miércoles, 27 de abril de 2016



Every occurrence of "left" and "right" used here to refer to the stars of the Ursa Major refers to the left and right of the reader.

In the second arc of the Ringstetten Saga, King Charles XII and his six closest generals are often compared to the seven stars of the Ursa Major or Big Dipper, known in Swedish as Stora Karlavagnen, the "Great Wagon of Charles."

En ringa hop, ty deras tal

var sju, som Karlavagnens stjärnor,

och strängt var deras fria val.

De prövade med svärd och lågor.

Det var en kristnad vikingstam,

ej olik den, som fordom sam

på drakar över mörkblå vågor.

De sovo aldrig uti säng,

men på sin kappa, bredd på jorden,

bland storm och drivor ifrån Norden

så lugnt som på en blomsteräng.

En hästsko kramade de samman,

och aldrig såg du dem kring flamman

som sprakar ifrån spiselns häll;

de eldade med kulor gärna

så röda som när dagens stjärna

går ned i blod en vinterkväll.

Det var en lag i stridens våda,
att en fick vika först för sju
med bröstet vänt mot dem ännu,
ty ryggen skulle ingen skåda.
Och slutligt var det ock ett bud
helt svårt, det svåraste kanhända,
till ingen mö de fingo vända
sin håg förrn Karl tog själv en brud.
Hur himmelsblått två ögon lyste,
hur rosenrött två läppar myste,
hur barmens svanar summo på
sin insjö, likaledes två,
de måste blunda - eller springa:
de voro vigde vid sin klinga.

The King himself would be Dubhe (the alpha star), his right hand Rehnskiöld would be Merak (the beta star), and so on. Note that Stora Karlavagnen is a pointer for the North: if you draw a line from Merak to Dubhe and then further on, multiplying that distance by five, passing right across the Dragon, the Polar Star will be found.

In Charles' own band he was instated
Midst those in soul to him related:
Their number — small the company —
To sev'n, like Charleswain's stars amounted,
Or nine at most, like Muses counted
And hardy was their choice, tho' free.
With sword and flame their mission proving,
A christen'd race of Vikings bold,
They liken'd those that went of old
In prows o'er darkblue billows roving.
Of couch they never stood in need,
But on the earth their mantle spreading,
Nor Northern storms nor snowdrifts dreading,
Slept sweetly as on flow'ry mead.
Their grasp a horseshoe bent together,
And ne'er thou'dst see, in bitt'rest weather,

Them round the hearthflame sparkling bright;
They loved of cannonballs the heating,
As red as setting sun retreating
In blood, before a wintry night.
Their rule in battle was that never
To less than sev'n might one give way,
Still fronting them with breast at bay,
For none should see their back turn'd ever.
And lastly there was this command,
Severe, of all perchance severest:
No maiden must their heart hold dearest,
Till Charles himself bestowed his hand.
How bright two heav'n-blue eyes were glancing,
How smiled two rosy lips entrancing,
How high the swans on bosom fair
Swam o'er their lake — another pair, —
They must not gaze — else flee affrighted:
For to their swords their troth was plighted.

This theory relates Gustav Adolf von Ringstetten, Rehnskiöld's aide-de-camp, to Alioth, the fifth star from right to left, yet the brightest one in the Ursa Major.

The chapters of the Snow Queen retelling set in our days that is coming up for this year are titled after the stars in the UMa from right to left, which seems to be an echo of this distinction.

But there is another related theory that claims that the Happy Few of the first arc (the leading squad, the Blue Brigade's Fourth Regiment's Seventh Company) were already an avatar of the Great Wagon of Charles. There are several versions of the correspondences, some of them being in order of rank from right to left, others being in plot relevance as from right to left.

  1. Ursa Major points up north to the Polar Star - Guiding Star - towards Sweden: the survivors of the company make it to a new home, given estates by the Queen of Sweden, Christina.
  2. UMa is frequently used to figure out where north is in the open air --follow the dipper--. It's even mentioned time after time, given the setting and the cast.
  3. The members of the company, more specifically its officers and noncoms, counting their wives, make up a total of seven. 
  4.  Great Wagon of Charles/Little Wagon of Charles (Stora/Lilla Karlavagnen Swedish names of the Dippers or Ursae). Charles/Karl --"free man"-- Duke/King Charles IX of House Vasa, born Duke of Värmland, founder of the regional capital Karlstadt -- "Charlestown" -- father of Gustavus Adolphus and grandfather of Christina.
  5. Ursae/Dippers in classical lore: Zeus's mistress Callisto, huntress nymph, and their son Arcadius (or Arthurus), turned by Hera into bears, then by Zeus into constellations (to save them from Callisto's former huntress companions), then Hera put a dragon in between them to separate them.
  6. The numbering of the stars in the UMa is not due to brightness, but to their appearance in the night sky, from right to left in an ascending order.


Dubhe: Gerhard Wilhelm von Ringstetten - the leading lieutenant
He is in charge. At first a raised courtier, not that experienced at all in the art of war, we see him mature until he dies of a stroke in his new Swedish home, right as he finished writing his memoirs, left-handed as usual. Dubhe is the alpha star of the Ursa and one of the pointers that lead to the North Star a long distance across the Dragon's tail tip. (But, however, Dubhe is NOT the brightest star --- that honour belongs to Alioth; see below. Dubhe is the SECOND brightest star... compare the Gerhard/Alois relationship discussion below). The Dragon here may signify the long, fire-breathing, ruthless war that the cast survivors go through to make it up north. Only after the end of the war can they settle in Swedish. Cultured and nice, yet pretty gauche in the arts of war (as well as healing plants, using the stars for orientation, and even needlework!), at first an ensign, he soon rises to the rank of lieutenant and the leadership of the company. At the end of the day, we find him writing his own memoirs and leading a contemplative life in his fifties. Based upon Jaime Lannister and Quatre Winner, yet at heart upon Cassio in Othello, the more sensible Ringstetten older brother walks through fire and ice, learning the ways of both needlework and warfare, turning from honour and glory to drink and crime, then back into his old values... shaping his own destiny together with his wife, then dying having left his legacy to her and to their descendants.

