Sources: One site in particular I'd like to mention: the mlahanas.de website on medical instruments of ancient Greece, complete with pictures!
A/N: This is an offshoot of the next story I'll post, a prequel of sorts to establish certain things.
Handy info: Critodemus treated Alexander's near-fatal wound from the Mallians. Diades was a key engineer in the siege of Tyre.
This takes place in August 333 BC, a couple of months before the Battle of Issus (and before Critodemus' and Diades' claims to fame as mentioned above).
Chapter 1: A Light Day
Despite being a capital city, Tarsus was small and its defenses were weak. Moreover, the locals welcomed Alexander's arrival, their lands saved from razing by the Persian military thanks to the swift pace of Alexander's march. Taking over the city had been fast and easy – in the soldier's terms, not much more than an exercise.
In Critodemus' terms, it had been a light workday. A score of quick stitches here, a fracture to reset there; the usual knocks and bruises to stabilize with splints and slings. Challenges for apprentices, yes, but downright routine for Critodemus, who, despite being a relative newcomer to the army, already enjoyed Alexander's personal favor as one of the young king's leading surgeons.
Critodemus sighed. But not too deeply. He was in the chamber currently used as the surgical storehouse, which therefore reeked with the odors of several of the most noxious drugs known to civilization – and, as luck would have it, each and every one of them could only aggravate his throbbing headache.
Of course, the fumes here could not be half as horrid as those in the physicians' storehouse. But the heat of the late Cilician summer was certainly not helping; nor was this curiously prolonged downtime that left Critodemus wondering what to do with himself.
As soon as Tarsus was theirs, advance contingents had been dispatched – to scout out paths, to contact informants, to notify nearby towns of the change in leadership and secure their goodwill. But since little resistance was expected, most of the surgical crew remained in the capital with Alexander and the main body of the army. It took some effort for Critodemus to recall exactly how long they had already stayed; the days here ballooned one into the other, stuffy and hot as a teeming surgical tent. The Cydnus, running through the capital, only made things worse – luring a man to peril like a siren, with its stunningly clear waters and equally frigid temperature. Critodemus was not, by any measure, a nostalgic man, but the longer they stayed in Tarsus the more his thoughts drifted, all the way back to the cool highlands and breezy beaches of his native isle of Cos.
A wave of heat rolled ponderously through the chamber. Critodemus pressed his forehead against the tabletop.
Apollo help me! If only I had some work at hand, it would not be this unbearable!
Unfortunately, he had already run through every productive activity he could think of. Now he was supervising the final task, the inventory – the task that was always left until later, the task that was behind all else in priority, the task that almost never got done.
Right. Inventory. It had come down to that.
Alexander's army had not seen a pitched battle for months. All surgeons knew to expect phases of light workloads, but, as his staff liked to jest, Critodemus did not handle vacations well.
Weeks before they neared Cilicia, when rumor first flitted around that Alexander was anticipating a decisive battle against the Persians, Critodemus promptly submitted all the necessary supply requisitions (and then some) to handle such a massive confrontation. With their patient load so light, he had personally led his staff in the mundane tasks of maintenance, sifting through drugs and discarding expired herbs, patching up surgical tents, repairing old cots and constructing new ones. Every last instrument was repaired or on the books to be replaced; every scalpel, hook, and forceps had been cleaned and sharpened and polished like new. Even the catheters were in tip-top condition, little tubes ready as ever (much to the glee of all the medical staff) to rouse inordinate terror in men who regularly faced down spears, arrows, swords, and scimitars without a second thought.
Lastly, there was the inventory. The headache had come along with it. So now the only thing Critodemus could do was supervise (or, in his opinion, watch in an idle stupor) while his staff counted and tallied and reckoned away.
Well, at least he was in a shaded room, unlike his colleague Philip. Philip had been a physician to the Macedonian royals since before Alexander was born, had treated Alexander when the latter was still a boy. But, as Critodemus realized early on, enjoying Alexander's favor also meant receiving more responsibility. The locals had warned them of fevers and plagues troubling the surrounding area, especially during this time of year, so Alexander had sent Philip off immediately with the diplomatic contingent.
