Chapter One: A Matter of Some Inconvenience
Marriages amongst the nobility are conducted with the utmost poise and decorum. Representatives for each of the two interested parties act as mediators to provide the proper atmosphere for prospective spouses to establish the requisite degree of familiarity. Although it is not unheard of for suitors to adopt a more direct approach, such informality can be considered quite scandalous, particularly amongst the more gently bred.
X X X
A letter from Fang Yun, Duchess of Oerba to Claire Farron, Countess of Bodhum
The Right Honourable Countess of Bodhum
Farron Manor, Bodhum
Dearest Lady Bodhum,
It has recently come to my attention that you are in search of a suitor. Imagine my surprise at not being informed. Given our most intimate history, I would have thought that I deserved at least some notification. Certainly, a letter would not have been amiss. Perhaps I simply slipped your mind, or perhaps you are trying to avoid me in a pique of maidenly shyness. How endearing. I imagine your cheeks are every bit as pink as your hair as you sit by your window, pining and sighing in anticipating of the day I make my advance. Rest assured, you shall not have to wait much longer.
I have no desire to disparage the undoubtedly fine young gentlemen and gentlewomen of Bodhum, but I daresay, you will not find any suitor quite so suited for you as me. Such words may seem boastful – and indeed I have been called such – but I believe that the truth is never boastful. We are of a pair, I think, and altogether well suited for one another, occasional bouts of violence aside.
But, knowing you as I do, you are not one to take advice on matters of the heart too readily. Indeed, I can already imagine the most delectable of scowls forming upon your face as your lovely hands crumple this missive. Yes, your temper, Claire, has always been one of your finest features, and you may rest assured that I, unlike many of your suitors, will not find it intimidating so much as endearing.
In fact, and I say this in complete seriousness, I find almost everything about you endearing save perhaps how often I find myself staring down the barrel of your pistol. Yet even there, I must pay you my compliments. The colonials do so love to speak of their gunslingers, yet I doubt that any of them could draw a pistol quite so quickly as you, let alone do so while wearing the very finest of gowns. And speaking of gowns, I must confess my sorrow at not attending your sister's most recent soiree. I am told that you attended and that your gown was most flattering to your already stunning décolletage. And before your begin cursing, do remember that a lady should never curse and that I am not around to hear it. If you still wish to curse at me upon my arrival, you are more than welcome to do so, provided that any such cursing occurs in a private room – preferably your bedchamber.
But to return to the point at hand, I can think of at least three reasons for why we are most well suited. And I can, with the safety of distance, explain them without fearing for my life or the integrity of my very attractive person.
First and foremost, I can think of few others that can understand the rigours of your life as well as I. I too lost both my parents at a young age, and I too sought solace in the familiar routines of the military. There are many nobles in the military, but I can honestly say that few have earned their ranks as thoroughly as we have. Nor have many distinguished themselves to the same degree. If you are not a general inside of the next five years, it can only be through some campaign of malice, for certainly your record of service is exemplary. Perhaps then you might actually possess the authority to order me around, though only in contexts of a military nature. I find the thought of taking orders from you strangely appealing although the thought of giving you orders has an appeal all of its own, as well.
Secondly, I believe that we get along quite famously. We have met on several occasions already, and I recall my most recent visit with no small amount of fondness. As I recall, we spent much of that most pleasant of fortnights engaged in witty banter and the occasional hunt or duel. A more skilled fencer, I have never met, and I can think of only a handful of others who can match your skill with a pistol. To say that you are pleasant company would be a remarkable understatement, and even your dour expression does little to detract from the pleasure of your company. If anything, I find it rather charming.
Thirdly, and I find myself smiling rather foolishly as I write this, I remember the kiss we shared at the end of our last duel. It was, I think, a most wonderful experience. And unless I am mistaken, you were every bit as eager a participant as I. Indeed, I have no doubt whatsoever that any unwanted advance upon your person would be punished with death or, at the very least, a great deal of injury. The fact that I am currently in the very best of health would lend further credence to my belief that the aforementioned kiss was more than welcome. Certainly the sounds you made were quite indicative of that as well. And what a fetching sight you were, your face flushed and your bosom heaving. It is a sight that I hope to see again.
So there you have it, three good reasons for why we would make a perfect match. As I can already imagine the horrid fit of temper you are currently throwing – you have never liked to be told what to think or feel – I have already departed from my estate. You can expect me in Bodhum by next Wednesday. If at all possible, I would prefer to stay in the east wing of your manor.
