Chapter 1: My destiny calls and I go
The road to the City of Stars was lined with the wounded, the hungry, the poor, and Rey clutched her staff a little tighter.
The queensroad was dangerous—everyone knew it these days, but it was one thing to hear the whispers of it and quite another thing to see the ragged looking men and women who looked at her—and, more importantly, her staff—with tired, wary eyes.
“We have to help them,” she said to Finn, who walked at her side.
“Let’s get to the City of Stars first,” he replied. “We…we can help there.”
“But there are so many,” she said.
“Too many for us to truly be of use. You can’t save everyone, Rey. You need to save yourself, first.”
Rey bit her lip. Finn was right, but that didn’t make it easier. She could not avoid looking at the men and women that she passed, and, worse, the gazes of the children who stared at her hungrily. I know what it is to starve, too, she wanted to tell them as she heard one child sobbing to her mother that she was hungry and that her feet hurt. It made her feel powerless; it made her feel worthless.
Before Finn could stop her, Rey left the road and knelt down before the child and pressed an apple from her pack into the child’s palm. “Here,” she said quietly. “It’s not much, but it’s something.”
She turned away before the child’s mother could thank her. At least the little girl had a mother. Rey had never had anyone until Finn.
She had known Finn for three weeks. Three weeks since the Black Knight and his horde had descended on Jakku and put the place to the torch. She and Finn had fled the fires afoot, and part of Rey wished she had never left. What if they come back, hearing of what happened? She had thought the first night that she and Finn had lain under the moon. But if her parents had heard of the destruction in Jakku, like as not they would assume their daughter dead.
As if they might not have assumed that already.
Rey had never traveled so far from Jakku in all of her nineteen years. But it hadn’t taken long until moving with Finn had felt as natural as breathing. Even the small white and orange dog that had attached himself to them after a day felt as though he had been part of her soul for as long as she’d lived.
The dog had proven far more useful than they’d thought when first they had found him hiding by the roadside, for he was a fierce little thing and had bitten and barked strangers away from them. Rey called him Dog. Finn called him Monster. But he was a sweet enough thing when he curled up next to her in her bedroll, tail wagging happily at the warmth. Three weeks with him and Finn had felt more full than any other part of Rey’s empty life.
They reached an inn as the sun was falling and Finn pulled out his purse, weighing it in his hand. “We haven’t got enough coin for a room,” he said. “Not this close to the City of Stars, at least.”
“Dinner?” Rey asked.
“Possibly. I could offer to sweep the floors in exchange for food, worse comes to—”
But he stopped short at the sound of hooves and a moment later he was tugging Rey out of the road. A red-haired man in very fine brocade, accompanied by five mounted warriors rode up to the inn. He dismounted, his dark cloak swirling in the air as he did so and tossed the reins to Rey.
“Have her properly brushed,” the man said, his face pinched and his tone tight. “And make sure you don’t give her rotten feed.” Without another word he strode into the inn.
The warriors were dismounting as well, giving Rey the sort of gaze that told her she should have already run off to do as their lord had bid.
He had to be a lord. No one else wore clothes so fine. Rey certainly never had.
“Arkanis,” Finn hissed to her as he gathered some of the reins. “Lord Armitage Hux.” He must have recognized Hux’s livery.
“Arkanis is far,” Rey said, frowning as she led the horses to the stable out back. She didn’t know much of the map of the kingdom, but Arkanis was as far to the east as Jakku was to the south.
“He must have had business with the queen,” Finn shrugged.
“Then why is he coming from—” but she stopped short at the look Finn was giving her. Don’t ask that aloud, he seemed to say, and she fell silent.
“I’ll tell you later,” he said. “Come on. I think this is our meal ticket.” If they helped with the horses, the stable hands might even let them stay in the stables. It wasn’t a room in the inn, but it was a roof overhead.
The stable hands were more than content to let Finn and Rey help them brush the horses down and get them fed and clear their stalls. As Rey poured grain into a trough, she frowned.
Food for Lord Hux’s horses, but not for the starving on the road.
It broke her heart. The horses were fine creatures, but Rey’s stomach lurched, knowing what any of the people they had passed would do to get some of this feed into their bellies.
“How are there so many starving so close to the capital?” she asked Finn when she settled down in an empty stable with him for the night. The stable hands had assumed they were married and had made no effort to separate them for the sake of modesty. Rey was glad of that. She’d never had a friend before Finn, and his presence was comforting, especially when her heart was breaking.
“The Black Knight,” Finn said. “Or so I can guess.”
“But he was just in Jakku,” Rey protested. His men had burned Jakku, had destroyed the entire village.
“He’s on horseback,” Finn replied. “Besides…he might not have been there. His horde grows. I’m sure he has men that he can send in his name.”
“Why?” Rey could not understand. Were the people of this land such cowards and traitors, that they would serve such a villain when the queen had helped bring down the Empire? Had they not had enough of tyranny?
Finn didn’t say anything right away. The longer he sat in silence, the more that Rey grew curious. He did this sometimes, she’d marked over the three weeks she’d known him. He served the queen, but sometimes she could see in his gaze that he let on less than he knew. “They say,” Finn said carefully at last, “that the Lord of Arkanis supports the Black Knight’s actions. That he—” he cut himself off, and stood. The stable hands had gone, and he crouched down low again, “that he longs for the way things were under the Empire, and provides what gold the horde doesn’t steal. Arkanis thrived under the Empire, but has known no love from our queen. Lord Hux hates her.”
Rey swallowed. She didn’t know what to say to that that Finn wouldn’t already know. The very notion of it made her skin crawl.
“They’re monsters,” she burst out angrily. She could still smell the blood and smoke from Jakku. A villain who led the charge and a villain who funded the violence. She hated them both.
“They are,” Finn agreed. “The Black Knight drinks the blood of dragons, and that’s what makes him so powerful.”
“Then he is quite as much a monster as the dragon,” Rey said heatedly. “And Lord Hux…” she thought of the man with the pinched face, how easily he had thrown his reins to her. “He’s vile.”
They fell silent after that, and Dog came over and pressed his nose into Rey’s armpit, nuzzling at her for warmth. She wrapped her arms around him.
Cruel men, she thought. Powerful, she thought of Lord Hux’s finery, wealthy, she thought of death in the air in Jakku, cruel men.
The queen overthrew the Empire. She’ll put a stop to them too.
It was midday when they reached the top of the hill and Rey gasped.
Beneath them was a valley that stretched deep and wide, filled with farms and rivers—green and blue and beautiful. The farms stretched all the way to the far side of the valley, where a city sprang up on the side of a hill—the top of which was crested by a great castle, that looked almost like a star it shone so brightly.
“That’s it?” she asked Finn, breathless.
“That’s it,” Finn replied.
The road didn’t seem quite so dark now that they were nearly at the City.
She and Finn began to move more quickly, the end of their journey in sight, the dog bounding happily at their side.
“When we get to the castle,” Rey began, and Finn continued the thought. She liked that about Finn. They seemed to share a mind.
“We find a way to reach the queen with the news of Jakku.”
“Surely there’s a reason the Black Knight’s men attacked the town.”
“Surely,” Finn agreed, and he smiled at her.
Warmth spread through her. She had never had anyone smile at her with that look of familiarity in their eyes. How long had she dreamed of her family returning to her, but it was Finn who made her feel like she had a family for the first time in her life. She had not know what lay ahead of her after she reached the City of Stars, but she knew that so long as Finn was at her side, everything would be all right. She mattered to someone—and that in turn mattered to her.
Today is the dawn of my day, Rey thought. What came before…
Misery. Heartbreak. Loneliness… That had no place in her future.
A cloud crossed over the sun, and she felt the earth shaking.
Finn grabbed her hand and the world seemed to move at half-pace as she turned and heard screams.
Black banners with blood red dragons lined the hills and it was far, far worse than Jakku. In Jakku, there had been only five of them. There were more than five now.
“Run!” Finn yelled, tugging at her hand. “Hurry! To the city! That’s him?”
She didn’t have to ask which him Finn was referring to. The Black Knight’s helmet was distinct and stood out from the rest of the black-armored warriors at his side, even from a distance, lined with silver and oddly flat compared to the rest of the helms of his men.
He raised a fist in the air and suddenly fire seemed to emerge from his hand and Rey gasped. He was carrying the blade of a knight, a lightsaber with a bleeding red crossguard. The queen had knighted him? It seemed almost impossible to believe, but how else would he have gotten such a blade. She had thought that everyone calling him the Black Knight was because he was a strong warrior, but he seemed to truly be a knight of the realm.
“Men!” she heard a bellow behind her and saw two men on horseback on the road. A strange thing to shout, Rey thought, as there were only two of them. One wore thick brown leather armor and carried a crossbow. The other wore silver and on his shield was painted a silver falcon. The king consort, Rey thought excitedly. He would save the city, surely. He was a legendary hero, had helped bring down the Empire at his wife’s side.
That must be why he was out with only one guardsman at his side. Surely she was about to witness a feat of heroism the likes of which she’d only heard in the songs of the traveling minstrels who had passed through Jakku once in a blue moon.
The Black Knight cocked his head, as if wondering the same thing. He withdrew the fiery blades of his lightsaber and signaled to his men to wait as he kicked his horse across the field, down the hill towards the king consort. The king consort dismounted from his own horse, said something quietly to the guardsman at his side. He walked towards the knight.
“Come on,” Finn hissed, but Rey found that her feet did not wish to move. She was transfixed, staring. Why was he dismounting? The Black Knight would ride him down. Everyone knew that the Black Knight had no honor, that he had slaughtered nearly all of the queen’s finest knights, so ferocious was his bloodlust.
When he was about ten feet from the king consort, he halted his horse and dismounted. When he approached, the king consort spoke and slowly, the knight took of his helm. They were too far in the distance for Rey to see his face, but she did see a shock of dark hair—black as his enamel armor—as he let the helmet fall to the dirt.
A chill went down Rey’s spine as she saw the Black Knight extend his lightsaber between him and the king. The king consort held out a hand as if to accept the sword, to accept the Black Knight’s defeat.
Then it ignited.
“No!” Rey heard the cry rip from her own throat. She watched as the king consort reached up a hand to touch the face of the knight who had just slain him. Then the blade retracted, the king consort fell, and the Black Knight bent to pick up his helmet.
The guardsman on his horse let out an angry bellow and fired his crossbow at the knight, hitting him in the side, the bolt lodging firmly through the metal of his black armor. The Black Knight doubled over in pain just long enough for the guard to load another bolt into his crossbow, but this time, his shot missed the knight. He donned his helm again, mounted his horse and rode back to the line of warriors on the hilltop.
When he reached the hilltop, he reared his horse, surveying the green below and the corpse of the king consort. Then he kicked his horse and led his warriors away.
Rey was running now, running towards the fallen corpse of the king consort and she could hear Finn calling behind her. The guardsman was ahead of her, and already dismounting.
She fell to her knees at the king consort’s side, looking desperately at his guard.
“He’s still breathing!” she told the guardsman, desperately. “We have to move him, maybe someone can help, someone strong with the Force.”
The king consort made a strange noise and it took Rey a moment to realize that he was laughing. “Save your effort, kid,” he told her. His eyes were unfocused. “I’ll be dead by the time someone that strong comes along.”
There were tears in Rey’s eyes as she looked down at him. She did not know him—and he did not know her, but no one deserved to be slain like this, in such cold blood with such dishonor. Knights are only supposed to wield their lightsabers against other knights. No one else can withstand the weapon.
“Leia…” The king consort’s final word was a death rattle, and he did not breathe again. Rey looked at the guardsman, who had tears in his own eyes that were dribbling down into his thick brown and grey beard.
Rey watched the guard cry and then said, quietly, “Can I help in any way?”
The guard rubbed his face. “There’s nothing you can do, child,” he said thickly. Then he stood, heaving the king consort’s corpse into his arms and cradling him there. The king consort seemed so small in death, especially in the arms of the big man who had ridden at his side. He placed the king consort on the back of his silver steed and, afoot, led both horses back to the road where Finn was standing.
“You were his friend?” Rey asked quietly. “The king’s?”
“Kings don’t have friends,” the man replied. “But I suppose if he were to have had one, I might have been counted one of his dearest.”
“Your grief for him,” Rey began but behind them they heard screams and she whipped around.
“Cur!” the guard shrieked, loading his crossbow again. “He comes for more blood!”
He made to mount his horse, but Rey grabbed the reins of his horse before he could kick the creature down the road. “To the castle,” she pleaded. “The queen must know what happened—she’ll send more men to protect—”
The guardsman growled. “There’s no time.”
“Then ride swift,” she pleaded. “Before he cuts them all down.”
“Them?” the guardsman asked, his brown eyes burning into Rey. “Not you?”
Rey swung her staff. “Not if I can help it. And not all of them, if I can help it.”
The guardsman’s face contorted in a wide array of emotions—his grief was still evident, as was his fury, but there was pride there now too. “When you make it to the City,” he told her, “Ascend straight to the Star and tell them you’ve come to see Chewbacca. They’ll direct you to me.”
And he kicked his horse into a gallop, leading the king consort’s silver steed by the reins.
“Rey,” Finn began, but Rey gave him a sharp look, and he fell silent. He sighed, and drew an arrow from his quiver and knocked it to his longbow. “I’ve got your back. Always.”
The people they had passed were streaming down the road now, sprinting as fast as they could.
Rey had always been strong. Jakku was not the sort of place that tolerated weakness, dry and sparse as it was. What few people lived there would mostly be classified as scum, ruffians, vagabonds, or thugs. And in order to survive, Rey had had to teach herself to survive.
Her staff was made of strong iron, heavy and dark, and the first of the Black Knight’s men who approached her thinking that she would not know how to wield it was knocked unconscious before he’d even fully prepared his sword. Rey moved like water, like wind, flowing in and through the oncoming fighters. None of them could hit her, it seemed, and it was not long before two of them engaged her at the same time, thinking to overpower her.
But this, too, Rey was prepared for. She knew how to duck and weave between two men who thought they could overpower one little girl without too much trouble, and she knocked the teeth out of one of the attackers, foolish enough to have shed his helm, even as an arrow sprouted in the throat of the other. Behind her, she heard Finn let out a whoop from behind her and her heart soared, knowing he had his longbow in hand.
People kept running past her, and Rey let out a yell when she charged at the next of the fighters. Her staff was long enough that she could strike long before his sword was within reach of her unprotected gut, and she drove her staff this time into his windpipe, breaking it. He sank to his knees, clutching his throat, let out a strangled noise, and died.
Good, Rey thought, thinking of the treacherous knight he served. Die.
She saw the Black Knight on his horse in the distance. As if he had heard her thought, he turned his horse towards her. The crossbow bolt had been drawn from his armor, but as he kicked his horse towards her, she saw black blood dripping down his leg and onto the ground.
The Black Knight drinks the blood of dragons, and that’s what makes him so powerful, Finn had said.
As he passed one of his fallen men he bent and picked up a sword. So now he would not use his knight’s blade, Rey thought savagely. He was nearly within range of her staff when she shouted at him, “You’re going to pay for what you did.”
“And who’s going to make me?” he asked, his voice deep and rumbling through the dark steel of his helm. “You?”
Rey swirled her staff.
“Don’t be foolish,” the Black Knight said to her. “I could kill you with a breath.”
“The way you killed the king?”
She only realized that Finn had fired at him after he lazily swung the sword in his hand, deflecting the arrow that Finn had shot.
“Traitor!” he bellowed at Finn, leveling the sword in Finn’s direction, as though designating him for death.
“Who are you calling traitor?” Finn shouted right back.
The Black Knight raised his free hand and made a gesture as if punching and behind her she heard Finn yell. “Finn!” Rey screamed. He had been thrown back and fear crept up Rey’s skin as though a thousand ants were crawling across her body. The Black Knight was strong with the Force. She made to run, but she couldn’t move.
She couldn’t move at all.
Perhaps it wasn’t fear that had crawled across her skin. Behind her, she heard the sound of a man in armor dismounting and her heart leapt to her throat.
He rounded her, and she was face to face with that horrible helmet, black and silver and flat. He looked like a demon. “So,” he said. “You intend to make me pay for the death of Han Solo, is that it, girl?”
He raised a hand and she felt a pressure on her skull. He’s not even going to let me fight. She would weep if her eyes could produce tears. But everything about her was frozen. Everything except her mind, which was all abuzz. Memories were flooding out of her—the first time she had beaten a man with her staff, hungry nights when she’d been unable to find food, the battered shack she had called a home for so long, huddling under her blankets on cold night, hoping that her parents would come back for her. No, she heard her child voice scream, Come back! Quiet girl. She wanted nothing more than to sleep, because when she was asleep she wasn’t lonely. Lonely—she wasn’t lonely anymore she had Finn now, the first person who’d ever taken her hand and brought her with him ever since her parents, her parents, her parents
“Disappointing parents?” the Black Knight asked her. He sounded bemused. “I can relate.”
Get out of my head.
Rage flared in her, hot and blue and flaming like no rage she’d ever felt in her life. It was as though there was a fire burning inside her, powering her, strengthening the steel that she’d had in her backbone for all of her life, hard forged by abandonment. She did not know how to use a sword, but the only way she could think of describing the action was like a slice with a sharp-edged blade as she cut through the memories and found herself—
She was in a castle, looking out over great green fields. His mother did not have time for him again today, and his father was gone, and his uncle…his uncle told him he needed to control himself. She heard the whispers. The Force had always been strong with him, but it was not being used to its fullest potential, the whispers told him. She was frightened to ask about the whispers. They had been there his whole life. Did that make him mad? She just wanted to be as good as she could be, to do what was right—but everything was turning to ashes and what truths were truths and what were lies? She was lying in bed—it was night now, and she saw an illuminated saber through groggy eyes and in a flash he understood—
She could move again. The Black Knight was reeling and Rey raised her staff.
“You’re strong with the Force.” His voice was different now, less deep, more frightened. “Untrained, but strong. I can teach you.”
She yelled and swung at him with the staff. He raised the steel in his hand and with a clang they began to dance.
Even though he was wounded, he was quick, swinging the sword in his hand at her with swift, punishing blows. Rey had fought men with swords before—she usually didn’t let them get close enough to her because of the sheer length of her staff, but he had gotten too close to begin with when he’d frozen her for her to be able to manage that. She blocked his thrusts, retreated, tried to get distance, but he was too quick for her.
“You need a teacher,” he told her again as she dodged yet another swing of his sword. “Think about it. What do you think they’ll give you?”
“More than you will,” she retorted, thrusting her staff under his arm and jerking. He didn’t lose his sword, but he did stumble and Rey shoved the butt of her staff into his chest. “More than you could.”
“You don’t understand the power you hold,” he said and suddenly he was bearing down on her, sword locked against her staff, pushing his weight against her. Armored and tall as he is, his weight is considerable.
You’re strong with the Force.
“The Force,” she whispered, and she felt that flame burning inside her, a blue so hot it was blinding. Had it been awakened in her, awakened by what he had just done to her? Or had it been in her all this time, keeping her warm for years without her knowledge until it had burned hotter than ever before. How bright it was. How raging.
And her arms were stronger than his as she threw his sword from her staff. He stumbled and she kicked him—hard—in the chest and he fell to the ground. She stood there over him, preparing to drive the staff against his skull, to bash that helmet in and crush his head.
And who’s going to make me? You?
It was too much of a pause.
He kicked out at her and now it was her on the ground, her head hitting the hard dirt underneath her back, and this time he was…he wasn’t attacking her. He was returning to his horse and climbing up onto it.
“Something tells me we’ll meet again,” she heard him say, his voice deep again. Her head was ringing as though the ground was trembling…because it was. As she clambered to her hands and knees, she saw hundreds of armed warriors riding from the City, a man in an orange cloak at the helm. Rey pulled herself to her feet and…Finn was lying in the middle of the road.
She ran for him, reaching him at the same time that the horses were arriving. The horsemen split around the two of them, riding quickly and in swift pursuit of the Black Knight.
“Finn,” Rey gasped, shaking him. There were tears on her face, in her voice. “Finn, please.”
But he did not move. He was breathing at least, but how hard had he fallen when the Black Knight had thrown him?
The dog appeared. She did not know where it had gotten to and began to lick Finn’s face.
It was a long while before Rey was able to move Finn. He was too heavy to carry and what strength she’d found during the fight with the Black Knight evaded her. She could not lift him. You need a teacher.
But a family with a cart passed and took pity on her, letting her load Finn onto the back of it among the turnips. Rey limped alongside the cart, feeling numb and exhausted and wretched.
She had not known the king, had only ever heard tales of him. But it had been horrific to watch him die.
Once she’d fancied herself the secret, long lost daughter of the king and queen, hidden away for her own protection. But that was a lie she’d told herself to make the fact that she didn’t know where her parents were a little easier to bear. Disappointing parents?
Her fist tightened on her staff. She hated him. He was a monster.
A monster, but not so powerful as he pretended. He hadn’t defeated her, after all. She’d survived, somehow. You’re strong with the Force.
They reached the city gates and followed the crowd to a large square that was full of people. “This is the closest he’s ever come to attacking the Stars,” Rey heard one man whisper to a friend.
“He killed he king.”
“The poor queen. She lost her son as well.”
Rey helped the family unload Finn from the turnips and settled him by a colonnade. The moment he was on the ground, the dog began licking his face again. “Please Finn,” Rey whispered. “Please.”
She closed her eyes. She’d heard whispers that some people who knew how to wield the Force could heal with it. She tried to find that fire, to see if she could figure it out. You need a teacher. But she couldn’t. She blinked furiously, trying to get the sting out of her eyes.
She sat with Finn for a long while, holding his hand Will you let go of my hand! and trying not to think about what might be happening to him. His breathing was consistent, at least. The only thing she could think to do was wait.
After a time, as the afternoon shadows were growing long in the square, she heard a call through the crowd. “I saw someone like that, yeah. Girl with a dog. Over there.”
She looked up and saw a set of guards approaching her. At their head was Chewbacca.
“You fought him?” Chewbacca asked incredulously by way of greeting.
Rey, unable to form words, nodded.
He gave her a long, steady look. “Come with me,” he said, holding out a hand. “It’s all right. You’ll be all right.”
“My friend,” she said, and Chewbacca’s eyes went to Finn.
“We’ll have him brought to the Star and tended to.”
Tended to. That alone was enough to make Rey get to her feet. She hadn’t realized how stiff her muscles were until she stood, leaning on her long, iron staff. At her side, the dog yipped.
“Make way,” Chewbacca called through the crowd as several of his men came to lift Finn into the air. “By order of the queen.”
Chapter 2: To bear with unbearable sorrow
The Star shone.
Rey had heard tell of how brightly it shone, but had hardly dared believe it. A castle made of starlight was how the songs described it, made from the shards of fallen stars. She’d always assumed that they made it sound pretty to appeal to the imagination, but there was a lightness to it as the sun set that took her breath away.
Chewbacca led her through the main gates of the castle and the bustle in the courtyard seemed to go still. Rey felt everyone’s eyes on her. She was suddenly aware of how dirty she must look in her shabby clothing—made all the shabbier by her own sweat and weeks on the road with Finn. She must smell like a pigpen, and if she was to be brought before the queen… Was that where he was taking her? He had commanded that people make way with the queen’s authority, but that didn’t necessarily mean that he would take her straight to Leia Organa. She gulped and glanced over her shoulder, wishing that Finn were awake, were walking at her side.
The men carrying him were bringing him in through a side door. “He’ll be treated well,” Chewbacca told her before leading her into the main keep. Yes—he was definitely taking her before the queen. Rey squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. She would make it through this.
The throne room was large, with a high vaulted ceiling and as Rey followed the arching columns up, her breath caught in her throat. The windows were made of colored glass, and as the sun set in the west, they cast long multicolored patches of light across the glowing stone of the castle. So distracted was she by the beauty of it all that she almost didn’t notice the woman seated at the back of the hall, . She sat in one throne, while another stood horribly empty to her right.
“Your grace,” Chewbacca paused. “I give you…” he paused. “Forgive me. I am not myself. I did not ask your name.”
“Rey,” she supplied, the name catching in her throat.
“What was that?” the queen asked, not unkindly.
“Rey, your grace,” she said a little more loudly. Her voice sounded so frail in the huge hall.
If the queen was expecting a noble name, or a name at all, she was about to be sorely disappointed. “Jakku.”
There was a murmur in the hall, but the queen raised her hand and the murmurs ceased at once. “Come closer, Rey of Jakku.” Her expression was still kind, and that made Rey feel a little more confident. The queen seemed wholly unconcerned with her parentage. She took a step closer, then another one at the queen’s urging until she was right at the base of the dais on which the queen’s throne was settled.
“Chewbacca tells me you saw our king fall, is that correct?”
Rey nods. “The Black Knight killed him,” she said.
The queen closed her eyes, and Rey saw her face go forcibly still. What misery she felt at the news, what pain—all of this was to be hidden. She cannot show her grief, Rey thought. Rey understood that too well. She wished she could do something to comfort the older woman sitting before her, but she did not know what to say.
“And Commander Dameron said that you fought Kylo Ren, known to the world as the Black Knight.”
Rey did not know who Commander Dameron was, but she also thought it best not to lie. “I did,” she said. “When Chewbacca rode to bring the king’s body back to the Star, I stayed behind to try and protect those who the Black Knight’s men were assailing on the road. We… He…” She didn’t know how to say it without making it sound like she’d done something more heroic than fight a wounded madman. “We fought. He fled when your men rode forth.”
“Your grace,” came a voice and Rey turned. The man speaking was the one she’d seen at the head of the column of riders—the man in the orange cloak. “She fought him in single combat with a staff and was well matched. More than a match, I might hazard.”
Rey shook her head forcefully. That was wrong. “He was wounded,” she said. “And when I had him in my grasp I…I…I was weak. Distracted, and he was able to get away.” Shame filled her and she couldn’t look at the queen. She hadn’t been able to avenge her husband’s death.
“Mercy is not weakness, child.” The queen’s voice was quiet. “It was mercy you were weighing in the name of vengeance. That is never weakness. It shows the strength of your heart—as though your deeds today did not do this already.” Rey swallowed and looked up. Had that been it? Mercy that had stayed her hand? The queen’s eyes were a deep brown and they weren’t warm, but Rey did not think that was for lack of kindness so much as the fact that her husband had been slain that morning.
The queen sat back in her seat, taking Rey in. “You have shown valiance today, Rey of Jakku. More valiance than half of my guardsmen show—and I have valiant guardsmen. You protected those in need, you served your queen loyally, you sought to bring a…a traitor to justice—why did you do it?” The queen’s eyes seemed to drink all of Rey in in that moment. “You do not have a warrior’s training, or else you’d be in someone’s service and standing with better weapons than a staff. Did you expect a reward?”
“It was the right thing to do,” Rey protested hotly. Surely the queen would understand that. She had brought down the Empire. That had been the right thing to do.
“And what brings you to the City of Stars?” The queen’s voice is gentler now, as though something in Rey’s answer had soothed her somehow.
Rey swallowed. “I…I came with a friend,” she said slowly. “He…he had information he was hoping to bring to your ear, if we could find a way.”
“And where is this friend?” the queen asked, looking around.
“The Black Knight…he hurt him,” Rey said quietly. “He threw him to the ground with—he is strong in the Force—the Black Knight, I mean,” she said, unsure if the queen knew, but knowing she had to tell her. “Finn was behind me with his bow, and the Black Knight threw him through the air with just his hand.”
The queen nodded. “Yes,” she said softly. “Yes, he is strong with the Force. He always has been.” Her voice was clipped, as though she did not like to speak of it. She knighted him, Rey remembered suddenly. He had a knight’s lightsaber, which could only be given by the sovereign’s hand. “Is your friend all right?”
“We brought him to Maz Kanata, your grace,” Chewbacca said behind Rey.
The queen nodded. “Good. She will see him tended to to the best of her abilities, and her abilities are vast.” She gave Rey a smile—another smile that did not reach her eyes. Once again, Rey found her heart breaking in her chest. She remembered how the king consort had dismounted, how he had gone to face the Black Knight.
“He took his helmet off,” she said softly.
“What was that?” The queen’s voice was sharper than it had been before.
“The Black Knight. Before he killed the king. He took off his helm.”
The queen closed her eyes again, and Rey immediately regretted saying it. She undoubtedly did not wish to think about the exact details of her husband’s death, of the look in the villain’s eyes as he had ignited his lightsaber through the torso of the man who had sat beside her in the empty throne.
“Forgive me,” Rey said quietly. She felt suddenly small, and looked down at her hands. They were dirty and bloodied from the day’s work. The queen’s hands were fine, and soft. Those were the hands of a lady, of a ruler. Rey’s were the hands of a scavenger, who thought she could bring down the most fearsome warrior in the land with a staff made of iron.
“There is nothing to forgive,” the queen replied at last, opening her eyes again. “And what brought you here to my city, before all this occurred?”
“It was to tell you—” Rey stopped short. None of it seemed to matter anymore, the attack on Jakku and the Black Knight's growing strength. The queen would know that already. “My friend. He had information for you. For that, at least, was still the truth.”
