Paramina is both alike and unlike to Dalmasca. VosslerxAshe, BaschxAshe.
Even the children seemed affected by the cold; they tramped along in miserable silence, with Vaan doing his best to protect Penelo from the wind. Basch somehow seemed to feel he ought to be able to shield all of them from the elements, forging ahead to break a trail for them. She wanted to tell him to save his strength, but she knew it would have no effect. She had already had to decline his offer to lend her his cloak repeatedly and at some volume.
"There should be a crystal up ahead," Balthier said, struggling to read the map that Fran had insisted they purchase on the mountain. "The map claims there's a rock outcropping that looks like a sheep. I think that's it."
Ashe squinted in the direction he was pointing, blinking to clear the snowflakes from her lashes. She supposed the rock that Balthier indicated might resemble a sheep, if the sheep was prone to crevasses within its fur and the viewer were more to the drunk side of tipsy.
"We go west," Fran said firmly, her voice carrying above the wind. "That way is not our way."
To Ashe's astonishment, Balthier did not argue with the viera as he ever did with her own suggestions, and instead turned to follow her into a narrow gorge. Ashe struggled through the snow in Basch's wake. She was grateful she did not have to break her own trail, and was wroth with herself for being so. Their long struggle against the elements was freezing her wits. She stepped out of the half-cleared path to make her own way, but five steps later found her back in Basch's shadow.
"Entite!" Balthier's warning had her head swiveling in his direction. Beyond him, she could see the eldritch glow of the entite, muted somewhat by the thick veil of snow between her and it.
"We are nearly there," Basch shouted back to her. She nodded, too weary to even attempt speech. Just ahead of her, Penelo tumbled into the snow face-first. The girl was too slow to get up, but Ashe dared not use Cure on her with the entite so near.
"Vaan, give her a potion before she freezes to death," Balthier ordered. Vaan fumbled in his pack until he separated out one of the tiny green bottles. It took him longer than it should to work the stopper out and press it to Penelo's lips. Ashe devoutly hoped she had not brought them out here to die.
She trudged after Basch, into the narrow gap between two towering rock walls. The wind eased almost immediately. Though the snow still reached well above her knees, it fell gently here, instead of driving into whatever small gaps in her cloak it could find.
"We make camp here," Fran said in a tone that brooked no argument. Ashe staggered toward the crystal that cast its cobalt glow across the piled whiteness. She fumbled off her glove and laid her hand on one of its large facets. Strength and warmth flowed into her, bringing with it a sense of well-being, as though she had not just fought her way through a blizzard and yet stood thigh-deep in snow.
Basch joined her, half-carrying Penelo, and Ashe moved back to give the girl room. She seemed to revive as soon as she touched the crystal. Ashe moved to assist Basch with setting up camp. The cold was less oppressive now, though she still felt it sinking into her skin.
The tents that the Gran Kiltias had provided them with were strange things, lined heavily with animal skins and sewn densely that no wind might slip through the seams. They arranged them in a triangle around the campfire Basch had built, close by the crystal. Fran and Penelo--the latter seeming much improved since they had gotten out of the worst of the blizzard--had begun to prepare a stew for their dinner.
Ashe drove another pole deep into the snow until it would not shake when she pressed it. Across the space from her, Basch did the same. She was suddenly reminded that he had come from a land much like this one; when she was a child, he had amused her with tales of the snow-covered mountains of Landis. Then, she had thought it scarcely possible that one place could be so cold, that mere chilled water could be as dangerous to life and limb as the vicious sandstorms that plagued the Westersand.
"Basch," she said, and hated herself for feeling awkward when he immediately turned to her. "You are more experienced in such climes than we." The words nigh choked her. "Would you suggest aught else to ward ourselves against the cold?"
He bowed to her, stiff in the layers of wool and fur from Bur-Omisace. "Provided that we are able to keep the fire burning, we shall be safe enough, my lady."
Ashe contented herself with a nod and unfurled the last tent. Basch grasped the other edge and helped her fasten it over the poles. As he bent to secure the bottom of the tent, for a moment she saw not Basch but Vossler, and not the snowdrifts of Paramina but the dunes of Dalmasca. Angrily she shook the image from her mind and secured her side of the tent with rather more force than was required.
"We want to sleep in those, Princess, not break them," Balthier remarked. Ashe clenched her fists and, lest she strike the sky pirate down where he stood, counted to twelve in Garif. Twice.
"I am aware of that," she said at last, each word precisely enunciated. Before he could reply, she held up one hand for silence and turned away. "Need we set watches this evening?" she asked Basch.
