The idea for this story came to me when I was nearing the end of FFXII, and I started writing stuff down, but then inspiration sort of died out when I finished the game. Now my inspiration is back on, and so is this story. I've been working overtime on this story when I really should be working on my story for FFVII… But, I don't know how long this muse will last, so it's coming first. :)
Summary: As the summary for the story implies, I've given Raminas a niece, and he wants said niece to get married for various reasons. Then he drags poor Basch into the picture. Oh boy. Hopefully you guys might think the story is better than the crappy summaries, lol.
Oh, and the term Bhujerban Madhu comes up a few times in this chapter. If you don't know what it is or you didn't do the side quest in the game, Bhujerban Madhu is a Bhujerban wine, very rare and very strong. I loved this sidequest because of the gil you get from it and the hilarious scenes you get when you sell it.
Prologue, Part I
The dining hall in the Royal Palace of Rabanastre was filled with the excited chatter of Dalmascan nobles. Abandoning royal protocol and etiquette alike, the usually sophisticated and calm dining hall was loud, animated, and above all, breaking out the Bhujerban Madhu.
King Raminas sat at the head of the table, his daughter Ashelia on his right, and his niece, Aralenne, on his left. Rasler was in his usual place by Ashe; his elbow was propped up on the table, his chin resting on his hand as he stared at his fiancée with adoration. The King cleared his throat loudly, and the table began to quiet as he stood up.
"To a long, happy, and healthy marriage," Raminas declared, lifting his glass into the air as everyone followed suite, raising their glass and taking a sip of the strong madhu. "Ashelia," he said, looking at his daughter, who beamed up at him. "I had always wondered when this day come, and now that it finally has…" King Raminas faltered a bit, his eyes seeming to mist a bit as he realized that his little girl had finally grown up. "I'm afraid it's come too soon."
The table had grown silent during the King's sentimental address to his daughter. He seemed to realize this and quickly cleared his throat.
"Your marriage," he continued, "will not only result in many blessings for both Dalmasca and Nabradia, but for yourselves as well. And now that I am sure you are taken care of…" Raminas looked at the young woman to his left. She shifted slightly in her seat as the table's attention now turned to her. "I can focus my concentration on your cousin."
The table laughed knowingly, and Aralenne flushed guiltily, giving a nervous laugh. Most of the people at the table knew of the King's tried and failed attempts to get her on the marriage market; she adamantly refused to see any suitors whatsoever. Raminas had yet to find a man who could get the young woman to willingly accept their proposal. He was at his wit's end.
The young woman in question was now grinning wickedly, carefully aiming a spoon with a grape in it at her soon-to-be cousin, in retaliation for the one he had flicked her way a few seconds earlier. She let it fly, but Rasler quickly deflected it with his arm, and laughed at her defeat. Aralenne quickly grabbed another grape, resolving to hit the Nabradian prince before breakfast was over. Ashe giggled through the whole ordeal, opting not to participate.
Raminas shook his head. Teenagers.
He looked at the young woman to his left; Aralenne laughed as she hit her target; the grape went flying through the gaping hole in the upper chest area of Rasler's armor.
Aralenne. His precious niece. Taken into his guardianship at nine years old after the death of her parents. She was an exceptionally bright child, very intelligent too. That, combined with her high-spiritedness made a combination that he both loved and loathed at times. But he knew that any man would have been lucky to have her as a wife. That is, if they could ever get her to the altar.
After the 'grape war' with Rasler had ended, she picked up a strawberry and bit into it, reveling in the sweet taste. Her dark, reddish-brown hair spilled over her shoulders, and she quickly pushed it out of her face, wishing she had a ribbon or some sort of tie to pull it back.
Finishing up the small fruit, Aralenne then picked up a thin and delicate spoon on the right of her plate. She held her wineglass by the stem as she lightly tapped the utensil against it. This caught everyone's attention "I propose a toast: To my new cousin," she said, lifting her glass into the air. "I wish him the best of luck. He will need it if he is to survive in this family." Aralenne took a sip and eyed the person in question with a cool expression as the warm alcohol slid down her throat.
The whole table chortled with amusement as they raised their glasses. Aralenne looked at Rasler over the top of her glass, her eyes twinkling with satisfaction and her lips twitching, as if she were struggling not to laugh. Rasler raised an eyebrow, and gave her a challenging look that clearly said: 'Laugh all you want. I have more grapes than you do.'
Aralenne set her glass down, picking up another strawberry and lifting it to her mouth. Her hazel eyes glanced around the table. Ashe and Raminas were deep in conversation while Rasler had begun chatting it up with one of the king's advisors. Basch and Vossler were discussing something, most likely the Order, and the rest of the table was talking quite amiably. She was the only one who wasn't in a conversation with someone. Perfect.
Quietly pushing her chair back, Aralenne allowed herself just enough room to slip out of the chair unnoticed before silently making her way out of the dining hall.
"…a marvelous idea, don't you think so Ara-lenne…?" Raminas had turned to where his niece had been sitting, only to find an empty chair greet his eyes. He sighed. "I turn my back for one minute…"
"I admire her strategy," Rasler replied, sipping his drink.
"Strategy?" Raminas and Ashe questioned.
"You never noticed?" He asked, raising his eyebrows. "It's her best tactic; once everyone has their back turned in conversation, she quietly stands up and leaves."