“I take it, then, that you have no purpose in town beyond what information your friend would give me?” Rey shook her head. “Do you have family in Jakku to return to?”
Rey’s heart twisted and she shook her head with a jerk. “No one,” she said, hating the sound of her voice swallowed in her own throat like that. “He—the Black Knight. He had his men destroy the village.”
She chanced a glance up at the queen, who did not look surprised. “We had the news just yesterday,” the queen said. “I am so sorry, Rey. For all that you have lost, for all that you have had to fight for. I am so sorry. But perhaps I can repay what I owe you, for it was under my rule that these terrible things happened. I would see you trained, Rey.” Rey felt herself inhale sharply. You need a teacher. The queen thought so too, apparently. “You have shown valor and heart the likes of which cannot be taught. And if my brother sees you fit as a warrior, I would see you knighted for your deeds today.”
Rey’s eyes bugged out of her head. Knighted?
“Your grace,” she began, but she did not know where to start. She was a scavenger, a peasant, a foolish girl, a nobody, worthless such that her own parents had abandoned her. But once again the queen raised a hand and this time she stood. Standing she was quite short—shorter than Rey. But her presence was grand in her black mourning gown as she descended from the dais and swept through the hall. The sun had set. The multicolored lights from the stained glass had faded into blackness as night swept the sky.
“There are few knights left in this realm,” Leia Organa said softly. “The Black Knight has either stolen them or slain them. You withstood him today. You will continue to withstand him. I know this. Put down your staff and take up a blade and serve at my side.”
And suddenly, Rey was aware that she was still standing, that she had not bowed, or curtseyed or whatever it was she was supposed to be doing. She sank to her knees before the queen, and the queen extended her hand. Rey kissed the heavy green and blue ring on her finger. “I will,” she said. When she looked up into the queen’s eyes, there was pride and relief mixed in with the overwhelming sadness.
“Commander Dameron,” she said, and the man who had worn the cloak of orange as he’d led the column of riders out of the city’s gates stepped forward. “Find her a room, and see that she is fitted with appropriate clothing. Chewie,” she turned to Chewbacca. “Find my brother, and have him join me in my solar.”
Both men bowed, and Chewbacca turned and left alongside the queen. The other man—younger, beardless with soft dark hair came to her, Dog at his heels, and extended a hand to Rey. She took it and he helped her back to her feet.
The room that Commander Dameron brought her to was bigger than the shack that Rey had lived in for years, and there was a steaming bath in it. “Please,” she said, turning to him before he left. “My friend. Finn…”
“I’ll check in on him,” Dameron replied easily. He had a breeziness to his tone that made Rey feel at ease. “When you’ve bathed and dressed, I’ll be back and will let you know what I’ve learned. I’ll leave Beebee with you for company.”
“I thought he’d run away. How he ended up on the road with you is anyone’s guess. Luck, perhaps, or fate.” Commander Dameron bent down and rubbed Dog’s—Beebee’s—ears. “I thank you for bringing him safely back to me.”
Beebee wagged his tail happily and Rey bit her lip. She’d liked having the dog around, but if he belonged to someone else, she could not in good faith keep him.
“He’s a good dog,” was all she could think to say.
“He is,” Commander Dameron agreed, and disappeared.
The water was hot and it turned practically muddy from all the caked dirt that had accumulated on her skin. She’d never seen her skin look so pink before, had never come close to being this clean and that was before she’d even touched the bar of soap that was sitting on a little wooden table by the tub. She settled into the heat of the water, rubbing her muscles and letting the heat relax them. She felt an odd sting in her left side, but when she rubbed it, trying to ease it, it did not go away. Strange, she thought. She’d never had a pain like that before.
She scrubbed every inch of her skin, and washed her hair as best she could in the muddied water, and then climbed from the bath, and dressed in the soft linen tunic and trousers that had been left for her. They were both silver in color, the fabric was so fine that Rey almost took it back off, for surely it wasn’t meant for her.
But it was.
She could barely bring herself to look at the bed in the corner, with its thick woolen blankets and plush looking pillows. It looked almost too soft to sleep on, and Rey’s throat grew tight as she ran a hand over the blankets.
Everything was so fine.
And the queen wished for her to be a knight.
It was almost too much to be real. Surely she was dreaming.
There was a faint knock on the door and Rey went and opened it and immediately sagged with relief. “Finn!” She threw her arms around him and his arms were around her as well and she closed her eyes, relishing the swell of her heart. Everything would be all right, she was sure of it—now that Finn was all right. Behind him, Commander Dameron averted his gaze, and Rey realized suddenly that she must be wary. They’d gotten no looks on the road as they’d traveled together, and everyone had assumed that she and Finn were married to one another, but she had very much introduced him to the court as a friend and not a husband. She did not wish for there to be falsehoods whispered about them.
Commander Dameron led them through the hallways again, Beebee trotting happily at his side, this time to a hall full of tables, mead, and food. It was a somber affair in memory of the fallen king, and Rey had to do all she could to keep the smile from her face that Finn was all right, that he was alive.
“You’re all right?” she asked, quietly when the three of them had settled at a table not far from the high table. The queen sat there by herself with an attendant in a gold embroidered jacket hovering at her side.
“After a fashion,” he replied easily. “My back hurts a bit, but nothing I won’t recover from. But what happened to you? The last thing I remember was the Black Knight…”
She told him everything, and Finn’s eyes went wide when she relayed how she had pushed the Black Knight from her mind. That caught Commander Dameron’s attention as well. “You didn’t tell the queen,” he said.
“Should I have?” Rey asked.
“Yes,” Dameron replied. “She’d have wanted to know.”
“Could you…should I?” Rey didn’t know.
“I’ll make sure she knows,” Dameron said. “And Skywalker.”
A shiver went down Rey’s spine. Luke Skywalker. If Han Solo and Leia Organa were heroes of the Rebellion against the Empire, they were nothing compared to Luke Skywalker, who had singlehandedly defeated Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. “Is Skywalker here, Commander Dameron?” she asked Dameron breathlessly.
“Poe, please,” he replied with a crooked smile. “And who did you think the queen was referring to?”
Rey blinked in surprise. “You mean to say that Luke Skywalker is the queen’s brother?”
Poe laughed, but it was not an unkind laugh. “You didn’t know that? They are twins. He’ll be training you to be a knight—if the queen can convince him.”
Rey’s eyes went back to the queen. “She sits alone,” she murmured and Poe followed her gaze up to the high table. “Her brother’s not with her?”
Poe glanced at Rey, then at the queen, then sighed. “I had hoped he would join her tonight, but they each bear their grief so differently. They always have.”
Rey cocked her head, curiously, but it was Finn who asked, “What do you mean?”
“The prince,” Poe replied sadly. “Surely you know of the prince?”
Rey shook her head, and Poe grimaced, pouring himself more mead. “Ten years ago, the crown prince—Ben is—was—his name. He was carried off by the dragon in the Midnight Mountains.”
Rey’s eyes went wide. “Carried off?”
“Oh yes—the day after he was knighted,” Poe said sadly. “It broke his mother’s heart, and his father was never quite the same. Since Skywalker is the finest knight in the realm, and had been training the prince in arms—he blamed himself. He couldn’t defend the boy from the dragon, nor had he been a good enough teacher that Prince Ben could fight the dragon off on his own. No one knows if he’s alive, and though the queen insists he survives, we all suspect that the dragon may have eaten him.”
For the third time that day, Rey’s heart broke for the queen who sat alone on the dais, her eyes distant. She did not eat or drink, and she seemed not to see or hear anything at all, so lost was she in her own thoughts. “How does she bear it all?” Rey asked solemnly.
“She is queen,” Poe said. “It’s her duty. It is what she has been raised to do since she was a girl. She bears the weight of the kingdom upon her shoulders.” And yet does not lose herself to it. Rey’s heart swelled. This woman had faith in her, had called her valiant and wished her to be a knight, as honorable and noble as her brother. I will serve her well, she vowed. I will be the greatest knight in her household, in her kingdom.
I will bring her son back to her.
She remembered the way that Han Solo had fallen, remembered the scornful calls of the Black Knight as she’d swung her staff at him. If there was anything the queen deserved, it was the return of her son to her. What mother wouldn’t want her son back?
Before she had time to register the chill along her back that that thought had given her, the way her throat closed and tears pricked at her eyes, the door to the hall opened, and the room fell silent. A man in a long tunic entered. He wore simple brown clothes and his hair was brown dusted with silver. He looked so very tired, so very sad. He approached the high table. The queen reached out a hand to him. For one long moment, he stared at it. Then he took it.
“Leia,” he whispered.
“Luke,” she replied.
Skywalker, Rey thought excitedly. He was older than she’d imagined him, but then so too was Leia Organa. They did not say more than that, though their eyes were locked for a moment longer. Then Luke Skywalker descended from the dais. He stopped before Rey and Poe and Finn, his eyes trained on her face, appraising.
When he spoke, his voice was quiet. “Tomorrow, at dawn, we begin.”
Rey did not sleep well that night.
The bed was too soft, and too warm, and it wasn’t long before she dragged a blanket to a little cushioned bench in the corner of the bedchamber and curled up on it. If the discomfort had not kept her awake, however, she was sure her racing heart would have done so.
Poe had let Beebee follow her back to her room, joking that if she’d stolen his dog she wasn’t nearly so honorable as the queen believed, but not robbing her of the dog’s company on her first night in this strange castle.
So much had happened to her that day—so much more than even the day that she and Finn had left Jakku, fleeing the Black Knight’s men. Over and over again she saw the Black Knight—how he had killed the king, how he had swung his sword at her, how he had spoken to her, how he had run from her. She thought of how he’d frozen her in place, and how she’d somehow—miraculously—managed to break through. The Force, she thought wistfully.
She had heard of Force users of incredible power. Luke Skywalker was one of them…and she was going to be training with Luke Skywalker of all people. Her! She grinned into her pillow and let the glee of it wash over her. Not worthless, she thought. The queen had taken one look at her and told her that she was to train to be a knight of the realm alongside the queen’s own brother.
How did the Black Knight earn his saber? she wondered. The queen had named him Kylo Ren. Had he walked these halls? Had he, too, trained with Luke Skywalker? Perhaps the knight would be able to teach her what he’d taught Ren, and she could use it against him to victory.
Rey had never heard that name before.
“Men!” she remembered the king bellowing with no men but Chewbacca at his side. Perhaps he’d been shouting Ren and she’d misheard him. That would make sense.
She only realized she’d managed to fall asleep when she woke to a scratching at her door, and a whining. Beebee wanted to go out, which was just as well because she could see that the sky was getting light outside and Luke Skywalker…what was his honorific? Ser? Lord? Prince? She would have to find out. She kicked herself for not having asked Poe the night before.
She went with Beebee down into the yard below, yawning and pulling her tunic a little tighter around herself. It was chilly in the pre-dawn light, but not the sort of chilly that Jakku had been at night, wild heat that dropped to icy cold when the sun went down. The air was moist, misty, almost magical.
She shivered and crossed her arms over her chest as she followed the dog around the yard as he sniffed and periodically raised his leg to mark.
Rey looked up and across the yard she saw a tall man in dark garb. He was watching her, his brow furrowed as though confused by her presence in the yard. Rey smiled at him, and raised a hand in greeting.
He cocked his head, the furrow in his brow deepening and dark hair falling into his face. He reached up and brushed it away. Then, slowly, raised a dark gloved hand in greeting as well.
The dog next to her butted his head against her, whining and she crouched down to scratch behind his ears, he licked her hand happily before trotting off towards—based on the smells wafting from the chimney—the kitchen.
When Rey looked at the man again, he was gone.
Chapter 3: To be willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause
Two Years Later
“I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.”
Finn was pacing, and Rey bit back a smile watching him as he made his way back and forth through the garden. Finn glared at her. “Stop it,” he snapped. “It’s nervewracking.”
“I seem to recall you saying she kissed you first. I’m fairly certain at this point you can be secure in the knowledge that her affection for you is deep.”
Finn makes a dramatic sigh. “There’s a difference between a kiss and asking someone to marry you.”
Rey wouldn’t know. She’d never kissed anyone, and she’d certainly never asked anyone to marry her. But she’d watched Finn fall slowly in love over the course of the past two years, and found his anxiety in the whole situation wholly misplaced.
“You were perfectly calm when we were defending the port from stormwarriors.” He’d been a sight to behold in his guardsman’s uniform, firing arrow after arrow and each of them striking true. The stormwarriors were new—or rather, old—for they wore the same white uniform that the warriors of the Empire had worn long before Rey had even been born. Whether they were affiliated with the Black Knight or not, they couldn’t tell for certain, but they seemed to at least share aims with him, for they seemed intent on causing mayhem and disruption throughout the kingdom.
The queen had not been thrilled that they had made it so close to the Star—the closest incursion of any of her enemies since the Black Knight had slain her husband. “Arkanis,” she said. “Who else would be so keen on bringing back the Empire’s armor? He’s always had a flair for the dramatic, and he hates that I have eschewed the favoritism his house knew under Palpatine.” But when Leia had asked Finn if he had any idea where the stormwarriors had come from, Finn had just shaken his head.
For that had been Finn’s secret—that he’d fled the Dark Knight’s service in Jakku, and wished to help the crown put a stop to his deeds. And while the information he’d provided had helped the queen in some regards, he had brought only words—and the words of a warrior were not enough to string Hux up for the treason he performed.
“My enemies multiply,” the queen had sighed wearily, and Rey’s hand had tightened into a fist at her side. When she was knighted, she would help the queen destroy her enemies, and bring peace and light back to the realm.
Her stomach lurched at the thought.
Perhaps she should not tease Finn so in his preparations to propose to Rose.
She was anxious about her knighting ceremony despite knowing that the queen thought highly of her, as did Poe, as did Chewbacca. She even thought Luke did too, though sometimes she could not tell. Like today.
But no—no she definitely did not wish to think about that right now.
“I think your pacing is making it worse,” she told Finn instead, trying to add a hint of apology to her tone. “I think you should just do it.”
Finn stopped moving and turned to look at her. “Right. I should just…” He squared his shoulders and marched out of the gardens, towards one of the entrances to the keep that would bring him towards the kitchen and towards Rose Tico.
Part of Rey wanted to follow him at a distance, to watch Rose’s face when Finn asked her to share his soul, to become his wife. Rose’s smile was one of the most glorious things to behold, and it had been so long since she’d seen it—Rose had been miserable since the news that her sister Paige had died earlier in the year. But Rey knew that such a moment would be sweeter for the both of them if it were experienced in private, so she remained in the garden, trying to turn her mind towards the meditations that she was supposed to be doing daily to hone her control of the Force that burned within her.
She closed her eyes, and let the sun warm her skin. She could feel everything around her, the beetles and ants crawling in the grass, the hummingbirds that fluttered and dipped their beaks into the honeysuckles that Queen Leia loved so dearly, even the movement of the trees. She opened her mind’s eye and saw him standing there, watching her at a distance.
She hadn’t felt him enter the garden, but there he was, the tall stranger with the long dark hair and the deep, expressive eyes.
He always kept his distance—he had ever since she had first seen him her first morning in the Star. Sometimes he wore leathers as though he had been sparring, and she suspected that he was one of the many guardsmen who served the castle and city.
She suspected, but she did not know.
She’d asked after him once or twice when she’d passed the guardsmen. But they hadn’t been able to help her identify him among the thousands of men in the queen’s service, and more than once Rey wondered if she mightn’t have dreamed him into existence out of sheer want of him—handsome and seemingly understanding as he was. And perhaps if Rey had not been kept so busy within the castle she would have pressed further to find him, but there was something oddly comforting in the distance between them for the time being.
She shouldn’t let herself be distracted—or that was what Luke seemed to think. And as much as the old knight frustrated her at times, she could not deny that in this instance, he was probably right. And she couldn’t pretend that trying to uncover the mystery of the dark-haired stranger would prove a distraction—especially if they—
She felt herself flushing.
She tried not to dwell on childish fantasies anymore. Her parents weren’t coming back for her, and the looks that the stranger gave her were not precursors to a grand romance like in the songs. Friendship, perhaps. Support and kindness. But she refused to let herself get carried away. She refused to let herself get distracted—especially not when she had to prepare for what lay ahead of her.
“You must not let yourself lose sight of your honor,” Luke had told her. “You serve the realm. You give yourself to the realm. Or else you will not be worthy of the blade you will bear.”
“Like Kylo Ren?” Rey had asked.
“I have seen no one save him with as much raw power as you,” Luke had replied tersely. He always replied tersely whenever Rey asked after the Black Knight. She knew that Luke had trained him, but had learned nothing else of the man from her master.
Well, no matter what you think, I am not losing sight of my purpose, Luke. This must come first. I will take care of Ren. You’ll see.
She had not spoken to Luke, and did not know if the knight would seek her out before the ceremony tomorrow. Somehow she doubted it. He had been angry with her when she’d told him of her plan.
Sometimes, she thought the old knight was proud of her—of the work she put in to improve herself, of the dedication and strength she showed in her training; other times, she thought he was old, bitter, jaded, and something else that she couldn’t yet put a finger on. She tried not to let the latter get to her. After two years of training with him, she still felt as though she did not know the man. Not once had he invited her to dine with him in his tower chambers, or spent more time with her than was thoroughly necessary for her training. He blew hot and cold, as though torn between wanting to be the benevolent heroic knight that Rey had heard so many stories she’d heard as a child and being a grouchy old man, bitter about the loss of so many students.
He doesn’t wish to grow attached to me, Rey had told herself in the earliest days of her training. He wishes to be a teacher, not a mentor. It’s not personal. That had not stopped it hurting, all the same.
As she looked in front of her at the man with the dark hair, the way he cocked his head almost curiously, the way his eyes seemed to soften when he sensed her distress, the more she found that she wanted to cry. A stranger is more supportive of me than my own knight master, she thought. He always has been. Ever since she’d seen him that first morning in the pre-dawn light. Perhaps that was why girlish fantasies tormented her when she looked at him.
She opened her mouth, ready to ask him what his name was, who he was because why not now? Why not, when Luke was already disappointed in her, thinking she was letting herself be distracted from her cause? It wasn’t a mystery she wished to take with her when she left. She wanted to know what his voice sounded like, maybe see him smile at her asking at last, after two years. Maybe he’d wait eagerly for her to return, hope for her victory daily in a way that Luke didn’t seem to be able to.
“Rey!” she turned and saw Finn and Rose hurrying towards her, hand in hand. Rose was beaming.
She glanced back towards the stranger but he’d vanished through a door. The moment had ended. He was gone. But she felt fortified somehow, having seen him as she got to her feet.
She threw her arms around the both of them as they laughed in the garden, and Rey put her own sadness from her mind. She’d always been fairly good at that, and she didn’t wish to dwell on her own unease while Finn and Rose were bursting with delight.
Rey returned to her chambers before dinner to find an invitation waiting for her for dinner with the queen, written in Threepio’s precise hand. She’d been planning to eat with Finn and Rose, to celebrate their betrothal and her own impending knighthood. But she could not very well refuse Queen Leia’s invitation.
So she dressed herself in a tunic far finer than the one she was wearing, brushed her hair until it shone, and tied it back into three neat knots. Her hair would never be coiffed as finely as the queen’s, but she tried to make it look at least somewhat presentable.
When she arrived in the queen’s chambers, she saw Luke standing by the window, staring out of the window out over the valley where the Black Knight had slain Han Solo. Rey went to stand by him, unsure which Luke she would get today, the kind uncle or the angry teacher.
It was Luke who spoke first. “I suppose you’ve thought no better of your plans,” he said. Rey did not respond, and he sighed. “You’re tenacious as ever.”
“You always said that was a good thing,” Rey pointed out.
“If you survive, it will be. But this is foolishness to the extreme.”
“I’m stronger and older than Ben Solo when he was knighted, and I’m not getting carried off by a dragon,” Rey said, and Luke looked at her sharply.
“I know you think you’re helping—” he began.
“It’s the truth,” Rey said firmly. “You said yourself—he was knighted too young.” It was one of the few things that Luke had told her about his nephew. Both the knight and the queen were reticent on the subject of the prince. She could understand that—seeing glimpses of pain in the queen’s eyes that she tried so hard to hide. Rey didn’t like talking about her parents, after all. They were lost to her too.
“That doesn’t mean you’re strong enough to—”
The door to the queen’s chambers swung open and Leia Organa swept in, looking harried.
“Forgive me. Late to my own dinner party,” she sighed. A page hurried to her with a goblet of wine and she accepted it, her lips twisting into an approximation of a smile before she drank deeply.
“What’s happened?” Luke asked her at once.
“More of the same,” Leia sighed, sitting down on a cushioned bench. “Hux likes to remind me that I have done nothing to stop the Black Knight these five years, and that his forces only go stronger. As though it’s not Hux who is funding him.” She took another sip of wine. “I hate that snake. If I could just get something on him, but he’s too clever by half. And now he’s gone and betrothed himself to the daughter of Qi’ra Maul of Dathomir.” Rey bit back a gasp. Dathomir. There was no corner of the realm so prone to sin and villainy as Dathomir. Lady Maul claimed to be a lady, but it was well known that she knew no law but her own will, as her late husband had before her. In all her attempts to bring Dathomir to heel, Leia had only known failure, outmaneuvered at every turn by the Crimson Lady. “So I think I can safely say that I know which of my enemies are getting into bed with one another.”
“And the Black Knight?”
“Remains as celibate as a monk, as far as I’m aware,” the queen said carefully. She always spoke so carefully about the Black Knight, her and Luke both. What was he like when he trained here? The question gnawed at Rey once again, but if she knew she would get no answer from Luke, she knew she would never ask the queen, no matter what permissions the queen granted her to ask whatever she liked. “Arkanis and Dathomir will keep me up at night. The late Lord Maul served Palpatine before he became emperor, and thrived in the chaos in the days before the Empire. And Hux is all but riding in the open against me.”
“Do you think Hux seeks the throne?” Rey asked. The Black Knight had never been clear about what his aims were, but if Hux and Maul were to wed…
The queen took another sip of wine. “He wants me off it. What he means to do when that has happened I cannot say, though I have some ideas.” She glanced at Luke. Rey followed her gaze. Luke’s expression was dark, his eyes hard.
“We won’t allow it to happen,” Luke said. “I’ll die before I see you deposed. You know that.”
Leia gave her brother a sad smile. “I do. Though I hope it never comes to that. I’ve lost so much already—I don’t know how much more I can bear.” She took a deep breath and turned to Rey. “But enough of that. I would celebrate tonight, whatever my misgivings about Hux and Maul. There’s been so little to celebrate, but you…” Leia raised her wine to Rey. “You I would toast until the sun returns my dear. It’s been too long since I had a knight to champion my cause. Hux hasn’t stolen them all from me just yet.”
“They were false knights,” Rey said adamantly. “To turn so easily.” She looked at Luke. “Or they forgot their training. A knight must never forget her honor.”
“I knew I had the right of you,” Leia said proudly. “From the moment I saw you. You’ve trained her well, Luke.”
“She’s too stubborn for me to have trained her well,” Luke said, and his eyes were almost twinkling, as though he were almost fond of her, as though he were forgetting the stubbornness that had made him wroth with her. Rey yearned for those twinkling eyes, the pride her teacher felt in her training. It will be gone again on the morrow, when he remembers what I’ve sworn to do. “So yes, you had the right of her.”
“We couldn’t be prouder,” the queen said, and when Rey looked at her, she’d never seen anyone look at her this way, gaze soft and proud. In that moment, she wasn’t a queen—she was Leia Organa, a woman—a mother. Rey’s throat tightened.
“I won’t let you down,” she vowed.
“You never could.”
“Rise, Ser Rey of Jakku,” the queen said, her eyes shining, and Rey stood, and the throne room filled with applause. Behind her, Rey heard Finn whistle his approval and Rey grinned. The queen stood on the dais, and she bent forward and pressed a kiss to Rey’s forehead. Then with a wave of her hand, Threepio came to stand at her side. In his arms sat a velvet pillow on which sat…
Rey took a deep breath.
“This lightsaber,” Queen Leia said, her voice ringing through the hall, low and clear, “belonged to my father. It was made with his own two hands.” The room was abuzz with whispers, for rarely did Leia Organa acknowledge any parents besides the Organas who had raised her. When she did, it was almost always her mother, who had been a queen in her own right. She almost never acknowledged the man who had fathered her. “I had planned to give it to my son,” she said slowly, and Rey caught the sadness in her eyes, though not her voice, “but he insisted on building his own as well.” Rey’s heart pounded erratically in her chest at the mention of Ben Solo. “Use it honorably, as your title now commands, and use it well,” Leia said, presenting the blade to Rey.
“I will,” Rey said.
The metal was cold in her hands, and she was proud of herself for they did not tremble as she brought the lightsaber to her belt and clipped it there. It had been many months since she’d had to worry about what to do with her long, iron staff, and she now carried a shortsword in a scabbard on her other hip. The lightsaber was so light in comparison to the finely wrought steel.
She waited, though, for the queen was not done. It was customary to present a new knight with three gifts, and this was only the first.
She had not noticed, but Threepio had retreated with the pillow, and now returned with a swath of fabric, which he presented to the queen.
“This,” Leia said, looking at Rey with warm eyes, “is a moon and sea cloak.” Rey felt her face stiffen in shock. “May it keep you cold and hidden by night, and may it keep you dry and fresh in the rain,” she said. She let the silvery fabric fall open and swung it over Rey’s shoulders. It was lighter than anything she’d ever touched before—almost like wearing mist over her shoulders.
“Thank you, your grace,” Rey said quietly, and then, at last, the queen looked over Rey’s shoulder.
“And lastly,” she said, gesturing, and Rey turned as the throne room’s doors were opened once again, and Chewbacca entered, leading the old king’s mare. “My husband would have hated that Falcon remain unridden so long. If you are to be a knight and ride forth in defense of the realm, let Falcon carry you.” Falcon was the fastest horse in the queen’s stables, a fine silvery color that matched the moon and sea cloak on Rey’s shoulders, that matched the shiny metal that served as the hilt of the lightsaber.
Rey sank to her knees, bowing her head. “Your grace,” she said, her voice thick.
“I told you to stand, ser,” Queen Leia said gently, and Rey stood at once. Then, she said loudly to the whole hall. “I give you Ser Rey of Jakku.”
The hall filled once again with applause, and cheers, and Rey felt her cheeks burning. She couldn’t believe this was real, that this was happening. She was a scavenger from Jakku, and yet the queen had dubbed her a knight—something that even the finest of warriors may never achieve. “You are noble, Rey, in deed if not in blood,” the queen had told her, “And that should be rewarded.” And the queen had rewarded it with the finest training the realm could offer. She had been a quick study of the sword, and when she looked out at the crowd, she could see Poe Dameron in the crowd, grinning at her. She could best him easily now—him and Chewbacca both. And as for the Force…
She could not see Luke Skywalker in the crowd, and she felt a curl of anger flare in her. Fine, then, she thought hotly. Better hot anger than bitter despair. Whatever warmth he had shown her the night before, as she had predicted, had not overpowered his disapproval. Fine, she thought, doing her best not to feel as though that seed of worthlessness that would always lie dormant in her heart was sprouting, taking root.
She shook herself, and searched the sea of people for the dark-haired stranger. She never felt worthless when he looked at her. She felt as though she mattered, even if she didn’t understand how. Perhaps he didn’t either. She wished she’d spoken to him in the garden before Finn and Rose had come out of the castle. She wished she’d asked his name. She wished he were here now, and that his presence could push that sprouting doubt back into its seed.
“Tell us, Ser Rey,” the queen said behind her. “What shall be your first deed as knight of the realm?”
Rey took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. “Your grace,” she said, turning back to the queen. “The Warriors of Ren are a scourge upon your kingdom.” Leia’s eyes burned with a ferocious pride at Rey’s words. “And I would bring them to heel as the curs they are. But…” and Leia’s face went very still, and Rey saw wariness in her gaze. “I would have that be my second deed in your service.”
Whispers filled the room behind her like rustling leaves in the wind, and Rey squared her shoulders.
“You may think me foolish,” Rey said, “For you have done so much for me, and I come from nothing at all.”
“This isn’t going to go the way you think,” Luke had told her angrily when she’d told him what her first feat would be. But she’d known she was right—had known it. Leia had given her everything, had given her the finest gifts a knight could possibly be given, had given her rooms in her castle, a future, hope…
“As my first deed,” she said loudly, “I would slay the dragon that took your son.”
The queen closed her eyes, and Rey had never seen that polished, serene mask look so close to cracking. Rey reached inside herself, touching into that flaming Force inside her and reached out to the queen, to try and understand—was it grief? Disappointment? Fear?
But Leia Organa was skilled in the Force as well, and Rey could see nothing.
When the queen opened her eyes again, she looked at Rey and said quietly, “Your heart does you credit,” she said at last, “that you would take on a feat so personal to me. I will confess fear, though. Ben could not withstand the dragon when it came for him. However—I place my faith in you, for you are stronger than anyone gives you credit for.” Leia looked around the room, her eyes searching the crowd—for her brother?—before her gaze returned to Rey. “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you see it, you won’t last the night. You are a fine knight, Rey. You will last. I have hope in that.”
