Epilogue: Somewhere that is everywhere and nowhere
Ashe woke up and swept the mosquito netting away from her bed. A strange soft, diffuse white light glowed from her balcony window the gauzy curtails billowing in a breeze she could not feel.
Frowning Ashe stepped out of bed and padded cautiously out onto her balcony, except it wasn't her balcony. As she stepped out onto the creeper trailed marble balcony the construct seemed to stretch and extend high across a formless, white expanse; a thin protrusion jutting out into nothingness.
Ashe whipped her head around to dash back to the safety of her room in the Palace only for her heart to contract in an agony of shock and desperate joy when her eyes lit on the man seated so far away by her balcony window.
The childish utterance escaped her as she ran, heedless of the narrowness of the marble bridge or the empty glowing whiteness below her, and reached out her arms for her father, King Raminas. She could see with absolute clarity the smile on his weathered, age creased face.
As she ran but never seemed to make any ground the Palace fell away and she saw her father sitting upon his throne, her mother standing by his side, one hand resting on his shoulder and her brothers, her lost, dead brothers, some who had died before she had even been born, forming a unified line behind her father's throne.
She threw herself forward fighting against an invisible weight of air and stillness that kept her from the family she had loved and lost, but no matter how hard she pushed she could make no head way. Her family remained ever distant and unreachable.
Yet despite this she could so clearly see every wrinkle on her father's lean, white bearded face. She could see her mother's dark secretively amused Bhujerban eyes dancing with a light and a vibrancy that they had owned in life. She could hear two of her brothers' laugh at something Nemoi said; Nemoi who had died when she was eight and she had wept for him and refused to eat for days after.
She could not reach them but, suddenly, after so many years they were with her again. Nuances of their speech, their mannerisms and body language that she had forgotten or distorted in her own memory flooded back to her.
She cried out her brothers' names, called and waved and threw herself against the invisible, formless barrier she could not breach to reach her family. She screamed out to her mother and her father with lungs aflame, caught in an apoplexy of joy and exquisite pain; so near and yet so far.
A movement in the periphery of her vision attracted her and she spun, ready to defend herself, only to stagger back a step when she saw the man who walked across the air, trailing wisps of soft, white mist from the slightly rusted, dented and well worn joins of his armour.
'….Vossler..!' Her heart constricted with a wild, thunderous abandon as her former knight protector, the man who had snatched her from the Palace on the night her father died and transformed the green and frightened Princess into the warrior she was today.
The man who had also not trusted her enough to lead Dalmasca to freedom and had betrayed her and himself aboard the Shiva only to die in flame and ignominy.
She stared in mute desperation as he reached the ledge she stood upon. Her eyes feasted on every remembered facet of his appearance; his wild, wiry dark hair, the wash-board like armour plating across his chest, the slightly cynical but determined light in his eyes.
'Majesty.' His voice. His gruff, blunt manner of speech; so different from Basch for was also a man of few words. So familiar, so very sorely missed.
Ashe reached out a shaking hand to touch him and found her own hand momentarily clasped in a large, sword calloused hand that was so warm and solid it felt more real than anything she had ever felt before.
Ashe twisted back to where her family still waited, their smiles, their love and warmth reaching her like the rays of the sun even if she could not reach them.
'Vossler I cannot reach my father, what is this place and how may I breach the barrier preventing me from…'
She began in a rush. It did not matter now, and had not truly mattered when she had watched the Shiva obliterated in the sky above Rabanastre, that he had betrayed her. She was not even sure she could define it as betrayal.
She would never agree with his reasoning but she could not doubt Vossler had truly believed he acted for the best, and she had always believed that a Knight of Dalmasca should ever do his best.
Vossler spoke, interrupting her, 'You do not need to go back Majesty. There is no reason to.'
Ashe felt her eyes grow wide with a mixture of shock and indignation, she glanced swiftly back to her waiting family and then to Vossler, feeling her anger rise.
Vossler looked briefly back to King Raminas and the rest of the lost line of Dalmasca. It seemed to Ashe for a moment as if he smiled; such an uncharacteristic gesture. He turned back to her.
'Majesty it is not for the living to look always to the dead. Your family remain at your back; at rest in your heart and vibrant in memory forming the fabric of your soul. You have no need to look back to know they stand always behind you; the foundation with which to build a life anew.'