"Hmph," was the King's only reply. "I wonder if I made her uncomfortable with that comment after my speech…"
"Most likely," Ashe answered. "You know how she feels about marriage."
"I know all too well," her father replied wearily. "I just wish she would stop this charade; she will have to marry someone sooner or later. For the sake of Faram, she's only two years older than you, Ashelia, and she has yet to take her social status seriously. It drives me mad."
Ashe patted his arm sympathetically, trying to calm his nerves. Raminas slapped a hand on the table, making her lean back in surprise.
"I will be damned if my niece does not take her position in this family seriously," he groused, taking a swig of wine from his glass. "Does she not know how important she is to me?"
"Of course she does," Ashe told him, "but you know how she feels about this. She doesn't want you are coercing her into marriage just for the sake of being married."
"Well then," the King responded, wiping his mouth and standing up. "I guess a more detailed explanation is due. I take my leave. Wish me luck."
"Good luck," Rasler stated, popping a grape in his mouth.
"You're not supposed to say 'good luck'," Ashe exclaimed, "it's bad luck!"
Swallowing the grape, he flashed her an apologetic smile. An awkward silence.
Aralenne sat on the edge of the fountain in the middle of the gardens, legs curled up underneath her and dragging her finger around in the water, smiling slightly as a small orange fish chased after it.
"A stealthy exit Aralenne," came her uncle's voice. "One would think you wouldn't want to leave the feast celebrating your cousin's engagement so soon."
"Everyone seemed to be getting along just fine," she said nonchalantly. "I figured my absence would not cause too much of a disruption."
Raminas sat down next to her, but Aralenne did not look up. Many more fish had joined their comrade in the chase for her finger, and she smiled as the group swam back and forth.
"I apologize if my comment at breakfast upset you," he told her.
She sighed softly, taking her finger from the water, making the fish scatter in all directions. "It didn't upset me," she admitted, "it just…" Aralenne stopped, trying to find the right words. "I just thought that this whole marriage issue was past."
"It has never been past," her uncle replied sternly, "simply pushed aside."
"Getting married has always been at the bottom of my list of priorities," she stated, trying her best to disguise the weariness in her voice. "Why must you ask this of me?" She looked away from him, dipping her finger back into the fountain.
"Oh Aralenne, it isn't just that. Your cousin and I only want you to be happy."
"You think marriage will make me happy? Tell me Uncle, have you heard any complaints from me lately? Have I given you any reason to doubt my happiness?"
"Actually I can think of several-" Raminas began casually, but Aralenne continued.
"Uncle, I love my life. I love everything about my life. I don't even want to think about where I might be if you hadn't taken me in ten years ago. I'm happier now than I've ever been."
After a minutes' silence, Raminas stood up. "You say that now, Aralenne, but Ashelia and I won't always be here for you. One day you're going to want the kind of love that your family can't give."
Aralenne watched her uncle walk away. She held up her left hand in front of her face, trying to imagine a wedding ring on her ring finger. She looked at her other hand, at the ring that adorned her other ring finger. A flattened, pale, translucent stone was set into a silver base on a thin band. An identical stone was strung on a thin silver chain around her neck.
Aralenne lifted her hand to the stone on the necklace, her thumb rubbing it in agitation. Instantly a feeling of peace and serenity overcame her. She sighed with relief. Holy stones could work such wonders. Yet her mind remained clouded with thoughts of her uncle's words.
She stood up, smoothing the skirt of her dress as she did so. Aralenne looked once more at her left hand, before making for the garden's entrance.
It was both easy and painful to imagine a ring on that empty hand.
When Aralenne had seen firsthand all the emphasis royal families placed on marriage, the very idea of it looked incredibly appalling. It wasn't that she didn't want to get married one day, she did, but to the right person. A person she chose, not her uncle. She wanted a marriage like her parents had. One that was based on love. But such marriage among royals was a rarity of its own. Ashe and Rasler were fortunate enough to be in the category, along with Raminas and his late wife, to have an arranged marriage and ultimately fall in love.
She sighed, shaking her head.
How lucky her cousin was.
And how she envied her.
The following weeks were chaotic. Ashe and Rasler wanted the wedding to be as soon as possible. Ashe just wanted to be married; Rasler wanted to get the pomp and circumstance over with. When Aralenne had asked him why, he only mumbled (very uncomfortably, much to her delight) something about 'childhood trauma'.
Ashe had resolved to do most of the planning herself, with Aralenne as her designated 'second-in-command'. However, this only meant that Ashe asked for her opinion on every small detail, and made her own decisions regardless of what her cousin thought.
The two of them sat in the piano room, Ashe nestled comfortably in one of the chairs while Aralenne sat at the piano. Her slender hands ran smoothly over the ivory keys, no sheet music in front of her as the beautiful music spilled into the room.
"Hey Lenne," Ashe asked, scribbling on a piece of paper in front of her. "What color should the flowers be?"
"White," she responded. "Maybe add a little bit of red or yellow." The piece she was playing soon ended after she gave her answer. Flexing her fingers, she started another piece, one she had played since she was a child.
"Do you have the arrangement for this piece somewhere?" Ashe asked.
"It is somewhere in my room," Aralenne replied. "I'll have to look for it."
"Good. I want it played at my reception."
Aralenne's gazed wandered to the balcony, where the sun shone in brightly, and a soft breeze blew in. She softly hummed the lyrics of the song to herself, while hearing an imaginary voice sing them in her head.