On second thought, however, Critodemus decided he would prefer sweating into a puddle on the road, rather than having his brains swelter in this indolence. Which brought him back to his original dilemma: what was he to do, once the inventory was finished –
With a start, Critodemus realized that one of his aides was tapping his shoulder, trying to get his attention. "A messenger from Diades here to see you, Sir!"
By virtue of his profession, Critodemus knew many soldiers, had even made good friends among them (regardless of the fact that most of them, when they first made his acquaintance as patients, had cursed him to the gates of Hades and back). But Critodemus did not know any soldier by that name.
The messenger was young and his face was flushed, but otherwise he looked unfairly composed, considering the temperature. He introduced himself as the bearer of a request for Critodemus to meet with Diades.
"And who is that?" Critodemus asked bluntly, never one to waffle around for the sake of something so trivial as manners, even when he was not at work – or beset by a hammering headache.
The youth blinked, but recovered with unexpected quickness for his age. "Diades the engineer, Sir," he replied, no less polite than when he first walked in. "He said it's to be at your convenience. Only thing is, if you don't mind he'd appreciate meeting in his workshop – he has something there to show you."
Critodemus looked around the room at the tall stacks of bandages, towels, and cloths; the instruments laid out neatly on the tables, ready to be packed into their leather kits; the little jars and large amphorae full of herbs and ointments. And his aides, counting and sorting and scratching away at their parchment, faces red and eyes glassy in the heat.
Critodemus began to suspect that his headache would persist until the next time he could put a bone drill to good use.
"Lead the way!"
Five paces out the door he was already coated in dust, and if he had felt like a baking lump of dough inside the storeroom, under the sun's white blaze it was positively broiling. The waters of the Cydnus, which ran close to the engineers' quarters, glittered happily at him and aggravated his nerves and his headache all at once.
Upon arriving at the workshop, however, he momentarily forgot all discomfort.
He supposed an engineer's chambers might naturally contain, well, engineering things. But he had never imagined the explosion of planks, pulleys, tools, papers, and absolutely bizarre devices that was Diades' workroom. It seemed too crammed with contraptions, in fact, to fit any people, but when the messenger announced their arrival, sure enough, there came an answer.
"Oh! The surgeon is here?" exclaimed a cheerful voice, which would have been quite pleasant if it did not seem disembodied.
"Er . . . yes," Critodemus replied, stepping with wary precision around the heap of sharp metal rods at the door. "Critodemus of Cos, here at your invitation . . ."
In a far corner, a person finally popped out from behind a table stacked high with parchments. Despite the circumstances, or perhaps because of them, Critodemus automatically fell back on a professional habit and quickly assessed his host: a man in his mid-thirties, around Critodemus' own age; lanky and wiry but looking just as vigorous as Critodemus (who was burly as a soldier from years of dealing with patients who couldn't quite control themselves or their tempers). A few secondary details followed: the engineer's hair stuck out a bit, resembling sticks in a wild thicket, and his features crinkled genially as he waved at his visitor. "A pity, a pity I say, that we haven't met before! Diades of Pella, at your service! Tirius, you may go; I know you have much to do!" Diades grinned, then dived back behind the parchments with a loud rustle. "Critodemus, please do find a seat if you can; I'll be with you in a moment. I must say, very civil of you to come at such short notice!"
"It's no trouble," Critodemus called back, tearing his gaze away from the tabletop next to him, which was actually an astoundingly detailed three-dimensional terrain model, complete with hills and valleys, a small groove filled with water for a river, and even sticks topped with green woolen balls for trees. ". . . Light day, as you might imagine!"
"Ah, light days." Diades chuckled. "Driving you up the wall?"
Critodemus' face suddenly broke into a rare grin. "Up and over and around in circles!"
"Ha! Just the time for a diversion, then!" With a large box tucked under one arm and several rolls of parchment under the other, Diades finally emerged from behind the desk, winding his way through the clutter with practiced ease. "The messenger, he told you I had something to show you, yes?" Not waiting for an answer, the engineer somehow cleared a space on a bench without upsetting anything, set the box down, and unrolled one of the parchments. "Here, take a look!"