“Are you angry with me?” Rey asked quietly later on, when she had accompanied the queen back to her solar. Leia Organa gave her a whimsical look.
“Angry? Never,” she sighed. “Surprised—I don’t even think I could confess to that. I am weary of loss, and I fear losing you, Rey, especially with my enemies gathering strength.” She reached a hand over and squeezed Rey’s. “But I also know I must have hope. You are not my son. You are many things, but you are not my son.”
“If he lives, I will bring him back to you, I swear,” Rey promised. “I will bring him back for all the kingdom.”
Queen Leia leaned back in her chair, reaching up a hand to splay her fingers across her chin and lips. She wore four rings—one on each of her fingers save her thumb: the band of gold that Han Solo had placed on her little finger the day they had wed; the signet ring that had once belonged to her father, Bail Organa who had been King in Alderaan in the days of the Empire; the signet ring she wore as reigning queen; and another ring, blue and green and bearing the seal of Padmé Amidala Naberrie, the one that Rey had pressed her lips to when she’d first sworn service to the queen.
“His father could not bring him home,” the queen said quietly. “Nor could his uncle. I suppose they were both burdened with the knowledge of Ben the boy, though. And you do not know him at all.”
“Only what whispers of him the gossips have told me,” Rey confessed.
That made Leia laugh. “And I’m sure he has produced such gossip.” A smile played at her lips as she stared off in the distance, wistful for the boy she had lost. “I wish I had had more time for him.”
“You will,” Rey vowed fiercely, and Leia looked at her.
“I hope so,” she said quietly. “We didn’t even have a portrait painted of him. He was fifteen when it happened, and would have been miserable sitting before an artist at that age—all ears and his limbs too long for his body. We had planned to wait a few years, for him to finish growing, to truly become a man.” She looked out of the window, staring across the valley below, her gaze distant as though she were trying to see her son’s face in the scenery. “You bring hope to me, Rey. One more reason I am glad to have you as a knight in my service. If he lives, bring back the man who was once my boy. I would ease the suffering of his time with the dragon, and hold him in my arms. But…” and she paused, and her eyes were bright, her voice thick when she spoke next, “but do not let me lose you both. Come back to me, whole and hale, even if it means you have failed. Promise me that.”
Rey did not wish to lie to the queen. She did not wish to fail, either. So she bowed her head and said not a word, for she would not make a promise she could not keep.
“So where are we going?” Finn asked Rey when he found her loading up a travel pack.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Rey said forcefully. “You are staying here. You have a here.”
Finn rolled his eyes. “I’m not letting you face a dragon alone,” he replied, “And when you return, I will not let you face the Knights of Ren on your own. You and I—
“Finn,” she began, but he cut her off.
“No. No—don’t you ‘Finn’ me. My loyalty is to you first, ser. Make me your squire if you must.”
“I don’t need a squire.”
“You do, but that’s beside the point. The point is that you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
“And what about Rose? Are you just going to leave her behind?”
Finn swallowed. “She understands,” he said slowly.
“I think she’d understand you riding out at my side to face the Warriors of Ren and to take down the Black Knight, but my harebrained scheme to slay a dragon?”
She knew she had the right of it.
“She would understand my not wanting to let you do it on your own.”
“A bow and arrow won’t help against a dragon. Their scales are steel. I have all I need,” she said, patting the hilt of her new lightsaber. “I don’t want to have to worry about you as well as myself.”
“So you let me worry about you even more by not being at your side?”
“Finn…” she said and he rolled his eyes.
“I’m coming with you,” he retorted hotly.
“We’ll face the Warriors of Ren together, I swear,” Rey said, reaching out and taking Finn’s hand. “I swear. But a dragon, Finn…please…”
“You’re insane to want to do this on your own,” he told her firmly. “I can’t allow it.” His eyes flashed and she’d never seen him so angry before. What made him angry? Did he know something that Rey did not?
“And if the dragon kills you because the Force is not as strong with you as it is with me and you don’t have a weapon that will harm it?”
The words stung, she could see that in his face. I’m right, though, she thought. If I have to protect him by preventing him from coming with me, then this is what I must do.
His voice was tearful when he next spoke, though no tears fell from his eyes. “I hope you live, Rey.” Then he whirled and was gone.
Chapter 4: Hold moonlight in his hand
Rey left before dawn the next day, wrapped in her moon and sea cloak.
She did not take Falcon with her, though she had spent an evening in the stable brushing her, and feeding her carrots and apples in the hopes that she would remember her fondly upon her return. The road was going to be long afoot, but if she did end up defeated by the dragon, she didn’t want to the king’s old steed to be the next thing the beast feasted upon—especially if it had also feasted upon his son. Rey had traveled afoot before, even if she had never traveled alone on foot.
She did not have any fear in her heart, though. She was a knight of the realm, and more than able to defend herself from the worst of the residents of Jakku, and had very nearly defeated the Black Knight in single combat and that was before she’d been trained with a blade or earned her lightsaber. And if she were to come face to face the Black Knight and his horde again upon her journey, well… she would have to take that as she could.
The road to the mountains took her two weeks on foot. She stayed at finer inns than she would have dreamed possible when she was a scrap of a girl in Jakku, and no one questioned her when they saw the shield she carried which bore the queen’s crest or caught a glimpse of the empty hilt on her hip.
The closer and closer she got to the Midnight Mountains, though, the fewer and further between these wayside inns became. The innkeeps looked more dubious of her when she paid them, and the rooms were colder and less comfortable. This did not bother Rey, nor did it surprise her, for the road was taking her past Dathomir. All the same, she could not shake Luke’s parting words to her. This isn’t going to go the way you think.
When the Midnight Mountains entered her view, she understood exactly why they were called that immediately. If the Star glimmered like starlight atop the hill it sat upon, the Midnight Mountains were blacker than pitch, and she could tell from afar that some were smoking, open-topped, and filled with boiling lava. Which one does the dragon live in? she wondered. The range was huge, but surely a dragon wouldn’t be too hard to find—especially if she used the Force.
As if it had read her mind, she heard a screeching roar echoing off the cliffs and nearly jumped out of her skin. The mountains had magnified the volume of the roar, to be sure, but only a huge creature could have made such a noise to begin with. But when Rey closed her eyes and reached out, she could find no sign of the beast.
I shall have to use my other senses, then, she thought.
Rey squared her shoulders, determined not to let her fear win. In her earlier lessons with Luke, he had taught her that fear led to hate and suffering.
The only time Rey ever truly felt brave was when she was afraid, though.
The flaming Force inside her crackled and she looked down. The road went on and on ahead, but she saw…a path, as though a single traveler had walked to the edge of the mountains but wished to enter at a different part. The path was worn enough that whoever had treaded it must have done so many times throughout the years.
Trust your instincts, Rey, Luke had told her. The Force feeds upon your instincts. You are stronger when you listen to them—and it is too.
Perhaps that was why whenever Rey behaved rashly, she managed to survive. This isn’t going to go the way you think. But her instincts told her it would.
She turned and went down the path, following it for another two miles before it finally brought her into the mountains. Then she began to climb.
There was a strange smell to the air—fiery, burned, angry earth that did not like life. She saw the skeletons of trees and plants—things that had tried to grow here, but which had died, either in acidic rain or in a fire from magma that had popped loose of the mountains and had ignited the area. Rey clutched her moon and sea cloak around her tightly, wondering if she should take the thing off and to protect it. It was a fine object, and one that was designed for stealth. But there was no one here that she could sense to be stealthy from. There was no life in the mountains, just death and decay—a death and decay that was different from Jakku and thus unfamiliar…
Rey’s sword was in her hand and pressed against his throat before she registered someone had come up behind her.
Then her eyes went wide, and she withdrew her blade at once. The man who had been creeping up behind her was the comforting stranger from court, the one with dark hair and the soft eyes who always seemed to appear when she needed support most.
“Why did you follow me?” she asked, almost breathless.
Up close—and this was the closest she’d ever been to him—she took in details of his face she had not noticed before. She’s always known his long face, his big nose, his plump lips, but now she saw freckles on his skin. She had never really noted how tall he was because he’d never loomed over her quite like this. But most disconcerting were his eyes. They did not look anything close to soft now. They were bloodshot and oddly yellow-tinted, and they seemed glassy, as though he were feverish.
“I wanted to see what you were up to,” he replied. It was the first time that Rey had heard him speak. His voice rumbled in his broad chest, low and rich, and so much more solid than she’d ever imagined it being. He is really here. He followed me.
But his answer to her question was vague, and she swallowed.
Something was wrong. Or at least, something was not right.
“And didn’t your mother ever teach you not to sneak up on people?” she demanded.
“My mother taught me many things,” he replied evenly. “And I try not to be any of them.”
“Why are you here?” she asked again, trying not to let her voice convey the way her heart was deflating the more she spoke to him. He wasn’t anything like what she’d thought he might be. Had any of those gentle supporting looks been true?
His smirk only widened. “Why are you here? That will answer your own question.”
“I came to slay the dragon,” she said.
His eyebrows shot up. “Is that so?” He paused. “And how are you going to do that?”
“Haven’t gotten that far,” Rey admitted.
“Yeah, well…” Rey muttered. “What would you do? What’s your name?”
He did not reply right away. His gaze was distant. He really didn’t look well. Maybe all this is because he’s sickly, and when he’s better it will be like before. “What’s your name?” he asked her after a moment.
“My…” Rey blinked. She assumed that everyone in the Star knew who she was because…well…they all seemed to. From the moment she’d arrived, she’d been the girl from Jakku who had nearly bested the Black Knight, and then was training to be a knight with Luke Skywalker. It felt odd that he wouldn’t know. She narrowed her eyes.
“What’s your name?” he repeated.
“I asked you first. And I have more reason to assume you’d already know my name.”
He was maddening, she decided. Or perhaps just mad. Perhaps that fever that she suspected she saw in his eyes was poisoning his mind. And the redness of his lips, she realized, was almost unnatural, as though they had been painted. She’d never been close enough to him before to see them just like this.
“Look,” Rey decided and she began to turn away from him. “I don’t need your help. I can do this on my own—I will do this on my own.”
“As you wish,” he shrugged. She turned away and her cloak swirled around her. “What’s that?” he asked sharply.
“On your hip.”
“My lightsaber?” she asked, her hand flying to it. His eyes were hot now, his nostrils flaring, and his eyes looked quite wild. For a moment, Rey thought he might attack her.
“Where did you get it?” he demanded.
“It was given to me.”
“Who do you think?” Rey asked, rolling her eyes. Surely he was not so ignorant as to not know who gave lightsabers to warriors of the realm and why. And it was as though he hadn’t been in the Star at all, hadn’t watched her training, hadn’t…
Search your feelings.
“You weren’t…you weren’t there.” She knew it to be the truth. For some reason it made her sad. She’d never spoken to him, but there had been this odd…connection, she’d felt from the way he’d looked at her, his eyes oddly soft. He was always so serious when he watched her, intent in a way that never seemed aggressive—as though he were fascinated by her, as though she were something worthy of fascination.
“No,” he said and there was a sadness to his voice now. “No, I wasn’t.”
“How then?” she asked. “Were you here the whole time?”
“For some of it,” he replied. “Not for all. I assumed…The Force had some reason for connecting us. But I’ve never heard of the Force doing that before.”
Rey hadn’t either. Luke had begun to teach her some of that vast power within her, but she had never known anyone to have visions of someone they’d never met before through the Force.
It made her breath catch in her throat.
Then, slowly, she let the Force curl out through her fingers, reaching out to examine his.
Her Force was blue like the sky overhead, so bright it was nearly silver like the stars—but his was dark—red and brown and black, and it pulsed like a hot wound that was only half-cauterized, only partially scabbed. There was something sickly to it, she thought, or perhaps it matched his own health. He inhaled sharply when her Force touched his, and the pitch black going a little grey while her silver grew a darker, steelier color.
She withdrew her Force and looked at him. Never before had she seen anyone’s Force affect the color of her own. Never before had she affected the color of someone else’s Force. When she had trained with Luke, his grass-green Force had never bled into her blue, and whenever she’d caught a glimpse of Queen Leia’s gold, it only ever stayed gold.
It made her uneasy, and she could see in his feverish gaze that it did the same for him.
“What does it mean?” she asked him.
“I don’t know,” he rasped, his voice distant, and she thought she caught a hint of fear there. It made him look younger than he was. Idly, Rey wondered how old he was.
His fear was oddly grounding. She stood a little straighter, appraising him.
“You know the mountains.”
It was not a question, because she knew the truth—could feel it in him.
“I do,” he said, inclining his head.
“Can you take me to the dragon?” she asked.
He looked at her for a long while, considering, his eyes on her now with that fascinated gaze once again. Were it not for the sickly pallor of his complexion and the feverishness in his eyes, Rey would have found herself comforted by it. It was never going to be a grand romance, she reminded herself, trying to quash her own disappointment.
“It’s a long walk,” he said at last. “The road is…twisted.”
“I came for the challenge. If you don’t show me, I’ll find my own way.”
At last he nodded, and strode past her, leading her up through the dark, black rock.
They climbed wordlessly for several hours until the sun was setting, bleeding red light through the black hills. “We should stop here,” he said. The fever in his eyes seemed to have faded when he looked at her, and his lips no longer had that odd red-brown color. He looked hale, and just like the man that Rey had seen so frequently in the Star. “The road is hard by night, and the air will get thinner as we get higher into the mountains.”
Rey did not complain. She helped him build a fire and he disappeared for a few minutes, coming back with two dead lizard-like creatures, which he spitted and set to cook over the fire. “They’re a taste to get used to,” he confessed. “But they’ll fill you up.”
“I won’t mind the taste,” Rey said, offering him a smile. “I didn’t have much choice growing up. You learn not to care about taste after a while.”
For a moment, it felt right. For a moment, he was gazing at her with a gentle supportiveness, a wistful expression that looked almost as though she filled him with wonder. Were it not for the odd yellow tint to his eyes, she’d have been fully comforted.
“Then I suspect that lizards will be right up your alley,” he said. “They have an oddly spicy savor to them without the need for herbs.”
“All the better,” Rey grinned. His eyes dropped briefly to her lips, and his own quirked slightly. “I take it they took you longer to get used to when you started eating them?”
His face stiffened and his gaze became guarded. “The first time I ate them…I didn’t notice their flavor.”
“Didn’t notice?” she asked, cocking her head curiously. “You said they were strongly flavored.”
“I had a different taste on my tongue,” he said and he looked positively surly now. He turned the spitted lizards over the fire, and was brooding now. Rey grimaced.
“I didn’t mean to bring up anything unpleasant,” she said at last and his head jerked up.
“You couldn’t,” he said softly, and he sounded as though he meant it. “What unpleasantness you remind me of is always there, beneath the surface of it all.” He did not elaborate and Rey had the distinct impression he was trying to hide something from her, as if he were frightened of something. He wasn’t very good at it, if he were. She could see as plain as day that he wasn’t being open with her.
“Why are your eyes like that?” she asked him, deciding that if he meant that she couldn’t bring up anything unpleasant, she’d see the truth of it, or see him proven false. He started at the question.
“Are you ill? The whites are yellow, and you look fevered.”
He swallowed and turned away from her, as though trying to hide his eyes from hers completely. It was too late though. She had caught him in it.
“It’s something in my diet,” he said at last. “It improves my constitution, but leaves a bit of a mark.”
“Not the lizards?”
“No, not the lizards,” he said stiffly. He was definitely avoiding her gaze. Definitely trying to hide something from her.
“What is it?” she asked. “And why would you hide it from me?”
“I’m not hiding it from you,” he said, whining like a little boy half his age.
“You are,” she said. “Or else you’d have told me.”
“The dragon,” he said quietly. “It’s dragon magic. It eases my mind and strengthens my body. And I know what people say of it, and know what people think of it.”
He looked at Rey defiantly and a chill crept across her spine. The only person she’d ever heard who was supposed to drink the blood of dragons was Kylo Ren.
“You never did tell me your name,” she said at last.
“And you never told me yours.”
“I still asked first.”
His lips twisted, bemused in the firelight. He poked the lizards he was cooking, testing their flesh, before saying. “Ben. I used to be called Ben.”
Rey’s mind burst with a thousand questions. Ben. Ben was Leia’s son’s name, the stolen prince of the kingdom. Used to be called?
“Ah, ah—your turn.”
“I’m Rey. You’re not…you’re not that Ben, are you? You’re not Ben Solo?”
For every moment that he did not answer, Rey became increasingly convinced he was. Who else could he be? What other Ben would wander these mountains where the dragon lived? He would be about the right age, wouldn’t he—older than her, but not so old? He had the queen’s cheekbones, and if his eyes weren’t so yellow from the dragon, she even suspected he would have the queen’s eyes. She had found him, quite by accident, and the Force had connected them. It was going to go the way she thought. Surely—surely—this was what she was meant to do, then. The Force wouldn’t have connected them if she wasn’t meant to rescue the prince and slay the monster. And the prince would not have looked at her so softly if he hadn’t wanted rescuing. Her heart was thudding so hard in her chest that she almost missed his next words.
“No,” he said. “No I’m not.”
She supposed Ben was a common enough name.
“Do you know if he lives? If the dragon still has him?” she asked, the energy gone from her voice.
He reacted to that with a huff of annoyance and a stick she hadn’t even noticed he’d been holding snapped in his hand. “He’s gone. Ben Solo is gone.” Rey closed her eyes. Somewhere, off to the east, she knew that Leia Organa was waiting, hardly daring to hope.
The last of the daylight had faded and the mountains were purples and blues and blacks. Overhead, the moon spread a soft silver light, and the stars twinkled in the sky like fairy dust. Rey had always taken comfort in the beauty of the stars at night. But now their flicking light seemed to laugh at her. She felt stupid. She felt angry.
“Were you so attached to Ben Solo?” he asked, and there was mockery in his voice now.
“I serve his mother,” she snapped.
“And the queen hopes her prince will return to her?” Incredulity dripped from his every word. “It’s been more than ten years. I suppose Leia Organa is not allowed to give up hope, is she? That will break her feeble hold on the kingdom.”
Rey gaped at him. Feeble hold?
“Leia Organa is a good queen,” she snapped angrily. Leia Organa had given her everything—had made her feel like she had a place in this whole, cruel world.
“Leia Organa is weak,” Ben replied. “They all are. They don’t have what it takes to—”
“To what, precisely?” she demanded angrily. Every passing word he said seemed like an insult to her queen, to those who served her leally like Poe and Chewbacca, to the home that she and Finn had made within the Star, and she found she liked him less and less for it. Part of her wished she hadn’t agreed to let him show her through the mountains. What foolish trust had she placed in him? A girlish fancy, a girlish dream, and now look where that had gotten her. “To try and keep justice in the land? To maintain peace and—”
“She’s a weak-willed war monger and always has been,” Ben replied. “She made war against the Empire, but she—”
“The Warriors of Ren are war mongers, not the queen,” she said angrily. “They attack innocent people on the road and commit high treason. And when I am done killing the dragon that took her son, I will kill the monster who slew her husband.”
“You love her so much? Your mother must be jealous.”
“Don’t you ever talk about my mother.” Come back!
There were angry tears in her eyes now and Rey had not felt so angry in years, fury pulsing through her, almost calming her. Her hands were steady even as she labored to breathe. Her mind was cold as she looked at him across the fire.
He sighed and reached for the lizards again. Deciding they were cooked enough, he passed her a spit. “I apologize,” he said stiffly. “I try not to think about my mother either.”
“I’m not trying not to think about her,” Rey snapped as she ripped a leg off the lizard. “Do I eat the skin too, or peel it away?”
“Depends on whether you like the experience of scales attaching themselves to the side of your throat,” he deadpanned.
“I’ve never eaten a lizard before.”
“You weren’t missing much.”
She peeled the skin away and bit down on the little arm. It was, as Ben had warned her, an oddly flavored meat, but Rey didn’t mind that. Too many nights with an empty stomach in her youth had made her the least picky eater in the kingdom. It was something that Finn had often remarked upon, and Poe as well when they’d left the Star for the city.
She missed them terribly. She wished that Finn were there instead of strange, caustic Ben who was so unlike what she had thought he was for the past two years. Finn was warmth, and family and he’d wanted to come with her and she hadn’t let him. Maybe that had been a mistake after all.
“Are you always like this?” she asked Ben.
“Always like what?”
“This,” she said, waving a hand. “Because I spent the past two years thinking you were someone who…who…” looked at me softly, wistfully, curiously, gently…
“Don’t like what you see?” Would he ever stop being that dry? It made her want to throttle him.
“It’s not what I see, it’s what I have seen. Never mind.”
“You saw me,” he said, “and I saw you. You saw me curious, unsure of why you were appearing to me wherever you were appearing to me. Unsure why the Force was bringing you here, what I could have done to cause it. You thought I was some man in a crowd, I assume.”
“Not just some man,” she retorted hotly. “I didn’t know who you were.”
“But you never asked.”
“You never asked me either.”
“There’s more to know about someone that doesn’t just come from words,” he said.
“Oh yes. I’m familiar with the concept.”
“Which is why you’re frustrated now. You thought you knew me. You don’t.” He leaned back, chewing his lizard, his lips twisting into a grimace, as though he weren’t thrilled with the situation either.
“And you think you know me?” she retorted.
“I know your loneliness, and know that you would seek solace in me,” he said quietly and there it was again, that confusingly soft gaze. He had such emotive eyes, even beneath that—no, it wasn’t feverish. It was magical, that yellowy glaze to his eyes. Is he toying with me? she wondered. He certainly seemed to have been baiting her over the course of the conversation, but this seemed different somehow. That was like when she pretended to throw a stick and Beebee went off running before turning about, confused at where it had gone only to see it still in her hand. This…this was not that. What was it?
“You know nothing of my loneliness.” Her voice was dry and maybe if his eyes were harder she would have left it there. But his eyes were still soft, and she keeps going. “You don’t know anything of what it was like to be abandoned the way I was, to have my parents just disappear and not know if they’d ever be back for me, if they even cared about me. I…I… waited for them and they never came.” It hurt so much to think about. Better to hope that they’d be back, that she could forgive them for leaving her because they came back and loved her still, than the agony of realizing that she did not matter to them.
She felt his Force reach out to hers, caressing the edges of it and black turning grey again, curiosity perhaps or something else. “They were fools,” he said to her quietly. She wondered what he had gleaned from brushing against her like that.
“You must learn to close your mind to it,” Luke had taught her. “Or else anyone with a lick of training will be able to see your true intentions the moment they reach out to you.” She remembered throwing off Kylo Ren. She hadn’t known what she was doing then. He had seen into her mind so easily.
What did Ben see?
“Cruel scum who did not know how to love what they had, who cared more for themselves than for their child.”
Rey blinked tears back and attacked her lizard again to give herself something to do. Oddly, she did not feel particularly hungry.
“You think that bringing Leia Organa’s son back to her will undo what your parents did to you,” he said. It wasn’t a question. She froze. “Down that path is only failure and pain. Let the past die, Rey. You cannot make your parents love you, and you cannot bring the queen’s son back if he’s gone.” His voice was oddly gentle as he said the words, as though he were whispering them in her ear while they were curled in bed together, as though she had been crying into his chest and he was trying to comfort her. How intimate the harsh words were. It rankled.
“It’s my failure to have, then,” she snapped at him. She did not like being told what to do by this stranger, even if she had thought to know him for so long. She didn’t really like being told what to do by anyone—she’d spent far too long having to decide that for herself. “Not yours.”
They sat in silence for a time, and not a peaceful one. She heard every time he scraped the lizard’s skin off, heard the tearing of the lizard’s flesh, heard him cracking its tiny bones between his teeth to get at the marrow.
When she curled up that night under her moon and sea cloak for warmth, she could feel him as he sat by the fire, staring at the flame. And it was only just as her mind was drifting off to sleep that she realized she had forgotten to ask what he was doing in these desolate mountains anyway.
Rey woke before dawn. The fire had died, and she had bundled herself more tightly in her cloak than she had thought to.
She sat up and looked around. Ben had curled himself up near where the fire pit still smoked slightly, his face turned up to the stars. He looked young in his sleep, the way he had when he’d been afraid the day before.
His eyes snapped open, his face tense, as though he had sensed her gaze, but he almost immediately relaxed. “It’s you,” he said. He sounded relieved. He sat up, rubbing his eyes and when he looked at her—
“They’re not yellow anymore.”
“Your eyes. They were yellow from the dragon.” He frowned slightly. “Does that mean it’s worn off?”
Ben shook his head. “It never really wears off,” he said. “But sometimes it runs more hot than others.”
“But if you were to stop drinking it, wouldn’t it—”
“Why are you asking this?” he interrupted her, his frown only deeper now.
“I’m curious,” Rey replied. If I understand what it does to you, I may have a leg up on Kylo Ren when I face him.
“Because when you slay the dragon, you want to drink the blood from his corpse and want to know what it feels like when it fades?”
“No,” Rey replied quickly. “I have no desire to drink dragon’s blood.”
Ben gazed at her long and hard. “It makes you stronger,” he said. “And when it wears off, you feel as though the world is just heavier. Like you didn’t know how much weight it carried for you. You feel like a weak child, barely strong enough to raise your arms, and you will do anything in order to end that weakness.”
“So you drink more.”
“So I drink more.”
“And serve the dragon?” There it was—the question she had not thought to ask him last night. “Why are you bringing me to him, if I intend to slay him? Do you want me dead?”
His face twitched as though he’d been stung by a bee, and he recoiled slightly. “No,” he said. “I don’t want you to die.” In his words, she heard longing. In his eyes, she saw a wistfulness akin to what she herself had felt when thinking of him for the past two years. He cared about me as I cared about him.
She didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t wish to die either. And as for him—well, she didn’t think she would want him dead. For all he was confusing, he was still familiar to her. He still mattered to her, somehow.
“So you want me to kill the dragon? Even if that means that you will lose his blood forever?”
Ben took a deep breath. “No,” he said again. “I’m hoping you will join him in the end, as I have done.”
Rey laughed. “Join him? The dragon who stole my queen’s son from her?”
“Is that what they told you?” he asked sharply. Rey blinked. “That the dragon stole the prince away from your beloved queen? Is that what they told you?” He laughed. “It is. Of course it is. Show no weakness. Don’t let them smell it on you.”
Rey took several long steadying breaths. “What happened to him?” she asked at last.
“Yes,” she demanded.
For the first time since he’d first appeared to her, Ben’s eyes were unfathomable. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said at last, and he sounded oddly sad.
“And why’s that?”
“Because you love his mother too much.”
They broke their walk at midday when they find a grove of dead trees. Their empty branches cast a feeble shade, but it was something, and Rey leaned against the dead wood, closing her eyes and drinking heavily from her waterskin.
“How do you live up here?” she asked him.
“I don’t,” he replied.
“But you have to be close to the dragon, don’t you? To drink his blood?”
Ben rolled his eyes. “What’s that you’re drinking out of? Or do you have to stay near the rivers to drink water?”
“There’s no need to be an ass,” she told him, oddly stung.
He gave her a long look. “Forgive me,” he said at last. She watched him carefully, trying to suss out mockery in his words, but they seemed genuine enough.
He sighed, then looked up at the sky. “How does this heat shape up to Jakku’s?” He was clearly trying to make amends for his previous comment—trying to be polite and caring. Rey appreciated the gesture.
Rey closed her eyes, considering. “Both too hot, both too dry,” she said. “I’d forgotten what it was like, to be too hot and too dry.” How spoiled she’d become in the Star. Apart from the smell, though, the mountains reminded her of home. It’s not my home anymore.
“You made it out.” He sounded proud of her, oddly enough.
“I was driven out,” she corrected. “The Black Knight and his men put Jakku to the torch two years ago. That is how I found myself in the queen’s service.”
“Would you have stayed, if not for the Black Knight?” Ben asked. Rey looked down at her hands.
“Yes,” she whispered. “I would have stayed. I would have waited for them to come back for me until I was old and grey.” She looked at him miserably, out of habit more than anything else because she half-expected him to laugh at her. Instead he looked like he had before she’d met him, his gaze gentle, his face soft.
“Waiting for people to love you never works,” he said at last. “They didn’t deserve your love.”
“It’s not a question of whether or not they deserved my love. They had it. I gave it to them.” Her voice was thick and she sensed that tears would come soon if she wasn’t careful. “People talk about how love isn’t a choice—that you can’t choose who you love. And maybe that’s true, but you can also choose to love. They broke my heart and I loved them anyway. Even if they were cruel scum, like you said last night.”
“And I stand by it,” he said. “You did not deserve your fate, and they abandoned you to it. Just because you choose to love them doesn’t mean that I forgive their treatment of you.”
“And why do you—” she cut herself off, looking away. Suddenly she could not bear his gaze, the intensity of it, the warmth of it. It made her heart ache. Ben was far too confusing. Like Luke, he seemed to blow hot and cold. But unlike Luke—
“Why do you care about me?” she let herself ask. “You want me to join you, are taking me to your dragon, are comforting me. Why do you care?”
She hears him shift under the tree, but can’t bring herself to look at him. She hears him sigh. She hears him set down the branch he’d been carving.
