SEVDALIZA - HUBRIS
(the autopsy report read: the insides were beautiful)
Tuesday mornings were for the young lord's singing lesson--yet another item in his pressing schedule of royal education. Even in the middle of winter, when no birds cared to sing. The corridors remained chill as only servants and guards needed linger there. Gabranth was early, in Drace's stead, to escort Lord Larsa to his following fencing lesson in the practice salle. Gabranth paced slowly, paused.
In the music room, Lord Larsa was accompanied by piano and the needling directions of the old choir master. His young voice kept rising, hanging, until he gasped for the next breath. He formed each word of the solo with the perfect accent of classical Archadean. Though it was just the duty of a young prince--like arithmetic, theology, composition, or hunting to hounds--who would rather stay half the day at his chemistry and philosophy.
SEVDALIZA - SHAHMARAN
(As I lay dying / half in love with easeful death)
Noah lay in delirium dreams. His blood dripped as steadily as a cave building itself, and Larsa's face melted into nothing but the depths of his eyes, making a milky blue sea.
Noah was a boy again, swimming out to sea on an overcast afternoon. Basch splashed beside him in the cold water; Noah could not let him pull ahead. Out past the boundaries of fear and caution, each longing to make the other give up first. How far until they could not make it back? If they drowned they would at least go down together. If they returned they would at least share any punishment.
When Noah dove under Larsa was swimming ahead, too distant to reach, and shimmering pale and serene as the arctic sea unicorn.
Noah lay paralyzed on the cot where he would die, and Larsa's body seemed to coil around his head.
Into another dream. Where in the autumn they rode into the forested northern mountains for the prince's first hunt. The cold air brought the colour high in Larsa's cheeks. He was all tension in his posture with the bow. Not so assured now that the target could flee and left moist breath in the air. Damp leaves dragged over their hair and skin as they rode deeper, following the river of glacial water. Where the fable of a boy turned into a fawn might have played out eras ago. Where Larsa's white gloves soaked in blood around the shaft of an arrow, pierced deep between the ribs of his first kill.
NARAN RATAN - FOREVERTIME JOURNEYS I
(after life or wonderful life)
Over and over Noah walked in slow ceremonial stride beside his young lord. Always along the same avenue lined by blossoming cherries, apples, plums, and peaches. In the warm spring light, everything beyond the trees remained indistinct, lost in mist. Unknown and unimportant. Because Larsa's gloved hand held his gauntletted one. And despite the beauty of the scene, he looked up only at Noah as they kept in step. Larsa smiled like he was about to laugh softly and say something teasing about Noah removing his helm on duty. But neither said a thing.
Common birds sang the spring standards. White petals kept falling and drifting over them, crowning Larsa's unadorned head and Noah's black armour. For ever and ever.
(breathe with me)
They entered the ancient gods' city with all trepidation. From the mellow unchanging sky and the still waters stretching all around, it was already clear that they had intruded into a place beyond their own time. No place for any but the most arcane, the forgotten spirits and the myriad lesser deities.
Distortions of Mist mirrored, fragmented, and beckoned with memories, dreams and nightmares. Though he tried to hide it, Larsa saw something that made him stumble backwards into Gabranth's side. The Mist still held that power, even after their trek through the Feywood. The awful knowledge of the Necrohol was probably in all their thoughts. Gabranth laid a steadying hand on his shoulder, and Larsa answered with a grateful glance. In the party's distracted awe and unease, it was easy to reach up and hold Gabranth's hand as they walked on.
Inside, the distant beacons of demon candles lighted the cavernous city without illuminating anything. Its inhabitants slept. Until they rose up to the smell of living blood tempting them out of sleeping for another century.
Esoteric engravings at least a thousand years old gave little to their passing scrutiny. The dark and the silence pressed around them, heavier and heavier as they retreated from daylight and the current era of His Holiness 706 OV. Larsa tried to push on with just as much bravado as the princess Ashelia, but she was running on angry desperation that made her impervious to fear. Basch remained silent unless he needed to say something appropriately sensible to keep the princess or the Dalmascan urchins from rushing into the next disaster. Gabranth could be glad he had only Lord Larsa to protect. Each to their own, so there was nothing for the brothers to say to each other. Though they used to always talk in the dark.
The further they descended the warmer and heavier the air grew, though the ceiling and walls could not be seen. Fatigue was showing in their movements. But in this puzzle of a city, Gabranth worried less about the rabid attacks of hungry creatures, than the possibility of Larsa losing his footing at the edge of a spectral walkway and dropping down into the abyss.
A half remembered tune seemed to drift from far away. As though there were a path within reach that would lead back to a dreary Thursday in the palace, Lord Larsa dutifully attending to his harpsichord lesson. His fingers playing with a child's tune, each time pausing before the notes called out 'cuckoo, cuckoo'.
