The last king of Lagonia

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The eyes of a man who knows he has made bad decisions never lie; even as his handshakes may continue to express success, or his smiles and shrugs claim immunity from consequence, the eyes remain a window to the truth. A central kernel of unavoidable reality, wrapped up in bravado and confidence and self-belief.

Kirya had seen it before, many times, in the desperate eyes of those who had come to the court seeking salvation, or in the guilty eyes of defiant criminals awaiting sentencing, or disobedient aristocrats bracing themselves for a reckoning with their King. She had rarely seen it in her father's eyes - there had always been plenty of regret, but seldom the wracking guilt with which he was now beset.

The guard slid closed the viewing window, blocking her view. The iron door stood implacably between her and her father, between her and that unfortunate, inevitable reunion. So much had changed, so much that could not be undone or taken back.

She nodded to the guard, who turned the lock and pulled the door aside, clanking it against its runners. The doorway gaped open, the open space presenting a threshold which she now found impossibly difficult to traverse. Her father looked up from the cot upon which he was sat. His eyes widened and his back straightened, his mouth opening as if he were about to greet her in the way they would have before. Then a shadow passed in front of him and the corners of his mouth drooped and he looked to the floor.

Steadying herself and taking a breath, Kirya entered the cell. It was small and dank, entirely unlike the room she had been kept in after being captured by the Bruckin city guard. There was no doubting that Guijus was a prisoner; his status had kept him free of chains but afforded him no luxuries or concessions.

"Father."

The door shut behind her with a bang.

"Kirya," he said, his voice faltering. He stood, brushed himself down. His armour was gone, replaced instead with loose, brown, nondescript shirt and trousers. "We thought you might be dead. They told us you were probably dead."

"I'm not dead, father. Fenris is dead."

Her father said nothing.

"A lot of people are dead, father."

"People die in war, Kirya," he said, his voice small and disbelieving of his own words.

"Your whole life has been about avoiding war," she cried, exasperated. "Every decision you've made since I've been old enough to understand them has been to keep the valley secure and peaceful."

"I've always wanted peace," Guijus said, "but peace, it would seem, had no business with me." He ran a hand across his head, as if searching for his crown. "There is an inevitability to war, Kirya. I didn't understand it until now. I'd read the history books, listened to my father and my grandfather, and could never comprehend how people could fall into war. How irresponsible of them. How foolish. If only they were civilised and intelligent like us. Thank the gods we live in such enlightened times." He sat down on the cot, which creaked under his wait, straining on the chains which held it to the wall. "It's an illusion. The world bends towards warfare. Humans lean towards conflict. We crave it. We run towards it. It pulls at is, embraces us, draws us in, even as we talk of peace and civility and diplomacy. All of that is a facade we erect in lieu of the truth."

"Which is?"

"That we are a species born to fight. Just as beavers build dams, or sheep are born to provide us with wool, or ants build nests. We build weapons, with which to kill each other."

The husk of the man she once knew seemed small, withered, a shadow of his former self. "You don't believe that."

"Then how did it come to this?"

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