And now, the conclusion to my author’s commentary of Beauty of the Lilies.
Beauty of the Lilies
Author’s Commentary, Part I
Author’s Commentary, Part II
Author’s Commentary to Beauty of the Lilies, Part III
Ruark raised his voice after his brother. “You submitted to the Vothnians and gave them everything they wanted, gave them ransom for kylvath. After all the wars this country has fought against the Vothnians, you couldn’t stand up to them. But why should you? You couldn’t even stand up to Admon.”
Jediah turned back. “I know how the people suffered in every one of those wars. I will not start another war, for money or for pride.”
Ruark really does have a legitimate point. Jediah essentially gave in to Vothnia’s extortion, and it is a dangerous thing to be weak in dealing with hostile and ruthless enemies.
But Jediah has a legitimate point, too, and in the end a more important one. If conceding will prevent a war, and deprive Vothnia of their opportunity to steal the shielding technology – which is, after all, what they really wanted – then it is worth the price.
Also note the reference to Admon, and how this final explosion builds on earlier tension between the brothers.
Ruark folded his arms across his chest. “No, Jediah. You’re going to your studio, as always, and I’m not going to be ignored the way you ignore everything but your painting.” As Ruark spoke a glint came into his eyes, not wholly unlike a knife being drawn. “And that’s another thing Father used to say. He said he didn’t know if you would ever learn that your painting is only a diversion. He said you couldn’t be emperor if you didn’t.
“And still he wouldn’t give the emperorship to me. He said it was yours, because you were his firstborn, and not mine, because I was second. He said it was yours whether you wanted it or not. Everyone always thought you didn’t want it, but I know better. I know because you could have given the emperorship to me, and you didn’t. I even asked you; I asked you after Father died and you wouldn’t have disappointed him any more by abdicating, and you wouldn’t give it to me. And you never told me why, but I can read this riddle. You wanted the emperorship after all. If you didn’t, why did you keep it?”
The knife Ruark draws here is an old, old one, and it cuts both ways. If Tryas was disappointed in Jediah, he still rejected Ruark as his heir. And Jediah, too, refused Ruark’s request. So Jediah, despite everything that was ever thought or said about him, chose to keep the emperorship.
Silence swallowed the room again—loud, gaping silence.
The sound of silence …
No etiquette had ever been written for this, and Tervath grasped for the best option—say nothing, say something irrelevant, leave immediately.
Etiquette is always important – particularly royal etiquette, and especially when the royalty in question happens to be your boss.
Someone must tell the emperor. You, Tervath. He’ll take it more easily from you.
Tervath enjoys the fact that he is the emperor’s favorite Chief (as far as anybody can tell). But there is a downside the other Chiefs know well how to exploit.
Tervath went searching for Emperor Jediah, with a few well-placed inquiries to the ever-faithful soldiers of the Emperor’s Guard.
The Emperor’s Guard, so important in The Last Heir, gets a nod here.
I always thought of this scene as the dramatic climax of the story. It’s always been about Jediah, Tervath’s discovery – our discovery – of “the unguessed depths of his soul”.
He found Jediah in the gardens, standing beneath the linden trees.
Originally, poplar trees. But linden trees sound better, and what’s more, they have blossoms.
He wouldn’t listen to me. And our father had no time.
Remember the age gap between the brothers: twelve years. With such a distance of years, the little brother is a child to be taught, watched, cared for. The role – the emotions – of the older become almost parental, sometimes sweetly, sometimes exasperatingly so.
Yet there are only two parents. Jediah was not the father Ruark needed and could not be.
He had nothing but time for the Empire. And you—
What was said for years behind Jediah’s back is almost said to his face.
I know I’m not much of an emperor. I know I’m not the leader you or Akon or the others want. I’m not active in governance. But I think you all forget, Tervath, that the people have no complaint against me.
And this is true, though partially because Jediah ruled in a quiet time when the Empire did not need a strong hand. So Jediah, despite his strong sense of duty to his family, was at peace with largely withdrawing from his duty as emperor.
It’s worth noting that Jediah knew, after all, the complaints and criticisms of his officials, which they were always so careful not to voice in his hearing. It’s also worth noting that he specifically mentions Akon.
But the people can endure an eccentric emperor—they can endure a neglectful emperor—better than they can endure an emperor who is often ruled by anger and pride.
Here is the unsuspected irony: Jediah was often accused of caring nothing for the Empire, but all the time it was his concern for the Empire that kept him on the throne.
The judgment Jediah makes here – the judgment he has been making for a decade – is, in its way, a hard one. But even the very gentle are capable of hard judgments, especially if they are also wise.
The emperor stood busy at the table, industrious with his paints and brushes.
And now we’re back to form: The emperor’s mind is on his painting and the Chiefs’ minds are on business.
Lukas worked his close by.