FKA TWIGS - THOUSAND EYES
(cathedral and sword, furs and gold)
On his coronation, Larsa carried Joyeuse merely for ceremony. Passed down from the first Solidor emperor--Larsa had known from the first time he carried it that he was expected to become emperor, though he was only the fourth-born son.
Each of his steps up the aisle of the grand temple kept in the correct rhythm; each movement imbued with centuries of ritual. And like each ancestor emperor, Larsa swore to the Gods and Archadia. As per the will of his deified father, there would be coin for the army, promises for the senate. Forgotten his dear brother's attempt to defy the Gods for mankind's sake. If Larsa had given the senate any more than a little dignity, they would have tried to erase Vayne's brief reign altogether. As it stood, the board had been reset according to the established rules, with eighteen Magisters to preserve Larsa's own dignity and the order of Archadia.
The crowds outside cheered for a return to normalcy, an end to war, for a new holiday. The handsome face of the boy emperor was a passing curiosity. More interesting were the gifts of festive largesse, and secret bets placed in the guessing at the longevity of his reign.
In the cold sanctum of high columns and midday light the choir sang the emperor's praises, long may he live. Just as His Holiness Anastasis had dreamed all those months ago, though Larsa had not let himself say he longed for that day. Too many lost, and he still had more to lose.
Gabranth stood at a respectable but protective distance, armour whole and shining as though they had never brought down Bahamut. Larsa could not let his gaze linger, could not let himself reach out to touch, or search for warm skin underneath. Gabranth's stance and movements were at least reassuringly familiar, unmistakable. And his imposing aura as always radiated to envelope Larsa and pierce through his enemies.
YASMINE HAMDAN - NEDIYA
In a windowless antechamber of the palace it was just the two of them. Larsa ran his white-gloved hands over Gabranth's gauntlets, and then over the cuirass. Gabranth stood still and at ease for him to explore the golden patterns with his fingertips.
Gabranth would not have believed how envious Larsa had been of the young squire whose duty it was each day to help the Magister in and out of the panoply. Even the chore of polishing all these intricate pieces of magick-infused steel seemed appealing to Larsa, because he did not have to do it.
More appealing by far though, was to have Gabranth kneel for him. Larsa stripped off a glove before he ran his hand over Gabranth's surprisingly soft and fragrant hair. That golden colour had fascinated him as a young child, just like the pretty chocobo feathers he had collected and arranged by a bedroom window to catch the light.
Larsa circled Gabranth with slow dance-like steps, while dragging his fingers over black steel and black leather, and the pale bared neck. How good, how obedient for him. Standing behind him, Larsa did not resist fitting his hand around Gabranth's throat, feeling his pulse and the gentle movement of his throat.
COCOROSIE - SMOKEY TABOO
(I'm a mountain child and deserts make me nauseous)
Once they were back in Balfonheim, Noah excused himself with a pack of heavy loot to sort through and sell off at the bazaar. Larsa gave him a look, but knowing him too well, continued on to the tavern with Penelo and Vaan. It had become their routine whenever they met up with any of Larsa's friends or acquaintances for a hunt. Larsa always loved to be in the thick of it--the reminiscences, the latest gossip, every story that could be of the slightest interest. Noah could hear plenty on the street. And Larsa would tell him if anything worried him for Archadia's security.
Noah intentionally took his time about it, knowing he was not needed to pretend he wanted to socialize. He did not mind the tedious duty, or following Larsa's meticulous shopping lists. After finishing the shopping, he sat at the sea wall, content with the late-afternoon sun, a cold bottle of beer, and the pleasant view.
Sometimes he wondered if the free skies and adventure would tempt too strongly for a young man burdened with the precarious rule of an empire. But it was a foolish thought. Whenever Larsa ran out into the world as "Lamont" it was foremost from a sense of duty to his people. And he always went back. Larsa had always been too responsible.
NINA SIMONE - I PUT A SPELL ON YOU
(in mourning for their brother their tears turned to electrum)
Getting ready for the evening, Larsa sat at his dressing table. The one with three mirrors. The hairdresser had finished piling his long hair elegantly on top of his head, fixed with golden leaves in a diadem. His make-up was light, except around his eyes, where kohl and smokey tones drew attention to his grey-blue irises. A touch of opium perfume behind his ears. Just the brush down the side of his neck already made him shivery, and he felt utterly seductive and sensual with every movement.
He regarded himself like an actor, like a dancer, like a courtesan. He turned his head this way and that. The warm lamp light sparked on his teardrop earrings, and Larsa brushed one with his polished fingernails. They were simple, but beautifully crafted from Landisian amber. The first pair Noah had ever given him.
