Young Love [FFXII]

Nabudis, Ffamran decides, is the most horrible place in the world when you are thirteen (and possibly at any age, though this being his first visit, he is himself unable to say empirically). The three days he's spent here so far have convinced him so, and he does not expect to have his opinion altered anytime in the near future. Everyone is dreary, everywhere is oppressive, and everything is interminable. As such, he has felt justified spending all three days thus far of the summit (save mealtimes) in his room, glasses perched upon his nose, his well-worn copy of The Journey of Balthier spread across his knobby adolescent knees; his father has not only not reprimanded him for his hermit-like behaviour, but looked upon his son with something Ffamran recognises as envy.

He had added 'rains all the time' to his lengthy tally of complaints, yet today feels (grudgingly) compelled to strike it from the roster -- the sun has finally broken through the oppressive grey ceiling of clouds, bringing forth a dazzling cascade of light that has at length urged Ffamran from his room and into the royal house's main courtyard. He finds there with no small disdain that nearly everything has been rain-wetted, yet a small bench in an alcove appears to have missed the worst of the weather, and he deems it the ideal spot to continue his antisocial activities. He's just at the part about Balthier and the Gold-Wyrm, anyway, and could hardly be expected to put that down.

Yet for all his fondness for the story, he finds his eyes drawn from the page to elsewhere in the courtyard. First comes the usual to and fro of everyday house mundanities -- servants ferrying items, maids delivering linens, chancellors arguing nonsense -- all passing back and forth before him, ignoring him as though he were merely a parting gift of the rain, innocuous and unremarkable. It's a trick he's learned, growing up as a child in adult places -- the art of making himself invisible.

Then from a previously unseen door comes forth a girl surely no more than ten, pale brown hair about her face, high boots sending splashes of mud with every puddle which has the pleasure of meeting her deliberately placed stomps. Behind her swoops a small retinue, their vocations identifiable from their attire -- two white-clad nursemaids, a haggard-looking tutor in velvet robes, an armoured guard with fearsome dark eyes. But the girl cares nothing for them, laughing as she does in the newly minted sunshine. She, too, must have been cooped up all this time, kept still and silent as befits a noble daughter; this day is now her freedom.

She twirls atop the edge of a stone fountain, wheeling with her arms spun out to the sky, her tunic ballooning out higher and higher until a flash of white undergarments appears -- and then she is caught still in the arms of a nursemaid, and though Ffamran cannot hear the nanny's fierce chastisements, he would stake money that they concern propriety and what of one's intimate apparel one should take care not to reveal in public. The girl looks abashed, and when released carries off with a slower pace. Yet not even a minder's reprimand can kill her spirits on this day, and she lifts her hands high, stretching her petite body up heavenward, letting the warm sun fall on her face.

Ffamran busies himself again with the tale, yet has made no more than a page's further progress when from an arch on the far side of the courtyard steps a young man with shock-silver hair. Though Ffamran does not know his face, the match to previous description is unmistakable -- Prince Rasler Heios Nabradia, youngest son of the line, only a year Ffamran's elder, and ostensible heir at least in part to this wretched stretch of earth (may the gods have mercy on his poor soul), he too ostensibly intent on making the best of the break in the clouds.

His arrival has caught not only Ffamran's notice, but the girl's, and though she hovers close in the arms of her cortege, she favours him with a deep bow. To Ffamran's surprise, Prince Rasler returns it -- she must be nobility, then, though of what sort he could not say. She looks first to her tutor, then to the guard, and the latter rewards her with a brief nod. Cautiously, with naught but care in each dainty step, she begins to traverse the yard's length. Rasler does not move to greet her, but a great smile works its way across his youthful visage, and he bows again as though hoping such a thing might be construed encouragement.

"Ah, young love," says his father behind him, startling Ffamran so badly he nearly drops the book. "Such a darling pair, too. They'll soon have us all knees-deep in high-minded, idealistic babies."

Ffamran swallows, taking his feet from where he'd tucked them on the bench and placing them more properly on the ground. "Who is she?"

His father smiles, letting the backs of his knuckles brush Ffamran's shoulder. "Lady Ashelia B'Nargin Dalmasca. Slated to be wed since her birth, they've been -- a political union of little earth-shaking consequence, as few would doubt the sincerity of the bond between Nabradia and Dalmasca. Still, such things are best arranged early, if one is inclined to deal with them at all."

She has reached her betrothed's side, and he takes her hand and brings it to his lips, crouching low before her. She appears to suffer this with great dignity, though Ffamran can see even at this distance that her cheeks have coloured, and her shoulders have been set to trembling by nervous giggles. An arranged marriage? Such things are common in Archades, where marriage itself is mostly a political union, or at least a strategic one. His father never married, he knows, and has never spoken well of the institution (save to grudgingly acknowledge a few fiscal benefits, for if there is one thing his father can always seem to find favour in, it is beneficial financial arrangements).

Yet his eyes tell him a story far different is at work here. She speaks unheard words, and he smiles; he offers her his reply, and she laughs; the sun is in her hair and the barely-heard edge of her voice is music on the wind, and she looks at him as though the world around them might disappear and yet were it to leave him standing in the selfsame spot, she should not notice. Despite whatever political machinations or clever matchmaking may be at work in shadowed rooms behind their relationship, he has nonetheless become the world to her, Ffamran can see in her eyes. He and none other.

His father pats him gently against his back. "Come. The morning's session has recessed, and some fine lunch surely awaits us."

With no small regret, Ffamran shuts the volume, drawing it up under his arm and standing, letting his father's hand guide him down a corridor to an ornate door as he expounds upon some thing or another that has come to his attention during the morning's proceedings. Yet Ffamran neither listens nor turns until the last moment from the sight of the boy and girl smiling beneath the glorioius blue sky, oblivious to their surroundings, and it occurs to him that he has never in his life wanted something so much as to stand this very moment in Prince Rasler's place, to wear his stately attire, to claim for his own such undisguised adoration. In this moment he would trade anything, do anything, become anyone, if only he could have her look at him that way.

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