The Final Confrontation
Ayn, my dear, where did we go wrong?
Sari's question was sincere, although there was a certain sense of playfulness in it that suggested she wasn't taking herself too seriously.
I'm sorry, my dear, apologized Ayn.
I'm not sure what you're getting at.
The queen of Landen gave her husband's arm a slight tug and lay her head on his shoulder as they walked down the hall to their room. They had just finished bidding farewell to their son, Crys, and his companions, now four, as they were about to make their journey to the Sunken Temple off the coast of Yaata. Crys, in addition to his two android companions Mieu and Wren, had taken two Layan princesses, Kara and Laya, as members of his party in recent weeks. The five had stopped by the castle to visit his parents before continuing their journey any further, but had left earlier that day.
It's about Crys. Do you think we committed any big mistakes in raising him?
Ayn chuckled and shrugged.
He's a good kid, once you get past his...er...peculiarities. Pensive for a few moments, Ayn shook his head and muttered,
I still can't figure out why he would snatch Laya's bow out of her hands in the middle of a decisive battle and fire his sword from it.
Sari laughed out loud.
See? I believe it amounted to him thinking 'it would be neat.' But I can live with that; Crys has been that way since childhood. I'm talking about his taste in women.
She looked over at Ayn, who was thoughtfully stroking his upper lip where his mustache used to be, his cyan eyebrow cocked.
Taste in women?
Was your father this oblivious? Didn't you see your son staring at that Lune spawn for a good portion of the time he spent here?
I don't see what the problem is. She looks perfectly attractive to me.
Sari grew impatient at her husband's naïvetí.
Ayn, honey, she started, with a slightly condescending tone.
The young lady was practically treating something so simple as eating dinner like a full-contact sport. I think the poor thing has a few screws loose.
Ayn pulled his wife in tight against his body.
My dear, considering that, when I proposed to you, you were two steps away from challenging dad to a knife fight, Crys's taste in women is nothing that can't be dismissed with 'Oh, it runs in the family.'
Sari made a face at her husband, but inside conceded that he had a point. She was even a bit envious of his ability to take everything in stride, from his son's peculiar actions to her own behavior. She kissed him on the cheek.
Oh, my dear, I think accepting your proposal was the best thing I could've done. I'll show you why in a minute. She gave him a wink.
King and queen entered their bedroom, only to be met with an unexpected surprise: a visitor was waiting for them inside. However, it was not just any visitor. No, "any visitor" would not be a large mountain of a man with neon green hair that fell down past his shoulders dressed in garb reserved for royalty. "Any visitor" would also not be able to simply appear in the bedroom of the king and queen of Landen at will, without calling attention the numerous guards who protected the palace. No, this visitor was someone special: It was Lune Ra Shiik, the king of Dahlia and father of Kara, Crys's travelling companion.
Lune! shrieked Sari in surprise.
Both her and her husband reached for their respective weapons—her daggers and his sword —but an outstretched hand from Lune stopped both of them in their tracks.
I have not come here to fight you, Lune said with a deep, but underwhelming voice.
I want to talk.
Ayn's grip on his sword tightened, but Sari tapped his hand with hers and discreetly wagged her finger at him. Keeping her eyes on their visitor, she whispered,
Look at him. He's a pale shadow of what he used to be. I'll handle this.
Are you sure?
Very well, my dear. If you need any help—which I'm sure you won't—I'll be over in the corner reading.
Sari gave her husband a kiss on the cheek.
Don't spend too much of your energy reading, you'll need it for later. She then turned to Lune.
So, to what do I owe this pleasure?
The large Layan general rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger and invited himself to sit down on Sari's bed, causing her to roll her eyes.
I've come to make amends.
Amends made, she said curtly.
That's it? he responded, confused.
Sari shrugged indifferently.
Kara already settled things on your behalf. To go through a big ceremony with you would simply be pointless redundancy.
Impatiently, Lune bellowed,
I have come all the way here from Dahlia! Don't you even want to hear me out?
Sari took a deep breath and exhaled. She looked over at her husband, who was chuckling to himself from behind whatever book he was reading. For a moment she thought that it would've been better to let him handle it; Ayn was a bit more diplomatic than she was in these sorts of situations.
Fine. Get it off your chest.
Lune stood up.
As you know, I've made a number of mistakes in recent times.
Oh, how sanctimonious, thought Sari.
Lune, let's put things on the level. Your entire life from the time you woke up on Dahlia until now has been one long string of bad decisions.
Do you enjoy rubbing salt in my wounds? Lune provoked.
And can you tell me who caused those wounds? Sari shot back.
Lune let out a loud sigh.
You're right. I have only myself to blame.
For what? she asked sadistically.