ELYANNA - AHWAK
(Pur ti miro, pur ti godo / I gaze at you, I possess you)
The villa had stood empty since the Archadian occupation slumped out of Dalmasca. The hereditary owner, some second cousin or other of the Queen's, had found business flourishing in Rozarria, and it would have been sold if anyone would have bought it for the asking price. It was a quiet place now, with only the gardener living on the property year round.
Several years ago, Ashe had given Larsa the keys to the place when he was in need of an inconspicuous place to stay for a few days in Dalmasca. Though Ashe had seemed embarrassed that he would not stay at a finer house. But Larsa had found it pleasant. So quiet compared to the centre of Archades or Rabanastre. The stars glimmered clear at night, and the walled garden grew lush criss-crossed with irrigation channels and the soothing murmur of water. If there was anything to complain about it was the mosquitos, but heavy incense kept them at bay, and every night he slept under a silken net.
He ended up renting the villa permanently--or rather, the merchant's son Lamont did. And from time to time stayed there a night or two with his older lover, a Landiser hunter.
And sometimes the sky-pirates Vaan and Penelo, or Fran and Balthier would stay at the villa instead, when they needed a place to relax. And if an Amalia or Basch joined them it was no concern to anyone. It quickly became their time-share. If they wrote ahead, the steward would organise supplies, a cook and servants. The rooms would be cleaned and aired out and the linens changed.
Once or twice a year, during the bustling of a festival week, all eight of the remaining adventurers who had joined Princess Ashelia on her quest all over Ivalice, would flow into town from whatever direction they had scattered to, and fill up the old villa's rooms with noise and light, and sit all evening in the courtyard by the blue-tiled basins, drinking and eating, smoking and singing and dancing. Keeping whatever hours they fancied, appearing and disappearing out into the city or desert, returning for more drinking and stories. Like it was during their travels, only unhurried and comfortable.
At the height of the festival, rather than join the crush of people on the streets, they sat in the courtyard, by the light of lamps garlanded about the columns and eaves and trees. The rhythm of music and singing reached them from the festivities outside, but they could enjoy it in peace. And when the crowds quieted down, the acoustics of the nearby amphitheatre let the open-air opera drift to them through the garden.
Tonight they were playing a revival of a classic some decades old. The instrumentation had been brought up to current fashions, but the libretto was still full of the same old drama and love poetry.
Penelo danced an elegant improvisation, barefooted on the smooth courtyard stone. Balthier joined her for a slowdance, a joint between his lips, swaying lazily and all affection. Basch sat on the ground by the fire pit, and only sipped his beer slowly. He was content to watch his two lovers dance and giggle as though they were the lovers. His eyes shone warm and intense in the firelight, full of laughter and desire at their game.
Further back in the shadows, Fran and Ashe reclined together on the long cushioned seat covered by an arch grown all over with jasmine, caught up in their own conversation. They only spared the others a few word or glances when they were particularly amusing.
On the next slow song, Larsa wanted to dance too, and pulled Noah up from their cushions. Noah went, dutiful and self-conscious--he'd never been one for dancing, except when it meant wildly leaping around a bonfire as a boy. But it was no hardship to hold Larsa's hands and have him lean back against his chest, while Noah followed his rhythm. Unlike the ever-changing and complex courtly dances, there was little to this--slow shuffling steps, an occasional twirl, but most of all simply pressing together in the sensual tune of the song.
As the next song was another ballad, Larsa turned and wrapped his arms around Noah's neck. By the end of the song they had forgotten about dancing and their company, and were deep in languorous kissing.
Penelo and Balthier, who had stopped dancing, sat with Basch, sharing the smouldering hash and watching them with quiet amusement. At about that time, Vaan reminded them he was there too, by throwing a dusty slipper at the back of Noah's head and hollering, "Get a room." He was single again, and ready to vent at the nearest couple that had been happily eloped for the past five years.
FKA TWIGS - CELLOPHANE
Larsa opened the heavy velvet curtains of his room to a cold colourless dawn. The large bed behind him was empty; the blankets were mussed only on the side where he had slept. Alone. In the rhythm of routine, he lingered in the bath until the mirror of the vanity was running with steam. When he wiped his hand over it, Larsa had to see his own drawn face and tired eyes. How ancient he felt, though he was still called young.
He dressed, buttoning his white shirt up all the way to the top of the high collar. He combed down his damp hair.
How near and distant the past seemed. On another morning he had opened the curtains to let in the light on the mussed bed he had just rolled out of, and then climbed back into it. Beside him Noah had slept, or at least pretended to. He was always so vigilant. Larsa had run his fingers over Noah's jaw, thinking how strange it still felt to be in bed naked. That they were lovers. But how utterly perfect and mature.