“Why do you care about me?” he asked at last. “I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours.”
A breeze caused the bare branches overhead to creak. “You made me feel less alone,” Rey whispered with the wind. Was it enough for him to hear her?
“You’re not alone,” he said and the way he said it made her eyes snap to him and her heart was thudding in her chest now, so strongly, so vividly alive that it almost made her gasp for air.
“Neither are you,” she replied, and she understood.
It was lizard again for dinner that night, and the flavor was just as strange as the night before, but there was something more relaxed now. Ben had not been caustic ever since the grove of trees. His eyes had been gentle, his gaze almost shy when he’d looked at her.
“Why were you harsh?” she asked him quietly between bites of lizard. “Was it because of the blood? Does it make you angry?”
He gave her a serious look, chewing slowly. “You remind me of my past,” he said quietly. “And I try not to think about my past.”
“There is nothing for me there,” he said. “There never was. It was never really,” he took a deep breath. “Never really mine. I was part of it, not the other way around.”
“So you try not to think of it, as you try not to think of your mother?”
His gaze flickered.
“Precisely,” he said. “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way you can become who you were meant to be.” His words left a chill up her spine. And who were you meant to be? she wanted to ask him. But before she could, he said, “You let your past die. It’s how you became a knight.” Once again, he looked oddly proud of her.
“I didn’t, though,” Rey said, frowning. “I left Jakku, but it’s not as though everything that it made me isn’t still a part of me. It’s not like I’m a different person now.”
He leaned back, considering her. “No,” he said after a while. “No, I suppose you’re not. Fierce and stubborn—those come from Jakku, don’t they.”
“That’s what Luke always said.”
It was as though a storm was raging on his face all of a sudden. She’d seen him annoyed, seen him caustic—but enraged? She had never seen such anger on his face before.
“Luke? Luke Skywalker?”
“Yes,” Rey said.
But whatever it was that had infuriated him so about the mere mention of Luke’s name, Ben did not elaborate. He just watched her, his eyes burning now with a different light she’d seen there before—oddly possessive.
“You hate him,” she observed.
“Yes,” Ben bit out.
“How do you know him?”
Ben chewed on his lizard before saying, “He’s a liar and a fraud, and hides it better than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“And how did you meet—” but she cut herself off as Ben got to his feet, going to the edge of the clearing and standing just outside of the firelight. “So your past is off limits but mine isn’t?” Rey muttered under her breath.
She shouldn’t have been surprised that Ben heard her. “It’s not my past,” he said. “It was someone else’s. I’m not that person anymore.”
“You’re running from it.”
“I’m running towards a brighter future,” Ben said, turning back to face her, his face determined. “Because it will be brighter—the future. Better for everyone. I’ll make sure of that.”
He swallowed as he looked down at her from where he stood. His face was guarded, as though he expected her to roll her eyes at him, or laugh, or hate him.
But she didn’t want to hate him, and found that she didn’t.
On the contrary, there was something about his anger that was familiar—boiling and hot from a deeper pain than others could see. Yes—she understood his anger, for she was angry too. Yet for all the familiarity in his anger, it didn’t wash away the gentleness that she saw in his eyes when he looked at her, the burning honesty that told her that he cared for her, and deeply.
No, she did not want to hate him. She wasn’t sure she could. He was not an easy person to care for—even without knowing him for very long, she could sense the truth in that. But he chose to care for her—and somehow she found that she had chosen to care for him too.
Rey patted the ground next to her and he came to sit at her side—far more obediently than Beebee would have done. It was the closest that he’s been to her, she realized. She could almost feel the heat rolling off him, she could smell his sweat—tangy in her nose.
She didn’t know what to say though, but found, oddly, that she didn’t have to. The longer he sat there next to her, the more relaxed they both seemed to get, as though the mere proximity of the other had set something to right. She’d never felt that way before, and she could see in his eyes that he hadn’t either.
What are you doing to me? she wondered as she watched him. How many different feelings had she felt about him in that day alone. And now this? This peacefulness, tender and sweet—she hadn’t expected this. But this was why she had cared about him to begin with, wasn’t it—quiet caring, in the midst of roiling change?
“Ben,” she whispered to him, and his eyes flickered between each of hers, and she saw a wanting in them, deeper than she knew how to understand.
Chapter 5: Rob me of anger and give me despair
Rey woke before dawn the next day, curled up on her side with her head resting on her pack as though it were a pillow. She sat up, stretching and yawning. Her body ached—the road through the mountains was harder than she would like to admit, and the air was thin besides.
She looked around and saw Ben, lying flat on his back. This time, he did not wake under her gaze. Like the day before, she was struck with how young he looked in his sleep. There was a gentle curve to his lips.
You’re not alone, he’d told her yesterday.
That was why he had fascinated her so even from the beginning, she understood now. Because even when he wasn’t there, he was there, seeming to understand her better than Luke, and, though she would never have admitted it to him, at times even Finn.
Am I going to have to leave you behind? she wondered. The thought was a crushing one. If she killed his dragon, what would he become, weighed down without the blood he drew strength from? Would it break him? Would he hate her?
Neither are you, she’d told him. She’d meant that.
I’ll help him, she thought firmly. Through whatever pain it causes him, whatever rebellion his body undergoes without the dragon’s blood—I’ll help him.
If he didn’t hate her.
Rey got to her feet. In that moment, one thought was clear to her: she would not make him take her to the dragon. She could not. He wanted her to turn, and she knew she would not. She would not forget her honor. She was too stubborn even for Luke Skywalker, and most likely even for her own good. She would not break his heart like that. She’d sooner have him find her standing over the dragon’s corpse, the deed done, than watch her refuse to choose the dragon—refuse to choose him.
You love his mother too much.
She hated her own confusion right now, but she refused to let her determination fail her. She swung her moon and sea cloak over her head shoulders, as tightly as she could, knowing that it would obscure her in the dark and she made her way along the path that Ben had been taking her up.
The air continued to grow thinner the higher she climbed, and she was short on breath before too long. To make matters worse, the skin of water she carried with her was nearly empty, and her throat was parching.
It was nearly dawn, the sky growing pink and purple in the east, and Rey closed her eyes. Life, she thought, death, that brings new life…
And she heard it—or felt it enough to think she heard it. The Force could be like that sometimes. But regardless, she knew there was a waterfall not too far away. She could make it there, of that she was sure. So she marched on, moving more quickly, ignoring the chilly shivers the wind sent her way the higher she climbed.
She found the waterfall flowing out of a cliff face several hundred feet below her and she cursed. Of course it would be below her, she was so high up now. She reached out through the Force to see where it landed, whether it came from some high up pool that drained down into the rock, and was surprised to realize that it came out of a cave that went deep into the mountain.
There was enough light to see with by now, and she scanned the cliff face for crags that would serve as foot or handholds. She didn’t see many, but she did see a tree, that was growing stubbornly out of the dark rock—and another that was further down, closer to where the water was spilling from stone.
Rey took a deep breath.
Trust your instincts, Rey, Luke had told her.
And then Ben’s deadpan, solid plan.
Rey took a deep breath and jumped, the wind rushing around her, her Force splaying around her in pulsing rings as her hand scrabbled out and she grabbed the first tree.
It gave a horrifying groan with the addition of her weight, and Rey planted her feet against the stone as it seemed to sag, downward, downward towards…
It ripped at the same time that Rey leapt for the next tree, a little more wildly this time, but her own panic meant that, rather than undershooting the tree she landed almost perfectly on top of it and was able to slide down off it and towards the waterfall.
Her hands scraped at wet rock, and she reached inside her and used the Force to propel herself upward and onto the dark, wet stone floor of the cave. The echo of water roared in her ears, drowning even the sound of her own racing heartbeat.
It took her a few minutes to gather herself again, lying there flat on her back in the cave. The cloak was not wet, which oddly meant that Rey was barely damp at all. Her hands, though, were scraped and bleeding. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, willing the Force inside her to heal the skin. It stung, and she let out a hiss, but it was over before too long. She got back to her feet, stretching her muscles slightly before bending and filling her flask as high as it would go. She drank the whole thing down again before refilling it and looking about her.
The water seemed less loud now that her heart was not beating so intensely, and the cave…it seemed to glow. If the mountains were made of a midnight stone, the inside of this cave was dark and smooth as glass. She could see her own reflection, lit by whatever daylight came through the opening with the waterfall.
The longer she stared at herself, the more she noticed. It wasn’t just one version of her that she saw, it was many different versions, reflected in a line that seemed to go deep, deep into the cave. Each version of Rey stared intently at the one before her, and when she turned to look behind her, it was as though she could see an eternity of the back of her own head.
There is power here, she thought, though she did not understand it. She wished that Luke could have taught her better, that he hadn’t been so submerged in his own failings that he could have at least helped her understand.
Trust your feelings.
Water—water meant life, and stone…stone was unyielding. And yet over the centuries, over the eons, the water had carved its way through the stone, wearing it down, making it smooth. Force, she wondered. She reached out to touch the smooth stone in front of her and—
She’d never felt anything like that before—not once. The closest thing that she’d come to it had been when Kylo Ren had frozen her on the road before the City of Stars. Rey remembered the sensation of ants crawling across her skin, of her body thrumming with some alien power, and her own intense need to throw it off.
She pushed her Force into the smooth black stone and the first thought that came to her own mind was Show me my parents. Please.
Perhaps it was because she had told Ben how she chose to love them after all these years, or perhaps it was because they were always there beneath the surface, coursing as intensely as the river at her back, a question that needed answering, a pain that needed soothing.
The reflected Reys all faded and she saw two people walking towards her—one taller than the other and her heart caught in her throat. They were blurry through the glass, hard to see, but she knew, she knew that when they got closer she’d see their faces again. They were so close, so very close.
Her head snapped to the left and Ben was standing there, looking relieved.
But no—no he had interrupted. She turned to look back at the cave wall.
The vision was gone.
She could only see herself.
“Where are you?” he asked. “I’ll come find you.”
“Couldn’t you have waited?” she snapped. “It was going to show me my parents.”
“What was going to show you?” he frowned.
But of course, he couldn’t see where she was, couldn’t see what she could see. He could only see her, just as she had only been able to see him when she’d been back at the Star.
“Rey—” he began but she was still staring hungrily at the cave wall, willing it to pick up where it had left off, willing it to show her her parents. It had been so long since she’d seen them.
“Rey,” he said again more insistent. She reached out a hand to touch the wall but it was cold, unyielding and frustratingly Forceless.
And she felt it again, that creeping sensation that she’d felt earlier, of something pressing in on her from without, and she knew that it would be her vision again—it had to be, it had to—
But it wasn’t. It wasn’t the cave.
She whirled around. “Kylo Ren,” she spat at him. And she drew her lightsaber and ignited it, despite the fact that she knew he wasn’t even there with her.
He did not move. He just watched her. Then his face split in a twisted smile that should have made her stomach roil were it not for the fact that his eyes, yellow and fevered again today, somehow looked sad.
“How’d you guess?”
“I felt it. I felt it just now—the way you—”
“But not before when your Force touched mine?” He sounded curious, as though he didn’t understand the difference between the two sensations and wanted to. He seemed to loom over her. He was so tall, just as that masked knight had been, looming tall over Han Solo. How could soft-eyed Ben truly be that blackheart? The very thought made her feel ill.
“Of course not. Do you think I would have let you live if I’d known who you were?” she demanded. “You murdered the king. You’re a monster.”
“Yes,” he said and his lips were so dark in the dim light of the cave. Had he carried the dragon’s blood with him through the mountains? Had he used it to give him the strength, the control of the Force he needed to find her again? “I am.”
“Did you kill Ben Solo too?” she demanded angrily. “When you said he’s gone? Did you kill him?”
“You really don’t know.” He shook his head, incredulous. “You really haven’t guessed. I thought for sure you had—”
“What don’t I know?” She hated having her own ignorance shoved in her face, hated that he had interrupted whatever it was the Force was showing her, hated that the Force had seen fit to connect them somehow, hated that she had thought his eyes were soft, that she had been wistful about him, that she had felt less alone because of him and he was the very villain that she had sworn to destroy. It was salt in a wound that had ached in her for so many years.
“Ben Solo is gone. That doesn’t mean his body is dead.”
I used to be called Ben.
My mother taught me many things, and I try not to be any of them.
This isn’t going to go the way you think.
“You killed your own father,” she gaped at him. “How could you?” Men! The king consort had shouted. She had thought later that maybe it had been Ren! Now, she understood that it couldn’t have been anything but Ben!
“He wasn’t a very good father.” He was agitated now, speaking quickly. “Did you fancy the great king was? That he loved and cherished his son more than anything else in the world?”
“He loved you.”
“Is that what they told you?” he asked again. “Are you naïve enough to believe everything you’re told if it comes from the mouth of a queen or a legend?”
Because you love his mother too much.
What did he know? He hadn’t been there for years. He hadn’t seen.
“Your mother loves you,” she snapped angrily. “She misses you.”
“Told you that, did she?”
“She didn’t have to. I’ve seen it in her eyes. She has hope.”
“The only thing she’s ever had. Hope. Better to have hope that everything would turn out all right for me than to spend the time making sure that it did.” She could see it bubbling in him, beneath the veneer of his anger—a pain that cut hot and deep. Disappointing parents? “No, better to pawn me off to her brother for training than spend time with me.”
“Luke tried—he tried,” she scrambled, trying to think of what Luke had mentioned in passing about his nephew long gone. But she couldn’t think of it quickly enough and Ben’s—Kylo’s—next words thrust through her heart as he had thrust his lightsaber into his father’s.
“Tried to kill me, you mean.”
Rey gaped at him.
“They didn’t tell you that one, did they? Oh no, of course they wouldn’t. Wouldn’t want to spread around that they thought their precious prince might be mad. He had nightmares, could hear voices, dreamed of flying like a dragon. The Force was too strong for his weak body, so off to Luke Skywalker, savior of the realm he should go. Luke will know what to do with him.” His chest was heaving angrily and there was spit gathering at the corner of his mouth and he looked quite mad, standing there with his blood red lips and his blood yellow eyes. Is it the blood making him talk this way? He had said it made him stronger, had spoken of it making the weight of the world easier to bear. She knew that Finn spoke with a looser tongue when he’d had too much to drink, and Poe grew bawdier. Surely the magic of dragon’s blood might make Ben lose control of his tongue, of his wits, of his feelings. He had been harsher that first day when the blood was fresh than he had been yesterday. “And when Luke didn’t know what to do with him, he’ll try and kill him in his sleep.”
Rey could not move, it was as though she had become the stone she was standing on, though Kylo Ren was doing nothing to freeze her in place this time.
“Go on,” he said and she felt his bleeding Force reach out for hers once more. “You can look. But you know I’m speaking the truth.”
“You ran off to join the dragon. You weren’t kidnapped,” she whispered. Her heart ached, for Leia, for Luke, for Ben Solo barely more than a boy when he’d been knighted.
“Not quite,” he said. “Though I suppose it’s the truth in essence. I thought that if I came to slay the dragon, then I could show them all what I was, that they were wrong about me, that I wasn’t too dark.”
“And you failed.”
“No,” he said, “I ascended.” He took a step towards her. “The voices in Ben Solo’s head died, and he was reborn in dragon’s blood and oh—I saw everything so clearly. His past died, that I might live. I would think you would understand what it is to be left behind by those who are supposed to protect you, to guide you.”
“They didn’t stop loving you,” she whispered. “Your mother—”
“Gave you my grandfather’s lightsaber, though even when I was making my own she told me that one day I would wield it as king. Whatever hope you claim she has in me—it’s gone. She gave it to you.” He took a deep breath and the rage in his face faded as he looked at her. “Where are you, Rey. Let me come find you.”
“And what if I don’t wish to be found?”
“Then you’ll likely die. The mountains are unforgiving. And in the event that you make it to Snoke, well, I’ll see you there I suppose. Let me help you.” It was the first time he had called the dragon by its name. Now I know what it is. She hadn’t known that dragons even had names.
“Help me kill this dragon in whose blood you were reborn? Because I won’t turn—not now not ever. Do you want me to help you overthrow your mother as well? Your mother who has given me so much?”
When he replied, he did not answer her questions. “I don’t want you to die,” he whispered to her in that same intimate way he’d spoken to her the day before, and the breath caught in Rey’s throat.
And in his eyes, she saw the honesty he had threatened her with. Go on. You can look. But you know I’m speaking the truth.
He was. A truth unlike anything he’d told her. Those were truths of his past. This was a truth of his present, of his future. Whatever hope you claim she has in me—it’s gone. She gave it to you. Her mind was racing, too full of everything he had said, every piece of raw emotion he’d shown her—anger, and pain, and fear, and…and… and whatever was in his eyes now. And yet she found that the hope that had brought her to these mountains to begin with had not been snuffed out with this revelation. On the contrary, the more she thought about it, the more hope she had.
He’d introduced himself to her as Ben, after all.
And yet she knew that if she were to return to the Star, to ask Luke, to ask the queen… If she tried to explain it to Finn, or Poe, or Rose, or any of the rest of them… She wished, again, that she hadn’t prevented Finn from coming with her. Maybe if he were there she wouldn’t…
You’re not alone, he’d told her the day before.
She wasn’t sure why—except that she believed it, somehow. That he didn’t want her to die, that somehow, she mattered to this man who’d chosen to become a beast. Why did she believe it? Because she wanted to? Why would she want to, if he was a monster?
She felt her own hand reach out for his.
He stared at it, a very odd look on his face. Then he took off one of his gloves and he reached for her too, his palm pressing flat against hers.
It was as though the air was rushing out of her and all the world was rushing into her at once. Her mind was a swirl of color, black and blue and red and yellow and silver, and at the center of it all, Ben—smiling at her, how beautiful he was when he smiled—Ben holding her, Ben, kneeling and crowned and wearing a doublet of thick bright velvet, and Ben standing at her side staring at a dead dragon.
Hope, she thought as she felt a tear drop from her eyes.
“Ben,” she whispered to him, taking a step closer to him. His own eyes were bright and he was looking at her as though she were the moon. That, too, took her breath away.
“Where are you?” he rasped at her. “Please.”
“There’s a waterfall,” she said. “I…I didn’t think about getting out of the cave.”
“I’ll be there soon,” he told her, and was gone.
She felt his presence through the stone and rock, and walked to the edge of the cave, not letting herself look down at the rocks below beneath the crushing water. She looked up towards the ledge and saw him standing there, tall and dark against the sunlight. She wondered if he’d jump down to her as she did. Then she felt his Force nudging against hers.
I’m going to lift you, she heard him say as though he were right next to her, despite being several hundred feet away. Don’t move.
She took a deep breath and tightened her hands on her moon and sea cloak. And she was lifted into the air, carried lightly out into the now bright day and raised higher and higher towards him. The closer she got the more she realized just how calm his face looked, his eyes trained on her the way they were. The yellow and red she had seen in his eyes and lips had faded.
In the bright light of day, she could see how he had his mother’s eyes.
He placed her gently on the ground before him and Rey stared at him wordlessly, her head tilted upwards to look at him. He stared at her and there was a nervousness in his face that made Rey step towards him.
“I saw your future,” she breathed reaching her hand for his again and taking it. “When we touched hands—I saw it. I’ll bring you home, Ben, I swear.”
His gaze shifted ever so slightly down to her lips and for a breathless moment, Rey thought he would kiss her.
“And I saw yours,” he whispered. “I saw your lips red with the dragon’s blood. I saw you fighting at my side.”
Rey shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “No, I never would.”
“Nor would I,” he replied evenly, his face purposefully blank. When she reached to his Force, it was as though there was a wall between them.
“One of us will be wrong,” she said. She felt that. She knew it.
“You don’t have to be alone,” she whispered to him.
“Nor do you,” he replied. And now, when he said it, anger flared. She wasn’t alone. She had Finn, she had her friends. But even as the words filled her mind, they felt insubstantial.
She sighed. The moment was done, whatever it was, and she turned to look at the path ahead.
“Which way to Snoke, then?”
There were two more days of climbing through the Midnight Mountains. Two more days where she walked at the side of this…she didn’t think there were words that fit him properly. This man. Confusing, and stubborn, and cruel, and gentle, and clever, and harsh man. He knew the path through the mountains well, and Rey did not wish to dwell on how many times he must have made his way along it.
“Have your men joined you in the mountains before?” she asked him at the end of the first day.
“No,” he replied curtly. “What need would they have to see the dragon?”
“Do they not also drink his blood?”
He snorted. “Snoke does not bestow his blood on the unworthy. My men are not worthy.”
“And what makes you worthy?” she asked.
“Pick something,” he shrugged.
Power. Blood. Strength. Force. Any could apply.
“And why would I be worthy?” she asked. “If you saw me drinking his blood—I come from nothing. I am nothing.”
Not to me. For a moment, she thought she had imagined his words in her mind, but the way he was avoiding her gaze now was altogether too purposeful. “That will be for him to decide, not me. Not you,” was all he said.
The higher into the mountains they went, the more the air smelled of death, darkness, and ash. The trees were no longer dead—they were charred stubs, burned to a crisp from the magma that sometimes hurled itself out of the crests of the mountains.
Ben—Kylo—no, she refused to call him Kylo. Not now—stopped one such piece of burning rock from flattening them as it sizzled its way through the air towards them. He held out his hand and it stopped ten feet above them. Then with a flick of his hand, he sent it flying back towards the maw of the mountain.
He gave her a look over his shoulder, as though hoping that she would remark upon how strong he was, or how quickly he had acted. Instead, Rey said, “Who first taught you to use the Force? Your uncle?”
“My mother,” he replied through gritted teeth.
“She misses you,” she said and she watched as he turned away so as not to look at her.
“I doubt that,” he said coolly.
“She misses her heir—a sturdy line of succession, and what that means for her realm. She could care less about her son.”
“How do you know? Have you asked her?”
“I murdered my father,” he snarled at her, rounding on her, his face only inches from hers. “I can’t fathom she forgives me for that, knowing all she knows. Knowing what she thinks about her own father, she probably wants me dead for it.”
Rey frowned. She knew that Leia was loath to speak of Lord Vader, hated all he had done in the name of the Empire, had risen in rebellion against him.
“I’m his heir,” Ben said. “Not hers.”
Rey made a face. “You never knew him. How could you be his heir? Or is that just how you style yourself because you—” Something in his face made her breath catch in her throat. She knew that look—that stubborn need to believe a truth. To draw strength from it when you feel as though everything else would break you apart. “She loves you,” Rey whispered to him, taking a step forward. “It’s not too late. I can help you. She will forgive you.”
War raged in his eyes for a moment. Then there was nothing at all.
“My mother can’t love me. Don’t see what you wish to see because your mother didn’t love you.”
The words were a slap and Rey pushed past him angrily. In that particular moment, she’d rather fight a dragon than look at him.
She did calm herself after a time, though. He’s wrong, she told herself firmly. He just hurts. He will see the truth of it. He will turn. I saw it.
It was as the sun was setting on the second day that Rey looked east from the top of the mountain they had climbed and gasped. She could see the whole of the Midnight Mountains from up here, and beyond as well—great green forests and pastures that stretched as far as the eye could see. She had never seen anything so beautiful. She had never seen an expanse so great. It could have all been his, she thought.
He would still claim it as his own, followed the next thought.
As if he heard her thoughts, he came to stand behind her, and she could feel the heat of him at her back. It was oddly calming. He will turn, she thought. He will, I know he will. She had to have faith in that. It felt too right having him at her back for that. Surely he had to feel that too. Surely he had to know it.
“We’re nearly there,” he said quietly, and she felt his hand come to her elbow. It was the first time he had touched her since the cave.
Rey turned her back on the kingdom at her feet and followed him into the mountain.
They stood in a cave that glowed red and he led her to the middle of it before sinking to one knee as Rey had done so many times before his mother. He rested his hands on his knees and looked straight ahead.
From the shadows in the corner, Rey heard a scratching sound, and as her eyes adjusted to the dim red light, she saw golden and violet scales flowing like a river as the dragon unwound itself. She had thought it would be black, perhaps, like the dragon on Kylo Ren’s banners. She hadn’t been expecting this.
“So,” the dragon spoke and somehow its voice was rich and musical. It was still uncoiling like a snake and she could not see its face yet. “Leia Organa has sent another knight to try and kill me.”
“She didn’t send me,” Rey said loudly, hoping the volume would hide her own nerves. “I came on my own.”
“Did you? Like Ben Solo?”
And suddenly his head snapped down before her, their faces level now. It was horrible to behold. His eyes were golden and slitted like a cat’s and his skull—his skull was broken open, and she could see parts of his brain within it, unprotected except by magic. His teeth were sharp and there were three rows of them and when he laughed his face didn’t move at all. Somehow, through the Force she did not doubt, he could make sounds without moving his mouth at all.
“You underestimate him,” she said, angry now. “And you underestimate me.”
“Do I?” the dragon asked motionlessly. “I—who have known him as dearly as a son for so long? I—who have known him better than the father that planted him? I do not underestimate him, child. I know him better than he knows himself. I know his mind. I know his heart. And you…” The dragon clicked his teeth. “It was I that bridged your minds.”
The dragon’s laughter filled the room and Rey felt…something in Ben, something that was almost too much like defeat. She would not let herself examine the beating of her own, stricken heart.
“Did you think it was the Force that had done it?” the dragon scoffed. “That it was fate? That you were destined to rescue Solo? That that was your divine purpose? Come closer girl, and let me tell you a secret.”
Rey did not move. She was not going to give this dragon anything. “I don’t want to know your secrets,” she hissed at him, her heart thudding in her chest. “I don’t need anything from you.”
“You don’t?” Snoke asked and he laughed again. “Oh but you are fun. I am glad that my black prince was so intrigued by you. I would have worried about him if he hadn’t been. He has such trouble understanding what is good for him without a guiding hand.”
And suddenly the dragon’s tail lashed out and before Rey knew what to do he had twined it around her as tight as a strangling snake and lifted her into the air bringing her closer and closer to his angry yellow eyes and his rows of sharp teeth. His breath was hot and smelled of melted rock, and dead flesh and Rey refused to let her fear dominate her as she stared into his gaping maw. “You,” the dragon said—almost sweetly, with the voice of a lover—“are nothing, and will never be more, no matter whose lightsaber you wear at your hip. You are nothing, and I—I cannot be defeated.” And he threw her with a flick of his tail and Rey hit the wall of the red cavern, hard, and all the breath was knocked out of her as she crashed to the floor.
She pushed herself onto her hands and knees, panting, Snoke’s laughter echoing all around her. It was the laughter that goaded her to her feet, that caused her to reach for the lightsaber at her hip, the one she had yet to wield in battle, whose weight and balance were still alien to her.
“You underestimate me,” she shouted once again at the dragon. “You underestimate us both.”
“You both?” The dragon asked looking between them. “You think I do not know my young apprentice? Oh yes, he is an apprentice. Why else would he bear a dragon on his banners? My apprentice, not Skywalker’s. My child, not Organa’s. He has been mine since he was a boy, and what a fine boy he was. So eager to please, always.”
“He is not yours,” Rey said fiercely. She had seen Ben turn, she had—and if he knelt before Snoke now…well sometimes it was hard to face a dragon. She would not let herself be afraid if it could give him strength.
“Willful,” Snoke mused. “Headstrong. Organa must have loved that in you. Did she see herself in you, I wonder? I hope your death causes her agony. I should have killed her years ago when I was done with her womb. But soon enough, I suppose.”
With a roar of rage, Rey sprinted towards him, the lightsaber coming from her belt to her hand and igniting—she would destroy this dragon, for everything he’d said about Leia, for everything he’d said about Ben—
Once again, she was knocked against the wall of the cave by the dragon’s tail, and this time the lightsaber went flying out of her hand, its bright blue blade retracting and lying far too close to where the dragon’s tail now rested for her comfort.
Snoke was laughing again, and he raised a talon and pointed it to Ben. “Come to me, my boy.”
No, Rey thought with horror as Ben stood, crossing the cavern slowly, his eyes trained on the dragon.
“You think he might be yours?” Snoke asked her lazily as Ben walked slowly towards him. “That you will bring him home to his mother and leave me dead? You think that it might have been fate, or love that connected you? He will never be yours. He has always been mine. My heart to command, my body to rule. And now you shall see. Now you shall know. You will witness as he drinks the blood of my heart and the last thought you have before he plunges his blade into your heart will be—”
But what Rey’s last thought would be she never knew, because she heard the sound of a blade igniting and Snoke roared a great, screeching roar before collapsing—and then there was silence.
“Ben,” she breathed, hardly daring to believe what had just happened. He had just slain the dragon. She clambered to her feet, moving towards him as though she were in a dream. He was staring at the dragon’s corpse, at the smoking hole he’d plunged in the beast’s heart, so she could not see his face. She bent to pick up her lightsaber as she hurried towards him. But he did not turn to face her as she neared; he just kept staring at the dragon.
The longer he did not turn to look at her, the more slowly she moved. “Ben?” It came out barely more than a whisper.
At last he turned to look at her and his eyes were wide—almost frantic. She held out a hand to him and he stared at it. For a moment, her heart flared. Then, it faltered.
Her hand fell back to her side as he shook his head.
