Montaigne's Folly


Pat Foley

The French Renaissance philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne once wrote: "Peu d'hommes ont esté admirés par leurs domestiques1, or, as the English later rephrased it, "No man can be a hero to his own valet."

Sarek doesn't have a valet. And though perhaps nothing is quite so domestique as a wife, I'm not sure if I qualify under de Montaigne's classification, because, truth to be told, Sarek is something of a hero to me. Though I would also be the most expert person to be able to compile a quite comprehensive catalog of his faults. And I do so, at times, even if it's only shared with him. But then, we all of us have faults. And we certainly need heroes in this day and age to save us from ourselves.

To be frank, I consider the position over-rated. That of hero, not wife. Too much work and not enough renown.

Actually, the position of wife is quite similar in that respect.

But the position of hero certainly doesn't contain enough distinction to counteract the day in, day out, drudgery such saintliness entails.

Well, come to think of it, the position of a wife…

And what does renown get you anyway? In the long run, a footnote in the history books. Or perhaps, in Sarek's case, given his long career, a chapter. But in one's actual lifetime, heroism and renown only gets one harassed by press, and confined by security forces who are tasked with foiling those wanting to prevent further derring-do. And the derring-do duties, which more often than not aren't always what they seem.

Sarek and I make more hit lists than award dinners, that's to be sure. Though the food at such dinners is horrid enough to make an appearance on the hit list instead almost preferable.

Not being a hero myself, or even aspiring to such a tiresome state, I don't have the same concerns as de Montaigne. But there is a corollary for wives that might read, 'No woman can keep any personal secrets from her own chambermaid. At least, not with respect to her marriage.'

Sarek maintains that Vulcan staff are uniquely qualified to serve without looking, see without noticing such things, so adept are they at compartmentalizing their attention. There you are. As Horace so long ago noted, 'even the worthy Homer sometimes nods'2. And that Vulcans dream such nonsense is true – well for all their innate abilities they can be horribly naïve at times.

I know better. The state of a marriage, or at least the state of one's marriage bed, can be read every morning -- devined like tea leaves -- in the tangled sheets. No one could look at our rumpled bed and think that only chaste sleep had been going on in it. It's not for myself that I'm embarrassed as much as for Sarek's Vulcan image. A Vulcan's public life is so completely separate from his private one that it's disconcerting, for humans at least, to contemplate where the two merge. As a Vulcan, Sarek has no trouble compartmentalizing the two in his mind -- and finding perfect logical sense in their divide. But as for me, I find it so difficult that one of the last domestic tasks I reluctantly relinquished was the making of my own marriage bed.

When we are on Vulcan, it is not so bad. If Vulcan servants are not completely blind, they at least give the best impressions of being so. Not so, when Sarek and I are forced to travel.

And fate and Federation politics had required Sarek to serve as a Federation Ambassador-at-Large at a Terran colony that was perpetually at odds with another nearby system, to try and mediate their issues. Sarek wasn't keen on the assignment, for we'd been lately away from Vulcan more than he thought we ought to be. Vulcan clan affairs were pressing due to his frequent absences of late. Spock hadn't seen us in months and Sarek sorely felt his son required some paternal overseeing. Spock himself was devastated at being sent away to school again, so recently as he'd come home, though he tried his best not to show it. But Sarek was persuaded that it was an unavoidable duty. And it was supposed to be a short assignment, no more than a month. As for me, I help my son pack, and then my husband, and I'd have been hard pressed to tell which was more reluctant to go, and which was trying harder not to show it. My own disappointment seemed minor in comparison. So we all dried our tears, shed or unshed, or girded our respective loins, as the case may be, and away we all went.

Once there, we were met with all due ceremony, and the house put at our disposal was huge and grand. In an ostentatious Terran style, not a Vulcan one, which tends to largeness just to provide telepathic space. There was some crisis among the warring parties even as we arrived, so Sarek went grimly off to some meeting to see about it, while I was shown over the house, and then settled in the rather grandiose bedroom. Sarek's possessions weren't there yet, but I figured they were being scanned or searched. It wouldn't be the first time, and I left him to deal with the repercussions of such a diplomatic faux pas if that were the case.

