Fandom: Babylon 5
Character: Vir Cotto
Word Count: 1,394
Rating: General Audience
Spoilers: Sic Transit Vir, third season, though the events in the story actually take place sometime before Ceremonies of Light and Dark.
Disclaimer: Babylon 5 and its characters are the property of J. Michael Straczynski and Warner Brothers Television. No copyright infringement is intended.
As the orchestra launched into a new piece, the opening crescendo swelling and breaking over the humid, sweet-smelling evening, the forbidding figure of Bedras Cotto was suddenly swept from his place at the hedges and drawn into the thick of the dance. Volatilis feathers from Lady Drusilla’s headdress tickled Bedras’s face as she pulled him close and led him gently, but firmly, through a tripudo.
“Forgive me for being forward, Lord Cotto, but this dance is brief and there is a matter of some importance we must discuss.” Step, turn, step, step.
“Indeed?” Scanning the assembled for a glimpse of his second and most favored wife, Bedras found her speaking to Lord Refa, the titular host of the evening’s festivities (though Bedras suspected the party was rather more the doing of the ladies of Refa’s household). As Bedras watched, something Refa said made Arava laugh in open delight, and the web of gems that adorned her face glinted in the ambient light. His abdominal muscles tense, his attentions divided, Bedras asked of his new companion, “And what should you want with me, my lady?” Step, turn, step, step. Arava disappeared behind the crowd.
“I wish to know what you intend for your nephew.”
What shall we do about Vir?
The death of Bedras’s youngest brother actually changed very little. As the eldest of the erstwhile Lord Cotto’s four children, Bedras had taken responsibility for most of the particulars of his nephew’s upbringing from the very start. It was he who hired the nurses, consulted the physicians, and vetted the tutors, and if any objections were raised regarding his decisions, Bedras usually dispatched them all with a swift show of his authority. He had always been jealous of his rightful duties; his brother, too passive to raise a properly vigorous dissent.
Still, after his brother’s interment, the question that would repeatedly vex Bedras for many years to come lighted on the lips of his first wife: What shall we do about Vir? And at that moment, Bedras looked down at his nephew’s chubby, white, tear-stained face and felt a distinct twinge of resentment. There was so much of his brother in the boy – the infirmities, the softness, the stumbling of feet and speech, the slowness of wits. Perhaps, some may be tempted to speculate, Bedras’s anger rested upon a base of grief, but if this was so, said grief was far from his conscious awareness.
And so Bedras sent Vir away – first to Lord Cesaro, then to many others as each lord’s patience ran out.
“I’ve never believed the matter merited much thought,” Bedras said with a flick of his heavy cape. “I still do not.”
“But you have been entertaining suitors.”
“I have been called upon by the fathers of several young ladies of age. I have advised them all to disabuse themselves of their matrimonial notions. My nephew is -” Bedras’s lips curled in disgust around the phrase, “- a rank Gordinian.”
Each time young Vir returned to his home estate, shamed, Bedras would square his severe jaw, call in one more favor, then swoop below stairs to wrest Vir from the servants’ quarters and send him on his way again. Each time Vir returned, Bedras found himself delivering the same litany: Vir was not to consort with slaves or staff. He was not to spend his free hours daydreaming in the gardens, reading common poetry, or wiling away the time on any other such nonsense. He was not to sing, for his voice was execrable, nor laugh aloud, for it grated the nerves. He was not to overindulge on tarts, as was his persistent habit, nor eat between meals, for he was clearly fat enough. He was to comport himself with the dignity suitable to a young man of his station. He was to train his focus upon his studies.
And each time, these homilies fell on apparently deaf ears, for though the boy was meek, his faults proved frustratingly resistant to change.
Was it any wonder, then, that when Vir – at the time a youth well beyond his age of Ascension – was discharged from Lord Donato’s services under a cloud of sexual scandal, Bedras abandoned, for the first and only time, the spirit of his own exhortations? For there Vir was, once again without gainful employment – once again standing in Bedras’s personal study amidst the detritus of a shattered reputation – giving timid voice to one of the most foolish of adolescent sentiments, the word “love” tripping from his clumsy tongue.
Bedras forgot himself and blacked the boy’s eye. Whether others had beaten Vir was outside of Bedras’s concern, but until this final embarrassment, he himself had never raised his hand against his nephew – against anyone – in a fit of uncontrolled rage.
“A pity,” Lady Drusilla conceded, bringing Bedras back to the present moment with a dizzying turn, the resultant breeze playing through her shimmering crimson skirt. “Still, it is quite unwise to abandon an opportunity once it has presented itself, no? You have been out of favor for quite some time,” Bedras bristled, his grip on his dance partner tightening ever so slightly, “yet your nephew has won the approval of Ambassador Mollari, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and, I hear tell, even Emperor Cartagia himself. He stands poised to catapult your house into a position of great influence – provided you are prudent and exercise the power that is your right.”
What shall we do about Vir?
“Ambassador Mollari has requested an attaché. It has been decided that you are the appropriate candidate.”
The Earther’s Folly. When the opportunity presented itself, there was only one correct course of action. Of course there was. Sending Vir seventy-five light-years distant to serve a drunken, humiliated minor diplomat who was in no position to argue was a truly elegant solution, and Bedras couldn’t quite suppress his smile when he informed his nephew of the arrangement.
“Tomorrow, you will report to the embassy,” Bedras continued, “to be briefed on the specifics of your assignment. You will then be transported at once to Babylon 5. Ambassador Mollari has already received my letter of introduction and is prepared for your arrival. From this point forward, he alone will be responsible for the particulars of your training.” Then, when Vir offered no reply – indeed, he had avoided his uncle’s eyes completely – the triumphant smirk disappeared from Bedras’s face. “You should thank the gods for your good luck, Vir. Until this position opened, I had despaired of finding a place for you. But Mollari – the old fool is a perfect match. You both deserve each other.”
What happened in the years to follow was entirely unanticipated.
What shall we do about Vir?
“Your proposition?” Bedras asked tightly, his eyes narrowing behind his obsidian mask. Lady Drusilla’s oblique insult had sharpened his focus.
“An alliance – between your house and mine.”
“Forged through marriage, I presume.”
“A marriage between your nephew and my daughter, Lyndisty.” Lady Drusilla gestured toward the center of the courtyard with a subtle movement of one perfectly tended hand. The girl in question sat perched on the edge of a massive stone fountain, framed by the cascade of silver water and a set of iridescent, gossamer wings. Catching sight of her mother, she waved, her dreamy expression changing to one of starry-eyed, innocent delight. “She has only just come of age and has a few unfortunate ideas of her own, but she is her father’s daughter through and through and is quite well versed in our current politics. She would make any man of the court a fine bride.”
“And you are quite confident that I will say yes - even though I have made no secret of my distaste for your husband and his singular methods.”
“I know you will say yes because you are a man of ambition, Lord Cotto. If you were not, you would not have agreed to sup with a man you despise. Or were the rumors of your trip to Babylon 5 in error?” On this, the orchestra finished with a flourish. Without missing a beat, Lady Drusilla curtseyed, keeping her shrewd eyes trained on her quarry’s face.
What shall we do about Vir?
“Lyndisty and I shall wait eagerly for your response. Good evening, my lord.”
Within moments, Lady Drusilla was gone, and Bedras was left with his own thoughts.