One foot on sea, and one on shore

January 22, 2013

The magic of confession in The Legend of the Seeker is severe and lasting. While the confessed remember their past fully, they confront it only to answer in interrogation if their mistress bids them. Otherwise they don’t see an immediate need to revisit such things for their confessor’s sake. They become indifferent.

As Isak Dinesen wrote, if “no art has more severe laws than magic; no artist is more severely bound by his laws than the magician.” Quoting Piet Hein, she closes one of her essays with the cruel efficiency of these clipped lines:

Training for the magic habit,
fail not to insert the rabbit.

Like a Wizard with only one terrible ability, but sworn to uphold justice with a militant indifference to flattery among the afraid, the Confessor is expected to use power judiciously for some greater good than acquisitiveness on her own part.

But as in all things, some habits don’t break at the opportune moment; some needful things will not be learned in time. As Kahlan says: “We can only be what we are, no more, no less.”


Prophecy, first episode of two-part premiere in Season 1

Take Susie Bright’s words, “women thrive on exuding as well as seeking masculine energy. It’s like a Valkyrie demanding her due.” To disregard the loss of power in such choices of words is bravado, from a growing indifference to the allotment of gendered pronouns. But it’s a nonverbal world now that traffic lights have evolved to meet us where we’re at, with signals that make hieroglyphs look sophisticated.

Though Kahlan’s perspective on having someone under confession is sympathetic, she is never really as patient as could be, compared to Narcissus conversing with Sir Philip Sidney’s Echo:

“Faire rocks, goodly rivers, sweet woods, when shall I see peace?


Peace! What bars me my tongue? who is it that comes me so ny?


Oh, I do know what guest I have met, it is Echo.

’Tis Echo.

Well met, Echo, approach; then tell me thy will too.

I will too. –”

Her moon is a sow, she grumbles because it is too far off to bite, and her grunt is enough song for any Ishtar, the rocking of her ass is her dancing and it is shiny. Resist, petty lady, crime is never nothing, attempt larceny before deciding whether you want to quench a flame by starving it of air, or feeding it fermented ambrosia until it swallows its own feet – out of complacent indigestion, gurgling on mead, mistaking them for a chaser.

Maybe the same kind of ruthless naiveté had to do with the death of the gifted son of a girl who sought to hold the feet of a king who was under such a dire spell, that he could not survive if he failed to lay his feet always in the lap of a virgin. Fled by his own mother on the day of his birth, he was cursed in her parting words because she was bitter to be disqualified for the virgin’s post by such an unexpected delivery.

“Well, is it dark enough? Can you see me?”

Though adopted since his mother would not give the father’s name, the boy had to succeed in many adventures to gain a name for himself and a bride in spite of his mother’s strange invocations, and it helped that the king’s magician raised him and taught him magic.

His very last adventure is mentioned in troubadours’ lines like “men were deceivers ever, one foot on sea and one on shore,” lines the Celts associated with a woman conjured out of “the flowers of oak and broom and meadowsweet” to be the boy’s wife. Since his mother took revenge on her unwanted child by cursing him to be unable to wed a woman of any race in the world, he had to invent another to find love.

He learned how and married well except the wife was innocent, and spoke too simply to be understood in time by men who were too used to reading between the lines when women speak. While her husband was away it seemed to her that a passing hunter should be invited into his home, and she was plain with him about her admiration because she found him beautiful and saw he was trustworthy, so without hesitation she became his lover.

Knowing and fearing what could occur if a woman already married preferred another, she asked her lover too many questions about whether he would slay her husband in order to marry her himself.


Will Ryman, “Anyone and No One”

Now she learned soon that there was only one way to kill off her husband in favor of her lover:

I cannot be killed indoors or out of doors, on horse or on foot … Make a bath for me on a river bank, with a good snugly thatched roof over the tub; then bring a buck goat and put it alongside the tub. If I put one foot on the goat’s back and the other on the edge of the tub, whoever struck me then would bring about my death.

– Penguin edition, Mabinogion

But the part of the flower girl’s story that surprises and confuses everyone was that she quickly persuaded her husband to stand just so, with her lover waiting nearby armed exactly to the purpose, not for her own peace of mind and yet just as if she needed to see it for herself – so that she could fully appreciate the slimness of the probability he would ever be caught off guard in such awkward circumstances.

The lover no doubt found the flowers innocent, so kept from her knowledge of what comes of killing kings.

Your high heel
shoes evoke
a narrow
stair, resounding
tower for a
bell. Consentingly
tied hair the
larger than
life image
of unerring
pride in a
black bird at
rest, at ease
your skirts a library
of roseate leaves laid out
in eloquent marble
that receives the voice
of public men and
magnifies their speeches
while it elevates
men’s eyes, your waist a
famous line still whispered
by young husbands
patiently seeking a sigh.

Your voice is
that which lives inside
this room, a space for
talk as measured as a loom, and
like a silhouette in stone, body
and clothes belong more to the
garden’s tree than to the echo
of the child I knew, repeating “ear” and “lips”
with lips made new by listening
and learning undisclosed
allusions etched in half-forgotten
etiologies. Just then,
your innocence of mysteries, false
speech, deceit and innuendo
kept your peace – love slept.

Today you speak with reservation
learned at knee, ankle tucked behind,
kind, forgiving, you unwind
yourself from me with delicate
regard. I am no more inside.

The transformations of young Arthur in The Once and Future King (and The Sword in the Stone) also resemble some of the misadventures of a magician in the service of the same king of ancient Britain, whose friend was beloved of such a virgin as kept the feet of the king.


Sumi-e painting of mice

The young lady in question, when no longer qualified, honorably confessed in time to save the king’s life, but at the magician’s expense (and her lover’s). Rather than squirrels and fish, the friends were made wolves and stag and hind and so on until they had children between them either way to satisfy the king, who married the girl in the mean time.

There is nothing to explain
Regard each other as you pass
She looks back, you look back
Not just once, not just twice
… A light, you can feel it on your back…

– Radiohead

Danger lies in the humor that refusal to understand tragedy gives rise to, a kind of irony that can kill with hysterical fits of laughter from which you refuse to resume a dignified response to an impossible situation. Hyperventilation the end of you.

Hyenas cough to give warning when they see the provocation coming from behind you, have no sense of cruelty or needful neglect like the bad conscience that abides in our imaginations.

Another of the Welsh legends in the Mabinogion is the story of a Roman emperor so possessed with love for a girl he only dreamed he had seen, that he could live for no other hope but to find her, and so he found her, and Britain, and made her empress of Rome, and Britain.

“…They’ll seek to find me north and south…”

When news of his dream and intentions first reached her, she remarked to the unexpected emissaries, “Men, I do not doubt what you say, but I do not believe it overmuch either. If it is I whom the emperor loves, let him come for me.” In time he did, and though war was made against him while he was away from Rome, her men returned with his and Rome was won again.

For the Greeks, loss of virginity was officially a kind of death by marriage. Their mythological amazons kept to the edges of the known world, approaching only to steal glory from among men during long-running epic wars. Love kills them, they inspire necrophilia.

“Parting is all we know of heaven. And all we need of hell.” – Emily Dickinson

The whip? “It’s for peace.” The hard truth, we each need a little more peace at heart than we know how to get by asking nicely.

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