Epilogue: The Fortress at Nalbina, Balthier's suite
A/N I heard a call for an epilogue, so voila. Enjoy and thank you everyone who read and reviewed - your comments have been wonderful and I really appreciate all the feedback!
Fran entered the suite through the narrow window while Balthier was lying flat out on the bed on his back, arms spread-eagled, shirt untucked, waistcoat unfastened and hair in a state of severe dishevelment, staring dazedly up at the ceiling unable to fathom, nor force from his thoughts, the events of scant few hours prior.
He turned his head and watched Fran slip first one long leg in through the window, then her head and torso and finally the other leg.
'Fran, glad to see you haven't lost your flair for the stealthy entrance.'
He drawled, rather amazed he was capable of sensible speech as his mind continued to spin in a nosedive towards encroaching panic.
' You are in trouble.' Fran told him without preamble.
'Really, I had not realised.' He replied with the blandness of rapidly approaching shock.
Fran shook her head, 'You have created a fine trap by your actions this day.' She scolded.
Balthier scowled, ' None of this was my doing. She trapped me!'
She gave him a level look as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, ' I do not speak of Ashe, her wiles you made yourself a slave to long ago, though you saw it not.'
Balthier felt his scowl deepen, 'I have no idea what you mean.' He responded sharply.
Fran almost smiled, though it was certainly no matter to smile over, 'As you say, Balthier.'
He sat up in one smooth movement and ran his hands through his hair, trying to smooth it and failing.
He did not know what to do. Ashe had blind-sided him completely and he could not fathom what she had in mind for him now, having granted him clemency but nevertheless not seeing fit to grant him his freedom.
Fran sighed to attract his scattered attention and shook her head vigorously to sweep her hair from her face.
'You are in trouble Balthier, more than you know.' She repeated.
He frowned, mind moving sluggishly and he kept falling back on the terrifying events of today's court session, unable to move beyond them.
'If you refer to the Balfonheim pirates Fran then need I remind you that each one of the other Pirate Lords owes me Gil?'
The retribution of the other pirates in regards his disclosure of certain facets of the politics of piracy was the only 'trouble', other than the immediate concern of how to extricate himself from whatever Ashe had planned, that he could conceive of.
Balthier had weighed up the potential pro's and cons of revealing the inner workings of sky pirate society to the great and the not-so-good of Dalmasca and decided that any ramifications from his unauthorised disclosure could be dealt with at later date, the immediate benefits, he had thought, out-weighed the long term complications.
'I do not refer to the other pirates.' Fran replied coolly.
His frown again deepened, until he thought his face would be permanently scored by harsh lines, 'Oh?'
Fran cocked her head, ' You did not see him then, the Queen had you so ensnared did she?'
It was Balthier's turn to give his partner a dark look, sitting forward and resting his elbows on his knees as he stripped off his leather gloves from his hot and sweaty hands.
'Saw whom?' He asked succinctly, ignoring Fran's sly assertion.
'Oh, him,' Balthier felt himself relax, for a moment there he had been concerned.
'Yes I saw him sneaking about the Hall; I had thought he was simply curious regarding the trial.'
Though under the circumstances he had barely paid the Judge Impostor any mind, worried as he was with the vaulting and insane ambitions of a Queen, who, though it terrified him to suggest the possibility even in his own mind, seemed intent on making a sky pirate her Consort.
' Curious, indeed. You have been too brash Balthier.' Fran chided him.
He scowled; it had been years since she had used that tone with him and he appreciated it now no more than he had then.
'How so?' He asked keenly, rubbing at his face.
It had been a long and fraught few days and while he could not say he hadn't enjoyed parts of them, primarily the nocturnal activities he and Ashe had engaged in, he was now thoroughly exhausted and did not feel himself quite able to deal with whatever bad tidings Fran was intent on imparting to him.
' Archadia wishes your extradition.'
Balthier had been scratching an itch to his left instep, having first kicked off his shoe; he looked up at his best friend sharply at her words.
Fran cocked her head to the side, large, rounded pinkish eyes filled with a distant sardonic humour that he usually appreciated as evidence of their kindred souls, but now found himself considerably less enamoured of.
' Basch has come to open negotiations with Ashe regards your immediate extradition to Archades.'
Balthier swallowed, growing pale. 'Yes, that's what I thought you said.'
His mind tried to process this new information but his thoughts ran aground on the rocky shore of shock, confusion and mental fatigue from days of defending himself against his crimes and manufacturing a plausible defence for the reprehensible.
'There is no extradition treaty between Archadia and Dalmasca, surely?' He asked weakly as Fran settled herself beside him on the edge of the bed.
'As I had thought also, yet one exists now, signed by the Queen and Lord Larsa.'
He launched himself up from the foot of the bed and began to pace, despite the fatigue in his limbs.