Ashe swallowed down fresh tears and struggled to formulate a reply as Vossler turned with a grind of metallic armour and worn, treated leathers. Ashe trailed after him just as she had as a girl desperate to learn what it meant to survive to fight another day.
'Come Majesty, look upon Dalmasca; set your sights upon this horizon.'
Vossler stood by the precipice at the edge of the elongated white spit of marble ground that hovered over the white mist and Ashe straightened her spine and walked proudly up to the edge, quelling any fear.
'But…' Ashe gasped as the mist cleared and her city, glittering under a beautiful cerulean sky, spread out beneath her. 'This is not Rabanastre!'
And it was not. The city she saw beneath her was too large to be Rabanastre. This city rolled out beyond the ancient walls of the city she knew and sprouted new growth like shoots of grass in the desert.
She looked to the slumbering wreckage of the Bahamut and the oasis that it had spawned and gasped to see the wreckage towering with a certain benevolent solidity over a thriving small town; a profusion of squat white houses and crowded streets sitting just outside Rabanastre's city limits.
Ashe turned her head and saw that she could look all around her and nowhere was the view familiar, despite the readily familiar landmarks and surroundings.
The Estersand was crisscrossed with a system of roadways cut through the gritty sands and filled with a stream of caravans heading towards Rabanastre.
The Giza plains were equally different, she saw as if distance was no object, as if she were flying above the golden, undulating sands instead of standing motionless on the edge of a precipice, the Nomad children laughing and playing in the shadow of the dark black crystals dotting the plains.
'What are those?' Ashe whispered more to herself than to Vossler as she peered down upon the Westersand and saw a herd of something, a vast number of somethings, that moved like glimmering iridescent tumble weeds with spindly black legs.
The multi-coloured glowing herd were being corralled and directed by men riding chococbo's with domesticated wolves running at their feet. She watched the extraordinary procession move like a shimmering shoal of fish across the sands.
'…..Sheep….those are sheep!'
She gasped finally recognising the strange creatures that were most definitely not native to Dalmasca. She realised that they were not merely sheep, but the magickal Atholl sheep, whose fleeces could, in some markets, bring a kings ransom in Gil.
Ashe whirled on Vossler who had been waiting for her to see her fill patiently all this time, leaning upon his massive sword.
'This is not my Rabanastre! This is not my Dalmasca!' She cried.
Someone laughed gently behind her back and Ashe thought for a frozen moment that her heart would simply fail her completely, almost reluctantly she turned slowly to face him.
'Rasler.' She whispered as she looked on the pale haired young man in his Nabradian armour who smiled gently at her with a sweetness that pierced her heart.
'Of course this is your Dalmasca, Ashelia.' He corrected her gesturing for her to come and stand beside by the restored balcony rail.
She stumbled on shaking legs over to the rail and gripped the shockingly solid cool marble as a life line. Rasler gestured outwards to the strange Rabanastre that was not her Rabanastre and yet was still the city she knew and loved.
'This is the Rabanastre you will build, Ashelia, this is truly your kingdom. The Dalmasca that will rise as her Queen rises and waits beyond the new horizon you foresaw as the Bahamut fell. This is your horizon my dearest.'
On her other side she felt Vossler come and stand by the railing but she could not tear her tearing eyes from Rasler, in a fumbling haste she placed her hand upon his and gasped to feel the warmth of his fine, soft skin.
'Rasler….I….' She did not know what to say.
Once upon a time she had longed to hear him speak, to be here on her balcony with him once more and some part of her that knew that all this was merely a dream, raged that she would never have the opportunity to build this marvellous new Rabanastre with her prince.
However that was an old pain, a wound that would always twinge and never fully heal, but one that no longer wept hearts blood with her every breath; her eyes sought out the herd of Atholl sheep grassing on the grasses that she did not remember being present in the Westersand of her waking hours.
This Rabanastre was not the city she and Rasler would build. This was the city she and Balthier would raise from the solid, proud foundations her father and men like Vossler had died to uphold.
Painfully she met Rasler's eyes and saw nothing but a quiet content and understanding.
'Had things been different I have no doubt we would have raised a magnificent kingdom, my dearest.' He said with a smile.