“Will you join me?” he asked her quietly. “Ride at my side?”
“Don’t do this,” she pleaded. “Please—come back with me. Come home. You killed—”
“I told you. I did not want you to die.”
“No. No, not Ben.”
His words cut like a knife.
“Why?” she choked out. There were tears in her voice, tears in her eyes. He had turned on Snoke, but somehow it hadn’t been enough.
“Because that past is not mine,” he said. “It was taken from me. It’s dead, like Ben Solo.”
“No, you are alive.”
“I have my own future before me—”
“Come back, come for your mother, come for—”
“—and I will have it in my own terms. I want you to join me, Rey.”
And now it was his turn to hold out a hand. “Please.”
“Why should I? You want the Empire to reign again? To do nothing but break the backs of the people you seek to rule?”
“As opposed to what?” Ben demanded angrily. “As opposed to what my mother does—or should I say fails to do? There has been war and suffering throughout her reign quite as much as there was under the Empire. But what has she done to stop it? She holds all the might of the crown, and yet she politics—and her people die.”
“Because you and your men—”
“See her weakness. I see her weakness. Hux and Maul and countless others see her weakness. Rey—we will put a stop to it all. There will be order at last in the realm. Perhaps for the first time since before the Empire. My mother doesn’t have the strength to do it. But we do.” His eyes were bright—as though he truly believed it, as though he truly wanted to make the realm better than it was. He cannot do that with Arkanis and Dathomir. Rey knew less of politics than of battle, but of that, at least, she was positive.
“I’m not part of your we—I’ll never join your horde.”
“Just because she didn’t sell me off for drinking money does not mean she did not abandon me.” He sounded angry. “Just because she is queen doesn’t mean she rules you.”
“I swore my sword to her.”
“Then turn it. You would not be the first to turn for a greater—”
“Ben, I can’t. I won’t.”
His nostrils were flaring now, and his lips were twitching, clenching nervously.
“So that’s it,” he said, a clipped finality in his tone that all but broke her heart. She had been so sure, she had been so close. His lightsaber ignited for the second time in his hand.
“Well, then let’s finish it. Save yourself the trouble of having to hunt and put down Kylo Ren. Bring my head back along with the dragon’s to your precious queen. See with your own eyes that she doesn’t care what became of her son.” There was bile in every syllable, and Rey wanted to weep.
“Don’t do this,” she pleaded again.
“You don’t do this,” he pleaded. “Please. Rey. Join me. I want you to join me.”
She thought of Leia, and her hopeful warmth, thought of Finn and the way he’d picked her up and swung her around when Rose had said yes, thought of Poe and Chewbacca, thought of Falcon the beautiful steed in the stable that she had not yet had the chance to ride, thought of the Black Knight standing before her—her foe, her friend. He had his mother’s eyes.
“Please,” he begged again, his voice so quiet.
The blue blade ignited in Rey’s hand.
He stared at it, and the light seemed to go out of his eyes.
His face hardened.
Then his long red blade was swinging in a wide arc as he lunged towards her. It hummed through the air, the sound of menace.
Rey parried the blow, and sidestepped him, raising her saber to block yet another blow he sent her way. He moved so quickly—his reflexes lightning quick—and it was instinct far more than training that brought Rey’s blade up to block the blows he sent to her side, sent at her legs.
He was too quick for her—or at least, too quick for her while he had her constantly on the defense. The best defense is a good offense, she remembered Poe telling her when first she’d begun training with a sword, and Kylo’s blade was relentless.
Then her mind caught up to her body. He fights as though he is wearing armor.
And Rey squatted down and swung out her leg, knocking his long legs out from under him so that he was flat on his back and dazed. His lightsaber was still in his hand and a moment later Rey felt herself blasted back, the full weight of his Force striking her in the chest and knocking her away as he scrambled to his feet again, his eyes blazing at her.
“Unchivalrous,” he sneered at her from across the cavern.
“Is chivalry required when dueling a man with a black heart?” she asked him.
His face twisted. “So you sink to my level? I thought knights of the realm were meant to rise above it.”
She felt his intention to move a breath before he actually did, and this time she was ready. She leaped forward, swinging her own blade, connecting with his as she cut at his open left side, again and again, and now it was he who was retreating beneath her blows as she snarled at him every time their blades connected and sent a shiver of impact up her arm.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” she told him. She would stop in a heartbeat if he bent, would take him in her arms, would help him home.
“You’re right—it doesn’t,” he retorted and his blade locked with hers, the fiery crossguard of a breath away from the back of her hand. He could twist it easily and burn her, wound her, then kill her, but he didn’t. I don’t want you to die.
“So yield,” she begged him.
He was bearing his weight down on her again, and it was like in the field right after he’d slain his father, when she had struck him across the face with her iron staff and he’d escaped from her on horseback. It had been the first time she’d felt the Force inside her, the first time she’d known strength beyond her own.
Apart from the fact that she could see his face now, that he wore no armor and the blade he bore was made of light not steel—it was the same. Rey found that angry flame within her, throbbing with pain that she had hoped and yet here they were, blade to blade—and she threw him back. She kicked him, hard, and she sliced at him wildly and the tip of her lightsaber connected with his face as his head cracked against the floor of the cave, the skin across his right eye sliced open.
He was still breathing but his blade was retracted and he was not conscious. His face was only slightly bleeding—her blade had cauterized the wound—but blood was running from the back of his head out across the stone in the room.
Save yourself the trouble of having to hunt and put down Kylo Ren. Bring my head back along with the dragon’s to your precious queen.
She switched off her blade and turned.
She could not do it. She would regret it later—of that she was sure.
But her heart was too broken to be the one to kill Ben Solo when she’d been so convinced she could save him.
So Rey fled.
Chapter 6: I’m sure she left hoping that I’d have the good sense to die
It was like waking from a dream and being reminded by the harsh reality of the world beyond the mountains what it was to fail—what it was to be meaningless.
It took her more time to reach the Star than it had taken to get to the mountains. There was no excited spring in her step now, no burning determination that she would succeed, that she would make right what had been broken. Instead she trudged on, and it felt almost as though she had never left Jakku.
Don’t, she told herself the first time that thought crossed her mind. Away with it.
But the further east she walked, the more the thoughts plagued her.
How long had she just tried to survive in that wasted corner of the kingdom? And to think that she could do anything, be anything, because she’d defeated the Black Knight—twice now—in combat was laughable. Who had she been deluding? And how had the queen believed her?
She thought of her mother on the long nights where she tried futilely to sleep in the bed she rented at the increasingly frequent wayside inns. She would stare up at the ceiling and twitching in the back of her mind came memories of a woman with missing teeth and beer-soaked breath telling her…telling her…
But her mind drew a blank.
Just because she didn’t sell me off for drinking money does not mean she did not abandon me.
She kicked the mattress underneath her angrily and turned her face to yell into the pillow. He had parents who had loved him, who had wanted him to come back, who had tried. His father had ridden across that field unarmed to try to bring him home.
Rey couldn’t remember her mother’s words, or her father’s face. She just remembered hunger, and sniping, and being made to feel like she shouldn’t exist at all.
They didn’t deserve your love.
And you did? She wanted to scream at him—for making her feel cared for and now leaving her bereft of his care while she—well, she’d never been good of letting go of those she loved. How she had hoped they’d come back for her. How she’d prayed. If they had come back for her, maybe her mere existence wouldn’t be a mistake that she had to apologize for, had to justify until she drew her last breath.
Those were the thoughts that plagued her as she crested the hill she’d climbed two years before with Finn and Beebee at her side seeing the shining castle that sat over a great valley.
Home, she told herself, but it didn’t feel like home. Maybe because the thought that chased it was that this was where she had first met Kylo Ren, first fought him.
She had defeated him both times, yet had never felt brought so low.
She kicked a rock on the road and quickened her pace.
She was nearly there now.
The first person she saw upon reaching the gates of the Star was Chewbacca, who took one look at her and a broad smile crept across his face.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes,” he told her, clapping her fondly on the shoulder. “Returned to us, then?”
“I am,” she said, craning her neck to look up at him. She’d forgotten how tall he was in the month she had been gone. Taller even than Ben, her mind supplied unhelpfully.
“And did you do it? Is the dragon dead?” Chewbacca asked quietly, his warm eyes alight with curiosity.
Rey swallowed. No, she thought. No, Ben did. I failed.
Instead, she said, “The dragon is dead.”
Chewbacca let out an approving roar. “Knew you’d make a hero,” he said throwing his arm around her shoulder, but it all felt wrong—it wasn’t her victory, but she didn’t know what it was.
“Where is the queen?” she asked him.
“In the gardens, like as not,” Chewbacca replied. “Come—I’ll take you to her.”
He offered Rey his arm, and Rey took it, letting herself be led through the courtyard by the great guard, past the kitchens, past the armory, through a little gateway and into the walled gardens that were full of the queen’s favorite flowers.
As Chewbacca had predicted, the queen was sitting there, a lapdesk on her skirts and an inkbottle on the bench next to her. She was writing letters.
“Your grace,” Chewbacca called to her. She looked up, saw Rey, and seemed to sag with relief. “Your knight in shining armor has returned.”
“My knight in dusty, travel-worn clothes, you mean,” Queen Leia corrected, waving Rey over. “I am glad to see you returned safely. I will confess to having been worried. I know what Snoke is capable of.” So Leia had known the dragon’s name. Had her son told her, when he’d been plagued by nightmares?
“The dragon is dead,” Chewbacca exclaimed happily, once again giving Rey an appreciative clap on the shoulder.
“You did it?” Leia Organa’s voice was breathless, her eyes bright with joy and it was that, more than anything, that made Rey’s eyes well with tears.
“No,” she said. “Ben did.”
It wasn’t silent. There were birds chirping, echoes of singing steel from the courtyard, the wind rustling in trees. But the queen did not breathe. Rey could not look away from her, watching as the lapdesk slid down her skirt as her grip on it went lax and Rey knelt to catch it before it slid off entirely. She stayed on her knees. It felt right.
“Ben was there?” Queen Leia asked at last. “It was…it was Ben?”
“I met him in the mountains,” Rey confessed. “He helped me get to Snoke.”
“Helped you?” Chewbacca barked angrily.
“Chewie,” the queen intoned, her gaze not leaving Rey’s face. “Tell me everything.”
Rey did not know where to begin—seeing him in the castle and not knowing who he was, no one knowing who he was because he wasn’t actually there, even if she could see him, or just finding him the mountains, how he had helped her, how he hadn’t wanted her to die, how he—
“Pick a point and start. Circle back if you must,” the queen’s voice was firm and Rey obeyed, settling for the beginning.
“I didn’t know who he was,” she said, “I tried to find out, but since no one saw him, no one could tell me, and I thought he was just this…elusive figure, someone I was failing to describe well—not that he wasn’t there. How could he not be there?”
“The Force moves in mysterious ways,” Leia suggested, her voice a thousand miles away.
“Perhaps,” Rey responded. “But no one warned me that this was one of the ways. So when I reached the mountains…”
She told the queen of how he had brought her to Snoke, how he had killed Snoke to save her life, how she had been so sure that that meant he would come home until he had asked her to join him, until they had dueled and she’d left him bleeding.
She could not look away from the queen’s face. Her brown eyes were so expressive—so like her son’s—and they were pained as she looked down at Rey.
“Forgive me my failings,” Rey begged. “I could not bring him home.”
The queen did not say anything. It was like she didn’t see Rey at all, and Rey had not felt so small since she was a girl looking up at her own mother. Please say something, she wanted to beg the queen, but the voice in her mind was not her own—or it wasn’t hers as it was at the age of twenty-one. It was a small voice, a child’s voice, crying.
“You have done so much,” the queen said and her voice was thick. “And given me much to reflect upon. I will need some time to think.”
“Of course, your grace,” Rey stood at once and she backed away.
“I shall send for you later,” Leia Organa said, and Rey bowed and whirled about and fled the garden.
She slowed when she reached the courtyard and it wasn’t until she felt Chewbacca’s hand on her shoulder again that she realized he had followed her.
“Come,” he said quietly and brought her to the little guardhouse he occupied by the main gate of the Star.
She had been in here several times in the past few years, but never had she felt as though the walls were closing in about her as she sat in the creaky wooden chair opposite Chewbacca.
“So now you know,” he said quietly.
“That it was Ben who slew his own father?” Rey asked, remembering Chewbacca’s howl of pain and rage and the crossbow bolt that had struck the Black Knight in the flank.
“That he lives, that the queen will always wonder if her son and heir will return, that the sweet boy I used to put on my shoulders and walk about the battlements turned into a man with a black heart who would ride with Arkanis and Dathomir and how many others to wrest his mother’s crown from her rather than wait for it to land upon his head. That he killed his father.”
Rey looked down at her hands. It hadn’t occurred to her even once that Chewbacca had shot at his friend’s son, a boy he would have cherished turned into a man he would detest. It made her even sadder and she had not thought that possible.
“What comes next?” she asked him.
“The queen will tell you one thing, and your heart will tell you another,” Chewbacca replied. “She will tell you that we must continue to hope that he comes to his senses—as she did after he killed the king—and you will know, for you have seen with your own eyes what she has not, that he is a beast that must be put down.”
I don’t want you to die.
Rey closed her eyes but that did not prevent the tears from leaking out of them.
“You know it is what the realm needs,” Chewbacca told her fiercely. “I know you thought him your friend, that you had hope—it is time to let go of that hope.”
“It isn’t that,” Rey said quietly and she looked up at Chewbacca. “He killed Snoke. That meant something.”
“That he wished to answer to no one, perhaps,” Chewbacca replied. “Which only makes him the more dangerous, I should think.”
“No,” she said. That felt wrong. He hadn’t been there, he didn’t know—he didn’t know about Luke.
“I need to find Luke,” she said getting to her feet. “I won’t forget what you have said. But I…” She what?
She did not know.
She found Luke Skywalker where she was expecting to—in the ascetic bedchamber at the top of the tallest tower in the Star that he had occupied ever since his sister had ascended to the throne. If Rey’s chambers were sumptuous—more so than she liked, but she also did not know how to ask them to make them less decorated—his were bare. Where hers were well lit with a wide window, his were dim. But where she still felt a stranger sometimes in her bedchamber, Luke’s seemed to fit him like a glove.
“Well?” Luke asked her when she came in and closed the door behind her, sitting down on a bench she had so often sat upon during her training with him.
“Snoke is dead,” she said. “Ben killed him.”
Whatever he had been expecting her to say, it wasn’t that. Luke seemed to stop breathing, and when he looked at her there was a haunted expression in his eyes.
“Ben.” She was surprised at how steady her voice was because even looking at Luke was making her heart beat with a rage he had not expected, given everything that had transpired. “Is it true? Did you try to murder him?”
Luke stared at her. “Did he tell you that?”
“You told me he was kidnapped by a dragon,” Rey said. “He said you tried to kill him and he went off to try and slay it and—”
“And the dragon seduced him to the dark side all the same,” Luke said. “Did he tell you that he’s Kylo Ren?”
“I worked that out on my own,” Rey practically yelled. She had felt despair with the queen, had felt failure. With Luke, she could hardly contain her rage. He had trained her for two years and never once told her. This is not going to go the way you think, he had warned her. Whose fault was that? “You made Kylo Ren.”
Luke seemed to sag. He would not look at her, and she sensed great shame in him as she glared across his bedchamber at him.
“I sensed darkness in him,” Luke whispered at last. “I…I had always known that it would be there. Whatever the songs may say, there is no one who is only light or only dark. To believe that every person does not contain both is folly. Even you who shine so brightly…there’s an anger in you, a raw power that I—” he cut himself off. He looked at her at last and she had never noticed the dark bags under his eyes quite like this, the wrinkles in his aging face. “But one day I let my curiosity get the better of me and I saw more than I had dreamed possible—the lives he would destroy forever.” Luke was breathing heavily and when he continued, his words came quickly, as though they were tumbling over themselves. “And in one moment of instinct, I thought I could prevent it all.” His hand on his knee tightened as though around a phantom lightsaber. “And then my mind caught up with my heart. There is darkness in everyone, and my light caught mine before I killed my nephew. But I was left with consequence—with the face of a boy whose uncle had failed him.”
“Does Leia know?” Rey asked.
“No,” Luke said. “I couldn’t—I didn’t know how to tell her. Han though…Han knew. He forgave me, which would have been too much for Kylo Ren.”
“I have never known anyone with as much raw power so young as Ben Solo,” Luke said, sounding agitated. “It made him a very frustrating pupil—too clever and curious by half, stubborn like his parents and like me, and impossible to hide things from. And Han…Han never tried to hide anything from his son. Maybe I didn’t come up in the moment before he died. But if I was in either of their thoughts, Ben would have known that Han forgave me. It would have sent him into a rage. That is all that Kylo Ren is—the rage that Ben unleashes on the world. All my sins in a black helmet meant to remind me of my own father. Thoroughly unreachable by those who love him.”
“I tried,” Rey whispered. “I tried to reach him. And I think I may have but he wouldn’t follow the path though when I offered to help him back to it.”
“He killed Snoke,” Luke half-asked, and Rey nodded. “But it wasn’t enough to bring him home.” Rey shook her head and Luke sighed. “So long as I live, I suspect that will always be true.”
A chill crossed Rey’s spine. She heard the truth in Luke’s words.
“There is still light in him,” Rey told him. “I felt it. I saw it.”
“As I said, there is light and dark in everyone. Ben gave up on his light the moment I…” He shook his head. “This is all pointless. The same conversation I’ve been having with myself for ten years.”
“It’s not,” Rey said fiercely. “Because he saved my life, because I am not you, because—”
“None of that matters so long as his hatred of me remains. His hatred of me outdoes any feeling he may have towards you.”
There was a hot bath waiting for her in her room which she settled into with a sigh, letting the heated water undo some of the tiredness from the road that had settled into her back and feet. She did not sit in the water for too long before getting out and dressing in some of the finer clothes she found in her wardrobe—finery that she sensed was yet another gift from Leia in her absence, for the tunic she donned was a finely woven wool so soft that it almost took her breath away.
Dressed and, to an extent, refreshed, Rey clipped her lightsaber and her the scabbard of her shortsword to her belt and makes her way through the castle to find Finn in the common room for the castle guards. He had a mug of beer in one hand and seemed to be playing a game of dice with some of the other members of the squad but he stood immediately when he saw her and she was running to give him the deepest hug she had ever managed.
“I’m sorry,” she said at once. “I’m so sorry, Finn. I should never have said that. I wish you had come with me.”
“That bad?” he asked her, and Rey nodded. He squeezed her again, waved farewell to the guards he’d been playing with, and he and Rey went and sat in a pair of chairs by the window, and for what feels like the millionth time that day she told him everything, her words tripping over themselves despite the practice.
You can’t tell anyone, Finn,” she said as she finished. “I am sure that the queen already wouldn’t want me telling you but…but…” But she couldn’t lie to him. She couldn’t.
Finn’s head was in his hands and when he finally looked up at her, his expression was that of a man tormented. “Forgive me, Rey. I knew.”
Rey blinked at him. She did not understand.
“Knew. Yes.” And it was Finn’s turn for the words to trip over his tongue. “Rey—I would have told you, but the queen swore me to secrecy the moment that I told her what I knew of the Black Knight’s horde on our very first day in the Star.”
“You knew,” Rey repeated numbly. She stared at Finn, her dearest friend. He had lied to her. It stung. It hurt more than she wanted it to, for her head knew why he had done it and that it wasn’t for lack of caring for her. And yet perhaps she would not have felt so defeated with Ben’s refusal to shed Kylo Ren if she had known for longer, if Finn had told her.
“Well,” she said at last. “Well, we both know now. There need be no further secrets between us.”
“No,” Finn agreed, sounding relieved. “No, there needn’t be. We shall bring him down together.” Something in the way that he said it sat ill with her, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it before he said, “Promise me that you won’t face him without me, Rey. Promise you won’t go alone again.”
“I promise,” she said. It was an easy oath to make. She didn’t want to be parted from Finn ever again. Not if it meant she ran the risk of making her way back to this Star—which seemed to shine much less brightly now that she knew the secrets of it—with her mind on her mother and her own worthlessness. Finn had made her feel as though she might be worth something for the first time in her life,and he never failed to make her feel that way again.
You’re not alone.
Why had her heart swelled when he’d told her that? She had Finn. She had everyone in this castle. And yet she felt bereft of him, even though he had never truly been there.
“How is Rose?” Rey asked, determined not to think about Kylo Ren. Finn seemed to deflate at the question, and Rey gaped at him. “What happened? Did you fight?”
Finn took a sip of his beer. “Before she died, Paige had arranged a marriage for Rose back in Hays. He’s a landowner—a man named Jasper Rocan. Good family, plenty of money. When she wrote to inform some cousins of our marriage, it came to light. And Rose…”
His eyes were too bright now, and he looked as though he might cry.
“She has rejected you?” Rey asked quietly, her heart breaking for her friends.
“She doesn’t want to, but she refuses to bring shame on her sister’s pact. She loved Paige more than anything, and if she does not carry through with the marriage, it means that it is Paige’s name who will be sullied. She cares naught for her own, naturally—but those she loves?” He shook his head. “It is what I love in her, that passion. But now it drives a wedge between us and I…and I…” He tried to smile. “I am selfish enough to want her to marry me anyway, but not so selfish as to tell her that. I know her well enough to know that she will do what she thinks is best, and in this case, best is her love for Paige.”
“Finn,” Rey began, reaching for his hand, but Finn shook his head.
“It is done, Rey. My heart is broken, but you are home safe and sound and I can content myself with that.”
Rey swallowed the lump that had gathered in her throat. He did not sound as though he believed it, and thus she could not believe it either.
It seemed like the whole world had fallen apart when she’d ridden out—that the world was off-kilter, perhaps had been ever since Luke had stood over his sleeping nephew with a drawn blade.
How do I fix it? Rey wondered. She’d spent so long in Jakku trying to find and fix broken things. But how could she fix everything broken in her life right now?
It was after dinner when Rey was preparing to sleep in her own bed that she heard a knock on her door. She grabbed an overrobe and tied it around herself before opening the door and—
“Your grace,” she said, sinking into a bow. “Forgive me, I—”
“Had no idea I was coming,” the queen said. Rey stepped aside and let her enter the bedchamber. Queen Leia surveyed the room for a moment, taking in the bed in the corner, the rack on which Rey’s armor stood and the books stacked on the little table by the window before turning to Rey. “I didn’t know I would be coming tonight either,” she sighed. She sat in one of Rey’s chairs and Rey sat opposite her, resting her hands on her knees and waiting for the queen to speak.
“I find myself in a precarious situation,” Leia said after a moment. “My son and heir seeks to claim my throne by combat, and it seems cannot be dissuaded from that end. No one save a trusted few even knows that he is my son, and most believe that my son and heir is dead. I am, of course, past my childbearing years, and so cannot produce another heir. My brother is childless. My line, as far as my vassals see it, is over. So they would have me name an heir—one of their sons or daughters—that when I do leave this world my realm not sink to anarchy.”
Rey swallowed. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I failed you, I—”
But Queen Leia raised a hand and Rey fell silent. “I cannot, in good conscience, name an heir who is not my son without telling them the truth, which would of course endanger them, me, and the realm as a whole. Any person I name as my heir would also have my son’s anger at their back. But I also must pick someone.”
She sighed and looked at Rey and Rey knew what Leia Organa was going to say before the words came from her lips.
“I would name you,” she said simply.
“Your grace,” Rey gasped in shock, her ears seeming to ring with her childhood screams of “come back!” at her own mother’s retreating form. “I—”
“Have proven your worth and bravery; have proven your compassion and honor. You know the truth of my son as he is and as he might be—as well as what he has been. You have said that he does not want you dead, so let it be a challenge to him, then.”
“So I am to be a pawn?” Rey asked, not sure if she cared but needing to know all the same. Her mind was reeling with the possibility of it all, more even than the reality of the queen sitting opposite her.
“Everyone is a pawn, even a queen,” Leia said. “That you must learn if you’re to be my heir. You serve the will of others, they do not serve you. This you know as a knight, but know that it is especially true of a queen.” She leaned forward and took Rey’s hand. “More than any of that, though, you have hope that my son is not a monster, that there might still be light in him. You have so much hope in you, Rey. And that is what the realm needs. Someone with unfailing hope.”
“I don’t feel like it’s unfailing,” Rey whispered. “I feel as though it has failed.” It was a horrible confession to make, but she also could not hide it from the queen when the queen was considering naming Rey her heir. A princess? She’d been a parentless garbage-picker not three years ago.
She looked back at Queen Leia, struck once again by how similar her son’s eyes were to her own. They had the same long face too.
“Well, get back up off the dirt, soldier,” Leia said. “You’re stronger than letting one setback defeat you.”
Rey gaped at her even as the queen stood and rested her hand on Rey’s shoulder. “I will of course allow you to consider this,” the queen said. “I will not lock you into a life that you do not wish. But I hope you will not flee from it. I don’t know who else I would chose, and I quite like the idea of passing my throne on to a woman when I am gone. I was born of one queen, and raised by another, after all.”
She swept from the room leaving Rey thoroughly stunned in her wake.
How long she sat there, she wasn’t sure. It wasn’t until someone sat down in the chair opposite her that she almost leapt from her own skin.
Kylo Ren’s eyes were burning hot and yellow into her, and she knew he wasn’t truly in the room with her but all the same her heart thudded in her chest. An ugly red scar stretched across his cheek where she’d sliced his face open with her lightsaber, but for all his uncanny eyes and his scarred face—it was his expression, swirling with rage and pain, that set her teeth on edge.
He didn’t say anything to her at all, and it was so painfully like those years when she’d seen him in the distance—except she knew who he was now, and why he stared at her. What wouldn’t she give to have those more innocent glances back, for none of this to have happened.
Well, get back up off the dirt, soldier.
She opened her mouth and heard her own words as if a stranger were saying them. “This isn’t over. Come home.”
His lower lip twitched, then he seemed to try to chew the twitch out.
“You assume home is a place I want to come back to.”
His words hung in the air between them, and Rey took a deep breath.
“And if I am part of that home?” His eyes flickered, and Rey’s heart lurched with hope. “Ben, what can I say to make you believe that your mother just wants you back? That she—”
A flash of anger crossed his face, and he vanished. Rey wondered if she had said the right thing, or the wrong.
Chapter 7: Ride onward to glorious strife
I am woefully behind on replying to reviews but <3 and I'll get to them sooooooon!
Six Months Later
She would never—never—get used to it. Not the stares, not the bows, not the way that Threepio called her “Princess,” whenever he saw her.
Rey turned, her silver cloak swishing behind her as it did. “Threepio,” she said, inclining her head to Leia’s steward.
“Princess, I don’t mean to interrupt—I know you are so very busy,” Threepio said, and Rey inclined her head in hopes that it would encourage him to get to the point. “Queen Leia requests your presence in the throne room at once.”
She gave Finn a look, and he rolled his eyes. “After you, Princess,” he teased, and she had half a mind to elbow him, but decided against it. That was not particularly princesslike behavior.
And Rey had feared that becoming a knight was more than she could manage. Every day, she dreaded what shame she would bring to the queen and her kingdom by being a child of scavengers in Jakku. She had little understanding of the realm’s history, no etiquette at all, and Threepio was doing his best to make her as acceptable a princess as an abandoned junk trader’s daughter from Jakku could be, but unlike her training as a knight, where she felt constantly as though she were improving, each passing day was filled with more ways in which Rey felt inadequate. Leia told her not to think about it, to focus on what was good, and right, and justified in her newfound status. But that only made Rey feel more and more an imposter.
To make matters worse, suitors were starting to arrive at the castle, plying her with flowers and minstrels singing songs of love and telling her how pretty she looked. She believed all of them less than she believed Kylo when he had told her that he had wanted her at his side. He wanted me for me, at least. None of these men care for me beyond the crown I will one day wear. When she’d told that to Leia, Leia had given her an approving look that had made her feel a little bit better about being made to feel a fool whenever a new young nobleman presented himself to her, so much more obtrusive than Ben had been when Ben had still been a mysterious dark man to her.
The worst was dancing with them. She already was not particularly fond of dancing, for she found remembering all the steps difficult. She vastly preferred making things up as she went along when she was sparring with Poe, and did her best not to think of the heat from the times she had dueled with Kylo. Most of all, she hated that these men she danced with—not one of them had eyes half so engaging as—
She always cut herself off at that thought.
The doors to the throne room were opened as she approached and the gathered courtiers parted as she made her way through them—another thing she still was not quite accustomed to. She made her way to the dais and sat herself in the throne that had once belonged to Han Solo and should rightfully belong to Ben. She looked at Leia, whose lips were tight before following her gaze to a kneeling man and immediately her heart was in her throat.
The man was covered in mud and what looked most likely to be caked blood.
“Speak,” Leia said gently, leaning forward in her seat. “Tell me what you are able.”
“It was the Black Knight, your grace,” the man said at once, and Rey’s insides went cold. “I knew it was him—all black armored with his dragon flag and his hot red sword.”
“That’d be the one,” Chewbacca said from where he stood at the edge of the dais and he gave Rey a forceful look.
