“Human invention had at least one benefit,” said Percival, his voice soft and sorrowful, “the preservation of the past. What you hold is one of the few artefacts I salvaged from the palace before it was converted by the Court, and if my understanding of protocol is correct, the last photograph of this family before their eradication.”
Will’s eyes could not leave the photograph, and he brushed the prince’s face as if he expected it to wipe away on his fingers. They were not identical, the face was younger, more rounded, and from head-to-toe he was styled, but without a doubt, Will knew he was looking at a photograph of his younger self. Next, he turned his attention on the children around him – his brother and sisters, he realised with disbelief. The oldest girl’s face was barely visible through a dark screen of curls, leaning around to soothe the child on her lap. The boy’s mouth was open mid-speech and the last girl, with a bob-cut and a frilled dress, was looking at the corner of the frame at somebody, a woman who was known to be there just by her voluminous skirts whipping into shot. It was an improper photograph, preserved not for its royalty, but for its beauty.
Like a hammer breaking his ribs, Will realised that the family in front of him was gone, dead, murdered, all except himself. Undoubtedly, they had been a powerful family, yet in this recorded moment, they were happy and ordinary.
When his imagination drifted to the idea of scattered, tiny corpses, he could take it no longer and looked up, asking quietly, “what happened to them?”
When Percival spoke, he both looked and sounded stricken, as if he had aged before his eyes.
“The Avarics were…” words caught in his throat as if they were poisonous, “…casualties in a battle we have yet to see climax, one that many believe has raged for merely a hundred years. In fact, this is just a fracas in a war that has subsisted since the Age of Dark.”
Will looked at the faces again, smiling and carefree – his family. Tears filled his eyes. “But I – I don’t know them, any of them. I…I don’t love them.”
His heart ached in two parts, for a destroyed family, and for the absence of the agony that should have consumed him.