Yours sincerely and with the very deepest affection,
P. S. I have chosen to omit the traditional ducal formality. Duchess of Oerba I may be, but to you, dearest Claire, I shall always be Fang.
P. P. S. You had best prepare a suite of rooms for Vanille as well. She has, somehow, managed to sneak into my study during the writing of this letter and now cannot be dissuaded from accompanying me. My apologies, in advance, for any horror she may inflict upon you, most likely with your sister's aid.
X X X
A letter from Claire Farron, Countess of Bodhum to Fang Yun, Duchess of Oerba
Her Grace the Duchess of Oerba
Yun Palace, Oerba
Dear Duchess of Oerba,
I find the liberties that you have taken in your most informal correspondence to be of an utterly deplorable kind. I am indeed in search of a suitor. Yet I can imagine no reason why you ought to be informed. We are neither relations, nor are we courting, not unless one considers the lecherous assault you have waged upon my person as courting.
Besides, if you were, as you so ardently claim, truly interested in my romantic affairs, there would be no need to inform you of my pursuit of an engagement. Or perhaps, Your Grace, your intentions are not so pure as you would have me believe. Certainly, you behaved most improperly when last we met.
I have not forgotten your last visit, nor am I likely to forget for some time. I do, however, find your memory of the incident to be somewhat lacking. If I recall correctly, you invited yourself to my estate during my absence overseas, taking full advantage of the friendship between our sisters. However, hardly a moment had passed upon my return when you accosted me most rudely in my courtyard. You may think yourself very witty, but your remarks were of a most lewd and uncouth sort, hardly worthy of anything save the most pithy and cutting of replies.
Let us now turn to the kiss that you mention in such florid detail – what poor taste you have to devote so much of your correspondence to it. You need not ascribe any romantic intentions on my part based on your survival. The sole reason you remain amongst the living is that shooting you would cause a rather horrible diplomatic incident, and I have no wish to precipitate a war. For that same reason, the use of my blade was likewise made impossible. You were, in short, saved more by my affection for my country than by any affection I might bear you.
Yet I am not so dishonest as to deny that you flustered me. However, I would attribute any fleeting, miniscule enjoyment I might have had to your fiendish skill, as opposed to any romantic affection. Your reputation, Your Grace, is well known. You are a womaniser of no small renown, and your ability to seduce gently bred women of good standing is considered second to none. You are, in short, a cad and a rake, and any pleasure I might have felt can be credited solely to the sordid arts that you have likely spent years perfecting on unsuspecting gentlewomen. Rest assured that I shall be prepared next time and that you shall elicit no such reactions from me again. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
As for the previous occasions upon which we have met, I would like to remind you of what happened when we children. Yes, I can remember very well the loud ragamuffin of a girl who would chase me incessantly about my manor, pulling my hair and teasing me without a shred of shame or mercy. I recall also that I dealt with you quite firmly then – a stout blow upon the head with one of my padded practice swords. I can promise you that any future blow for transgressions upon my person shall be dealt with something equally blunt but a great deal harder. You shall not be killed, but you may very well wish that you had been.
If it is not yet clear, though it should be abundantly so, any attempt to encroach upon my personal space shall be met with extreme force. I have no need for a suitor who has interest in only the most scandalous of activities. You have broken a great many hearts, You Grace, and I have no intention of letting you break mine.
In closing, whether this letter reaches you upon the road or upon your arrival in Bodhum, do not come to call upon me. I am well aware of the property that you own in town – you ought to make use of it.
Yours sincerely and with great aggravation,
P. S. I shall not bother with the requisite formalities of signature. I hardly think you need the encouragement.
P. P. S. Inform your sister that she is only welcome in my house provided she behaves. I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to wade through another disaster of her construction. Should she somehow persuade Serah to join in another one of her tawdry schemes, I shall be most displeased.
X X X
A letter from Lady Vanille Dia to Lady Serah Farron
Lady Serah Farron
Farron Manor, Bodhum
Most beloved Serah,
It is with great joy that I can announce my upcoming visit. I must confess to some surprise at hearing your sister's intention of pursuing an engagement. She has always struck me as something of an independent woman, not given to easily accepting the pressures of her station.
Yet I suppose that as heir of your most noble and storied house, she finds herself in something a quandary. In typical, noble fashion, I imagine that she is also doing this for your sake, lest you be the subject of such nuptial pressures. Such a thought is quite amusing – I have no doubt that you've already received quite a few such offers. You are, I am told, one of the more eligible bachelorettes, though your sister has likely done much to scare off the more rakish of your suitors.