'As they are now I know that Nabradia is in good hands, in you my family and my kingdom will live on.'
And then he stepped back from the railing and let her look upon a different horizon, one she should not have been able to see, if not for a rippling of dream reality that shrank the distance of the miles to nothing and allowed her to without limits.
She saw Nabradia and her visceral gasp was a cry of shock and something too fierce, too desperate, to be simply defined as joy. The plains of Nabradia lived.
She saw roads cut through land that was still swampy and swathed in a thin skein of Mist, but which thronged with traffic; carts and caravans and armoured vehicles filled with building supplies. The road traffic all wound along to the edge of the horizon and she saw the citadel of Nabradia, supported in scaffolding, as it rose from the dead.
As she watched, clutching Rasler's hand in a death grip, she saw that a littering of tents and huts sprouted like mushrooms from the reclaimed ground of the Nableus plains. Dykes and ditches for irrigation were being dug by an assortment of workers of all races. The land was no longer shrouded in choking Mist and haunted by banshee wailing spectres.
Ashe turned around laughing through tears towards Rasler and Vossler only to find them both far, far away from her, standing with the silent loving line of her father and her family.
Ashe herself stood upon a floating platform of marble that resembled her balcony and was separated from the floating cloud where her lost ones gathered; she knew what this foretold, that they would soon be gone.
'Don't leave me.' She whispered then she moved swiftly to the edge of the solid ground she stood on and came to a jerky halt, reaching out to those who had already departed life and now made to depart her dreams as well.
'Please Rasler…, 'She choked, silently raging at the lack of words invented to explain and express all she wished to impart to him and turned towards her erstwhile protector instead.
'Vossler…..I am sorry. I am sorry I was not strong enough for you to depend on...I…'
Vossler stopped and Rasler did as well. Her Prince nodded to Vossler and smiled before turning and disappearing into the mists of her memory. Vossler stepped briefly towards her and nodded.
'The fault was mine. You have surpassed all my own and Dalmasca's greatest expectations. Know Ashelia, Majesty, that it was always an honour to serve you.'
'Vossler.' She tried to forestall his inevitable leaving and instead heard, clear and precise as the bells of the cathedral, her father's voice.
'Awake, Ashe, my child. The horizon waits.'
Ashe had one last confused impression of the wonders of the imaginary Rabanastre and the soft all-encompassing warmth of her family's love, Rasler's smile and Vossler's sheer presence, and then she awoke with a start in her own bed.
Jolting awake with a certain disorientation Ashe shot upright and looked about her as the rose tinted dawn light crept in through the balcony window.
A strange sound coming from outside piqued Ashe's curiosity and she padded over to the balcony, kicking discarded bed sheets out of the way lest she trip.
Ashe stepped out onto her balcony with the wisps of her vibrant, wondrous dream still clinging to her mind so that she almost expected to see the sprawling, thriving city of her imaginings rolling out beneath her.
What she saw instead jolted her to the marrow of her being as for a moment she thought that she did still dream.
There were golden, glimmering magickal sheep everywhere. Her own court yard was filled with the round, woolly creatures on their spindly black legs, bleating fussily as they ate their way through her private gardens.
Beyond the Palace grounds she could see sheep in the Muthru bazaar bleating and tethered with pretty silver cords to Moogling posts and signs as Rabanastrans, many of whom would never have seen such creatures, stumbled out of their homes in their nightclothes to gather around and point and stare and exclaim over the incongruence sight.
There were sheep in the fountains at the south gate and loitering outside the aerodrome, there were sheep milling just outside the city walls being guarded by strange men on weather worn Chocobo's, their domesticated wolves lying at their feet.
As Ashe watched her Palace guardsmen slowly approach the sheep in her gardens, not sure whether the fluffy balls of valuable wool represented a threat, the door to her chamber burst open and Penelo flew in waving a sheaf of papers and still dressed in her night shift.
'It came. It came! The dispensation came!' Penelo gasped, pink cheeked and brilliant with joy.
It took all Ashe's self control not to snatch the papers from Penelo. She skimmed the written words and let her eyes linger on the waxy seal of the Gran Kiltias, the seal of ascent for marriage.
Ashe opened her mouth, though she wasn't sure what she intended to say when, abruptly, from the direction of her audience chamber (the room in her private quarters where she received her informal guests) a loud and somehow irritable bleating could be heard.