' Why would Ashe do something so foolish?'
'As I understand it the treaty allowed many Archadian's guilty of war crimes to be returned to face justice in the country whose citizenry they mistreated.'
For a moment all Balthier could do was stare mutely at Fran. How? How did his life end up becoming so interminably complicated? All he had ever set out to do was to be the greatest sky pirate and gentleman criminal Ivalice had ever known.
He sat down brokenly on the edge of the bed next to Fran again and closed his eyes, letting his head drop into his hands.
' Dare I ask what the charges are against me this time?' He mumbled.
'There are too many to count, you have already loudly and repeatedly proclaimed your infamy to the people of Dalmasca. You have opened yourself up to such an ambush as this.'
He turned his head, still cradled in his hands to glower at his partner. 'What does Larsa have against me? Or bloody Basch, turned Judge Magister Gabranth, for that matter?'
'This action is not motivated by spite or vengeance Balthier.'
Balthier opened his mouth to demand an explanation of what other reason the Emperor and his favourite lap-dog could have for trying to extradite him when the heavy wood door of his rooms slammed back against the wall and a very angry Dalmascan monarch barrelled into the room.
' What have you done now, you damned pirate!'
Ashe rocked to a halt when she realised belatedly that he was not alone and for a moment she looked almost embarrassed, then she drew herself up regally and nodded cordially to Fran.
'Fran it is good to see you.'
Fran nodded politely, ' Your Highness.' She demurred impassively.
Pleasantries dealt with Ashe turned a withering look to Balthier, ' Archades wishes to extradite you.'
'So I have heard.'
Balthier said tiredly. Falling sky fortresses, airship dogfights, battles with megalomaniacal emperors he could deal with, and with his customary aplomb, but this was all getting a little too much. His life had become an epic farce.
Perhaps affected by his current inability to fight back effectively Ashe flopped down on the edge of the bed to his other side, nudging him with her hip to make more room for her. He ended up wedged between his Queen and Fran. The irony did not go unnoticed by him.
'You did not plan this?' Ashe asked him curiously, he turned to stare at her in complete disbelief.
'In the name of all the gods, Ashe, why would I plan this?'
Ashe studied him thoughtfully, 'I had thought it might be an elaborate ruse to enable you to fly away and not return.'
For a moment Balthier was struck speechless, completely unable to come up with a coherent response to this.
Now was hardly the time to be thinking on romance. He was about to be extradited to stand trial in Archades – and Archades citizens were not going to so easily fooled by a bit of flash and dazzle as the citizenry of Rabanastre evidently were.
' Even I have my limits, Highness.' He replied icily when he could say anything at all.
On his other side he heard Fran sniff in amusement, 'Indeed? I had begun to wonder.'
He turned to Fran, 'That is not helpful, Fran.'
He said through his teeth, his partner remained unperturbed.
' Basch is being strangely unforthcoming.' Ashe said carefully and he turned back to face her.
'He is unwilling to divulge the exact nature of the offence you will be charged with, or a date for your trial.'
'Trial? Hardly.' He scoffed mood fading beyond dark towards deadly.
'A rough awakening at dawn and a quick escort to the waiting firing-squad is closer to the mark, your majesty.' He sneered.
' It is a ruse.'
Fran said and both he and Ashe turned to face her, Ashe having to lean far forward to see Fran across Balthier's body.
' To what ends?'
He asked, the possibilities didn't bear thinking about and his almost feverishly over-worked brain delighted in throwing up any number of disturbing scenarios for him to stew over.
'The Lord Larsa is a target for assassination among the disaffected within the Empire, unhappy with his reforms.' Fran intoned dispassionately.
'Indeed.' Ashe nodded in agreement.
'There have been six foiled attempts in these two years, mostly from former members of the Imperial army unhappy with Larsa's de-militarisation policy.'
Fran nodded gravely picking up the narrative and demonstrating an understanding of the politics of Archades that he did not think she had before Basch snuck into the trial with furtive stealth earlier today.
' There is discontent among the gentry as well, they do not like the new taxation on their land holdings to raise funds for the restoration of Old Archades.'
' Yes, yes, no-one likes a do-gooder, what does this have to do with me?'
Balthier interjected impatiently. Both Ashe and Fran frowned at his insensitivity, Ashe emphasising her displeasure with an elbow to his ribs.
'Basch cannot be everywhere at once. The very walls of the capital echo with plots.' Fran stated enigmatically.
Balthier could feel his patience, which was never in great supply, ebbing rapidly. It was well known the little Lord Larsa was doomed. Idealists did not last long in Archades.
The fact that Larsa's greatest defender was Basch Fon Ronsenberg, a man whose track record in protecting his royal charges was hardly exemplary, did not help the boy's chances for reaching fifteen in the least.
