Dalmascan history told it so: that the Dynast King's progeny were not of the coarse rut of the commonborn, numberless as the grains of sand, but instead of the union of silvered tears spilled by the gods to bond silica and divinity together, a form of pure flesh. For the matter of clarifying their purity, the Dynast King's throne was on a raised dais the likes of which had Ashelia loathe to descend for small causes, even to attend her daughter's cool rage. The clicking of her knees was mortality's herald.
'Majesty,' the princess said, vowels clipped with her argument's conclusion, 'we will speak of my father. Street rumor is not enough.'
The girl's auburn curls were pinned and piled high to bare an arrogant arch of neck, especially like that of her father's. Ashelia attended the fall of her robes across her knee, and rather than regard this child of her body, if never of her blood, the Queen gazed instead to her own beringed fingers, the pearlescent sheen of perfect nails. She did not prefer so heavy a style of jewel, once; in these aching years it seemed far easier to keep all royal seals and signifiers about her fingers, for reminder.
Into continued silence, the seneschal at her shoulder spoke. 'Majesty. Her Highness waits.'
Ashelia flicked her forefinger to restore her silence. She no longer remembered their names, these her loyal servants, or even any of his names. Vaguely, she did recall that he who widowed her so precipitously was very similar, to always remember title over name. It may have been one of his few virtues. Titles meant more than names; titles continued, roles ever played with endlessly interchangeable actors.
'Balthier,' the princess spoke, a name a clear challenge, 'an infamous sky pirate who sacrificed all for the sake of those not his own blood; or Ffamran, who left all his rightful heritage within Archades for a matter of preserving his morals instead. Whomever you wish to speak of, I will hear it.' She added, somewhat more hesitantly, 'I am of age, Majesty. If you will have me wed this Archadian who gives his suit, I will know somewhat of the fabric of what makes these men.'
The court stirred, uneasy in the lazy heat, a single living organism as barometer to the twist of Ashelia's own lips, kept inward for the matter of her dignity. The commoners could love and laud Balthier's name alongside that of Basch's; the court could not, and should not. Lasting greatness could only stand on a foundation of law, not the lore found within a street-singer's song. Balthier had left her with a dedicated prince who would follow on this throne, attendant to his duty in a manner to satisfy both Queen and Crown; the princess took all the spite and fickle vitriol that had made Balthier's presence so intolerable, that contradictory source of his charm. For the matter of the princess's smile and the subsequent distraction of too many a knight, Ashelia would wed her off sooner rather than later. Larsa had obliged, and provided his surety that the youth in question was not, in fact, another Bunansa bastard.
'Conduct yourself within my halls,' Ashelia spoke, at last, 'or stand without. Such names are not for speaking or speaking of.'
'Mother,' the princess snarled, 'if you will not tell me, I will ask Basch.'
'Such names,' Ashelia said, 'are not for speaking.'
'I will to the waters of Balfonheim to ask Basch.' Shoulders curved in too familiar a manner. 'Song-spun rumour sings to a greater fondness that lay between he and my father, so lacking from your own marriage bed. Perhaps your disgraced knight will have more tender a tale to tell.'
Ashelia descended, a float of robes, no regality and all sudden rage, that latter a tide greater than mortality's gravitas; she reached to slap his bitch of a daughter, firm and sharp. The girl cradled her cheek, held her tears, smiled her success.
'Such a performance,' Ashelia chided, 'and before all the audience of Dalmascan entreaty. Are you pleased to so shame your own blood, here, where all can witness your youth and insecurity in the wend of your words? Child, you are your father's self-spiting spawn indeed.'
The princess bit her lip. Grey eyes; her own, Ashelia knew, but for the colour that flooded cheek and lip and hair, dark gold and copper, bronze, all the shades of precious metal; all Balthier's, this one was all his.
'You would know him,' Ashelia said, scornful. The girl's shoulders were broad with her height; Ashelia's gaze, leveled straight, could only reach the line of her daughter's long collarbones. Beringed hands curled about the girl's bare upper arms, pinching, firm. The girl resisted where Ashelia pushed, stubborn thing to perform so, grudgingly ceding each step. For the sheen of mirror and majesty that graced these halls, Ashelia turned the girl to face her reflection; the audience gave way about them, whispers now only of robes and never words.
Twinned eyes, one pair old, cold, the younger aching and storm-bound, met, if only via the mirror's interference.
'You would know your father,' Ashelia said, 'and so smile, daughter.'
The princess's brow furrowed; anger flared. 'Release me, mother.'
'Smile!' Ashelia shook that arching length of youthfulness, hating the heat that warmed her cold palms, the grace strong, near masculine with height, with sure spread of stance. 'Smile, daughter, smile and let the world see, smile, smile!'
Such force in that cry, and desperation at the last: so drained Ashelia set her forehead against her daughter's arm. The princess's eyes shimmered, full of scorn, tears never shed, and surrender. Just like her father; and so the girl smiled.
'There,' Ashelia breathed. 'See yourself, and see your smile, and know him; there, writ on your lips; there he stands.'
Wonder then, across that sharp expression. The princess's hand raised, tremulous, she reached to the silver surface of mirror as though it opened to another place, another time; fingertips met impermeable smoothness and fell.
The princess smiled, cruel, compassionate; how could he so engender such a contradictory thing, to leave Ashelia with this ever, eternal reminder?
'Thank you,' the princess said, too coolly. 'Majesty. If that is the only way you knew him, well. I do not know if I pity you, or—no. I pity you.'
'Ungrateful wretch,' Ashelia hissed, 'I gave you life.'
And countered, as swift as he would have: 'Then it was he that gave me a love of life.'
'He had no love left to give, the coward, the fool, to fall for the sake of his freedom; he fled; he left me; you spawn of a degenerate pirate, he is not worth knowing!'
'Mother,' the princess said, and bowed – bowed, with the grace of a swordsman, so unlike her brother's statesmanship, she bowed like a girl never should, long-legged, thick-limbed. 'I will take my leave.'
There was no surprise, then, on the morrow, to find the princess fled and gone, a score of knightly hearts abandoned and broken in her wake.
Ashelia breathed, not a sigh of relief, not even truly a sigh; Ashelia sat on her throne, and simply breathed.