Episode Eighteen: Living Will. Part One.
Richard wouldn’t know how to define the way time passed at Middleham. It seemed both that he spent his days relearning his home and all the changes, but then either Strong or Jones would find him and he would be called for dinner. When he looked back later it would seem that he did nothing for days.
Jones persisted in their attempts to speak to him but Richard found that all he needed to do was claim exhaustion or illness to be left alone. Outside of their company, however, Richard found himself entirely alone, except for the beings of light. Leonardo did not seem interested in his company, spending time with one of the guards, or speaking to Harmony about computers.
Richard had also found himself lingering in the chapel for hours, praying for guidance and strength in light of this new world he found himself in. He was no longer a king, no longer a husband or father, no longer a soldier. But Richard would be damned before he lapsed and abandoned his faith as well.
Then Russo returned.
“I had to completely rearrange the shifts at the clinic. Also if anyone asks, I’m visiting a monastery in Tibet,” she told Jones, who grinned shakily.
“Let’s hope that holds up under examination,” they said. Russo pursed her lips.
“I’ve spent time there before. If it’s for spiritual guidance people are less likely to go looking for me. And I rented a room there.”
“Won’t help if they look for your ID,” Strong pointed out.
“That’s the last case scenario, hopefully. Besides, I’m not missing. I’m not going to drop out of contact with anyone. There’s no reason for the Federation-”
“Chikara,” Strong interrupted.
“For anyone to go looking for me,” Russo said calmly before casting her gaze on Bonaparte, who was examining her as well. Richard had noticed that he had a soldier’s bearing, feet firmly planted and shoulders stiff. Russo didn’t seem to care, reaching out to embrace his hand.
“Doctor Primavera Russo.”
Bonaparte’s eyes flicked over her height, her face, her hand. After what was clearly a moment too long, since Strong and Jones glanced at each other, he took her hand.
“His Imperial Majesty Napoleon Bonaparte,” he said gravely.
Russo’s cheek twitched. “Pleased, I’m sure,” she muttered and dropped his hand, turning to Richard. “So I’ve been doing research and I’ve come up with a few experiments about how to make your spine. But first, we’re going to have to come up with a sterilized space to do it.” She grinned suddenly, the first Richard had seen on her. “It would be a fine thing for you to die of an infection in the thirty-first century.”
Richard could feel his face harden. It was something that Anne told him many times that frightened the court since his mood suddenly became unreadable and unnerved his company.
“Is it so necessary?” He asked quietly. The room stopped, even Bonaparte.
“What? What do you mean?” Russo looked over at Jones. “What does he mean?”
“I speak for myself,” Richard snapped. “I mean what I say. Is my life at risk, with my back as it is?”
Russo’s grin had long fled and now she crossed her arms over her chest, her face just as stony as his. “No. Scoliosis isn’t life-threatening. But surely you don’t want to be,” she gestured to all of Richard.
“Please, tell me what I should not wish to be when the Lord Almighty crafted me thus?” Richard replied coldly. Jones laughed too loudly and stepped towards Richard, palms up as if Richard was some horse to need calming.
“Richard, she-she didn’t mean that. It’s just that… well, wouldn’t you be more comfortable?”
“I don’t think my comfort matters unduly.” Not if it’s God’s will to have me be so. It would be a just punishment for my life.
Jone’s face twisted slightly and for the first time, Richard saw irritation pass over it. “Richard, are you saying you don’t want to have Russo operate on you?”
Richard stiffened. Jones may think of themselves as the new master of Middleham, but the last virtuous king died with him on Bosworth.
“No. I do not wish it.”
Russo threw her hands up and snarled like a dog. “Fantastic!”
Jones approached Richard. “Please, Richard it would really be for the best if you-” He backed away, uninterested in their protests.
“No. If he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t have to have it.”
Everyone looked around at Strong. She was leaning against the table, her arms crossed over her chest. She was looking at Richard evenly, expression inscrutable. She looked over at Russo. “You said yourself, it’s not going to kill him. If he wants to live the way he was born, we can’t tell him to change it.”
Richard blinked. Once again, the maid soldier had surprised him.
Strong bit her lip now. “But I do think that Doctor Russo is right. We’ll need a medical bay. We still don’t know what condition we’ll find Robespierre in.”
Bonaparte startled, eyes wide. “Robespierre?”
Richard looked over at him. “Yes. Do you know him?”
Bonaparte hesitated, eyes flicking around the room. “I did not know him. I knew his reputation as a tyrant, a dictator,” he said slowly as if feeling out the words.
Richard snorted, mouth twisting. I knew it. For all his words about being an unjust ruler, he ranked petty tyranny over others.
“He was kidnapped, right before Leonardo and Richard came to Middleham and uh we still can’t find him.” Strong shifted her weight back and forth. “Harm’s still working on it.”
Russo, who still looked mulish, sighed loudly. “I suppose you’ll also want me to fix that when we find him.”
Jones looked over at her with a small smile. “That’d be great, certainly.”
“Well if you want me to, then get me a layout of the grounds,” Russo demanded. “I’ll take my bags upstairs.”
With one last look at Richard, she scooped up her belongings and mounted the stairs. Richard had the insane desire to laugh, trying to picture any of the ladies of the court doing the same.
