Conversations and Negotiations between a Pirate and a Princess
Disclaimer: All known and recognisable characters, locations etc are the intellectual copyright of Square Enix
If any readers have also read chapter 29 of my story 'A Sky Pirate Odyssey' you might recognise some of the text at the beginning of this little Ficlet. This is the original version of that chapter which I cut and altered but have now decided, because I thought this scene was rather fun, to put up as a stand alone piece - I have a continuation scene from Ashe's POV too but haven't decided whether to post it yet
Reviews and feedback always appreciated!
From Golmore to Jahara
The old man had a point.
It was disturbing and as much as Balthier tried strenuously to banish the thought it kept cycling back around to the forefront of his mind. Cid might be right.
But the means could not, ever, justify the ends. Not the way the old man had gone about it.
Had he but told me back then!
But no, he would never have believed Cid, would he? He had convinced himself that his father was mad.
Made of it a grand excuse that saved him from having to despise the old man for the life he had forced on him.
Yet the party's recent sojourn to Giruvegan had opened up a fissure of doubt and question inside Balthier that had never existed before; he did not doubt himself.
Balthier was too caught up in his own quandary of doubt, questions chasing each other by the tail around and around inside his head, that he barely participated in the group's discussion on how to get back to Balfonheim from Giruvegan.
Therefore the trek back through Golmore passed in a blur. He wielded Platinum blade with autonomic efficiency barely noticing his own movements as he pilfered loot from the carcasses of fallen fiends and poorly hidden treasure chests scattered on the route.
He was, however, aware of the Princess's eyes on his back like a particularly focused beam of heat, trying to bore through his skin and incinerate him where he stood.
Yet whenever he turned to question the Princess on what he had done this time to find himself once again, the subject of her not inconsiderable ire, she swiftly turned away.
This was sufficiently odd to wrest his attention from consideration of his father's many sins, for their dear Princess Ashelia Dalmasca had never been one to resist publicly lambasting him in the past for whatever passing sin she thought he had perpetrated against her dignity simply by breathing.
It was one of those occurrences of blind luck that led to the party stumbling out of the perpetual twilight of Golmore jungle and landing at the feet of Gurdy the travelling Chocobo rancher.
What the cheerfully and extortionately expensive Moogle was doing on the border of the Ozmone Plains and Golmore was a question best left unanswered.
Having decided to make for Rabanastre, the largest city even remotely close to Golmore and the one where the Strahl was docked, the party was unanimously in favour of using what was left their paltry Gil reserves to pay for the loan of three Chocobo's.
Balthier was still a million miles away in the past when the arguments began over whom should ride with whom and so when the Princess dragged one of the huge, spindly legged birds over to him and looked at him expectantly he was somewhat at a loss.
'Do you wish to ride in front?'
Penelo and Vaan were squabbling a few feet away over who would sit in back and who would hold the reins on their bird; the placid bright yellow creature trilling away contentedly while they pushed and shoved each other.
Basch had already gently spurred his mount onwards; Fran sitting with elegant nonchalance on the creature's back looked at him with a curiously raised eyebrow.
Fran and Basch?
Clearly he had been seriously remiss in regards to the ever shifting social dynamics of the group to miss the seismic shift that would result in Basch deigning to ride with anyone but the Princess and Fran choosing to ride with anyone but him.
Shaking his head to clear it and chiding himself vociferously for being so absent minded, which was really hardly becoming of the Leading Man, with its emphasis on leading, Balthier grabbed the reins and hauled himself up on the mount.
Ashe deftly swung herself up behind him, using his arm as leverage and nearly dragging him down off the saddle.
Twenty minutes into their ride through the endless tedium of the Ozmone Plains Balthier had come to the conclusion that the Chocobo he and the Princess rode appeared to be in no hurry to go anywhere.
It plodded along with that odd bouncing gait that left one sore and bow legged after any length of time riding, with placid lack of haste.
When he spurred the creature on it simply squarked, turned its head to look at him with an oddly emphatic expression of annoyance in its black beady eyes and continued on at its own interminably steady pace.
Balthier sighed resigning himself to the ignominy of Chocobo travel, fiercely missing the Strahl.
Ahead Vaan and Penelo were having exactly the opposite problem with their mount.
'Trixxy stop – whoaaaaa, Trixxy, whoa!'
Penelo cried yanking on the reins for all she was worth, which only made the sprinting Chocobo that anyone with any knowledge of Chocobo's could have recognised as an irritable bird, run all the faster.
The mad bird started to leap in the air, as if it thought to take flight, even though Chocobo's do not fly, leaping over boulders and snake pits as it zig-zagged across the Ozmone Plains.
' Basch help!'
Basch had spurred on his and Fran's Chocobo to run alongside the manic bird, the valiant (and bloody stupid) Knight leaned over the edge between the two birds and snagged Trixxy's reins pulling the bird by its bit until the creature eventually slowed.