Ashe and Penelo exchanged a look and then went together to open the door to the chamber together.
'Oh!' Penelo leapt backwards as an Atholl sheep, a silver bow tied around its neck, and clearly irritated by the fact, burst through the door and into Ashe's bedroom.
Ashe watched the creature as it stopped by her bed and began aggressively chewing on the hangings around her bed, still bleating as if carrying on some form of argument.
Ashe noticed the velvet pouch hanging from the silver bow and carefully approached the creature, which had golden curling horns and stood about four feet tall.
Deftly she pulled the pouch away from the creature and pulled out the folded papers inside. A note fluttered to the ground which she swiftly caught up in her hand.
Highness, I have been informed that the dispensation has come through, therefore I shall meet you in the Cathedral for a special morning service. Do not be late for I intend to only do this the once.
P.S. please find enclosed all the necessary paperwork.
P.P.S: the shoe is on the other foot this time, is it not, Highness?
The note was not signed but she knew the appalling handwriting well enough (and somewhat doubted this was another forgery of Vaan's) with a raised eyebrow Ashe looked over the rest of the 'paperwork' and blinked in surprise.
A marriage contract signed by a B.F.M Bunansa and awaiting the signature of one Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca and a deed of sale for one thousand Atholl sheep to the treasury of the kingdom of Dalmasca-Nabradia also signed with a certain extravagance by B.F.M Bunansa.
Ashe glanced back at the handwritten note as the pieces fell together, the shoe is on the other foot indeed!
Ashe swore passionately and Penelo, who had been watching Vaan attempting to wrangle sheep below the balcony with one eye and watching the sheep by Ashe's bed with the other, jumped.
'That bastard pirate!'
Ashe exclaimed staring at the clock on her wall. Morning service was less than three hours away. How was she supposed to prepare for a wedding in three hours!
As she rushed towards her walk in closet, being followed by the curious sheep, who had managed to tear the netting from her bed and was chewing on it while bleating cheerfully, Ashe realised that she had in fact been waiting for this day for the last eleven months.
It had been exactly eleven months since Larsa's eventful coming of age ceremony. A year since her cousin Joaquin's capture and the ensuing months had been taken up (along side the dull minutiae of ruling a country with a slowly recovering economy) with trying to iron out the political complications of a proposed marriage to a non-royal, ex-sky pirate Archadian aristocrat.
In the end, her patience in tatters, she had appealed to the Gran Kiltias Marana herself to interpose her will on the argumentative Rozzarian Empress who took Ashe's rejection of one of her sons as tantamount to an act of war and the stubborn Archadian Senate who did not want to see the Atholl income seceded to Dalmasca.
It seemed that Balthier's solemn pledge, before the combined ranks of her own privy council and the Gran Kiltias, that his intentions were true and not motivated by a desire for the Dalmascan throne, had finally made the difference.
Ashe smiled faintly and conceded, as she flung clothing from her closet in her haste to find suitable last minute attire for an impromptu wedding, that it had been quite a speech Balthier had made within the cloisters of the temple of Mount Bur-Omisace.
Quiet and simple and without his usual theatrics it had only been then that she had truly believed that Balthier was as irritated by the delays as she; that he was as committed to this union as she. He would never have agreed to a pledge made to the Gran Kiltias if he wasn't serious.
Of course, she thought dryly, flooding her kingdom with a thousand sheep and demanding she marry him on his schedule rather swiftly redressed the balances however; clearly Balthier could only manage sincerity and earnestness in small doses before his peculiar sense of humour came into play.
'Gods! Today! He wants to marry you today!'
Penelo had finally finished reading through the note and the papers and turned on the sheep, which had started to eat Ashe's discarded clothes as she continued to root through her clothing for the only outfit she could possibly wear for this wedding.
'Shoo, shoo, out!'
Penelo had a great deal more success chasing the sheep back out into the hallway outside Ashe's bedroom door than her guardsman were having dispersing the sheep in the gardens and her chief lady in waiting swiftly came to help Ashe dig out her metal greaves, her white high collared jacket and her red skirt.
'I'll fetch the other women, you have a bath.' Penelo ordered her Queen as she rushed out of the doorway leaving Ashe with little respite but to do as told.
