The coronation of Lady Ashelia B'nargan Dalmasca is unlike anything the citizens of Rabanastre had ever seen. The feeling of hope is high, for the beloved princess had risen from the dead and, against all odds defeated the Archadian army, freeing her people for the first time in three years. Yet a dark cloud hangs over the event. Memories of how this story had begun resurface and as the circle closes, the time for final farewells is upon the people once more in the face of this new day.
Lady Ashelia is resplendent in her traditional blue coronation robes. She walks solemnly through the halls of the palace, a picture of regal serenity. One of the first things she'd been taught as a child was to control her emotions. A princess who cries or laughs excessively can hardly be taken seriously and a hysterical princess is unheard of. She knows better than to let her emotions run wild.
She is accompanied by her newest lady-in-waiting, a young woman with blonde hair and an innocent face, but who surprises everyone with her cleverness when she speaks. No one has seen the young woman before, but the princess insisted on her, despite her apparent lack of noble birth. And so Lady Penelo trails the queen-to-be as she paces the halls.
"Will Vaan come?" Ashe asks.
"He says he'll try. Which means he'll be here," Penelo smiles reassuringly.
"You got Basch's letter, right? He's sorry he can't make it."
"It is to be expected. After all, he has a new post now. We all do."
"Larsa sends his regards, too.
"He has promised to visit formally as soon as his obligations allow. It is custom for him to do so. Likely, Basch will accompany him."
Penelo's eyes light up, "I hope they visit soon!"
"If you stayed, it would be easier for you to see them." Ashe casts a teasing glance at Penelo. She knows very well why the blonde girl cannot – or will not – stay. Her heart is with Vaan and Vaan's heart is in the sky. Still, it can hardly hurt to suggest.
Penelo tosses her head, "If only. I bet Vaan won't let me spend my share of our treasures on dresses like these. Anyway, Vaan wants to leave the city as soon as he finds a ship. I don't know how long we'll be gone for this time..."
Ashe pauses, confused, "What happened to the Strahl?"
"Well," Penelo says, "it's gone missing." Neither woman speaks, but the unspoken meaning of this fact is enough to keep them both lost in thought.
"Did you hear of my latest marriage proposal?"
"Another one?" Penelo sighs, "I don't know if that's a blessing or a curse. Who's it from?"
Penelo positively glows with the thought, "Oh, Ashe, he's so handsome! Will you accept him?"
"His letter was less of a proposal than a suggestion," Ashe muses, pausing to adjust a vase of flowers, "He has always had a way with words. I was quite taken with it, honestly."
"You should consider it. I think you two would be a good match."
"A prudent match at the very least. He is of suitable bloodlines to satisfy my ministers and yet he is low-ranking enough to leave my country in my own hands."
"Do you love him?"
Ashe does not answer right away. "No," she says softly, "I do not. But love is not considered in a royal marriage. It is simply a happy coincidence if it should flower." She smiles at Penelo, "I have had so much love in my life. That should be enough for me."
"My lady, a steward interrupts, "It's time."
The crowd roars as Ashe steps forward in the noonday sun. The crown of Dalmascan royalty, the one she remembers seeing on her father's head so often, rests on her own brow. Its solid gold bulk is heavy and uncomfortable. But Ashe barely feels it. Nearly all of Rabanastre had turned out to see her. Her heart swells with love for her people. She looks up at the clear blue sky and feels all her doubts and fears melt away. This is what she was born for. Her place is here. She raises her arms and the crowd falls silent.
"Dalmascans. My people. My friends. Today is a great day, not only for us but for all of Ivalice. Today is the first day of an era of peace. An era of rebuilding. And era of hope. By accepting the role as your queen, I accept this task. However, I have one request for you. Help me. Join me. We must move beyond our differences, our hatred. What has passed is past. What lies before us is great in scale and in potential. But together, we can achieve any goal we put our minds to. For those we have lost, let us move forward together."
The crowd cheers wildly, matching the frenzied pounding of Ashe's heart. She glances at Penelo and sees she has been joined by Vaan. He nods in greeting, his movements nearly noble but the strain on his face from holding back a grin is not. She nods back; she will miss the pair when they take to the skies.
