AMULETS AND FORTUNES
Written on March 6, 2021 (♓︎︎)
Author's Notes: Written for the Final Fantasy Kiss Battle 2021, based on the prompt: Valmafra/Ovelia, to keep you safe
There was a conspicuous silence at first when Valmafra found herself alone with the queen, and it was clear whose absence gave way to it. Ovelia was used to being spoken for; Valmafra with letting others speak. If they were together with only one another, it was because they were waiting for a third to join them; there never seemed time or cause for conversation.
It was quite unanticipated when Ovelia should be the one to break with this. Spring had begun to stretch into the long days of summer, and the Southern Sky despaired at retaking the capital. Delita Heiral found himself drawn often and unexpectedly into the Duke's war room, and there were few people on hand to accompany Her Highness to the meadows and ruins she so loved. Valmafra was never bade do so. Valmafra did so anyway. It was late into a muggy Cancer evening when Ovelia asked her a dangerous question:
"Is it true you are a witch?"
Valmafra said nothing, and it was its own kind of answer.
Later, as they made their way back to the castle, they stopped to rest near one of the rolling hills just within sight of the southern wall, where they could just make out the blighted spring barley in the fields stretching below—a tangle of yellow against the green. Ovelia was winded; Valmafra merely pensive.
"What is it you think witches do?" she asked, looking out towards the sunset. "Do you worry I'll knot your hair and steal your breath at night?"
"Oh I didn't mean—"
Valmafra turned her gaze sharply from the reddening sky to the reddening face of her interlocutor. Ovelia's eyes were very wide, and it seemed she wanted to ask something not befitting maids raised up behind abbey walls. Valmafra laughed.
"Or are you in want of some witchcraft yourself, Highness?" She knelt to where Ovelia sat. "An amulet? A fortune? A ward?" She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "A love potion?"
Ovelia no longer blushed. She was pale now as the bleached ruins from which they had just departed.
"Can you do such things?" she asked in the barest flutter of a whisper. "Could you shield a person against harm?"
Ovelia remained still as a statue when Valmafra leaned over to kiss her soft on the forehead and thereafter on both of her eyes with a ritual deliberation. The sky was darkening quickly, and she could not see how tightly the little queen's fists were balled into the fabric of her gown. When she caught her face in her hands and moved to plant a final kiss on her mouth, however, Valmafra felt the racing gallop of Ovelia's pulse.
They parted, Valmafra pulling them both to standing thereafter. She said a few words in a very old language and did not explain them.
"Will that protect me, then?" Ovelia asked as they walked towards the path they had taken.
The fireflies were out now, and there was not enough light for either woman to read the other's expression.
"Let that set a seal on whom you kiss, your highness, and I think we shall all be safer for it."
The ironies of that first encounter were uncovered and multiplied with time. In the hot days of war-making that followed, the queen still wanted for company, and Valmafra became increasingly companionable. By gradual degrees the two of them grew closer, and the change was felt even if they spoke little. It was when Ser Heiral rode with the Thundergod for Dugeura that Ovelia found occasion to have her lips once more warded—to make it clear what maids reared behind abbey walls already knew.
Valmafra had no quips then; nor were there spells or ritae she would speak.
"Can one ever replace a seal once broken, Valmafra," Ovelia had asked, fidgeting nervously over a very dull piece of embroidery, "or else draw back an ensorcellment once cast?"
Her voice was soft. Her pale eyelashes seemed to burn in the sun.
There had been a moment wherein both could pretend her meaning was unclear. Perhaps, it was; perhaps, Valmafra was mistaken. When they inclined towards one another next, she could not tell who moved the other—whether she kissed the queen or the queen kissed her. There was no ceremony with eyes or brows this time, and Valmafra found herself thinking little about any absent body between them.
How their course continued then seemed inevitable, although Valmafra marveled at every moment how a creature she'd thought made all out of trembling should suddenly be so firm. They found themselves eventually in private chambers, lips locking again and again until their limbs were a hopeless tangle. It was dangerous. It ran counter to caution and any good sense. I upended the principles of good storytelling.
How should it be that a queen embraced a witch and not a knight? How should it come out that Ovelia was the one snaring hair and stealing breath?
They continued regardless of it. They carried on until Delita returned, and after that, they carried on discreetly. Valmafra's reports to the High Confessor grew more brisk as Ovelia's meetings with Ser Heiral inevitably grew longer. When they met in those gaps between meeting with others, Valmafra tried without jealousy to imagine another mouth against Ovelia's mouth—to consider other hands tracing the curve of her waist or the outline of her jaw. It almost worked, and she persisted well into the winter without minding how the atmosphere of somebody else clung to them. It was a common enough form of witchery to banish ill spirits; In the compass of a featherbed, there was little magic needed to exorcise Delita from the both of them.
It was only when daggers were drawn that she understood her foolishness.
In that instant—in that little room between the rising hero and a fallen astrologer—Valmafra knew she had been outwitched. It had been one thing to sever thoughts of Delita from the realities of Ovelia; to invert the process was quite another. She shook when he mocked her, furious that the man should have such a high estimation of himself to think her smitten. She clasped her blade tight—too tight. Her arm did not move.
She was thinking then of who might have last kissed his sneering face before and who would weep to kiss his cold corpse after. It was as though there were a stamp remaining upon him, and it was a talisman she could not thwart.
When Ovelia came to her for the last time, neither asked the other any question. There were no greetings between them, and they took care that their tears were silent. Even in the dark of Zeltennia's lowest dungeons, both women knew there were eyes and ears set to catch them.
Valmafra remained still as a statue when Ovelia leaned to kiss her then. Save for a slight hiss of breath, she made no acknowledgement of the metal key that passed into her mouth. They looked to each other, and for some time they did not move, hung there like two shadows caught in the torchlight.
She did not speak of it after—not when Orran awoke and asked her from whom she had parted, not when he needled her later on the long road west, not even when he bowed himself over a grave and claimed their escape as the charity of a pure-hearted king. That final meeting of lips was a far better seal than the first, and throughout all the tragedies of the years that followed, she would not break with it, letting it lie heavy like a cold weight upon her tongue.