(NOTE: This story can, in a sense, be considered as a fanfic of a fanfic, since it was inspired by one of the first works I discovered upon delving into the Redwall Fanfiction Board back in 2001: Mitya's "Does Song Compose Heroes." I originally wanted to set my own story in the same timeline as Mitya's, but was dissuaded from doing so and, respecting the original author's wishes, tweaked it a bit. But, just as "DSCH" was a Redwallian allegory of the trials and tribulations of classical composer Dmitri Shostakovich's years of enforced service under Josef Stalin, so "Art of Deception" stands as a Redwallian allegory of the final days of the Soviet regime ... but I will say no more. Take the following tale as you will. Here's the first of its six parts.)

00000000000

ART OF DECEPTION

From the death-cell confession of Kevya of Morvogrod -

So, you have finally caught me. And now that I sit before you, all four paws bound in steel chains and my very body lashed to this iron chair, what would you have me do? Beg for mercy that I know will never come? Renounce my actions? I renounce nothing. You seek a confession, yes? I will admit everything, but not in the manner you desire. You want the facts that will make everything neat and tidy, and bring some semblance of repair to the world of yours that I have shattered to bits like a smashed glass sculpture. You want methods, times, dates, the species of poisons I used ... some of this I will tell you, and some I will not. I will chose what I say here, not you. Beat me and torture me if you wish, but I suspect you already realize how useless that would be. You can only kill my body; the rest of me is far beyond your reach, for I was dead inside long before I ever came to Morvogrod. My soul was killed when your troops ran roughshod over my homeland of Argochad. If you want to know where this all begins, you must start there.

Have you ever been to Argochad? Most of your soldiers look upon my land and see only empty desert and ugly mountains, and curse the circumstances that sent them there as occupiers of a hostile conquered province. But there is great beauty in those stark landscapes, something that lets the soul know itself more fully. I knew my soul very well, before you killed it. Maybe if you had had similar places for reflection, you would not all be so empty inside that you are forced to enslave others to fill the void within yourselves.

Where shall I start? With Lebrevnya, the one who ordered the invasion of Argochad? He was my first victim here, so that is as good a starting point as any.

It is my art, you understand. I am skilled in several areas, as you have found out this day, but my art was my key to the halls of power in Morvogrod. Tyrants are vain, and always desire to surround themselves with the best of things. The best clothes, the best furniture, the best food and drink, the best music ... and yes, the best art. So I made myself the best, and saw that my reputation was spread far and wide throughout all of Argochad, so that someday I would be summoned here to make my art for the tyrant and nobeast else. It took many seasons to become as good as I am, many seasons of torturous practice while my people suffered all around me, crushed under the heel of the footpaw of Morvogrod. But my teachers were every bit as much the fanatics as I became myself, and would not let me lag in developing my skills to the utmost. How could I slack in my training, when the reason for it surrounded me day in and day out, hitting me in the face every time I set foot outdoors and saw the soldiers of Morvogrod patrolling the countryside as if it were their own? My desire to learn was fueled constantly by this affront to our ways, and as your occupation grew more and more brutal, my art became more ... beautiful.

In the end, it transcended beauty and became something more. Perhaps that is where my soul went, because I certainly do not have one anymore. I poured all of myself into my works, until they became things that made demands of their own from those who gazed upon them. When creatures saw my paintings and sculptures, they were mesmerized. They would not say simply, "This is beautiful." They would stand there transfixed by something they could not name in words, and if they said anything at all, it was not about color or texture or shape or technique. It was almost like they forgot my works were things that had been made, more like they were things which simply existed of their own accord, things of nature that were not bound by the usual ideas of artifice. But, in the end, my appreciators would always snap back to reality long enough to realize that these works did indeed have an author, and that I was that artist. With this ability that I so blatantly displayed, it was inevitable that Lebrevnya would want to hoard me all for himself.

And so it was that his agents sought me out in Argochad, bade me accompany them back to Morvogrod to receive my highest of honors - as if I had any choice! - and whisked me away to this forsaken soulless place. It was the purpose for which I had been shaped throughout my late childhood and all of my adult life, the purpose which would have rendered my existence meaningless had it gone unfulfilled ... and yet I was still reluctant to leave my homeland, knowing I would never see it again. Perhaps such nostalgia was unfitting for the assassin I had become, but it did make my performance all the more convincing. Lebrevnya's emissaries saw exactly what they expected to see: a shy, retiring, lame artist, unrefined in the social graces, very nearly a barbarian except for my extraordinary artistic ability, which nobeast in all of Morvogrod could equal. I was the most unthreatening figure imaginable, with a tear in my eye as I was led away from the land of my birth, my dialect, my customs ... my countrybeasts. An unthreatening artist, harmless to a ridiculous degree.