Fran locked gazes with Balthier and he steeled himself for what she had to say next, it would be bad, he just did not know how bad.
'It was hoped by his Lordship that you would return to Archades, once news of our survival after Bahamut's fall reached his ears.'
' It was?' Balthier was for a moment astounded. ' Why for?'
Fran shrugged elegantly, 'Larsa had hoped for your support among the Archades gentry, Basch had thought to use your contacts within the world of crime to help protect Lord Larsa.'
Balthier scoffed disdainfully, 'A fool's errand if ever there was one.' He muttered, unkindly.
Fran quirked an eyebrow; 'A pirate's errand to be more accurate.'
'What?' Balthier and Ashe cried out simultaneously, equally outraged.
Fran shrugged again, unconcerned. 'Where reason and enticement cannot move you, Basch will use other means to protect his charge.'
Balthier declared, amazed the honourable, laudable Basch Fon Ronsenberg would stoop so low. It was frankly amazing the corrupting influence two years in Archades walking in a dead man's armour had had on the man's moral calibre.
Ashe for her part appeared struck dumb by the deviousness of her former protector. He turned to her in annoyance.
'Do something.' He demanded.
'Me? What can I do?' She asked dazedly.
Balthier resisted the sudden and inexplicable desire to shake her rather hard. What could she do? She had no trouble entrapping him and orchestrating the events that had allowed such a fate as this to befall him, why now was she suddenly lacking the deviousness to help him escape?
' You're the bloody Queen, refuse the extradition.' He demanded exasperated.
'I can't.' She snapped back, angered by his tone.
'You are an Archadian citizen Balthier and you are probably guilty of whatever crime they have accused you of.'
'I haven't committed any crimes in Archades since Larsa's coronation.' He snapped back, affronted.
' For all the damned good it has done me.' He muttered more to himself than her.
' Sadly there is no statute of limitation on piracy, Pirate.' Ashe snarled at him.
He glared at her incensed almost beyond reason, as they faced each other, noses almost touching sitting as they were side by side on the bed, breathing heavily and equally furious with the other and with twisted fate that conspired to make their lives so gods damned complicated.
' If you send me to Archades you will be signing my death warrant, your Highness.'
Balthier hissed through his teeth, temper flaring wildly as he struggled to maintain his air of unruffled nonchalance and failed abysmally.
'Do not be so melodramatic Balthier. Perhaps you should help safe guard the life of the best and kindest Emperor Archades has ever known.' Ashe instructed him condescendingly.
'Ashe, nothing short of divine intervention will save Larsa Solidor.' He shot back fighting for composure and failing once more, the leading man had had enough.
The sound of Fran pointedly clearing her throat dragged him away from his heated glowering contest with Ashe.
'I have offered my support to Larsa's cause.' She said calmly as if her words were not tantamount to altruistic suicide.
'Fran?' He could not believe his ears. She had betrayed him utterly.
Balthier would happily refuse Basch's get out of gaol free offer and take his chances with the noose, as a less lethal alternative, but he could never allow Fran to wilfully throw her life away without him.
They were partners, if she was going to do something so bloody stupid, he had to as well.
'This is very poor sport Fran, siding with your lover over your partner. I would never do such to you.'
He felt Ashe twitch noticeably on his other side and winced realising how his words would be interpreted by the other significant female in his life. Fran raised one fine arched brow eloquently and Balthier finally conceded defeat.
He knew better than to argue with Fran when she gave him that look. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before turning to face Ashelia B'Nargin Dalmasca.
'Well I hope you are happy Ashe, if you had not had me arrested this would never have happened.'
He said in light tones because he was fighting not to yell and a leading man should never, ever, yell.
Ashe almost fell off the bed she reared back so hard. 'How dare you! If you had not created that counterfeit Licence in the first place there would have been no crime to answer for.'
Balthier felt his smirk fall into place, 'I think you'll find, your Highness, that your own citizens have all but absolved me of any guilt or responsibility for that crime.' He replied smugly.
Ashe's response was a stinging slap across the cheek, which caused him to cut his inner lip on his teeth.
'Bastard pirate, I hope your fellow backstabbing Imperials do kill you!'
She snarled at him before launching herself with impressive regal fury from the room. The slamming of the door caused Fran to flinch and reach for her sensitive ears.
Balthier sighed deeply, 'Well I'm prepared to concede that could have gone better.'
He turned to look at Fran who shook her head slowly in something akin to amazement.
'Your manner with Hume women never fails to astound me, Balthier.'
'Yes, I know.'
He said tiredly dragging himself to his feet and surveying his soon to be former lodgings in preparation for packing for their return to Archades.
'It's something of a gift.' He retorted sardonically.
A/N: Tee-hee, sequel anyone :)