“He and his men—they rode down on my village. He said no one would be hurt if we bent the knee to him and named him our rightful king.” A wave of whispers filled the room, and Rey understood now why Leia so frequently closed her eyes when news was bad. She did not wish to see their faces as they stared at her, and certainly did not wish them to see the agony at his words. “But we wouldn’t do it, your grace, we wouldn’t. We remember Endor and your bravery and Ser Skywalker’s and our late king’s. We told him as much and… and…” The man was crying now and Rey knew what was coming before he even said the words. “He put the whole town to the torch. All of it. He cut us down with that red sword of his.”
Gasps filled the room at that. No true knight wielded a lightsaber save against another knight with such a weapon. To use it against peasants—
Rey’s heart went cold. This isn’t putting an end to it, she thought angrily. Anger was easier than the hurt in her heart, the soft way he’d looked at her. How hard had his eyes been when he’d slaughtered them?
“Blackheart!” Chewbacca roared angrily. “Monster.”
“Chewie,” Leia intoned but she sounded so very weary.
Finally, she looked at Rey and her eyes were unreadable, but Rey didn’t need to read her eyes to know what to do. She stood and descended from the dais to the man and knelt before him.
“Your suffering breaks my heart,” Rey told him. “And I know that cannot recover what you have lost at the Black Knight’s hands, but know it all the same.”
The man nodded, his lips quivering, his breath shaky and Rey stood. As if he had heard her, she saw Kylo Ren standing before her now. To her great disquiet, he wasn’t wearing a shirt at all, and his skin was shining with sweat or perhaps rainwater—she could not tell. Her heart quickened with anger and she glared at him.
“I ride at dawn,” she said loudly, hardening her heart, and whispers broke out throughout the hall, but if anyone was concerned that the queen’s heir was to ride out to face her enemy, none challenged it. “A knight who wields his lightsaber thusly against those who cannot defend themselves, against those with whom he has no quarrel is no knight. He is not even a man.”
He was watching her, his lips drawing back in a sneer now, and he opened his mouth as if to speak but Rey continued. “Who rides with me?”
“I will,” Finn said at once and she turned to him, smiling her brightest smile at this man who was her brother.
“And I,” came Poe’s voice from the side of the hall.
“I shall ride as well.” The murmurs that filled the throne room died at the third voice and Rey turned slowly to the door. Luke was standing there, and on his hip his lightsaber. Rey looked at him in shock, but his blue gaze was clear and purposeful.
Rey’s head snapped back to Kylo Ren. “Kylo Ren will rue the day he turned his back on the realm,” Rey said loudly and he raised his eyebrows at her. “He will regret all he has become, and either he will beg for my mercy, or he’ll die.”
She saw him again as she was preparing for bed in the still more sumptuous bedchamber that had become hers after she’d been named his mother’s heir.
“At least you have a shirt on this time,” she muttered, pulling her robe more tightly around her, a rush of relief filling her that he was appearing to her now and not while she’d been undressing and not when she’d already climbed into her bed. She did not think of the fact that they had lain by one another’s sides in the Midnight Mountains. She hadn’t known he was and would ever be Kylo Ren then. It had been different.
“It was your turn, I suppose,” he replied, sitting down in a chair that most frequently was occupied by his mother. His eyes raked over her, and she wished she were still wearing her trousers under her robe when his gaze landed on her bare ankles. “Though I will say—ankles? Scandalous.”
She glared at him. “You’re a murderer,” she hissed. “A snake—and you don’t even have dragon’s blood to blame for your villainy now that Snoke is dead.” Except that wasn’t true. His eyes were tinged with yellow even now, and his lips were a scab-colored brown. “Did you collect his blood to drink?” she asked slowly, wishing she didn’t sound so pained. “Is that why you—”
“There was enough blood in his corpse to sustain me,” he said and there was a defensiveness to his voice. At least he felt conflicted about all this too—she could take some comfort in that.
“So you could continue to use his magic to make you powerful without keeping him alive. So I was just a pawn, then? Something to distract him so you could kill him and rob him of his blood?”
He let out a growl. “Never doubt that I wanted to save your life,” he said. “Never doubt that. Call me a monster if you must, but that—that is the only truth I will not see slandered.”
The force of his words took her breath away, but not for long. Her head was still spinning. “So I was enough to make you kill him in cold blood, but not enough to bring you back to your mother? To your crown and throne?”
“I am coming for my crown and throne and mother,” his voice was low, threatening.
“And me?” He swallowed but before he could respond, she said, “and your people, apparently. You killed them in cold blood—a whole village of them.”
His chin tilted up defiantly. “I did,” he replied.
“How can you desire to be a king when you would murder with your own hand those who would rely on you for protection? You told me you wanted to make it better. How is that better, Ben?”
He swallowed. “I will not share my reasons with my enemy,” he said at last but his tone was weak. Too weak. Almost powerless. It niggled at a corner of her mind.
“Are they making you do this? Arkanis and Dathomir?”
“No one is making me do anything. Snoke no longer commands me, Hux and Maul serve me, not the other way around. I am to be their king.”
“Everyone is a pawn, even a king,” Rey said. Ben froze, and she wondered if he knew that she was quoting his mother to him. She would not be surprised if Leia Organa had once said these very words to Ben Solo. Viciously, she hoped that she had. “You serve the will of others, they do not serve you. Is this what Hux and Maul want? For you to be so violent and mad that even when you’ve helped them get your mother off the throne, no one will want you as king and Hux can—”
“The villagers—they refused me,” he rasped, licking his lips as though they were dry, or perhaps trying to find some vestige of dragon blood for strength. “I must do way with all who refuse me.”
“So one of us will die when I find you,” she spat at him. “And I warn you—it won’t be me. I’ve beaten you twice before. I will beat you again.”
“And I reiterate,” Kylo said. “I do not wish for you to die.”
“You wish for me to join you and your merry band of villains, to become bosom friends with Lady Maul and to jape with Hux in your court? What makes you think I’d be more inclined to do this after you’ve put a village to the torch and proven yourself a liar?”
“I let my temper get away with me.”
“Your temper?” Rey raged. “Your temper—and the lives of how many—”
“Temper me, Rey,” he said getting to his feet. The air left her lungs as his lips tensed and untensed. He was standing over her, standing tall, and broad, and his eyes glowed with the reflected firelight of wherever he was. For a moment she forgot herself in those eyes, for a moment she wondered why it was that none of her suitors could take her breath away as Kylo Ren could. Then she shackled that traitor thought—but, too lost in her own thoughts, didn’t know what to say.
“You temper me,” he said quietly and the rage she’d felt was gone as he came to stand even closer to her. “I forget my rage when I am with you. My thoughts are clearer. My heart is stronger. Temper me, Rey. I’ll be a stronger blade for it.”
Rey’s mouth was dry, her hands useless and limp at her side. She was only aware that he was reaching for her when his hand nudged one of hers in some vain attempt to recreate the moment they had shared in the cave.
“Temper yourself,” she spat at him. “I’m no blacksmith. If you’d have your blade tempered, you must do it by your own hand. You have until I find you.”
She whirled around willing him to be gone when she went to her bed. She glanced over her shoulder before climbing beneath her blankets and he was.
She sagged against her pillows in relief.
It took her heart a long while to settle, and she did not sleep well at all that night.
At dawn, Rey rode out atop Falcon, with Finn, Poe, and Luke at her side. Chewbacca had wished to come as well, but Leia had bade him remain at her side and he had obeyed.
As they mounted their horses, Rey saw Rose standing in an archway, watching them, her face crumpled sadly. Finn stared at her for a long while, and her hand twitched as if she were waving. Finn looked down at his hands, and Rose turned away and Rey saw her hands rise to her face as she hurried away, undoubtedly choking back sobs. She loves him, Rey thought sadly. She loves him and cannot have him.
But that was stupid. She could—and would if she weren’t so honorable, if they both weren’t so honorable. To be so unlucky as to have found a true love, a pure love, only to have circumstance rip him away from you, such that you could only share secret, intimate glances from a distance…
All she had in terms of secret, agonized intimacies was Kylo Ren.
I’ll keep him safe for you, Rose, Rey vowed silently. And when I return…we will find a way to fix it. She tightened her hands around Falcon’s reins, and touched her heels to her flanks and off they go into the breaking day.
“Where do we go from here?” Poe asked her as they wove their way through the city to the main gates and Rey took a deep breath and closed her eyes, letting her Force spread out of her like a wave. She could sense so much, could feel the earth miles away all at the tips of her toes. She breathed deeply, focusing as she spread out as wide as she could.
She sensed nothing.
When she opened her eyes, she looked at Luke. He was watching her.
“I couldn’t sense anything,” she told him. “I couldn’t sense him.” Luke frowned. “That means that he is far, doesn’t it? But he can’t have gotten so far as that if the village he destroyed was three days walking. Even on horseback, I should have been able to sense him.”
“Perhaps he has learned how to hide himself,” Luke says. “He was always unearthly powerful with the Force.”
“Oh good,” Poe said dryly. “I like hunting villains who are more magically powerful than I am.”
“Between Ser Luke and Rey, I’m sure he shall be more than matched, though,” Finn said loyally.
“In this case, he may be more than a match for us,” Luke’s voice somehow managed to be even dryer than Poe’s. “Which means we shall have to resort to more pedestrian means, I’m afraid.”
More pedestrian means turned out to be old fashioned talking to people. On the road south, their band of four spoke to passing farmers, guardsmen, merchants—anyone who might have seen the Black Knight and his Knights of Ren in the past few days. But all they got from these conversations were rumors.
“I heard he was using a magic powerful—what he learned from the dragon—to lure away strapping boys to fight in his army.”
“They say he can breathe fire now. When he’s angry enough—real flames. All that dragon’s blood is turning him into one.”
“My brother said he saw him at a brothel but he didn’t touch any of the girls in it—just stared at one the whole night. His desires are unnatural—why go into a brothel if you don’t plan to…begging your pardon, Princess, I shouldn’t be saying any of this.”
When they reached the village that Kylo Ren had destroyed, Rey’s stomach turned. Blood spattered the walls of the houses that still stood, and more than half of the buildings had been burned to the ground. She saw several cowled monks loading corpses onto wagons for burial and rage filled her heart. He is a monster, she told herself. He did this. He ordered this. And he thinks that he would make a better king than Leia?
The dragon’s blood makes him unstable, a quiet voice complained. He was always angrier after he drank it. His eyes had been yellow the night before, and he’s practically squirmed under her gaze, hating her displeasure.
How can you hope there is still good in him? He rides with Maul and Hux, the anger pushed back. The company he keeps speaks for itself.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to find Finn standing behind her. He wrapped her in his arms and held her. It had been so very long since anyone had held her—not since before she had arrived at the Star two-and-a-half years before. Finn had been the first person to hold her since her parents had abandoned her, and in his arms she felt relief. She felt less alone. He is what Kylo Ren should be, she thought sadly as she let tears leak out of her eyes and into Finn’s shoulder. A good man. Why could he not be a good man? Why couldn’t he let himself—
There is nothing for me there. There never was. It was never really mine. I was part of it, not the other way around.
Could he not see that it was the exact same thing, all over again?
And why—why could she not let go of the idea that he could be? He was right, perhaps. She had an unbelievable habit of holding on. Even when it hurt her. Especially when it hurt her.
“I will make peace,” she whispered to Finn. “They will know peace. Even if I must kill every one of his men to do it.”
“Well, it looks like he took his men east, so if we must kill every one of his men, that’s the direction we go in,” Poe said, nodding towards the road out of town which had been so clearly torn by hooves.
“How many men?” she wondered aloud.
“I was wondering that too,” Poe said quietly. “That looks like quite a number of hoofprints, and there was that rumor about how he’s recruiting men for an army…”
“They are also saying he can spit fire,” Finn said. “People are frightened. They’ll believe anything when they’re frightened.”
But Rey walked towards the road with its torn up dirt. When he had slain his father, he had had twenty men on horseback behind him. She knelt and placed her hand on the dirt and closed her eyes and let her light flow out into the earth around her, searching her feelings.
And she saw him, saw him on his great black horse with his warriors at his back. She saw him as he screamed orders through his black helm, his voice ripping out of his throat, cutting down three men as they fled with his lightsaber. Her heart ached at the vision, so different from everything she wanted to believe of him. This is what he is, she told herself firmly. Count the horses.
“Fifty,” she said. “Fifty warriors on horseback.”
“We’re outnumbered,” Poe grimaced. “We should ride back to the Star and fetch more men. It was folly to ride out just the four of us.”
“No,” Luke said and all of them turned to him. He was watching Rey closely, his arms crossed over his chest. “No, it wasn’t folly. We can move more quickly as four, and more subtly. And more importantly, we can outwit him, which will save more lives I hope.”
“Outwit him?” Finn demanded. “He’s—”
“Ruled by his rage,” Luke said, looking wearily at Rey. “If he drinks the dragon’s blood still, it will only make it worse.” They cannot think that this is who he truly is, his voice floated across her mind.
Why not? Rey replied silently, angrily.
Because if he is to return to the light, they must help him too.
Rey frowned. So you think it still possible? She wanted to believe it, she really did. But for all her heart protested that maybe it wasn’t him that had done it, maybe he hadn’t been in control, she could not let her heart rule her in this.
I have accepted my own failures for too long.
“What are you planning?” she asked him aloud.
Luke sighed. “I’m still formulating it.”
You won’t like it.
He gave Rey a sad smile before turning back to his horse and mounting. “Let’s ride east, then.” He was no longer looking at her and Rey wanted nothing more than to scream.
Chapter 8: Blows and abuse I can take and give back again, tenderness I cannot bear
They found themselves a roadside inn as the sun was setting to their backs. Three rooms were prepared for them, and a warm stew filled their bellies as heavy rain began to fall outside.
“The Black Knight’s horde is larger than any individual strike would have you believe,” Finn said to Rey. She had heard it all before, had heard it in Jakku and in the years she had spent training under Luke. “Even when he rode against the King, that was not his full force. It wasn’t even close to it.” That made Rey shiver. “And that was nearly three years ago. Support for him has only grown.” How many people longed for the stability that Empire had once provided? How much support was the queen losing among her subjects? Had she lost more than just Arkanis and Dathomir? Or had Arkanis and Dathomir threatened others, and the others thought that Leia was too weak to…she closed her eyes, flinching. Ben thought his mother’s politicking was her weakness. Perhaps others did too.
“He doesn’t keep them all together, though,” Poe asked. It sounded like a conversation that he and Finn had had a thousand times.
“No. And he would go off for weeks at a time sometimes, up into the mountain to see the dragon. To drink its blood.”
“When he was gone, who was in charge?” Rey asked. For all that Leia had always spoken firmly of Hux, she’d never asked the question. Had the queen tried to preserve what little hope that Rey might still secretly harbor that Ben could come home by hiding all she knew of the villainous Kylo Ren?
“Phasma,” Finn replied evenly. “Hux couldn’t be with the horde at all times. He had to at least pretend that he wasn’t openly funding them or else he’d get strung up for treason. So he sent along one of his captains and had her do his dirty work. She was the one who captured me, who tried to break me into one of the Dark Knight’s men. She said I had potential.” He looked disgusted at the mere memory of it.
“Well, she wasn’t wrong about that,” Poe said grinning. “Finest archer in the land, and rising in status with every passing day. We’ll make a commander out of you one of these days, mark my words.”
Finn’s face didn’t soften into the smile that Rey knew Poe had been hoping for. That rising status was part of what he wanted to offer Rose, Rey thought. “So Phasma would give orders in the Black Knight’s absence?” she asked and Finn nodded. “Hux never—”
“He would sometimes appear when the Black Knight was gone,” Finn replied. “More often he was there when he was back from the mountains. He didn’t like that he couldn’t drink the dragon’s blood, I think. He was jealous. Fancied himself the strategist of the whole movement. The Black Knight would rather fight than strategize.” That sounded right. Rey glanced at Luke. Luke seemed not to be listening at all, though. “He and Kylo Ren…they don’t trust one another, as far as I could tell. Maybe that’s changed—I haven’t been in their forces for years now. It was the dragon that held them together, I think. The dragon promised Hux power, and if Hux is anything, it’s power hungry.”
“And Ren isn’t?” Poe laughed darkly. “He’s after our queen’s throne.”
But the power was already his, Rey thought, and she glanced at Luke. His eyes were still so far away.
“Not the way Hux is,” Finn was saying. He hadn’t noticed either Rey or Luke, his eyes fastened firmly on Poe. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
He looked at last at Rey, a frown creasing his brow slightly. He wanted to make the change with power he already held, he didn’t need the power to make the change he wanted, Rey thought sadly. She didn’t say it aloud.
“How do we get him on his own?” Poe asked. “Does he Phasma keep close?”
“Leave that to me,” Luke said and they all looked at him.
“What do you plan to do—face the entire horde with just your lightsaber?” Poe looked incredulous.
Luke shook his head. “I don’t need to face the entire horde. Just Ren. I will be able to draw him out, to get him on his own. If I’d gone out instead of Han,” he paused, taking a deep breath, “things would have been different. I know they would have been.”
He would have killed you instead, Rey thought, remembering Ben’s—Kylo’s—rage at the mere mention of his uncle.
You won’t like it, Luke had thought to her. A chill goes up her spine.
“How—” Poe began to ask, but Luke just shook his head, and the commander fell silent.
Finn was the first one to drift off to bed, with Poe not long behind him. Rey looked at Luke and he looked at her.
“You should get some rest,” Luke said to her quietly. “It will be a long day tomorrow.”
“I can’t stop you?” she asked him.
He gave her a wry smile. “If I thought there were another path, I’d take it. I should have taken this one long ago, but I was afraid.”
“Has borne so much heartbreak. I know,” Luke said. “And how much of it truly lies at my doorstep and not at his?”
“He is capable of making his own decisions,” Rey retorted, “He—”
“So you do not blame yourself for your failure to bring him back from the mountains?” Luke asked. “You may rage at him as much as you like, but search your feelings—you know the truth.”
He reached across the table and squeezed her hand. “He does not want to be saved,” Rey told Luke.
“No,” Luke agreed. “He doesn’t.” Luke stood. “I’m going for a walk. There’s nothing like walking in the rain. Don’t stay up too long.” Briefly, he rested his hand on her shoulder. Then he was gone.
Rey stayed where she was.
A serving girl came to clear the table, offer her another mug of beer, which Rey refused but did take some blackberry juice. It was rich and sweet on her tongue, and she drank the whole thing down.
What does dragon’s blood taste like? she found herself wondering. Did it taste like those odd lizards she and Ben had eaten in the mountains together, or was it something else entirely. She had smelled too much blood in her life to even fathom drinking it.
I saw your lips red with the dragon’s blood. I saw you fighting at my side.
But he’d been wrong. Just as she had been. She waved the serving girl down and asked for more blackberry juice. When it arrived, she thanked the girl again, and was about to settle down into a good brooding silence when a pair of men in dark, dripping traveling cloaks caught her eye.
They were sitting in the corner of the tavern, looking very much as though they did not want to be overheard.
Which was all Rey needed to use the Force to heighten her own hearing.
“Why not the Black Knight, though?”
“Lady Qi’ra has her reasons.” She could not tell which was speaking, but Rey froze at the mention of Qi’ra Maul.
“They’re angling to put him on the throne, though. And it was always said she used to be fond of—”
“Lady Maul’s no romantic. Just because she fucked the late king doesn’t mean that she’ll change her mind and wed her daughter to his son.”
“Keep your voice down—people will hear.”
“She’s too pragmatic for romanticism. If she wants her daughter on the throne, she won’t marry her to a volatile beast like Ren. Not when she can have someone much more smooth.”
“And easy to kill.”
“You think Hux is easier to kill?”
“Than Ren? Certainly.”
“All this is treason.”
The other laughed. “Treason. As if it’s not treason that we want this to begin with. You think they’ll put Ren down, then? Hux and Maul?”
Rey’s heart stopped.
“I can’t say I’d be surprised. He’s a wild dog.”
“I’m mostly surprised Lord Hux hasn’t tried to kill him in his sleep already. He hates the man. And now that the dragon isn’t there to keep them from one another’s throats…”
Rey pulled her Force back into her. Her heart had unstopped itself. It was hammering in her chest, now. Did Leia know this? Did she suspect?
Kylo Ren and Ben Solo. She knew that she could save Ben Solo from Maul and Hux. But could she save him from the true monster—could she save him from himself?
She had only ever failed at that.
She didn’t know how long she sat there. The fire was burning low. The wind was howling outside and the rain—god the rain was thick, lashing at the roof overhead like that.
She did not want to go to bed. Her head was reeling far too much for her to fall asleep and she did not want to lie there, waiting.
Rey hated waiting.
She got to her feet and went out into the little yard, the rain pinging loudly off the armor she hadn’t yet taken off. She went to the stables and found Falcon. Falcon, Han Solo’s horse. If Ben had come home, she’d have given her to him. Surely his father would have wanted his son to ride his mare. A stableboy had already brushed her coat until it shone such a bright silver, but Rey took a brush and began to run it over the mare as well. The mare was calm even in the thunder. She’s a warhorse. She’s used to the clangor of battle.
Rey wished desperately that she could be so calm, that she could be so ignorant.
Calm, she told herself. You must be calm. There is nothing you can do…
But she hated that.
She refused to stand here waiting.
She’d done enough waiting in her life.
She had been named a princess of the realm, a knight in her own right. She hurried back into the inn to find her moon and sea cloak, swung it over her shoulders and returned to the stables.
“I’m sorry,” she said to Falcon. “I know that you are all ready for sleep…” she saddled the horse, and tied her bridle into place, then mounted and rode out into the night, spreading her Force out ahead of her to let her know where Luke had gone.
She saw no sign of Luke, though—no signature green and gold light she had come to know of him.
But she did find that black and red and brown, boiling with rage and she kicked Falcon to move faster as her mind’s eye saw what her heart wished not to see.
“I failed you, Ben. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sure you are!” Kylo spat at his uncle.
Neither wore armor—both stood there with lightsabers engaged, faces illuminated by the blades and the lightning that blazed through the sky. She had never seen Kylo stand so defensively with his blade before, hunched over, making his broad torso a smaller target.
“Trying to save my soul? Trying to bring me home?” Kylo snarled. “First my father, then Rey, and now you? Well—you’ll be happy to know I’m going home now.”
“This isn’t the way of it, Ben.”
She watched, her heart in her throat as Kylo lunged at Luke and Luke dodged, his wet cloak snapping around him in the rain.
“What would you know of it, old man? What do you know of any of it?” His voice cracked oddly in the middle of the second question and Luke watched him evenly.
“I know both enough and not nearly enough. I know what I did, what I pushed you to, and I’m sorry, Ben.”
“Keep your apologies to yourself,” Kylo screamed and he sounded like a little boy as he did it. “I don’t want them. I don’t want any of them.”
“I understand.” Luke’s voice was so calm in comparison to Kylo’s, but it was the first time that Rey had thought that the two looked like they might share blood. They had different eyes, different faces, different demeanors, but the pain on both of their faces—it was the same pain. “That doesn’t change the fact that I failed you, Ben. You are my nephew, and I failed you.”
Kylo swung his lightsaber at Luke again, but Luke did not raise his blade. He bent out of the range of the swipe, lightly dancing away through the mud as Rey had seen him do so many times in the courtyard of the Star.
“You aren’t going to win if you don’t try to fight me,” Kylo yelled at his uncle. “Aren’t you supposed to bring me down like the monster I am? Or are you here to die like Han Solo?”
“You’re not a monster, Ben,” Luke told him.
“I am,” Kylo screamed and he pointed his lightsaber directly at Luke’s heart. He looked mad like that. In the light of the blades, she could see the way that the rain was causing the dragon’s blood from his lips to grow wet again, and drip down his chin. “I am a monster. And so are you.”
“I don’t deny that.” Luke’s voice was so quiet. “I failed you,” he repeated for a third time.
No, Rey thought. No, no no. That was wrong, it was, Luke Skywalker wasn’t a monster, she had seen a dragon up close, had seen Kylo Ren’s handiwork—Luke was so much greater than that, so much more than it.
“Then you’ll die like a monster. I killed the other one who turned me into what I am. Did she tell you that?” Rey’s heart squirmed in her chest when he mentioned her. Please, Ben, she begged at him, knowing he wouldn’t be able to see her, to hear her, to feel her with his mind so focused on his uncle. “I drove this blade right through his heart.”
“If you strike me down in anger, I will always be with you. Just like your father.”
Rey saw Kylo’s eyes flash with the rage boiling in him, could feel it bubbling in her own chest as she kicked at Falcon, urging the mare ahead. If she could just make it, if she could just be there, surely she could stop what she knew was coming.
She watched as Kylo sprinted towards his uncle, watched as he cut Luke Skywalker in half, watched as her master’s corpse fell to the ground in two pieces, squelching in the mud.
The roar that filled her ears was not Kylo’s, not even the rolling thunder of the sky—it was her own.
No—no she could not save him from himself it seemed.
She saw Kylo turn in surprise even as he vanished from her mind’s eye and Rey kicked Falcon again. She could see him standing there in the distance, his eyes on the road and Rey drew her lightsaber and ignited it as she approached him, the blue light filling the air at her side like the lightning in the hills.
Before she reached him, his saber was ignited again, and Rey leapt from Falcon’s back, willing the horse to stay put so that he would not hurt her before sprinting into the rain.
Their blades sizzled when they connected, and she felt his Force against hers, trying to push her back from him. It worked enough, and she was stumbling backward, swinging her lightsaber wildly to keep him from pressing in on her, but he was stepping back, crouching down and pointing his blade right at her heart as he’d pointed it at Luke’s.
“This doesn’t involve you,” he called at her over the thunder.
“You killed him. You killed your father, you killed Luke—are you going to kill your mother? She wants you home so badly, but you’d—”
He let out a bellow of rage and Rey’s saber was blocking another blow he sent at her side. Not at her heart as he had with Luke, not at her face. He is trying to warn me back, not kill me.
I don’t want you to die.
But what did that matter—what did it even begin to matter right now?
“You slaughtered innocent people,” she screamed at him, undaunted by his attack. “You are a murderer, a villain—you are a monster.”
“I am what I’ve been made,” he retorted. His blade was still at the ready, but he wasn’t attacking her now. “You heard him say that, didn’t you? That he confessed to it?” There was a desperate tinge to his voice, a juvenile whine, as though he needed her to understand his truth. It made her want to scream.
But instead, Rey laughed, and it was a mirthless laugh. “Oh I heard him. I heard him beg for your forgiveness—”
“He didn’t beg my forgiveness, he only stated—”
“—and I saw you kill him.” She couldn’t bring herself to look at the corpse on the ground behind Kylo Ren. She could not bring herself to question if that was his blood she smelled, mixed in with the mud and the rain. Rain always made things smell more strongly. “Luke wanted to save you,” she said.
“He never wanted to save me. If he had he wouldn’t have tried to kill me to begin with. He only ever cared about himself, about what legacy he would pass on to the realm, and never about me. They all never cared about me.”
The Force laced itself into his words and she felt her gut twist at her own memories. Come back!
How much of her life would she spend begging someone to come back when they so clearly would not? Had her parents taught her nothing? Did she search for them in Kylo Ren?
She pointed her blade at him. “Do you beg for my mercy?”
It was his turn to laugh humorlessly. It sounded more like sobs than laughter. “Your mercy?”
“You are an enemy of the realm, of my queen, of me. You are more a monster now than ever you were to me before you killed Snoke. Do you beg for my mercy?” Thunder crackled in her voice.
“You’re so convinced you can beat me?” he asked her, his voice low in his chest, his face shadowy even with the light from his blade.
“I’ve beaten you twice. Yield, and beg for mercy, and perhaps you will be spared.” She wished her voice sounded more like a command and less like a plea.
He was watching her, his gaze so familiar but his expression so alien. He seemed to chew his thoughts for a moment, then took a deep breath.
“Then beat me again.”
And he rushed her.
It was in that moment that she remembered just how tall he was—not because he loomed over her but because he was out of her range when she swung her blade. His arm was much longer than hers, and he was faster than she was expecting because he was faster than ever he’d been when they’d dueled before this. She was all too aware that she was the one wearing heavy armor and he was not. Though the weight of it did not hamper her movement, nor did the style of the armor, he seemed to move that much more quickly than her.
How his blood red blade spun as he arced a crescent cut towards her side, her blue blade only catching his just before it would have been impossible to stop the attack. How he seemed to dance out of her reach, light on his feet despite the wetness of his clothing. His hair was sticking to his face, and Rey knew—just knew—that it would get in his eyes if they kept doing this.
He drove her back, drove her off the road, his blade relentless in its swinging, and his face a mask of fury. “I thought you were different,” he choked out at her as their blades locked again and he pushed his weight and height against her. Rey’s face twisted in concentration as her legs screamed, refusing to let him push her down to the ground. “I thought you understood.” It sounded oddly as though he were crying
She kicked him in the shin with her sabaton and he yelled and she broke away from him, slicing wildly towards him. “And I thought you were different,” she snarled back at him. “But you’re just a creature in a mask. You’re just—”
He cut her off with another slice—and this one she did not block in time. His saber cut straight through the front of her breastplate and the stink of burned metal filled her nose as the steel hit the ground with a squelching think.