Merak: Liselotte von Ringstetten, née von Tarlenheim - the lieutenant's wife/the royal lovechild
This camp-born and camp-bred ladette proves the de facto leader, many a time. The fish with a bike behind Lieutenant von Ringstetten. Like Dubhe, Merak, the beta star, is one of the pointers that lead to the North Star a long distance across the Dragon. It is she who brings the royal and godly blood of Van Frey into the Ringstetten dynasty, her birth father being Gustavus Adolphus himself (her illegitimacy also connects to the Ursae classical legend). Liselotte and Gerhard rarely leave one another's side and risk it all to save one another's lives. A spirited, unusual tomboyish maiden, full of freckles and of élan, she is completely unlike the court lady kind of maidens the young officer had hitherto known. She can defend herself from stalkers and other ill-intentioned men (at one point, she is compared to Yael, who killed Sisera!), she knows how to sell things, how to steal fruit or valuables, a master escapist, she is ironic, talkative, brash, savvy, a wiz when it comes to healing plants and to tending to injuries, can orient herself by using the stars, as left-handed as her spouse, the only girl to become a surgeon's assistant in all military camps of the 30YW. BADASS. During their time as bandits, she is the Bonnie to Gerhard's Clyde (Hedi merely third-wheeling). The brains to his brawn, or rather the right brain to his left. And, in the end, she keeps the legacy of her late spouse and becomes the iron matriarch of House Ringstetten, staying alive for yet another arc, not only the widow of a lord, but also a ruler and a leader herself.

Phecda: Erich von Hohenklang, né Erik Klang - the humble, steadfast ensign
Phecda's Asian name is the "heavenly pearl", while its Weastern designation translates to "thigh," fitting for the tallest and sturdiest member of the company. An orphan and veteran of the Polish Wars, camp-born and camp-bred Klang is the only pure Swede in the company, making his position rather remarkable. In his late twenties-early thirties, he is also the eldest ranking member of the company. Once promoted to ensign during the Pomeranian campaign, his first officer's commision did not last rather long; getting quickly demoted after drinking in excess on guard duty. The second chance he has attained as Colonel von Tarlenheim's orderly -with the ensuing unrequited love for Liselotte, leading in that he wants her to be happy with someone worthy of her- means he looks up to this officer as a caregiver; after the Colonel drowns at the Lech, Erik is still a ranker, though now orderly to Lieutenant von Ringstetten: outranked by both Kurtius and Alois, yet hopeful that he will rise up the ranks again. That wish comes true: attaining the ensigncy and barony left vacant by von Waldmeister at the Old Keep, he will keep the post until his demise at Lützen. A troublemaker, drinker, gambler, skirt-chaser... he is based partly on Kurtz in FMP, partly on Baldroy. And somewhat on Robert Baratheon before losing Lyanna. At length a foil to his predecessor and bromantic partner Kurtius, the Leipzig Uni student, this uncultured and hardy Swedish farmboy also makes himself worthy of a von and an officer's commission. Introduced pestering Liselotte at camp, he dies protecting his lieutenant, whom he finally trusts, upon the battlefield of Lützen. Reaching his calabash canteen 3/4 full of brandy out to his wounded, thirsty commanding officer. For Crown and Country, like his parents died before. With a smile.

Megrez: Kurt "Kurtius" (von) Waldmeister - the intellectual ensign
The Asian designation of Megrez is that of "learned/scholarly star," which cannot fit Kurtius any better. He is the only person in the company with whom the Ringstetten siblings can carry out an intellectual conversation. A left-handed, carrot-topped poet and university student with a "nerdy" streak, pretty gauche in the arts of war, yet exceedingly cultured, Kurtius gradually unfolds as a worthy officer, until his violent, untimely death at the Old Keep sent shockwaves through the whole fanbase. The eccentric Kurtius was meant to be based upon a witty, ironic Mercutio, and also slightly upon the discipulus (pupil/student) in the Apollonius cycle: "a stripling in appearance, yet an aged man in wisdom," or, as a more modern translation states, "of youthful appearance, but mature judgement." Megrez, the star where the handle joins the dipper, or where the funeral train joins the coffin, is a nexus, yet also the one that shines the faintest of the seven, parallelling how Kurtius, in every continuity, is the very first of the Happy Few to die. At first pressed into the Saxon military under the influence (plied with drink in a Leipzig tavern, he awakens in a scarlet uniform)... he quickly develops from a learned yet gauche/awkward "fish out of social water" to a daring trickster who probes the Lech on April Fools' Day. Sauntering stark naked into a freezing Phlegethon. This act was what made Kurtius win his ensigncy, the title of Freiherr (free lord or baron), and fifty golden Swedish crowns. Then, he is suddenly shot at the Old Keep, gallantly wrapping himself in the flag of Sweden, a flag that was not his own from the start... We hardly got to know him...

