The commission is perfect, the quality what the highest lady in Dalmasca would demand. Only the form is unorthodox.
Mithril vines are forged in an organic circle. Save for their metallic tint, their pattern is such an expert mimicry of the thick cables that cross Golmore jungle that one might mistake the design for thin tendrils of the real thing. Around her neck, just above where her throat meets her collar it will make an intriguing showpiece above the lace-trimmed neckline of a ballgown. Or so, the goldsmith remarks as she presents the velvet-lined case to the queen.
Queen Ashelia traces the work with her index finger. Desert flowers set with pink and brown sapphires and stems of gold weave in and out of the vines closing together around a sturdy loop at the very center of the necklace, perfect for a tapered finger to slide through and lead the wearer of the collar. It's an unusual feature to be sure, same as the soft lining that attaches around the inner rim of the jewelry. Ashe turns the piece over and nods her approval. Her fingers move around the top edge of the piece and curving around one of the two mythril rings that, with one last piece, will hold the metal together. The lack of a true clasp is another unusual detail.
The goldsmith fishes for an explanation, but nothing she can say is subtle enough to get anything more revealing than an icy glare from the queen. Ashelia pays the commission plus a bonus for discretion and neither asks nor says anything more. If the goldsmith is lucky and learns discretion, she may even work again.
Tonight is one year since her coronation and tomorrow another anniversary. Ashelia settles the commissioned piece in the rosewood box and lets her fingers linger on it wistful. Its time will come tomorrow. Tonight, like most nights, she must be the queen.
Tomorrow though—tomorrow she takes a day-trip and sheds, for a bit her identity as queen; her kingdom can run a day without her. There is another pledge to fulfill, a promise made aboard an airship, with a rough rug beneath her knees and a Viera's fingers between her throat and a cracked leather collar.
An anniversary has passed, and officially, the Queen Ashelia has locked herself inside her chamber with a splitting headache, the result of a smidge too much of the madhu washed down an excessive touch of Tchita's driest sparkling wines and no desire to be disturbed. So the official story goes.
A lady—a courtier—does leave, a fine rosewood box under her arm and a ludicrously wide-brimmed hat obscuring her face. A questioning guard spots the box, but with brief touch of Ashe's finger to her lips, he is silenced. He nods, and his expression breaks only with a slight smirk. Fran meets her at the palace gates.
"You have brought the commission."
Ashe holds out her offering. "Here, my lady."
Fran only nods, sending the brush of sand-white curls against her shoulders. "When we arrive."
The rumors around the Viera and the particular favors shown to her by Queen Ashelia have grown through the year. Some gifts, the private dock for the Strahl, tributes from the treasury are understandable for the role the sky pirates have played in her ascension to the throne. A townhouse in Rabanastre's high district, however, seems a touch excessive, even worrying to the merchants. Even, and perhaps especially, the house itself remains quiet. Fran unlocks the wrought iron gates, and passes by the meticulously tended flower beds. She opens the painted yellow door, to a house recently dusted, and bids the lady inside.
The queen enters the parlor of this refuge that she's set up in the midst of her own capital city, and becomes plain Ashe again. Fran takes her time to choose a chair to sit in, and once she does takes her sweet time to settle in and work out the proper angle of crossed legs and the set of her elbow on the polished mahogany arm. Ashe waits, commission in hand, for Fran instruct her.
"You may place the commission on the table for now." Fran points to the low table set in front of her feet.
Ashe sets the box down. She turns around.
"Now remove that ridiculous hat."
Ashe removes the floppy-brimmed abomination with rehearsed deliberateness, and places it on an unoccupied chair.
Fran rests her head on her hand and recrosses her legs. "Your dress too."
Ashe's day dress—a flowing gown able to be donned and removed without assistance—falls to a puddle at her slippered feet. Her satin chemise follows. Ashe stands completely naked before Fran.
"Much better. You may now present the commission to me."
Ashe rests the box on one arm and unfastens the latch with a reverent flick of her other index finger. She offers the ornate piece for Fran to inspect. The graceful fingernail traces the goldsmith's elaborate metal work. A touch of homesickness crosses Fran's face.
"This will do." The velvety hand touches Ashe's chin. "Kneel. Keep the collar presented."
"Yes, lady." There's enough room—barely—between the table and Fran's seat to fit a kneeling Ashe. She keeps the collar held out, breath in suspension.
"Would you like to wear this?"
"Even if you would only be able to put it on or take it off according to my whim."
Fran gets up, and while Ashe—still kneeling, still holding the collar—watches her, she walks on splendid, strong legs towards a chest of drawers. Metal pieces clink together in the palm of her hand, and her fist closes. Ashe's eyes remain fixed. Her arm strains from holding even a fairly light burden stationary for so long. That must be the tension she feels.
Ashe stretches her neck out. The burden on her arms eases as Fran lifts the collar from its resting place and circles it around Ashe's offering. One hand holds the unsecured ring—and forces Ashe's head down to contemplate Fran's stilettoed feet while the fist opens . Ashe doesn't see the lock that clicks in place and secures the collar. She feels the collar secure, and the smug wave of the brass key below her nose.
"It has been done," Fran smiles and takes a taste of her servant's lips, just a brief one that leaves Ashe wanting well…everything when Fran pulls away with a brush of her palm over Ashe's hair. "I have business to take care of, but perhaps I will be back in a day or two remove the collar. In the meantime, rule well."