The Most Beautiful Lies Of Our Lives
The Stories We Weave…
“You ask why you are denied the right to fight alongside your…your countrymen?” the Lord Commander of the Fifth Valistrian Regiment stood aghast, a look of shock and horror carved onto his face.
“That I do, milord. I have passed every test, bested every combatant before me…yet you deny me the right to defend my country?” the boy spoke with a hushed, urgent voice. His armour, the Lord Comamander noted, was particularly gleaming under the desert sun.
“Such a right would not be mine, nor I’d imagine any man’s, to deny you, Imp. But what I can deny you is the right to fight in my regiment. I couldn’t say that any regiment in this land would see fit to include you by its side.”
“And for what reason is that, milord? Do I not fight as well as any soldier you have seen?” the Imp boy was persistent, that much was true. The Lord Commander had known only a few men in his time to embody such qualities. All of them had secured a place in history as heroes of their time. Of this Imp boy, he relinquished all thoughts of that nature.
“That you do, dear boy. That you do. But you must see it from the view of a leader. I cannot let any soldier fight in my ranks that does not…does not…” the Lord Commander faltered. He did not want to be so blunt, though it was in his nature, although perhaps it would have been for the best. Luckily for him, the Imp boy finished his sentence for him.
“You look upon me and all you can see is a disfigured abomination, is that not true? I’d wager you have seen nothing like me before. My looks sends babes in their mother’s arms into fits of terrified rage. I have felt the hard impact of more than mere insults, but blows that would kill any other man.”
“I do not doubt it, Imp, but see here…” the Lord Commander was silenced by a raised hand, mottled and bruised.
“A few more words I would beg that you permit me, milord. After that, I wager you will never see me again, though it is more your loss. As much hurt and pain as I have felt, I have also felt somewhat elated.”
“Elated? To look as abominable as you do, my boy, I would curse the Gods for my existence and renounce their names in a heartbeat!” the Lord Commander blurted out, regretting his words instantly. The trusty steed he sat upon, Valormare, let loose a pained groan, as if he felt the Lord Commander’s shame.
The Imp boy smiled, revealing crooked but gleaming white teeth. “I would think the Gods have cursed me already. I have renounced them long ago but not for the reasons you have stated. Alas, that is a story for which your ears were not meant, and one which you cannot comprehend. May I assume, then, you have no desire to utilise my skills in battle?”
The last question caught the Lord Commander off-guard, although he already formulated his answer. The Imp boy, he knew, was a fighter unlike any he had seen before, save the King of Valistria himself. His expertise and strategic leadership could win wars. But…his men…they would never bend their ears to carry out his orders. The Lord Commander nodded, hoping that would end the conversation.
The Imp sighed, and turned to walk away. As he took a few steps forward, leaving oddly shaped imprints in the scorching desert sand, he turned and looked the Lord Commander in the eye, causing the man to nearly fall off his steed.
“Let it not be said I did not give you a chance to reconsider. TARIUS, YOU OBLIVIOUS COWARD, LOOK UPON MY COUNTENANCE!” the Imp boy’s voice grew more powerful and terrible. The sand around him whirled up in a furious storm. The Lord Commander lost his grounding and fell off his horse, causing it to flee in terror. The Imp boy’s body seemed to grow, becoming more menacing by the minute.
“You have judged me, you have thrown me out when I offer naught but salvation for you and your cause. And on what basis? That which your eyes can only perceive before you? True as it is said that I am no material to weave a maiden’s dream. But you…you would burn the tower she is held captive in and slaughter without hesitation. And your actions here have started a terrible chain of events for you, my friend. Your betrayal will be felt by those you love the most, especially your beloved King.”
The Lord Commander gasped, anger unable to swelter inside him as he felt deep shame at…what? The truth? “I would never…never harm…my King” he whispered hoarsely.