And that is how this scorpion came to sleep alongside his prey.

I was delivered right into the palace, escorted right to see the tyrant Lebrevnya on the very day of my arrival. I came to see in the seasons that followed that this was a most unusual thing; a tyrant likes to summon his subjects and then keep them waiting, for no other purpose than to show that he can. But Lebrevnya - that squat, offensive pig of a beast - was so eager to see me, to assign me to my first artworks that would be for his enjoyment alone, that he did not keep me waiting at all. He actually shook my paw - the great oppressor of my land and all my kinsfolk, shaking my paw as if we were to become friends. I do not think he knew what to make of me, which was just as I wanted; surely he was not impressed with me as a beast, however smitten he may have been with my work. He dismissed me summarily and had me taken to my private rooms and studio. I suppose I was to live in luxury, compared to many in Morvogrod. But I was not here to enjoy any of the comforts provided me; and I did not mind at all the atmosphere of oppression that weighed upon all, making my fellow courtiers slog through each day with a dreariness that left their souls dragging behind them like deflated shadows. None of this bothered me, for it was what I had expected. I was not here to live; I was here simply to make my art, to satisfy my new lord's every whim in all things artistic ... until it killed him.

For several seasons I worked in this manner, as you well know. Every piece commissioned to me was produced without complaint, and always I exceeded expectations. My larger sculptures came to grace the palace gardens, while smaller ones adorned various corridors and rooms. My paintings hung on many walls. And when Lebrevnya wanted to particularly impress a visiting dignitary from another land, he might present one of my smaller works as an ambassadorial gift - a way of saying both, "This is how much I think of you, to bestow upon you a token so fine," and, "This is how little I think of you, to give you but a sample of this wonderful thing that I can enjoy anytime I like." That was typical of Lebrevnya: always seeking to build bridges, but never able to be a true diplomat. His own sense of greatness always got in the way.

After several seasons of gaining his trust thus, I was ready to create my masterwork, the culmination of my very life. You might wonder, why did I not simply snap his neck on those occasions when I was alone with him, or drive a blade into his heart? You've seen that I am not the lamebeast I have pretended for so many seasons to be; it would have been well within my ability. But it was my art, developed so painstakingly over so much of my life, which had gotten me into Lebrevnya's lair. And I was determined that it would be my art, the art that the tyrant so cherished, that would be the end of him.

In Argochad, I was schooled in three talents: art, as should be obvious; fighting, as you have found out this night; and poisons, by some of the most skilled practitioners of the art who have ever lived. I learned about every type of poison imaginable, and a few that are probably beyond your imagining. Between my warrior's training and my poisoner's lore, I became a master at dispensing death in many forms. And I was determined to marry two of my talents to create a new form of art the likes of which had never been seen before.

I knew Lebrevnya had a passion for roses - both their appearance and fragrance. I had done several paintings of roses for him already, but now I prepared one that would outstrip any before it. It was large, but not so large that it would not be right at home in his private quarters. The colors were of the most exquisite red and violet - his two favorite - and of a texture that almost made them seem more real than life itself. But the most extraordinary thing about this painting was that, if you held your nose close to the canvas, you could actually smell the subtle bouquet. I achieved this by mixing the oils of rose petals right into the pigment. I knew that when Lebrevnya was presented with this piece, he would keep it in his own room, where only his eyes could see it, only his nose inhale it. I could not have crafted a more perfect doom for him. The rose fragrance was most useful, for it helped to mask a more subtle odor that also wafted from the painting. Yes, that was how I killed Lebrevnya: with a sly poison which would slowly destroy his lungs, delivered on a prize he would not be able to resist. He brought me to Morvogrod so that he could have my art all for his own. I fulfilled that desire of his, and did so gladly, for I was also fulfilling my own destiny.

Of course you know the painting of which I speak. It now hangs on display in the royal museum, moved there after Lebrevnya's death. Fortunately, it hangs high enough so that its alluring poison cannot be easily sniffed by visitors. If more beasts, after inhaling from that painting, had begun keeling over from the same mysterious illness that had claimed Lebrevnya, it might have raised questions not easily answered. But as fate would have it, my treachery was not immediately discovered.

And thus was I to become the court artist for Lebrevnya's successor, Kosturnya.