very beginning of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork for my ever-growing dislike of you; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed to allow my sister to marry, much less myself.”
The air between them was silent as the rain continued to pour down. Mr. Antilles’ eyes flicked down Luke’s face, and he took a deep breath before locking eyes with him. “Forgive me, sir,” he said, barely above a whisper, “for taking up so much of your time. Goodnight,” he turned swiftly away from Luke.
It wasn’t until he saw the man disappearing inside that Luke let out a sob. But Luke couldn’t let himself be drawn into it. It was for the best that he’d rejected the offer. So, thinking that, he started off in what he thought was the direction of his friend’s home.
After nearly an hour of walking in the dark and the rain, Luke was soaked and worried. Occasionally he’d see light through the hills and trees around him, but at some point he’d strayed from the road, and was lost. He was wandering around, and soon enough-- he tripped, twisting his ankle and making himself unable to walk. He sat down, growing more delirious as time passed. He felt himself growing weaker, finally succumbing to illness and falling unconscious.
Through bouts of clarity, he heard shouting-- something very close to his name, or even his name-- the sound of horses galloping, and a light on his face. Then he was lifted up and carried. Pressed warmly to someone’s chest, he fully succumbed to the darkness.
Through the rest of the night, Luke tossed and turned, barely waking up for seconds before falling unconscious again. His face burned. But he felt a comforting hand on his arm all night, and on the rare occasions-- once or twice-- when he’d managed to barely open his eyes, he saw someone sitting vigilantly by his side all night. He was not aware enough to recognize them. And in the morning, when the fever broke, rousing Luke, the person was gone.
When Mrs. Darklighter came in to see that he was awake, and that their guest had gone, she shook her head, and told him who had stayed the night. “You had us worried, Luke, you mustn't try to find your way back in the dark like that. But whatever have you done to poor Mr. Antilles? He was so worried about you he wouldn’t leave your side until the morning!”
Luke shook his head, “I don’t know,” he admitted truthfully. Even after their argument, Mr. Antilles sat beside him all night, vigilantly. He didn’t need to, but he did. Luke was grateful, if not confused.
The doctor Biggs had summoned insisted Luke spend a few more days in bed, accompanied by his friends, just to be safe. On the day he was finally allowed up again, he was visited by a very strange visitor-- Mr. Antilles, who didn’t seem delighted to see him in the slightest. In fact, he seemed, to Luke, rather like he hadn’t been looking to see Luke in person. Instead, Luke thought that Mr. Antilles had been hoping to speak with the Darklighters, and give them a letter intended for Luke.
Instead, Mr. Antilles politely inquired after Luke’s health. Upon telling Mr. Antilles that he would be fine, the man visibly let out a sigh of relief, though it barely relieved the tension in his shoulders at all.
“I have this, for you,” Mr. Antilles said, holding a sealed letter for Luke.
“What is it?” Luke asked, reaching for it from the sofa he’d been on nearly all afternoon. Mr. Antilles had to cross the room to give it to him, which he did readily.
“It is a letter, defending your charges against me,” Mr. Antilles said, with his head bowed.
“Why don’t you explain it yourself? You’re already here,” Luke demanded. The man hesitated, but reluctantly agreed, with his lips pressed together in a firm line.
Mr. Antilles looked past Luke, out the window, with his hands clasped behind his back as he spoke. “I won’t repeat the sentiments that you found so disgusting.” Luke remained silent. “However, I must defend the actions that you have accused me of: the separation of your sister and Captain Solo. Captain Solo was once beloved of my family, my father holding him in such regard that he left him a sizeable inheritance upon his and my mother’s death.” Luke hadn’t know of this-- Han rarely spoke of his past. “However, when my father passed, Captain Solo demanded his full inheritance from me, and then gambled it away, rather than join the clergy like he’d told my father in the last years of his life. Months later,” Wedge looked pained, “he came back and demanded more from me and my family. I refused. He then cut off all contact with us, and I have not seen him in the five years till the ball at Netherfield.”
Luke sympathized with the man, but disagreed with the assessment of his friend. “Han is much changed, Mr. Antilles. If you had not been so stubborn in your character, you might have come to know him as Leia and I have.”
Mr. Antilles nodded stiffly, and bowed his head at Luke. “I must depart. I made arrangements to stay only so long as to see that you were in good health. Seeing that you are well, Mr. Skywalker, I have business to attend to.” Then, as quickly as he appeared, he was again gone.
The door swung open again, Luke jerking his head, expecting the return of Mr. Antilles. But it was only Darklighter, inquiring, “Was that Mr. Antilles? What did he want?”