Sometime later with less than two hours before morning service Vaan and the other guardsmen had managed to create a makeshift pen for the sheep in the palace forecourts and the other sheep had been returned to the shepherds of Atholl.
Said shepherds proved to be rather polite gentlemen who lingered just outside the city walls, having been invited to the city by the Lord of Atholl, Master Bunansa, and commanded to release the sheep into the city under cover of darkness, though they had some misgivings over their lord's commands and apologised to her Secretary of Affairs profusely for any damage the herd had caused.
Vaan, who had the look of one who knew more about these events than he was willing to admit (the Captain of the Queen's guard would have to be a willing participant in these nocturnal sheep antics after all) arrived at the door to the Queen's chambers, which had swiftly filled to bursting with frantic, excitable women, to inform Ashe that her guests had started arriving and would be escorted to the Cathedral.
This was news to Ashe who had not known she was expecting any guests. She called Vaan into her presence and her Knight reluctantly entered the den of women in the midst of womanly things such as hairdressing and bouquet making, to approach his Queen.
'What guests?' She asked as mildly as she could as one of her ladies fluttered about her head cutting her hair.
'Umm, well, Al-Cid, some of Al-Cid's brothers, your Uncle Halim, Larsa, War Chief Supinelu from the Garif, a whole bunch of Kiltia from Mount Bur-Omisace. Basch.' He shrugged awkwardly. 'You know, everyone.'
Ashe blinked wondering how in all Ivalice Balthier had managed to get all the leaders of Ivalice together for a wedding she had only known about for an hour and a half, and she was the gods damned Bride.
Then she frowned, 'War chief Supinelu?'
Vaan nodded, 'He's come with some of the other Garif warriors. Balthier invited him, said something about Ozmone being the perfect place for the sheep to graze and the Garif making natural herders.'
Ashe considered this; then considered what violent fate she would inflict upon the conniving, controlling and manipulative pirate when she laid eyes on him, before deciding that such matters could wait until after the service and the ink was dried on the marriage contracts.
'I see.' She said slowly.
Then shook her head to clear it; it was high time she take back some control in these matters, 'Very well. Vaan, please could you bring Judge Magister Gabranth to my chambers as soon as possible.'
Vaan looked like he might have liked to question her but, as Penelo was noisily rapping out orders to the other ladies-in-waiting in the background, Vaan swallowed down his usual curiosity in favour of a hasty exit.
With some twenty-five minutes until morning service Ashe surveyed the results of Penelo and her other ladies feverish labours with some pleasure, standing before her mirror, as a knock on the door heralded the arrival of Judge Magister Gabranth in full Magisterial armour.
Ashe turned to face him as the bells of the cathedral rang out to call the faithful and the curious to the service. Ashe could hear city criers running through her streets declaring the nuptials with the aid of cow bells and the continuous, strangely comforting, bleating of sheep in the background.
Ashe smiled as Basch made his way awkwardly through the litter of wedding preparations scattered hither and thither all over her quarters. A number of her ladies looked less than pleased to see an Imperial in the Queen's presence (which was rather amusing for a number of reasons, namely Basch was not an Archadian, secondly, Balthier, who most certainly was, had managed to thoroughly charm each of her ladies within ten minutes of making their acquaintance.)
Ashe rather deliberately didn't dismiss her ladies who gathered in a curious, slightly hostile, gaggle in the far corner of the room all except for Penelo who hovered a little closer clearly wondering what Ashe was up to.
'Your Majesty, Lady Ashelia, you summoned me?'
A Judge Magister of Archadia would not traditionally bow to her but Basch did and it made her smile. It also struck Ashe how very like his brother Basch sounded when his own less guttural tones were distorted by his helmet's metal visor and voice grate.
'Yes, sir, I did.' She smoothed her hands down her white jacket bodice a little nervously wondering if she truly dared do what she had planned. She bit her lip.
'I find myself in need of a strong and loyal escort to the cathedral, sir.'
Her voice cracked slightly and she wondered what his eyes portrayed behind his full helmet, was he remembering that it was he that had walked her out of the cathedral to the waiting carriage that she and Rasler rode up to the cathedral all those years ago?
There were gasps from her ladies as the meaning of her words permeated through the room. Penelo eased a step closer, her hands clasped together before her and a tremulous smile on her face, she met Ashe's eyes and nodded, understanding what Ashe was planning to do.
