Chapter Two: A Most Auspicious Arrival

It is said that there is no place so important as the home. This applies with particular force to members of the nobility, some of whom have residences that are hundreds of years old. These most esteemed families take great pride in their ancestral homes. To be invited be therein can be considered an honour of the very highest sort. Such occasions, in which one noble family hosts another, are generally planned months – sometimes even years – in advance and are a sign of the very deepest trust and affection.


A letter from Lady Vanille Dia to Lady Serah Farron

Lady Serah Farron

West Wing, Farron Manor, Bodhum

Most beloved Serah,

Please accept my very deepest apologies for not delivering these words in person. I hold you in the highest regard and deepest affection, so I should like nothing more than to call upon you in the comfort of your chambers. However, I must confess to fearing for my safety should I leave the safety of my rooms – and they are fine rooms indeed.

You have my thanks for accepting us into your home and even going so far as to provide us the use of the east wing of your august estate. And these rooms! As I have said, they are amongst the finest I have ever had the pleasure to reside in. Truly, you have are a woman of many talents, for you have managed to make these rooms both stately yet warm, a rare and difficult combination to achieve.

Perhaps I am being unfair in affording you all the credit for the state of your home. Perhaps your sister has also had a part to play. Yet I think not! Your sister, although also a singularly talented woman, is not much given to the fine art of home decoration. I daresay that if she had her way, your home would be filled with nothing more than swords, pistols, and other memorabilia of battle. There would not, I think, be even one tasteful painting or sculpture to be found. I say this because our two sisters are very much alike, and I have had more than one argument with my beloved sibling as to how our own home should be decorated.

I love Fang with all my heart, but it is simply not appropriate to replace all the sculptures in one's library with articles of war, however finely crafted they may be. Ah, we younger sisters are an unappreciated lot, left, for the most part, to stand sentry over our older siblings so they do not blunder from one social misstep to another. And have I ever received so much as a thank you? I have not!

Upon our arrival in Bodhum yesterday, I did suggest quite strongly to my sister that we at least consider staying at our property in town. It is furnished rather well – my doing, of course – and is not very far at all from your manor.

But please, do not take my advice to my sister as any sort of comment on your hospitality or our friendship. I know very well that you would not hesitate to host us at your manor, but your sister, I am afraid, can be frightfully menacing when she puts her mind to it. Even with my sister as a human shield – a role she fulfils with great aplomb – I would fear for my life should your sister be inclined to end it.

Yet my sister, bold to the point of foolishness, would not be swayed from her course. Instead, she declared that she would accept nothing less than rooms at your manor, preferably those in close proximity to your sister's. She had, I believed, considered asking to share your sister's rooms – all the better to woo her, I imagine – but I was at least able to disabuse her of that particular line of thought.

We were most fortunate, then, that you were the one to receive us upon our arrival at your manor. I must say that you are looking well. The months since our last meeting have treated you kindly indeed. Your dress was of the most fashionable cut, and white does suit you quite exceptionally. You have found, I believe, a style that manages to be at once flattering yet modest. Bravo! I imagine you are a veritable sensation each time you go to court.

You must also share both the name and the address of your milliner, for I have never seen a hat so fine. I assume that I shall have to bribe you, so you may rest assured that I have something suitable with which to sway you. Apart from the chocolates I have brought, I have the most intriguing gossip from court – gossip that I am sure you would dearly love to hear.

I do hope that Fang made a good impression upon you, though I do regret that we had scarcely exchanged a word before your sister arrived back from her morning hunt. What a sight she was! My sister could not take her eyes off her. How resplendent your sister was in the saddle, how dashing and stern. No wonder the gossips whisper eagerly of her alleged affairs – I doubt there is a man or woman at court that could resist her if she ever showed the inclination to take a lover.

But that was when your sister turned her rifle on us. I am quick on my feet, but I doubt I could dodge so fine a shot as your sister, especially on open ground. Luckily – or perhaps unluckily – she had her sights set upon more dangerous quarry.

