The myriad stars stretching across the night sky twinkle softly, wrapping the ground below in a warm, delicate light.
Moogles scurry about to and fro, pom poms bouncing as they feverishly toil to set the stage.
The time of Celestial Nights is upon us once more!
The crowning jewel of the festival is a stirring reenactment of the tale of Prince Yahiko and Princess Amdina, a ballad of love for all the ages, and this year's production spares no expense in bringing to you into the vivid scenes of amor.
Those fortunate souls chosen to portray our starry-eyed couple have been rehearsing for weeks – nay, months – to join all of Vana'diel in celebrating romance in all its forms.
Yet where fortune treads, so too does tragedy, as one of our leads from Bastok falls gravely ill just days before the performance is to take place. Keep your hearts and minds open as you read the musings of the Galka who was to have played the pivotal role of Prince Yahiko.
This must be some foul trick. Me? As Prince Yahiko? thought Red Bear, his jaw clenching as he crossed his bare arms in front of him, staring at the stage from the crowd of faceless festival goers. Bamboo lined even the dimmest alleyway, swaying in the gentle evening breeze, and the delicate tinkling of bells lent an airy sound to the eastern quarter.
Bastokan tradition dictated that a hume male and female would play their respective roles as the legendary yet ill-fated lovers, Prince Yahiko and Princess Amdina. As a recreation of the lovers' tryst, the play ensures a happy ending comes to all. Prince Yahiko as always portrayed as a refined gentleman, tall in stature and slender of form – one who would split in twain if asked to wield a double-bladed axe.
"So why me?" Red Bear sighed.
"Why not?" said the dainty girl who clung to his side, staring where she and Red Bear should have been performing.
"C'mon, Marika. You know that..."
"Shyness doesn't suit you," she remarked matter-of-factly. "I would have given anything to see you portray the beloved prince. Especially after the trouble you went through to learn the lines and memorize the steps."
"If only. Every third twirl I stepped on your foot, and every fifth verse got stuck in my throat."
For reasons unbeknownst to him, Marika giggled in mirth.
Red Bear could scarcely believe his ears when he heard the task of playing Prince Yahiko had fallen to him. It must have been some misguided prank by those devious moogles. But to imagine that he would be opposite Marika!
The ravishing white mage, a member of his linkshell, had more than once rescued him from the clutches of death on the battlefield. He had no objection to her playing the role of Princess Amdina. She was perfect; in fact, she stood on par with last year's Amdina, and all the Amdinas who came before her. Marika possessed a rare, timeless beauty, the kind that could be appreciated in any age, and the way her ruby lips curled ever so gently upward as she smiled made even the most faithful of husbands take a second look.
Then why me, of all people?
It all seemed like such a burden. Not only were his thespian skills the equivalent of "Galka #2" in a third-rate street performance, but the attire for Prince Yahiko used every year was not made for his beefy frame, and had to be made to order from the city's highest quality clothier.
It's all in good fun, they said. Just relax, kick your heels back, and let the words take over.
Easy for them to say.
Red Bear had never set foot on a stage such as this, and in half-desperation threw himself in head first, working himself into such a tizzy that he came down with a debilitating fever just days before curtain call. How was he to rehearse now? Yet not even Marika's soothing sorcery could stifle his sordid sickness – perhaps what harried him was not physical, but mental? Regardless, his ailment failed to subside, and his understudy was called upon to take the lead.
"At least no one can complain about breaking with tradition now."
Coincidentally, his condition improved on the night of the performance, leading to hushed whispers that he simply wanted to stay out of the spotlight. The pressure to perform here is even greater than in times of war, he reckoned, nodding to himself.
"I would've had a better time if we were up there instead of down here."
"It's for the best. Sure, the poor guy only had three short days to get his feet wet, but when it comes to putting on a show, he just leaves me in the dust."
I knew I wasn't right for the part.
Red Bear was certain of that upon watching the two stars on stage, but some part of him still felt ill-at-ease.
"Marika, I was the one who fell ill. Surely there was no reason for you to give up your part, too?"
"Oh, it's...okay. I didn't mind."
"But look at him up there. His delivery is flawless, and he's so graceful...it's something I couldn't ever have given you."
"You know that's not what matters."
"This may be a bit uncharacteristic to say, but Prince Yahiko – he's rather handsome...for a hume. And I know how you jumped at the opportunity to play the princess."
Marika closed her eyes and gave a soft sigh. You remembered. Red Bear, people may talk, but I know you're not as dim-witted as you pretend to be. Even though I had to say the same thing every year, you still remembered.
"But I wanted to be up there with you."
Red Bear was taken aback by her straightforwardness.
"Just what're you getting at?" Red Bear wondered aloud, head cocked to the side. Marika huffed in exasperation.
"I...forget about it. Look, the big scene's about to start. The least we can do is cheer on our friends!"
"Yeah, let's do this!"
Marika stopped herself short.
O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek...
|Story: Miyabi Hasegawa|
Illustration: Mitsuhiro Arita
Stars rise on the night sky at 1:00 AM (PDT) On Friday, June 29, lasting until dawn beckons on Friday, July 13 at the same hour.
Stop by at the following locations and say hello to our cuddly little friends for your very own invitation!
Northern San d'Oria (D-8) / Bastok Markets (G-8) / Windurst Waters (north side) (F-5)