It shall interest you to know that I was present when my beloved sister learned of your sister's intentions. Fang, as you know, is someone well known for her good humour and joviality. However, I must say that she threw the most terrible tantrum upon discovering that she had not received a letter from your sister inviting her attentions. She had to learn, from all places, of your sister's pursuit of a marriage through the gossip passed from one military officer to another.
General Raines is a not infrequent visitor to our estate. He and Fang have crossed swords more than once, and there is no small measure of respect between them. General Raines is also a long-standing friend of General Amodar, a man that I know your sister holds in only the closest confidence and highest regard. It was General Amodar who informed General Raines of your sister's intentions, and he in turn relayed those intentions to my sister.
These military men! Always so dour, but they are every bit as quick to gossip as you and I. They are also considerably less skilled at concealing their gossip – I overheard every word from outside my sister's study.
General Raines, brave though he is, beat a hasty retreat when my sister's rage overtook her. He stopped only long enough to bid me a good day before he fled our estate. I can scarcely blame him. Oh, it was an amusing sight, Serah. Fang tossed her papers back and forth, threw books at shelves, and generally flounced about like the most angry, lovesick, young miss you can imagine. I cannot recall her ever acting in such a fashion, which made her fury more amusing than concerning.
You ought to have heard the exclamations that she put forth. Such romantic words I have never heard fall from my sister's lips though I have heard them come from more than one of her paramours. To think the dapper Duchess of Oerba would pine over perhaps the least sociable countess in all of Cocoon. What a splendidly amusing pair they make, and I do foresee much more amusement in the future.
I can already picture the dainty quirk of your lips as you read this. You want, I am sure, more detail as to my sister's exclamations. Well, I have made it one of my missions in life to never disappoint you. What follows is a choice sample of my sister's words. I believe you shall enjoy the sentiment behind them.
"That oblivious wench! She ought to know that I am the only one for her!" This, dear Serah, was followed by a stoutly bound copy of our estate's history being flung at the door right as I came in. Luckily, I was able to avoid it, and my sister was most apologetic though she soon returned to her raving.
"We kissed, Vanille! I thought she felt the same! I was sure she felt the same!" In the midst of this particular cry of aggravation, our servants hastened to the study, believing, I suppose, that I was in dire need of aid. I was quick to shoo them away. I love my staff dearly, they are almost family to me, but my sister's romantic conniption was not for anyone to observe save I. "
"She kissed me back! She…. Aghghahgaharhrhrghghgh!" My apologies for the rather incomprehensible string of letters, but that is as close to a transliteration of my sister's cry as I can manage.
"I thought she loved me back?" And here, my sister grew mopey, hurling herself upon the couch set up by the fireplace. "Surely, she loved me back?"
And as always, Serah, I did the duty demanded by my filial affection. I restored my sister's confidence, pointing out that despite your sister's many talents and wide renown in several fields, she has all the romantic wisdom of an angry tortoise, or perhaps an irritated hedgehog. Whichever animal is worse at romance.
My sister's confidence thus restored, she was in a much better mood, and I spied her writing the correspondence that you shall soon receive. Given that she intends to pursue your sister with utmost vigour, I have decided that I shall have to come along. Certainly, I played no small role, and the weather around Bodhum is always so nice this time of year.
It has also been some time since we have had the opportunity to meet. I do appreciate your letters and look forward to them very keenly. Yet letters are no substitute for the pleasure of your company. We are, I suspect, kindred spirits, and I do anticipate the coming trip quite eagerly. We shall have a lot to speak of, you and I.
I shall likely be on the road by the time you receive this correspondence, so do instruct any courier to look for us on the path toward Bodhum (though, as always, addressing it to my residence shall ensure its delivery, even if it at a future date).
Yours sincerely and with much affection as always,
Lady Vanille Dia
P. S. I can assure you that Fang feels the very deepest romantic affection for your sister. Despite my occasional lapses in decorum, I do think the most highly of your sister and wish both you and her only the best. Had Fang's intentions been anything but the most honourable, I would have done my best to steer her clear. My sister is, unfortunately, rather good at accidentally winning the affections of those she deals with, and I would not have Claire suffer that fate. Fang does, and I say this with utmost seriousness, intend to settle for nothing less than marriage if Claire will have her.
P. P. S. I shall be bringing several boxes of the Oerban chocolate that you so enjoyed when last you visited my estate. They are of the very finest quality and will all but melt in your mouth, the texture is so smooth and fine. In return, perhaps, could you prepare some of the famous cherries that are grown upon your lands? They taste best with strawberries, I presume, and I recall with great fondness the strawberry pie we enjoyed – the one with cherries on top.
