Larsa Ferrinas Solidor had just dismissed his servants for a long moment of reflection before the State Dinner to mark his fifth anniversary as Emperor of Archadia. It was not five years since the Coronation, but five years since his brother had been defeated, since he and the then Princess Ashelia of Dalmasca had called an end to the war. People liked to not think of that, though - they were determinedly looking forward, not back and Larsa felt very isolated, small and alone as he looked out from his study window over the city of Archades. He missed his brother, from before he lost himself to Venat, to the nethicite - and he was the only one.
He was very aware that people had started to gossip frantically and were trying to strategically place their daughters advantageously in front of him since he had turned sixteen. He was the sole Solidor left and every family with highborn daughters inside and outside of Archadia hoped to secure him by a marriage alliance - and later a blood alliance from any children. Even Al-Cid Margrace had tried to tempt him with a younger sister or one of his little birds. Tonight would be no different, in fact, it would likely be worse as he was considered fully adult and eligible now and this was the first large State Dinner since he had come of age last year.
He drew in a deep sigh, thinking of the only girl - no, woman - who had ever made an appearance in his dreams. She had disappeared not long after he had become Emperor and alternated between aiding Vaan on his hare-brained schemes or providing counsel to Queen Ashelia B'Nargin Dalmasca on her own citizens. He had visited Dalmasca in the hope of seeing her again last year, ostensibly to help financially with the repairs to the city, but she had been absent with Vaan after some great legendary gem that would put even the Cache of Glabodos to shame.
They had found it and secured their fortunes even after splitting the take and soon after, Penelo surprised everyone by simply purchasing her own manse, apart from Vaan. It had been generally assumed by all those who knew the story of the manufacted nethicite, which was generally everyone in Ivalice, that she and Vaan were an item. The Queen had given them titles as reward for their services to the realm and Penelo had started a special orphanage for children like she had been. Her goal was to house any child in Rabanastre that needed one and she was succeeding according to both the reports he received and from her own letters. She had always kept up a good correspondence with him and let him know what she was doing. Vaan, on the other hand, had secured his fortune forever by marrying Queen Ashelia last year. Penelo had sent a letter to Larsa about it (as he had been unable to attend being in Rozarria at the time of the nuptials) that Vaan was an excellent escort to Ashe - easy to control, easy to predict (at least now that he was not quite so hot-headed and rash) and of Dalmascan blood. He might not have been of noble birth despite his new title, but he held a lot of sway with the commons and Ashe needed them on side to truly rebuild her shattered country. Larsa had assumed that the princess had been waiting for Basch to return, but the man had never left Larsa’s side, even when he had discreetly left the metaphorical door open for him.
Penelo’s letters had made him understand the unlikely match though, Vaan was popular with the commons, now had a title to placate the gentry (just) and was a hero to the people of Dalmasca. A relationship between him and the princess had seemingly begun when she had cut through the Occurian-image of her late husband, if very, very slowly. Eventually, she had been pressed by her Counsel to take a husband and she had irritated them by refusing to marry those they had hand-picked. Larsa smiled as he recalled that he and Al-Cid had both been on the list. As a reigning ruler of his own domain, Larsa could not have accepted anyway and he knew Ashe’s feelings about the flirtations of Al-Cid. According to Penelo, the Queen had appeared disguised at her manse asking for Vaan. The two had decided that they liked each other enough and that they were better options than the Counsel’s choices. Penelo seemed to find the whole situation very amusing and, from what Larsa gathered, the fondness between the two had increased after they were wed.
It was with thoughts of Penelo that he rang the bell for Judge Magister Gabranth and he smoothed his bell sleeves as he waited. Soon enough, the man who wore the name of Gabranth appeared and they nodded to one another.
“This is not the fastest route to the ballroom,” Larsa realised when he came out of his little daydream of the last time he had seen Penelo with his own two eyes - it had been over two and a half years since then.
“There is something I believe you should see,” the Judge told him.
Larsa was ever more confused when he saw Judge Eris, the late Judge Drace’s younger sister, standing guard in a hall that held guest suites. Eris knocked on the door behind her and just as Larsa opened his mouth to ask what exactly he was doing in a random corridor when he had dignitaries to greet, the door opened and he saw a flash of blonde hair and periwinkle sleeves before he found himself being hugged tightly. He blinked in confusion for a moment before connecting the dots and realising just who it was that was hugging him and he hugged her back tightly.
“Larsa! It is so good to see you again.” She pulled back and before him stood Lady Penelo Rabanastre of Dalmasca. She was a vision - no, more than that, she was like an oasis to a man who had seen nothing but desert. He lost his famous verbosity entirely as he drank in her form. She was still in Dalmascan fashion, which left a little more skin on show than Archadian style dresses but she looked a touch more demure than he had last seen her. If anything, she had grown more beautiful, having grown fully in to her looks as the last of her girlishness had faded away, leaving the woman now stood before him.
“Pene- I mean, Lady Penelo, I did not know you were coming.” He stammered out.
“I wasn’t supposed to be but, between you and I, Queen Ashelia is erm… unable to travel by airship at present.”
“Oh, I do hope she is okay.” Larsa replied, troubled by what an illness might mean, only to have Penelo giggle at him.
“No, Larsa, she is well. She is expecting a little Vaan along soon, but it is still a secret.”
“Oh, I see. I shall have to send my congratulations as soon as I am allowed to do so.” Larsa replied, feeling a bit stupid for not connecting the dots properly with the woman in front of him.
