A Dynast's Tears to Salt The Earth
part 19 of Threshold
Vossler spurned Balthier's offer of guard, likewise Basch's assumption his presence would be desired. Vossler asked for Fran, stating her silence as good as solitude, yet her abilities prove unnecessary. The beasts of the sandsea are wiser than to dare this atrocity.
Fran's heels grate against the salt. Vossler's voice returns flat across the barren earth, given depth only by echo.
'There were trees…'
The orchards were old and famed, Fran young and lonely. The fragrant citrus formed a veil that wrought Fran no small solace in those early years alone, a scent strong enough to overrule this bare white field. There were such trees, wound with meandering paths of river-smooth pebbles laid by generations of Azelas grandmothers. Fran remembers that last maitredomina, graced by the same stern brow that Vossler wears writ with righteousness, the same doubtful, sensual upturn of their lips a misfortunate countermand to every order.
Fran remembers. Her eyes sting but not with tears: the Dalmascan sun is a recoiling whip. Vossler kneels to work his hands through a forearm's thickness of white. When he bares the dark earth beneath, the stench of charcoal cuts blade-like across the salt. Vossler's neck does not bend, his eyes to the horizon. Rabanastre's tallest spires are visible, if wavering in the intense heat.
'This earth will weep for my betrayal for centuries yet.'
'The earth cares not for mortal perceptions.' Fran closes the air between them, finds Vossler's shoulder rigid as rock against her palm. 'This is Ashelia's spite on which you blood your knees.'
'Say instead, Ashelia's tears, once shed, multiplied a thousand-fold, a bloody grudge held as close as she once held me. Help me, Fran. I am not at all repentant.'
'Think you that I know aught of repentance? I am vagrant, the Wood hollow within and without. Ask Balthier if you wish to hunt atonement. Redemption is a fickle prey. I find it unworthy of consideration.'
Vossler stands, his hands grimed with wood turned worthless dust. Fran holds his wrists, and he blackens hers.
Vossler wakes in Basch's bed alone, still on his back and muscle-sore. He prefers to sleep on his side, but Basch had fallen to sleep so swiftly Vossler had no courage to suggest a change in position.
Like the sun, it is inevitable that he rise. To an outsider the debris of the night prior would be hidden amongst the room's general mess, folios, books twice-thickened with notes, ripped clothes and bloodstained, towels and crockery – yet the evidence of his relations with Basch stands stark to Vossler's eyes, a specific weakness of mutual overindulgence.
The house has servants, and in Archades, servants talk. Basch told Vossler he hired Moogles specifically to counter this custom, but Vossler has trust for nothing that breathes.
His intentions in rising were to remove all trace of his presence, but momentary confusion has Vossler clutching at a soiled towel. The window would not open far yet a breeze finds a way to remind him of night's briskness, turned sluggish with the city's density. He responded with ardor, Vossler remembers, and Basch with a compelling gratitude as though the years and their positions had not changed.
When the door clicks open, the towel becomes an involuntary shield. Vossler scarcely eases when Basch enters wearing Archadian braid, a uniform that speaks of proficiency, power.
The corners of Basch's mouth and eyes soften when he sees Vossler, but the burnish of cropped hair resembles cold metal.
'The servants will take that.'
Vossler closes his hands tight as though Basch threatened theft of something precious. The towel's fabric is too fine, not a soldier's cloth nor the crude serviceability of his prison kit. Vossler remembers instead his mother's towels and a childhood spent ungrateful for his fine linen, not knowing anything other existed. The memory is incongruous with this towel's application, so Vossler avoids the temptation to dwell on it.
'Correspondence,' Basch offers it when Vossler says nothing. 'From my family – there is a celebration for a cousin's wedding next month.'
Vossler could not conceive of a reason why Basch held out that script, as though some great treasure could be found if the mundane intent were deciphered. As earnest as he ever was as a teen, Basch must make his point with emphatic touch: he strokes Vossler's scalp with an affection he must have learned in a brothel, from a more sensual lover. Vossler wants to strike his hand away and cannot, the dictates of politeness constraining him even here. This is not his house.
An inch of salt-and-pepper regrowth rasps against Basch's palm, an inch by which Vossler measures the days of his rediscovered freedom. The sound is proof of a brevity that irritates him.
'It would do you good to get out of the house, and Didaelphus – my aunt's cousin – he is a generous host—'
Basch's warmth grows with every word to lull Vossler into an unconstrained response; revelation is never preferable to ignorance.
'You think I'll companion you! Will you shave the rest of me too, head to heels; will you bind me and skirt me? I want to know nothing of your family, your godsdamned good fortune in which all you lack is a wife!' Vossler cannot glance up even after Basch withdraws his touch, but downcast eyes do nothing to dim the burn. 'Why did you have to send your pirates to find me? Do you not have enough who love you already?'
Basch responds with a polite ignorance of Vossler's outburst, so Archadian Vossler would rip the towel still in his hands to sunder the tension. Blunt fingers cannot find purchase on a cloth so finely woven.
'Didaelphus has a lodge, a breeding ranch; it's outside of Archades yet not so far. He breeds chocobo bulls for the Judges, I thought you would—'
'You presume,' Vossler manages to eject, 'on my behalf as though you have the right to do so.' He cannot express how wrong such a role would be for him, training mounts for the enemy's cavalry. His loyalties do not shift with the ease Basch wears so well.
'I thought you would like to meet my family.'
Responses that should stay unspoken swell Vossler's lips, each one unfair to Basch. 'I can think of nothing worse than a meal surrounded by blonde-haired brats, or – What do you think I'll say, Basch? How will you name me yours? Pass the salt, if you please, the Betrayer of Nations finds Archadian fare bland as Archadian bullshit!'
Larsa had positioned Basch within this shell of normality, a gift of aunts, cousins, a sister-in-law and his brother's neglected sons, his mother's old wealth waxing strong. In Archades, Basch filled a role waiting for his acknowledgement. Vossler blames him only for embracing it.
'Whatever pleases you.' Basch learned his mild indifference from those who knew how to use it better. 'It was only a suggestion.'
They breakfast at a setting the servants have prepared. The martial strike of cutlery on plate companions Vossler's presentiment: this is how all their mornings will pass together, in silence.
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