Dalmasca is soon to fall and Vossler cannot let himself admit it. Basch, Vossler.
It all felt self-indulgent: bare feet treading from silk carpet to richly patinated oak floor and then two more strides to the veranda, to a sweeping view of the city glowing like a crown of jewels in the last of the day’s sun, a glass of wine, and the sight of the vineyards below. A light evening breeze broke the heat, bestowing a welcome brush against Basch’s skin. It was deceptively restful. A mirage. They needed to leave.
Their effort to maintain Nalbina would be remembered as a noble failure but the ill-conceived attack to regain the fortress had been a mission driven by wounded pride. Basch knew while Rabanastrians tossed flowers at the men marching to leave through the city gate that they thought them loyal, but the last of the Order and their enlisted soldiers only marched toward certain death. Now it was over. Basch and Vossler had managed to escape and they needed to return.
Basch listened for Vossler but couldn’t hear him. The man had left to go down to the wine cellar while half of his armor still hung from his body. Basch had tried to stop him, but Vossler’s eyes burned with the rage of a man not yet willing to concede defeat. Although sober, Basch did not measure up to Vossler's height nor were his shoulders as broad. One solid shove and Basch knew it better to just yield. It was not a fight worth the effort of battle.
The Azelas estate was a lush oasis that sprawled over one-hundred and twenty acres of hillside, three miles to the northeast of the nearest Rabanastre city gate. Its vineyard, irrigation system, organization of workers, and cycles of land were all things that Basch understood from his past, yet this place had always felt strange and unwelcoming, and not just to him but also to Vossler.
It was not often that he came here, and only when Vossler wished to return. Almost always they would arrive more than an hour after dinner had been served and they would eat by themselves after raiding the kitchen for food that the servants had stored away. They rarely sat in the parlor or mingled with the Azelas family, and always retired to a smaller guesthouse that lay south of the estate. There they would sit on this veranda, barefoot with an open bottle of wine from the Azelas cellars.
Basch’s glass of wine was nearly empty, as was the bottle sitting on the veranda deck. Behind him, he heard Vossler clomping across the floor; he turned his head. Vossler marched toward him, gripping two more bottles of red by their neck while wielding a corkscrew as if a sword. Vossler’s eyes were fixed on the southern horizon, on the city.
“We should return to the palace,” Basch said. “What good is done by staying the night?”
“We will retreat to hide behind the palace walls with our tails tucked between our legs when I deem it time.” Vossler was drunk. “But if you think you can do something on your own, you are welcome to leave through that gate and down that road.” His corkscrew waved in the air, indicating some point off to the south-southwest, or somewhere due west, or a location down in the ground, perhaps in Hell.
The toe of Vossler’s boot caught on the leg of a chair. He staggered as he tripped and then returned to kick the chair twice, causing it to topple with a loud clatter against the floor. Satisfied, Vossler walked inside and slammed shut each pair of doors that led out to the wide veranda. Wooden blinds rattled violently against tall panes of glass. Basch was alone again.
He held up the last of his wine and spoke a toast to the dead before draining it. Seven hundred and four years of continuous rule had passed and now the last sovereign state of Galtea would be exchanged to foreign hands. This was the endgame and their final move would determine the fate of Dalmasca’s people. Basch needed to return to the palace and advise Raminas, but first he must secure Vossler’s agreement else they ran the risk of an unwinnable battle within the city’s gates.
Basch leaned forward against the wooden railing, holding his empty glass by its stem. On top of this hill he could see row upon row of orderly grape vines: the legacy of generations of careful breeding, crafted to produce desired tastes. Each crop was monitored daily and while the grapes were still young many of them were purposefully cut away to allow the remaining fruit a greater share of the soil’s nutrients. This was done to make sure that the final harvest developed a mature flavor and that vineyard did not overproduce and undercut its profits. Vossler, alone inside the guesthouse, was another generation’s vendange en vert, the green harvest that the vintner discards.
Basch opened one pair of doors leading into the guesthouse’s sitting room. He left them open wide after he walked in.