Oh the words she and Fang exchanged! I am not sure whether to laugh or strangle them, but it was not unlike watching two of the most dim-witted incompetents at work. I doubt that you have had much chance to see my sister in the presence of desirable women – of which your sister is certainly one – but there is nary a woman that can resist her charms. Wit and levity are her prime weapons, and her smile has left many an admirer weak at the knees, and later, bereft of clothing. Yet her comment, upon seeing your sister, was perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever heard leave her lips.

"Claire, you have the most remarkable hat."

I could see from the expression on your face at the time that you were every bit as horrified and dismayed as I. Your sister's presence must have addled my darling sister's brain, for not only was your sister not wearing a hat, there would have been at least dozen better things to comment upon even if she were. For instance, she could have paid homage to your sister's hair or her eyes, or even the cut of her riding clothes. Anything – anything – would have been better than a comment about a non-existent hat!

To be fair, your sister's next comment was not much better.

"You are still taller than me."

Honestly, does love reduce all people to brain-addled halfwits? If it does, then perhaps it is for the best that neither of us has found love yet. Of course my sister is still taller! I should be very worried if her height were to somehow drastically change at her age.

On the more promising side of things, your sister did not shoot us although she had more than ample ammunition. She even agreed to host us at your manor after you clasped her arm and feigned the most abject sorrow at the thought of our departure. I had hoped that she might stay long enough to take morning tea with us, but she immediately flounced off to her study to sulk. I know that she emerged later, stalking through the corridors with all the ferocity of a caged tiger, but my sister was so looking forward to her company.

It may interest you to know, however, that once morning tea was concluded, my sister retreated to her rooms and did her fair share of sulking. I shall not belabour the details, but it was much like watching a child pout after a favourite toy had been taken away. If she was not complaining about your sister's absence, she was plotting how best to regain your sister's affection. I believe that her confidence – dented though it may be for now – shall be restored to its usual abundance by dinner. She did, however, leave her rooms briefly to take some air, and she returned with quite the grin upon her face. Perhaps her confidence has already returned.

And speaking of dinner, would you be able to convince your sister to wear a gown? I shall do my best on my end, and perhaps the change in clothing might also engender a change in mood.

As for this missive, and all the ones to follow, we shall have to pass them along through the servants, and only those you have the greatest trust in. With your sister's mood so foul, I fear to walk the hallways, and I doubt either of our sisters shall appreciate it much if we are caught speaking openly of their affections for one another. They both fancy themselves rather clever, but it seems love has made fools of them both.

Yours sincerely and with the deepest affection,

Lady Vanille Dia

P. S. Does your sister normally blush so intensely? For as she stomped away, leaving us to our morning tea, my sister made a comment about the shapeliness of her posterior – and let us be fair, your sister does have a most shapely posterior – and she turned just long enough to glare and spit some vicious threat. Yet there was such a blush upon her face! It made her look, at least for a moment, like a young maiden still in the first flush of her youth. And do thank your sister's footman for me. He had the presence of mind to take hold of her rifle before she could put it to use.

P. P. S. It occurs to me that an activity of some sort is required, something that might provide our sisters with the time required to reveal their affections to one another. I understand that your gardens are rather nice this time of year. Perhaps your sister might be persuaded to show them off?

P. P. P. S. Does this manor have any secret passages? I think it would be the most exciting think to sneak about unseen from room to room and exploring sounds delightful. We might even arrange to have our own secret meetings away from prying eyes and listening ears. Ah, Serah, we could be conspirators!


A letter from Lady Serah Farron to Lady Vanille Dia

Lady Vanille Dia

East Wing, Farron Manor, Bodhum

Dearest Vanille,

Please, I beg you, do not lose hope! I know that my sister's greeting was perhaps a tad less than jovial, but that is her way, odd though it may be – and I admit that it is very odd indeed. The very fact that she did not, as you point out, shoot either you or Fang may be taken as a sign of great affection since she is well known for her accuracy with both pistol and rifle.