Strong cleared her throat. “Well, I need to check in with my commander. I’ll use Mags office.” She nodded at them and turned towards the smaller stairwell.
Jones seemed to have trouble looking at Richard as they passed, muttering something about checking in with Harmony. Bonaparte and Richard were left alone in the grand hall.
“Why don’t you want your spine fixed?” Bonaparte asked. “You might as well accepted and soothed them.”
“I don’t want them to try to fix me,” Richard replied, affronted. “There’s nothing to fix.”
Aspen stayed in Magpie’s office, flexing her metallic fingers. The neural processor made it flawless. She could still remember having her real hand, it had only been seven years, but if she’d had it reskinned, even Aspen would admit that she’d never know the difference. She could make out texture, temperature, pressure. In some ways, the prosthetic was even better, since she could exert more pressure than a normal hand could and withstand higher temperatures. The wrist and all the fingers could reverse the joint or rotate in 360 degrees. The metal was military-grade alloy.
Doctors now had to report if they suspected that patients were harming themselves to get prosthetics. They were so much better than human parts that a common ice-breaking question was “if you could get a body part replaced, which one would you want?”
It was no wonder that Richard’s flat refusal surprised Doctor Russo.
But it was a good reminder.
Aspen looked up when the door opened and Magpie stepped in. To their credit, they didn’t even look surprised.
She relaxed and smiled. Magpie was one to wear all of their emotions on their sleeves. Even just her name had no bite behind it.
She stood up and waited at ease while Magpie settled in, looking much like their namesake in a nest. Ruffled feathers and all.
“I’m assuming you’re hovering for a reason?” Magpie asked.
“Permission to speak freely?”
Magpie startled. “You’ve never asked before,” they said slowly. “I’ve never had a reason to ignore your advice before.”
Aspen shrugged. “We’re in uncharted waters here, boss. We’re harboring three fugitives and figuring out how to turn Middleham into a safe haven. I figured I should at least observe the basics, right?”
Magpie snorted. “Alright. Permission granted. What is it Ensign Strong?”
Aspen relaxed her stance. “I think we’re going to need a psychologist.”
To her surprise Magpie sighed and nodded. “Yes. I think so too.” They shook their head. “I wasn’t expecting Richard to refuse treatment like that. I thought he’d want to be able to…” They shook their head again.
“Be normal?” Aspen guessed. Magpie looked up sharply. “That’s quite ableist of you.”
“I didn’t think that he’d consider his spine to be a part of his…identity,” Magpie admitted. “I’ve studied the late medieval period for two decades. I knew I was in love with it the first time I read about the Hundred Years War. At first, it was a bitter love. A perfect example of European excess and the so-called divine right of kings. And then I slowly grew fascinated by the people who fought it. And who was more fascinating than the perfect prince who might have committed fratricide to secure his position?” Magpie was frowning heavily, looking into the middle distance. “All of my research, sitting in sealed rooms wearing a mask and gloves to handle thousand-year-old texts and I thought…” They sighed and looked at Aspen with a lopsided smile. “I thought I knew him.”
Aspen shrugged. “I’m not a historian. I couldn’t tell you anything about it. But I do recognize the signs of a displaced soldier,” she said as gently as she could. “And more than his spine, it’s his head and heart we’re going to need to look out for.”
“It sounds like you’ve given this some thought. Alright. Do you have an idea? Who were you assigned to after you lost your arm?”
Aspen laughed. “Absolutely not! Gods, I wouldn’t subjugate anyone to Leddi. That man could make you think up was down. Also, he was a hardcore atheist and that’s not gonna fly with this crowd.”
“True. We’ll need to appeal to Richard’s spirituality.”
“And Leonardo’s and Napoleon’s. And Robespierre’s if we can ever fucking find him,” Aspen said pointedly.
“I think Robespierre was an atheist,” Magpie said absently. “But you’re right. We should make it part of the deal. Weekly counseling, like we would for any trauma. Okay, so who did you have in mind?”
“An old college friend of mine, Robin. A double major in theology and psychology. He’s out in Rome and actually did four years as a chaplain on a ship.”
Magpie raised one perfect eyebrow. “Really? A practicing priest?”
“I don’t see how we’re going to get Richard or any of the rest of them to trust him if he wasn’t,” Aspen admitted.
Magpie sighed. “Contact him. See if he has any interest, but subtly.”
Aspen groaned. “Great. More subterfuge!”
A/N: I’m not going to do this often, because it’ll be too easy for me to just start posting essay’s down here about my Opinions on History, but I felt this update was going to warrant some clarification. First, in regards to Richard’s back, the original draft has him do the surgery. But upon further consideration and rereading some thoughts from his biographers, it occurred to me that it was as Aspen said, “ableist” and considering Richard’s piety, out of character for him to just be okay with allowing an invasive operation to change a fundamental part of who he is. Secondly, in regards to some of the statements Magpie makes on Robespierre which are incorrect, one should remember that Magpie’s specialty is Medieval Europe, not the Enlightenment or French Revolution. If a historian doesn’t actively tap into a time period, they might not know any more than any other academic on the subject.