“This is neither a barn nor a storehouse,” Vossler barked at him. “Close them before moths colonize and leave their grubbing spawn to devour tapestries commissioned a dozen generations before the name Solidor was a twitch in the loins of some tradesman on the Valendian steppe.”
Thick hand gripping a wine bottle’s neck, Vossler drunk a long swig with all the grace and conviction of an alleyway bum holding a purchase he had made after begging for five gil.
Vossler has always brooded whenever visiting the estate, as if he felt this land should be passed on to him, but Basch knew that Vossler would not be happy here. A king of vines, presses, and barrels, lording over lands measuring little more than a hectare did not suit Vossler’s temperament. He was a man who was meant to be the force of a nation, providing strategic advice directly to the king. His birth order as a third son and suspicions of illegitimacy had done him a favor, but now his grander kingdom was slipping away. A grape harvest dying on the vine, hit by an unexpected frost. Vossler didn't know what to do other than strike out at the howling winds.
“They are barbarians.” Vossler paced the room and slammed doors shut that Basch had refused to close. “They will take everything. Tear it down. They have no appreciation for what we have built, what we offer to the world!”
“Archadia can be bellicose, but they are not animals.”
A sharp laugh exploded from Vossler’s chest. “And you should talk, my barbarian friend.”
Basch open another set of double doors.
“Close them! Or have you already forgotten the words of our cultured tongue now that Archadia’s red banner flies at our doorstep?”
Basch closed the doors but opened the slats on the blinds.
Vossler tipped the bottle back for another drink, his eyes bloodshot with tears he refused to let fall. “Here on the Azelas land, before the next harvest, some vulgar Archadian will hang his invented coat of arms while his waddling, parnevu wife dumps out her brood into the hands of illiterate servants. They will all laze about in this estate while the arriviste sons of Solidor sow their seed inside the north-facing cobbles of Rabanastre’s Grand Plaza.”
“They will not.” Basch spoke with a tone of military authority. “Raminas will sit in the king’s chair at the council with you beside him and Princess Ashelia will one day throw off her black veil and take hold of the hand of a capable prince. I will serve as his advisor. Life will continue.”
“Ha!” Vossler snorted. “Now you compose fairy tales for Dalmasca? Or do you merely think me drunk and you choose to coddle me until I sober in the morning.”
Basch sighed. “Vossler, I once stood in your place.” That was close enough to the truth. “I know what could happen.”
“All of this will be lost.” A splash of wine flew from the bottle as Vossler’s arm made a poor calculation while it swept through the air, throwing a crimson stain that dripped down the eggshell plaster on the wall behind him.
Basch leapt forward to steady the man and hoisted Vossler up by his left shoulder. This was far from the first time Basch had to keep the man straight and standing while readying him for bed. Heavy feet lurched and stumbled forward, and a metal plate dangling from Vossler’s right arm clattered against the bedroom door. Once Basch propped Vossler up against a wall, he was able to unbuckle the last of the metal plates and leather padding that hung from Vossler’s body.
Black lines of thick grime had settled into each crease and concavity on the man’s hard exterior. Vossler was too drunk and unsteady to take into the bath. Basch chose to guide him to the bed before retrieving a basin of water and a wash cloth.
Vossler refused to meet Basch’s eye but offered no resistance as Basch cleaned away the remains of a disastrous battle. This act of intimacy was something of their past, something not once shared after Ashelia’s betrothal. They had not even bunked together and nearly a year had passed since.
For a dozen years they had served together, but for all of the details Basch knew of Vossler’s life before and beyond his service to the Order, Vossler had rarely asked Basch about his youth, his family, and what had happened in Landis.
Basch wrung the cloth out in the basin. “I often think that Landis was at fault for the fate she met.”
Vossler offered no more than a groan as he propped himself against a pile of pillows.
“As a republic, we were divided. Archadia had long planted seed in our gardens. We did not have a monarch, not like Dalmasca.” Basch moved the basin to the top of a dresser. “Our central rule was weak at best and provinces often made and broke alliances with each other as it fit their needs. Dalmasca is different.”
“There is nothing left.” Vossler slurred his words. “Our ranks have been decimated. We are defenseless.”
“But Archadia’s fleets have not sailed into Rabanastre.” Basch returned to sit at the edge of the bed.