I believe that your sister is already doing better than I had hoped. There was a part of me, quite large, I must confess, that feared she and my sister would come to blows within moments of meeting. Fortunately, no blood has been spilt yet, and I remain hopeful that shall remain true.

You have my thanks, as well, for your kind words. I do try to keep abreast of the latest fashions, and I have been told on more than one occasion that I am held in high esteem by many an up-and-coming miss. I have even been told that I am a trendsetter. My word! As warming as the thought might be, I must admit to feeling at least a little mischievous. I wonder what would happen if I were to suddenly be taken by the urge to wear the most garish shade of orange imaginable. Would others follow suit? It is almost enough to make a genteel, young woman try, if only to see the results. No wonder my sister thinks I am the most mischievous thing – such thoughts make it quite clear that I am.

As for my milliner, you may rest assured I shall make the introductions. Your offer of gossip is most gladly accepted. Should your gossip prove intriguing enough, I may even offer a few choice morsels of my own. I have several that I know you shall find amusing, and a few are even quite relevant to our present scheming.

It may interest you to know – and I hesitate to put this in writing lest this letter fall into my sister's clutches – that there may well be competition for my sister's hand in marriage. She has received no small number of letters from interested parties and though your sister's formidable, and infamous, reputation ought to be enough to scare most of them, there are several who are made of sterner stuff. I shall not share their names here, but you may rest assured that I shall provide them when we have the opportunity to converse in person.

With regards to your lovely sister – and she is rather lovely – I must confess that most of our encounters took place in the long ago days of our youth. She was quite the little hellion, I believe. And though I have visited you on more than one occasion, your sister was almost always away on some matter of importance. On the few occasions that we spoke, we did not have the time to converse too deeply.

Allow me, then, to provide you with the impressions that I formed of your sister yesterday. Keep in mind, dear friend, that I make these remarks with only the very best of intentions. If any of my words seem hurtful or unkind, that is not my intention whatsoever. You have told me that your sister is a good person, and there are few whose word I grant more weight to than yours.

I shall begin by stating the obvious: your sister is a striking physical specimen. I cannot easily recall the last time I met a woman so tall as her. Yet despite the obvious strength in her frame, there can be no doubting her femininity either. She is, as my sister is, a woman of great strength, yet there can be no doubting that she is a woman.

I would say that your sister's best features are her eyes. They are the most remarkable shade of green, and even in the few moments that we spoke, they conveyed such warmth and good humour that it was difficult not to be charmed at once. It is strange – though you two are not bound by blood, you nevertheless share the most magnificent green eyes.

Your sister's hair caught my attention also. I smile as I write this, but when my sister arrived, eyes ablaze and glaring in the most horrid manner, I noticed her hands twitch at the sight of the wind teasing your sister's hair. I do believe she was imagining what it would feel to take the place of the wind and run her hands through those unruly locks.

Of course, your sister is rather pleasing to look at on the whole. She has the proud and forceful features of her ancestors, and her voice is quite a joy to listen to. It is no wonder at all that so many have found themselves besotted with her – it is the kind of voice that makes a person go weak at the knees and think the most improper things. I find it quite the contrast to yours, which never fails to make me think of warm spring days and gentle sunshine when I hear it. Is it strange that I prefer your voice? Perhaps not, we are friends, after all.

But setting aside your sister's physical appearance, she is quite a character. We did not speak long, but I could not mistake her taking my measure with each word we exchanged. There is a keen intelligence behind that smile, perhaps too keen for some, and a great deal of cunning also. No wonder my sister feels she must be on her guard! Yet beneath her bravado, I sensed some trepidation. I had imagined your sister to be fearless, able to face the gravest of dangers with a smirk and a laugh. Yet when our words turned to my sister, I could have sworn I saw a flash of something that was equal parts fright and worry.