X X X
A letter from Lady Serah Farron to Lady Vanille Dia
Lady Vanille Dia
Yun Palace, Oerba
Imagine my joy at receiving your correspondence! We speak often through the written word, but such correspondence robs one of the mischief of your smile and the ready grin that can often be found upon your features. Even before your letter had arrived, I guessed that your sister had discovered my sister's intentions. In fact, I can even pinpoint the very moment she read the letter.
I was reading in my study – I find the continuing reforms in education to be fascinating. Imagine, a properly developed system of public education. I daresay it will lead to a great many changes in society, hopefully all of them for the good. At the very least, it shall make it easier for many of those I have sought to help in my charity efforts to find housing and work.
In any case, I was reading quite calmly in my study when my attention was caught by an almighty shriek. Let me tell you, Vanille, my sister is not one given to shrieking. Other women might shriek at seeing a spider, others at seeing a bit of blood. My sister, however, is the most stoic woman I know. I have seen her return from battle covered in blood and carrying a dozen injuries only to ask for a cup of tea – as though tea would actually do anything to ease the pain of her injuries! Even on those few occasions that she does react to something, it is usually in the manner of a droll remark after sustaining a life threatening wound. No wonder the nobility and public have such a fascination with her, for surely such poise is either a gift from the gods or a sign of insanity. I suspect it is a bit of both.
But as I have said, I heard this almighty shriek, and realising it was my sister, I hurried at once to her study. For her to have shrieked – I assumed something truly horrible was afoot. Perhaps Cocoon and Gran Pulse had declared war upon one another again? Perhaps she had accidentally shot herself? Or perhaps she had received the latest bill from my excursion to Eden City (oh, I do hope she shall forgive me for that, but the latest fashions for the season had all come at once and then there were the most pretty flowers from across the sea and – I digress, I shall keep you posted of the situation, however).
No, it was none of these. I arrived, gasping, at my sister's study to find her in the midst of glaring most horribly at a simple letter. Was it another commission? I do understand my sister's desire to serve her country, and I am proud of the distinction with which she serves it, but I was hoping most fervently it was not another commission. She has only recently returned – victorious, of course, for she so rarely encounters one as skilled as she is – and I was much looking forward to her company for at least a few more months.
"Do you see this?" she cried, and when I confessed that indeed I did but did not understand what it was, she was ensconced in a mood so dark that I could almost feel the ice forming upon my dress as all light fled the room.
"It is a letter from… from The Duchess." And I have capitalised both words here, for that is how she spoke them. "She intends to call upon me. I believe she wishes to marry me."
I was hard-pressed to stifle a girlish squeal of joy, for I was present during your sister's last visit and watched them grow quite close. I have never seen my sister deign to hunt with someone for more than a few occasions, and their kiss – I feel quite scandalous writing this – was surely not the sort exchanged between passing acquaintances. She was quite breathless afterwards and altogether flighty for at least a day. My sister, Vanille, was acting very much like a woman in love.
It is, I believe, your sister's fault that my sister is somewhat irritated. I expected a letter from your sister stating her intentions, and I suspect Claire did as well. When none arrived – and I can only imagine that your sister has some good reason for that – Claire grew quite despondent. To have your sister express her intentions now seems, to her, suspicious, though I shall, as always, defer to your judgement concerning your sister. You know her far better than I.
So, as I was explaining, my sister began to lay out in that cold way of hers, all the reasons she and your sister would not make for a suitable marriage. I admire her logic though at times I am quite exasperated it. I tolerated her ravings – and they were ravings – in good humour for near to an hour before cutting in with a simple question.
"Would you prefer that she didn't come?"
An innocent question, perhaps, but it set her off into another round of exclamations. I must say, some of the things she said she can only have learned in the military, for I never knew that such invectives existed. I shall have to keep them well in mind the next time I need to appear more fearsome than I am.
Yet, my sister did not answer the question. Amusingly, she has already prepared rooms for both you and your sister in our manor. I suggest that when you arrive, you advise your sister of this fact. You can be sure that my sister shall make a great show of dislike – she may even try to throw you out, but she means to have both of you in our household. Amusing, is it not?
But I ask you to counsel your sister wisely. My sister has not had an easy life (nor have you and your sister, for that matter), and her heart has grown cold to thoughts of love. It will take considerable gentleness and warmth to win her over, and I fear what would happen if she were failed. I shall take your word that your sister is serious, but I shall also remind you that if she is not, my sister is not the only Farron skilled with a pistol – and I am far sneakier.