I didn't even realize anything was amiss until he returned. I was dressing – or being dressed as it were – to go out for the first dinner and I heard the Major Domo's voice, and the muted rumble that I assumed was Sarek's answer. But he didn't appear. I wondered about what was keeping him, but I was in that critical stage where one's hair is half up and half down. Any woman who's been in a similar position knows that it wouldn't do to even turn my head, much less go looking for him. Then I heard doors opening and closing up and down the hall until Sarek poked his head in the room.

"Where have you been?" he asked me.

"That's a silly question," I said, shifting my eyes to meet his, but not moving my head lest I mar a delicate operation regarding some curls. "Right here. Where have you been?"

The Major Domo hurried after Sarek, quite concerned. "Is something wrong with your accommodations, Monsieur Ambassador?"

"Only Madame's absence from them. What is this room?" Sarek asked him.

"This is Madame's chambre a coucher."

"Madame's? And what was the other that you just directed me to?"

"Why, the other is Monsieur's."

Sarek flicked a brow, a sure sign of his regarding this as an unwelcome surprise. I had to bite down on my tongue to conceal a smile. Sarek's warning glance though soon restored me to near Vulcan composure. "Indeed," he said, in a voice surprisingly frosty for a denizen of a desert world. "You will kindly have Madame's things removed to that room immediately."

"At once." The man disappeared, presumably to round up staff to affect the transfer, and Sarek came into the room. "Do they think I brought you two quadrants across the Federation, and disrupted your teaching only to have you reside in some other—"

"Sarek," I warned, my eyes gesturing to the maid still doing my hair. "Uh-uh, uh-uh."

Sarek gave the maid a look meant to reduce her status to that of a potted plant. She didn't have to be a telepath to get that message. Finishing up post haste, she excused herself with an injured air.

"Sarek, you need to be diplomatic, you know, outside of the council chambers as well as in them."

He gave me a look similar to the one he'd just given the maid, and then asked "And why, I'd like to know, did you consent to such accommodations?"

"I didn't know. Sarek, we don't have time for this," I said. "You have to dress for dinner. Or we're going to be late."

At that, Sarek's eyes scanned me as if seeing me for the first time. "What are you wearing?"

"Something appropriate for such an event."

"You are lost in all those ribbons. I much preferred the simple muslin gowns at the last planet we were posted to. The ones in the classic Greek style."

I rolled my eyes at this male ignorance. "When in Rome, my husband. You can get away with wearing what you choose. But particularly my being human and this being a Terran colony planet, women are still often judged by fashion. And it's much easier and far less contentious for me to just blend in and adopt the current planetary styles."

Sarek regarded me, then the dresses in the wardrobe with a critical eye. "I don't favor them."

"I'm not wearing them for you."

"That is certainly true. I believe you appear to best advantage entirely unadorned."

"Oh, lord. Let us not go there. Do you think it matters to me what I wear? Give me a choice and I'd attend this thing in shorts and sandals. If you really dislike the dresses that much I'll wear one of the Vulcan gowns I brought. But you know that tends to stir up controversy when I do, sort of a symbol of you as a Vulcan trying to impose your will on Terran interests. Humans can find Vulcans intimidating enough."

"It's entirely illogical to draw such an unrelated parallel."

"True, but that's what Terrans think. And you don't want us to give that impression at our first social function, do you? Believe me, its better for me to wear this and just blend in."

Sarek flicked a brow. "Very well. So long as your adaptations are confined to the outré fashions of this outpost and not to your accommodations."

When we got back to the residence, we discovered the staff had indeed been busy in our absence. My clothes and possessions had been shifted into Sarek's room. But the bed that had been there had been replaced. With two smaller ones. Sarek looked at them, his face masking what was for him, incredulity. "What is this?"

"Twin beds." I marveled at them. "I haven't seen twin beds in a master bedroom outside of history books. These people are provincial, aren't they?"

"They will not be in any history book of ours," Sarek said. "What these people are, is deranged."

"They're just trying to accommodate the popular notions regarding Vulcans. Non-emotion, not wanting to touch. Blame your own press, not them. They meant well."

"That covers a multitude of sins," Sarek replied.

"Well, we can't do anything about it this late. You can stand it for a night." I gave him a glance. Not that Sarek wasn't perfectly capable of roughing it. He liked nothing better than to take long hiking trips out on Vulcan's Forge, sleeping on a bed of sand under nothing but starlight. But even a bed of sand was bigger and probably more comfortable than a bed that was, to Vulcan eyes, toddler sized. Sarek didn't bother to reply. He simply took my hand and turned through the connecting door into "my" former room, next door. This chamber wasn't as nearly grand as his, but the bed was almost as big as the one that had been in his room before they'd replaced it with the twin effigies. It certainly big enough for the two of us.

"Sarek, my clothes are all in the other room," I protested, hanging back.

"You don't need clothes in a bed chamber," Sarek said, provincially forgetting that while Vulcans consider sleeping in skin the only logical recourse, Terrans believe otherwise.

"I need at least a robe for tomorrow. This isn't Vulcan, you know."

"Very well." He let me go to fetch it, no doubt intending to meditate later on the folly of Terrans, who have a galaxy-wide reputation for licentiousness and then believe not only in clothes in the bedroom, but twin beds. I came back with the robes for us both, but also holding a Federation priority packet with the only too familiar diplomatic seal that had arrived in our absence. Mindful of the priority nature, I took it in to Sarek, who was taking a quick and reluctant shower, given they only had a water setting.

"You open it," Sarek said, when I told him about it over the rush of water. "You have the security clearance."

I did, but I left the bathroom, which from the temperature alone was hot enough for a sauna, and nearly steamy enough to turn the paper into a soggy mess. I was still perusing the document when Sarek came back into the bedroom, his skin flushed green but still shivering with distaste, if not from cold. Sarek puts up with many inconveniences quite tirelessly in the course of diplomacy and galactic peace, but this group had happened to hit on the two things that he prefers least. And being hit with them one after the other, he descended enough from Vulcan propriety to mention it. "You would think, even in these barren outposts, they would allow for sonics if not for civilized sleeping accommodations." He noticed my pensiveness. "What is it?"

I handed him the paper. "You've been awarded a Corona Etti prize for your service to the Ambrosian government."

Sarek blinked twice, his face a studied blank.

"You know," I prompted him. "That planet where I wore the little Greek-inspired muslin gowns you liked."

"Of course, I recall the mission," Sarek said. "But I cannot think of any action on my part that merits such an award."

I shrugged. "Be that as it may. But you know what this means," I said.

"What it means?" Sarek repeated. A shiver stole through him and he went back to toweling himself briskly dry. "It means that lest we give offense, we must travel 18 parsecs across the Federation, to preside over a banquet not worth the eating, to receive a trinket less artfully designed than Spock could make in his pre-Reform sculpture class." Dropping the towel and shrugging into his robe, he took up the notice again to scan the date. "It means we must arrive at home a month later than we had planned. That Spock must stay in his boarding school yet another term. That you will miss another semester's teaching. Such honors confer no benefit. I would far rather be able to refuse than receive it."

"Sarek, think. You're not that blind. It means they intend to offer you a Federation High Council seat. The award is a prelude to that."

Sarek put the paper down and stared at me a moment. Then, Vulcan neat as always, even on the fringe of interstellar renown, he went to chute his towel in the hamper provided for dirty linen. Coming back, he ran a hand through his damp hair, curling naturally into ringlets, and frowned. "Yes. You have no doubt analyzed the situation correctly." He stood for a moment, thinking, then added. "But I will not accept."

I sank down on the frilled dressing table bench trying to hide my relief. "Can you do that?" I asked hopefully.

"No one has ever done it before," Sarek admitted. "But you do understand what this would mean, Amanda."

"That they have finally acknowledged and succumbed to outside pressures in the Federation to accept that Vulcan and her alliances are powerful enough to require High Council representation. About time, too," I added, if reluctantly. "It's been Terran dominated for too long."

"That too. But for us, it will mean spending three quarters of all of our time on foreign worlds. Often it will be Terra, but not always. It will mean my abandoning my own inherited positions at home, positions which Vulcan tradition requires me to attend. It will mean your teaching career being more fractured now than it presently is. It will mean almost never seeing Spock, for he must grow up on Vulcan. The situation is unfeasible."

"I never thought to hear you relate such personal reasons in discussing a refusal," I said, somewhat amazed that he had so neatly echoed all my sinking regrets. "Did someone steal my duty-bound husband away and replace him with a very convincing looking imposter?"

"I assure you I am quite genuine. Those are merely the most immediate issues. However the thing is equally unfeasible aside from all perspectives. I can't abandon my hereditary duties on Vulcan so completely for Federation affairs. My first duty is to Vulcan and its allied worlds and colonies. While so far I have been able to combine both, as a Vulcan and Federation ambassador, I could not continue to ethically so represent regional interests while holding a Federation High Council seat. Accepting such a position would handfast me at a time when I most need to be a free agent for other issues."

"I doubt the other High Council members are so ethical," I said dryly. "But you're right. It will allow the Federation to give lip service to Vulcan prominence, which some have been pressing them to do, while at the same time checkmating you in many other ways."

"Precisely. No doubt they weighed the odds, and decided it would be less disruptive to their political agenda to offer it as not."

I shrugged at that, and feeling a bit relieved that the worst was not about to happen, began to take down my hair."It is quite a compliment. In more than one way."

"Yes," Sarek moved to assist me. "It is more clever of them than I would have granted, to couch such a tactic in an honor posting. But it is one I shall certainly decline."

I paused in stepping out of the ridiculous, beribboned gown, suppressing my own urge to kick it under the dressing table. "If you don't accept, they'll offer it to T'Pau. Which they won't want to do."

Sarek thought about that. "They will be forced to offer, yes. She will then also immediately decline it, as she must. And there will be an end to it."

I gave him a skeptical look and went to shower myself. Mine was equally quick, but mostly because he'd taken all the hot water. I came out wrapping my goose pimples and shivers in my robe, for Sarek wasn't the only one to find Earth normal planets cold after a stint on Vulcan. "Sarek, two Vulcans can not successively decline a High Council seat. It would be a terrible insult to the Federation. You must see that. You'll have to think of someone else who can be offered the position."

Sarek tilted his head. "Perhaps." he considered. "But from a Vulcan point of view, no other could be countenanced. Vulcans would accept no one save myself, or T'Pau in such a role. They would regard that as – not an insult, but a terrible error. And it would not do to give Vulcan the impression that the Federation makes such drastic errors." He paused, considering. "Yet Vulcan will not yet accept my absence so completely from Vulcan affairs." He drew an exasperated breath. "The simple fact, Amanda, is that the Federation is not of sufficient importance to Vulcan interests for them to countenance such an event. That too, will require more time."

I went to brush out my hair. "Then you will have to give the Federation powers-that-be at this dinner a hint not to offer you such a position. Or it will set off a political contretemps that extends beyond Vulcan."

"Would it not be presumptuous to decline a position before it is offered? In any event, I do plan to accept such a position eventually. I see no way out of it. When Spock is grown enough to accept some of my council duties on Vulcan, it would be the next logical progression. And by that time, Vulcan would countenance my accepting such a role. And I hope to have, by then, a base of such allied worlds behind Vulcan that my stepping aside as Vulcan ambassador to the Federation will not adversely affect Vulcan's interests. At that time, I will need to consider a High Council position."