He hesitated, then nodded. "Aye, I would prefer that we have a watch. I will stand the watch."
"You will not do this by yourself. We are all quite capable and there is no need for you to sacrifice yourself." She felt a twinge of guilt when he only bowed to her, instead of responding. "I shall take first watch; you will have second, then Balthier, then Fran, Vaan, and last Penelo."
Basch bowed again, and Ashe bit back the apology that insisted on trying to fight its way out of her throat. She would not regret this path. She had set her course two years past, to regain her throne. She suspected Basch thought her foolhardy in her quest to revenge herself on Archades and seize back the crown of Dalmasca, and yet he followed her.
Would that Vossler had been so trusting.
Ashe banished the thought and set herself to cleaning and sharpening her sword. She had no time for such idle wishes.
They ate in silence, born not of comfort but of exhaustion. Vaan and Penelo promptly crawled into their tent, and seemed to be asleep before they had even closed it up properly. Basch fastened the tent flaps down for them while Balthier was relegated to cleaning up from the meal, a task he complained about incessantly until Fran informed him that he was acting more like the supporting comic relief than the leading man.
Ashe envied the viera her ability to silence Balthier so effectively.
At length the sky pirates also retired, and silence descended upon their camp once more, save for the faint crackling of their fire and the faint scrape of Basch's whetstone against his blade. Ashe heaved herself to her feet and paced round the perimeter of their camp, straining to see into the darkness, to hear any approaching creatures. They had never been troubled by any creature while within the radius of a crystal's magic field, but the monsters she feared walked on two legs, not four.
"I can take the rest of your watch," Basch offered after the third time she circled the camp.
"You need not tend me as though I am a child." She worked to keep her tone civil, and started another circuit. If she sat down, she feared she might fall asleep, and that was a weakness she would not abide.
"That was not my intent." Basch set aside his weapon and whetstone. "Did you stand watch often when you were with the Resistance?"
Ashe smiled grimly. "I did, though it took six months of battle with Vossler to force him to agree to it. I vow we risked discovery more with his shouting than all our group combined." Vossler, too, had worked to protect her at every turn. She pushed the thought aside again. Vossler was dead, by her own hand, and Basch had stayed loyal even after years in Nalbina for a crime he had not committed; she would not hold him responsible for his brother's actions.
She returned to the campfire and began to clean her armour. There was a rhythm and a pattern to it, one so familiar that she barely thought of the motions. Her hands faltered when she noticed Basch watching her, and she cursed herself for her inane behaviour.
"Vossler used to clean his armour thus," Basch said, nodding at the metal and leather in her hands. "They taught us differently, in Landis."
Ashe clenched her fists and looked away, that she need not see Vossler's shade hanging between them.
It seemed an eternity before her watch was over, and she nodded farewell to him as she ducked into the tent they would share. She sat upon her bedroll and eyed her boots balefully for a moment, but eventually she did lean forward to pick out the packed ice and snow from the laces, and unlace the fur-lined leather. When her boots had been disposed of, she shed the cloak as well, and turned it for use as a blanket. She had slept on less comfortable surfaces in the sewers beneath Dalmasca, and the tents they had obtained in Bur-Omisace did an admirable job of keeping the wind and cold out.
She had intended to stay awake until Basch's watch had ended, but the lure of warmth and rest proved too great, and she quickly fell asleep. She was wakened by the brush of cold air when the tent flap opened. For a moment, she thought she saw Vossler framed against the dunes of Dalmasca, and not Basch before the snowdrifts of Paramina, much as she had before dinner. She blinked, and saw only Basch.
"My apologies," he said as he laced the tent flap shut and bent to remove his boots. "I did not mean to wake you."
"It is of no import." Ashe sat up, her knees drawn up to her chest, and watched him. She could not think of how to phrase what she wished to say, and it irritated her; she was no untried teenage girl, to stumble over words so. "Basch--"
He shook his head. "I would deny you very little, Ashelia," he said--as once he had said to her when she was thirteen, on Kadesh's Festival, when she had offered him the pink paper heart she had made with her own hands-- "but this, I cannot do."
Then, she had run off to her mother's rose gardens to sulk; now, she fought the urge to slap him across the face in truth, as he had just done with words. "And why not?" she gritted out.
"Because though you look at me, yet you see him." He bowed to her, and lay down. She heard his slow, even breathing and stared at the line of his back, disregarding the existence of the stinging in her eyes.
Finally, she lay back down, though sleep was a long time in coming. She was sure that Vossler was laughing in whatever hell she had consigned him to.
The thought brought her little comfort.