THE PRICE OF HONOR
Disclaimers: Final Fantasy XII and all other related characters, events, etc. do not belong to me.
Overall Story Notes: (minor spoilers) The story is about Gabranth and Larsa so in my story, Gabranth DID NOT die in the end of the game. :)
Chapter Notes: The epilogue takes place 4 years after Ashe's coronation.
Author's Notes: Just the usual apology for grammatical eyesores. Please do enjoy. :) Larsa is already 17 years old, in case the math eluded you. This Epilogue was greatly influenced by the work of Lady of Balfonheim entitled "Words Unspoken". I take no credit for parts which I have adopted in my story.
The fear shot through Larsa, waking him with a breathless scream that took only a moment to fully form, his body breaking into a cold sweat. Warm hands massaged against his skin, seeking to drive away the dread and panic that had mercilessly pulled him from his sleep. The strong, lean body kept him pressed to the bed, preventing him from throwing himself to the floor. The terror ripped through Larsa as if it would consume him alive, and finally threw him back into fitful slumber.
When he woke, it was to comfort that was foreign, yet strangely familiar to him. He was warm; warmer that he'd been in a long time before this day, and secure. His tense body practically sighed with contentment as he nestled further into the source of heat. Arms that he had become so familiar with in the past five years wrapped tighter, pulling him closer, and holding him securely in that warmth.
Larsa finally managed to open his eyes, letting them adjust in the dim moonlight. He was curled into Gabranth's body, face pressed to the Judge's strong chest, resting just below his chin, pale cheek resting on a muscled upper arm. Gabranth had that arm wrapped tightly around his back, where it met the other arm, draped over Larsa from the other side. The Solidor shifted slightly, only to find Gabranth's leg draped over his own, locking them together completely.
The Judge stirred above him, flexing strong arms, a large hand smoothing down Larsa's tense back while he rocked into the latter gently.
Larsa waited, forcing his taut body to relax, grateful for the moment of clarity in which he could see past his own debilitating fear. He waited until Gabranth's arms loosened their hold before he tilted his head to look upon the face of the man he loved.
Gabranth's hair was tousled, when had it grown this long? Unruly blonde locks fell into his eyes, and Larsa realized that Gabranth had neglected clipping it this past month. His chin was tilted down—his face must have been pressed against Larsa's hair. His lips were slightly parted and long lashes lay gently against a tanned cheek. Gabranth's features were set in a soft expression. Soft. It was an expression the whole of Ivalice would have never thought to see on this man... save Larsa.
Larsa stared, and as he stared, blue eyes opened—and the Solidor was lost, completely unaware of being caught in this position. He was, however, aware of the lips which pressed together as he watched cobalt eyes focus, and then slowly fill with awareness. The Judge who had been sleeping a moment ago was gone, and in his place was a man who had been caught in a moment of vulnerability.
Gabranth moved slowly, like an animal trying to escape after being spotted by a predator without drawing further attention to itself. True, they had been lovers for nearly five years, yet Gabranth had insisted that they not share a bed over night—his honor and respect for the young lord would not allow it. Not tonight, of all nights especially. Not the night before Larsa's seventeenth year and coronation as Emperor of Archadia.
The blonde shifted off of Larsa, the muscled arm retracted to rub a calloused hand over his face as he began to pull back. Panic flashed through the Solidor, followed by quick resolve, and he tightened his fingers which clutched at Gabranth's tunic. The Magister stilled and looked down, his expression as much a warning as it was a question—and Larsa met that expression, unblinking.
"Stay the night?"
And he did. A thoughtful moment, a single nod of his head, and he once again wrapped Larsa in the warmth and strength of his body.
Larsa had not slept that well since the announcement of his coronation had been made public. Since his duties were laid before him. Since his betrothal. Since he could scarcely remember when.
Larsa was not the boy he knew himself to be.
The Solidor awoke the next day, warm and comfortable. Instead of the heavy duvet wrapped around him, he found strong arms. Instead of his plush pillow under his head, he found a firm chest and a lulling heart beat. He lay perfectly still, unwilling to wake his new pillow. Larsa wondered if Gabranth would blush again like he did that past night—the man rarely did. He remembered how the colour had spread over those tanned cheeks, giving Larsa a glance behind the Judge's steel exterior.
The Magister began to stir beside him, turning to nuzzle the top of Larsa's head—sending a shiver up his spine despite his best efforts to remain still. The arms around him shifted, and large hands caressed his back gently, and Larsa failed to contain the soft sigh that escaped his lips.
The body underneath him tensed immediately and the arms which held him stiffened. Gabranth's eyes blinked open and a look of confusion crossed his face as he looked down at Larsa's wide blue eyes. Again, a rich rose colour rose to the blonde's face before he withdrew his arms from around the Solidor.
A surge of understanding and sympathy filled Larsa and he rolled over to face away from Gabranth, giving the Judge the privacy to recover. As he lay silently, staring at the small diamond patterns on his duvet, he heard the shuffle of clothing and felt the shift in the mattress beneath him.
"Happy seventeenth name day, Larsa." Lips barely brushed against the sensitive shell of the Solidor's ear, but it sent a shiver down his body. Larsa looked up at Gabranth, fingers running over the older man's face. "You shall be there later, won't you?"
"Of course, your Excellency." Gabranth whispered as he got up, not noticing the pain which flashed through his lover's eyes at the use of his formal title at such an intimate moment. "I shall leave you to prepare. It is, after all... a very important day."
Larsa closed his eyes at the sound of footsteps as Gabranth left his chambers, a deep emptiness in the wake of his departure.
Larsa had already finished bathing and was sitting by his small table when the maidservants came in an hour later to serve him breakfast. The servants laid the trays on the table and quickly bowed before leaving, noting the future Emperor's uncharacteristic silence.
The chamber doors opened once more and the sound of armour grated in Larsa's ears. Gabranth. Gabranth would not look at him as he spoke of all the arrangements for the coronation that day, and for all the ache in his heart, Larsa sat through it silently. The food felt like parchment against his tongue, the tea tasted stale, and the warmth of the sun gave him no comfort. It all combined to completely ruin the good mood he had woken up in.
Larsa wanted to be back in Gabranth's arms. Deep inside him, he wanted it far more than what would be considered appropriate. Understood, far too well that this would only result in disappointment and pain—and yet, he simply could not convince himself to stop wanting it. All pretensions stripped away, the future Emperor wept... letting the hot tears fall down his cheeks and into his tea.
Gabranth stopped mid-sentence when he heard the soft sobs, his heart clenching painfully inside his chest. He approached his lover and placed hesitant hands on heaving shoulders, squeezing gently. "Larsa, look at me."
Larsa shook his head as he bowed his head even lower. "I cannot do this, Gabranth. I thought I could, but I cannot. I am afraid." Tearful blue eyes pleaded, pink lips quivering. "I am so very afraid."
The Judge coaxed Larsa to stand on unsteady legs while he kept his eyes locked on the latter's own. The future Emperor had grown up, the top of his head already reached above Gabranth's chin and his frame almost filled out with lean muscle—yet, he still felt helpless and small—clutching on to the Judge just as he had been since he was a child.
"I will love you forever, Larsa." Gabranth breathed into the onyx hair as his heart threatened to break into a million pieces in his chest. "You have my heart, though another will have you by oath."
"And I, you." Larsa wept into the strong chest, hands fisting in the Judge Magister's cape tightly. "My heart is yours... it always has been. No oath... will ever keep me from you."
A renewal of vows long spoken in the midst of tears and heartbreak.
The Imperial palace was up and about, bustling with activity as the final preparations were in progress.
"The Princess Raelyn Heios of Nabradia is very beautiful, your Excellency." One of the maidservants spoke, trying to comfort the future Emperor whose mood did not seem appropriate for the occasion. "She will give you many sons."
Larsa's lips drew taut, but he forced a weak smile.
"Your engagement will be well-blessed, your Grace. Faram watches over you." Yet another maidservant added as she slipped the deep purple and gold fabric of Larsa's ceremonial robe over his outstretched arms. "Your reign shall be the start of a new age, Excellency, with that the Empire is without doubt."
Larsa nodded, yet said nothing.
The three maidservants who were tasked to prepare the Lord Regent for his coronation and engagement looked at each other with sad eyes, their young lord was inconsolable.
One of them took a brush and began running it through Larsa's long, black hair. The regent had grown it beyond his shoulders in memory of his brother, Vayne, though he always kept it tied back. "Shall I tie your hair back, Excellency? Or would you prefer a warrior's braid?"
Larsa's eyes went wide, as if remembering something, and hastily retreated to his bath without a word. Minutes later, he called out through the doors. "Mycenea! You were from Landis, long before the war?"
The three women looked at each other with puzzled looks at the regent's strange question, but Mycenea slowly approached the closed doors to answer. "Yes I was, your Grace."
"Leave us." Came the muffled command from beyond the doors. Mycenea looked at her two companions who shook their heads to show that they, too, did not know what was going on, but did as they were bid and left the chambers quickly.
Mycenea turned one of the knobs on the doors and slowly pushed it open. "Your Excellency?"
