Despite my writer explaining his take on villains (and scaring me in the process), I still don’t understand them. Maybe it’s because a muse is an imaginary personification of inspiration and not real, but as a muse I’ve met his characters, villains and heroes, and sometimes there isn’t a clear line. Some heroes aren’t as noble as they seem, and some villains don’t see so bad once you get to know them. Some villains have become heroes, and he’s toyed with the idea of heroes becoming villains. So, when my efforts to inspire him to write a short story failed, I went down to the Id Saloon for the meeting of the Dead Villains Society.
Like myself, the Id Saloon is imaginary. It’s from a short story that he couldn’t polish, and his characters like to hang out there. The Dead Villains Society are villains gregarious enough to hang out together and who the writer has killed off.
Tonight, only a few dead villains were there. DT (I don’t do spoilers, so initials only) was reading a newspaper. KV was drinking what looked like brandy from a wine glass. LS, the only woman villain present, was doing needlepoint. UG, the latest villain, smiled at me in a way that almost had me turning around and going back out the door.
Instead, I sat down at the table. “Not slunk off into a corner, I see.”
DT peered over the top of the newspaper. “That’s a stereotype. We only skulk in dark corners when there’s a need.” He looked back at the newspaper, muttered something, then abruptly folded it and flung it on the table.
KV shook his head. “I don’t know why you bother reading editorials; it only makes you angry.”
“It’s the unfairness of the thing. The editor vilifies him, and he’s no more of a villain than we.”
“Wait,: You’re not a villain?” I said.
He looked at me with mild surprise. “Of course not. None of us are. We’re antagonists, of course, but villains?” He shook his head.
I looked around the table. KV and LS had no expression. UG looked amused.
“But what you all did,” I said.
All four looked at me.
“What do you mean?” LS said.
“Well, villainy,” I said.
KV held his glass in both hands. “The difference, dear muse, between a hero and a villain is point of view and spin. I could have done much with newspapers, had they existed during my reign.”
“But, you invaded two countries,” I said.
“Indeed I did. My kingdom needed access to the sea. It was for the good of my subjects,” KV said.
“But you also killed all your opposition,” I said.
KV didn’t bat an eye. “What of it? I wasn’t the first to do so, nor was I the last.”
“But it was murder,” I said.
“It was my right as sovereign. They were my nobles, and I did with them as I saw fit.”
I stared at him, not quite believing what I was hearing.
KV eyed me. “Do you find it shocking that I ruled with an iron hand? I brought order. Victory would have brought prosperity to my subjects, and history would remember me differently.”
“Uh, you’re a fictional character,” I said.
KV smiled. “Is not all history a sort of fiction?” He sipped from his glass.
I turned to DT. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You committed treason. You killed entire families. You tried to kill your royal family.”
“To correct an old wrong,” DT said.
“But you sold out your country,” I said.
DT looked amused. “Did I? KV would have had his access to the sea, and I would have the throne. My country would have been at peace and prospered.”
“But, to commit murder,” I said.
“It was war. Think of it as a civil war, if you wish.”
“Are you so troubled by regicide? Do you know the history of the fictional family in question? Do you know what their ancestor did to the kingdom?”
“There wasn’t a kingdom then,” I said.
He waved his hand. “It still brought centuries of servitude.”
I glanced at KV. “But didn’t you-”
“As long as he had access to the sea, we could do much as we pleased. Then there is the matter of how my family was denied the throne rightfully ours, and that family made rulers.”
“That was by decision of the other nobles, wasn’t it?” I said.
“Such things can be manipulated. You talk as if I did what LS did.”
LS jerked her head up from her needlepoint. “I beg your pardon.”
“How many did you kill?” DT said.
“It was war,” LS said.
“What of that maid you thought knew too much?”
“I never killed her.”
“Only because your husband sent her away in secret,” DT said.
“What would you have done if you had learned who my ancestor was?” LS said.
“Killed you,” DT said.
LS extended her hand to him, palm up. “Well?”
“I had to protect my claim to the throne,” DT said.
“Uh, huh,” LS said.
DT’s face reddened. “You planned to kill your husband. You took up with a man, only to kill him when he failed in one of your schemes. You tried to kill you son several times. You tortured and maimed your daughter. You killed your daughter’s intended.”
“I did no such thing,” LS said. “His death was an accident.”
“You do not deny the other,” DT said.
“It was no different than what you and KV have done.”
“I was right about my son; he turned against me,” LS said. “They all did. My daughter fled to the enemy. I asked her what she told him, and she refused to tell me. Had she talked, she wouldn’t have been maimed.”
“If she talked, she would have been dead.” DT leaned back. “I, on the other hand, loved and looked after the woman I could not marry, and saw to the wellbeing of my son until he was of age. I took care of my family.”
LS’ eyes flashed. “I don’t see him sitting beside you.”
“That is on him, not me. I can hold my head high,” DT said.
UG looked at each character and grinned.
LS pointed at UG, her finger shaking. “What about him? He’s the closest character to a monster the writer has ever dreamed up.”
UG, who was drinking at that moment, set down his tankard. “The writer made me a psychopath, just like S. A bad storm has as much choice as I did.”
LS snorted. “Oh, you chose what you did. You did unspeakable cruelties because you enjoyed them. I only did what was necessary.”
UG leaned toward her. “Your daughter is over there. Shall we ask her if her scars were necessary?”
LS recoiled as though she had been slapped.
UG chuckled and sat back.
“She has a point,” KV said. “None of us took pleasure in what we did.”
UG smiled. “Oh? Not the least little bit sometimes?”
KV looked uncomfortable.
“I had my reasons, too, just like you all did” UG said.
“But you chose to do what you did,” KV said.
“And you didn’t? All your murders just happened?” UG looked at DT. “How about you? Did you have to do what you did?” He looked at LS. “If I had a choice, so did you.”
UG lifted his tankard. “A toast to us, monsters all.”
The other three didn’t raise their drinks.
“The nobles never should have given the throne to that traitorous house,” DT said.
“I had to secure my power,” KV said.
LS’ voice was barely audible. “The throne was my family’s. Mine.”
UG gloated. “Then we are in agreement.” He took a drink.
DT stood. “I will not sit here and be accused by the likes of you.” He picked up the newspaper, then made his way across the saloon.
LS’ eyes were focused elsewhere, and I saw that she was looking at her daughter. “I want to be by myself.” She got up and took a booth in the corner.
KV’s gaze followed her. “We three had good reasons for what we did, but unlike some here, that does not mean we have no regrets.” He stared at UG before getting up and taking a seat at the bar.
UG looked at me in a way that made my skin crawl. I was about to get up when he said “Do you believe they regret what they did?”
“No,” I said.
He nodded. “Smart muse.” He got up and mingled with the other characters.
I sat there, unnerved.
“It’s all about what they think it’s worth, you know.”
I turned, and saw a detective character talking to the bartender.
The detective pointed at the bartender. “I’m talking about premeditated murder here. Whatever the motive, it all comes down to them thinking it’s worth murdering someone for it. Sometimes they don’t think a life is worth much at all.”
I then saw LS’s daughter pass the table, her face scarred from torture, walking in the direction of her mother’s booth. I thought she might be going to talk to her. Then she abruptly stopped, her head turned toward the booth.
LS raised her head, and looked at her daughter with a hopeful expression.
Her daughter wheeled, and walked in the opposite direction.
LS closed her eyes and cried.
There’s only so much a muse can take. I left the saloon, not quite knowing what to make of the evening.
I would have been better off nagging my writer. Much better.