Ashe turns back to face her people. So much has been lost in the past years… her family decimated, her country brought to its knees. And yet, she and Dalmasca both managed to come through their trials by fire and find themselves unscathed on the other side. She hopes Dalmasca will learn to find inspiration in her in the same way she found inspiration in him.
Halfway across the square, hidden by the shadows of the buildings, a tall lithe Viera stands watching. She shades her eyes, her face impassive as she listens to the newly coronated queen's speech. Only one used to the ways of the Viera would know that the slight twitch in her lips gives away the pride she feels in her heart for her friend. She turns back into the shadows, "You should move closer or you will miss her."
"Maybe it's for the best, Fran," the sky pirate replies, "She is her own woman now. Better for us to follow our own paths, wouldn't you say?"
"If that is your choice."
"Yet you still think me a fool?"
Fran nods quietly, scolding Balthier with her amber eyes.
"What would you have me do? Storm the castle and win her back?"
"'Twouldn't be hard. She would like as to summon a welcome guard and invite us to dinner." Fran's nose twitches, "The promise of free meals is one I know you rarely turn down."
"Unless it comes with the prospect of uncomfortable afterwards." Balthier sighs, "How can this be? You ask the impossible of me, you realize. She is here, where she belongs. And time has proven again and again that I do not do well inside stone walls."
"You are a creature of the sky, she a creature of the desert," Fran concurs, "Yet do not the sky and the sand meet in the end?"
"In the far distance, perhaps." Balthier steps into the sunlight, shading his own eyes from the sun. On the steps of the palace, he sees Ashe, the jewels on her head shining like a beacon of hope. "Fare well, Princess," he whispers, "Until our paths cross once more." He touches his fingers to his lips and waves the kiss toward her on the warm desert breeze.
The ceremony is longer than she had anticipated. Following her speech, Ashe introduces her people to the ministers she's appointed, all worthy and honest men and women. She stands through their own swearing-ins and speeches, wishing she'd thought to place chairs for those listening. She is used to the heat, but the flimsy court shoes have been too long absent from her feet. Her knees ache disappointingly quickly and she switches her weight back and forth with as much subtlety as she can muster. She hides one hand in her pocket, fidgeting with it as well. Her governesses would disapprove, but what can she say now?
Al-Cid, she muses, her pocketed hand turning a familiar silver ring over her fingers. Rasler's ring. Balthier's ring. She thinks over her words to Penelo. Has she had enough love in her life to lock her heart away? Her ministers will argue on the side of her own sensible words. She cannot remain alone. She needs an heir, to stand in her place after her. Al-Cid is almost a perfect match to join her rule. And yet…
She sighs, casting her eyes out into the crowd. Princesses have the luxury of being bored from time to time, but queens do not. Clearly, Ashe has forgotten this rule. As she idly scans the crowd, her heart suddenly lurches as if she were falling. In the far distance, she sees a man, his hand raised in a gentle gesture of offering. His movements are unmistakable, though she knows she must be hallucinating.
He stops when he realizes she has caught him. She smiles uncertainly; since the day she'd received the simple note in his scrawled hand, she had been happy just to know he still lived. Now, a month later and faced with his person, she wonders at his actions. He had promised her the world; why has he fallen back on his word? She wants to march down the steps and confront the blackguard, yet…
She meets his gaze and something inside her shifts into place. She knows something she hadn't known until this moment. She smiles at him, serenity floating over her. After a pause, he bows in return and with a quick word to Fran, he is gone.
Before, Ashe would have burned with scorn. But now, she knows that he hasn't broken his promise after all. He is still hers, that dastardly sky pirate. She is his anchor to the world below, something he'd never had before. She will see him again. Maybe not tomorrow, not next week, but he will always be there for her. And she knows that she will never marry.
A/N: Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story. As of right now, it is complete, but I may add more later, if the whim strikes me. Clearly, there is plenty more story here, but I worry about moving into material that drives focus away from the main love story. Anyway, please R&R!