"Help me, Mycenea..." Larsa whispered, sounding distraught as he bowed over his bureau, facing away from her.
The maidservant approached the future Emperor slowly to see what was wrong. What she saw made her step back with a gasp, both hands over her mouth did nothing to hide her shock.
Larsa stood there, tears threatening to spill from impossibly blue eyes, in one hand he held a small dagger, and in the other he clutched a long lock of his obsidian hair.
"Help me." He repeated as the tears finally came.
Mycenea, though confused and alarmed, pulled the young regent into her arms in a protective, motherly embrace. "My Lord Larsa, why..." She ran a hand down his broad back. "What have you done to your beautiful hair?"
"A braid... he told me..." Larsa murmured almost incoherently. "To protect someone... to bind someone in heart and spirit. To bind for life. He told me..." He looked at the lock he held in his fingers,. "He told me..."
To Mycenea, Larsa's mumblings made little sense, what in Ivalice was the young lord talking about. Landis? Braids? "Oh." The realization dawned on her and she understood completely.
There was only one other hume in the palace who had come from Landis, and she was no fool. No amount of naivete could have hidden the way the Lord Regent looked at that certain Judge Magister. The longing was almost too painful to look upon. She comforted the prince for a moment, waiting for his tears to abate.
Larsa looked at Mycenea with expectant eyes and she nodded, "Your Excellency, let us begin your Goddess Ring."
It was a romantic custom from the Republic of Landis. If a soldier left for battle, it was considered a great honor to receive a Goddess Ring from a lady who held great affection for him. It was a token of a love deeper than any other, a symbol of binding oneself heart and soul, of waiting beyond forever. A woman was forbidden from creating more than one ring in her lifetime, and men who were lucky enough to receive such a gift were protected by an infused protection spell cast by the giver.
"Braid this as tightly as you can, your Grace." Mycenea instructed as she exited the bath to retrieve her sewing basket and began stitching a thin strip of leather.
The Goddess Ring was made from a lock of a woman's hair, woven into an intricate braid and bound at both ends tightly to form a ring. It was then stitched to its leather base to prevent it from unravelling. A long thin cord was usually added to the charm as a means for the recipient to wear it about his neck or to fasten it on his armour.
Larsa handed over the braid and Mycenea could not help a small laugh which escaped her at the sight of the crude and badly-made braid.
"Is it horrible?" The regent asked with a concerned tone, knowing that he did a glorious mess of it.
"It is perfect." Mycenea assured him as she began stitching the plait to the strip of leather.
The final touch was the protection spell. Mycenea placed the delicate charm in Larsa's hands and took his hands in hers before whispering the incantation. The Solidor closed his eyes tightly and poured his heart into the little ring in his hands, a small tear sliding down his cheek. A strange warmth enveloped their enclosed palms and a strange white glow emanated from the ring before it dissipated.
Larsa looked at the charm, a small, tired smile on his lips. "Thank you." The young regent made to leave the bath but Mycenea blocked his way out.
"Forgive me, Excellency, but I cannot allow you to leave... looking like that." The maidservant gestured to the mirror on Larsa's bureau. The prince remembered his rash behaviour and looked in horror at what he had done. He had chopped a whole lock from the left side of his face, leaving a ragged mess of hair barely above his shoulders. It looked nothing short of monstrous.
Mycenea retrieved her scissors from her sewing basket and began the painful task of cutting inch after inch of Larsa's long tresses, almost regretting the loss. When she was done, Larsa's hair was just about the same length it was five years ago—barely grazing his shoulders. The future Emperor stood up, charm in his hands, and exited the bath without another word.
The maidservant carefully tied Larsa's royal robe closed in the traditional manner before stepping back to regard her handiwork. The young lord had indeed grown into his role—tall and proud like his brother Vayne, yet with eyes filled with gentleness and compassion like his father. But there was sadness in those eyes as well.
"Your Excellency." Mycenea bowed to take her leave.
Larsa took hold of her hands and dropped the charm into them before closing her fingers over it. He looked at her once again with those soulful eyes, but did not speak a word... he did not have to.
The Archadians watched him, their new Emperor, all smiling as he was paraded through the streets of the Capital of Archades. Again, Larsa turned to look if Gabranth was still riding beside his chariot—and he was, tall and proud in his armour. A soft brush of a hand on his made the Solidor turn his head to the woman beside him. Raelyn Heios Nabradia—his future wife. Larsa found it suddenly hard to breathe, though he forced himself to smile down at her.