For the war...
And... Sari gestured for Lune to keep on listing his faults.
And for the destruction of Satera...
And for the Orakians who lost their lives because of my tyranny...
And what else? I've confessed all of my mistakes.
No, you haven't, Sari replied condescendingly.
You've forgotten a key mistake you've made.
How dare you bring my daughter into this! retorted Lune.
I don't see why you're so offended, Sari shrugged off with a complete lack of empathy.
She's practically a walking symbol of all of your screw-ups in life. The poor creature was practically feral. She was just here, you know. I had the opportunity to observe what exactly Lune's daughter was like and it was just as I imagined. She had the hardest time wrapping her mind around things as basic as the affection between husband and wife or mother and son. She couldn't wrap her mind around Ayn's and my marriage, nor could she understand just how pointless the war you declared really was. I can only pray that Crys and the others can put some good sense into that girl.
Lune's face grew scarlet with rage.
Hypocritical Orakian witch! Don't act like you weren't ever like her. I've heard a lot about you.
Sari glanced over at Ayn, who lowered his book and, smiling at her, gestured for her to go on.
Yes, I was once a little like Kara. But, unfortunately, you are still so short-sighted that you can't even make apt comparisons anymore. There's a big difference between Kara and I. Lena, my mother, taught me to be a refined person and a strong leader. Hell, she even told me that I should forgive Rhys for not marrying her. When I became the person that I became, it was my own decision, not due to any lack of parenting on Lena's part. Kara, on the other hand, is nothing more than the product of a man who was and seems to insist on being a complete and utter failure as a father and a human being.
Lune grew pale and couldn't react except to gasp in awe at Sari's powerful response. He even retreated a few steps, seemingly affected by her words.
For whatever my flaws are, Ayn and I have tried to raise Crys to be a good person. Say what you will about how loose his hinges are, the boy has a very sharp sense of what's right and wrong and has been like that since he was a boy. Kara is entering adulthood and only now is she trying to grasp things that Crys understood years ago.
Lune remained motionless for several seconds. Suddenly, his eyes began glistening as tears began to run down his eyes.
From the corner of the room, Ayn, not even looking up from his book, nonchalantly observed,
Sorry, Lune. You can't win against Sari. It would've been better to end the conversation as soon as it got started.
Lune turned away from Sari's piercing gaze.
So, that's it, then. I've completely wasted my life, haven't I?
Most of it, yes, answered Sari unapologetically.
Look, Lune, if you want pity, you will not get it from me. I save my pity for Ayn whenever I lose my temper. If you want my sympathy, then coming here to make a half-hearted apology will not be enough.
Then what must I do to earn your forgiveness and respect? Lune asked with a hurt voice.
First, said Sari sternly.
You do not
earn my forgiveness. That's my own choice. I'll forgive you—and I promise you I will—in mine own due time. Second, if you want my respect, moping around Dahlia and weeping about being a failure will not get you even the slightest ounce of it. If you're really sorry, make some real amends for what you've done. Go to Satera and start rebuilding it with your own hands. Get a slasher and go hunt chirpers to give as food to the widows of the men who have died because of your stupid grudge against my people. Start hugging your daughter and tell her that you love her, instead of treating her like daddy's little doomsday device. And finally, let Ayn and I have some peace for crying out loud.
Lune remained speechless for several minutes before simply nodding his head and heading toward the door. As he was about to exit, he stopped and turned around.
Why didn't Ayn ever speak up during our conversation? he asked.
With half a smile, Sari replied,
Because Ayn forgave you long ago. He's a good man like that. If you—or all of us—had as much character that my husband has, the world would be a better place than it is today.
Ayn lowered his book, his face red from blushing.
So you think we can be friends?
Darn it, Lune. Stop talking and start doing! Sari responded impatiently.
Lune left the room swiftly, leaving the king and queen alone. Sari walked over to her husband and, taking his book out of his hands, sat in his lap and kissed him on the cheek again.
My dear, do you think Lune will ever figure things out?
I'm sure he will. It'll just take him a little longer than it does for most people. We all need to show him a little patience and tolerance. And, if Crys does choose to be with Kara, you'll have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate said patience and tolerance. Ayn laughed out loud.
Sari rolled her eyes at her husband.
But, he said, a little more seriously.
if you do, you may witness one of the great miracles of life: that of a person changing their life for the better.
Sari grinned and gave her husband another kiss.
I do hope Crys has inherited some of your personality, my dear Ayn. Then I could sleep peacefully knowing that he'll be able to take good care of Kara. She needs it.
Ayn pulled his wife's head against his chest and ran his fingers through her long brown hair.
He will, my love. He'll love her as much as his father loves his wife.