Luke was still distracted by the thought of Mr. Antilles, and told Darklighter that the man had been inquiring after his health.
“Good fellow, he is,” Darklighter said, leaning against the frame of the door. “He must have stayed a few days longer to inquire about your health. When he’d come back to the party after you’d left, he’d told his uncle he was leaving at daybreak. Of course, then, you’d gone missing--”
Luke stared out past the doorway, where Mr. Antilles had gone, wondering how any of this had possibly happened.
When Luke arrived back at Longbourn, he scarcely said a word, not even to his sister, all through dinner as she encouraged him to tell her what it was like at Rosings. Had it much changed from when she visited as a child? Was it as marvelous as Mrs. Darklighter had written? Luke did answer her in few-word answers, but escaped to his room as soon as was possible, leaving the dishes to be cleaned by his aunt and Leia.
That evening, well past dark when his aunt and uncle had gone to bed, Luke heard his door creak open, and saw his sister enter with a candle. She wore her dressing gown over her nightdress, tied at her waist to keep her warm. She placed the candle on the bedside, and encouraged Luke to move, crawling into bed beside him. Luke rested his head on his arm, propped up to see her in the halo of light. “Luke, whatever is wrong?” she asked. “What happened at Rosings? I know you far too well to think that this is only because you’ve returned home for planting season.”
Luke thought of not telling her, but she’d pester him until he spoke of it. “I saw Mr. Antilles at Rosings.” Half of the truth was better than nothing, he thought.
Leia scrunched up her nose, “Is that the source of your unhappiness, Luke?” she said. “I thought you rather liked him.”
“I thought I did as well,” Luke said, but now, he didn’t know what he thought of the man.
His sister was uncharacteristically silent, waiting a good few moments before speaking. “Luke, you know I would give you anything-- everything of mine if it would make you happy,” she reached for his free hand.
“Money wouldn’t make me happy, Leia,” he said, stretching out his hand between them. “I fear nothing would.”
“Don’t say that,” Leia shushed him, “that’s not true. You’re happier than I fear I’d ever be.”
“You should have been, Leia,” he said, “you should have been the happy one.” After a few moments, she squeezed his hand, and slipped wordlessly from the room, extinguishing the light as she went.
Planting season came and went. With the help of neighboring farmers, the few hired hands that the Lars family could afford, and Luke’s return, they planned the season’s harvest in record time. This gave Luke enough time to spend time in Meryton, taking Leia with him once or twice before summer came and went to visit her companions in town. Since Darklighter had left, and Leia’s closest companion was married, neither of them had much of an occasion to go to town anymore, so often they stayed home to enjoy each other’s company. Nearing the end of the summer, Leia was invited to stay with Aunt Beru’s sister, Mrs. Brunk, who ran an inn in Brighton. Feeling no harm in Leia getting out of the house for fresh air and a diversion, Leia left for a few weeks, promising to write at least once a week.
In the interim, a friend of Luke’s father came to pass through town, Ben Kenobi. “Uncle Ben!” Luke said, racing through the house to greet the man. He was welcomed with open arms, Luke letting the man into the house. The man was wearing clothes nearly twenty years out of date, with a much lighter colored coat than was fashionable, and a much longer cut than any young man would be seen in that day, but he was a welcome, familiar sight to Luke, we hadn’t seen the man in ages.
“Say hello to Uncle Ben, Aunt Beru!” Luke called to his aunt. Mrs. Lars was in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, her eyes flicked up to the older man visiting. She wiped her hand on her apron, and nodded at the man.
She sighed, “Hello, Mr. Kenobi.”
“Mrs. Lars,” Kenobi said, nodding his head at her. “You’re looking well.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said with another sigh. “Luke, does your uncle know that he’s here?” Luke wanted to roll his eyes. Mrs. Lars didn’t have nearly the objection to his father’s old friend that Uncle Owen did, but she preferred to avoid any arguments by not having the man visit at all.
“I believe so, Mrs. Lars,” Kenobi said, “I passed him on the way to the house to see Luke.”
“Will you be staying long?” she inquired.
Kenobi shook his head, “Not long, Madam. Perhaps for dinner, but I have matters to discuss with Luke. Luke?”
Luke led Kenobi into the sitting room, where Kenobi invited Luke to join him in visiting the Peak District for some fresh air. Kenobi had always know Luke to enjoy traveling like his father, and knowing that we would be traveling through Hertfordshire on his way, stopped by the Longbourn farm. Luke, of course, readily agreed. He greatly enjoyed visiting with Kenobi, he always told him stories about his father and his mother that his aunt and uncle were very tight-lipped about. It would take his mind off of things he was constantly reminded of in Meryton. Of course, pending the approval of Mr. Lars.
Luke knew his uncle would have the same objections as always. He disliked Luke spending time with the man, fearing that his character might too affect Luke’s as it once had his father. Mr. Lars always believed that if Kenobi hadn’t taken Luke’s father with him to the city, he never would have met Luke’s mother, and the tragedy that took both their lives, leaving Luke and Leia orphaned, never would have happened. His brother would have been alive and well, and he preferred Luke that way, as well.
“I was hoping to see your sister, wherever has she gone to?” Kenobi asked while waiting for Luke’s uncle.
“She’s gone to Brighton with Aunt Beru’s sister,” Luke told him. Kenobi hummed. The two men conversed more about the many months since they’d last written, Luke leaving off any mention of Mr. Antilles. Instead, Luke spoke of the assembly, of Leia’s acquaintance marrying, of visiting Rosings.
When Mr. Lars finally returned for dinner, Luke begged to travel with Kenobi, citing that he was well grown up and could make his own decisions. Finally relenting, as planting season was well over, and the harvest would not be for awhile, Mr. Lars told Luke that he could go. Under the condition that he would be back in time for harvest season, Kenobi and Luke left for the Peak District.
Their tour of the countryside lead them through Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenilworth, Birmingham and others Luke had never once been to, but Kenobi entertained Luke with stories of his travels with Luke’s father through those very lands. At every stop they made in towns along the way, it was as if Kenobi knew dozens, and everyone was very delighted to see him.
However, as they continued towards Derbyshire, Luke thought of Pemberley and those that resided there. As they continued closer, Kenobi remarked his interest in seeing it. “It’s just a mile or two out, I should say we stop and see it. I haven’t been for years, not since Mr. and Mrs. Antilles have passed. Why, a place, too, with which so many of your acquaintances are connected, are they not?” he said, “Your companion, Captain Solo resided there many years when he was a lad.”
“I feel as though we have no business there,” Luke said, shaking his head. They’d stopped to admire the scenery of the great cliffs and countryside, and sat below a tree as the horses rested. He picked at the frayed edge of his clothing. He did not want to reveal his real objections for visiting, and would rather suffer the visit than saying them.
“It’s one of the finest residences I’ve ever seen! Surely even if you’re tired of seeing fine furnishings, the gardens will enchant you. Leia surely would have wanted to see it!” Kenobi pondered, “And such a well stocked lake! I’d like to see it.”
“Won’t we disturb the household? Mr. Antilles?” Luke dreaded.
“Surely not!” Kenobi said, “These great men are never at home,” he chuckled. Luke sighed. Uncle Ben was right, Leia would never forgive him for having the chance to visit the greatly revered Pemberley House and then not taking the chance to describe it to her. Very well. Just for a few hours.
The grounds of Pemberley woods were quite extensive, and Luke felt a fluttering in his chest as they approached by carriage. The house was nearly as large as Rosings, though in much better taste and setting than Rosings had been. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills. In front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. It was situated in a valley, and Luke couldn’t help admiring the grounds, they were unlike anything he could ever have dreamed of in Longbourn. To be the master of the house must be something he imagined.
At the great sweeping doors they were met by a familiar face, that of Ms. Mothma, the household manager of Mr. Antilles. She greeted them warmly, also having been in the acquaintance of Kenobi in the distant past. As they entered the house, Luke’s apprehension of meeting the owner returned. It had been months since he’d seen him last, and he told himself he had no desire to renew that acquaintance!
But as they traveled through each room, Luke became enchanted with the layout. Rather than needlessly gaudy like that of Rosings, the furniture was simply elegant and finely suited to the house, not betraying any awkward taste. Through the large windows, Luke could see the surrounding valley, the trees, and the game wandering through it. To think! Had he accepted Mr. Antilles’ offer, he could have been the master of the house, second only to Mr. Antilles, and would have invited in Kenobi as a visitor!
But then the reminder that surely he would not have been allowed to invite the man, because surely he would remind Mr. Antilles’ of Luke’s undesirable family connections, stopped any hint of regret from forming. He didn’t dare ask Ms. Mothma if the master of the house truly wasn’t home, not wanting to hear the answer. Instead, he chose to focus on what Ms. Mothma pointed out to them around the house. In the drawing-room, Kenobi spotted the miniatures of several family members. “Luke, my boy, isn’t that a companion of yours?” he said, pointing to one of Han.
“Yes,” Luke murmured, looking down at the miniature in the case. It was painted many years ago, Han looked so young in the painting. His eyes swept past the others, not wanting to look upon Mr. Antilles’ face-- he feared what he might think of it if he saw it again.