Critodemus stared, amazed at the sheer amount of scribbling crowding all around the actual drawings. "You wanted to show me – wagons?" he asked skeptically.
"Yes. Surgical wagons." Diades beamed, then turned his attention to the box, which bristled with an assortment of wooden contraptions.
"Surgical wagons?" Critodemus exclaimed. "Are we to amputate limbs while jolting along over hills and rocks, then?" Even as he asked, though, he was already thinking how he might compensate for the instability –
"They're not for carrying out the actual procedure – at least, not as I understood the original intent," Diades explained as he rummaged through the box. "They're more for transporting patients – you know, Alexander doesn't wait around much if he can help it. The commanders came up with this at their last meeting; they think the wagons might make it easier for the wounded to follow the main army – as well as reduce their recovery time, get them healthy and back in the ranks faster. Ah! Here we are!" Diades finally found what he wanted in the box – a miniature wagon – and held it cheerily in front of Critodemus' nose.
Critodemus blinked, unsure what to make of it all. Special wagons would indeed help – he never coddled patients, but stuffing them into supply wagons was no way to make them follow the army, either. Still, this sort of proposal seemed rather incongruous with his impression of most of the higher officers. Diades, obviously, was eager to design it, but on the commanders' side there was funding to be approved, questions of necessity and feasibility, advantages and disadvantages to be argued for days on end . . . "You mean, this wasn't your idea?"
"Me? Oh, by Hephaestus' hammer, no! This is just a little exercise; an amusement, really – my mind is usually on siege engines, battering rams, that sort of thing. As for who originally thought of it – you'd be surprised what some of those commanders think up, sometimes. But if I had to take a guess – " Diades grinned and dropped his voice conspiratorially. "I'd wager it's one of Hephaestion's suggestions. After all that boy, the one who brought you here, he was the one to deliver the design request, and he's one of Hephaestion's pages –"
Critodemus started; here was a name he knew well. "Really? Hephaestion? But isn't he away, leading the diplomatic contingent? Besides," he could not help a wry grin, "I thought the medical staff were the only ones favored with his – shall we say, his special attention!"
"He comes to you fellows with odd ideas, too? " Diades exclaimed, delighted.
Critodemus allowed a crooked smile. "Not ideas – but herbs, equipment. Alexander brings us things sometimes, also, but he gets caught up talking to the wounded. As well he should; it sounds like absolute rubbish but he brings a light to their eyes as I'd never believe, if I hadn't seen it for myself! But Hephaestion – well, if we want something rare or foreign, we can mention it to him and he'll keep an eye out for it. Other times, he just throws strange herbs and tools our way – 'Here, can you find a use for this?' Strange thing is, sometimes we can!"
Diades laughed. "That's what Alexander keeps saying. 'You can design a siege engine a mile high; you can construct a bridge in half a day!' Lucky for us the army needs simple things like wagons too." To Critodemus' astonishment, the engineer started taking the little wagon model apart. "I've designed these for rapid construction and deconstruction, of course – as with all my siege engines and catapults. But it is possible, actually, to build or take apart a score of these in half a day! Here, let me show you; it all fits naturally together – " Within a minute, the pile of parts in Diades' hands were reassembled into the wagon, good as new. "See?"
"Oh! Very clever! So, those are benches for the patients along the sides?"
"Yes, exactly – they can sit or lie down – but I'm not sure how many to put in, how closely they should be set up, and so on. That's where you come in!"
"Well, you tell me what's feasible for a moving army. But I think some storage space would be useful also, to make them more adaptable – you won't have to build in so many benches if you could stow some of our cots on the wagons. They're quite versatile, can be folded to a quarter of a man's height – very compact."
"Really? Do you think I could get my hands on one, just for an hour or two? And, what are the measurements exactly –?"
The next hour passed in a flurry of parchment and model wagons. They shifted benches around, added shelves, designated space for blankets and supplies, tested out the models over the terrain-desk, modified them to increase accessibility to the wounded, all the while discussing in great depth the advantages of so-and-so a design over such-and-such a terrain with this-or-that category of patients.
Just as they were putting the finishing touches on the final drawing, a cry arose outside, carrying a distinct note of alarm.
