Theseus, Great and Mighty! Can you hear it in your sleep?
As you rest in foolish pride, the wise and truthful weep.
Listen to the sound, their accorded lies they raise.
You seek and search to find, Son of Ancient Pride,
Stature with the gods — a Herculean Rite.
Through pain of pride you’ll find that Herculean Rite
Will come by grace alone and never your own might.
Achilles, Swift and Young! Do you hear your mother’s cry?
In the heat of war and love, you will surely die.
And in your death, upon a pyre, little will remain
To fill the fleshy earthen urn, for it cannot contain
The spirit that will linger on in weakness or in strength.
So wisely choose young hero, and Son of the Spear.
Choose justice and choose courage, mixed with a little fear.
“My grace is sufficient for thee:
for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9, KJV
“We live in a world of secrets, dear King — our own and those passed down to us. From the moment we take our first breaths, we traverse a path of mystery. I know I am young, but I have already learned that before we can even take our first step, we have begun to trudge through the mud bequeathed by our long dead ancestors. Yes, though I have only just reached an age where people look at me and see a man, not a boy, I know how true it is to say that after we have been ordained with adulthood, there are so many things that seem to remain hidden from our sight: where we came from; where we are going; why we are here; why we must continue to strive forward; and the consequences of our sins, along with the sins of those long dead. How far one secret can travel. How much one secret can alter. How weighty the secrets stored up in a lifetime.”
“Kutikal, you are wise for your age. Among your peers, there is no equal. There is no doubt in my mind about that. But I must ask, why bring me here to tell me what could have been shared in the comfort of my palace? Right now, we could be surrounded by food, wine, women, and warmth; instead, we are cold, tired, thirsty, hungry . . . For what? You have brought me all the way up here, to Valimai, for what?”
“Secrets, Turoki . . . I have learned that the secrets given to us and building upon us are not necessarily bad things. In my travels, I have had plenty of time to think. Some secrets, when they remain secrets, are beautiful because they make the world a mystery. Mystery gives men a reason to persist — we love the challenge. Mystery is what reminds men that there is something greater out there: for some, something left to conquer; for others, something to bow to. But some secrets only become beautiful when they are uncovered. For they are lies, they are deception; they are enigmas that only truth can transform. And in this truthful transformation, their goodness and beauty, no matter how terrifying and disheartening, is unclothed and held up to banish the darkness like a beam of light shining through a crack in the deepest cavern — a stray beam by which men may look along and see the real forms of the universe that give life its flavor.”
“Kutikal, my boy, no doubt you have thought through great mysteries and, I can only assume, have had a great teacher to help you see these truths. Let us not stand on ceremony. We do not have to speak like philosophers. There is no court here. There is no need for many words when a few will do the job. I know how those wise men in Etens prefer to do things; here on Palavinam, we are different. Tell me, what in the name of Viyalan does this have to do with me? Why here? Why have you come back to Palavinam?”
“King, life is a pursuit of uncovering such secrets, of struggling against the vast mystery that echoes through eternity, of finding the truth that undergirds every question. Only truth can conquer the ugly secrets that burden men. We must all give way to truth if we wish to see goodness and beauty reign in righteous mysteries, mysteries that will call men to progress.”
“Stop speaking in riddles, boy! … I mean … I am sorry. What I mean is, on this isle, it is better to tell a man straight. We have learned that men should not speak in poetry but prose. It takes less time for one thing, and it also is plain. I am a plain man.
When you came to me last night, half dressed like a girl, revealing that your mother deceived me and had me hide you among my daughters, I was not angry. Without explanation, I was understanding. I knew your mother had good reason. Still, why you came forward is not plain. Why you felt that we had to leave in the middle of the night to come here is not plain. A king should not have to beg, especially on his own isle. Tell me, please.”
“War is coming, King. And I am afraid. I feel fear, that almost calming fear of helplessness that can bring the mightiest to their knees in hopes of mercy. I feel this may truly be my final hours in civil society, in a land not flowing with blood and death. It has been prophesied.
Death — I can smell it in the air. I can feel the condensation of its hot breath beading up on my neck. It is inevitable. My mother has banished me here to hide me from my destiny. She doesn’t realize that when it comes, I will not run from it; I will run to it.”
“Why? Why run to certain death? What honor is there for those who mindlessly swim through the ages in the Maranam’s chambers?”
“Every man and woman must face this parting. Why should I run from the inevitable? If the Fates have cut the cord, there is no running away, only to. Courage is a consolation in itself.”
“Have any faced the inevitable with courage, Kutikal? Have any stared into eternity’s eyes and not flinched? Have any made peace with Maranam? What you speak is the foolish talk of a boy and the supposed wise jabbering of crazy, old, cloaked men.”
“I can think of one, Turoki. There is one, and I have brought you here to speak of him.”
“What? Who? Tell me.”
“I have brought you here, to Valimai, because it is the place where I began to be a man. And it is here that I must make my confession.”
“What? Plainly. Speak plainly.”
“I have something to tell you that I have not told any other. I have been afraid to face this truth. I will be afraid of it no longer. I must confess and cleanse my soul before I am called to leave this isle to fight a war that I know I will never return from.”
“Am I a god that you should confess to me? You haven’t done me any wrong, have you?”
“Turoki, bear with me. I must speak to you because you alone can set right what has been wrong.”
“Well, here we are. There is no better time than now. The sooner you get through it, the sooner I can handle it. The sooner I can handle it, the sooner we get back to comfort and off of this forsaken rock… I am listening. Proceed.”
“Tisiyas … My confession is in his name. Here I stand; gods help me.”
“It is on this very stone that I sat, as a boy, and listened to the great hero of Etens, Tisiyas son of Ejis tell me his story — a story so many think they know, but they are all mistaken. I tell you now King, I came back to Palavinam for truth; I brought you here, to the cursed Cliffs of Valimai, for justice. Now that I am a man, now that I am destined for war and death and glory, it is my duty to set the record straight, to give an account of the secrets I know, the secrets I have held in my heart for the past five years. I have brought you here, Turoki, so that you may share in my honor.
On that day, as the southern wind blew softly, Tisiyas stood facing the horizon — in the very place you stand, not but a few feet from the edge of the cliff. At first, I could only see the hero’s fluttering silhouette — a scene which made me uneasy in his presence, for even in his shadow, there was magnanimity. Then he turned around and, seeing the fire was almost out, he crouched down and attempted to reignite the embers. As he prodded the simmering coals, Tisiyas’s tattered clothing opened my eyes to the hero’s humbled state. In just a few minutes, the fire rekindled into a small flame and a cold night settled upon us. Then, Tisiyas questioned me in a hushed tone while crouching low in the firelight:
‘Do you know what I brought you here for, boy?’
‘No. My… My father wouldn’t tell why,’ I stuttered.
‘Though you are only a boy, many say that you are quicker than most men and better at handling your sword than your father’s fearless guard, the Erumpu. I am told that one day you will be a great warrior and leader. So, your father has asked a favor of me.’
‘What is that?’ I asked.
Through the twilight and fire, I could make out an intrigued smirk with his reply:
‘Your father asked me to break you. To show you what real speed looks like. To make you feel real power. Your father asked me to teach you FEAR!’
I swear, with his last word, the very earth shook beneath me. He jumped to his feet and drew his sword like a flash of lightning. His towering height and broad chest were like a great bear standing on its hind legs. He was transfigured before my eyes: his tattered clothes shone like golden mail in the firelight. Then, as quickly as he drew his sword, Tisiyas vanished into the night.
It all happened so fast that I had not had a chance to catch my wits. Now, I stood alone in the dark, just me and my beating heart. I thought to myself, ‘I have seen speed and, no doubt, I have never felt fear like this in all my life. But, o’ gods have mercy, will he show me strength? I don’t think I can bear it!’
Then I heard a whisper from behind me. Wait, no, it was in front of me. Or, no again; it came from my right. Tisiyas seemed to surround me. ‘Is this speed? This is surely fear!’ I screamed into the night. All I heard in reply was my own echo — the very word that Tisiyas whispered, ‘fear… fear… ear… ar.’
Although I knew it was hopeless, I drew my sword and prepared for the worst. This was the worst mistake I could have made; Tisiyas was waiting for it. By the time my sword was unsheathed, Tisiyas stood in front of me. His giant paw was on my head. With just the flick of his wrist, I went hurling across my stone seat.
As I regained consciousness, I looked up into the night sky. Tisiyas stood over me and laughed with a rough, deep laugh, ‘Get up, boy! Grab your sword. I have not taught you strength yet.’ I rolled over and quickly got to my knees. My sword was just in reach, but I did not pick it up. ‘I have no strength left. I cannot fight you. Surely, my father did not intend for you to kill me. I am broken. I can only ask for mercy.’ I heard nothing save for a great sigh. I looked up, expecting to see a face of disappointment. Instead, I saw a smile across Tisiyas’s face.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘Now, I think you will be ready to hear. Pride closes the ears; humility opens the heart. Listen, young Kutikal. I want to fulfill your father’s request, just not as your father supposes. He thinks I brought you up here to show you the physical strength of a real hero. The problem is, that is the hero’s greatest weakness.’
‘I don’t understand,’ I said.
‘You will. Just keep your ears open and your mouth shut. I have brought you here to give you a strength that will not be as natural to you as your physical abilities or as learnable as tactile knowledge in a fight. I have brought you here to bring you low with me. To tell you something no other knows. To tell you where my real strength lies … Stand up.’
I obeyed. Hands trembling, I stood in front of Tisiyas; I barely reached his chest. I thought he was going to make me fight him again — not that what we had just done could really be considered fighting.
A kind countenance grew over his face that settled my nerves.
‘Sit with me near the fire.’
Tisiyas sat in the grass and rested himself against the remainder of a felled tree. I sat, as I have said, on this very stone.
Once we were both well-positioned, Tisiyas began:
‘Weakness. That is what I am going to teach you. All your life, people have told you how strong you are, how great you are, and the glory that is your destiny. They have coddled you and, if they were to continue in their way, would turn you into just another foolish, selfish, hero. Damn them. That will not happen under my watch. I am here to tell you the truth; the truth hurts before it builds you up.’
His words struck me as odd, but did I not dare question. Not only did I not have the breath in me to question, I did not have the courage.
‘Listen, my son,’ he went on. ‘Strength comes not from the conquering of men, but the destruction of the self. Don’t listen to those fools who tell you to conquer yourself. You can’t save a drowning man by telling him, “Take a deeper breath!” It is when you have been cut down to your most helpless state by the toiling of your own hands that you either curl up and die or turn to another, one stronger than yourself, stronger than men, to lift you up.’
I have to admit that I was not looking forward to whatever hurt he spoke of. And what he said about calling on one stronger was foreign to me. However, I knew Tisiyas was right. People had always boasted of my abilities to such a point that they might as well have been worshipping me — many still do. Though I was afraid, I wanted whatever he had. I didn’t want to be a fool. I didn’t want to have the same selfish end as those other great warriors who came before me. I wanted to be great like Tisiyas.
After we sat in silence for a few moments, Tisiyas began to tell me a story that I know no other has ever heard, at least not as it actually happened:
Donald W. Catchings, Jr., “Excerpt From Novelette – Strength in Weakness,” An Unexpected Journal: The Ancients 4, no. 3. (Fall 2021), 217-218.
Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com///excerpt-from-strength-in-weakness-myth-reimagined/