Ms. Mothma smiled, stepping closer to them, the hem of her gown brushing the post of the case, “Ah, Captain Solo was quite a wild boy, I’ve heard from the staff. He was the son of the master’s father’s steward, brought up here for much of his youth. I daresay he’s grown into himself since joining the army, then, he was quite splendid to talk to at the ball at Netherfield.”
Luke nodded, following the party. Another room was filled with marvelous statues and busts, the likenesses of which Luke had never seen before. He trailed off from the small party, enjoying time to look at the remarkable statues. It was enchanting, nothing like what he’d seen on his family’s farm. He could spend hours in just this gallery, though he’d proclaim to know nothing about art itself if asked, only what his sister had told him, and what he’d read from her books. The white marble looked almost lifelike as Luke wandered through the gallery, finally coming to the lofted bust of a face he recognized. Staring back in pristine marble was the face of Mr. Antilles.
“It’s quite the likeness, is it not?” Ms. Mothma said, startling Luke, “It was made a few years ago, but I think it’s still quite accurate.” She was quite right. Luke’s eyes traced the curve of his jaw, and the almost sorrowful look in his eye as the bust stared off past Luke into the distance.
“Luke, you didn’t tell me that you knew Mr. Antilles,” Kenobi said, crossing his arms beside Luke. He leaned in closer to inspect the bust, “He’s quite a handsome fellow, is he not?”
“Yes,” Luke admitted, looking at it, “I would say so.” He felt the color in his cheeks rising.
“And there is his late father, and mother,” Ms. Mothma swept past the bust to a pair of others. Luke recognized Mr. Antilles in the two other busts, his father’s eyes and his mother’s mouth. As he looked at them, he found his gaze drawn back to the one of the man he knew, finding it to be much more pleasurable to look at. “Though I scarcely knew the master’s parents themselves, Master Antilles is quite the landlord that his father was, one of the best I’ve ever known. Considerate, almost, as Mr. Organa himself.”
“Really?” Luke said, shocked to hear it. He turned his gaze back to the redheaded housekeeper.
“Quite,” she said. “I know, Mr. Skywalker, that we hadn’t had a chance to speak ourselves in Hertfordshire, but surely with all the time you spent with the man you know this to be true,” she said with the utmost sincerity. “I have never heard a cross word from him myself, and I only speak the truth. Often people find him to be proud, but that’s because he rarely rattles off like many young men these days.”
“His father was quite an excellent man,” Kenobi provided, nodding along with her as he looked towards the late Mr. Antilles’ bust. “Very good upbringing.”
“Yes, he was,” Ms. Mothma said, “And I daresay that my master shall be just like him someday. The master holds his family in the highest regard, they’re very dear to him, the little he has left, and often spends time visiting with them. If only we saw him more often, he is often away.”
“If he married, he might be around more,” Kenobi mused, following the housekeeper through the doorways back into the front hall to ascend the stairs.
She sighed, “Yes, but the trouble is finding someone worthy of him. I was hoping that he would have met someone in Hertfordshire, but he spoke of no one in particular when I asked,” she said, continuing his praise as they ascended the great stairs. She only momentarily paused as she said, looking back down the staircase, her hand on the banister, “He did speak highly of you, Mr. Skywalker. You proved to be quite an amiable companion during his time there, and I was hoping that the master might invite you to stay with him for awhile, here.”
“Surely not,” Luke murmured, surprised at all the good things he heard of Mr. Antilles. Where were these good manners ages ago when Luke met him?
They were shown about the picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms that were open to general inspection, while Ms. Mothma continued exerting energy on praise of Mr. Antilles’ high character. They once again passed through the drawing-room, giving Luke another chance to look at Mr. Antilles’ miniature, which, like Han’s, was painted many years ago. This time, looking at it, Luke felt a kind of warmth from it he had not before, recognizing the small smile on his face as that of when Luke had seen Mr. Antilles looking at him.
In the front hall, Ms. Mothma handed them over to the gardener once they’d seen all of the house that was open to general inspection. As they were to follow the man out of the house, Kenobi abruptly turned around. Luke, following the man’s gaze, turned, seeing the owner of the house himself.
Not twenty feet from them, Mr. Antilles stood, and so abrupt was his appearance that Luke could not but meet his eye, color filling in both of their cheeks as they were at a loss for words. Mr. Antilles recovered from this embarrassment quite easily, though Luke was mortified at the impropriety at being there at all. Mr. Antilles quickly crossed the room to them, Luke blurting out, “I thought you were in London.”