Perhaps love truly does reduce the most capable of people to halfwits, or perhaps it is something else. I believe your sister may fear the consequences of failure here. It is one thing to lose a lover for whom you feel only physical desire, but to lose someone you care for in the deepest sense – a match in soul, and heart, and flesh? That would be unbearable, I think. If that is the case, then we must do all that we can to help her, for the more I think on it, the more certain I grow that your sister may well be the best match my sister could hope for.

But do not fear! I have turned my considerable intellect to the task at hand, and I have already devised several plans. I shall begin with the first. It is late afternoon as I write this, and, as you know, it is my custom to take dinner a little past sunset in the dining room overlooking the sea. You have taken dinner there with me before, so you can appreciate what a fine setting it provides: the last rays of the sun staining the ocean orange and gold, and the silver of the moon drifting over the waves as day gives way to night.

We could, I imagine, invite our sisters to dine together there without us, but I fear the manor would not survive the bickering that followed. For the time being, at least, it would be for the best if we four ate dinner together. My presence has long been a soothing one for my sister, and I believe that you have much the same effect on yours. I would also urge you to counsel your sister wisely. It would work wonders if my sister could see yours acting less of a cad and rake and more of a loving sibling.

Dinner, then, shall be the first step – an opening gambit, so to speak. I already have some understanding of what dishes you may prefer, but it may behove you to forward your sister's preferences to me. I should like to serve her something she enjoys, if only to quell as much of her unease as possible. My sister can be a most intimidating figure at the best of times. Handling her on an upset stomach may well prove utterly impossible. Moreover, a good meal can often soothe the nerves of even the most highly strung individual. I know, for one, that my sister is apt to go on the warpath if her tea is not served at the exact proper time and in the exact proper manner. It is actually rather amusing.

As for our plans for tomorrow, I do agree that a walk through our grounds should be quite entertaining. We could all embark together, though I doubt that you and I shall have much trouble slipping away. Combative though they may be, our sisters seem to focus almost entirely on each other to the exclusion of all others.

We could also keep a discrete watch over them. I know the grounds superbly, and there are several places that should afford us a fine view without the loss of secrecy. We need not go hungry either, if that is your concern, for I could easily have one of my servants bring us some refreshments. We could make a day of it, an adventure if you like, while also ensuring they do not come to blows.

Besides our plans for tomorrow, I should also mention that my sister is very much at home upon the open sea. The clear waters of Bodhum are very beautiful this time of year, and the weather is set to be most favourable for at least another week or two. We ought to spend at least one day out upon the harbour. Our sisters may even find something else in common since you have spoken on more than one occasion of your sister's expertise as a sailor.

Let us hope that all goes well at dinner tonight. You may trust the servant who delivers this note to carry back your reply.

Yours sincerely and with great affection,

Lady Serah Farron

P. S. My sister is not normally given to blushing. Any colour upon her cheeks is usually the result of great anger or wrath. That your sister can evoke such a reaction is good reason to suspect that my sister's feelings may, in fact, be warmer than they appear.

P. P. S. They may well be secret passages hidden within this manor, but they are a secret known only to family. Alas, you shall have to wait until our two Houses are joined before you learn of such things. However, it may interest you to now that I could, if I so desired, sneak into your room quite undetected. If I do, I shall either bring cake – or a frog.

P. P. P. S. You must tell me where you obtained your parasol. Unless I am sorely mistaken, it conceals a blade of some sort and possibly a modified pistol. I shall not say that I am my sister's match, but I do have my own skills with both blade and pistol. I have been looking for a means to keep a weapon close at hand without wearing it so openly as my sister. Your parasol seems like just the thing.