Alioth: Alois von Tarlenheim, né Ivanovic - the brash, savvy sergeant
Alioth is, together with the twin stars and Alkaid, a bad omen. The phonetic similarity between "Alioth" and "Alois," as well as his eldest daughter marrying into House Ringstetten to become the mother of Gustav Adolf, provide further clues. "Alioth" has been interpreted as "black horse:" considering his backstory, his dark features, and his amnesiac coat-turn to Wallenstein, it is more than convenient. Also as a darkhorse character who began as a random Breitenfeld POW and gradually attained more and more relevance. The Asian name of Alioth is "jade spyglass" or "jade armillary sphere," which also conveniently fits in due to his role as a POV character and the relevance of his POV. The fact that this is the brightest star in the UMa gives another clue of the character's importance. He saves Lady Wallenstein and her daughter. He gets to know the Wallensteins from up close and tell the convoluted reality from the sinister myths. He saves the life of Gerhard time after time, their initial tension developing into trust, before they meet again on opposing sides. These two are foils to one another: the savvy veteran and the naive young officer... At first the lieutenant's orderly, he becomes von Ringstetten's right hand, and is forgiven by his commanding officer once it has all been cleared that Alois switched sides due to amnesia. The relationship between Alois and Hedi also develops from star-crossed (due to the religious prejudice of others) to steady and healthy happy ever after. Furthermore, the trusted second-in-command crying at his commanding officer's grave at the end... is one of the most emotive scenes from funerals in the whole Saga.

Mizar and Alcor: Volker Axel Schönherr and Horst Schulte - the milites gloriosi/Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern
Mizar is the major star of these two, Alcor is the one harder to be seen (and the star Swedish ensigns have to be able to see to become lieutenants, as part of their test). Likewise, Schönherr takes the lead and Schulte, his trusted valet, is his right hand. They try, time after time, to rise above their station and become officers, however, not displaying much strength or courage at the end of the day. It is only at Lützen, at their finest hour, when they display their true worth and then die violently. Like Alcor is considered "the neglected one," Horst does not receive a lot of screentime or development, acting mostly as a straight man foil satellite character to the eccentric, Blackadder-like Schönherr... a courtier's son who rubs gentry boy Kurtius in the face at Leipzig University in their first appearance. Right before they are plied with drink and recruited by the Saxon Army and the Catholic League, respectively. Losing everything at Breitenfeld, turning into his servant's equal, and having his face scarred by a slash wound proves a heavy blow to Schönherr, who, feeling wounded and entitled to prestige, tries in vain, time after time, to win the favour of Gustavus. The death of Kurtius at the Old Keep (right when both Schönherr and Horst were ready to desert to Wallenstein's side) is the first event that shakes him, having already resented that he, unlike his rival, got cold feet and hesitated to offer himself to probe the Lech. A courtier and a ladies' man, he was pressed into service and then everything changed. Luckily, he did not live to see the light of his life, the maid of honour he worshipped like Roderigo to Desdemona, get away with the "bloody unhuman" Croat, giving him her heart and hand. Dying at Lützen, with his true servant by his side, like the heroes within them, was the best they could do.

Alkaid Benetnasch: Hedwig Luise von Tarlenheim, née von Ringstetten - the broken maiden/the one who sacrificed it all
The last of the UMa stars, the tip of the dipper's handle, is generally considered the most sinister. Its Asian designation is "star of military defeat," while its full Western name translates to "leader of the mourning maidens (Mizar/Alcor and Alioth being the other 'maidens' in the funeral train, and the other four UMa stars forming the 'coffin')." Really uplifting, eh? Another Asian name for the same star, however, is "glittering brilliance," exactly describing Hedi's ambition to become a court lady. As maid-of-honour to the star-crossed Queen Eleanor, at first she cannot be happier. Yet she forsakes her position and the prestige it carries, sacrificing them for what is really the most relevant. The fate of Eleanor becomes entwined with hers until she decides to stay in Saxony to help her ailing brother and his fiancée, rather than accompany her liege back to the Swedish royal court. As an outlaw, she even goes the extra mile when it comes to sacrifice. And it all pays off, culminating in her meeting Alois again and becoming his lady wife. Hedi begins the story as a hyperactive, naive ditz, similar to Lizzie Midford, Sansa Stark, and Nancy Lammeter, who dreams of leaving her provincial life to become a court lady, and whose wishes come true... yet she slowly comes to question it all: from falling in love with a Croat to the heartbreak of her widowed queen; from joining her brother and sister-in-law into an inglorious life of crime and finding her beloved, now amnesiac, beyond the enemy lines; to the crowning of it all that is the finale, drying up her husband's and her daughter's tears by her brother's grave, trying to hold back the tears herself...

martes, 26 de abril de 2016



Sandra Dermark, 26nd of April of 2016

A retelling of an old Sanskrit story.

Dedicated to Ser Uttam Paudel.