“Were we to walk outside and turn our eyes to the north, the Archadian Imperial Fleet would stare back at us from the border of Rabanastre’s airspace. Behind them is ruin, heralding what will come to the land that stretches before them.”
“They are not mindless barbarians seeking to raze to the ground every city in their path.”
Vossler pushed himself up. An unsteady finger pointed into Basch's face. “Have you forgotten Nabudis? The entire nation of Landis?”
“It was neither airship nor soldiers who took out Nabudis, and not all of Landis fell under the heel of Archadia’s boot." Basch deflected Vossler’s accusatory finger with his hand. “Only the strongholds were attacked, and only in provinces that tried to repel Archadia with force. I tell you, tomorrow they will not come to uproot orchards, vineyards, and fields, and then stage bombing runs above the city’s palace.”
“You are not Damascan.” Vossler grabbed Basch’s wrist, squeezing hard and pinching a nerve. “Raminas may think you one of his own, but you are not.”
Basch chose not to struggle. “Vossler, you are drunk.”
“You never were. You never tried to be Dalmascan yet you could have. You could have cemented your ties with the wealthiest of the merchant families, making a perfect merger of commoner convenience. For you, a house. For them, the ear of the king. Yet you profess that you wish to retire in poverty among the priests? Is our youngest military hero too good for Dalmasca?" Vossler's tirade had stained his face a deep shade of crimson.
"Does this hero have too much pride? How can that be for someone who is the son of a boorish lineage of Archadians who traded their daughter for a few chocobo, selling her to a heathen from Landis who thought himself a Lord of his domain because he knew how to sign his name? Fon Ronsenburg. Was it any more than a seaside quay?”
There was no reason to respond and never any reason when Vossler's desire for a fight turned his words sour.
Vossler grimaced, fell silent, and leaned back into his pillows while looking away. Basch knew that he was backing down.
“How can it be?” Vossler closed his eyes. “Galtea has cultivated a civilization older than any else in Ivalice. Dalmasca and Nabradia were forging the foremost advances in the sciences and in the arts while Archades was nothing more than a flat, dusty patch of land on the steppe where unlettered merchants set up their canvas tents. How is it that they now sail great fleets of warships and award men letters at their Akademy? All the while, Dalmasca does little more than fly noblemen’s pleasure-craft to purchase goods to give as gifts to fair skinned women whom they escort to a performance of classic dance.”
“We are a nation devoted to peace,” Basch replied. “Is that not Raithwall’s legacy? One we should continue?”
Vossler grunted and rubbed his eyes with his hands. “You must always insist on walking the path of the noble knight — a path that never strays from the letter of the law, penned by Dynast King’s hand.”
“Is that not Dalmasca’s greatness, Dalmasca’s power?”
When Vossler said nothing after turning onto his side, Basch stripped off his canvas shorts and settled beside him, pulling a coverlet over their bodies.
“Vossler, we will remain by Raminas’s side. Protect Dalmasca by standing down. Archades will return an offer of peace. Galtea will live on.” Basch resisted the urge to reach forward and touch Vossler’s face. Vossler had never liked that. It was always hard chest to strong back while Vossler grunted, rubbing himself against the flesh of Basch’s backside and between clenched, oiled thighs, fingers of one hand tangled in Basch’s hair as he murmured the name of whichever noblewoman he had stopped fucking after giving her husband another bastard son — a child to be sent to the king dressed in leather and steel on his eleventh birthday, carrying a bag of gil that could buy ten chocobo or one hundred spearmen.
Vossler had found little place for himself in Dalmasca beyond making his name by carrying a sword and leading his men off to battle across hot desert sands. He was a man with a lease to a guesthouse that threatened to run out, a man who had fallen in love with the sound of steel against flesh and a woman he could never wed. He was not what Raithwall had intended.
Now one hundred and twenty thousand lay dead, their bodies discarded along the road that ran from the gates of Nalbina to the last brown patch of desert that lay against verdant land made rich by Rabanastre’s irrigation canals. There lay Vossler's legacy. It saddened Basch that this was what remained. They needed to leave. They needed to return.