In all the galaxy, Mollari, I sometimes wonder if there is any race that has managed to overcome its fear. Fear of themselves, mostly, though they project it to others. I too am fearful, more than I ever would have believed before I learnt to recognise it. That surprises you, I see. You do not know everything of me, Mollari.
I know nothing
of you, starting with who you are. Why are you here?
I have always been here.
I do not think I know you, and yet I cannot bring myself to actually have you removed. You know what this means? I believe it means I truly no longer care for anything.
No, Mollari. You care. But you do not, I fear, grasp the fact that this doesn’t bind you to your candle. Mollari, the world we see around us is only a shade of what we can be! You are searching, trying to find a way to keep the flame bright, and keep that candle strong and tall, but you are only fooling yourself. And once we know that, once we have the courage to admit it and confront ourselves unflinchingly, we can let go. We can forgive. And in forgiving we too can be forgiven. We are as
Ijic in the coop, Mollari. If each of us tries to escape on his own terms, none will. Only if we all push together will we find a way out.
My aunt once told me a story with Ijics
Many times. Many, many times, a long time ago. Before the years began growing too long, and too empty. Back when we were a proud people. The stars were young too, then. Now they are old and tired.
The details interest me.
But of course. The universe has to have its stories, yes? We can never have too many stories from Londo Mollari! Yet perhaps I have cause to continue telling them. Perhaps they can do some good - I
might do some good for a change.
I do not know why I am telling you this, but I am going to try. I will explain the story. It concerns a girl, a young maiden, of fair looks and pleasing manner but of low birth. Her family were poor, and lived in a minor agricultural district outside of Twindle Lesser. You have heard of Twindle? Ill-bred upstarts, yet they manage to redefine class and taste too often for their rightful status. I am certain the city is under productive moons. Three former emperors actually hail from just outside its borders, believe it or not, though none of those in recent centuries. In fact, I am told that during the first Weskeliam campaign, Lord Dourarn -
The story, Mollari
Yes, yes, I’m getting to it. These things take time, you know? You cannot simply build a palace on unconsecrated ground, you must prepare it. This maiden, a fine and fair young woman, was not of such stock as produced those three emperors, ill-suited for their eventual station as they were. No, her family were of no House, and raised fowl for sale to local pride-guilds. In particular, the young woman contributed to the family income through her flock of ijic
, which she kept in a coop outside the postroom. As is common to the lower classes, though, her mind, while sophisticated, was open and uncultivated. She was vulnerable to the follies of superstition, disregarding the household gods in favour of magery. This was long before the first technomages, you understand. There were no established orders, and those mages that there were were elemental. Now, according to the tale, as my aunt would tell it, one of the local mages was in fact genuine, and amused by the foolery of her fellows. The deep appreciation the girl showed for the art, however, earned this lady’s approval, and following an accident whereby she misplaced her Youn
- I do not know why she had a Youn
, but that is how the story goes - she approached the young woman and asked for a temporary replacement. They became acquaintances thereafter, and once the girl discovered her magery, she begged for a blessing upon her ijics
. The woman agreed, but of course needed something in return. Her first husband had been killed in the Hesh Drazi campaigns, and she asked that the lamp in the postroom, kept lit 23 hours a day, 8 days a week, be extinguished on Veneration Hour, to honour him. The agreement was made, bound in High Magery. The ijic
would prosper - so long as the girl kept the terms of their agreement, and put out the lamp for Veneration Hour. For several years, she did so.
The young woman became besotted with a guardsman. He was a most inappropriate match, his family below even their own, and her father rightly forbade her from pursuing him. However, this did not deter the couple. Eventually, the girl heard from a friend that the young man was leaving. Fearing an elopement unless his influence was removed from the girl, her father had pleaded the guildsmaster to have the guardsman reassigned elsewhere, in exchange for services the father had rendered the guildhouse last winter. The young woman in question heard from a friend that her beloved was leaving town, never to return. Of course, she fled after him in order to confess her undying love, and receive one final kiss. In her haste to do so, she did not extinguish the lamp. The covenant was broken. When she got back, she found the house ablaze. In her absence, you see, the lamp had somehow overturned itself, catching the drapes and setting the room alight. And all the ijic
- the ijic
No, I’m alright. Thank you. The girl, though she had received her last kiss, had lost everything.
A predictable tale.
Not quite. There is a twist. After this unfortunate incident, the family lost money, and were forced to sell their land to rivals. Her parents left for Mosado Vent, but she remained behind, unwelcome in their new and sparser dwelling. For she had lost them their livelihood and their home. Dutifully, in penance and in contrast to her earlier behaviour, the girl accepted this and stoically began amending her character. She became the finest young woman on Centauri Prime, in all but birth. She lived her life in service to the Republic, without complaint and always ready to work hard, uphold the ceremonies and maintain the supremacy of the gods. She never regained her family’s favour, nor what little money she had once had. But she lived, and finally she died, Centauri
. The companion sex indeed make fine friends, the gods indeed finer still, but it is on the Republic we must place our true commitment. “An empty heart, an empty coop and a tall crest is better than first two full and hair down”.
Your aunt’s words.
Yes, perhaps. Who knows anymore?
It is a good story. And yet I think it does not strike you quite as it once did? Or perhaps you never truly believed it, and only now are seeing that is so?
It is no less hollow than the empty coop. It is a story.
If the story misled you, can you forgive it?
You have said nothing of meaning all night.
All is forgiven, Mollari, when we finally see it. All is forgiven, but only if we look it full in the face, unflinching. Your stories have misled you. They have never truly spoken to you. Or perhaps they have, but the masks you wear have allowed you to ignore them. You cannot forget because you cannot acknowledge, and you cannot acknowledge because you want to forget. Put the mask down. You might find you can still be forgiven.
Yes, well, you’ll
if experience has conspired to leave me cynical on that count.
All is forgiven. But first we must be willing to face ourselves. And you would be - were it not for me. What holds you back is my legacy. We all have a choice, and we all have a responsibility. My choice was to mislead you, chase you away from yourself before it was nearly too late. For that, Mollari, you have my sincerest and deepest apologies.