“No-- no, I’m not,” Mr. Antilles said. “I had business with my steward, and I--” his thoughts seemed to fail him, his eyes never leaving Luke’s.
“I’m here in Derbyshire with my Uncle Ben,” Luke said, rushing to fill the silence.
Mr. Antilles eyes flicked up, “Are you-- are you having a pleasant trip?” he asked with perfect civility, his voice only dropping once. Mr. Antilles apparently unable to gather his thoughts, as Luke was similarly struggling to do. Luke felt miserable.
“Yes,” he said quickly. “We’re going to Matlock tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Mr. Antilles said, quite alarmed.
“Yes,” Luke said, “We’re staying in Lambton. At the Rose and Crown.”
“Yes.” The air was silent between them, and Luke had nearly forgotten Kenobi, if the man weren’t right beside him. “May I see you back to the village?” Mr. Antilles offered.
“No!” Luke was quick to assert, startling the man. “No, we’re not done inspecting the house.”
“I see,” he said, and then excused himself rather quickly. His character had changed much from the last time Luke had seen him, Luke’s eyes and thoughts following the man as he excused himself.
Kenobi said, eyeing Luke, “I would say you know the man quite well.”
When they returned to the inn that evening, Luke found that Mr. Antilles had invited them to spend the following day with him at Pemberley, and that Kenobi had accepted, on behalf of wanting to see the well-stocked lake. Luke couldn’t help but look forward to it, while dreading it all the same.
The day was fairly pleasant, spent fishing on the lake, with a much more extensive riding tour of the grounds. Mr. Antilles even smiled! At the close of the day, they took Mr. Antilles’ carriage back to the Rose and Crown for dinner, the three of them in a pleasant mood when they arrived. The place was crowded, so Kenobi walked ahead, and Luke stood by Mr. Antilles, their shoulders just a brush too close.
“A letter for you, sir,” a servant woman said, holding out a letter to Luke. Luke took it, confused.
He looked to his companions, “It’s from my uncle,” he said, tearing open the letter as soon as the three of them were in the privacy of their rooms. He devoured the words quickly, and then was immediately unable to speak, all the color draining from his face.
Mr. Antilles looked startled, clutching Luke’s shoulders and urging him to sit down. “What’s wrong? Is everyone alright? Is it Miss Organa?” He looked worried, fretting over Luke even as Luke consented to be seated by the man. He hovered over him, anxiously waiting for the man to speak.
Luke shook his head, “No, it’s the farm!” The words came tumbling out as soon as he’d spoke, as if a dam had broken. “My uncle has sent word that the farm flooded!” Mr. Antilles’ eyes widened. For a city man, Luke knew that even Mr. Antilles would know what that meant “There have been heavy rains all summer, and now it’s in ruins! I must head back early to help my uncle with saving as much as the crop as possible--” Luke stood, shaking, Mr. Antilles and Kenobi immediately stepping aside for him. “I’m so sorry, Uncle Ben, I have to--” he felt dizzy, what were they going to do? His uncle had been urging him to be home on time to help him, and he’d just spent half the day with Mr. Antilles instead!
Mr. Antilles frowned, his face firm as he said, “Take my carriage.”
“What? I can’t--”
“I insist,” Mr. Antilles said, placing his hand firmly on Luke’s shoulder, looking Luke in the eye. His gaze was unwavering and firm. “After all your farm has done for me--” then, he looked to Kenobi. “Mr. Kenobi, surely you won’t mind me escorting your nephew back to Hertfordshire?”
Kenobi shook his head, he agreed. Kenobi would have done it himself, he assured him, but he had vital business in the Peak District later that week. Luke wanted to protest, but Mr. Antilles had settled it, and soon enough they were off towards Hertfordshire, Luke wondering how this had happened at all. In the quiet of the carriage, Luke said, much more quietly this time. “I haven’t been completely honest, Mr. Antilles,” Luke said, looking out the window. He couldn’t bear to look at his face, “My family is deeply in debt with the burden of raising Leia and myself, and without this harvest we’ll lose the farm.”
Mr. Antilles didn’t respond. Luke thought, then, that if any semblance of feelings towards Luke had remained with Mr. Antilles throughout this time, surely this had taken them from him.
The two men traveled with the quickest haste back to Longbourn farm, through the rain and the mud that grew thicker as they traveled back through Hertfordshire. As they approached, Luke looked impatiently out the window, settled only when Mr. Antilles placed a hand over his own and assured him that it would be alright. Luke looked from the hand to the man’s compassionate face, and was somehow reassured.
