Fiction Exercise, part 3

Here’s a “letter of conscience” from a character in my in-progress fantasy series, something they wrote to explain themselves. I can’t reveal exactly who this is, except to say he/she is an artist of influence in the first book, and he/she has…complicated motives.

Might be really confusing, but let me know either way. The letter is as follows:

I love my country. Sarnoutha has given so much to me. It provided a home for my family when they escaped with a plague on their heels. Here, I had a chance no one else would have given me, to preside over whole cities and bring honor to my father’s name, even allowing me to paint like I had in school. Once, I even had a chance to lead the nation, but that did not work out exactly the way I wanted it.

You cannot imagine the twisting knife I have had in my conscience for years, the blade’s edge of a realization that I have to betray my own nation.

You go into politics expecting corruption. That is a part of the game adults like to play, a game that tells them they are grown-ups now, not children prancing around a garden. No, instead they tell themselves they have matured, because they make alliances and deals, then they betray and undermine. You “lose” if you get caught, and cannot fend off the law with bribes or reputation. Again, all normal and to be expected.

That being said, Sarnoutha is falling prey to this disease. The nation is weakened, stretched out, frail. Dying, in a word. This is not the harmless corruption, like a remora attaching itself to a shark and nibbling on the remainder of its meals. This is a parasitic vine sucking water out of a tree, until it becomes the tree.

What finally proved to me that Sarnoutha needed a dagger in its back was also my greatest success and failure: the creation of a painting. More to the point, I had lost it as soon as the last brushstroke was drawn over a canvas of treated silk. Signed over in propaganda’s service. My clients had it in their red-glove clutches as soon as the pigment was dry, and had the image of one of their heroes plunging a long black lance into the heart of a tyrant dragon. They had a love-hate relationship with the beast, fashioning their emerald coats out of its hide and the gloves out of its crimson wings.

I had lost my most meticulously crafted painting to the people who never once earned it. The hero who commissioned it poisoned the creature, almost certainly. That cheater gets gold and women and mead for his ignoble murder of a beast who commands more respect. The mighty soldier wanted a contribution to his cause without payment or credit. And I had given it to him.

This is why corruption is a cancer. The men who don’t deserve a speck of praise get all of it, and the real leaders and heroes fade into the background. They lose themselves and drown in the noise of corrupt politics and backbiting.

Atonement is my only chance. It’s time for a change. Maker forgive me if I go to someone who would occupy my nation and turn it into a conduit for waging war with the rest of the continent, but that is what needs to happen. They’ll call me a traitor for it, until I take Sarnoutha back, and give it to those who deserve a country.

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