“I’m quite glad about it. For one thing, it means that Vaan really will have to stop gallivanting about Ivalice, for another, it means that the dynasty has more chance of being secured and it also means I could come and see you. Kytes is in charge of the orphanage while I’m away.”
“Yes, of course. The line of Raithwall must be preserved and extended,” he agreed.
“After all the effort we went through to keep her alive, yes, we needed a little prince or princess.” Penelo agreed. “I just hope Ashe’s children fare better than her brothers did.”
“Indeed. It seems death came to both the Dalmasca and Solidor lines in this last generation.”
“Why are we being so maudlin?” Penelo asked, moving to sit on a chaise lounge in the rooms that had been assigned to her. “It must be hard enough for you on a day like today and here I am reminding you... I’m sorry.”
“No, please don’t be.” Larsa sat beside her delicately, ensuring to not crush the periwinkle material any more than they already had done with their greeting hug. “I actually am glad you still recall. Most people refuse to even allude to Vayne in my presence.”
“I know we fought him and I didn’t like him at all, but he was still your brother. I know what is is like to lose a brother and I would not wish it on anyone.”
“You always did know how to help me see the truth of things, Penelo.” He smiled as he looked at her, a smile gracing his tired features. He felt a little lighter now that she was here.
“Excuse me, Lord Larsa,” Judge Eris came in and Penelo cut off quickly, Larsa feeling annoyed because he had wanted to hear what she had to say “The other guests are assembled.”
“Thank you, Eris, I will be there shortly.” The Judge seemed to realise she had intruded on something and she left hurriedly.
“I am sorry, you were trying to tell me something,” he prompted his friend, the girl he had had feelings for, childishly though they had begun, since he was twelve and first assured her that he would protect her. A young woman scared of him, scared of his relation to his brother - and of his standing in the Empire that had taken everything from her.
“Nothing important, I should not keep you from your other guests,” she stood and he saw her outfit properly for the first time. She was clad in Dalmascan style and would likely cause a stir amongst his Archadian guests, although those representatives from the hotter climes would barely notice the dress, just the vision inside of it.
The top recalled that of Ashe’s during their travels, gilded with gold and jewels with periwinkle silks and the trousers were billowing and seemed like a skirt until she moved, the hem cut high on her calf, golden sandals on her feet. Her hair was in the customary braids, but long now and reaching halfway down her back and she had woven jewels in to her hair. She looked a shimmering vision and while she wore more on her body than she had likely even seen before she had left Rabanastre for the first time, she outshone the gemstones rather than the other way around.
He wore his usual court style robes in House Solidor colours, his caduceus around his neck as usual. He offered her his arm and caught sight of them in a mirror on her wall. They looked like a magnificent pair and he had difficulty keeping a flush from appearing on his cheeks. He had grown taller since they had traveled, but he still did not tower over her, he only had an inch and a half over the Dalmascan girl but it felt slightly strange to look down at her, rather than up.
“Aren’t you supposed to enter alone?” She asked as they followed Eris down the hall, Basch taking up the rear guard.
“I am, but I am not going to.”
“Won’t people be upset? I mean, I’m just a street girl from Rabanastre.” Larsa pulled up short, stopping them all in their tracks.
“You, Penelo, are a desert flower. A rare gem polished by hardship, war, suffering and eventual triumph. You have traveled the length and breadth of the very Ivalice that you helped to save. You are friend to Princes, Queens and Emperors. You are as near to kin to the Prince Consort of Dalmasca as can be without a blood tie. You have been rewarded for your trials and triumphs by the last current scion of the line of the Dynast-King Raithwall by being raised to the nobility and you help your people through any means you can. None of those housed in the hall beyond can claim to be half of what you can, no matter your origins.” He told her, earnestly and he let go of her arm just so that he could press her hands to show her how much he meant his impassioned words. “And I will enter with you by my side so that they all know it.”
“You always were good with words,” She replied, after she had blinked a few times in disbelief and then collected herself.
“You give me reason to be good with words,” he lost the fight to not blush and he felt even more childish and naïve than he had as a child setting off on his political career. He gave a small cough and the Judges discreetly moved away.
“Penelo, I have always admired you. Should you wish that such admiration is never spoken of again, I will heed your wish and keep it to myself forever more, but I wished to speak of it at least once, to let you know how I feel.” He tried so hard to look her in the eye, but he failed part way through and stared at her nose instead.
“Larsa,” his heart sank, she was going to reject him, he just knew it. He would be rejected and end up in some loveless marriage set up by the new Senate “for someone who is so good with words, you never really know when to just stop talking and take action.” He froze, confused. That rejection did not sound complete, what was going on?
He knew what was going on when her lips brushed his and his heart leaped up in to his mouth. Her lips were softer than he would have imagined of a girl who lived as a retired Sky Pirate in a desert city and he sighed in to the motion, feeling her out for the first time outside of his fevered dreams. She opened her mouth and he followed suit, learning from her actions, following her lead. His blood was thrumming through his veins and he could hear the beat of his heart loudly in his ears as his arms encircled her waist and he pulled her closer. She finally pulled away though he wished she would never have to do so and he rested his forehead against her own.
“Stay with me. Stay here, in Archades.” He begged of her.
“I will, after I have taken care of a few things in Rabanastre.” She promised.
“Come then, as much as I want you all to myself, we are late for the dinner and we must not scandalise the guests too much more.” He took her hand once again and his guards silently slid back in to place. He squeezed her hand as Eris knocked on the doors and they were opened to reveal the assembled guests. He finally did not feel so alone, he set his shoulders back and strode in to the dining hall, with his vision in periwinkle by his side.