The Imp boy grinned, not menacingly now, but somewhat morosely. “Oh yes…you would. You may fool others with your outward image of righteousness and loyalty. But do not forget, when you have been denied physical boons, you develop the ability to see in the hearts of mortals. I see your future woven. Did you know…that I have seen you end the lives of your wife and children? I have been there, beaten on the ground by your men whilst you carry out atrocities that would rend your soul”
“You have made your mark in history this day as one of the greatest traitors our world has ever known. Take solace, however. I have felt your life ebbing away as my sword plunges into your black heart, saving hundreds of innocents that would otherwise perished at your command. Oh, you pitiful fool, you thought your physical boons could save you a place in Heaven and in legend, didn’t you? Mortal folly…you’ll receive none of my sympathies”
“Your sympathies, hah! And what reason have you to be a hero, you wretched son of horrors?” The Lord Commander spat, angered by the Imp boy’s calm demeanour more than his words.
“Because my soul is not as disfigured as my body may be, and my mind not so far gone as to think I would be a hero. The same cannot be said for you. I see only darkness before you, Tarius, and I despair for what you are and what you will become. Farewell, Tarius.”.
With that, the Imp adjusted his scabbard, holding his trusted mace, Oathkeeper, and disappeared into the unforgiving dessert. And the last thing Lord Commander Tarius heard, lying there in the desert sand, were the echoes of his own voice, from a time either long ago or far ahead:
“The atrocities we commit, for the lies we wear as armour are as fragile as our beliefs in distraction and folly”
The above excerpt, taken from my unpublished (and largely unwritten) first novel, highlight an issue for me that is an epidemic amongst society, but seldom ever talked about or, really, even debated. And that is the topic of beauty. Raw, physical beauty. Woah, woah. Alarm bells…another controversial post? Probably, but not because I’m picking on any one group of people or picking fights. If it is controversial, then maybe it’s a good kind of controversial…hopefully the kind to make people reexamine their views.
What brought this on? Two events in my life. One, I saw this fantastic TED talk on my phone (also available online), by Cameron Russell. The first thing I thought, I openly must admit, is: “Wow, she’s gorgeous!”. As if she knew my reaction down to a tee at her physical attractiveness, her talk was about how we view beauty in society today. I strongly urge you to take a look at it. She’s incredibly astute, poignant and, at the heart of it all, strongly believes what she says, which I’d imagine isn’t easy for someone lashing out at the industry she is a part of:
The other was musing on a billboard for a series that I hold in high regard: Black Mirror. Every time I have walked, or driven, past the back entrance of my local train station (for the last month or so), I have seen this picture without fail:
Quite…striking, I think you’ll agree? As Nick said to me, quite astutely, “It’s interesting because it’s a picture which you look at and think, the original was probably really pretty”. And I’d definitely agree with that. It’s not so farfetched to say that, after looking at this, we quickly mentally reconstruct a somewhat original image which we prefer to this one.
And that really does sum up our attitude towards beauty. And maybe, just maybe, the atrocities that we have committed as a result of this have characterise us as the tyrants and monsters that we commit ourselves to combat in the world.
More Than Skin Deep
I’m fairly decent looking, I’d say. I’ve been complimented by members of the opposite sex frequently (thank you ladies) and also members of the same sex (cheers bro’s). So I’m not speaking out of personal experience particularly, although I do recall having a rather unsightly spot on my nose until I was in my early teens. Too much to share on the internet? Probably, though it does help to hammer home the point. I also have quite a lot of strikingly beautiful and handsome friends…not as a consequence of my quest to only be around people of immense physical stature. But it’s a caveat that it isn’t just about trying to say: “Well, whoever’s physically attractive is just really shallow/horrible” or anything along those lines. More, it’s about what we focus on and what we value in society that’s important.
