|Tea and Sympathy
Author: ThebigW PM
[Complete] Four women are in love with Claus Valca to varying degrees. Hoping to settle the issue that's been on everyone's heart once and for all, Empress Sophia stages a tea party for the principals. The truth will hurt as well as heal. Finale.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Angst - Chapters: 4 - Words: 13,629 - Reviews: 74 - Favs: 28 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 06-02-05 - Published: 12-21-04 - Status: Complete - id: 2182685
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Tea and Sympathy
Last Exile is owned by Ganeon(Pioneer). I make nothing from this fanfiction based on one of the most beautiful works of anime I've ever seen.
Her voice echoing from the far end of the great hall, Empress Sophia stood and bade the girls enter from her desk situated in a nook slightly off to the left of the throne. The great hall was indeed great, spanning two-hundred feet wide by three-hundred feet long. The great glass windows rose imposingly and allowed outside light in almost grudgingly.
At the Empress' command, Imperial Security turned and beckoned the small party to follow. Tatiana, Lavie, Alistia, and Alvis moved forward and glanced about in awe at the trappings of power their former comrade was now surrounded by.
"Hmmph. This is really too much. No one needs all of this."
Lavie whispered to no one in particular, a tinge of disapproval evident in her voice.
"Shh!" Tatiana hushed her.
"Things have changed, and we need to show the utmost respect, even if she is our friend."
Tatiana had mixed feelings herself, knowing that her former vice-captain would find it difficult to sustain the changes in personality required to run an empire, to retain the honor and respect of her subjects. Politics could be an ugly, dirty business, and Sophia always searched for the best in people, often overlooking the worst.
Alistia remained silent, admiring the fine materials and craftsmanship of the stained glass, furniture and tapestries, clutching Alvis' hand as the young girl skipped along to keep up with the others.
Sophia, pressed for time as always, and wanting to make the most of this break, quickly returned her attention to the papers on her desk once more, then affixed the Imperial Seal upon the preliminary agricultural budget, and then the Order of Commutation for Time Served for Disith POWs.
'There. Now only eleven more to review before the end of the day.'
She handed the sealed documents to her administrative assistant, who placed them in respective envelopes before speaking.
"Will that be all, your Highness?"
"For now, yes."
She let out a deep sigh and then removed her glasses, rubbing the bridge of her nose where they rested.
Presently, the quartet reached Sophia, who had by now descended the steps from the platform the throne was situated on and stepped from behind her personal security to greet her friends. Lavie pasted a weak smile on her face as the Empress took her hand, then opened her arms to embrace her.
"Ahem. Your Highness!"
Saronti, her highest ranking minister, tried to intervene at the lapse of decorum. Sophia was not deterred.
"It's all right. These are my friends, whom I haven't seen in some time. It warms my heart that they have traveled here to see me."
She smiled as Lavie stepped aside so that Tatiana, Alistia, and finally Alvis could be received, or rather, could receive their hugs from a delighted Empress. She knelt when she got to Alvis, prompting further grumbling from Saronti.
"Hello, Al. Has everything been going well for you?"
"Yes, Soph... umm, Your Highness."
"Oh please don't. I'll let you know when you need to be formal with me. Alright?"
"Good. Now, all of you, please follow me."
She straightened up and turned to make her way to an anteroom off to the left of the hall. Responding to a hand gesture, her maids-in-waiting moved to the side to allow the small group to enter.
"I shall be occupied for at least an hour, Minister Saronti."
Saronti bowed to his liege, taking a step back.
"As you wish, Highness."
The room itself was large by its own dimensions, but when stepping into it from the main room, one was struck by the contrast in size; the feeling was almost claustrophobic. The room was painted in pastel colors, with a very soft violet being the dominant theme. A small round table, seating a maximum of six, stood in the center of the room. Fine artwork decorated the walls, and fresh-cut day lillies gave off a sweet, soothing aroma. Soft strains of music wafted in from an unknown source. Off to the left upon entering was a five-tiered bookshelf built into the wall. At the far end of the bookshelf was positioned a comfortable chair with a small circular reading table and lamp nearby. Al, who loved books, hurried over to the table to see what Sophia had been reading. She set down her goat, carefully so that its braying would not disturb the goings-on, and picked up the book. It was quite thick, and also heavy.
"World Order in Flux, and the Obligations of Royalty to Social Change."
She looked over at Sophia, who clasped her hands together and smiled proudly.
"Very good, Al. I see your tutoring has progressed quite nicely. I also forsee a professorship at the university in your future. In the meantime, perhaps this would interest you."
The Empress searched a bit on one of the lower shelves, tapping her chin with her finger.
"Ah, there it is."
She pulled a volume with the title, "Gordon's Illustrated Fairy Tales". Al's eyes grew wide in anticipation as she accepted the book with her thanks and hopped up onto the chair. Sophia turned back to the other women.