She lunged forward—not particularly caring that the armor had been ruined. It was a little less of a weight off her chest, useless against a lightsaber. She lunged at him and he caught her thrust almost lazily before twisting his arm and sending her blade sideways. She almost lost her grip on it, but didn’t. The rain was slippery. She had to be careful.
He was watching her still, his eyes blazing, wild, and she spat, “You name him a monster, yet you still drink his blood of your own volition. You’ve killed Luke. You have no one to blame for this but yourself. You have a mother that loves you, a father who—”
“Would not have cared if his goodbrother had murdered his only son,” Kylo spat at her. “You know nothing of my father. And my mother—”
“Never knew,” Rey choked out, her chest heaving. “She didn’t. She had no idea. She just wanted her son safe and sound.”
“Then she shouldn’t have given my training to her brother. The fault lies with her.”
“Let her undo it, Ben,” Rey pleaded. “Please. Please come home, Ben.”
“So you can behead me for treason?”
“So you can be the man you wish to be.”
“I am the man I wish to be.”
“You are what they made you,” she quotes back at him. “How is that your choice? And now Hux and Maul use you to their own gain! Do you really think they won’t kill you once you’ve gotten rid of your mother for them?”
He let out a yell like a wounded dog and thrust at her wildly—but it was too wild and his hair was in his face and with a careful flick of her blade his lightsaber came loose from his hand and Rey’s blade was at his throat.
His eyes were black in the blue light of her blade.
“Go on,” he whispered to her. “Do it. Do what you said you’re going to do.”
Rey kept breathing. The rain was growing lighter, and the thunder in the distance was the faintest rumble. The water and sweat on his face mixed together and dripped down his nose, over his lips, and his eyes—they were so bright in the light of her lightsaber. “I’m not begging you for mercy.” His voice was thick. “End it, then. Put me down like the monster I—”
But he stopped speaking as she disengaged the blade. He swallowed and blinked at her.
She could not do it. She could not. Not while he wept and raged. She saw the conflict in him—more clearly now than she had on that mountain top. Conflict and pain, and enemies waiting in the wings to destroy him.
“Your mother loves you,” she whispered to him. “I—” She what? The rage that had fueled her had gone and now she just felt empty again, as empty as she’d felt leaving him on that mountain. Please, she begged him. Please just hear me.
But she could not see his eyes properly now that her blade had gone dark. She could not tell if there would be that boiling anger or if he would be the shadow of the man she’d seen in her mind’s eye for two years.
Then she saw red, and his blade was at her throat.
He must have summoned it back to his hand in the darkness.
“You are weak.” His voice was hollow, though, and she knew the anger was gone. “You are a weak princess and will make a weak queen. If you cannot deliver the justice your realm needs, you have much and more to learn.” He swallowed and she saw his jaw twitch. “I can teach you that. I can, Rey. Come with me—we’d be so strong together. We’d make the realm safe.” She saw the village he’d burned, and began to shake her head. “We’d rule justly.” His voice grew louder, more desperate as she kept shaking her head. “We’d do it together—we’d make it right together. Hux and Maul—they’d be nothing with you at my side. Please Rey.”
There were tears on her face now, mixing with the sweat and rainwater. “Go on,” she whispered to him, repeating his words back to him once again. “Do it.”
He let out an anguished cry and screamed to the skies, “I don’t want you to die!”
Then there was darkness, the red was gone and before Rey could breathe his lips had crashed against hers, his hand was holding the back of her head and her traitor arms were wrapping around him, feeling the heat of his chest against hers through the gap left by her destroyed breastplate. Her Force glowed blue and silver as she felt him reaching for hers with his, and she found herself more breathless than when they had dueled.
He was quivering in her arms, shaking with faltering breath and it was that, more than anything that made Rey pull away from him. He tried to kiss her as her lips departed his, his head leaning forward, unwilling to let her go just yet.
She pulled her arms off him and felt a chill wash over her now that she was no longer touching him.
“You won’t kill me,” she said quietly, “And I—I won’t kill you.”
Luke’s corpse was mere feet from her, the first thing she’d seen him do was murder his own father but somehow she knew that the truest version of him that she had seen—and there had been so many versions of him, the mountainside man, the mysterious stranger in the Star, the drinker of dragon’s blood, the Black Knight, the prince—was the one who had kissed her just now.
“Be the man you wish to be, Ben,” she told him. “But I—I can’t ride at your side until you are.”
She turned away from him and went to kneel by Luke’s corpse.
“Rey,” she heard him choke out behind him. She did not look at him. She took Luke’s lightsaber and clipped it to her own belt, then twisted to look at Falcon off in the distance. How to transport his bisected corpse back to the inn?
“Rey.” More forceful this time, yet also more pleading.
He did not say her name a third time, and when she whistled for Falcon and began working to tie the lower half of Luke’s corpse to the horse, he had already disappeared into the darkness.
Chapter 9: To try though your arms are too weary
I should warn you--there might be a longer update between this chapter and the final chapter since I'm leaving for vacation at the end of this week. If I'm on top of my shit, I will post before I head out, but I make no guarantees that I will be able to. Fear not, the final chapter will happen when I get back!
Three Months Later
“Come on, Rey,” Finn said gently, resting a hand on her shoulder. “That’s enough.”
She turned her head and looked up at him. His face was firm, and she rose, turning her back on the sepulcher.
They had burned Luke’s body in the end. It was the only way to transport him without horrifying everyone they had passed, and Leia had had a small tomb built for his ashes in the rock garden behind the Star that he had so loved. They had left the urn in there, but spread the ashes out among the stone, knowing that Luke would have wanted to fade into the earth rather than stand entombed forever. For all she knew, the rain and wind of the past few months had taken the ashes away and there was nothing left of Luke Skywalker anymore.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kylo Ren. He did not see her, and she marked the way he was standing, as though he was leaning over a table, pouring over a map or document of some sort. She took a deep breath, focused her Force, and he faded away.
It had been their duel in the rain that made her decide to try it, far more than anything else since the mountain. She didn’t want to look at him—oddly not for the murder of his uncle, and not for the fact that she couldn’t bear killing him, but because she remembered too well his lips on hers.
It made the fact of her suitors even more unbearable than they already had been. Each and every one of them she would now compare to this villain. And how was it that the villain won every time? They were good men and Kylo was most decidedly not.
Decidedly—for he chose it. That was what made it all so difficult.
At least she could banish him from her mind’s eye now. She wished she had done it years ago. What agony would she have been spared if she had?
She and Finn entered Leia’s solar and Finn hung back by the door, standing at Poe’s side.
“Nearly done,” Leia smiled up at her. The smile did not reach her eyes. It seemed as though nothing had reached her eyes since they had brought back Luke’s ashes. It had broken Rey’s heart—not least of all because somehow, it made her look more like her son.
“I still don’t think we need this,” Rey mumbled, looking at the parchment on Leia’s table.
A thousand gold credits to the victor of the joust, two hundred gold credits to the winner of the melee, and twenty gold credits to the best archer. And all in her name. They were calling it a birthday tourney, and it would begin in three days time, but Rey couldn’t even be sure that it was her birthday. And the only people who would know the truth of that matter had long ago left her life.
Leia gave her a sardonic look. “If it’s any comfort, it’s not about you.”
Rey felt confusion color her face before seeing it. “It’s about them—the people watching.”
“Always,” Leia said. “It’s always about them, never you. You are the symbol for them, never the person.” She gave Rey a pat on the arm. “I fear I did this to you the moment that I named you my heir, though truth be told you might have done it to yourself when you faced the Black Knight at the city gates with nothing to your name. We’ll have a nice cake and wine celebration in the castle for you after the tourney is over. Just your friends. That will be a celebration for you.”
“I don’t need that,” Rey mumbled, feeling her face heat.
“Everyone needs to be surrounded by those who love them every now and then,” Leia said and there was such an emptiness in her voice. Rey hated it. Leia had lost her husband, her brother, how many friends to Kylo Ren—and she had, of course, lost Kylo Ren himself.
Rey stood up taller. She couldn’t be a replacement for the son that Leia had lost, but she could at least symbolize the future that Leia had worked so hard to prepare. The tourney wasn’t just for the people, and the wine and cake celebration wasn’t for her.
“Jasper Rocan arrives tomorrow.” Finn’s voice sounded dead, and Rey reached for his arm and squeezed it. She had known that the man was planning to come to court for Rose had told her that he was coming to meet her before beginning the wedding preparations. “He plans to participate in your tourney and then…” Finn swallowed and did not continue.
“Have you and Rose—”
“There’s nothing more to be said,” Finn said and he turned away from Rey, his voice thick as though he were about to cry. “There’s nothing more at all. There hasn’t been in months, ever since we learned of it. She won’t undo a promise her sister made. And I won’t ask her to—not with how much she loves her sister.”
“Finn,” Rey started, but she didn’t know what else to say. She had been so lost in her own misery at her most recent run-in with Kylo Ren that she had completely forgotten her silent vow to help Finn and Rose. Perhaps she was truly a weak princess, and would make a weak queen. She certainly was a weak friend. No wonder her parents had left her behind. They’d probably seen her weakness young. “Finn I’m so sorry.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck, and suddenly he was crying into her shoulder, and she was rocking him back and forth. There will be other loves, she thought at him, though she could think of nothing that would be less comforting to say. Your heart will mend. You will find love again, Finn. She needed to believe it for him. She needed to believe it for herself.
But it was hard to imagine Finn finding anyone who he loved nearly so much as Rose. Finn had shown her what love should be like—true love, like the love in the songs, heartfelt, and deep down in your soul. She knew it would be a long while before his heart mended. Just as it would be a long while before her own did.
Don’t think of him that way, she berated herself. He chose his path. You gave him plenty of ways to leave it.
She still remembered the way his lips had felt against hers, hungry, needing her. How she wished she didn’t feel as though she needed him too.
“Come on, then,” she said after a while. “If Rocan is to arrive tomorrow, there’s no reason why you and I should be sober now.”
“A fine suggestion,” Finn said, pulling a watery smile onto his face. “A hangover seems as good an excuse as any to be rude to him on the morrow.”
Finn drank Rey under the table, and when she stumbled back to her room and tumbled back into her bed, she found she wasn’t alone there.
Kylo was there, asleep, and it was definitely because she was drunk and more heartbroken than she wanted to admit that she bent over his face and kissed him again. He did not wake beneath her lips, or if he did he did not show it, and the longer she kissed him, the more aware of herself she became. She rubbed tears from her face and took a deep breath and willed him away.
But in her drunkenness, it would not work, and so she curled up, tucking her knees to her chest as she had in Jakku and willed herself to ignore the warmth she felt with him lying at her back.
Rey woke before the sun with her throat coated and her head throbbing. She sat up and glanced behind her. Kylo Ren was gone from her bed, thank the heavens. She dressed herself in fresh clothes and washed her face and downed a whole pitcher of water before stepping out into the castle.
She found Rose in the kitchens. The girl’s face was red and puffy, her arms covered in flour up to the elbows. The other kitchen girls were giving her a wide berth, and all of them ducked into curtseys at the sight of Rey. “A word?” she asked Rose, who nodded and followed her out into the hall.
“How are you feeling?” Rey asked quietly.
“Miserable,” Rose said, and Rey’s head caught up to her mouth because that was a stupid question. She’d blame the liquor she’d drunk the night before for not realizing quickly enough that the question was as foolish as it was.
“He may be a good man,” Rey said, wanting to believe it herself. She wanted nothing but happiness for Rose, but if she couldn’t get happiness she’d take respect from a good man chosen by her older sister.
Rose gave her such a heartbroken look that Rey reached out to grab her shoulder as the other girl said, “He may be a good man, but he’s not the man I want.”
“And your honor is more important than that? Your sister would want you to be happy, wouldn’t she?”
“She would,” Rose said. “But I also won’t sully her memory and make her word meaningless when it’s what most people will remember of her. I won’t make her memory meaningless.”
Silence filled the space between them, and neither looked away from the other. There was a stubborn jut to Rose’s jaw, and Rey couldn’t help but be proud of how strong the girl was in her misery.
“I should like to meet him when he arrives,” Rey said. “To do all I can to ensure your good treatment.”
Rose blinked, and nodded. “I’ll—I’ll find you, or send someone to.”
She made to turn in towards the kitchen before pausing and looking back over her shoulder at Rey. “I’d thought once you’d be as good as a sister to me when I married Finn. I suppose that dream was dashed when all this came to light. But…but I hope never to lose you as a friend, Rey.”
“Never,” Rey promised, her heart flooding with warmth. “Never.”
Rocan was a tall man—taller than Finn and Rose, though not so tall as Kylo Ren. He had almond shaped eyes and skin the same tawny color as Rose. He bowed when he presented himself to Rey, and Rey inclined her head. “I hope the road gave you no trouble?”
“None, Princess,” Rocan replied. “You cowed the Black Knight, I hear, and he’s given no trouble to wayfarers ever since.”
Rey frowned. That couldn’t be right. Especially not when she’d seen glimpses of him seemingly busy since she’d left him in the rain. “I’m glad to hear your journey was smooth,” she said hastily when she realized that too much time had passed between his statement and her response. “Tell me, how fairs Hays?”
“Recovering,” he said. “Our mines help and hurt. They have made us a target for the Warriors of Ren for years now, even while also providing us with the ore to sell that we may pay for reconstruction.”
“And is your family well?” Rey asked, watching closely. “Tell me of your life there.”
And he did. He seemed a pleasant enough man, easy going and relaxed, but Rey watched him closely as they circled the garden that she so frequently strolled through with Leia. She was not blind to the fact that he would undoubtedly be showing her his best behavior, and that if there were a cruel streak that Rose would have to face one day, Rey might see no signs of it. She didn’t think that there was cruelty in his heart, but then again she’d not thought that Ben could be cruel when she’d first known him as a stranger in the queen’s court. But her gut told her that he was an honest man, and that only made the matter worse. A good man who will treat Rose well. Were he cruel, I could intervene, I could put a stop to it.
But she could think of no reason to do so—not if Rose did not wish it.
“And will you ride with Rose’s favor tomorrow?” she asked Rocan.
“If she has not given it to another,” Rocan replied, and Rey cocked her head.
“You think her untrue?”
“I think she does not know me, and had planned to wed,” he said then, casting his eyes about the garden, he added in a low voice, “I know the situation is not what she would wish, but I will be a good husband to her. I am not cruel. Perhaps in time she will love me?”
“Are you asking me, or yourself?” Rey asked sharply, for there was a question to his words, and an odd one at that—as though he was unsure that he wished for her love.
“Forgive me, princess, I know she is a friend of yours,” he said quickly. “I meant no dishonor upon her.”
“What did you mean then?” Rey asked.
“Merely…merely that arranged marriages can be uncomfortable for a time, but love might grow. With time, and luck. And I hope that Rose and I will have both time, and luck.”
The day of the tourney dawned bright and clear, and Rey dressed herself in a stately green tunic embroidered with flowers. She drew her hair into the three buns that she’d worn since she was a girl and, because she knew that she would be appearing not just before the whole court, but the commons as well, she took the silver circlet that Leia had laid upon her brow when she’d named her princess. She looked just about as fine as she thought possible as she buckled her shortsword’s sheath to her belt and clipped her lightsaber to the other side. She would not be competing, but she made a habit of always appearing armed.
She ate a hearty breakfast with Poe and Finn, who was not even bothering to hide his gloom at Rocan’s presence at court. Rey could not think of anything to say that would ease the ache she knew burned in Finn’s breast, and glanced at Poe, wondering if he could help, but Poe looked equally lost.
All this is enough to put me off marriage for forever, she thought glumly. Although, she supposed, she would never have the fortune of marrying for love. I’m a princess, I must find a man who could stand at my side and be my consort one day. She’d be lucky to like the company of such a man, much less love him.
She tried to imagine someone standing at her side, wearing a crown, laughing with her, perhaps giving her a child. But in each of the visions, he was too tall, and his face faded into a long one, with red lips and Rey flushed. What has he done to me that I cannot stop thinking of him lovingly? He chooses to be a vile murderous snake and yet…
And yet she could not help but hope that maybe he would return, could not forget the way that Luke had seemed oddly hopeful that Ben Solo would once again turn towards the light. No matter how much her mind protested, that his crimes were too great, that his sins too deep, that his soul was too black, she remembered what she had seen when they had touched hands, remembered how the color of his Force changed when Rey’s caressed it, could not forget what she’d heard in that tavern about Hux and Maul planning to dispose of him. I want to love him, she realized. How do I make myself stop wanting?
She did not know.
She’d always been stubborn.
She’d always hoped that her parents would return to her, long after they had proven themselves faithless. Part of her still hoped they would appear to see what she had made of herself.
That would be her downfall, she knew, always wanting that which would only hurt her in the end. Why could she not have a pure, honorable love as Finn and Rose did? Why could she have no love at all as Poe did? Why must she be cursed with the memory of his lips against hers? Why had she kissed him again in her drunkenness?
She rode to the tourney grounds outside of the city walls with Leia, Chewbacca, and the castle guards, smiling and waving to those who would not make it to the tourney. Throughout the streets she saw little children staring at her in wonder. One little girl elbowed another and pointed at her and whispered something to a friend and her friend’s eyes bugged out of her head. Rey could only imagine what she was saying. She used to be like us—just a street rat. And now she’s a princess and a knight. Rey smiled at both girls and they turned to one another excitedly before waving feverishly at her.
Today is for them, she thought. But that…that was for me.
Horns blared when she and Leia reached the stands, and the crowd stilled as the two of them climbed up to the seats in the front and center, settling themselves and observing the warriors who would be fighting that day. Behind each mounted warrior stood a squire who bore the warrior’s legend on a fluttering banner. The field was so colorful and bright and that Rey almost didn’t notice the warrior at the end of the row who rode a large black horse and wore simple steel armor. No squire stood at his back, and Rey nudged Leia and pointed to him.
“A mystery warrior!” Leia sounded positively delighted. “Let’s see if he holds his own against the rest, shall we?”
And he did.
The first man he rode against was a warrior from Hosnian, and with a single well placed strike, the Hosnian landed flat on his back in the dirt. The second he unhorsed was a Kaminoan and the third bore the sigil of the Hutts on his shield. The commons were delirious in their delight.
“There’s nothing so beloved as a mystery warrior,” Leia told Rey as she applauded at the mystery warrior riding along the length of the lists again. “They think that he might be one of them, one of their brothers or sons who has been training in secret with a lance and a horse. A dream, but a sweet one.”
“Can’t it be true?” Rey asked Leia. “I became a princess, why couldn’t it be possible?”
Leia glanced from Rey to the mystery warrior who was now dismounting from his steed and returning to his tent until he would next be riding. “If he is, I suspect that you may have to marry him just for all the songs that will be written about you both,” Leia teased. “But no. No, I don’t think it possible. Teaching yourself the stave, or even the sword, might be possible, but to tilt without a quintain? And to be able to afford a horse so fine as his? No, I think he must have more means than the good folk across the way.”
“Any guesses as to who he might be?” Rey asked.
Leia shook her head. “For all we know he’s a squire trying to prove his mettle. We’ll learn soon enough.”
The day progressed, and Chewbacca came to tell them that the archery contest would be taking place shortly when the sun was glowing with yellow mid-afternoon light. They removed themselves from the stands to go and observe as some sixty archers fired upon targets so far away that Rey did not know how they would hit. She caught sight of Finn towards the end of the line, and she knew she could not wave and call to him, for today she was a princess not a friend, but she smiled in his direction at least and hoped quietly that he would place well at the tourney.
The prize went to a woman from Yavin, who looked more shocked than excited at having won. She was wholly speechless as she accepted her prize in gold credits from the queen’s own hand and Rey saw a little girl who could only be her daughter from the shared color of their eyes run forward to clutch at her mother’s skirts while she received her honors.
It was not until they made their way back to the stands that Rey saw a pale man with red hair and hard eyes. He was watching them intently from the crowd. There was something familiar about him, but Rey could not place where she might have come across his face. She did her best to think of where she might have come across him, but kept being distracted by the way he was looking at them. His gaze made her skin crawl. She reached out with the Force to try to understand the intensity of it, but it was as though there was a wall around him. Rey frowned.
“Do you recognize that man?” she asked Chewbacca, pointing to him.
The old guard frowned behind his bushy beard. “Which one?”
“The red haired one.” But when she looked back, he was gone.
Rey’s brow tightened, and she reached out with the Force, spreading the power throughout the whole crowd. What she felt made her inhale sharply. “Chewie, there are many here who have the Force guarding them.” Chewie looked down at her and the queen, a few steps ahead of her, turned to look back at her. “Is that common?” she asked Leia.
Leia looked out over the crowd now and Rey could feel the queen’s golden green Force signature wafting out like a gentle wave. The queen turned to Chewbacca. “Have your men on guard. It may be nothing. I cannot fathom who would be so foolish as to plan something during a set of war games, but all the same, I would not have us unprepared.”
War games where most carry dulled tourney weapons and not live steel. Where they might leave their steel in tents while they watch the games. Rey’s blood chilled as she rested her hand unconsciously on her shortsword’s hilt.
Leia continued ahead and Rey paused before turning back to the archery field to find Finn.
She found him chatting with another bowman, but he excused himself immediately at the expression on her face. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Rey said quietly. “It might be nothing but I don’t think it is. There was a man with hard eyes and red hair—”
“Pale?” Finn asked sharply. “Blue eyes?”
Her throat went dry even before Finn said, “Hux,” with a look of horror on his face, because yes—yes she had seen him before, had helped set his horse to stable all those years before.
“He was shielded by the Force. And the more I searched the more I saw—”
But before she could finish explaining she heard the cheers behind her in the lists turn to screams. She reached out once again with the Force and a chill fan up her spine as she saw dragon banners of black and red.
Chapter 10: To right the unrightable wrong
Rey burst forward, her lightsaber flying to her hands and igniting as if of its own will. She tried to press through one of the gates that would take her back to the lists, but there were three fighting men standing in her way. She stopped short, raising her lightsaber to point at them in a gesture that reminded her horribly of Kylo Ren.
“Get out of my way,” she told them, her voice low, hoping that they would recognize the gesture from their leader and know she was serious. Behind the men, the screaming stopped abruptly.
“Perfect princess here to cut us down?” one of the men leered at her. “Go on, then, princess. Let’s see what you got.”
Rey drew her shortsword and the man laughed. “That’s the trouble, isn’t it? Honor is weakness. I’m bigger than you, girl. You really think you can hold your own against me?”
“I’ve defeated Kylo Ren twice,” she spat at him. “I can beat you.”
“Go on, then. Prove it.”
She lunged at him with the sword in her left hand and he parried her blow, but that was his mistake, because he stepped aside as he parried and Rey darted through the gap between him and his companion. She kept running, pushing through the crowd as quickly as she could, losing the men easily.
What she saw made her stop short, her lungs laboring to breathe.
He was standing over his mother, his lightsaber at her throat, his helmet hiding his face from the world. He was not moving though, and in the dark grey armor he wore—for of course it had been he who had been the mystery warrior, how stupid had she been not to have thought of it—she could see the reflections of the crowd behind him as he prepared to kill Leia Organa, as he had slain Han Solo, as he had slain Luke Skywalker.
As he had slain Snoke.
She reached out to him, thrusting blue and silver Force towards him, praying that her presence would distract him rather than fortify him to his task. To her complete shock, she found that his Force was not the same red and burning black she had first encountered it as. It was browning, turning almost gold like his mother’s. Of course—of course—Leia was strong with the Force herself, and surely she would not have been caught completely defenseless after Rey had raised the alarm.
Please Ben, Rey thought, transfixed as she stared with more than just her eyes at mother and son. She does love you. Please see it, Ben. Please.
“Do it, Ren,” she heard someone shout and she saw Hux standing near where she had sat with Leia.
And it was like a spell had been broken. Rey remembered that she had legs, remembered that she had a shortsword and a lightsaber in hand and began to move at the same time that Kylo Ren dropped to his knees before his mother, his lightsaber disengaged.
There was a roar from the crowd and somehow above it all, Rey heard Hux shout “Traitor!” and he lunged for Ben.
Rey couldn’t think about that now. “Finn!” she called and there he was, her friend, his bow in hand. “We need to get them to safety!” she yelled, pointing to the gathered crowd. There were sobbing children, and frightened yells again, but this time, the warriors of the court were not paralyzed by the dread that any move they would make would slay their queen.
Rey turned away from the grand stands and switched her lightsaber to her left hand so that she could strike better with her shortsword. She cut her way through the Warriors of Ren who stood in her way—they seemed to be confused as to what to do now that their leader had fallen to his knees before Leia Organa. Was this part of the plan? He was clever, it could be a trap. But when she reached for the Force again, his red was lighter than she’d ever seen it, and the brown was burning towards gold.
She whirled around and saw him standing now, and his sword—a true sword, not his flaming red lightsaber—was in hand as he dueled with the red haired man. Rey’s heart leapt to her throat. He turned, she thought. He turned as he did before Snoke.
Something prickled at the back of her mind and she whirled in time to stop a blow from one of the Warriors of Ren at her back, and she heard Poe’s shout—thunderous—throughout the field, “Warriors of the Realm! Protect your Queen!”
Rey cut the warrior’s sword in half with her lightsaber and decided that it wasn’t wholly dishonorable to render their weapons useless, so she continued to cut her way through each sword in her path as she watched Finn and Rose lead the people away, whatever distance they’d purposefully kept from one another these past months melting away in face of this enemy.
“Princess!” she heard Chewbacca roar and she felt his big hand on her arm, pulling her from the fray. “Princess, you’re unarmored.”
“I have to help them,” She told the older man.
“You have to keep yourself safe. For the queen.”
“Has a black heart and I do not trust him so far as I can spit. You are her heir until she declares otherwise. It is my duty to keep you safe.”
She let out a roar of anger, but that did not lead Chewbacca to release her arm.
“The queen’s men are here. They’ll—”
But everything was happening so quickly and Rey could feel it all through the Force that was throbbing within her, uncontrollable and powerful. She could feel the way that Hux’s sword had pierced Ben’s armor, could feel the way his gut burned as though it were her own and with a strength she had never used against a friend, she ripped her arm loose from Chewbacca’s and sprinted down the lists.
Again, she saw Ben fall to his knees, then fall flat on his face and she saw Poe’s orange cloak swirl as he leapt forward between Hux’s blade and Leia, on whom he was advancing.
“You think you stand a chance?” Hux asked, and Rey felt her own chest shake as he kicked Ben when he moved past. She could hear him as though she were standing right next to him, and he whirled his sword and Poe caught the blade. Rey vaulted over the railing between the jousting lanes and reached out through the Force to find Ben.
His breathing was labored and his Force was darker now, and she heard herself gasping as she ran, “Please, Ben. Please.” She could feel him reach out through the Force and his voice crossed her mind. Go. Keep yourself safe. I do not want you to die.
Nor I you.
She charged forward, up the steps of the great dais watching as Poe and Hux lunged back and forth.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Hugs,” Poe grunted between thrusts of his blade.
“Hux,” Hux spat at him, as Rey reached Leia. “You need to get out of here,” she told Leia. Behind her, she heard heavy footsteps and she turned to Chewbacca. “Take the queen to safety,” she commanded and Chewbacca gave her a look that was somewhere between pride and annoyance that she had given him the one command that would take priority over his keeping her out of harm’s way.
“Ben,” Leia began but Rey placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder.
“I’ll take care of him.” She turned away from the queen and the guard in time to see Hux knock the sword from Poe’s hand and she lunged forward and blocking his next blow with her shortsword.
“Rey, no,” she heard Ben moan.
Hux glanced down at him, his lips curled in a sneer. “What’s this? You know our traitor? Perhaps I should kill you slowly. Make him watch before I kill him.”
That was when Rey remembered that she had a lightsaber.
With a simple flick, she cut his sword in half.
“Go on,” she said, almost lazily. “I dare you to.” She leveled the blade at his throat, not unlike the way that Ben had leveled his blade at his mother’s at the start of all this, not even caring if it was dishonorable for all the realm to see. He wouldn’t force her hand. She could see it in the way his eyes were wide, could hear it in his shaky breath.
Hux stared at her with hard, soulless blue eyes, his face a contortion of rage. Then he dropped the blade of his now useless sword.
“Commander Dameron, see that he’s locked in the dungeon,” she told Poe.
“With alacrity, princess,” Poe said. He tugged Hux’s cloak from his shoulders and ripped it to tie the man’s wrists behind his back. Then he dragged Hux away.
Rey sank to her knees behind Ben, turning him over towards her. She pulled off his helmet and ran her hands over his face, through his hair. His eyes were dull, but he was still awake. “Ben,” she choked out. “Ben, please.”
That was how Finn found her when she turned her tearstained face to him. “We need to get him to the castle. To a healer.”
Finn looked between her, and Ben, his eyes unreadable. Fear caught at her. She had never told Finn about Ben. “Finn, please!” she begged. “Find men to bring him—”
“He tried to kill the queen, Rey. He killed the king and Skywalker. He nearly killed me. He should be locked in the dungeon with the rest.”