Even from the road, Luke could see the toll that flooding had taken on the farm. Once green, the fields were a muddy brown. When the carriage pulled to a stop, Luke threw open the door, running into the house and barely waiting for Mr. Antilles. “Uncle Owen! Aunt Beru!” he called through the house. His aunt greeted him at the back door. the hem of her skirt, though knotted to one side, was caked in mud.
“Luke!” Mrs. Lars said, startled to see him. Her lined, worried face gave him a reassuring smile. She braced his shoulders, “Goodness, are we glad to see you! It was good of Kenobi to bring you back so quickly, we weren’t expecting you for days! We might have misjudged his character.” Before Luke could correct her, she said, “The crops have flooded in most of the fields, we’ve been working day and night to save what we can.” She shook her head, “We’ve hardly any help, everyone has been working on saving their own. Leia is still visiting my sister, we don’t have to worry about her, but you need to go and help your uncle immediately.”
“Right,” Luke said, nodding. He hesitated, turning back to thank Mr. Antilles for all of the help, returning him to his family in such quick haste, the man himself stepped forward.
“I insist that I help,” Mr. Antilles said, looking Mrs. Lars directly in the eyes, his hands clasped in front of him. Luke looked at him in wonder and surprise.
“Mr. Antilles?” Mrs. Lars said, shocked to see him, “Whatever are you doing here?”
“Your nephew was visiting with me when the letter arrived, I returned him immediately. If it were not for me, he surely would have been here days ago in order to help you,” he said, bowing his head.
“We simply can’t--” she spluttered, “You’ll ruin your clothes!”
He shook his head, “I care not. This is more important than my clothing,” he insisted again, inserting that the family helped him search for properties in his time of need.
Finally they agreed, and Mr. Antilles stripped down to his shirt, and followed Luke out into the rain and muddy fields. His uncle and a few of his neighbors, the ones without farms, were already out in the rain and the mud, harvesting as many crops as possible. The rain beat down on them, relentlessly, for days. Mr. Antilles stayed through all of it, not hesitating even a little, doing all the dirty farm work that Luke and the others were doing even when some of their neighbors were forced to give up in order to save their own homes.
They slept little, and had little time for eating, but the man never complained, doing exactly what Luke or his uncle instructed. By the end of the third day, the raining had not stopped, but they’d managed to save all the crops they possibly could, storing them inside the barn and grain silos to dry. Luke’s uncle had already gone inside, leaving both Mr. Antilles and Luke inside the barn alone. They were both soaking wet, but despite that, Luke wasn’t cold. Mr. Antilles’ shirt was plastered to his chest, and Luke could see his chest hair through the thin white cotton. He averted his eyes.
Luke looked at the measly pile of crops, and said, “I’m so sorry for making you do so much work for so little reward.” They’d barely managed to save a third of the harvest, and everything was so early!
Mr. Antilles shook his head, “No, it’s alright.” He looked up at Luke, and there was a pained look on the man’s eye that Luke didn’t understand, but he so desperately wanted to. He desperately wanted to understand this man. Mr. Antilles opened his mouth, as though he wanted to say something, but then shut it, his lips pressed together. Finally, he excused himself, saying that he must head back to Pemberley, as he was surely needed there. Luke nearly asked him if he wanted to stay another night, but the words were stolen from his lips.
He walked the man out, and they passed the house. He turned in order to not see him leave. On the threshold, a barely-wet Leia stepped out, looking out past Luke. She must have just returned. She shielded her gaze, looking confused, “Was that Mr. Antilles? The pompous one? Why is he soaking wet?”
Luke shook his head, tiredly, “I don’t know.” He followed his sister back into the house.
His uncle had dried off and was sitting at the table, looking worriedly at his hands. “We’re going to lose the farm,” he said to no one in particular.
His wife put a hand on his shoulder, and said solemnly, “I know, dear.”
Leia dropped down beside him, “Whatever can I do?” she said, anguished, “Why couldn’t I have been a man so I would have been afforded use of my inheritance! I should have just married that pompous Mr. Antilles, surely he would have allowed me to loan my own family money!” she said miserably.
Luke was quick to say, “No you shouldn’t have!” His family all looked at him, rather confused. He felt his face flush. He didn’t understand his own outburst. “I mean… you shouldn’t have to, Leia. Surely we’ll find a way, Uncle Owen?”
His uncle shook his head, “Perhaps we’ll find someone who will allow us to continue to live on the farm as tenant farmers.” Luke hated the idea that his family wouldn’t own the farm they’d owned for generations, but he understood it. He hoped, at least, they’d allow them to live there.