At dawn as the sun rose,
and at dusk as the sun set,
a barren queen prayed
to the sun, the sunny sunny sun,
for a child, even if it were a girl.
And the star of stars
heard that sincere prayer,
and thus, the next year, in mid-summer,
a daughter was born
in the royal canopy bed.
Named heir to the throne
for being the royal pair's only child,
the golden-haired, golden-eyed princess
was taught statescraft,
foreign languages,
arts, poetry, music, philosophy,
even the arts of war,
and her mind became as bright as her eyes.
Throughout the realms, she became reputed
as an heiress unusually clever,
yet also for being powerful and lovely.
When she had reached the age of sixteen,
she suddenly, to distract herself
from the pressure of her studies,
began to sing a song which began like this:
"When you are king, dilly-dilly,
I shall be queen..."
Yet the final verses of that song would be
harder to sing than the first ones.
She summoned her parents and her advisors 
and told them of her intentions,
to their rejoicing and acclaim.
And thus, a decree that she had written herself
was published left and right:
that any good-looking young man
may be free to visit the royal court,
and the Crown Princess
would give her heart and hand
to the best speaker,
to the one who felt most at home in the throne room
to the whose intellectual and moral qualities
towered above those of all the others.
And thus,
suitors flocked to the vast halls,
more drawn to her beauty and wealth
than to her wit and heart.
When these saw the guards in mess uniform,
and the courtiers in all their splendour,
and the halls lit up by thousands of chandeliers
that reflected in countless silver mirrors,
they suddenly lost their self-confidence,
and they would not even look into the eyes
of the princess, with hair as bright as the candles,
or even echo the last words she had said.
Some of them even collapsed before the throne!
Thus, from this kind of first impressions,
she already knew what to expect of them.
And, weary of each man, she sent them away,
one by one by one by one by one.
It was as if all of them had been drugged.
She did not want a yes-sayer who looked sharp in uniform,
or a pretentious curmudgeon, but a true prince,
fair, brave, intelligent,
able to lead the army during wartime,
to patronize the arts during peacetime,
and to speak well, share a conversation, give her replies:
one unlike every blue-blooded suitor
she saw: such a young man had she not seen,
looking upon all the thrones on this earth.
And thus, weary of them all,
she went forth undercover
into the wide world,
from province to province,
from realm to realm,
left and right, 
through fire and ice,
in pursuit of Mr. Right,
but only found unworthy, shallow, tiresome men:
of every kind she did not like.
Still, she would never despair at all 
to find what she desired,
determined as she was to choose,
come hell or highwater,
whatever his rank may be,
a spouse worthy of her.
Until, one day, riding up north, she came
to a paltry holdfast in the woods
and saw the young man of her dreams,
dashing and charming, kindly and clever,
even an accomplished artist.
He did not want to woo the sunshine princess,
to win her hand or her fortune;
only to hear her wise conversation,
to verify whether she had as much wit as they said.
Such sincerity struck the maiden to the core,
and she was quickly interested in the stripling.
He liked her very well, and she liked him:
a lily among thorns, a gem in the rough,
a kindred spirit of hers.
There he lived, in modesty, with his aged parents,
helping them night and day with household chores,
since they could not afford any servants,
yet he was dignified and cultured,
meant for greater things.
In sooth, he had nothing to do with all those lordlings
that had bent the knee in front of her before.
He found her charming,
and she found him after his taste.
Upon returning to her own court,
having reached the age of eighteen,
she told her mother and her advisors
about the one she had found,
a spouse worthy of her,
the loveliest of them all,
her other half, in truth.
Quoth the court soothsayer:
"Indeed, she cannot have chosen
a better spouse:
that young man is a dethroned prince,
raised in grand palace halls like you,
driven away with his ailing parents
into modest obscurity
by chance, by military defeat.
His rapier wit and his noble heart
truly shine through that fair, soft face,
as fair and soft as a rose-petal...
yet, unfortunately,
within a year and a day,
he will breathe his last.
So short is his lifespan meant to be."
Yet the princess shrugged at those words of caution,
determined to make the best
out of that last year of her spouse's life,
of the only year they would spend together.
She sacrificed all of her privileges,
those of her courtly childhood,
servants, silks, costly desserts,
to dwell in retired modesty,
helping her dashing young husband
and her aged in-laws
with their household duties,
doing the chores that the maids at her birthplace
had hitherto done for her.
She kept her husband's destiny a secret
from him and from his kindly parents,
not wanting to break their loving hearts.
And thus, day after day,
she won everyone's hearts,
and the villagers near the holdfast wished her,
blessed her:
"May your widowhood delay!"
Usually, this would be a happy wish,
but, in her heart,
it tore and froze her heartstrings.
At last, the sacred day came,
when she fulfilled her chores with a heavy heart,
casting mournful glances at her spouse,
hour by hour, knowing that his life 
would come to a close with the setting sun... 
and, as he bound a wreath of wildflowers 
and deftly crowned her shining locks,
she restrained painful tears within her eyes...
and, as they were picking fruit
in a colourful, verdant clearing
in the woods along the holdfast,
at twilight, as the sky bled
and the light gradually vanished,
the young prince felt weary,
his limbs in a cold sweat, the blood curdling in his veins,
his head throbbing,
a searing pain in his left side,
radiating up his throat and down his arm.
Seeing him wince and stagger,
clutching his left side, where his heart was,