"D-don't b-be rid-diculous!" Alexander insisted through chattering teeth as he clambered up from the Cydnus. Water was glistening on his skin, dripping from his hair, covering him like a thousand tiny, blinding ice chips. "A d-docter, really! I'm p-perfectl-ly f-fine!"
Critodemus was not a doctor. Still, his emergency instincts were too deeply ingrained, and he was the only medical staff in the vicinity when Alexander collapsed, a few steps after asserting his perfect state of health.
The crowd around Alexander resumed its dreadful cry. Critodemus plunged in nonetheless, making way with his elbows, shouting at the top of his voice to make himself heard. "What happened?"
"He went for a swim!" howled one.
"He said it was hot!" bawled another.
"How can we go on without our Alexander! – " And the rest was jumbled in an anguished cacophony.
"You're not telling me anything useful!" Critodemus fumed. "Did he fall in, did he get hit with something, did he break a bone?"
Fortunately, by now he was getting close to Alexander, and one of the attending pages desperately pulled him forward from the throng. With teary eyes, the boy wailed, "He said he wanted a bath!"
"Th-that's right!" Alexander declared, swatting at his friends Leonnatus and Perdiccas as they anxiously tried to lift him to a sitting position. "A bath! Don't t-tell m-me I can't-t d-do someth-thing . . ."
Perdiccas let out a grunt as Alexander's knuckles connected with his shin. "Alexander, no one said you couldn't bathe!"
"Anyway, why would you want to bathe in this?" Leonnatus broke in, forced to resort to a wrestling hold to stop Alexander's flailing arms. "Plenty of nicer baths in this town – somewhere – I'm sure!"
"No point – oof! – jumping into a river!" added Perdiccas.
"We march out, full gear, NOW!" snarled Alexander – just before toppling back to the ground, unconscious.
Critodemus had long since decided to sort out all this baffling nonsense later. Alexander's face, usually so deeply flushed in sunlight, now looked positively ashen despite the heat. His skin was clammy wherever Critodemus felt for injury, though the examination revealed nothing that the surgeon could identify as a cause.
Critodemus absolutely despised feeling helpless – it was one of the few things that could scare him out of his wits. Trying to suppress the tremor in his voice, he started pointing. "You, go to the physicians' and fetch anyone who's there; hurry! And you, and you, you, and you, help the officers carry him inside!"
"Well, his skin still feels like a wet fish!"
"But his forehead's burning up!"
"Why are you poking at his eye?"
"We need to see his pupils – aaagh! Did he just move?"
"Don't stand so close; it might be contagious!"
"What he needs is – is – what does he need?"
"Hot compresses, maybe?"
"Right! Steam out those bad humours!"
"But he's burning up already!"
"A real bath might work, maybe!"
Critodemus tried his hardest not to listen to the gaggle of physicians. Instead, he busied himself with a treatment he often prescribed to his own patients while they recovered: olive leaves. Aside from shrinking swollen tissues, they reduced infections – and fevers. Whatever the physicians finally decided, this could do Alexander no harm – and it was certainly better than nothing (which was exactly what the physicians had actually done so far).
Sniffing the steaming mixture, Critodemus was rewarded with just the scent he wanted, warm and rich, robust. Cautiously he took the vessel to Alexander's bedside – steering clear of the physicians, who were currently huddled around Alexander's midsection and urging each other to feel for signs of indigestion. Sprinkling in a last handful of freshly crushed leaves, he immersed a clean cloth in the hot, fragrant liquid. But just as he was wringing it out to wipe down Alexander's face, the door banged open.
In swarmed the officers, headed by a burly, broad-shouldered fellow with a thick dark beard and an even darker glower. Critodemus knew him as Craterus, one of Alexander's most trusted commanders; Perdiccas and Leonnatus were right behind him, and the rest were equally recognizable. Critodemus suppressed a groan. The last thing his nervous colleagues needed to face right now was the collective wrath of the high command.
For a moment they could hear the low, apprehensive muttering of the crowd gathered outside, but Craterus' thundering voice seized their full attention. "So, what's he got? How are you treating him? How long until he's back on his feet?"
His only answer was an apprehensive silence. Craterus' glower got darker, and even Critodemus tensed. With speed that belied his bulk, Craterus grabbed the front of the nearest physician's robes and growled, "Say something!"
