The Masters of Triage
by Evan Appelman
Table of Contents
Part 3 and Part 4
appear in this issue.
The king sat in a large, ornate armchair, stroking his beard thoughtfully. Near him was a desk, lit by two candles and cluttered with papers. At it sat a tall man with aquiline features.
“Well,” asked the king, “What’s next?”
The man at the table shuffled some of the papers. “They’ve arrested Mr. Milton, sir.”
“John Milton!” The king’s voice was tinged with disgust. “The conscience of the Puritans. He deserves hanging as much as anyone.”
“I think he is covered by the Act of Oblivion, sir. There was no exception taken for him.”
“Well, there should have been. They didn’t pick up everyone they ought to have.”
“We have letters written on his behalf, sir. By Mr. Marvel and Mr. Davenant.”
“Marvel and Davenant? They’re good enough men, I suppose. But neither of them has lost a father to these bastards.”
“But Mr. Milton wasn’t responsible for the execution of His Majesty, sir.”
“Wasn’t he? He certainly went out of his way to justify it. Is it fair to hang the regicides and excuse the man who incited them to it?”
“Sir, may I have permission to speak freely?”
The king looked intently at the craggy features of the man seated in front of him. He didn’t recognize him as one of his regular secretaries. “I don’t think I know you, fellow. What’s your name?”
“Lucas, sir. Smithson was unwell, and I was sent to take his place.”
“Very well, Lucas, what have you to say?”
“Sir, the world is changing; England is changing. The monarchy has changed. It will never again be what it was. Your reign, sir, will be very different from that of your grandfather and your father. More than any king before you, your success as a monarch will depend on how well you can secure and maintain the approval of your parliament and your people.
“Right now, sir, the parliament is prepared to go along with you in settling scores. But ultimately, your hold on your people will depend greatly on the restraint you show. Mr. Milton may indeed have been an intellectual pillar of the Puritan cause, but now the country sees him as a blind old man, and you will do yourself no credit if you are perceived to be taking revenge on him for your father’s death. Forgive me, sir, if I have presumed to say too much.”
“You express yourself very eloquently, Lucas.” A smile crossed the king’s face. “All right. Take a letter to Mr. Hyde. Tell him to look after our precious Mr. Milton. Say...” The king hesitated. “Say that he is old and blind and harmless, and we should leave him in peace.”
* * *
“You did all that for Milton?” Sybil asked, her voice incredulous. “Did you know what he was going to write about you?”
“Yes, of course I did.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“Oh, Sybil, Sybil,” Lucien said patiently, “These things are never black and white. First of all, what I said to the king was entirely true. Punishment of Milton would have made a bad impression. But more significantly, it really was important for Paradise Lost to be written.”
“Despite all the misinformation it contained?”
“Yes, despite all that. There’s literal truth and poetic truth. As literal truth, the poem is abysmal. It could hardly be otherwise, considering Milton’s background. But as poetry, it’s a masterpiece. It’s chock full of insights into the human condition. And to be honest,” Lucien smiled ruefully, “I have to admit that Milton had a pretty good fix on my personality quirks and foibles.”
“Oh, did he indeed?” Sybil raised her eyebrows. “Perhaps I should read Paradise Lost again more carefully.”
“Perhaps you should,” Lucien agreed. “It might give you warning as to what you’re getting yourself into. Although I’m still a little surprised at how much you already know about me.”
“Why shouldn’t I? You’re something of a folk hero to us. We’ve never lost a lot of love on your patriarchal Chief and his minions.”
“He’s doing his best — as he sees it.”
“Even when he put down your rebellion so brutally?”
“Especially then. Without him things would have been a lot worse for us.”
“Maybe. Anyhow, that’s your problem. We really don’t want to encroach on your affairs. And I think that on the whole we’ve been fairly successful. You hardly know we’re still around, do you?”
“No, I guess that’s true. If we’ve thought of you at all, it was as relics from ancient times who faded away when the Chief came to power.”
“Well, surprise! We’re still very much in business. But our goals really are pretty much the same as yours. We just go about things a little differently. We don’t get into all that technical nitty-gritty with probability matrices and branchings. A good thing, too. My computer expertise is strained to the limit just making my word processor behave.
“We tend to work more intuitively. It’s hard to explain — we just get a feeling of something that needs to be done, and we jump in and do it. And we’re more into consolation than technical fixes. But on the other hand, we’re probably more detached than you are. We’re not trying to prove anything.”
“That may be an advantage. You’re right. I guess I am still rehashing the rebellion. You could call me a sore loser, but nothing I’ve seen has caused me to think I was wrong back then.”
“You still think humans would have been better off if we’d left them just like other animals?” she asked.
“Yes, I do. Unless we were prepared to give them enough angelic capability to control their bestial nature. You know, it’s not God’s bedevilment that’s the problem. Man can come to accept the capricious amorality of nature.
“What really tears humankind apart is its own gratuitous cruelty and bloodthirstiness. And despite all the work we’ve done, I think you’d be hard pressed to say that there’s been any significant improvement. For every time we intervene successfully, there are hundreds or thousands of situations where we can only watch the horror. It gets to you after a while.” He grimaced as a memory surfaced in his consciousness.
She noticed at once and touched his shoulder gently. “Would it help to share it, Luce?”
“Perhaps,” he replied. This time there was no barrier at all, and he could begin projecting immediately.
