Written for ostrich 2008 challenge for the following two prompts:
"We live in the dark, we do what we can, the rest is the madness of art."
-Henry James, The Middle Years
"In war, there are no unwounded soldiers."
- Jose Narosky
Londo Mollari, the new Emperor of the Centauri Republic, looked around his newly renovated suite of apartments with something approaching approval. He hadn't found much joy in his new position, but this spacious and light-filled room came close to making him happy. It was still empty, with the slick and brightly polished grey and white marble floors reflecting his image when he looked down onto them. The walls were paneled, with rich red-brown tulia wood, rare and expensive. It made the room a little dark, but the floor-length windows along one wall brought in the sunlight from the gardens outside. Gold brocade curtains puddled on the floor to the side of each window, while white sheers billowed in the incoming breeze. Some workmen were still working in the large walk-in closet, adjusting the paneled double doors so they closed correctly.
"That is enough," he said as he walked over to the two Centauri in their long tunics and loose trousers. They looked at him apprehensively, but he continued, "You have done a good job today! I wish to enjoy my new rooms, alone." He paused a moment, and when they didn't move, said louder, "Now!" The two of them hurriedly placed their tools in heavy canvas bags, and left, bowing almost to the floor as they backed out the door, careful to close it quietly behind them.
Londo smiled with satisfaction. This room had been unused since Turhan's day, and he had taken it for his own once he had ascended to the throne. He had no interest in using Cartagia's personal suite, and had in fact, had it walled off, telling the court that a type of rot had been found in the walls, and the rooms were unusable. Rot was a good word for many of the little gifts Cartagia had left behind. They were still finding…things left over from that unsavoury regime.
The only furniture in the room as of yet was an ornate wooden desk and matching chair, set in front of one window. It was topped with marble that matched the floor, white with ribs and whorls of silvery grey shot throughout. Silver handles on the drawers matched the filigreed edging on the marble top. Beside the desk were stacked several boxes of files and personal records from Londo's recently deceased regent, Virini. He paused and put a hand on top of them, saying a silent prayer for the fussy little man, whose fate had been so terrible and so undeserved.
He played his part well came a familiar whisper from behind him.
Londo stiffened. He was becoming used to his new 'partner', but its occasional attempts at conversation still sickened him to the point of revulsion. He didn't actually hear a voice; rather it was like someone speaking inside the back of his skull, a buzzing raspy intrusion on the privacy of his thoughts. The thing couldn't actually read his thoughts, thank the Great Maker, but it could see and hear everything he did and said. If a forbidden thought came close enough to the surface of his mind, it could be sensed and stopped by his Keeper before it could be articulated.
He could never quite forget it was there. A squat loathsome weight on his shoulder, it was omnipresent. Its tentacles were buried deep in his skin, deeply embedded by now in his very brain. Shuddering, he looked about for something to take his mind off his fate. His glance fell on the boxes, and he idly removed the top of one large crate and looked inside. Oddly, it seemed to be a group of canvases, rudely stretched on wooden frames, tightly wedged together. He reached in and tried to pull one out, but it was stuck. Looking around, he saw that one of the workmen had left behind an iron bar, and he used it to pry loose the side of the crate. This gave him enough wiggle room to extract one of the paintings and the others came out easily enough after that.
Staring at the paintings, he saw that they were all signed and dated by Virini. He had no idea the man had been an artist! Looking more closely, he realized that his initial assessment was overstating things a bit. The pictures were crudely drawn landscapes and floral renderings in soft glowing pastels. He started to lay out the pictures on the marble floor, ordering them by date as well he could. A pattern began to emerge; the initial works were detailed although badly drawn, and included portraits of a kind, and pictures of animals, country scenes, and gardens. As time progressed, they became simpler and more child-like, with figures reduced to rough outlines and objects as geometric shapes. At the end, they were reduced to almost abstract blocks of pastel colors.
"What in the world was he doing? He becomes less adept over time, as if he was losing ability rather than improving with practice…"
He liked making them, came the voice.
"I am sure he did, but why bother? If you have no talent or aptitude for art, it becomes an idle hobby, a waste of time! Madness…" Londo said as he stared at the final works and their beautiful colors, pictures with no apparent meaning. They recorded no history, commemorated no battles, immortalized no ancestors…what use were crude daubs of color on canvas? They had no purpose!
He was unhappy. He was forced to live in the dark, and he loved the light.
Londo was shocked at the almost sympathetic feel to the Keeper's remarks, like nothing he had experienced from it before. Pain, yes, oh, he had experienced that. Violation, ruthless control, the helpless feeling of being a puppet at the mercy of a vindictive master; all those had come to him through the monstrosity with which he shared his body. At the time of his ascension to the throne, he had accepted the Keeper willingly, making the hideous bargain with the Drakh in order to keep his people safe. The feel of its wiry arms, still wet with Virini's blood, burrowing under his skin had been horrible: but the true horror was only now becoming real to him.
"There are not so many, perhaps it occupied some empty hours," Londo mused, trying to understand.
Hours and hours he spent on them, painting, scraping the canvas dry, then painting them over again. It was important to him.
Londo hid his surprise that the thing seemed as confused as he was by Virini's secret pastime. He filed away the knowledge deep in his mind, that the Keeper had no omniscient reading of its victim's innermost thoughts and motivations. That could come in useful later. Looking back at the pictures scattered across the floor, he picked up one that was a set of pink and white triangles on a pale blue background. If you looked at it sideways and from a short distance, it almost resembled a full blown star-lily silhouetted against the sky. The picture was flat and two-dimensional, and as he examined it, he realized that there were no blacks, no shading of color. It was light without shadow, color without darkness, simplicity without detail; the antithesis of Virini's actual life. The Regent had poured his heart into these paintings, reflecting the inner light that was slowly being destroyed by the darkness. He was fighting for his soul; a covert war, a hidden war fought by someone who never signed to be a soldier. Secreting the thought deep within his mind, Londo realized that the war continued. He, like the Regent, was doing what he could to protect his people. He could see no likely end to this war, and everyone who fought, in whatever capacity, would be wounded in the struggle.
He carefully propped the picture on the desktop, lodged at an angle against the window frame where he could see it clearly. He sat down heavily behind the desk, looking out the window at the beautiful sunny grounds of his palatial prison, and wept; for Virini, for his people, and for himself.