"Oh, you don't have to say it in so many words," I said, working at a stubborn knot. "You can still convey your hint effectively. Get Cardiff or Brunhalt aside, and talk about how honored you are to accept these Federation Ambassador-at-Large postings, when they don't interfere too greatly with your other duties on Vulcan. Until there is another on Vulcan to take your place. Mention T'Pau obliquely. They will get your drift."

"Let me." Sarek took the comb from my hand. "Given the way you tear at it, it is amazing you have any hair left to comb." He began to work through the knot, slowly. "If their intentions are as you say, they will not like it."

"No. But they will have answered the immediate outside pressures by offering T'Pau the position that she'll decline. Their obligation will be momentarily fulfilled in that regard. True, their ulterior designs will not be. But you'll still be free to act as you must."

Sarek worked the knot free and set the comb aside. "Those who are sincerely behind this action, who are pushing Terra to make the offer, will take the results amiss."

I turned to face him. "You'll have to talk to them, too, privately, and explain why it isn't politic at this time."

"Very well." He thought for a moment and then picked up the invitation he'd set aside and toyed with it briefly. "It seems a shame we can't engineer such a discussion before this award dinner, since, as you say, that is probably the primary motivation for it."

I half smiled. "Don't you think the award might be, even just a little, on your merits alone?"

Sarek gave me an impatient look and put the document down again. "Really, Amanda. That assignment was a tedious affair. In my opinion, such contentions as they were having could have been handled by subspace. And were not worth the trouble of our traveling to that planet."

"It made it easier, though, for them to come to agreement when the famous Sarek of Vulcan brokered their peace. It saved face all around. You gave them a reason to negotiate by your presence alone. And gave the participants some valuable political timber, so be so distinguished as to be a part of it. In fact, you've become quite the hero of Federation peace treaties. You can expect to get more such assignments, when politics demands it."

"I have better things to do than function as some ridiculous icon of negotiation merely to attend such self-serving interests." Sarek said dismissively. "In fact, the only benefit inherent in attending that mediation was seeing you wearing the local fashions," he paused to twist a strand of my hair meditatively. "Those little Greek inspired gowns were quite pretty."

"So that's why you drag me across the Federation to attend these tedious events," I said, looking up to meet his eyes. "Not for my expert political analysis. Merely to see me in some outlandish colonial getup."

"My dear wife, you are quite mistaken," Sarek said, moving closer. "The reason I bring you, has nothing whatsoever to do with your wearing any clothes at all. Rather quite the reverse." He bent his head down to mine, and then tossing aside the bedspread, drew me down on the prettily embroidered, and in view of the local fashions, overly beribboned sheets.

And there, you see, is how we come full circle. We did make quite a tumble of those pretty sheets. And it was left to me to deal with leurs domestiques. They were quite astounded to find we'd relocated away from the grand master bedroom. I was left to face that and also explain why the twin effigies there had to be removed and replaced with the large previously evicted bed, or in lieu of that we would just as happily stay in the existing chamber. My hero husband, of course, was absent, attending his more important diplomatic conferences. It was left to me to deal with the smiles and knowing looks of chambermaids while they made up both rooms, even though they now knew only one room, and one bed, would see use.

They are only chambermaids, of course. But such things do rather blast the traditional Vulcan image. No one seeks to interview chambermaids, fortunately, to discover how the mighty, or the heroic, are fallen from their godlike -- or rather Vulcan -- status to mere mortality.

On the other hand, based on the looks they traded among themselves, and the way they subsequently fawned on Sarek, perhaps his behavior is heroic, to a chambermaid. Or at least to their romantic sensibilities.

Come to think of it, it's not too shabby from a wife's perspective either.

Ah, well. Even de Montaigne nods.

Fini -- please review

1 Montagne (1533-1592), Essais, Book iii, chapter xi

2 Ars Poetica. 359