Over the next few days, Mr. Lars sent word out to all of his associates in town that he was selling his farm, and he needed it sold as soon as possible, pricing it just as low as was possible to pay off their debts. Within a day there was an offer, surprising all of them with its generosity.
“I don’t understand!” Mrs. Lars said as her husband read the offer to the family.
Her husband shook his head, “I don’t either! This offer is far beyond fair, it’s quite ridiculous! An offer to buy only the land? For twice the asking price? Who ever heard of such an offer?”
“It must be false!” his wife said, but her husband shook his head.
“Greedo was quite adamant that it was genuine, on an agreement that the man who purchased the land remain anonymous!”
“Thank the heavens, we’re saved!” she said, hugging her niece, who was beaming.
Leia sat down beside Luke, who was grinning himself. “Thank the Lord I don’t have to marry that man!”
Luke looked off out the window, “Yes,” he said. Thank the Lord, indeed.
After that, things were looking better. The rain cleared up, and they were able to get back to preparing the fields for the next spring. Luke wrote to Mr. Antilles, thanking him profusely for his help, and telling him of the offer someone made to the farm. He received a curt reply, postmarked London, and then nothing after that. Luke pretended that it didn’t bother him.
Winter came and went. One spring morning, Mrs. Lars burst into the drawing-room, yelling, “Leia! There’s someone for you at the door!”
Leia put down her stitching, looking confused, but stood. Her aunt stepped aside, showing Han behind her. He was clutching his hat nervously in his hand, his red uniform looked nicely pressed. “Han!” Leia said, her eyes wide. Luke knew she hadn’t heard from him in months. Realizing her outburst, she calmed herself, “Oh, Han, it’s nice of you to stop by. How long are you in town?”
“Leia,” he stepped forward. His face looked apologetic, and Luke could see that Leia looked upset under the uncaring mask she wore. He stopped, and then turned to Mrs. Lars. “Mrs. Lars, Luke, may I have a word with L-- Miss Organa, alone? Please.”
Mrs. Lars gestured at Luke, and the man followed her out, shutting the door behind them. He turned to his aunt, “I thought you didn’t like Han.”
She hummed, shaking her head, “I’m in a particularly good mood after last fall. And your friend, Mr. Antilles, insisted that he had good intentions.”
“Mr. Antilles?” Luke said, slow in the uptake. “He was here?” he said, growing in excitement.
“Yes, but--” his aunt said, but he brushed past her, rushing to the window. Off in the distance, Luke saw the man retreating. Luke felt his heart sink.
Just a few moments later, the door burst open, Leia squealing in excitement. “We’re engaged, Aunt Beru!” she said, rushing to embrace her aunt. “Luke!” she said, and Luke rushed to her side, not having to fake his happiness for her at all. Han was beaming.
“Come here, you!” Luke said, pulling the man into the embrace.
Later that evening, Luke heard a slight knock on his door, and saw his sister’s head peek in with a light. “What is it, Leia?” Luke said, pulling himself up. Her face looked perplexed.
“Han gave me a letter.”
Luke frowned, “He didn’t dare leave again--”
“No! Nothing like that,” she said. She sat on the edge of his bed, placing the candle on the table. “It wasn’t from Han, it was from Ms. Mothma,” she told him, handing over the letter. “He told me he hadn’t read it, I didn’t read it until after he’d left. It’s about the farm. He bought it, Luke.”
“Mr. Antilles! Ms. Mothma wrote to tell me that he’d been the one to purchase it last fall, told me not to tell anyone at all, he didn’t want it known! But she wanted me to know so I didn’t have to worry about being thrown from my home again. She assured me that Mr. Antilles didn’t want to marry me, I don’t understand,” Leia said, falling back on the bed as Luke frantically read the letter. “Why would he do this?” Luke stared silently at the letter. “Luke?” she asked again. She looked at him, worriedly. “Do you know something that you haven’t been telling me?”
Finally, Luke spoke, quietly. “I was wrong.”
“What? Luke, please.”
“I was wrong about Mr. Antilles, before. He’s not pompous or an ass at all, Leia. He’s helped us so much-- he helped with the farm, he bought the farm! He brought Han back to you.”
“Luke,” Leia said quietly, it dawning on her.
“I was wrong, Leia. I’m in love with him, and I’ve messed it all up,” Luke said, placing his head in his hands, “The time for us has passed.”
“I don’t understand, Luke, what haven’t you told me?” Leia insisted, making him look at her.
“He proposed,” Luke said, making Leia gasp and cover her mouth. “At Rosings, last summer. I told him no, that he would be the last person I could ever marry! And look, now he’s done so much, and I’ve treated him so poorly, surely his feelings have changed.”
