50. Spade

"Pray tell me again why we're doing this," Balthier groaned as he slumped over his spade and massaged his shoulder.

Vaan, on the other hand, was still digging away cheerfully. "Oh suck it up, you big sissy," he replied with the sunniest of grins, giving the sky pirate an uncomfortable suspicion that he had just been doubly insulted.

Not far from them, Ashe lifted her head at the sound of complaining. "Are you slacking off, Balthier?" she called sharply. "The villagers hardly showed us such kindness for you to repay them like this!"

"Perhaps you have forgotten, but leading men do not moonlight as farm hands," Balthier shot back.

"Then the next time a leading man wants to sleep in the middle of the Cerobi Steppe, he'll just have to find his own pile of leaves," replied Ashe in a tone that was at best only half joking.

The sky pirate understandably withered under her glare and, with a sigh that suggested the utmost of effort, picked up his spade again and resumed shovelling dirt around the sapling at his feet.

Although this was not the first time the party had been forced to exchange manual labor for a roof over their heads for the night, Balthier decided that he would never let himself get used to it. Certainly, battling monsters was also laborious, but that was a sort of physical exertion that required skill and tactics. Digging holes, on the other hand, could be done by humes and dogs and everything in between.

The others seemed to have no qualms at all about their work, however. Fran looked especially tender as she nursed her crop of saplings, while Basch was stoically digging away in his corner. Even Penelo was busy jabbing at the rock-hard soil with fervor - though he wasn't sure if that was much of a surprise, seeing as the girl had revealed herself on their journey to be much more inclined to violence than her sweet appearance and petite stature might lead an onlooker to believe.

And then, of course, there was his apprentice. Vaan looked every inch the born farmer as he shoveled the dirt around him and carted wheelbarrows full of saplings to everyone else. More than once Balthier had been bored enough to find himself absently enjoying the way the boy's tanned skin showed off the languid rippling of his muscles underneath as he worked, though each time he would be brought back to reality by a kick in the shins from Fran.

The fact that he was not permitted to enjoy himself on the job simply added to his growing list of complaints, somewhere after 'sore back', 'sore shoulders' and 'having to wear shorts'.

"Hey," came Vaan's voice, interrupting his mental grumbling. "Want another sapling?"

Balthier stopped and scowled at him. "Does it appear as if I'm making any progress through the pile you already gave me?"

"You're too slow, Balthier," said Vaan, wrinkling his nose before adding with a smirk, "We might have to leave you behind if you don't hurry up."

"You do that and the only time you'll touch the Strahl again will be in your dreams," the sky pirate replied mildly.

Vaan stuck out his tongue and wheeled his goods towards Penelo instead. Balthier was about to distract himself by watching his apprentice traipse around again, but Fran shot him a warning glance and he sighed and got back to work.

Occuria-damn-it, he hated manual labor.