"I come here to get away from things for awhile whenever I can. Please make yourselves comfortable. Refreshments will arrive shortly."
She nodded to her personal guards.
"You are dismissed."
"By your command, Highness. We shall be right outside should you require us."
When they had settled themselves, Sophia took the opportunity to catch up on things.
"So, Tatiana, are you still undecided as to taking a position on the bridge of the Sylvana? Or perhaps the Urbanis, as all the damage it sustained should be completely repaired in just about three weeks. As a matter of fact, I'll be presiding over the re-launch ceremony."
"Well... I'm keeping my options open at this time."
"I thought you wanted to captain your own ship? You were so gung-ho before... before..."
Her face blanched slightly, as it was still a bit difficult for Sophia to come to grips with, and even speak of, the decisive episode of the war in which Al had re-awakened Exile. The destruction of Delphine's ship had meant Alex's death. Tatiana picked up on Sophia's distress and spoke quickly, her brows knitted as she tried to find the right words.
"I've... begun to look at things a bit differently, since I met... I mean, lately. Things that were once so important to me, well, I'm still trying to sort things out."
Tatiana gave a small smile to Sophia as she tried to be as honest as she could, but some things were best left close to the heart.
"I see. Well then, what about you Alistia?"
The quiet navigator thought for a moment before speaking.
"Well, I have been considering taking more vanship pilot training. I really love the skies, and I sometimes feel like I want to stay up there forever. As a pilot, I could feel even more in control."
Alistia turned from Sophia to her pilot, even as she answered the empress' question.
"Tatiana is my best friend, and has been for a very long time. We've been through quite a bit together. I sincerely want for her to be successful and happy..."
Tatiana smiled at her long-time friend, but then Alistia's face took on a pensive, almost sad look.
"But I realize now that I have my own dreams and goals as well. I... I have to direct my life toward its highest potential."
Sophia and Lavie looked back and forth between the two at this revelation. Alistia turned her head back toward Sophia.
"I suppose that means that I'm keeping my options open as well."
"Of course. I will do anything within reason and that won't be seen as favoritism on my part to help any of you advance your careers. Certainly you can understand my position. What about you, Lavie?"
Lavie was still on the track of the last conversation, and was slightly startled when all attention turned to her.
"I... umm... that is..."
A knock on the door announced that refreshments were ready to be served. Al carefully closed the book she was reading and left it on the chair, then took a few steps toward the others before remembering her pet goat. Sophia assured her that it would be fine where it was, and that she wouldn't let her leave without it.
The ladies-in-waiting had to get three cushions so that Alvis could be propped up to everyone else's level. Sophia nodded to her staff, who left momentarily before returning with a sterling silver tea set that had the seal of the New Empire of Prester encrusted in gold inlay. Also arriving was a tray with assorted cookies and tarts. The baked treats were placed on a circular, revolving tray to allow each participant to serve themselves. The tea set was placed in front of Sophia, who thanked her attendants before dismissing them.
"But Your Highness, we should serve..."
"I'll be fine, thank you."
As soon as they left, Sophia got up and began to serve tea to each guest in turn.
"Since I was a little girl..."
She smiled at Alvis, who beamed in return.
"I've always wanted to do this. But growing up a princess, then the war... How many lumps of sugar, dear?"
Alvis reached out to the tray for a cinnamon cookie, before remembering her manners. She blinked at Sophia before being reassured.
"Please help yourself. That's what they are there for."
When everyone had been served, the Empress again took her seat. Fingers interlaced as they supported her chin, she exhaled a heavy sigh as she looked about the table.
"You don't know how good it is to see all of you. You've made me very happy."
For the next fifteen minutes or so, the mood brightened considerably as everyone thoroughly enjoyed the tea party. Alistia admitted that she held mock parties for her stuffed animals as a young girl, and that participating in a real one was simply wonderful. This turned out to be Alvis' first all-girls tea party, and she was happy that she could share the experience with her best friends. Even Tatiana and Lavie got caught up in the affair, rediscovering the little girls inside themselves.
Presently, Sophia tapped the side of her teacup to gain the attention of the others. When everyone quieted and turned to her, she spoke.
"Thank you once again, ladies. I am gratified that you all seem to be having a wonderful time. I hope that we can retain all of the good feelings we have experienced here as we move next to the true topic of discussion, the reason I really asked you all to come here today."
Alistia looked questioningly at Lavie, who shrugged her shoulders as she looked in turn to Tatiana, who knitted her brows and shook her head before turning to Sophia.
"What... what is this all about?"
The Empress became suddenly quiet, and very serious. She clasped her hands together and placed them on the table in front of her before she answered, a somewhat disconcerting look crossing her face.
"It's Claus. We need to talk about Claus."