A letter from Claire Farron, Countess of Bodhum to Fang Yun, Duchess of Oerba

Her Grace, the Duchess of Oerba

East Wing, Farron Manor, Bodhum

Dear Duchess of Oerba,

It has been brought to my attention that you and your sister have been invited to dinner. It is not enough, it would seem, that you have laid siege to my home. No, you have somehow managed to work your infernal charms upon my darling sister to such an extent that your presence is now required if our dinner is to have any meaning whatsoever.

I swear to the Maker that if you have so much as laid a hand on my sister, you shall be sorry. And if you have defiled her, then there shall be no place upon this good earth where you may hide. I shall hunt you down and inflict the most horrible of pains and torture upon you, consequences be damned.

In the event that you have not, in fact, committed the grave sin of lusting after my sister, then you may consider my words merely a warning. I am watching you. In any case, my sister has not given me the option of refusal. You and your sister are to come to dinner, or I am to be regarded as a veritable monster. I do love my sister dearly, but I will be driven mad if I must put up with any more of her pouting. It is unfair, I tell you, for a grown woman to wield such a look. Even a puppy would be jealous.

Dinner shall be taken in the dining room overlooking the sea at a little after dusk. I shall send a servant to fetch you, for at present, the mere sight of you fills me with thoughts of violence – hence my decision to deliver these words through a note as opposed to in person. Your sister and mine are great friends, murdering you would put quite a strain on that friendship, to say nothing of the international repercussions.

And speaking of repercussions, did you think your words this afternoon would go unnoticed? I do not appreciate remarks about the shapeliness of my posterior, nor was it my intention at all to draw your intention to that part of my anatomy. If my riding trousers are well fitted, it is certainly not to draw your eye. On the contrary, they are well fitted out of simple practicality. And then you had the nerve to seek me out earlier this afternoon and harass me!

I do not know what games you are playing, but I do not enjoy having my personal space invaded in such a manner. If you must barge into the library while I am there, then you ought to stay as far away from me as possible. And do not think for even a moment that I did not see you peeking over your book at me. You came into the library for no other reason than to torment me! And then… then you had the audacity to lay your hands upon my posterior and comment once again that it was rather shapely! You should thank whatever gods you pray to that you are still alive, for I have killed other for far less. Only the thought of getting blood upon the carpets kept me from killing you where you stood. Touch me again, and I shall blacken your eye or worse.

Given your appalling manners thus far – one does not smirk after committing a wrong – I feel it necessary to advise you on several matters of etiquette. Pay attention and do not mistake this advice for affection. I prefer my dinners to be an orderly affair, and should you step out of line, then I shall be left with no choice but to challenge you to a duel so that the proper decorum might be maintained.

The dinner shall consist of the usual number of courses, favouring the delicacies of this region. I am told that you enjoy salty foods. How unfortunate. We have only just run out of salt, so you shall have to go without your favourite dishes. An utter tragedy, I assure you. I expect you to uphold the proper standards and to use the correct utensils for each course. Despite your jests to the contrary, you are perfectly capable of acting the perfect noblewoman when you wish. You are to be on your best behaviour. I shall accept no less. Provided you behave, I may even allow you to take desert with my sister and me, as opposed to banishing you back to the section of my home that you have invaded.

My sister has also suggested a range of activities that we ought to partake in. I believe she wishes for me to consider your offer of marriage quite seriously. Though it pains me to admit it, she has at least some reason to think that we would make a good match.

Your lineage is amongst the most ancient and noble in the world. Your House has given birth to kings, and your forefathers are held in high esteem even in my country. Indeed, it could even be said that any marriage between us would involve a step down for your House. Your holdings and wealth are also vast. I need not concern myself for even a moment with the thought that you are after my estate. Given how I have treated you thus far, it would not be worth the trouble.

With regards to more practical considerations, I would not have to worry what you think of my soldierly pursuits – you share almost all of them. And to your credit, you are one of the few that does not tremble at the mere thought of my displeasure. If I were ever to marry, it could not be to someone afraid of me. It is an equal I desire, a person who would both accept me who for I am and support me in my endeavours. I have no need for cowards, halfwits, or those eager to take advantage of my wealth and station.