I kind of liked it your way
How you shyly placed your eyes on me
Oh, did you ever know?
That I had mine on you
"I can't believe you're getting married," Aralenne finally said. "Who would've thought it?"
"Well, if you weren't so stubborn, you could be married already."
Aralenne laughed. "No thank you. I'll pass."
Ashe huffed and looked at her list. "Is there any specific wine you want at the reception?"
"Bhujerban Madhu," she replied, in a melodramatic fashion. "I'll have nothing else!" She chuckled at her own mock-seriousness. She would have been fine with any wine her cousin wanted, it was her reception after all, but if Ashe wanted her opinion…
"I think we drank the last of it a few weeks ago. We'll have to order more. Hopefully Uncle Halim has more of it in stock; it's getting hard to come by a good vintage these days."
Aralenne nodded. "When do you get fitted for your gown?" She asked.
"Oh they did that yesterday! You should see the design, it's gorgeous," she gushed. "Oh and by the way," she added nonchalantly, "you are scheduled for your fitting sometime today."
Both of Aralenne's hands inadvertently flattened on the keys, letting forth a mangled and twisted sound. She looked positively horrified. "What? Why? I don't need a special gown for this-this is your wedding and reception, I'm just a guest, my dress doesn't need to stand out."
And the truth was, the palace seamstresses scared her. She had been mercilessly poked by their pins and needles many times over the years, and she would use just about any excuse to get out of a fitting.
"A guest who happens to be my cousin and a member of this family," Ashe countered with finality. "You are royalty as much as I am. You have no excuses."
Aralenne shook her head before standing up and grabbing a sheet of paper from Ashe. "Fine. But if I am going to stand through three hours of those old bats stabbing me with pins and needles, the dress will be to my design." She plopped herself down in another chair, bending over the table in front of it, drawing a loose outline of what she wanted.
Ashe leaned over to watch. "What color will it be?"
"I'm not sure…"
"Well, as long as it's a feminine color…"
Aralenne paused. She raised a curious eyebrow at her cousin. "How feminine?"
Ashe put a finger on her chin in mock thought. "Like… Pink or yellow, feminine."
"Pink is horrible on me!" Aralenne exclaimed. "And yellow is…" She faltered, suddenly at a loss of what to say. "Yellow makes me look… Not good. Red or purple!"
"Purple!" Ashe exclaimed with finality. "Royal purple!"
Aralenne smiled. "Well then, purple it is." Then she continued sketching, biting her bottom lip in concentration.
"Now that I think of it," Ashe mused, after a minute of silence, "Purple is a good color for you. Not too bright, it's bold… And it still lets my dress have the spotlight!" She clapped her hands in glee.
"And judging from your design…" She looked over Aralenne's shoulder, "You'd be able find a suitor at the reception for sure." Ashe nudged her cousin in the ribs with a playful smile.
Aralenne gave laughed. "I don't plan on picking a husband at your reception, Ashe. I just plan on looking my best. I don't get dressed up very often."
A minute's silence. A scratching of pen on paper.
"So when is this blasted fitting again?"
Aralenne wanted to get a head start on running while she still could.
It was the day before the wedding, and the palace was utter pandemonium. Servants scurried around like mad, making last minute preparations and checking over every tiny detail to make sure everything was absolutely perfect.
King Raminas and Aralenne stood in the grand ballroom, watching members of the Order of the Knights of Dalmasca do the heavy lifting. Vossler and three others were bringing in the grand piano, and Aralenne cringed, hoping they didn't drop the precious instrument. She loved that piano.
"I'm glad I'm not the one getting married," she said, leaning towards. "If preparation is this much of a hassle…"
Raminas merely grunted, crossing his arms as they set the piano down. All of them let out a sigh of relief, wiping the perspiration off their foreheads, leaning against the piano in satisfaction.
"Uhhh, boys?" Aralenne ventured hesitantly. "The piano goes all the way over there." She pointed to a far corner on the opposite side of the room. They all groaned resentfully, picking up the piano once more. She chuckled.
"Well, Uncle," she said, turning to Raminas, "I am going to go for a walk in the city; these preparations are taking their heavy toll on me."
"You haven't even done anything!" One of the soldiers shouted indignantly from across the room.
Aralenne smirked before flashing the men a dazzling smile. "I know. But overseeing you all is more than enough."
She patted her uncle on the shoulder. "I'll be back later Uncle." She gave him a kiss on the cheek. Raminas smiled slightly as he watched her make for the exit of the ballroom, sidestepping soldiers and servants.
'I'm glad I'm not the one getting married.'
A sigh. The subject had weighed very heavily on Raminas for the past few weeks. He was not getting any younger; he wanted to make sure his niece had the care and protection she needed and deserved before he kicked the bucket. All of his attempts at formulating a plan to accomplish this had driven him to his wit's end; Aralenne did need a husband, whether she wanted one or not. Trying to marry her off to a complete stranger would be a wasted effort. But… what if she knew the man…?
Hmm. Now there was a thought. Maybe he should entertain this new notion instead. But what man who knew Aralenne would actually have the gall to marry her? His niece could be stubborn, but she had quite a gentle disposition most of the time and was quite caring by nature. The only thing any husband of hers might have problem with was her tendency to linger more with the male crowd rather than the female, claiming that, 'listening to men gossip was infinitely more entertaining'. Of course Ashe was an exception to this rule. Ashe was really the only female Aralenne interacted with on a daily basis.