Increasingly, entertainment and advertising have become incredibly sexualised. Nowhere is this more apparent than the abundance of images we see about women: the slender, somewhat curvy, make up driven constructs which encourage us to be more like them. To be beautiful is to be blessed, the implicit message cries out to us. I once saw images from a photoshoot from one of my close friends, whose name I won’t mention here. At the time, I told her the usual stuff: “Oh they look great! You look so pretty!”. But I do recall myself thinking: “Actually…it just looks so fake. Fake and distant”. Not really the best outcomes. That being said, it was her first shoot like this so I was glad she enjoyed it. But more and more I just see the same kind of thing: my youngest niece asks for clothes and, pretty soon, if not already, make up. It makes me shudder. She is pretty enough without all those commercial delusions we constantly shove into increasingly younger generations’ minds, expecting them to conform and live up to the images we feverishly construct to further our own lusty quest for ‘the perfect image’.
Should this make you feel guilty if you are indeed blessed with physical appearance befitting of a God/Goddess or similar? Absolutely not. That is, unless what I’ve said has left an uneasy taste in your stomach because you really value people based on how they look and not who they are. Am I spouting the same socialist, wishy washy messages that you’ve come to hate? Well, it’d be worth considering exactly why you hate them. Chances are, you probably hate them because they attack you and your ideals as a person. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing: change is good for us. Change is the substrate of life: if life did not change, there would be no life. It’s a physical law of the universe. But take that with bags of salt where certain aspects are concerned. Change can be both positive and detrimental. My mind is filled with stories and images of teenage girls trying to ‘change’ their bodies by voluntarily throwing up or effectively starving themselves in order to fit into the image that society not only wants of them, but expects of them. And this is a real issue: young women are actually having to suffer through these mental illnesses because of our social attitudes. They are having to stare at the mirror and feel like they have to despise how they look. When they grow up, they’ll grow up believing that they have to always look amazing or they are somehow less than human or close to it. I hasten to add that I am not being bias in favour of women, for men are also increasingly shown an image of physical perfection that they are made to aspire to, but I feel the issue is far more pressing with women. Not that either should be belittled, of course.
Either way, it’s an issue which we must look upon and despair…for it says multitudes about us as sentient beings.
“It was when my sight was ripped from me that I came to understand what true beauty was…”
Changing social attitudes is hardly any small endeavour. The most ingredient is that people are willing to change what and how they think about the world around them.
But consider this for a second: apart from having reproductive benefits, as well as possible benefits like getting things for free etc etc, being physically gifted is by no means a ticket to being a good person. That is most definitely not to say that people who are considered physically beautiful can’t be incredibly intelligent: they can, with Cameron Russell being a great example. But so many of my friends are, too many to name. Many of my female friends have incredibly intellectually gifted whilst boasting physical prowess. One is a talented singer and PR-savvy, another is a conservation zealot. Another is galavanting across the world until she starts a very impressive job at Proctor & Gamble, whilst another is off abroad to help local communities. Oh, did I mention one is also doing a PhD? Egads. And that is a very small sample I’ve picked there.
And what I really want to convey here is that, to make a real impact on the world, you seriously don’t have to look like the next perfect sculpture out of God’s sculpture factory. One example? Steven Hawking. Diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis), the young now-world renowned Professor was told he had mere months to live. Against the very unforgiving medical odds, he went on to live for years and significantly advance our understanding of scientific theory beyond all imagination. And if one was to look at Professor Hawking now, they would not see a physically gifted man. With an eye that goes more than skin deep, however, they would see an incredibly brilliant mind that has revolutionised the field of science, and indeed the world, much more than Paris Hilton has. Actually, bad example. Brad Pitt, then.
Whilst I could belabour the point, and have many more examples to share, I leave my final message in the form of a chronologically advanced piece of prose, following on from earlier. In this short excerpt, our esteemed Lord Commander Tarius stands over the dismembered corpses of his family, having betrayed the men that fought by his side. We also see the return of a particularly mysterious but powerful Imp boy…
The Consequences We Reap…
“The atrocities we commit, for the lies we wear as armour are as fragile as our beliefs in distraction and folly.”