The poor man stuttered wildly. "He's – we think – uh, perhaps we should …" His voice rising to a squeal, he finally cried, "Well Glaucias isn't here!"
Craterus unceremoniously dropped the man, but his glower continued full force. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"Uh . . . Glaucias is . . . is good, with fevers," another physician ventured. The first one nodded wildly as he scrambled up and away from Craterus, while the rest exchanged quick glances and murmured vague agreement.
Critodemus frowned in suspicion. Whether or not they were telling the truth, Critodemus personally thought Glaucias even more innately shaky than these fellows. But the commanders were eager to take action; Leonnatus turned to the other officers. "Was Glaucias sent with Hephaestion?"
"No," Eumenes answered flatly. "That was Philip."
"Did he get assigned to Parmenion's party, then?" Craterus demanded.
"No. Nor any of the others," Eumenes replied with dismal but absolute conviction.
"Then he should be here!" muttered Craterus. He wheeled on the physicians again. "So why wasn't he escorted here with the rest of you?"
Those who had not frozen up in fright started blubbering. "We – we don't know where he is –!"
"All right all right, quiet!" bellowed Craterus.
Another excruciating silence followed.
Finally, Craterus took a few steps toward Alexander's bedside – slow, and unwontedly hesitant. It was quite an odd sight, really, but no one was in the mood to appreciate it. Behind him the physicians scattered from Alexander's side and the other officers hung back in suspense.
In the stillness, they all suddenly realized that Alexander was muttering every now and then – too low for them to distinguish anything except the word "go," which punctuated the otherwise indecipherable syllables like a command. He was shifting restlessly, too, though the movements were small and feeble.
Critodemus swallowed hard, suddenly recalling just how out of depth he really was here.
An arm's length from Alexander's bedside, Craterus paused, peering in perplexion at the king.
"Careful," one of the physicians mumbled anxiously, "it might be contagious."
Craterus frowned heavily at him, and the offending speaker clapped his hands to his mouth. But Craterus said nothing, and went no closer to Alexander. At last, he sighed, his broad shoulders sinking ever so slightly. But in Craterus, such small actions signaled that he was at the end of his wits.
"Sir, if I may –" Critodemus ventured.
Craterus never stayed long in the surgical tents, so recognition took a few moments. Back to his usual brusque self, he flicked his gaze over the steaming liquid and the cloth in Critodemus' hands. "Are you treating him, surgeon?"
Critodemus had managed (though just barely) to stand his ground with an irritable Alexander before. He answered Craterus with something that at least resembled calm. "Yes."
Ptolemy came up and took a whiff of the potion. "Olive leaves?" Critodemus nodded.
Perdiccas frowned. "That's not much."
Craterus gave the surgeon a measuring look. "What else do you propose to do?"
Critodemus glanced at the assembled physicians, then thought of Glaucias and his nervous hands and shifty eyes – and his own fear, out there on the banks of the Cydnus.
"Get Philip back as fast as you can."
For a moment he thought that his customary bluntness might have just earned him his own place under a blade. But then, the commanders exchanged a glance.
Craterus' smile was grim. "Fine. But until then, you're in charge of his care."
Then the commanders were rushing back out, calling orders. The physicians watched them go with fearful eyes, sagging in relief only when Craterus, too, crossed the threshold.
Craterus whirled, his glower darker than ever. "If the surgeon needs something done, all of you had better be jumping over each other to do it! Hear that?" he asked, and they all nodded as the uneasy murmur outside started rising, like the first distant wrinkle of a mighty wave. "If anything happens to our King, I won't have to wring your necks – the entire army will be after you!"
This time they did not relax, not even when Craterus' voice faded into the distance, swearing up a storm about Glaucias and the Cydnus and the misbegotten heat of the region in general.
Letting the cloth slip back into the liquid – it needed re-soaking anyway – Critodemos indulged in a moment of absolute consternation. Alexander's labored breathing rasped keenly in his ears.
That's it. Apollo, Asclepius, and all you Gods, I've learned my lesson, I swear! I'll never lament a light day again.
last tweaked 12 July 2007