He looked over to the ballroom's exit. Aralenne stood in the doorway, talking with Captain Basch. She was smiling and pointing to something in the room. Basch looked down at her and returned the smile before laying a hand on her shoulder and walking into the room.
The King's mind into overdrive. Just seeing that small, short, innocent exchange between them had given him a plan. Not a fool-proof plan, but still, it would be hard for Aralenne to shoot this one down.
Raminas was jolted from his thoughts when he heard Basch's voice. The man wasn't wearing his customary armor today, none of the soldiers were. Basch wore a thin, white, long-sleeved shirt with a few of the top laces undone, exposing a tanned chest, along with pair of light brown trousers with dark brown boots.
"What is it Captain?"
"The guests from Bhujerba have arrived. The Marquis Ondore requests your presence."
Ondore… Maybe his old friend could help him in his… plot, for lack of a better word. "Thank you Basch," he said absentmindedly, before making for the exit.
"And this diabolical plan of yours is based on what you witnessed during a small, insignificant exchange?"
"You make it sound as if I have not thought this through," Raminas replied, standing on the balcony, both hands grasping the stone railing.
Marquis Halim Ondore IV sat in a chair in the King's study. "You formulate this plan even when you know of her distaste for marriage; why?"
An brief pause. "At first, this was only about social status; marriage was to be expected of her. But now…" He faltered a bit. "Now I just want her to have someone to be there for her, the way Lord Rasler is there for my Ashelia. It pains me to think that when I leave this world… she might still be alone."
Ondore lowered his gaze in thought. It truly was a discomforting notion to think that one so young may already want to give up on something as wonderful as love.
"My sister and her husband raised a wonderful child, Halim. There can be no doubt about that. I would not change my niece for the world, yet… Is it wrong of me to wonder how she would have turned out had she been raised at court instead?"
"I think we have all wondered that many times over the years. More specifically when those times were difficult. You could argue that our Aralenne would have turned out to be a perfect example to noblewomen everywhere, but what would have been the cost? Either way, my old friend, it would seem that you have your work cut out for you. When will you speak to the two of them about this arrangement?"
Raminas rubbed the back of his neck, thinking it over. "I will talk to Captain Ronsenburg after the reception this evening. But I will not speak of this matter to Aralenne until I hear the Captain's thoughts on it first."
"And how do you think he will take this news?" Ondore asked. "Today he is a Captain of Dalmasca. Tomorrow he may be your niece's fiancé. Quite a change from the battlefield."
"I will not force him into this," Raminas put firmly. "I ask this of him as a personal favor, nothing more. Albeit quite a large favor…" He added, mostly to himself, yet Ondore heard it nonetheless.
"You might as well make it a command rather than a request. You know he will not refuse. The man is more loyal to you than even the most faithful of hounds is to its master. Favor or not… I do not think he would not risk your disappointment."
The wedding ceremony had been beautiful beyond words. Ashe looked absolutely radiant, her face glowed with happiness throughout the entire ceremony. Rasler was calm throughout the ordeal, but Aralenne knew better. Only hours earlier she had been running back and forth between the dressing rooms of the newlyweds, delivering messages to each other, wiping away the bride's tears of joy, and trying to keep the groom from having a nervous breakdown. Luckily everything had turned out fine in the end.
Now Aralenne stood in a hallway adjacent to the ballroom, waiting for the wedding escort to arrive. Everything was in place; she had arrived here early to make sure of that. She wrung her hands together anxiously, glancing into a mirror on the wall every so often. Her heels made constant clicking sounds over the tile. Her head jerked towards the door as the blaring of trumpets echoed through the walls.
Aralenne smoothed out the skirt of her dress as loud cheers and clapping commenced. Cracking open the door slightly, she saw the crowd pouring in. Ashe and Rasler were in there somewhere, surrounded by people.
Checking her appearance in the mirror once more, she took a breath. Hazel eyes stared back at her, familiar but unreadable.
Raminas stood in the back of the room by the piano, Basch and Vossler at his side, along with Ondore.
"Daddy!" A voice called through the crowd.
Ashe and Rasler were pushing their way through the massive crowd of guests. When Ashe caught sight of Raminas she bounded forward, throwing her arms around his neck.
"Where's Lenne?" She asked, smiling and pulling away.
Aralenne stepped out of the door, pulling the skirts of her dress out of the way as she closed it. She turned to everyone, smiling brightly as she walked towards them.
"My beautiful niece," Raminas greeted, nearly in awe of the nineteen year-old looking every inch the royalty she never fully accepted, "you are vision of loveliness tonight."
"It's just the dress," Rasler whispered loudly to everyone behind his hand. Ashe, keeping her eyes on Aralenne, whacked him in the arm.
The dress. It was royal purple, the way Ashe had wanted it. After Aralenne had seen the finished result with her own eyes, she decided that it had been worth running away from the seamstresses, being caught and dragged back, and then used as a hume pincushion for three hours.
Ashe stepped up to her cousin, her eyes sparkling with happiness.
"Your dress turned out great!" She gushed. "You look beautiful!"
"Oh, this thing?" She laughed. She looked her newlywed cousin up and down. "Yours is better though."
Rasler let out an appreciative whistle. "I must admit Lenne, you clean up well."
"Better than you," was her response.
"I thought it was against the rules to be as beautiful as the bride," Ondore told her as she hugged him. Aralenne blushed at his compliment.
