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A Cruel Fate

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Edward Audemar Barbanov reached for the silver wine pitcher on his desk, but when he tilted it into his glass up, it was empty.


He dropped the pitcher to the floor with a clatter. Two more pitchers, dented from their fall, lay at the foot of his desk alongside the shattered remains of two glasses and pools of red wine. 


“Gah ...” The old Prince pressed a beefy hand to his greying temple, and then thumped a fist on the table. “Boy!” he called out for his manservant. “More wine! Quickly, now!” When there came no reply, he slammed both fists down on the desk. Pain jolted up through his arms, but he ignored it. “BOY!” he all but yelled. Still, no answer. It was only when he tried to stand from his armchair, before he was forced back down by drunkeness, that he realized the only light in his study was silvery moonlight admitted by the wide window behind his desk. The hearth of his fireplace was cold, his candles unlit. How long had he been shacked away in here? His manservant had probably long since gone to bed.


He threw his head back against his chair, and watched his vision blur with tears as he stared up at the dark ceiling. “Godfric? Georg?” he called out for his sons, his voice strained, though he no knew there would be no answer from his boys. No. He would never hear their voices again.


Your sons are dead, his own voice rang in his head.


He closed his eyes as warm tears trickled down his cheeks. “Yes,” he whispered back to himself. “They’re dead. And I wasn’t there to protect them.”


The voice in his head laughed. And what would you have done, old man? You can barely lift an axe anymore, nevermind swing one.


His fists clenched on the armrests of his chair. “I could … I could have ...”


Could have done what? Beaten a Renatian squadron to death with your cane?


“I … I ...” Grief erupted into anger. He swept his arm across the table, flinging papers, paperweights, pens and inkpots the floor. “AAGH!” he roared as his glass paperweight shattered. Sucking in deep, heavy breaths, he suddenly realised a small family portrait had been among the items he had just thrown from his desk. “Oh, no,” he breathed. He dropped to his knees and frantically began sifting through the papers, oblivious to the shattered glass that drew blood from his wrinkled hands until he finally pulled out the golden frame. He sighed with relief as tears dripped onto his lap. The glass covering the portrait was shattered, but the painting itself was still intact. It was well over fifteen years old now, but each face in the picture was unmistakable. He stood in the centre, a heavyset man with broad shoulders and raven-black curls, not like the thinning grey hair he sported now. Two of his four sons stood on either side; Josef and Otto on the left, Georg and Godfric on the right. They seemed so young back then, still children. Of course, Edward had never seen them as anything besides children.


He traced a bleeding thumb over Godfric and Georg.


Dead, the voice in his head whispered. Dead. Tortured and murdered. Dead.


”No,” he murmured tearfully and hugged the cracked painting to his chest. “They can’t be dead. It’s not fair.”


Life is not fair, you old fool.


”No, Georg, he …” A tear splattered on Georg’s painted face. In the picture, Edward’s own hand rested on his shoulder. “He was … he was just made Palatine. Skies above, the boy was bright. Too bright to be killed.” He remembered well his last conversation with Georg, in the palace throneroom. ‘This world needs more thinking men like you’, he had told them, ‘or we’ll be stuck at the mercy of violent men forever’. 


And now he’s dead.


”And now he’s dead.” His voice was scarce a whisper. “And there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.” That confession sent pain lancing through him. He was an old man now, nearing his seventy-second winter. “I can’t avenge you, boys,” he sobbed, and pressed his forehead to the painting. Through teary-eyes, Godfric’s smiling face stared at him from the canvas. He had spoken his last words to Godfric on the same day he had spoken to Georg;  he had made his son promise to stay safe at the Siege of Helena, and to marry his beloved before fate had the chance to intervene.


And intervene it did, the voice in his head intoned.


”This is all wrong.” Heat crept into his voice again. Anger flared inside him, knotting his stomach, straining his voice. “I was never meant to outlive you! You were supposed to bury me, not the other way around!” And then his anger deflated in an instant, and he burst into fresh tears that racked his old body. They streamed down to the floor, staining the papers, mingling with the spilt wine and dripped blood from his cuts. Edward had never been much good at anything in his life, but his sons were the one thing that he could truly be proud of. He had thought that on his deathbed, he would be able to look back at his life and smile, knowing he had made a difference to the world simply by siring four brilliant sons.


And now, two of them were dead.


”My boys,” he wept. “Dead before their father … and there’s nothing I can do. What kind of fate is that?”


A cruel one, said the voice.


Sucking in shuddering breaths, his eyes looked to the silvered mace hanging above the fireplace. Ceremonial, but the weight could still split heads.


No, he was too old to avenge them.


But he would try all the same.



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