Regrets of a doomed king

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As the sun streamed in through the enormous window that lined one wall of the throne room, Guijus Tellador sat in darkness upon his seat with his back to the valley. Atop his head was the mechanical crown, levers and gears clicking quietly on with the passing of the day, unconcerned with the realities of government. There was a time when sensing the small vibrations against his scalp had been a calming element; a source of surety always on his person, even when he was having to contend with the most disagreeable visitors to his court. The crown represented Lagonia's technological superiority and artistry in a single, combined form and had been worn by kings for at least four generations. In these latter days, it felt oddly weightless.

He rather longed for those disagreeable visitors and the endless slew of requests and pleas and contributions from all over the valley, with the line of representatives extending down the hall, through the foyer and out into the gardens. Admitting it even to himself seemed absurd, but he even missed Baron Lief/ The man had been a wolf and a thief-in-the-making who would have stabbed him in the back given half a chance, yet he'd also kept Guijus alert and focused on what needed to be done: having a difficult, strong leader installed in the north had been useful as well as frustrating. Denied that counterpart, Guijus had the discomforting notion that his own judgement was looser, clumsier, blunter - like a blade that had gone without sharpening for too long.

People he didn't recognise brought him hourly reports and he listened with varying levels of disinterest: the army was positioned within sight of Bruckin and was ready to receive orders; recruitment continued to accelerate throughout the valley, especially to the south where the other barons and guild leaders were being more amenable; supply lines to the city were strained as the workforce transferred from the fields to the front lines; the slums had been cleared in Treydolain, the former inhabitants pressed into service where they might make something of themselves; some lingering remnants of the King's Eyes had been identified and neutralised out on the mountain ring to the west, though Roldan Stryke had not yet been located; there was still no sign of Fenris Silt or Tranton Seldon since their sighting in Bruckin and it was assumed that they were being sheltered by Viscount Lief. The reports were the same every day, perhaps with a number increased or decreased. From the throne within the palace, each report existed in his mind only in the abstract, as something happening elsewhere. The throne room was quiet, empty, as if all the world had vanished and he was the only person remaining.

The last report of each day was consistently disappointing: there had been no trace whatsoever of Kirya Tellador. His daughter had vanished entirely, other than some confused sightings in the first couple of weeks. Though none of the messengers dared to speak it, Guijus knew that the best intelligence indicated that she must be dead - victim to an accident, or an act of hostile intent. If she was to be ransomed there would have been demands, or a warning, rather than total silence. He held out a slim hope that she might be in a dungeon somewhere in Bruckin, awaiting trial, or to be wheeled out as a pawn in the battle that was surely to come. He tried to imagine what she would say to him, were she still there; what piece of salient advice she'd pluck from nowhere, in her manner. He missed that calm hand on his shoulder, and that spark of inspiration in her eyes.

Anja was more distant than ever. Being queen had done her no good and he found it impossibly hard to remember the young girl he'd met when he was a young prince; she who had been so resistant to his advances, yet so kind in her rejections that it had only strengthened his resolve. Her abrupt change of heart had brought him joy, yet had subsequently changed her into the Queen of Lagonia that spoke little, kept to her chambers and rejected his presence. If he had not pushed her towards marriage, if he had left her to live her own life, what might she have become? His fingers brushed at the crown and he lifted it from his head, then placed it on his lap. The tiny mechanisms and animated figures continued to click-clack in their pre-arranged routines, unable to break from what they were designed to do.

Every day the reports were delivered and recommendations provided by advisers whose names he did not recognise; he listened, sometimes, and agreed or disagreed, then his orders were carried out by agents he had never met. The cycle repeated on and on, had done so ever since Seldon went missing on the night of the festival. Anja had warned him of the dangers following Fenris Silt's betrayal, which were confirmed when a plot deep within the King's Eyes was uncovered and foiled mere days before it was due to occur. The long-held suspicions that Bruckin had been constructing its own war vessels in contravention of the valley's accords and guild rules had been confirmed by Captain Martoc while pursuing Silt to the north. Fortunately her team had been able to destroy the prototype ship and the construction facilities, otherwise they might already have had Garrus Lief at the gates.

As the reports were written, all was going in the court's favour. None of that stopped a recurring itch which Guijus was unable to scratch: a need to somehow do more. Issuing orders from the throne was easy in peacetime but he had felt increasingly isolated as the months had passed. Perhaps that was the true source of his malaise: a growing desire for action. He was the King of Lagonia, after all, which had to mean more than providing verdicts from afar. The people of Treydolain had come out in droves to support him during the rallies, yet afterwards he had always withdrawn back into the palace, returning to the top of the mesa. Guijus felt the fire of his father and grandfather burning within him - they had fought hard for stability in the valley, and perhaps this was his moment. He had lost much already but he needed to stop acting as if he had already been defeated.

Setting the crown aside, he stood from the throne, his bones creaking and back aching. He had a ceremonial suit of armour somewhere in the upper chambers, which had not been worn for many years. Squeezing into it might be something of a challenge compared to his younger days but it would be enough. Anja could keep hold of matters in the capital; he would travel to the line and take direct control of the army. If Kirya was indeed still to be found somewhere within Bruckin, he would be the one to find her.

For the first time in years, Guijus Tellador felt like a king.

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