After a few more minutes of conversation, the group dispersed, the King and the Marquis heading towards the buffet, and Vossler and Basch saying something about 'checking security'. This left the just the three teenagers; Aralenne soon wandered off to find the wine, and Rasler and Ashe went around the room to greet their guests.
Aralenne lifted the glass to her lips, sipping her Bhujerban Madhu and reveling in the warm feeling it gave her. While most often got drunk very quickly after their first sip, Aralenne had a high tolerance for alcohol that even the soldiers envied. Raminas attested to the fact that it was her Rozarrian blood that kept her from acting like an idiot, and saying that it was the only reason he permitted her to drink such a potent beverage.
A few hours or so into the reception, Aralenne had sunk into a chair at the nearest empty table. A small dish of strawberries had been placed in the center of the table, and she eagerly pulled it towards her to devour it. The musicians had stopped for a short break, but they soon started up again, with a slow, romantic song that Aralenne would have recognized immediately had she not been madly searching the table for a bowl of chocolate that her strawberries desperately seemed to be lacking. Couples began streaming out onto the floor. Aralenne paid them no heed. Dancing couples paled in comparison to the delicious fruit she was eating, now complete with hot, melted, chocolate. But when a magnificent soprano joined in with orchestra, she froze.
Whenever sang my songs
On the stage, on my own
Whenever said my words
Wishing they would be heard…
When a warm hand laid itself on her bare shoulder, she shrieked in fright, covering her mouth and almost jumping out her seat. Looking up, she realized it was Basch. He seemed particularly amused by her reaction.
I saw you smiling at me
Was it real, or just my fantasy?
"Yes?" She asked, a hand over her heart.
"Tonight is supposed to be a celebration," he told her, lifting his head to survey the dance floor. "You should smile more."
She rolled her eyes. "Well I would be if you hadn't decided to pop up out of nowehere and play ghost… Was there something you wanted? Other than amusement on my behalf?"
You'd always be there in the corner…
He held out his hand to her. "A dance will suffice… for now."
Aralenne raised an eyebrow. "Oh really?"
Of this tiny little bar…
"Of course," he answered, cocking his head a bit. The light from the chandeliers made his golden hair glow, and his blue eyes stand out against his tanned face. "A reception without dancing is a reception not worth having." A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
My last night here for you
Same old songs, just once more
Aralenne shook her head, chuckling slightly. "All right Captain, I surrender." She took his outstretched hand and stood up, pushing the skirt of her dress away from her feet. As he led her out into the center of the ballroom, she caught Rasler waggling his eyebrows suggestively, his lips pursed into a thin line as if he were struggling not to laugh. He gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up. She suppressed the urge to return his gesture with a more rude one of her own.
My last night here with you
Maybe yes, maybe no
Aralenne leaned down, grabbing the hem of her skirt to keep it from getting in the way of her feet. Basch slipped one of his arms around waist, his hand resting on her back.
I kind of liked it your way
How you shyly placed your eyes on me
"Just to warn you," Aralenne said hesitantly, looking up at him, "I haven't danced in quite a while."
Oh, did you ever know…
"I guess that makes us even then," he laughed, before lacing her fingers with his. "Just follow my lead."
That I had mine on you…?
He spun her around, her skirts whirling around her gracefully. Aralenne was surprised at how well she was able to keep up with him. She hadn't practiced her ballroom dancing in years, but it steadily began to come back to her as she glided over the floor.
Darling, so there you are
With that look on your face
As if you're never hurt
As if you're never down
Ondore was the second to notice Aralenne on the dance floor with the Captain. He chuckled. "Look at your niece," he said to Raminas, pointing his fork in their general direction.
Shall I be the one for you?
Who pinches you softly, but sure
If frown is shown then
I will know that, you are no dreamer…
"Ah, Halim, this is wonderful!" He exclaimed. "Perhaps those two will make this easy for me."
"It is just a dance," was the reply he received. "Do not get your hopes up."
So let me come to you
Close as I want to be
Close enough for me
To feel your heart, beating fast
"Look at Lenne and the Captain," Rasler said with a smirk, nudging his new wife gently. Ashe looked at them and her mouth formed an perfect 'o' shape. Then she smiled, before pulling her husband out onto the floor.
And stay there as I whisper
How I loved your peaceful eyes on me
Did you ever know…
That I had mine on you…?
Aralenne had the sensation floating as she and Basch glided across the dance floor. He spun her around again, and when she twisted around to meet him again, she found her back against his chest.
'All right, so my dancing is not as bad as I thought it would be,' she thought. 'Quite frankly, neither is his. I didn't he would be able to dance in his ceremonial armor, considering it was made for fashion rather than function.'
Darling, so share with me
Your love if you have enough
Aralenne caught sight of Ashe and Rasler. Ashe grinned at her before Rasler pulled her into a spin. Then she felt her own feet leave the floor as Basch picked her up, spinning her around in the air before she came down in whirl of skirts.
Your tears if you're holding back
Or pain if that's what it is
"Don't you think they'd make a good match?" Ashe said to Rasler, as he spun her around.
How can I let you know
I'm more than the dress and the voice
Just reach me out then
You will know that, you are not dreaming
"Who?" He raised an eyebrow in confusion, and then looked beyond his new wife, finally understanding. "Lenne and the Captain?"
Darling, so there you are,
With that look on your face…
Rasler was quiet before he answered, "you aren't talking about dance partners are you?"