“Luke, who couldn’t help but love you?” she said gently.
“It doesn’t matter now, Leia,” he said, “we have the farm, and you are to be married, and it’s all I could have ever asked.”
“No, that’s not all you could have asked for!” Leia insisted, “Luke--”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Leia,” he said, turning over. “I’m going to go and thank him tomorrow, alright? Please, let it be.”
“Alright,” she said, tiptoeing from the room. “But you deserve everything, Luke.”
Early the next morning, Luke rode into town to the inn where he’d heard Mr. Antilles would be staying with Han until further notice. He’d wanted to catch Mr. Antilles before he’d left town, Han had given Leia no indication of when his companion would be leaving. The morning fog was rolling past when Luke dismounted Artoo, tying him to the post outside of the inn. On the inside, the innkeeper told him that Mr. Antilles was out in the gardens, he’d just gotten up.
Luke followed her instructions to the secluded gardens where he saw Mr. Antilles sitting on a stone bench, still wearing his nightclothes, his banyan robe over his untied white shirt. Luke felt very overdressed. Not wanting to intrude, Luke cleared his throat before calling out, “Mr. Antilles.”
The man stood abruptly, turning to Luke. He seemed startled at Luke’s appearance, fidgeting with his robes, apparently unsure what to do with his hands, finally clasping them behind his back. Luke saw the man’s lips part, “Mr. Skywalker,” he said, his voice rough. He bowed, but couldn’t hide his confusion.
Luke crossed over to him, nervously, his throat dry. “Mr. Antilles, I beg your forgiveness, I’ve gravely misjudged your character, sir. How can I ever thank you for what you’ve done for my family?”
Mr. Antilles looked pained, “Mr. Skywalker--”
“Just, Skywalker, please, or Luke--” Luke said, almost desperately.
“Luke,” Mr. Antilles said, almost at a lost for words. He looked at Luke in wonder, and Luke thought that his heart might burst if he did not finish what he came to say.
“I am so sorry about the way I treated you, before. Any man would be honored to call you his friend,” Luke bowed his head, “I know, surely, that you have forgotten the sentiments that you expressed to me last April, but I hope that you may forgive me and call me your friend, at the least.”
Luke looked up at the man in desperation, thinking that if he could only have this--
“I cannot call you my friend,” Mr. Antilles said, and Luke felt his heart drop.
“Oh,” he said, turning abruptly so that Mr. Antilles could not see the look on his face. “I understand.”
Mr. Antilles grabbed Luke’s hand, stopping him from leaving. Luke slowly looked from the man’s hand to his face. Mr. Antilles said, his face softening, and his voice quiet, “I cannot call you my friend because I desire to call you something infinitely more dear. You must know, surely, that I did everything for you.” Luke felt his breath escape him. “If your feelings have not changed since last April, except on the stance of our friendship, I shall be silenced forever. But your being here, before me, gives me hope that I had scarcely allowed myself before. I ask you, once again, to please consider my hand in marriage.”
“I--” Luke looked at the man, and then broke out into happy laughter, “I love you!”
Then Mr. Antilles smiled, genuinely, and then leaned forward to kiss him. “Please,” he said, pressing Luke’s hand to his chest, “call me Wedge, darling.”
“Yes, very well, Wedge, I agree to marry you!” Luke said, throwing his arms around the man.
“Mr. Lars,” Wedge asked Luke’s uncle, his hands clasped behind his back. Luke now knew that he did that to hide his nerves, as he wasn’t quite sure what to do with his hands, “I have come here today to ask permission for your nephew’s hand in marriage.”
Mr. Lars looked up from the dining table, confused, at Luke, “Whatever for?”
Luke hid his laughing face behind his hand, because of course his uncle hadn’t a clue. “Because I love him, Uncle.”
“We’ve satisfied all the requirements,” Wedge said. Leia would be their heir, and Wedge’s fortune would go to her and Han’s children. Wedge’s annual income was far above required, and Wedge would pay the extra fee for the special license. “All we need is your permission to marry, sir.”
Mr. Lars looked perplexed between them, but shrugged his shoulders, and with a sigh, said, “Very well. What must I do?”
Leia lay beside Luke, for the very last time, having crawled into bed beside him. “Is it possible to die from happiness?”
“I hope not,” Luke said, holding his sister’s hand.
“I can’t believe that in the morning we’ll be Mrs. Solo and Mr. Antilles-Skywalker!” she said, “Who would have ever thought?”
Luke smiled, and said, “Surely not I.” Then, he leaned over her to blow out the light.