And now, let me speak honestly with you, for despite how I have handled you thus far, I do respect you. Yet keep in mind, respect need not walk hand-in-hand with affection. However sincere you profess to be in your pursuit of my hand, I cannot, in good conscience, overlook your behaviour or your reputation. You are a notorious rake with, I am told, a woman in every country. You have, I believe, seduced more than your fair share of vapid beauties. How then can I take your advances seriously? I shall not claim expertise in matters of the heart, yet I know full well that there is little so desirable as what one cannot have. And I am that which you cannot have. But let us say you succeed in your pursuit. Having had me, could you truly say that your interest would be maintained? I would be cast aside like so many others, and I have no intention of enduring such treatment.

To appease my sister, I shall show you about our estate tomorrow. Whatever else may be said about you, it is well known that Oerba has prospered during your reign. Perhaps you may even have a few useful remarks to make about my estate or the running of Bodhum. I recall that you once boasted you had the finest gardens in the world. Tomorrow you shall see mine, and I believe you shall be forced to concede their superiority.

Heed the words of caution I have provided and be glad that I have permitted you the use of the east wing of my home.

Yours sincerely and with much aggravation,

Claire Farron

P. S. My sister has impressed upon me the importance of my wearing a gown to dinner. Upon imagining the lecherous look upon your face, I have elected to go in full military dress. I advise you to do the same lest my sister take this as yet more evidence of my supposed cruelty.

P. P. S. Though she remained in her rooms for some time, I have noticed your sister skulking about the corridor outside my study. I believe she is searching for secret passages or some other nonsense of that nature. I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any such passages, but I shall thank you to restrain her. I fear she shall either break something or drive my servants into a conniption tugging at all our statuary and looking behind paintings.

P. P. P. S. I trust that you have brought at least some weaponry with you. As you are here, I believe that it may benefit us both to cross blades. You may be a rake, but you are also very skilled. Provided that you keep your behaviour considerate, our sparring need not escalate into a duel.


A letter from Fang Yun, Duchess of Oerba to Claire Farron, Countess of Bodhum

The Right Honourable Countess of Bodhum

West Wing, Farron Manor, Bodhum

Dearest Lady Bodhum,

I should offer my deepest apologies for my conduct at dinner tonight. Yet any apologies I might offer would ring hollow, for much of my conduct was quite deliberate. I do so like the look of you when you are flustered, and choosing the wrong fork was the swiftest and easiest way to accomplish my goal. Yet that was not my only goal.

Since my arrival, you have shown a rather depressing tendency to either snarl at me or avoid me entirely. As much as I enjoy you snarling – and I enjoy it very much – I find that you avoiding me is considerably less enjoyable. Upon observing me using the wrong fork, you rose to the bait quite admirably and challenged me to a duel. You shall, of course, be hard pressed to avoid me during a duel.

There are certainly those who might view your ferocity less than favourably. There are also many who would suggest you adopt a more gentle and loving persona, yet I sincerely believe that you are at your finest when you are not bound to the petty dictates of proper decorum. I suspect that is why you feel so at ease upon the battlefield, and why you react so strongly to my presence. We are of a kind – do not deny it – but where you have wrapped yourself in the chains of etiquette, I have chosen to express myself more freely.

I do not deny that some of my earlier words to you might seem crass. Certainly, they were not the finest I could have chosen. For as fine as your posterior is – and it is very fine indeed – it is no more fine than your eyes, your hair, your face, your body, your wit, your intellect, or your temper. If I commented about your posterior, it was only because I was struck, much as a sculptor would have been, by the perfection of your form. Had I been better composed, I would have remarked more favourably upon your disposition and the imperiousness of your expression. My apologies. It has only been a few months since we last met, but you have only grown more radiant. I suspect that it shall not be long before other suitors arrive – I shall have to do away with them somehow, or else prove the truth of my affections before then.