"What gave you that idea?" She asked, smiling innocently.
As if you're never hurt…
As if you're never down…
"Ashe, I don't think you should play matchmaker for your cousin," he said cautiously. "Your father's had enough trouble with it as it is. Maybe it just isn't meant to be at the moment."
"I know," she admitted, "but still, sometimes it bothers me that she doesn't have anyone there for her like the way you are for me."
Shall I be the one for you?
Who pinches you softly but sure…
If frown is shown then
I will know that, you are no dreamer…
As the song ended, Aralenne was pulled flush against Basch's chest, one of his hands at the small of her back, the other laced with her hand. She peered up into his face, and opened her mouth to say something when a thunderous boom caught her attention. The ballroom suddenly illuminated itself, and Aralenne looked up through the glass panes of the ceiling to see a marvelous display of red and gold fireworks star bursting across the night sky.
The crowd cheered and clapped enthusiastically. She couldn't help but smile. This night really had turned out better than she had expected. She truly was having a good time; the first time in a long time. Whether or not her dance with a certain captain had any effect on this, she didn't know.
But she felt quite content being in his arms.
The reception continued smoothly for the rest of the night. It was only when the party began nearing its end that Raminas decided it was time to make his request to Basch. So when people began leaving the ballroom, the King asked the captain for a moment of his time. They were walking through the gardens when Raminas decided it was time.
"I need a great favor from you Basch," Raminas said, seating himself on a stone bench. Basch remained standing in front of his lord, his hands linked behind his back.
"Whatever you ask," he replied automatically, "I will serve."
"No," Raminas stated wearily, "hear it all before you answer. The favor in question has nothing to do with the oath you swore to me ten years ago. It is a rather personal favor… and it concerns my niece, Aralenne. I would understand completely and not hold it against you if you were to turn it down…"
"Well," Basch said uncertainly, shifting slightly, now having a slight clue as to where this discussion was headed, "what exactly is the favor?"
The King looked him straight in the eyes. "Aralenne… needs a husband. And you have no wife."
Basch was taken aback by this sudden turn in conversation. His eyebrows were raised slightly in surprise and his mouth was open slightly, an unbecoming look for the captain. "My Lord, I-"
"I understand this is very sudden. But, I feel as if I have no choice in this matter anymore. You know of my tried and failed attempts at getting her to take a husband. I… don't know what to do anymore."
Basch fidgeted under the weight of the King's words. "With all due respect My Lord, why me? Surely there are other men more worthy of Aralenne than I am. Vossler, for instance-"
Raminas snorted. His shoulders shook as he covered his mouth to contain his laughter. Basch blinked. He wasn't aware he had said something funny.
"Aralenne? With Vossler? I'd be lucky if she didn't consider moving to Jahara on the spot to go live a life of more simpler meaning with the Garif."
"But why choose me? I am not of noble birth, I have nothing to offer her-"
"Nothing?" He repeated. "Basch, I do not consider lineage to be a prime factor in marriage. You are a renowned Captain of Dalmasca, and one of the best knights I have. Not to mention you have my explicit trust. You are as good as nobility, if not better than most. I know that you would take good care of my niece, and treat her as she deserves. I cannot think of any other man I'd rather have for her than you."
Basch exhaled slowly, locking his gaze on the ground.
Marriage was a serious issue. Marriage to a royal was even more serious.
And out of all the men Raminas could have chosen for Aralenne… He had been the lucky candidate. He felt honored… And at the same time… He felt a tremendous responsibility weigh heavily upon him.
"I understand if you say no. I know that this is lot to ask of you."
"I don't say no," Basch responded quickly, "I was just wondering how to answer this."
"I do not require an answer right away," Raminas said, standing up. "And I haven't told Aralenne of this either. She will know in a few days."
Basch became silent. "Well," he said uncertainly, "if Aralenne does not object to this… proposal, then I see no reason to say no…" The King's face lit up with hope. "Please, just allow me to talk with her once she is informed of this…"
"Of course, of course," Raminas agreed. "Thank you Basch." He clapped him on the shoulder. "You've given this old man a small piece of hope."
A few days later…
Aralenne stepped into the King's study. She wore a dark green dress with short sleeves and a square-cut neckline. A navy blue sash was wrapped around her torso underneath her cleavage, pushing it up slightly. It was tied in bow around the front.
"You sent for me, Uncle?"
Raminas looked up as his niece stepped into the room. "Yes, Aralenne, please sit down," he told her, setting aside the important documents that needed his signature. He rested his elbows on the desk, lacing his fingers together, surveying her carefully. He sighed.
"I have something I want to discuss with you."
"Captain Ronsenburg?" Ashe inquired skeptically, twirling a piece of hair around one of her fingers. The two were in a very remote corner of the gardens, surrounded by a thicket of dark green ivy and purple, bell-shaped flowers. Most people missed this spot because you had to crawl under the vines to get in it, which, in turn, meant that you couldn't stand up in there either. One had to sit down or lay down, making it good place to relax and unwind.
"Yes, the Captain," her cousin stated flatly. "How many times must I say it?"
Aralenne lay on her back with a hand outstretched, long fingers tracing along the thick vines above her. Ashe sat on the mossy earth with her legs curled beneath her, her skirt pooling around her ankles.
"But he's so-
"Old?" Aralenne responded, snickering lightly.