I wish my sister only the best, and I grow certain that your sister is what is best for her. Besides, their have been murmuring recently of plans to join some of the noble houses of Cocoon and Gran Pulse to forestall further conflicts – enough of which have claimed the lives of many good men and women already. I imagine our esteemed monarch shall have no objections, nor should yours, I think, to any nuptials.
I await your arrival with great anticipation.
Yours sincerely and with great care,
Lady Serah Farron
P. S. I ask you to remind your sister that my sister can be somewhat mule-headed. Your sister has worries of her own, but I beg you to inform her that Claire is not well versed in matters of romance. Please, instruct her to treat Claire kindly and earnestly. I will do the best from my side that I can.
P. P. S. You are referring, I hope, to the vanilla flavoured chocolate? I recall it quite fondly indeed. Vanilla remains quite expensive, imported as it must be, from overseas. To be sure, there is some available here, but demand far outstrips supply, and I fear even my sister's affection for me shall not save me if I splurge upon that as well. And before you make an offer of financial aid, rest assured that we are doing well. Our estates remain most productive and my sister has recently acquired properties overseas during her most recent commission that will only add to the stability of our position. My sister has always had a keen eye for matters of practicality, and she predicted quite clearly the growing importance of gas and coal and has already taken steps to purchase lands bearing ample supplies of both. Ah, she will turn out like one of the colonials at this rate, though she will have no need to fake or affect the manner of the nobility given our history. I suggest you look into similar procedures, for I know you are well versed in matters of a scientific nature. Can I recommend a surveyor? Mr Sazh Katzroy (formerly Major, though he prefers his civilian address) is very good, and he has served my sister well in this regard.
X X X
As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.
There is, I think, a certain degree of humour in the conduct of the nobility and the wealthy from the Regency and Victorian periods. Despite the emphasis on decorum, their mode of speech lends itself very well indeed to a particular brand of snark that I think is quite entertaining to the modern reader.
I've played around with different styles and formats in the past, and I do have a soft spot for the epistolary. The thought of depicting Fang and Lightning's developing relationship through correspondence brings something of a maniacal smile to my face. Letters are wonderful at capturing the personality of their writer, and they leave just enough to the imagination of the reader so as to titillate and intrigue. Coupled with a Regency/Victorian (and I know that I am using the terms somewhat loosely here) setting, I think there is a lot of scope here for humour, snark, and all the things we love about FLight.
If you haven't already, I recommend reading this entire chapter with an English accent. I certainly did when I was writing it. If it helps, think of Fang as the somewhat rakish noble, accustomed (and well equipped) to getting her way through a winning combination of wit, intelligence, good looks, and sheer audacity. Lightning may be thought of as the outwardly reserved noble, not given to flights of whimsy, but still prone to piques of temper when she feels she has been hard done by (though such piques are always in private). Serah and Vanille are, of course, prim and proper misses in public but altogether more mischievous in private.
I hope you all enjoyed this first chapter. Perhaps in the next we'll get to see what happens the most esteemed Duchess of Oerba arrives to find that she isn't the only suitor for the Countess's lovely hand.
Also, I now have a new short story available on Amazon! It's called "The Lord of Dark Waters" and it's the follow up to "The Last Huntress." If you like fantasy with a good dose of action, you'll probably enjoy it. You can find a link to it in my profile (along with a link to a longer preview), but here is the blurb (the story runs to 24,500 words and costs $0.99):
Scarlett is the last of her line – a huntress sworn to kill all monsters
Rose is a girl searching for the power to take back her homeland.
In the frozen wastes of the north, Scarlett confronted the dark truth of her origins. Now, she journeys south with Rose, desperate to leave the horror of the north behind. But the past is never far away, especially when they are drawn to the Swamp of Darkwater to hunt down a rogue vampire.
There, amidst the cursed, whisperings waters filled with muck and memories, Scarlett and Rose will have not choice but to face an evil far greater than they imagined. For the swamp is an old place, filled with old evils. It is a place where the churning waters hide the ruins of a cruel legacy centuries in the making.
The Lord of Dark Waters has awakened, and they are the only ones who can stop him. If they fail, then all of the south may fall, drowned beneath the dark, hungry tide of an ancient evil.
I also have two other stories up on Amazon, and you can find links to them in my profile too. If you're interested in fantasy, you might want to look at "The Last Huntress." If you're interested in a paranormal Western, you might want to give "The Gunslinger and the Necromancer" a try. You won't be disappointed.
As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.