In your missive, you spoke most frankly to me, and I thank you for that. Perhaps a few of your words were cutting, but a marriage, such as I hope to have with you, must be built upon truth and trust. And though my wit is undoubtedly one of my finer qualities, I shall set it aside and address your concerns forthrightly. Indeed, it is easier to do so in this note than it is to relay my thoughts in person. Whenever I am in your presence, I am struck with the most conflicting desires. I want nothing more than to make you smile, yet I am also seized with the urge to tease you until you round upon me, your eyes aglitter and yours cheeks flushed. Is it strange that I should like to see your fire when so many think you are wrought of ice alone? Is it selfish that I should think your fire reserved for me since I have not seen another who can call it up so frequently? Perhaps. Yet I cannot bring myself to care. I know you are no possession to be had, but I cannot help but think of you as mine, presumptuous though the thought may be.

To speak more directly of your concerns, I ask only that you consider carefully all that you have heard of my reputation. Some parts of my reputation are well earned, but others are little more than crass speculation fuelled by idle and dishonest gossip.

I shall not lie to you. I have had lovers. Yet I have never seduced an innocent, nor ruined a girl for marriage. And I have most certainly not laid hands upon a married woman. And despite what some of the more malicious gossipmongers might whisper, I have never used my wealth or influence to force myself upon another. Any woman who has shared my bed has done so only because she would very much like to be there.

And regardless of what you may have heard, I am a faithful woman. Though I have had more than one lover, I have never had more than one lover at a time. I expect faithfulness from any woman I am with, and any woman I am with may expect utter faithfulness from me in return. You may ask my sister or any other that truly knows me about this subject, and they shall all say the same. If it sets your mind at ease, I shall even go so far as to write you a list of every single woman that has ever shared my bed. You may track each of them down if you wish, but you shall find that I have treated every single one of them well and not a one of them shall have a bad word to speak of my fidelity.

Should we marry, I would never betray your trust or your affections. As you already know, I hold oaths in the very highest regard, and I can think of no oath more serious than the one that might bind us to one another. And why should I even think of looking at another if you were my wife? Would a saint in heaven want for more? No. And with you at my side, I should want for nothing either.

And I would like for us to be married. It scares me – though I am loath to admit it – that I cannot imagine myself with someone else at my side. I have never been one to fear failure, yet losing you is something that I do fear. Perhaps that is what makes me act such a fool. My first words upon seeing you, remember, were about your hat – and you were not even wearing one!

I know of no way that could guarantee the seriousness of my intentions, but I shall make you a vow, if you wish. For the duration of my stay, I shall not lay hands upon you again unless you ask it of me. And should you wish for me to leave your presence, you need only ask, and I shall comply. I hope that such measures shall put your mind at ease and convince you, if only a little, that I hold you in the highest regard and that my intentions are of the most honourable sort. And if you truly do find my company so detestable, then I shall remove myself from your abode entirely. Yet I think you already know that I would leave if you truly wished me to, so I can only conclude that there is at least some part of you that understands the depths of my affections.

After our encounter this morning, I could not help but wonder why you seem to act so violently toward me. True, I have trifled with you before, but we were mere children then, and I hardly think a little hair pulling and chasing deserves such retaliation. And if I recall correctly, you returned each attack in kind and with considerable interest. I had thought us friends of a sort, and certainly, there has always been respect between us. And respect, I am told, is a fine foundation upon which to build a marriage.

So, I am given to think that there is more at work here, that perhaps I have committed some trespass of which I am not aware. And being unaware of it, how can I hope to remedy it? Allow me, then, to propose a wager. Our duel tomorrow cannot be to the death, but we can still add some measure of excitement to it. Should I win, I expect you to tell me your true reasons for your apparent dislike of me. However, should you win, I would be happy to fulfil one request, provided that it is nothing untoward.