It was time; her own dream had told her that the living should live and the dead should rest.
Before Basch could react and rise to his feet, having knelt at her feet, she caught hold of his helmet and wrenched it off.
'Arise Sir Basch, Dalmasca has missed you.'
Ashe declared breathless with her own daring. The stunned silence lasted only a moment before one of her ladies passed out in shock as the announced dead (but completely exonerated of any regicide by Ashe herself) former Knight of Dalmasca leapt to his feet face flushed with a mixture of shock, heat, and mild panic.
'My Lady this is….' Basch could not formulate words as Ashe, casting one last speculative glance at her reflection in the mirror, grasped his metal plated arm firmly and swept up the Sword of Kings taking the time to make sure her sword belt hung correctly.
Ashe could not bring herself to wear white as she had for Rasler (and nor did she have a wedding gown prepared) therefore, and somehow this felt more appropriate than any gown, she would wear the battle gear she had worn when she met Balthier, over four years ago in the sewers, her sword at her hip.
Basch was still floundering in shock and Ashe could not resist an almost impish giggle before she raised one eyebrow in a very good approximation of the suave disregard for social mores she had seen her imminently soon to be husband affect many times before as she addressed her former Knight.
'Basch I am to marry a sky pirate with a flagrant disregard for authority, I cannot think of anything more appropriate than to walk into the cathedral on the arm of a dead man.'
Basch was blushing and still dragging his heels as Ashe started for the door. Penelo, shooing the other ladies into line behind their Queen, stepped up and took Basch's other arm.
'She's right Basch, it's been four years, its time you lived life as yourself. Larsa won't mind. He told me himself that it's silly you still pretend to be Gabranth when everyone in Archades knows you aren't.'
'…..I…?' Basch stuttered, before giving up and marching with full pomp and circumstance down the winding stair and out of the palace with Ashe on his arm.
'Oh, look, look at that!'
Penelo, who had leapt in front as leading lady in waiting to proceed her queen to the alter, stopped and gaped at what was waiting for them along the processional walk between the palace courtyard and the entrance to the cathedral.
One thousand sheep in serried rows either side of the grand promenade, tethered together with silver and green cloth, the traditional colours of marriage in Dalmasca, bleating a cacophony of greeting. Ashe had seen many strange and wondrous sights in her short life but this surpassed them all.
Behind the sheep and in some cases beside the sheep or riding on the sheep, Rabanastrans thronged the promenade and shouted from the rooftops.
It may have been short notice but the people of the city would go to great lengths to take part in any form of spectacle. Ashe wondered dryly if even half the people present realised she was about to be married, or even if it truly mattered?
Ashe, on Basch's arm, her ladies and waiting and Penelo entered the cathedral fighting fits of laughter having strolled with regal nonchalance through the columns of sheep up to the great steps of the cathedral.
Ashe did not feel the least like laughing however when she arrived at the entrance to the cathedral great hall and the entire congregation, the cathedral packed to the rafters, rose to their feet on seeing her.
For the first time in her life Ashe did not even notice the attention of the people packing the pews. Instead her eyes went immediately to the tall, elegantly lean man standing in front of the alter where the Dalmascan High Cleric, who had once married she and Rasler, waited.
Ashe faltered on the threshold of the long walk up towards the alter in a way she never had when she married for the first time for duty and country. Basch squeezed her hand as it rested cold as ice on his arm.
All the way up the aisle Ashe kept her eyes on him. It barely registered that he had come to the same sartorial decision that she had and was dressed simply in the golden embroidered vest, pristine white shirt, and tight black trousers he had worn when she first met him. All she could really focus on was the fact that he was there at all.
She passed Al-Cid and his birds, the Rozzarian lowered his glasses to give her a wink as she passed. She passed Larsa, grown in the last year by almost a head and no longer looking like a child, she saw his blue eyes twinkle with both understanding and approval to see Basch unmasked and himself once more.
She passed Vaan who stood just below the raised dais of the alter in full Knight's regalia and grinning like a boy, as Penelo came to stop by his side and Basch let go of her arm to stand beside Fran (who, standing unobtrusively behind her partner had made a concession to the occasion by threading a Galbana lily through her hair.)