The ride to the Great Cathedral of Archades was the longest and most painful journey Larsa had endured in his short life. Each step to the altar, Nabradian princess on his arm, more excruciating than the one before it. On top step of the altar, they turned, and Larsa found himself once more searching the upturned sea of faces—finding Vaan, more a man now than a boy. Penelo, beautiful in a way he had never seen her. Balthier, handsome and smug as always. Fran, unchanged. And Ashelia, a true Queen in her own right.
Yet the face Larsa was looking for, he could not find.
He had not come.
"The Emperor would take offense in your absence." Basch broke Gabranth's thoughts as he leant against the entrance to the Great Cathedral—eyes unseeing the High Septon's blessing of the Emperor's engagement to the princes of Nabradia.
"Perhaps he will find it in his heart to forgive this one indiscretion which I do not regret." The younger twin replied as he turned away from the cathedral and looked at the scene outside. "Even the God of Light, Faram, would understand."
Basch looked at his brother with sympathetic eyes and opted to say nothing, offering his presence instead of words. An elderly maidservant approached the twins before bowing respectfully. "My lords, Captain fon Ronsenburg, Judge Magister Gabranth." She took the latter's hand and dropped a small leather pouch into it before leaving without saying anything more.
The twins looked at each other quizzically. Gabranth opened the small pouch and lifted the leather chord which was curled inside it.
"By the gods, is that—" Basch looked at the dangling charm carefully, recognition flashing in his eyes. "A Goddess Ring from Landis!"
Gabranth frowned at the ring. Yes, he had recognized it as a Goddess Ring—but from a maidservant—an old one at that, it was rather disturbing. Basch could not contain his laughter and he bent over as he slapped his knee. "It seems you cater to the more—mature members of the palace, Noah!"
"It does poorly in protecting against heartbreak, it seems."
The younger twin stared hard at the Goddess Ring. It wasn't even made well—the braid of black hair was so poorly done that the hair stuck out of it.
"What in Ivalice..." Gabranth whispered as he thought back. The maidservant had golden hair like his, almost white with her age.
The black hair. The messy braid. Could it be? Gabranth allowed himself to wonder as he ran his thumb over the Goddess Ring, feeling something hard within the plait. The blonde pulled a few more strands lose and saw a glint of what seemed like—
With trembling fingers, Gabranth pulled his mother's wedding ring loose from the obsidian strands.
"Noah..." Basch clasped a hand over his brother's arm.
Gabranth turned watery cobalt to equally blue ones—as if asking for permission.
Basch nodded wordlessly.
Noah stormed forward, unfeeling of the bodies which he pushed against almost violently—eyes intensely focused on the altar—on Larsa. His Larsa.
The quiet murmurs escalated to loud gasps of surprise and exclamations of protest as the Judge Magister fought his way through the watching crowd and straight to where the Emperor of Archadia and Princess of Nabradia were to be engaged.
Larsa wheeled around from where he stood, the sound of the armour clearly ringing in his ears. He knew this sound. There was no mistaking it.
"What is the meaning of this? Explain yourself Judge Magister!" The High Septon demanded at the disruption of a most sacred ritual. It was unthinkable!
But Gabranth heard nothing over the blood ringing in his ears; saw no one else but Larsa as the Emperor stood but a few steps above him.
Larsa's heart was racing madly in his chest, but it was not from fear.
No, not this time.
This time he was certain.
The Emperor looked at his betrothed and the princess looked up at him with a strange understanding in her eyes. "From the moment you laid your eyes on him on the chariot... I knew." Raelyn Heios Nabradia whispered as she lowered her eyes to the floor. "I would have loved you, Larsa, but..." She trailed off as she looked at the Judge Magister before them and smiled ruefully.
"You are not mine."
Larsa bowed his head. "Forgive me, Raelyn."
She shook her head, though he could see the unshed tears in her eyes.
Heart caught in his throat, Larsa did the unthinkable.
Unthinking, he ran down the altar steps and threw his arms around Gabranth's neck in abandon.
And when strong arms pulled him tighter, Larsa could not think of anything else.
Not the collective cries of surprise. Not the loud, resounding clatter of Gabranth's helm on the marble. Not the sight of his crown tumbling down the altar steps.
At that moment,
There was no Empire.
No Judge Magister.
Larsa held on even tighter, as if afraid that Gabranth would disappear from his arms.
And on that day, Archadia knew, as generations thereafter would learn, of the love between the boy Emperor and his Judge Magister which forever changed the face of Ivalice.
It is done!
I am thankful to everyone who went along with Gabranth and Larsa's adventure.
It has been a pleasure reading your reviews.
I am drafting a story on Balthier and Larsa set 5 years post-game, but it is still undergoing revisions in my mind. But I am intent on pursuing that, so we'll see how it goes.
With my utmost gratitude,