"That is not what I was going to say," Ashe replied, with slight annoyance. She leaned forward to lay by Aralenne on her stomach. She propped up her head on her arms. "Basch is a good man, but he's also a great captain, and-
"You're worried he would care more about being captain than he would my husband?" Aralenne asked, plucking a flower of the vine.
"Would you stop interrupting me?" Her cousin snapped as Aralenne began to pluck the offending petals off the flower that suddenly became the object of her frustration.
"As I was saying," Ashe continued, as her cousin ripped another flower off the vine, "Basch is a great captain. You know how talented he is in battle. He defends our kingdom valiantly-
"Oh please, Ashelia, go on. Tell me more," Aralenne said, tossing the ruined flower aside.
"All right!" Ashe exclaimed exasperatedly. She sighed, knowing that reacting to her cousin's emotional wall would not solve what as at hand. "Just give it a chance, Lenne. Give the man a chance to prove himself to you. Don't give up on this relationship before it has even begun."
"He doesn't have to prove himself to me," Aralenne defended. "And I'm not giving up," she mumbled.
"No, but you want to," Ashe countered. "How do you know this won't turn out to be something good for you? It seems like Basch is willing to give this a try, so why can you not do the same? Do you want to be alone?"
Aralenne closed her eyes. Her cousin's words struck too many nerves. And Ashe, knowing Aralenne all too well, knew it too.
"You already know the Captain," Ashe said quietly, reaching out and running a comforting hand through her cousin's hair. "Why don't you get to know the man before you say no?"
"All right… " she said hesitantly, sitting up and propping herself up on her elbows while her cousin's face immediately lit up with a bright grin, "if I give this a chance… if I give Basch a chance, and I get to know him, will it keep you and Uncle off my back with this whole 'marriage' issue, at least for a little awhile?"
Ashe replied at once by sticking out her hand, to which Aralenne grasped, exhaling with relief.
"Cousin, you've got yourself a deal!" She declared, shaking her hand so enthusiastically that Aralenne began to fear for the well-being of her arm.
"Shallwe swear on Faram?" Aralenne joked, quickly pulling her hand out of her cousin's grasp before Ashe could shake her arm off.
Quickly they exited the thicket, wandering across the grass and onto the cobblestone path.
"Look," Ashe began, "I'm going to go tell Father the good news, and in the mean time," she patted her shoulder, "you can go find the good Captain!"
"But-but-" Aralenne sputtered, rendered speechless by her cousin's declaration. As Ashe darted off, she shook her head before making her towards the opposite corner of the garden. 'I can talk to Basch later,' she thought exasperatedly. 'Right now I have to get my head together and think upon the consequences of what I've just done.'
Ashe darted through garden's entrance and made a beeline for her father's study. On her way there, who should she run into…
But Captain Basch fon Ronsenburg.
Ashe swerved neatly to avoid a collision with the armor-clad man.
"Princess," he said, looking down at her, "have you seen the Lady Aralenne, by chance?"
'Speak of the devil,' Ashe thought evilly, suppressing the smirk that threatened to form. "Yes, as a matter of fact I just saw her in the garden a few minutes ago. She should still be there, actually. East corner."
'Now Lenne won't have an excuse to avoid him,' she thought inwardly. She nearly laughed at what she perceived to be her own brilliance. 'How I love playing matchmaker.'
"Thank you, Princess," he said, bowing his head before making his way past her. Ashe stared after him quizzically with a raised eyebrow, noticing that the Captain had looked very preoccupied.
"Oh dear, I hope he's not having second thoughts about this," she muttered anxiously, before spinning on her heel and rushing toward the stairs.
Aralenne sat in one of the biggest trees in the garden. Although on the lowest branch, she was suspended almost eight feet off the ground. One of her legs was bent at the knee in front of her, bare foot settling on the smooth bark, while the other dangled off the branch, uncovered by the dress almost up to her thigh, revealing a tantalizing amount of creamy flesh.
Her chin rested on her elbow, which in turn rested upon her knee. Aralenne sighed. While the tree could be a great hiding place, she knew she couldn't hide in it forever. What on earth had possessed her to agree with Ashe?
Her mind told her it was guilt. Her uncle had taken her in when she had nowhere to go, raised her as his own, and brought her up like the Dalmascan royalty that she was. He had never once complained about nor voiced regret for his decision. In her heart, Aralenne knew that she owed him a lot more than just a simple thank you.
Her fingers found the navy blue sash that dangled from bow's knot at the front of her dress. She wrung it anxiously, knowing that she was making this situation a bigger deal than it was. But was she really blowing it out of proportion? This was marriage. It was a binding thing. She would have to live with this person for the rest of her life.
Still, she couldn't help being thankful for her uncle deciding on a man she actually liked and got along well with. What if he had picked Vossler? She shuddered inwardly. Just the thought of being married to Vossler Azelas alone was enough to make her want to move to Jahara with Garif to live out a more simpler existence.
And it wasn't as if Basch were a complete stranger. But with how little she really knew about him, he could have been.
She didn't know much about his past. Not many did. The few who probably did know were Uncle Raminas and Vossler. Maybe even a few members of the Order. She never bothered to ask him. She knew he fled from Landis after it been overrun by Archadia. He never spoke of his homeland save for a few rare moments, but even in those moments there was never any talk about family.
Aralenne had come to Dalmasca ten years ago; Basch had arrived there only half a year before she had. Throughout the years, she watched him rise above his common blood and become a great Captain of Dalmasca, with countless victories and heroic deeds on the battlefield.