This whole bit was added during the revision. In the original story, the Chiefs are standing around and Akon comes in with the news. The conversation between the Chiefs as they leave the Palace was also added.
The sense of victory that had buoyed them drained away. Trev pulled a thread from his cuff, drawing its long silver line and then snapping it off. “What did we gain?”
This was my father’s question when he first finished the story: What did they gain? I decided to take up the question in the text.
The Chiefs stood uneasily, unable to answer him. Then the clear, hard ring of a jar being set firmly down drew their gazes to Jediah. In one hand he held a dripping paint brush; the other he rubbed against his tunic, leaving an indelible blue smear. His eyes wandered from Chief to Chief, finally settling on Trev. “A year or two,” Jediah said. “Time.” Then he made a shooing motion at the Chiefs.
Several things here: Jediah’s habit of wiping his paint-stained hands off on his clothing is one of those little things that make characters more vivid.
At the end of the story, it’s now typical of Jediah that he would hear the question and know the answer. What is unusually proactive – for him – is that he would pause in his painting to give it.
And then he shoos the Chiefs away.
“I predict,” Akon said, “that nothing will change. The emperor will remain shut away in the Palace, lost in his painting and his family. We will go on trying and failing to involve him in the Empire’s affairs. His mind is fertile but it is always drifting. Jediah will ignore us for a blank canvas, for a cloud floating in the sky, for a rosemary plant. But I will no longer be sure he doesn’t hear.”
A good prediction. His mind is fertile but it is always drifting is also accurate, and an excellent summation of how Jediah thinks.
The storm had passed them by.
Meant to be a metaphor for the crisis they just emerged from. That storm, too, passed them by.
From a man with an Empire at his feet.
Here is Jediah’s problem. He is a brilliant painter, but his painting is viewed as valueless because a man with an Empire at his feet has better things to do than create masterpieces.
It was only a few moments afterward that Emperor Jediah came out onto the balcony.
This, the last and briefest scene, is the only one from Jediah’s point of view. The reasons for this go beyond any plot necessity. For one thing, Jediah is a character to be experienced, and that is best done vicariously, through another character. For another, part of the fun of Jediah is everyone else’s reaction to him. For the third – Jediah has so unique a perspective that it would be difficult to tell a story through it.
He reminds me of Henry, a character from my Christian Holmes series. For the sea of differences between their lives and their worlds, they have real similarities: rich, eccentric, brilliant, and misunderstood, possessed of remarkable good will to all humanity and frustrating nearly everyone they come into contact with. And I would never write a story from either one’s viewpoint except for the same reason I would write a story in second person – to see if I could do it and still make it good.
Jediah walked back into the room, and he stopped, catching sight of Ruark. His little brother sat on the long table, facing the blank canvas.
Because this is from Jediah’s point of view, and that’s how he thinks of him.
And it resurrected, in a moment, a thousand memories of Ruark sitting behind him as he painted. When Ruark was little, he could watch Jediah for hours, fascinated and awed at the pictures he created.
Of all the scenes in Lilies, this is one of those most strengthened by the revision and most influenced by Summer Leaves. In that story the relationship between the brothers was given more detail and more depth. A glimpse of that is seen here – a bittersweet flash to when Ruark admired Jediah and his work.
It’s about time for me to move on.
Originally, he came to ask Jediah’s permission to take his nephew and niece to the Jasna Lake. Here, of course, he comes to say good-bye. Again, strengthened by the revision.
Not the lake – a planet now. I just liked the name. That second word – first – establishes quietly and surely what Ruark is: a wanderer.
Its canyons were a legend in the Empire—some digging a mile into the earth and some only feet, the length of half a continent or the length of a man’s arm. Many were formed out of huestones, deep reds and blues, translucent pinks and yellows. Often the canyons flowed with sweet, pure water.
Water from the rock. Beauty in the darkness. Glorious, mysterious mercy.
This is why Jediah is a painter. He sees the beauty, and he sees things through it. Pictures come to him like poetry.
This is also one of the reasons for Jediah’s silences. An image, a phrase, a thought – and his mind flies.
The tingling came back with a vengeance, and Jediah began flexing his hand again.
Earlier in the story he’s seen flexing his hand. Now we know why.
“Don’t stay away long,” Jediah said. “And don’t be reckless.”
A flash of parental advice, born of parental worry.
Ruark paused to flash him a grin. “If I were never reckless, brother, I’d ruin my life.”
Another detail transferred from Summer Leaves. Ruark’s death-defying hobbies began in that story.
Arguments were no good, so Jediah watched his little brother walk out, a piece of his heart going with him.
Another reason for Jediah’s silences: A practical reaction to believing that words would affect nothing.
And the end: The love is as strong as ever, despite all the times and things they were sorry for.
And the eternal hope, that burned purer and stronger than any star.
Of which the lily, the flower of Easter, is a symbol
And he began to paint a lily.
A fitting end to The Beauty of the Lilies.