As Ashe took her place beside Balthier there were any number of things she could have said to him, or shouted, or cursed. What she ended up saying was not what she might have expected to say.
She gave him a pointed, dry look, 'Sheep, Pirate? You send word of our nuptials via sheep?'
Balthier's lips twitched into a smirk though he attempted (not overly successfully) to feign innocence, 'Was it a little too much?'
Ashe bit the inside of her lip as the congregation returned to their seats in the pews, 'It was certainly novel. I imagine half Rabanastre's population have seen a sheep for the first time this day.' She retorted ironically.
'Ah, well then,' Balthier chuckled softly and in relaxed fashion, 'my objective is accomplished. I had hoped to make this day memorable for all involved. We have waited long enough for it in any regards.' He added slightly irked.
Ashe did not bother to repress her smile, 'Yes, we have indeed waited too long for this moment.' She murmured as the High Cleric began the service.
Ashe heard very little of the Cleric's words, she had paid more mind to them the first time afraid to get her part in the drama wrong and embarrass her father and Rasler; now it no longer mattered. It was all merely pageantry to entertain their guests. The only thing that mattered was that he said yes.
When they stepped out into the light of day in front of the cathedral doors and were staggered to a stop by the almost physical power of the thunderous raw and applause of what seemed to be the entire population of Dalmasca mingled with the confused and slightly panicked bleatings of a thousand sheep, Ashe thought for just a moment that dream and reality merged before her swimming eyes.
She squeezed Balthier's hand tightly in hers and looked out over a faultless sky that glowed down upon her in a heart rending shade of blue to dazzle her eyes.
'Do you see it?' She whispered haltingly to the man who was now her husband.
She pointed with her free hand towards the sky, beyond the buildings all around her, outward as far as the eye could see and the mind could imagine.
'Can you see that horizon?'
She whispered fervently as in her minds eye Rabanastre grew in prosperity and stretched outward to tame the deserts beyond. She had a glimpse for a moment of Nabudis as she had dreamed it and felt that everything she had seen in that dream was truly within her grasp, in this one shining moment of triumph long awaited.
Balthier leaned down so he could kiss her cheek, before whispering in her ear, 'Not any mere horizon, Highness, that is our horizon and I have never seen one more beautiful.'
All around her people cheered, flowers and confetti scattered and danced in a cooling breeze blowing down from Nalbina. Ashe saw in that one beautiful, wondrous moment, Penelo sniffling and the Emperor of Archades reaching out to squeeze her hand, only for the shop girl from Migelo's Sundries to squeeze his hand back.
She saw the wise and placid Viera smile with a look at once that of a friend revelling in a dear one's happiness and a mother watching a child grow up. She saw a good man newly resurrected to live his life unmasked stand proudly by Fran's side and a Rozzarian free spirit lounge comfortably against the pillars of the cathedral, his faithful birds flocked about him.
Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca looked on the present she had fought and bled for, and stretched her thoughts towards a future she had dreamed of, and knew that it was good and pure; that it was incontrovertibly a new horizon and a new beginning.
She turned to grasp more tightly Balthier's hand and looked up to see him smiling with an expression devoid of either cynicism or fatuous amusement but instead his eyes were fixed on the horizon as if he too could see what she had seen.
He caught her looking and smiled down on her, gesturing with a nod towards the throngs of Rabanastrans and beyond them to the horizon waiting to be claimed, before he bowed to her gracefully.
'Shall we?' He asked though the answer was never in doubt. She nodded, smiling, and hand in hand they descended the steps to start a new story together.
A/N: I would like to take this opportunity to thank, sincerely, everyone who has read, enjoyed and reviewed this story and its predecessor. All of you helped create this story arc and truly it would not have been written without your interest!
I would also like to add for the eagle eyed among you who have mentioned in reviews various devious little plot bunnies flung into the mix these last few chapters (Cid and Nabradia particularly) that this is not the intended end for this story arc.
I have yet to decide if I'm going to revisit the world of 'Conversations' in little one shots periodically or if I have another full length story left in me, but for anyone who has enjoyed reading this story and its predecessor 'Conversation and Negotiations' as much as I have enjoyed writing them I can promise there will be more.
Okay, Oscars sized thank you speech now over….thank you and goodnight!