He certainly wasn't a repulsive-looking man. And he certainly didn't look his age. Now that she really thought about it, Aralenne thought that Basch was actually quite handsome for a man in his early thirties.
A jolt of realization suddenly ran through her. 'Wait, wait, wait. I'm nineteen years old… He is thirty-four.' Then she anxiously began ticking off the numbers on her fingers. 'That means he's about, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years older than I am! I came here when I was nine, he was twenty-four at the time!' She thought with panic. Then her mind really began to race. 'What if he's only doing this as favor to Uncle? Does he even want to marry at all? It's one thing to be placed in a relationship with someone and then resolving to make the most out of it… But what if he doesn't want to? I don't want to be trapped in a loveless relationship… Even though we've always gotten along pretty well over the past ten years… But I've changed so much. And I know he has too… What if we're both too changed to accept each other in marriage?'
Aralenne sighed, leaned forward, putting her forehead against her knee. She wished Ashe had never left her, because this was usually what happened when she had problems she wanted to avoid thinking about and was left to her own company during that time. Thoughts and feelings would worm their way up into her mind, festering and growing until there was nothing but anxiety and her own weaknesses.
'Why must this be so hard?'
Meanwhile, Basch wandered through the garden, eyes skimming around, trying to spot Aralenne. He walked towards the northwest corner, remembering from his strolls in the garden over the years that she frequented that spot quite often.
When he reached the vicinity, she was nowhere to be found. He ran a hand through his golden hair nervously, frowning slightly. Raminas had confessed to him earlier that he had finally told Aralenne about the proposal, so Basch's immediate thought was that the girl was, most likely, avoiding him. This was made all the more probable by the fact that he had seen neither hide nor hair of her since the reception. A few times he could have sworn he had seen her out of the corner of his eye, but when he always turned to look she was never there.
Sighing, he looked around once more, his blue eyes scanning over the roses, the waterfall, the tree, the fountain-
The tree. Basch looked up a bit more to find Aralenne sitting on a branch, almost eight feet in the air. His eyes wandered down to the bare leg that hung in the air.
'I guess it's now or never,' he thought determinedly as he made his way towards her, pausing only to pluck a long-stemmed flower off a nearby shrub.
She seemed unaware of his presence, even as he stood directly below her and the branch.
'I'm a Captain,' he thought to himself, 'if I can win battles I can most certainly talk to a woman.'
But who was to say they weren't one in the same?
Lifting his right arm, he ran the blue petals of the flower along the underside of her bare foot.
When Aralenne felt something crawling along the bottom of her foot, that female fear of insects instantly kicked in.
She jerked her foot forward, which didn't turn out to be such a good idea. Instantly she felt herself falling, tumbling straight to the-
She felt the breath being knocked out of her lungs, and her body nearly curled into a fetal postion.
Someone had caught her.
Despite her heart wanting to burst out of her chest, Aralenne breathed a sigh of relief. Before she could turn her head and thank her savior, a deep chuckle reverberated next to her temple.
"That was a close one, wouldn't you say?"
Aralenne froze. A familiar, gauntleted arm was looped under her knees, and another under her back. Aralenne's own arms happened to be wrapped around…
"Captain!" She let out a nervous laugh, staring into his amused face. What was it with this man and getting amusement on her behalf? "Um… hello."
He set her down gently on her feet, and she quickly removed her arms from his neck. Then she realized just how short she was compared to him. He stood almost a foot taller than her. She sidestepped around him to pick up her sandals off the ground.
"Do you have a moment?" He asked her carefully, turning around to face her.
"Of course," she replied, nervousness suddenly sparking up within her. She stepped around him once more, not meeting his eyes as she set foot on the cobblestone path. Inhaling softly, Aralenne lifted her head in resolve.
"All the time in the world."
So, what'd you guys think? Just a note: for first time readers, this is actually a different version of the prologue than what everyone else has read. I went back and did a major re-edit because much of what I had originally written could have been written a lot better. I've got a better writing style with this story than when I first started, and that's mostly due to the fact that I've got a good grasp of the characters now, and I know the direction the story's going in.
Yes, Aralenne and Rasler are being immature at the breakfast table at the beginning, and Rasler's possibly OOC, but it's a celebration and they can get away it. It's also a fanfic; crazy stuff can happen, shhhh… ;) But the chapter does start off by saying 'Abandoning royal protocol and etiquette alike…' They have a brother/sister/prankster relationship, and that really wasn't portrayed in the original version, so I changed it. And I talk a lot with one of my reviewers, metalmuffin, and she brought up a good point to me awhile ago when I was voicing my woes to her about the characters acting too… out of character. She told me that it was moments like that that made the characters seem more real. One point she brought up to me: if her strategy guide didn't tell her that Ashe had been 19 during the game, she would've thought she was much older, due to the fact that she's so serious all the time. Anyways, I just thought she brought up a good point. Try and keep that in mind if you think they're being a little OOC lol.
I decided not to be too descriptive with the new version of Aralenne's reception dress because I wanted to leave it up to the reader's imagination this time. It was also for my benefit; if I put too much detail about a particular outfit in my writing I'm incredibly tempted to draw it… And since nearly every outfit in FFXII has an incredible amount of detail, I decided to spare myself the headache. Yeah, I was lazy this time around. I might get around to drawing it one day, but until then…