Yours sincerely and with much love,

Fang Yun

P. S. I thought you looked rather dashing in your uniform at dinner. I daresay that the military look suits you, though your sister did pout most adorably when you appeared in military dress. Perhaps I was imagining things, but I do believe your eyes lingered upon me over dinner. Could it be that I look rather dashing in military dress as well?

P. P. S. I had intended to speak to my sister. However, when I arrived, she no longer skulking about on her own – she was skulking about with your sister. Responsibility therefore falls to you. I wish you luck – my sister is mischievous enough on her own. With your sister's aid, there can scarcely be an end to the mischief she achieves.

P. P. P. S. Setting aside the matter of our duel tomorrow, I agree that regular sparring would benefit us both. And simply think, if you married me, we could spar everyday.


Author's Notes

As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.

My usual author's notes follow below, but I do have an announcement to make. For those of you who wish to skip to the announcement, simply look for the bolded text closer to the bottom.

The intrigue continues! But seriously, I wanted to try and mix up some of the humour with a bit of expansion on the character side of things. Apart from getting to read all about Vanille and Serah's scheming (and I do so love their scheming), we also got to find out a bit more about why Lightning has reservations and what Fang can do to ease those reservations.

Once again, I wrote this entire chapter with an English accent going on in my head, and I strongly urge you to read it in an English accent. I can't help but think Lightning would sound quite awesome with an English accent, especially when she's cutting someone down to size verbally.

One of the things I love about this format – but which is also challenging about it – is the chance to try and describe things in a manner that both informs the read and gives them ample opportunity to imagine some of the events. For example, I provided the general outlines of Fang and Vanille's arrival at Lightning's manor, but I left quite a few of the details to your imagination. That can either be a strength or a weakness, but I am hoping it turns out to be a strength.

Ah, Lightning and Fang – it doesn't matter what the setting is, they'll find a way to make romance both amusing and overly complicated.

Finally, I have two bits of news on the original story front! First, my latest original short story, The Burning Mountains, is now up on Amazon! If you've enjoyed my more fantasy-oriented stuff (e.g., Whispers of the Gods), I think you'll enjoy The Burning Mountains as well. It runs to ~19,000 words and you can find a link to it in my profile (along with links to all my other original stories and longer previews for each of them too). Check it out! Here is the blurb:

The Burning Mountains have belonged to dragons since the Old Days when gods still walked the earth. They are a place of fire and ruin where no man dares walk and no elf dares linger long. Only the strong can survive there, and only the ruthless can prosper.

Amidst the smoke, the ash, and the flame, an exiled elven princess will meet an outcast dragon. Alone, they have little hope of survival. But together, they might do more than survive – they might conquer. For the dragon has a realm to claim, and the princess has a kingdom to take back.

There are some lessons that only fire can teach and some wisdom that only a dragon can impart.

So yeah, have a look if you're interested. And don't forget my other original short stories. If you've enjoyed Whispers of the Gods, you're likely to enjoy The Last Huntress and its sequel, The Lord of Dark Waters. If you like a bit of zombie killing action spiced with a Western flavour, check out The Gunslinger and the Necromancer.

My second bit of news is that this Sunday 20th of October, The Last Huntress and The Gunslinger and the Necromancer will be available for free. That's right, from 12:00 AM midnight 20th October to 11:59 PM that same day (Pacific Standard Time), you can get The Last Huntress and/or The Gunslinger and the Necromancer for free (there may be some delay at the start due to Amazon's occasional scheduling issues). So if you've been wondering if you'll like my original stories, now is your chance to give them a try! If you don't have a Kindle, don't worry. You can still get them for free – all you have to do is download a completely free Kindle app from Amazon (link in my profile) so that you can use your PC, Mac, laptop, phone, or iPhone/iPad instead. I already have links to both stories in my profile, but I will be updating them to be more visible once the free promotion starts this Sunday.

As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.