his face lilywhite, reeling, swallowing his pain,
his golden-haired, golden-eyed wife
let his heavy, weary head rest on her lap,
his dying form pale, cold, hard as ice,
as his eyes shut,
his lilywhite face turned strangely pale,
and his breathing and heartbeat
receded until they were still.
Then, the last strip of sunlight
vanished from the evening sky
as Mercury and Venus appeared.
And then, before this living Pietà
appeared the tall, robust silhouette,
dark and bloodshot of eyes,
of the Deathbringer himself.
The young princess was not afraid
at all of what she saw,
for she knew that thus would it be.
The sinister Stranger
reached into the young man's chest,
left-handed, into his left side,
somewhere near the failing heart,
for the last spark of life
that was flickering within,
and he took it out of his bosom,
left-handed, from his left side,
a little flickering flame,
as his form was cold and hard,
completely still.
Still, the widowed maiden was
unafraid, not stirred at all.
And, as the Deathbringer turned around
to take the fated spirit
that flickered, held in his cold left hand,
into the Uncharted Lands,
he felt a strong pull at his cloak-tails.
"Please, don't take him away!",
she begged the stern Stranger,
a request born out of despair.
"He is the light of my life!"
"Thou art still alive, young maid,
and 'tis too early for thy destiny,
for thy reunion in the Lands Beyond."
"Let me follow you to the Threshold,"
the sunshine-eyed princess cried, yet
the Stranger did not pay heed to her request,
the maiden still on his cloak-tails.
Quoth she: "I have walked seven steps with you,
which makes us friends." Such a reply left
the Lord of the Deceased in awe,
impressed by her conviction.
"I will grant whatever thy heart desires,
as long as 'tis not the life of your spouse."
She quickly replied: "In that case, Ser,
please give my aged in-laws back
what they have lost: health, youth, and thrones."
"Thy will be done," the stern, sinister Stranger
replied. And on he walked uphill,
the maiden following him like his shadow.
Thorns tore at her modest cotton skirt.
Once more, she tugged at the end of his cloak,
once more, he harshly commanded her to stop.
"Do not follow me, living one.
Yet your conviction has won my heart,
or it would if I had one.
I will grant thee one more earnest wish."
She replied: "I am an only child,
born of a barren mother's prayer,
yet I wish that my aged parents
had many more children, boys if possible,
spares to the throne, if I should be gone."
"Thy will be done," the stern, sinister Stranger
replied. And on he walked uphill,
the maiden following him like his shadow.
For a third time, she pulled his cloak,
and, for a third time, he turned around.
"What, living one? Still on my heels!?"
his harsh, sinister baritone echoed,
as her sincere contralto replied,
a counterpoint of iron wills:
"Will you grant me one last desire,
O Lord of the Deceased? The one that I bear
deepest within my heart of hearts?"
"So will it be, as long as 'tis not
the resurrection of thy beloved one.
After that, be gone, live your own life,
let me cross the threshold with his soul, on my own."
In a far calmer voice than before, she replied:
"Please, do not allow me to die childless.
And may my offspring and my descendants
be of the blood of the one I love,
the light of my life, the spirit of my spirit,
to bring hope to both of our dynasties.
May he be their sire, and both of us see
even great-grandchildren flocked in a circle
around us." For once, the Stranger wavered
and stood still, awestruck, listening entranced.
"Thou hast not asked for his life at all,"
the stern, sinister Lord of the Deceased
replied, astonished, in a broken voice.
"Yet I cannot grant thee thy deepest heart's desire
without bringing him back to elusive earthly life.
Thy wit and thy kindness truly equal thy beauty.
Return: thou art worthy of winning his life back."
For once, he had met a worthy opponent
in that mortal princess of unusual cleverness.
And, ere he returned to the Uncharted Lands,
as if he freed a captive butterfly,
the Stranger released the spirit from his grasp,
and the little flame soared northward, towards the clearing,
and she darted after its will-o'-the-wisp flight,
not heeding the thorns that tore at her skin,
though her limbs were sore and bleeding,
until she reached the end of the clearing
and beheld the little flickering flame 
laying to rest on the chest of her spouse,
then plunging within, into his still heart.
And thus, his chest began to heave,
his strangely pale cheeks turned rosy once more,
and his soft eyelids flickered,
and he awoke from his heavy, long sleep
in the lap of his beloved.
Confused, he looked left and right, then upwards,
reassured by the smile of his fair wife,
and he told her of the visions
he had had before expiring: were those dreams,
that sinister stranger looming over his form,
picking him up from his earthly coil?
She wistfully winked an eye,
telling him there was nought to worry,
and they returned home, to the humble holdfast,
hand in hand, heart in heart, the two as one,
the maiden on his right arm, her lover on her left,
the stars shining brighter than ever.
And officers were gathered around the modest table,
the royal father-in-law ready to gather an army
and defeat the usurper, to claim his rightful throne.
Did they succeed, was the victory theirs? 
Did they return to their courtly birthplace,
and did he become king of that vast realm after his sire?
Did they live to a ripe old age,
surrounded by dozens of descendants?
Did the Stranger take both spouses together,
when they were centuries old, at the end of the day?
The answer to all of these questions is yes.
What's more, they greeted him as a dear friend
when they were taken into the Unknown Lands.
And the story spread beyond the reach of palace halls,
into fortresses, markets, villages, holdfasts
of many realms, even westward,
into the sunset lands, where the people
are far fairer of skin. Now, dear reader,
you may inquire if the princess and her prince
lived happy ever after. 'Tis as obvious 
as can be, yet what is most important,
dear reader, is the fact that they lived.