“The queen doesn’t want him to be,” Rey said weakly. “She wants him alive. I want him alive. Finn, please. I want it to be as subtle as possible.” Somehow, she suspected that the queen’s men would not take kindly to bringing the Black Knight up to the castle, whether she commanded them or not. But Finn, her friend, her brother… She stared up at him, pleading silently.
Finn took a deep breath and his shoulders relaxed. “If we get him out of his armor, you and I should be able to carry him.”
Rey was on her feet again and she threw her arms around her friend.
She and Finn brought him back to the castle on Falcon’s back. Between the two of him, they very carefully carried him to Rey’s bedchamber, spreading him out on her bed. His gut was a bloody mess and she peeled the linen shirt back even as she turned to Finn. “Find a healer. Any healer. Someone. Please.”
“I don’t want to leave you alone with him,” Finn said firmly.
Rey growled at him. “He is dying and I have his weapons.”
“He’s a Force user.”
“So am I. I can handle myself.”
He looked back at Ben sprawled across her bed, but he turned and left.
Rey hurried to her washbasin and opened her wardrobe. She had plenty of fine linen undershirts in there, and they would do just as well as a rag to try and clean him and staunch the bleeding.
She brought it back to him and began to wipe away the blood. The wound went deep and into his gut and she could smell his innards in the cut. As she dabbed at the wound, the rag came away—
“Why is it black?” she asked aloud as he hissed and his eyes flew open. They were feverish and he stared at her. Feverish, but not yellowed.
“It’s no use,” he whispered to her. “I’m dying, Rey.” His voice was bleak, as though he had given up.
“No—I refuse,” she said and she reached for his hand, willing herself to see the future she’d seen when first she touched it. “Please, Ben. Not now. Not when it’s finally possible, not when—”
“If the blood is black, the dragon’s still there,” he moaned. “Better that I die than—”
“No,” she snapped firmly. “It is never better that you die.”
His face twitched. “It will keep you from healing me,” he said slowly. “The dragon’s blood. It makes you strong, but it blocks the Force when you try to heal yourself. Strength means that no one should be able to touch you, and you must suffer your own weakness.”
“How do I get it out?” Rey demanded. “There has to be a way.”
Ben closed his eyes and did not respond.
She shook his shoulder.
“Ben,” she choked out, fumbling for his wrist, praying that she would find a weak pulse there.
She sagged with relief when she did.
I saw you drinking dragon’s blood.
Perhaps the future he had seen was true—as much as the possibility of the future she had seen had returned to her when he’d knelt before his mother. So she bent her lips to his gaping wound and kissed it, and began to suck at the blood, reaching through the black and red of his body to find the dragon’s magic.
Come to me, she urged it. Come on. He’s dying but I live. Come to me.
She remembered Snoke, remembered the way the dragon had held her in his tail, remembered the heat of his breath, and she could taste that in Ben’s blood. He wanted me, she laced into her Force. Don’t you?
And she felt it lurch towards her—hot and oddly sweet. Her own heart began beating erratically in her chest as more of it came to her tongue. The more she drank the more she understood why it was that Ben had done all he could to save it from the dragon. It was so sweet, and how powerful she felt as she drank it. Her pain seemed lesser, even the idea that he might die before she could heal him seemed distant in comparison to the sweetness she was drinking from his blood. She could drink it all, could drink him dry—
Except his blood was growing less sweet.
The nectar was gone.
And she ripped her head away from his gut and spread the Force out through him. He jolted and his eyes opened and he stared at her, taking in her bleeding lips.
“Help me,” she whispered, knowing somehow that she could not heal him alone, that he needed to help heal himself.
She fumbled for his hand, and squeezed it and with her other hand, rubbed at her lips, trying to take some of the red stain away. Then she turned back to his gut and reached out through the Force.
He was there too, his Force signature weaker, more brown than gold now, but even as it linked with hers she saw the black ease towards a deep grey. She began to knit his organs back together, intestine connecting to severed intestine.
She heard him breathing hard, and when she turned to look at him, she saw someone’s hand resting on his forehead and another one of Rey’s linen shirts dabbing sweat from his face. It was Leia, her eyes bright and determined as she looked down at her son. “Rest,” she told him. “I’ll help her. Stay alive.”
His eyes fluttered closed and his Force signature was gone and Leia sat down and brought his head to her lap. She looked at Rey and nodded and now it was her Force signature that linked with Rey’s to heal her son.
When they finished, Rey withdrew, leaving Leia alone with her son. Ben was unconscious, pale as death, and his mother’s gaze had not left his face even once since she had arrived. Rey didn’t even know if she noticed that Rey left her.
Rey tried to ignore every feeling gnawing at her—fear that Ben would die, though his heart had been beating strongly when they had finished healing him; unease at what was to come, now that Ben was home, and all the realm still named him traitor; sadness that for all Leia had claimed her as a daughter and heir, never once had the queen looked at her as she looked at her son.
She went down into the courtyard where she'd first seen visions of Ben through the Force. It was oddly quiet. The gates of the Star were closed and barred, and guardsmen were stationed along the ramparts overhead.
She stood there for a moment, listening to the sound of her beating heart, then went down to the common hall of the guards. Finn, was all she allowed in her blank mind.
He was there, sitting by the fire with Rose, his face drawn. Rose was standing very closely, her hand resting on his shoulder, speaking quietly. Rey went still, staring at them. They looked so right together. They wanted to be together. What did honor and time and luck have to do with anything?
“Rey?” Finn called to her, but she was already retreating out of the door, back into the courtyard and towards the main keep. She found Threepio in the queen’s study.
“Princess?” he asked her, standing quickly.
“Where have you put Jasper Rocan?” she asked him.
“Put him?” Threepio said, sounding distressed. “He walks freely through the castle. Was he riding with the traitors?”
“No—I merely wish to know where he stays,” she said, and Threepio practically sagged with relief.
“He is in the west tower,” he told her and so that was where Rey went, climbing the spiral staircase until she reached the second floor and knocking on the door.
Rocan answered it, and bowed instantly. “I am sorry that your birthday festivities were such a—” he began, but Rey cut him off.
“You seem forthright, so I would not trifle with you,” she said calmly. “Have you loved others before Rose?” She was proud of the question—it sounded like one Leia would have asked.
His face immediately went red. “Forgive me, princess, I—”
“I do not wish to know of trysts, I ask of love. Whether someone has held your heart in their hands.”
He looked down at them at her words, as though expecting to find a heart there. “I will confess,” he said slowly, “There has been one, princess. But she and I understand that it would be impossible and dishonorable to renegotiate the contract with Paige Tico dead.” Though she could only see a part of his face, she saw misery there, and her own heart swelled.
“But you would wish to?”
He looked up, panicked. “I mean no disrespect to Rose,” he said at once. “I would not dishonor her, I would not—and I shall endeavor to put Lily from my mind, and she knows and understands this and—”
“Is heartbroken, as are you,” Rey said. His face crumpled. “You may have more in common with Rose than you think if this is the case. Speak to her of it, and frankly. You both stand to benefit in breaking the contract, and I cannot fathom that Paige Tico would frown upon it, knowing what I know.”
He looked at her bewildered, as though unable to understand the words coming from her mouth. “Rose loves another?” he managed at last. Then a grin broke slowly over his face. “Princess, you make me a happier man than I could have dreamed.” Then he seemed to remember the events of the day, and with his gaze, Rey noticed just how bloodstained her clothing was. Are my lips red with his blood? She wondered. Vividly, she remembered the sight of blood dripping from Ben’s lips as he’d dueled Luke in the rain.
“Go on, then,” she said firmly, helping him back to his feet. “Put an end to this. I’d see my friends smile again. Do this as a birthday gift for me,” she added, knowing it would make him feel even better about the task she set him. It’s not even my birthday, she thought as he made his way past her down the stairs. But Finn and Rose may have each other yet, and Ben—
Her heart lurched again. I do not want you to die.
Finn and Rose found her meditating in the garden two hours later, dazedly blissful. They drank and ate and smiled and when Rey asked when the wedding would take place, Rose nearly burst into happy tears and Finn pulled her close and kissed her temple. “Just as soon as we can manage,” he said. “I’ve half a mind to take her to the chapel now and have done with it.”
“Well why don’t you?” Rey asked pulling a smile onto her face.
Finn and Rose looked at one another and then at Rey, and then they were all standing, hurrying off to find Poe to be the second witness and then to find a chaplain to whom they could say their vows.
There can be good in the world, Rey thought as she watched them kiss standing next to Poe and Jasper Rocan—who had most happily accepted the invitation to the ceremony. Things can be put to right. Things that matter, and that are worth it.
Finn’s smile was brighter than the sun when he turned to her, and Rey’s mind slid to Ben and for the first time since she’d met him, she almost let herself do something more than hope.
It was past midnight when Rey returned to her chambers, having sent Finn and Rose to bed and drunk another mug of beer with Poe.
Leia was asleep in the chair by the bed, Ben’s hand in hers on her lap. Rey tiptoed through the room, finding a blanket to wrap around the queen and planning to curl up on a cushioned bench by the window herself, but Leia’s eyes opened as she rummaged through one of the chests at the foot of the bed.
“What time is it?” Leia asked.
“Past midnight,” Rey told her.
Leia yawned and got to her feet. “Will you stay with him?” she asked.
“You can stay,” Rey protested. “I’ll—”
“I did when he was very little, and sick. All through the night. But I’m too old not to feel it in the morning if I sleep in a chair.” She moved her neck, flinching. “I already feel it.”
“I’ll stay with him,” Rey said quietly, and Leia looked back at Ben.
“I can’t believe he’s here,” she said before turning to Rey, and Rey saw despair there. “I just—I just wanted some time with my son, before having to think about all he’s done.”
That, Rey could understand. And perhaps it was because Leia, suddenly, looked so very old, so very tired, or perhaps it was because Rey wanted desperately to still feel like her daughter for a few final, fleeting moments that she wrapped her arms around Leia Organa, pulling her into as tight a hug as she could manage. And Leia—Leia hugged her back, resting her forehead on Rey’s shoulder and breathing deeply.
Rey settled in the chair that Leia had vacated after the queen disappeared. She leaned forward to check the pulse in his wrist and found that it was strong. Out of curiosity, she let her Force stretch out into Ben’s healing wound and found that their work that afternoon had been well done. It was almost as though he was fully healed, though she could still feel what she thought was bruising. Now that his life wasn’t in danger, she let herself sink into his skin again to ease the ache of those bruises.
He opened his eyes and turned to look at her, and Rey paused.
Then, she leaned forward and poured him water and as he sat up, she pressed the cup to his hands. “Drink,” she commanded, and he did.
“What happened?” he asked, his voice raw.
“You’re home,” she told him. She did not know what he would remember, but that she needed to make clear to him. “You came home.”
“After we left the tourney grounds. I…I can’t tell what is true and what was delirium.” He sounded nervous.
“Your mother and I healed your wound,” Rey said.
“And the dragon’s blood?” She could see it in his eyes, that he didn’t dare believe what she had done, not until the words fell from her own lips.
“I drew it from you,” she said. “I drank it from you.”
He made that movement with his jaw again, as though he was trying not to cry and Rey got up from her chair and sat down on the edge of the bed next to him. He put the cup down and he reached for her hand and his eyes were bright. “You wanted me to live.” His voice sounded lost in wonder. “I did not deserve that.”
“Perhaps not,” Rey said matter-of-factly. “But am I not allowed to ever have what I want? Or am I doomed to watch those I love leave me?”
His breath hitched.
She had never seen eyes look quite like that, dueling agony and ecstasy.
“Somehow, yes,” she said. “I hate what you have done—hate more than I know how to express or understand—but you? I don’t want you to die.” Her voice cracked and her throat thickened. “I don’t want anything to hurt you, to touch you. I want to see you smile.”
And there it was. A smile that was spreading across his face, the ecstasy winning the war in his eyes. He leaned forward and before she could react, his hand was cupping her face and his lips were against hers again and this time, the kiss was not brutal in its intensity. This time, when she her arms came to twine around him, she did not name them traitors. And when she hummed with joy into his mouth, he hummed back at her, his voice harmonizing with hers in the darkness.
There was so much she wanted to say, so much she wanted him to know—how much it meant that he had come home, how it felt like the world was being set to right, how happy he had made her, had made his mother, would make the kingdom she was sure, but she could not bring herself to break her lips from his. The initial heat of the kiss did not fade, though their lips slowed against one another. She nibbled at his lower lip slightly, and he rubbed his nose against hers, and she found herself laughing because her heart was so full, and only grew fuller as she felt him smile into her skin.
That was his tongue against her lip, rubbing it gently and sending a flame quite unlike the flickering Force within her down to her gut. That was his calloused thumb tracing circles into her cheek while his other hand dipped down to rest on her hip. And that was his breath pouring out of his nose to breeze across her skin. Gooseprickles erupted on her arms and legs, and she felt her whole body flash hot and cold from his touch.
As if of their own volition, her hands came to rest on his chest. The skin there was surprisingly soft. There was no dusting of hair there, oddly enough for a man of his age. She could feel the way his heart pulsed life through him under her hands and he went very still at her touch. It was only then that the kiss ended and he pulled away from her slightly, his eyes questioning.
All that Rey had wanted to say had vanished from her mind. He had kissed it out of her, perhaps, or it seemed to matter less now that she could feel his heart beneath her hands.
Everything coalesced in one moment, that he was lying half-naked in her bed, that he was alive and she had saved him, that his eyes were burning curiosity into her as she rested her hand over his heart.
I don’t want you to die. How many times had he told her that?
I want to feel you live, she thought as she stared at him and lowered her lips to his shoulder, sucking on the skin there and she felt him groan and he pulled her towards him so that her chest was pressed to his, his arms running up her back to her hair, which he began to pull loose from the three little buns she kept it tied in. “I’ve wanted to do that for so long,” she heard him murmur into her hair as he kissed the top of her head. His fingers were massaging her scalp now and it was her turn to groan because no one had ever touched her hair like that—not in years, not since her mother, and god if it didn’t feel like heaven.
She peeked up at him and his eyes locked with hers again. She lost herself for a moment in what she saw there, the stunned, reverent disbelief in his eyes, the swirling love that she’d never let herself dwell on from the moment she’d started speaking to him because if she had until this very moment she would have screamed, would have wept.
But now she let her breath catch in her throat. She let her cheek rest against his shoulder as his hand trailed the length of her spine. She let her lungs breathe in time with his as the heat he’d sparked in her skin slowly burned brighter and hotter until she sat up and caught his gaze with hers again as she reached for the hem of her tunic and tugged it and the linen shirt she wore under it up and over her head.
His eyes widened and she watched as they dropped down to her now bared breasts. She watched his chest rise and fall unevenly as his gaze went down further and further, resting on her stomach now and the muscles that popped out from her skin from the way she was straddling his thighs now. And because he was staring at her, because she was presenting herself to him to stare at, she let her eyes slip from his awestruck face to his muscled chest, to the healing gash on his stomach and the rippling muscles it sat upon, down to the line of blankets where she saw—
She jerked her gaze up to his and his cheeks were bright red. Bright red, and his pupils were blown and his lips were swollen from her kisses. In his face she could see desire and longing mixed in with that initial love. She could see everything in his face. No lies—nothing in the world beyond the two of them. We could…she thought.
There was no one to stop them—no power in the realm that could stop them from doing this if they wanted.
And Rey wanted.
She nudged her mind out to his and caught an incoherent jumble of thoughts, most of which seemed to center around the muscles of her abdomen and the way her nipples were pebbling now that they were exposed to the air of her bedroom. She clambered off him and he made a sound in the back of his throat almost like a whine of fear but it died when he saw the way she was unbuckling her belt, unlacing her trousers as she kicked off her boots and shucked the pants down her legs.
She stood there naked before him in the moon and candle light. She had never been naked around anyone like this before, naked for more than just functionality, naked so that someone could see her naked, could want her naked. He stared at her, drinking in the sight of her, his face slack with awe.
She climbed back onto the bed, straddling his knees as she had before. She leaned down and ran her hands over his stomach, bent her head once again to kiss the place where Hux had stabbed him, where she’d drawn the last of Snoke out of him with her own lips and she looked up at him one more time. “I want you,” she breathed into his scarring flesh. “I want you—and I know you want me.”
“More than anything,” was his murmured response, his voice thick.
Rey ran her hands down his chest until she found the healing wound on his stomach. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispered to him, looking up.
“Good thing you healed me then,” he said dryly before adding, more gently, “I’ll be fine. You can’t hurt me.”
“I’ll be gentle all the same,” she murmured, noticing how he swallowed as she brought her hands to the edge of the blanket, tugging it lower so that they could both tug at the laces of his trousers until his cock sprang free, thick and red with a dark thatch of hair at the base of it.
She did not let herself look at it for long, though. She brought her lips back to his, brought his lower lip between her teeth and sucked on it. His hands were at her hips, pulling them up so that she was straddling not his legs but his hips, his cock throbbing against her skin as they both began to rock against one another. She was dripping wet all over him, but it was a wet that fanned the flames rather than quenched them because with each thrust of his shaft against the surface of her sex, her heart raced faster in her chest until she felt as though she’d been running, as though she’d been fighting. She was gasping for air against his lips and he was panting too, his nostrils flaring, his chest heaving beneath her hands, and she felt him make to flip her over but her hands tightened on his skin and her legs tightened around his hips.
He paused in kissing her, his eyes curious and his mind moving to slowly through the heat she’d kissed and rocked into him to phrase the question that she could see in his face. “I want to ride you,” she breathed into his ear. “I want…”
His lips were on her neck now, sucking her skin between them. His hips bucked up against hers more frantically than before and one of his hands had come down to slide against her sex and she gasped when he slid a finger into her. She went very still as he thrust it in and out of her, his lips still sucking into her neck and her eyes drifted closed as she grew used to the sensation of having something inside her. It felt unsatisfactory, somehow. She’d thought that it would be more than it was.
As if he sensed that, Ben slid another finger into her and there—that felt fuller. Not quite full enough, and she wasn’t entirely sure that it was supposed to feel like that the way he was moving his hand. Maybe she should shift to give him better access to her sex, she thought belatedly. But it definitely felt better than one finger.
And as she shifted her hips, deciding it would probably be good to give him more room to maneuver, he withdrew his fingers and she felt something wholly different at her entrance now—wider and smoother than his fingers had been. He didn’t push into her though. Where he’d thrust quickly with his fingers, his cock stayed put and Rey took a deep breath and slowly rocked herself onto it, pulling him in deeper with every movement of her hips and he groaned into her skin.
Every part of her is full of him, she realized in that moment. Her mind, her heart, her body.
She wondered if he could feel that too.
Then his hands on her hips began to urge her forward. “You said you were going to ride me,” he teased into her neck, and she pulled back from him so that he could see her, straddling him on her knees, the two of them connected at the hips. She looked down and saw the way the dark hair at his groin mixed with hers. She could see the way some of the hair was sticking together from the way she was dripping over him.
She glanced back up at his face. “I said I would be gentle.”
Very slowly, she began to move. She inhaled sharply at the sudden emptiness she felt as she slipped back along his length. But perhaps that shouldn’t have surprised her. Ever since she’d first seen him, first spoke to him, the absence of him had made her feel empty somehow. Her body now matched what her heart and mind had known for months, for years.
She pressed back onto him and sighed at the fullness again. There he was. And there he wasn’t. And there he was again, and his hands on her hips guiding her speed, urging her closer.
She let herself lean forward because she found it easier to thrust onto him at that angle, and she let her head loll forward so that she could see the way it looked to ride him. How sinful it looked, their legs tensed as their hips bucked, muscles in both of their abdomens flexing; how heavenly it felt.
She raised her head to look at him, to smile at him—triumphant because she felt triumphant and it was the look in his eyes that took her breath away as he pushed himself up onto his elbows just long enough to pull her breast to his mouth, his tongue rolling the flesh of it and Rey let out a whine because it felt so good the way his tongue worked in time with the motion of their lovemaking. She kissed the top of his head, breathed in the scent of him and tried to breathe steadily as her heart and lungs made it harder and harder to do so. She felt a delicious heat building between her legs, this angle, bent as she was so he could suckle at her breasts, was even better than before and the flesh of her sex was starting to tingle as she pushed herself further and further along the length of him, wanting him deeper than he had been before, needing him.
His hips and breathing were growing more erratic and she felt him reach for her with the Force and the moment that the dark grey and silver of them connected she lost herself in the flame, not of the magic, but of her pulsing sex, the her heart pumping life and Ben through her veins as he choked out her name and he was gone from within her and she felt his hot seed coating their bellies before she collapsed forward onto him.
His arms came up to wrap around her and he held her tightly to his chest for a long while.
“I would have died if it weren’t for you,” he whispered into her hair and she tilted her head up to kiss him lazily, but he didn’t seem to be done talking. “The words I love you are meaningless compared to what I feel for you,” he said into her lips. “But they’ll have to do, I suppose.”
She rolled her eyes at him and nipped his lip playfully. “They’ll do,” she said dryly.
His lips quirked in a smile that faded into something more serious. “I’ll never leave you. Never.”
Rey couldn’t breathe. And when her lips found his, she understood what he’d meant just a moment before.
Rey rose early the next morning and found him already awake, trailing his hand through her hair. She kissed him lazily, and rested her forehead against his for just a moment before climbing from the bed. She rinsed herself clean in the dawn light, Ben’s eyes watching her as she did before dressing in a simple tunic and breeches.
“What happens now?” he asked her quietly.
“That knowledge lies with the queen,” she said. His face fell and she crossed to kiss him again. “She has wanted you back for so long. She sat with you for hours yesterday while you were unconscious. Have faith in her.”
He swallowed and nodded before clambering from the bed. He stood taller than her, his muscles rippling, his cock swinging limply—something he gave her a bemused look for noticing. “I don’t have clothes.” What he had worn the day before had been drenched in his blood.
“I’ll have some brought to you,” Rey said and she made to go before he grabbed her arm and pulled her lips to his for the third time that morning, kissing her so deeply she forgot the rest of the world.
She went to find Finn first. “He needs clothes,” she told him quietly when she found him in one of the great hall, eating with Rose. Both of them looked—well, they looked the way that Rey had felt waking up that morning.
Finn took a deep breath before standing. “I shall see it done.”
“Finn,” she said and his gaze met hers defensively. “It will be well. I know…I know I haven’t told you everything. And I will, I swear in time. I cannot change his past, but I can know his future. Have faith in me.”
Finn’s lips twitched half-heartedly in a small smile. “I shall always have faith in you,” he said. “It’s him I don’t have faith in. But I shall try—on your behalf.”
Rey’s heart swelled and she beamed at Finn, who rolled his eyes and walked away, muttering to himself.
Rey turned her attention to Rose. “You’re all right?” she asked her.
“I’m fine,” she said, and there was a sardonic look to her eyes that brought pink to Rey’s cheeks. She stood and fiddled with the collar of Rey’s tunic. “Some may think that it’s a bruise from yesterday, but others may suspect the truth.”
And she went off following Finn before Rey could do more than clap her hand to the spot on her neck that Ben had been so attentive to while she’d ridden him and blushed furiously.
From the great hall, she made her way to the throne room. It was empty, but she saw Threepio standing there with a series of papers in his arm. “Will she be calling court?” she asked.
“She’s in her solar. Last night was tiring, but I know she intends to try Hux today.”
“Lady Maul managed to escape in the confusion.” Threepio glanced around. “She mentioned nothing of...of him, though.”
She nodded to Threepio and left the throne room, making her way to Leia’s solar, where she found the queen seated at the table, staring out the window, over the valley where, nearly three years before, her son had murdered her husband.
When Rey sat at her side, Leia reached for her hand and squeezed it. “Most of his men will be put to death for treason,” she said. “And by rights, I should order the same of him. But I can’t bring myself to—not when he came back at last.” She looked at Rey and it was the first time that she had seen Leia’s eyes blaze with something akin to joy. “He came back, Rey. My son…my son…”
Rey leaned forward and hugged the queen, squeezing her as tightly as she could, this woman who had become her mother when she thought never to have a mother again. Leia breathed deeply, and Rey felt her stiffen for a moment before she pulled away with a curious expression. Her gaze fell to the corner of her neck where Ben had sucked a bruise into her skin the night before. Her eyebrows flickered.
“You love my son,” she said at last, and Rey’s face went so red she could feel the heat of it radiating from her skin. Leia chuckled. “That makes all this easier, I suspect. I’d thought to pardon him of his crimes, but not restore him to the line for the crown. You have proven yourself time and time again as a worthy heir, Rey. My mother would be ashamed if I were to turn my back on that.”
“But your line—” Rey began before stopping short. “Oh.”
Leia’s smile widened and grew almost catlike. “I won’t tie you to it now—I wouldn’t before speaking to him of it first. You know him better than I at this point, but I rather suspect that when it comes to this, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is…convenient. I won’t reward my son for running off, leading treason for years with the crown he sought to take from me, and murdering my people in doing so.” She shook her head. “If he proves himself a worthy father, perhaps his children will sit the throne, though.”
Vividly, Rey imagined sitting in the throne room with Ben at her side, a little girl sitting on his knee, watching as her mother ruled the realm. She had envisioned him at her side, wearing a crown, after all. And that future was possible now that he had returned.
“And the realm?” she asked.
“We’ll think of something. Let the Black Knight die that my son may live. I have suffered too long to lose him now when he is finally returned to me. And I refuse to let all the training you’ve undergone these past few years, all that you have built yourself to be be washed away because the fruit of my loins has decided to take control of his future as he was born to do.”
There were tears in Rey’s eyes and Leia leaned forward and hugged her tightly. “My sweet, brave girl. You are all I wanted in a daughter.”
They tried and condemned Hux, and this time when Rey saw Ben standing at the back of the throne room, she knew that he was truly there. The trials of the remainder of his men took most of the day, and Ben stood there, stony-faced in the back, clearly waiting for his own name to be called.
But when Leia stood at last and swept from the room and the court dispersed, he frowned at Rey, confused. She descended from the dais and he came to her in the front of the room in Finn’s ill-fitting clothing.
“And what of me?” he asked again. Rey took his arm and led him through the doorway behind the dais, following his mother to her solar.
Leia looked nervous as she bade Ben sit in one of the seats at her side. There was no page with wine—not even Threepio was there as a witness. And when Rey noticed this, she paused, unsure if she should remain.
“Stay,” Leia told her without looking at her, and Rey swallowed, and sat.
They sat in silence for several long minutes, Leia staring at her son. He was more than ten years older than the boy he’d been when she’d last seen him. She’d once described him as gangly, all limbs and no muscle. The same could not be said of him now. Her eyes were bright, her breathing uneven and Ben—Ben’s face was the same.
“I’m so glad you’re home,” Leia said at last, her voice breaking. “I’m so glad you’re alive, and that you’re here, and that you’re home.”
Ben looked down at his hands, then looked at Rey and she did not recognize the emotions swirling in his eyes. The longer he stared at her, the more she felt as though she were intruding where she should not be, seeing sides of both Ben and Leia that she had no right to. She looked away, to the window, staring out over the fields on which Ben had slain Han Solo.
“Am I home?” Ben’s voice was little more than a whisper. “Is this my home still?”
“So long as you wish it, Ben.”
“Even after all I’ve done?”
She heard Leia inhale and Rey’s hands tightened at her sides, and despite herself she turned to look at Ben. He was staring at his mother, defiance and guilt and fear and hope all in his face.
“By rights I should claim your head for the blood you have shed in this realm,” Leia said slowly and the emotion that had filled her voice moments before was gone. Now she spoke with the voice of the queen.
Ben’s jaw tensed.
“But you fought to defend my life and my rule yesterday. You helped save the lives of my commander and my princess. And for that, I see reason to grant your life. Your knighthood is forfeit, and your lightsaber shall remain in my care to be given to a worthier knight, and you shall be stripped of your title and your right to the throne.” His face hardened and he looked for the first time at Rey. But upon seeing her expression, that she could not keep her own hope out of her eyes, his brow contracted in a confused frown and he turned his gaze back to his mother. “What you will do with your life lies in the hands of Princess Rey. That fate I shall leave to her to discuss with you.” She looked about. “Where did my page go? I told him that I should like wine for this.” It was so clearly an excuse to leave the two of them alone for a moment that Rey couldn’t help but blush a little bit.
“What do you have planned?” Ben demanded the moment his mother was gone, his nostrils flared.
She rested a hand on his, and leaned forward to kiss him. “Marry me,” she whispered into his lips, and he inhaled sharply, jerking his head back, his eyes flicking between each of hers, as though trying to see a trap.
“Can you accept that?” she asked quietly. “Can you understand why she did it? Why she had to? You did commit treason, but the realm doesn’t know it was you. You can be returned to her and forfeit your inheritance of your own choosing in their eyes.”
She watched his face closely. She saw the bitterness there, long held, that his mother would place the throne and realm before her son, and Rey whispered, “Let her have her son back. Not her prince. Her son.”
And he went very, very still. And slowly—very slowly, she saw his lips twitch towards a smile. And this time, when he bent to kiss her, she knew it was for forever.