The Queen of Wands
Queen of Wands: A sympathetic and understanding person. Friendly, loving, chaste. Practical. Charm and Grace. Gracious Hostess. A sincere interest in others. [inverse] Jealousy. Deceit. Possible infidelity. Unstable emotions. Fickleness. Resistance. Opposition.
She had always thought it a treasure trove. A chamber of rich smells and exotic containers, the blue glitter of crystals and the compelling clink of strange coins.
Entering Migelo's Sundries now, it only struck her how small the shop was. Had she gone so far, and seen so much, that this place of her first wonders and dreams felt so diminished? The smell, at least, was the same. It hit her first, as familiar as a mother's lullaby. Echo herbs and antidote, minty remedies and the tart stickiness of candied succulent fruit. She stood hesitating in the doorway, waiting for her eyes to adjust.
She tried to visit when she could, but it was not often. Rabanastre was one city among many, and Vaan's eyes were always on the sky. Sometimes Penelo thought maybe she had had enough of traps and of treasure, of the inexhaustible horizon. It didn't trouble her in Bhujerba, or Balfonheim, but when they paused in Rabanastre, Penelo found she always wanted to stay a little while longer.
"Yes, yes, welcome to Migelo's Sundries! If there's anything I can--- Oh!"
"Hello!" Penelo said brightly, and stepped the rest of the way into the shop. It was Hume habit; she knew Migelo did not need eyes or ears to confirm her identity. She had already been recognized by his keen Bangaa nose, and was swept up into a rib-creaking embrace. Advanced in years as he might be for his kind, his arms had more sinew than the most brawny Hume warrior.
"Penelo! It's been far too long!" Migelo snuffled happily, and studied her with his small, bright eyes. "Come come, you must stop and visit an old lizard more often!"
"Sorry it's been a while this time," Penelo said, when she had her breath back. "We ran into a little trouble in Rozarria, and then we were stuck in Valendia for two months getting repairs on the airship..."
"Bah," Migelo said, as though Rozarrian mischief and airship repairs were trifling things to prevent visits. "How is Vaan? Still keeping him out of trouble?"
Penelo sighed. "Oh, Vaan's Vaan, you know. I'm not sure if I'm helping him or slowing him down, these days. I left him back at the aerodrome, twiddling over his glossair rings. Says he's seen all of Rabanastre there is to see."
Migelo sniffed again, and Penelo thought it might have hidden a note of hurt. "All of Rabanastre, eh? And what of his old friends? Are we architecture? Pheh. That boy's always had his eyes in the clouds. Not sensible like you, my dear." He patted her shoulder with the usual ignorance of his own strength, and Penelo for once was glad it nearly put her off her feet. Otherwise, the shrewd Bangaa would surely have seen the flicker of dismay that crossed her features.
As it was, she said, "Oh, I'm just a simple girl from Lowtown at heart!" and wished it didn't sound so hopelessly dull. Maybe she was more like the Rabanastre Vaan tried to leave behind, after all.
She was about to ask after the shop when suddenly the door banged open behind her, and a breathless young man ran up to Migelo's counter. Wanting to compose herself before meeting up with any more old friends, Penelo stepped silently back into the shadow of the aisle, enfolded in the leathery smells of the saddle-pouches and chocobo barding on display. She knew she had been a long time from Rabanastre, but nothing measured those days so keenly as Kytes, more adult than child, leaning over the till and tugging Migelo's ear. He had drowned a boy in his voice, lost now in the tones of a man grown.
"Migelo, you've got to help me."
"Hrmph!" Migelo said, but Penelo could already tell, by the lift of the Bangaa's ears, that Kytes would get whatever it was he asked for. "Do I now? Come scuttling back to me after Tomaj stole my best worker? Or did you just get tired of pulling taps at the Sandsea?"
Kytes shook his head. "It isn't that. Some important nobles or other turned up at the Sandsea, completely unexpected, asking for a guide... Tomaj roped me into it but--" Kytes took a deep gulp of air, "I promised Filo I'd go around the Bazaar with her today and then up for the sunset on the west terrace, and if I don't make it she'll never speak to me again..."
"Hume mating rituals!" Migelo said, waving a clawed hand. "Aren't you too young for them, still?"
"Migelo," Kytes pleaded, clearly feeling very dire about the entire situation.
"Oh, fine," Migelo harrumphed, as Penelo knew he would. "Where are these nobles of yours?"
Kytes went limp with gratitude. "They're just outside, I'll send them in--told them you'd have a better guide for them than me--oh, Migelo, I owe you for this one!"
"And don't forget it this time!" Migelo said, as Kytes turned and whirled out the door. Migelo picked Penelo out of the darkness of the tack section, and studied her like he was appraising a rare vase. "Well my girl! You know Rabanastre well enough that you can still be a guide, eh?"
Penelo stammered. "W-what? Oh no, I couldn't possibly--Vaan's waiting on me--only stopped for a moment to--" Her protests were cut off by voices from the front of the shop, Archadian accents.
"I have said before, your Excellency, we have hardly any need of a guide. I am--"
"Not as familiar with Rabanastre as you might once have been," someone else answered, and framed against the bright street outside Penelo saw curved horns on a blackmetal helm, and a handsome young man with a drift of dark hair. "We can't have you showing me around as if you lived here, after all..."
"Larsa?" Penelo said, half a second before it occurred to her that he was an Emperor now, and not to be addressed so by the likes of her. But the Emperor of Archades showed only brief confusion at such a greeting, and then before she could embarrass herself with a curtsey he had rushed up and taken both her hands in his.
"Can it really be Penelo?" he said, and kissed her on both cheeks, Archadian-style. She was glad for the dim shop, then; Larsa had gotten quite tall in the space of five years, and his voice had darkened in a way that was just as telling, but far more compelling, than Kytes' was. "I thought you never set foot on the ground, these days!"
"Oh, I--" Penelo began, but the Judge Magister had removed his helmet and bowed politely to her as though they had never met. His smile gave him away even more than his scar, creeping unhindered into his eyes and making Penelo feel sixteen years old all over again.
"Ah, I don't believe you have ever been properly introduced to Judge Magister Gabranth," Larsa said, releasing one of her hands so that the Judge could take it.
"We have," Basch said, for it was he, "but it has been quite some time. I recall a young dancer girl, but she seems to have grown up while I was looking elsewhere."
"A lamentable and frequent occurrence," Larsa said, with only the slightest roll of his eyes. He held up one glove to tell Penelo, in not a whisper, "At least, he makes it sound lamentable when he says that about me all the time."
"I have never made suggestion that your Excellency was a dancing girl," Basch said, and Penelo floundered to find herself. Caught between the grown-up smile of Larsa Solidor and the unchanging eyes of Basch fon Ronsenburg, and standing in the too-small space of her childhood, Penelo for a moment was not sure of where or when she was. Migelo, if he knew her turmoil, ignored it.
"Quite the reunion, yes, yes! Well run along now Penelo, and show them the sights, don't stand about blocking the custom from getting at my wares, there's a girl."
Penelo made a noise in her throat, but it no longer had the ability to be a protest.
"We've quite run away," Larsa said, confidential. "I'm here for an official meeting with Queen Ashelia, but it's not until this evening, and I thought a stroll around town would be pleasant. I neglected to invite my escort, of course, save Gabranth, but I was never fond of having them around, as you very well know."
"His Excellency wished to see the famed Lowtown of Rabanastre." Basch put on Gabranth's helmet again, adding, "and of course I cannot guide him, having never been there..."
"Shall we, then?" Larsa offered her his arm, and Penelo, taking it, thought maybe she'd keep Vaan waiting a little longer after all.