domingo, 24 de abril de 2016



"In time, the king had to wage war in a far-off kingdom, and he asked his mother to care for his young queen, for he loved her with all his heart. “If she gives birth to a child, send me a message right away.” The young queen gave birth to a happy babe and the king's mother sent a messenger to the king telling him the good news. But on the way to the king the messenger tired, and coming to a river, felt sleepier and sleepier and finally fell entirely asleep by the river’s edge.
The lad who ran with the message again came to the river, and feeling heavy as though he had eaten a feast, soon fell asleep by the side of the water."

"But the messenger, weary with the long distance,
rested by a brook
and was in fact so tired
that he fell asleep."

The messenger seems normal enough, but as he nears a stream of water, he becomes more and more sleepy, falls asleep, [···] This is a clue that tells us there will again be a challenge to the psyche during its next labor in the underworld.
In the story, the messenger, stream, and the sleep that causes forgetfulness reveal that the old religion is right underneath the story line, just the next layer down.

In Greek mythos, in the underworld there is a river called Lethe, and to drink of its waters causes one to forget all things said and done. Psychologically this means to fall asleep to one’s actual life. The runner who is supposed to enable communication between these two main components of the new psyche cannot yet hold its own against the destructive/seductive force in the psyche. The communicating function of the psyche becomes sleepy, lies down, falls asleep, and forgets. In the story, the messenger, stream, and the sleep that causes forgetfulness reveal that the old religion is right underneath the storyline, just the next layer down.
This has been the archetypal pattern of descent since the beginning of time, and we too follow this timeless system. Likewise, we have a history of terrible chores behind us. We have seen Death’s steamy breath. We have braved the clutching forests, the marching trees, the roots that trip, the fog that blinds. We are psychic heroines with a valise full of medals. And who can blame us now? We want to rest. We deserve to rest for we have been through a lot. And so we lie down. Next to a lovely stream. The sacred process is not forgotten, just ... just ... well, we would like to take a break, just for a while you know, just going to close our eyes for a minute...
And because we are near Lethe, we snore on.


So Estés connects this episode to the myth of Lethe, fittingly enough. Which brings me to remember how it was put into pentameter in Paradise Lost:

Far off from these, a slow and silent stream,
Lethe, the river of oblivion, rolls
Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks
Forthwith his former state and being forgets—        585
Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain.

There I happen to have noticed something the motif has with the downfall of the characters deceived by Iago in Othello: it's all about lowering one's guard. And about entitlement, the feeling that one deserves something, that what one wishes for is one's by right. These conditions are oh, so human. The archetypal pattern of descent. To fall asleep to one’s actual life. To lower one's guard; to think that what one desires is one's by right, that it is not only desired but also deserved.

You may never understand
how the stranger is inspired,
but he isn't always evil
and he isn't always wrong...
Though you drown in good intentions,
you will never quench the fire:
You'll give in to your desire
when the stranger comes along.

Iago is the Stranger. The catalyst, the disruptor. Satan, Loki, Eris, the Lord of Misrule. Every paradise has at least one discontented enfant terrible within. Not evil, but unable to care for what is right or wrong, knowing the distinction between left and right yet not paying heed to it.
The Stranger also lives within us. It's the little voice that whispers into our left ear or throbs within our hearts whenever we are inclined to lower our guard. Like the messenger in Handless Maiden tales; like Roderigo, Cassio, and even Othello; like many a character in A Song of Ice and Fire; we do feel the same as when the messenger stops for a rest. 
Contrast all of the Constanze Saga examples with a Snoilsky poem, "Stenbock's Messenger," which is one of the author's best known. In it, Lieutenant Henrik Hammarberg rides all the way from the war front outside Helsingborg to the royal court at Drottningholm Palace, a short distance west of Stockholm. Right across the southern half of Sweden. And, though his spirits waver, though his strength fails, though weary with the long distance, though his steeds die one by one of exhaustion, he does not stop at all. Not for a drink, not for a rest. He literally spends nearly 555 km on the move, on horseback, without resting or feeding at all, feeling so compelled to his duty that he never lowers his guard. His duty comes first and foremost. And, of course, when he finally arrives at the royals' presence, he is carried in with a guard on each arm, one on the left and the other on the right, supporting him as human crutches as he difficultly staggers, with lead-heavy feet, into the throne room, where, before he can speak... he collapses, exhausted.
And he should have died if the Queen Grandmother had not offered him her throne to sit upon and a drink of Riesling to restore his spirits. Only then does he rest. Even though, like in the Fourth Story of The Snow Queen, the haughty and class-conscious courtiers at first look down upon the weary and worn subaltern officer, and frown to themselves as Hedwig Eleanor rises from her throne to let the lieutenant, a younger man of the landed gentry and the subaltern officer class... way below royalty on the social ladder... finally have a rest and a drink of the finest Rhenish in Sweden from one of the royal household's best silver tankards. 

Here is my translation of the poem:

By Count Carl Snoilsky
From the Swedish by Sandra Dermark.
August MMXVII - Stora Höga
(Partial translation)

Within the royal castle
that rises on the isle,
by the lakeside, round towers
on which springtime won't smile,
the aged royal matriarch,
Queen Hedwig Eleanor,
three Charleses' firm supporter,
is anxious evermore.

How many nights of waking
has she spent in her life?
Her spouse fighting in Warsaw,
only son in Lund's strife!
Her grandson at Poltava...
like thunder, 't struck her ear...
Is this the fall of Sweden?
Thus does the news appear.

She sits there in the throne room,
the queen so good and old;
her granddaughter Ulrica
on her left, pale and cold...
Through her lips, no words stealing;
same King Fritz, on the right...
only the clock's tick-tocking
rouses this courtly sight.

But what's up on the staircase?
Door opens after door...
Through powdered wigs, a whisper
spreads lightning-fast for sure!
"A messenger from Stenbock!"
Victory or defeat?
At the page's announcement,
a few steps all retreat.

Two royal guards support, though,
this half-fainted young man;
on leaden feet he staggers --
they no more bear him can.
Each footstep Swedish soil leaves
on the floor -- he's so weak!
He stands before the royals --
he swoons, he cannot speak.