“Did I not tell you, Tarius? Did I not warn you that this is what you would become? And you did not listen”
“IMP! YOU WILL HUSH YOURSELF, LEST MY BLADE JOURNEY FROM EAR TO EAR!” The once revered Lord Commander roared, his skin pale and his eyes glowing a hue of purple. Blood was splashed upon his cracked Karnium armour, his sword drenched in the crimson liquid most of all.
“Why did you not turn away from this path, Tarius? Why did you not heed my warnings? Your men…died at your hand for their loyalty”
“THEY WERE FOOLS! As were…they,” Tarius kicked the lifeless body of his former love, anger filling his actions, “No, you showed me the price of true power, Imp, and I have paid it in full. And after I claim the godly power which you possess, I will be the most powerful man in this godforsaken Kingdom!”
The Imp felt a lump in his throat. His body bruised and bloody, he sat against a wall, stroking Oathkeeper, his now-broken mace. Tarius had surprised him by claiming to know the godly power which he possessed, although he guessed that Tarius was erroneously referring to…
“Give me Oathkeeper, Imp, and I will make your death as clean and as swift as I made theirs” Tarius held out his hand for the mace. The Imp grinned in the shadows. He had given this mortal more credit than he deserved. Still, the Imp had to play this one very carefully.
“That I cannot do. The weapon is bound to me, even in its broken state. It would be as useful as fighting a Fire Giant of Ifris with a mere child’s doll.” The Imp spoke in a rasp, exaggerating his wounds.
“Do not take me for a fool, Imp. I know that the weapon is bound to the man who can display valour and raw power. And if you shall not give it to me, I shall take it from you. And use it to make your face prettier than it has ever been…” Tarius lunged and snatched the mace from the Imp, who struggled enough to convince Tarius that his delusions were true. Tarius stared at the broken weapon, his mouth salivating at the very power he held in his hand. Despite it being in the state that it was, it was still glinting. Glinting…very much. So much that Tarius saw a blurred image of his own visage. His eyes grew wide; his mouth emitting a soundless scream.
The next thing he felt was a sword plunged into his belly. A tear travelled down Tarius’ face: a finer pain he had not felt in his life. His defeated body fell onto the ground, beside the bodies of his family. The Imp looked at him, his expression unreadable.
“Is…is it over, Imp?”
“Yes, Tarius. You have played your part and you have earned the rest that is to follow. I hope your soul finds salvation, though I dare say that it will be a long journey indeed…”
“I saw…atrocities, madness…folly. I saw…the abyss. It spoke to me…in images…of horror and terror. What…were they, Imp?”
“They were the truth, dear Tarius. Did you think your eyes were fit enough to see things for what they are? Oathkeeper truly serves those of great power. But power is not found in hands that can wield a sword or that can make the hearts of maidens swoon. It is found in valuing the strength of one’s character, the wisdom of one’s mind. Oathkeeper is as strong as its master’s will.”
“You speak in riddles and tongues, Imp, but I think…I understand. Thank you Imp, and for what it’s worth, I wish to fight alongside you in another life.” Tarius spluttered up blood, dark smoke hissing up as it travelled down his chin, and closed his eyes. The Imp nodded to the once great Lord Commander, picking up Oathkeeper and cherishing its warmth in his weary hands.
“To think, dear friend, that the only great power you hold is that you are forged from Kasyrian steel, the shiniest of all. A more special mace than that you are not, nor sightly to look upon. But a better weapon I could not hope for. Come, friend, our work has just begun, and I must tend to your wounds. Maybe I will make you a bit more ordinary this time: who knows what kind of follies and mortal distractions will try to give you undeserved value otherwise?”
I’d like to dedicate this post to a particularly staunch and wonderful feminist activist, Livi (also a blog follower!). Livi’s stories that appear on my news feed about the injustices women have to endure really were the subtle inspirations for this post. I hope it does your cause and your passions justice, Livi!