* * *
A handsome woman, wearing a simple grey cloak of a coarse material, strode purposefully across a sunlit square in a great city. She had a bulky codex tucked under her arm. A group of men in cowled robes appeared out of the shadows at the edge of the square and ran toward her. One grabbed her from behind, pinioning her arms. A second threw a blanket over her head, muffling her outcry.
The codex fell to the ground, unheeded. The rest of the group picked the woman up roughly, and within the space of a minute they had carried her off, leaving the square empty except for the codex, its torn pages fluttering in the light breeze. A moment later a tall, craggy-featured man in a scarlet tunic dashed into the square, looking about frantically. He caught sight of the battered codex, and a look of despair came over his features. He pounded his fists together in frustration.
* * *
“Hypatia of Alexandria,” she said softly. It was an affirmation rather than a question.
“Yes,” he replied. “We were good friends, though we seemed to disagree about almost everything.”
“I knew her, too. She was a lovely person. What happened was ghastly. I’m truly sorry, Luce.”
He nodded. He was grateful that she didn’t ask what he meant by “good friends.” Perhaps she knew. But her sympathy was spontaneous and sincere.
He started to speak, but his throat tightened, and he paused to regain his composure. “It was such a senseless loss! We should have prevented it. We could have, too, if we’d only shown a little more foresight. Of course we knew that the Alexandrian mobs could be brutal, but Hypatia was so universally loved and respected that we didn’t imagine she could be in real danger.”
“I’m afraid she wasn’t beloved of the new bishop of Alexandria and his cohorts.”
“No, she wasn’t,” Lucien admitted. “And Cyril wasn’t about to let anyone stand in the way of his ambitions. We hadn’t appreciated just how ruthless someone like that could be.”
“Especially when he is convinced that he is doing what the Almighty himself would do if He only knew the facts of the situation.”
“Right,” Lucien agreed. “Isn’t that the classic definition of a fanatic?
“But you know, Sybil,” he went on, “Horrible as the martyrdom of Hypatia was, she is only one of the millions whom we’ve been unable to save. Millions of good people, even saintly people, victims of massacres, pogroms, holocausts, all wiped out by mindless human violence. Kyrie eleison, and let’s get on with the slaughter of anyone who isn’t one of us! My God, what a roll call we could take!” He smiled wanly, “Which is why, when I still thought you were just another pretty face, I was about ready to throw the whole thing over for you.”
“I know you were, and I’m flattered. But in the end, of course, you couldn’t do it, could you? None of us can. We can’t turn the clock back. We can only keep on doing our best for mankind and let things turn out as they will.”
“So where does that leave you and me?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you’re right; maybe we could make a good team. Do you think your people would accept me?”
“I think so. BZ and the crew might feel a little resentful at first, but I’m sure they’ll take to you once they know you. And the Council will be happy so long as someone is willing to take on this wretched job. I’ll be in for a lot of razzing, of course. Somehow they already seemed to have an inkling of what was going on.
“Come to think of it, the Chief may know more about you than I realized. There was a remark he made at the last Council meeting. But what about your colleagues?”
“Well, Apollo will profess to be jealous, but it’ll be his pride that will be injured, not his heart. Zeus and Hera keep to themselves these days, and I don’t think it will matter much to the others. And you should get along famously with Hermes. They’ll all come around eventually, and it does seem long overdue for us to coordinate our efforts.” She grinned impishly. “Besides, you really do need to learn to take yourself less seriously, and I’m pretty sure I can do something about that.”
“I know you can,” he said with a smile, and held her close.
* * *
Much later, lying beside her, a troubling thought struck him. “Sybil?”
“Yes, dear,” she responded sleepily, “What is it?”
“What will we tell the children?”
The story contains numerous unattributed quotations and paraphrases. In the opening scene, “And how am I to face the odds...” comes from A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, while “Without a hurt the heart is hollow” is a line from the Tom Jones song “Try to Remember,” from The Fantasticks.
Sybil’s comment about man’s existence and a sense of obligation on the part of the universe is a paraphrase from Stephen Crane’s War is Kind.
In the Council meeting, Gabriel’s welcome to Lucien echoes the Book of Job, while his subsequent remark is based on Valentin’s characterization of Mephistopheles in Gounod’s opera Faust: “Singulier personnage!”
Many of Lucien’s formal utterances in the Council meeting are my translations of lines from the Prolog im Himmel that introduces Goethe’s Faust, but the bit that Michael sarcastically refers to as “very grand” comes from Giambattista Marino’s Slaughter of the Innocents, as translated by “R.T.” in 1675.
The lines in italics at the end of part 3 are from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol.
The Sibyl’s cry in the vision of Cumae is my rendition of a verse from Virgil’s Aeneid, and “she who dwelt at Cumae” is taken from Comte de Gabalis, by Abbé N. de Montfaucon de Villars (translation by “A.L.A.M.”).
The banter about “the sons of God” and “the daughters of men” comes, of course, from Genesis, while “to justify the ways of God to men” is from the beginning of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
When Sybil and Lucien discuss the martyrdom of Hypatia, the “classic definition of a fanatic” is the one expounded by F. P. Dunne’s Mr. Dooley.
I am indebted to Julian May, talented writer of science fiction and fantasy, flyfisher extraordinaire, and long-time friend for bringing to my attention the magnificent passage by Giambattista Marino, and for her hauntingly evocative anti-hero Marc Remillard, who was my inspiration for the character of Lucien Orr.
I am grateful to my daughter Hilary for her painstakingly detailed critique of the manuscript.
Copyright © 2007 by Evan Appelman