As pale as snow or marble,
yet remaining serene,
from her crowned throne arises
the old Dowager Queen.
"Please take a seat, Lieutenant!"
The courtiers stare in fright:
unusually, he sits there
and she's standing upright!

She waves, and a cupbearer
arrives, flagon in hand:
'tis a fine silver tankard
with scenes of war's command,
full of the finest Rhenish
within the royal store:
to the youth she has reached it,
her grip still strong and sure.

"As a dutiful soldier,
you've fulfilled your command:
thankful are not we only,
but all of Sweden's land.
Remember this good kindness:
thus, drink your thirst away,
and then, let us all listen
to what you have to say!"

No sooner have his parched lips
kissed the golden grape's blood
that through his limbs and soft face
streams anew life's warm flood.
He stands up at attention:
let all of Sweden hear
the young warrior speaking,
for sorrow or good cheer:

"Twenty-eighth of February:
At Helsingborg, the Dane
vanquished in open battle
was, with much toil and pain.
We've got thousands of captives,
and foemens' banners, too:
our bold general's written
the whole account here, true."

The mother of the Charleses
dissolves herself in tears:
"Now I shall die in peace, thus
bereft of any fears!
Amidst cheers of elation,
Ulrica's face shines bright:
she resembles her brother...

Everything's full of light!

Thanks to his strength of willpower, Hammarberg receives a rest and a drink fit for royalty, and he is hailed as a national hero. It comes as no surprise that Swedish children and adolescents have studied this poem for decades. While the messenger in Handless Maiden tales is portrayed as weak-willed, and only earns his redemption by telling the crowned husband the truth about his dereliction of duty (just like Cassio), Hammarberg's cross-country ride is definitely portrayed as a feat of derring-do, something that takes its toll upon his system and nearly kills him, yet, for Crown and Country, consecrated to his duty, he gradually uses up every single reserve of strength he cannot replenish until his mission is accomplished. And this reward feels far more gratifying than that of the messenger in Handless Maiden tales... yet Cassio, for me, gets a reward as worthy as Henrik's. While the messenger in Constanze tales is nothing more than an episodic character, Shakespeare's lieutenant is a far more complex character. We see more of a backbone in him, something in between the folktale messenger and Hammarberg. At first, Cassio declines Iago's invitation to have a strong drink before being on duty, and it takes a little coaxing to make him waver, and, finally, give in. And, once the first sip goes down, the lieutenant has been shoved down the slippery slope... until he cannot tell his left from his right. Then, we feel terribly sorry. Like the messenger in the Handless Maiden cycle, a third party falling asleep to his actual life, lowering his guard, causes an idyllic married couple to fall apart. However, unlike the maiden and her husband, Othello and Desdemona do not reunite in life. And, even more ironically, he kills the one he has loved the most with the self-same warrior's strength he should have used to protect her. Unlike the messenger in folktale, Cassio is forgiven with a far heavier weight on his conscience. The deaths of his childhood friend and commanding officer, through uxoricide and suicide respectively. That, I think, weighs more than the fact that Othello, before stabbing himself to die upon a kiss, has forgiven the young lieutenant. Or than the loss of his left leg, which has put an end to his military career. The surviving lead character is already broken within, dead in life, at the end of the day. Surely guiltridden, since it was his own weakness, taken advantage of by others, what wrought the whole tragedy.

"The messenger travels far, is weary, and resting by a brook, falls asleep. [···] Again the messenger falls asleep by the water's edge [···] 
The messenger carries his message by way of letter and "sleepy water". If these second waters are the waters of forgetting (Lethe)... Plato's Phaedrus also links the image of the written word and the waters of forgetfulness, for it is said there that letters undermine memory, producing forgetfulness (274e, 275b). The written message borne by the messenger works to reinforce a "forgetting." [···] the demonic ancestral voice of the dark depths that twists and garbles communication to and fro in the messenger who falls asleep along the banks of the brook."

"But, as can happen, the messenger fell asleep on his way...
Yet once again the messenger, overly complacent, fell asleep,..."

Gertrud Müller takes a similar stance in favour of this character: We cannot berate the messenger -- he was hot and tired. He wasn't out to cause trouble. He didn't know what was going on. This messenger, who becomes unconscious at all the crucial moments...

