I’ll take “Moral Dilemmas” for 5 points, Bruce


For what purpose do we temper steel? We heat the steel to red heat and swiftly quench it, the swift cooling making a blade or chisel so hard so that only a precious gem can mar it. Yet after this is done, we place it in the kiln and reheat it to just below red heat and leave it to cool. We undo some of the hardening. Why? Surely the hardest blade is the best blade?

Every child knows the purpose. A quenched blade is brittle – the chisel will chip, the axe shatter. Though it be true a that tempered blade becomes less hard, it regains a needful flexibilty. The skill of the smith is to temper the blade enough, but not too much.

For a servant of Torag, the rule of life is simple: do right, and suffer not wrong to be done. But what is right? In the mountains, it is simple. Obey our laws. Work hard at whatever labours are given you. Be you a warrior, then strike down the giants, ogres and trolls who attack us. Conduct yourself with obedience, sobriety, and valour, and if you must sell your life for the safety of others, then sell it dearly and without regret.

Here in the downlands, though, things are less clear-cut. I lack a chief to show me the right way, and so must find it for myself. More, I lack the dwarf-laws, or rather everyone else does. Yet they are not without laws – they have laws of their own that serve them well enough. Their laws differ from ours in several respects. So by which am I bound, while I am here? To whom am I answerable? And: if there be any respect by which their laws be more just than our own, what then when I return home?

I am compelled, in other words, to think about things a little. To choose, and to risk choosing wrongly. Will I stray too far from the path? Will I be tempted into compromises, each a little worse than the former? This is no idle fear. Should I lose my way, I shall not be the first to lose it, here in the downlands. (Bahlek, I belive, has kept to the right way, in his own fashion. There is no darkness in him, which gives me courage.)

Or will I learn nothing? Will I prove them right when they say that dwarves are stubborn? With I return home as brittle as when I left, to chip and shatter at the first true crisis of right and wrong that I face?

I am here to face these choices, to ask these questions, to question even the dwarf-laws, I think. Perhaps I trouble myself needlessly: surely that which I have been taught of right and wrong will be vindicated.

The matter is simple: I must trust the judgment of the great smith who has placed me in this kiln. It is he who watches over my tempering. Enough, but not too much.

And so to the question of Zoran.


Zoran, it grieves me to say, is probably a thief.

This is the first strangeness. They have not the death penalty for thievery here, I think because the land is rich – full of game and grain and fruit. To steal is not necessarily to take a life. Zoran’s whole people are thieves, I gather, and no-one thinks it odd. I heard him say one, in passing: “We must not steal from the mouths of babes”. Said it as one repeats a precept learned in childhood, an incontestable truth. In other words, his people have laws that proscribe the theft-that-is-tantamount-to-murder. There are great wrongs, and lesser wrongs, and here in the lowlands it seems that to steal from one who can well afford it is not so great a wrong.

Or perhaps: it’s ok when it is Zoran doing it.

No, that cannot be right. In any case, that is not the story I wished to tell.

The facts of the matter are these. Zoran and I both became infected with ghoul fever. I was cured by a local priest. Zoran refused healing – he seemed to have some sort of personal objection – and became worse. After some few more days, the town grew agitated and demanded that we do something about the undead attacks, which we could not effectively do without our comrade. Eventually, we stole into his room while he slept and the preist cured him. He arose in the morning, his fever broken, cheerfully informing us that he was better without the aid of magic healing.

Were our actions wrong?

I think not, on balance. And I say ‘balance’, but a balance very heavily weighted on our side. It is true that we violated his body against his wishes – taking advantage of his weakness to force on him magical healing to which he did not consent. This is particularly wrongful under the principles of his people, which seem to value individual decision more than most.

Neither can I plead “no harm done”. An act is right or wrong at the time it has done. What we did would be no more right or wrong had it turned out that Zoran – unknown to us – was under some kind of curse with ill effects should he receive magical curing.

When my comrades looked to me to see if I would be with them, however, I answered “a person does not have a right to make of themselves a threat to public health”. And there we have it. Remember: do right, and suffer not wrong to be done. Zoran ought not to have refused healing, not when what he suffered was ghoul fever, not in a town of hundreds, not when his disease showed no sign of abating. He ought either to have accepted the cure or – if his principles bound him so straitly – asked to be put outside the wall. The town would have been within its right to have slain him as a threat to quarantine, although it did not come to that.

As it was, we abated his wrongdoing in a way as caused least harm to all.

Finally: should he be punished for so threatening the town? At that point, I think it is safe to say that I would be exceeding my authority here (it seems I am a shire-reeve’s deputy, or some such) to take such upon myself. As far as I understand how these things are done here, I’d be inclined to let him off with a warning – although “next time you get so severely sick we’ll heal you again” is hardly a threat.

No, we did the right thing. I did the right thing. And if curing a sick comrade causes me this much anguish and introspection, I thing I should get over it. There’ll be worse to come.

With grateful thanks to Isaac Asimov, and his first law of robotics.
Advertisements

One Response to I’ll take “Moral Dilemmas” for 5 points, Bruce

  1. Zoran says:

    I didn’t do it, nobody saw me do it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: