Strength in Weakness: The Theseus Myth Retold

Kutikal’s Story

‘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 Mount Valimai, for justice. Now that I am a man, it is my duty to set the record straight; to give account of the secrets I know. 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.

“Do you know what I brought you here for boy?” Tisiyas questioned in a hushed tone.

“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.

“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!”

With his last word, I swear, 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 fire light. Then, as quick 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, “Huh, huh, huh, huh. 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.”

Tisiyas’s Story

Then Tisiyas began to tell me a story that I know no other has ever heard, at least not as it actually happened:

“As you are familiar with the exploits of my fame, I will begin where the narrative goes wrong—the height of my pride. In the tenth year of my reign, I hosted a great banquet on behalf of my many conquests. At the party, as a sort of game, I had my council bring me new challenges so that I might decide on what my next conquest would be—o’ how arrogant I was. None were appealing except Curri’s—my grand vizier.

‘Great and Mighty Savior of Etens; I have a challenge you cannot refuse,’ Curri presented slyly. ‘You must defy Kavalali, the Gatekeeper of Maranam—the impenetrable prison.’

‘I dare not,’ I chided. ‘He is the keeper of those cursed by the gods. Is my fame enough to defy the gods themselves?’

‘What greater way to show you are the most powerful of men?’ prodded Curri. ‘Imagine what fame men will give you. You will no longer be Tisiyas, the Savior of Etens. You will be Tisiyas, Redeemer of the Cursed!’

‘Well, I do like the sound of that,’ I admitted. ‘But who am I to liberate?’

‘Irul, eldest daughter of Viyalan,’ said Curri.

‘But she is not his prisoner. She is his wife,’ I whispered.

‘Prisoner? Wife? What’s the difference? Liberate her and you will have a new influence with the common people—you will have struggled against the gods and won. Forever, your name will be on their lips. They will build shires to you.’

Curri’s words were very tempting. I knew if I rejected his challenge I would be branded a coward. But, if I took the challenge and failed, I would be damned. Honestly, in my pride, I rejoiced in the high stakes.

‘Yes!’ I exclaimed. ‘I accept your challenge. There is great glory in it. However, we must begin tonight. I do not want Kavalali to get wind of our coming.’

What happened next, I can’t believe I didn’t see coming. My friend had betrayed me. He wanted Irul and my throne to himself. He had made a deal with Kavalali (or so he thought).

When we landed on the Isle of Maranam, the port-guards were asleep. Within an hour of climbing the prison walls, we were in Irul’s private dressing room—deep in Kavalali’s palace. Though it was late, to my surprise Irul sat brushing her hair and singing an enchanting song while peering out her window, ‘Freedom on the Sea, beauty on the waves. Freedom for me, all of my days.’ Her voice was enchanting. I quietly crept up behind her. Just before I put my hand to her mouth, everything went black.

When I awoke days later, I was in a solitary cell. The cell had a single slit in the door through which rations were given daily. The only light came through a small crack in the exterior wall. I counted the days: I was isolated in this room for nine years—never knowing what happened. Truly, I did not know if I was alive or dead.

In this hell, I had time to think. Separate from the sun, wind, and human contact, I realized I was being punished. In the years that passed, darkness was my only companion. You can’t imagine the terror of loneliness. My sight turned inward.

For the first time in my life, I could see clearly. In pride, I had sinned against the gods. In strength, I had sinned against my blessings. In folly, I had betrayed my duty and the trust of my people. Most of all, I realized humility is stronger than pride, for in my humiliation I turned to the gods for mercy.

You see, the real strong man does not have to prove himself to anyone, even himself. The real strong leader does not seek his good and pleasure, but the good of his people. Power should belong to the people, not fools like me.

Then, one day the door opened and my hero, Perumai, the half-god stood there.

‘You are free,’ he said. ‘Your traitorous friend is long dead. Now, go home in grace and never look back. Your boat waits on the shore.’

Without a word, I left. I did not know it wasn’t a dream, a trick, or another afterlife peril until my ship arrived in Etens. Once I arrived, I hit my knees and kissed the earth of my motherland. Home! How I missed it. I slowly ascended the Aran, not sure what to expect at the summit. No a single person I passed recognize me. Without a single word spoken between myself and the passing strangers, those who were once my people, I finally reached the palace. I was not surprised at what I saw, the twin sons of Viyalan, Amanakku and Valankiya now ruled. I now know that Curri had struck a deal with the twins and Kavalali and was betrayed.

Betrayal on betrayal—pride knows no loyalty, my son.

Worst of all, my people had rejected me. So, I banished myself to the sea where, as Irul sang, I found freedom and beauty. However, a time came when I felt civic duty overcome my love of freedom. Thus, I gave myself to the service and mercy of Turoki of Palavinam, far from Etens. I serve his court in humility. I have no desire to rule anyone, for I know the gods must first rule the greatest rulers and I am still learning to be ruled.

Listen, my son! 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. It is good to learn this lesson while you are young, boy: You have no strength without the mercy of the gods. Of all the tales of my strength, of all my boasting over my idols, of all my attempts to be mighty like Perumai, I realize I am stronger now than I have ever been because I fled to the mercy of the gods. I have a strength in this flesh that even Perumai, the half-god never knew: I found strength in weakness.”

            After Tisiyas’s story was over, we were both silent for the rest of the night. Early the next morning, I rose to find Tisiyas standing at the edge of the cliff. I snuck off quietly. And, though I never believed it, the next day I heard that Tisiyas had jumped from that cliff. This place is cursed.

Kutikal’s Purpose Revealed

Now, for your honor I have an even greater secret. I know that Tisiyas did not kill himself. Yes. I saw your shadow from behind the rock. You thought no one saw. I do not know how you overcame him—not by strength, for sure. No matter. King! you have betrayed the trust of a man in need. Turoki, you have acted against Arutal, the god of all comfort. Your pride is your fall. Your pride has caused you to kill a humbled man at your mercy. And now, at the edge of my sword, your pride will meet justice.’

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