Fran had reached around Basch's body to take the reins of their own mount as well as making sure that Basch did not fall as Trixxy, determined to run free as -well - as a bird, lurched away from Basch, so that the Knight's upper body dangled over the gap between the two at a dangerously precarious angle.
By this point, simply by moving steadily in one direction at unchanging speed, Balthier and Ashe had come up alongside the ludicrous sideshow.
Ashe had begun rummaging around in one of the provisions sacks, tied like ballast bags to their Chocobo, for a Gysahl green.
' Trixxy! Look!'
Ashe cried sharply, her own tones that of a Princess trained to talk down to man and Chocobo alike with absolute authority. The maddened bird turned to fix them both with wild button eyes.
Ashe threw the Gysahl green a few feet in front of the charging Chocobo who skidded to a halt, clawing up the green veldt of the Ozmone Plains as well as unseating both Vaan and Penelo who tumbled over the creatures bent neck as it lowered its head to feed.
' Oooff! Vaan hit the ground with a bone thudding finality.
' Oooow!' Came Penelo, tumbling after.
'Well that was fun.'
Balthier drawled as Basch dismounted his bird to help the orphans up.
'Perhaps we should switch mounts?' Basch suggested politely, keeping a firm grip on Trixxy's reins.
' Yeah.' Vaan nodded his emphatic agreement, rubbing at his lower back where he had hit the ground with quite a thump.
' But this time I'll drive.'
Vaan glared balefully at Penelo who was picking dry grass stems from her hair and rubbing irritably at the grass stains smearing the seat of her pants.
Penelo distained from comment but meekly clambered up after Vaan once the four of them had switched Chocobo's.
The next hour passed in a jolting, bouncing, sedate blur; so uneventful that Balthier thought he might have fallen asleep still loosely holding the reins. Taking the Chocobo paths cut miles from their journey but made for some exceedingly dull travelling.
Until that is Balthier became aware of something odd going on at his back.
'Princess is there some reason you appear to be unfastening my vest?' He murmured in low aside.
Basch and Fran were leading the way and Vaan and Penelo were quite a distance ahead also, but it didn't mean he wanted to draw undue attention.
He turned his head as much as he could to look at Ashe, who was indeed fiddling with the ties and clasps keeping his vest securely fastened.
'I was curious.' Ashe said distractedly tugging at one of the string bindings up by his shoulder blades.
'I have had little enough to look upon but your back for many hours, after all.' She added archly.
' Curious about what, may I ask?' Balthier inquired politely as the Princess' insistent tugs on his clothing unsteadied his balance on the saddle.
' Gods Balthier,' Ashe muttered so intent on trying to pry her fingers between the fastenings, that she either ignored or did not hear his question.
' How do you dress every morn, or do you have Fran dress you instead?'
Balthier smirked, partly at her words and partly at the undertone to her questioning regarding Fran. Hmmm, this could be quite an entertaining journey after all.
'Practice, Ashe, practice.' He informed her silkily. 'I can show you how it is done, later, if your Highness wishes?'
Ashe's fingers stilled on his vest and she looked up, a slight flush rising in her cheeks.
'That is quite unnecessary, Balthier.'
She said briskly, removing her hands from the fastenings completely and returning them to rest primly against his sides.
He chuckled under his breath and turned his head to face front with a lazy smirk. Ashe's soft words barely carried across to him.
' I shall figure it out on my own, thank you.'
He turned back around, sharply, to see that Ashe had set her hands to the task of fiddling with his clothing once more. She looked up at him irritably.
'Balthier, if you are going to steer, kindly look were you are going.'
He raised an eyebrow not sure whether to be amused or alarmed by the Princess' openly flirtatious, and rather forward, manner.
He was not sure he had ever had a woman attempt to undress him on the back of a Chocobo before.
' So I am to sit idly by while you undress me, is that your command Princess?'
' Yes.' Ashe said as she finally managed to loosen his vest enough that he felt it sag slightly around his shoulders.
' Really Balthier I would think a man such as yourself would be quite happy with this request.'
He could feel a grin playing on his lips. Well, well, the ice Princess was melting was she? And she was in the mood to play, too.
' I am not objecting to this arrangement, Princess, I merely want to set the terms.'
Ashe looked up at his face, stopping her investigation of one of the clasps at the bottom of his vest. 'Terms?'
'Oh, yes, Princess.' He purred.
Yes, indeed, two could play this game and he rather fancied he was more versed in its intricacies than her majesty.
'If I am to indulge your curiosity tis only fair I get something in return.' He winked at her. 'Compensation as it were.'
Ashe looked less pleased with this turn of events, ' I am not going to let you undress me, Balthier.'
His grin widened, suddenly this whole day was looking up. 'Yet that is exactly what you wish to do to me, Princess.' He pointed out reasonably.
' That is not – ' Ashe was flushing richly now, then she scowled. ' I did not plan on removing the vest, only seeing how it fastened.'
He gave her an openly incredulous look, 'You could have simply asked me that, Ashe.'
Ashe had started to look slightly panicked, as he suspected, she didn't know how to play these games. Foolish Princess, when it came to this sort of sport he gave no quarter.
'It is not fair exchange.' She hissed. ' Under the vest you have your shirt. You will still be fully clothed.'
' That you choose to wear so few garments is to your misfortune in these negotiations, not mine, Princess. Fair is fair.'
' I will tell Basch.' Ashe sputtered indignant.
Balthier burst out laughing. The others turned around to look and Balthier waved at the Knight in question cheerfully.
Fran gave him a carefully neutral, yet guarded, look. It was entirely possible she could hear the whole conversation.
' You could certainly tell your Knight Errant, Ashe, and in defence of my life I would be forced to confess the circumstances of how this little conversation transpired. Is that what you want?'
He asked casually in a low whisper over his shoulder, he could just see Ashe's venomous glare.
'This is blackmail.'
He chuckled softly, ' Hardly that, Princess. I am not forcing you to remove my vest, after all. Incidentally I cannot help but notice that you are still trying to remove it, even now.'
Ashe was silent for a long moment, Balthier turned back to face front noticing that the other four had slowed down so that they were close at hand.
Fran turned to give him a look that, while inscrutable to the others, clearly told him he had better know what he was doing for she would have nothing to do with it should Basch find out.
'Hey Balthier, Ashe, you guys okay back there? You seem to be talking about something important.' Vaan called.
Balthier opened his mouth to answer and then shivered as Ashe finally found her way under the vest to slip her hand underneath the tight leather and onward under his shirt to touch his bare skin. Her hand was surprisingly cold.
'A-hem.' He cleared his throat; Ashe scratched her blunt nails over the small of his back.
' Nothing important, Vaan; just war, Nethicite and the depredations of Empire.'
He called to the inquisitive youth in his most urbane and inane voice; Vaan grunted something and immediately turned back to face front, as Balthier knew he would.
'Princess?' He murmured very low, aware of how close the others were. 'You are taking advantage. Touching was not part of our negotiations.'
Ashe leaned closer to his back, her hand still inside his vest, ' I will not be taken advantage of by an opportunistic pirate. I shall have fair exchange.'
Her breath, stroking his ear in heated, husky whisper, sent another shiver down his spine. Opportunistic? She was calling him opportunistic? He wasn't even the one who started all this!
' Is that so?' He purred, ' And what do I get, Princess? Or should I choose an item of clothing on my own?'
Keeping his eyes dead ahead he felt Ashe tense and he smirked. Clearly the Princess liked to be the one in charge in this as well as all other things. But alas, he had never been one to take orders from anyone.
' One boot and one of my greaves, once we reach Jahara.'
Ashe said briskly, like one closing a business transaction, which strangely, he found rather arousing.
'Only if I remove them myself Princess.'
He shot back, equally businesslike even as the Princess worked her hand around to his front and her fingers stroked, feather light, over his stomach, her pinky finger tickling his navel.
' Yes, alright. But I'm warning you Balthier, if your hand goes higher than my knee, I'll cut it off.'
Balthier bit back another laugh and replied smoothly.
' In that case, Princess, kindly remove your hand from inside my vest now. I too want fair exchange from this little pact.'
Again he felt her stiffen in surprise and displeasure. My, my Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca must have been spoiled as a child. She clearly expected to have her cake and eat it.
Grudgingly Ashe pulled her hand out of his vest and shirt.
'Very well, Balthier.' She said austerely only causing him to grin all the more.
Ashe had hidden depths it seemed, underneath the icy exterior beat the heart of a common harlot.
What would her down trodden and suppressed subjects say if they knew how their Princess carried on, and with a wanted felon no less?
Or maybe, Balthier reasoned somewhat more kindly, Ashe was just a woman whose husband was stone dead six months after her wedding night and who had been treated as nothing more than a figurehead for the last two and a half years.
She was overdue a little fun and he would be more than happy to provide her with it.
For a price.
' Thank you Princess, now if you would be so kind as to refasten my vest?'
' What?' Ashe demanded obviously not expecting to be asked to clean up her own mess either. Such a princess.
He sighed elaborately, 'I will do the same for you, tonight, Ashe. It is only fair; unless you want me to dismount and do it myself, hmm?'
'Fine.' She huffed and began to tug and fasten him into his vest tight enough to break his ribs.
Balthier grinned all the while. Any way you wanted to look at it, whether the Princess delivered on her side of their bargain or not tonight, he had come off the winner in this little dalliance.
After all, how many other sky pirates could say they had been undressed by a princess, in public, while riding a Chocobo?