And Henrik Hammarberg, the strong-willed messenger of General Stenbock in the Snoilsky poem? Like Stannis Baratheon, "he'll break ere he bends." This iron-hard resolve not to yield proves both Stannis's and Hammarberg's tragic flaw. Denying himself every chance of rest and refreshment nearly put an end to his short life (we assume that this character, Cassio, and the messenger in the folktales are all three in their twenties). While the messenger in Handless Maiden tales is overly complacent, and Othello's aide-de-camp shows at first some willpower that finally wavers, the titular character in "Stenbock's Messenger" is not complacent or self-indulgent at all. Which nearly kills him.
Stories of the Constanze Saga are definitely universal: the waylaid messenger, whether intoxicated, exhausted, or both, occurs all over the Western world, and even in Japan and Sub-Saharan cultures. But the earliest examples can be traced back to France, Austria, Hungary, the Spanish and Italian realms. Catholic narrators usually highlight the importance of this messenger character: both when his exhaustion and thirst cause him to yield to the spirits of drink and/or to his need to sleep, and when his confession of his dereliction from duty --swearing that he is guilty of no treason, attesting that he never tampered with the letters, and confessing that he was made drunk-- brings him a pardon from the husband (king/count) who otherwise might have put him to death. These aspects reflect a particularly Catholic view of descent, in which: 1) sin is inherent to the human species [original sin], ever since Eve tasted the forbidden fruit, and all humans are born with weakness and predisposition to wrongdoing in the blood; 2) a responsible sinner's confession (the age-old ritual of telling the curate in the confessional, tête-à-tête, one's sins and being forgiven from them) is the key to redemption.
The Swedish national character, post-Reformation, preaches a rather different view: 1) neither deeds nor words can redeem a sinner, but faith alone. Believe in redemption and you shall be redeemed; 2) children are innocent, untouched by original sin, since they cannot tell right from wrong ("their left hand from their right," to quote the LORD in Jonah 4), and become tainted as they come of age and enter adult human society. These two tenets of Protestant redemption can be seen in the character of Hammarberg, predisposed to rather break than bend; he is weak-willed at heart, but repressing his desires all along, even if they are vital to life itself. The portrayal of the Count of Tilly (an aged Catholic!) in Swedish depictions of the 30YW falls along the same lines: having never got drunk or made love, consecrated solely to his duty... yet, after his first defeat, despair drives him to risk it all and finally die an excruciating death. The messenger in the Snoilsky poem does indeed feel light-headed, wavering, faltering, "weary with the long distance," "heavy as though he had eaten a feast," but he shakes all of these urges off. The scene when he reels into the throne room, his limbs as worn as his clothes, a guard on each arm for a crutch, then falls, as if bereft of life, on the costly carpet... proves the result of his lifestyle. It's only then he can earn his much-needed rest and a strong drink to come to his senses. Only when he has fulfilled the command he was given without any wavering, even if there is a price to pay.
The messenger in Nicolas Trivet's Chronicles swallows "an evil drink which takes such a hold of his brain and binds his senses so strongly that he falls down bereft of sensation, as if he were a dead man." Hammarberg collapses for exactly the opposite reason; "sense and speech leave him" because he has not rested or refreshed himself at all until he has reached his destination. The Catholic view of descent is far more pessimistic than the Protestant one, but the latter has also got its sinister side. The alcohol- or exhaustion-induced sleep in Type 706 folktales and the exhaustion/burnout in the Snoilsky poem are two sides of the same coin. One of them has his reason stolen away by self-indulgence; the other, by attrition. In both cases, unconsciousness is a metaphor for the loss of identity.
And Cassio is something in between the Constanze messenger and Stenbock's. A Catholic character created by a Protestant author, the hopeful young lieutenant stands on the same threshold of coming of age, yet his character arc curiously exhibits both Catholic and Protestant views of descent. Like most of his counterparts in Type 706, he is plied with drink, and the state of intoxication leaves him unaware of the truth once he has come to (like the Galysian messenger "knew no guile/treason"); we cannot blame him either, he never meant to cause trouble and didn't know what was going on, yet he becomes unconscious at all the crucial moments. His plight serves as an invitation to temperance, yet it is also the first step in the whole falling action of the story. Like the messenger in the folktales, he is thought to be unreliable until the truth comes to light, and then he is forgiven. And still there are echoes of the Protestant "child-at-heart" within his character, until losing his loved ones and his left leg opens his eyes to the world's malice. To begin with, at first our lieutenant declines Iago's temptations, stressing the importance of his duty and his young head's weakness for strong drink. And he keeps on standing his ground for a while (until Iago finally hits that soft spot that is peer pressure/desire to fit in). Furthermore, once his eyes are glazed and his speech is slurred, he is still slightly unaware that his reason begins to drift away. "There are souls that shall be saved and souls that shall not be saved, but, in this company, I come first: the lieutenant is to be saved before the ensign." Here, he displays knowledge of his status, that he outranks the others, which makes him slightly entitled. This stress on status and privilege, along with intoxication, indicates that he's crossing the threshold into adulthood. However, after another drink, when reassuring the others that he is not intoxicated, Cassio confuses left and right (claiming that his left hand is the right one and vice versa). Here we've got a powerful metaphor for spiritual darkness, helpless ignorance, and existential confusion. Like his claims that he can walk in a straight line and speak perfectly, it sounds ironic, contradictory. And this metaphor for being unable to tell right from wrong also reveals a side of his character that had been repressed: like those thousands of pardoned children in Jonah 4, "who cannot tell their left hand from their right." In that sense (and perchance the Bard was one of King James's biblical translators), it serves as some kind of foreshadowing. Of the fact that his lord will at last forgive him, though at a price to be reckoned with. Thus saith the LORD to Jonah as the prophet broods over the death of the wild vine that had shaded him from the sun: "You have been worried about that vine that you have not raised, that sprung up and withered overnight; and should I not be concerned about thousands of people who cannot tell their left hand from their right?" (people who cannot tell their right hand from their left -- Their ignorance is so great they “cannot tell their right hand from their left.”) The lives of innocent and helpless children who cannot tell the difference between right and wrong, including those standing on the threshold of adulthood, are more precious than that of a wild creeper. Once redeemed, the Shakespearean lieutenant believes and hopes with all his heart that he will be forgiven, and he finally earns not only his general's pardon, but also his succession at the outpost rulership. At the end of the day, suddenly promoted to governor, Cassio has to lean on crutches, his left leg broken, the distinction between left and right now having become painfully clear to him, as clear as the loss of those he loved and that of his military career. A Catholic character created by a Protestant author, the hopeful young lieutenant stands on the same threshold of coming of age, yet his character arc curiously exhibits both Catholic and Protestant views of descent. Perchance this is why his character arc is far more relatable than those of the messenger in Handless Maiden tales or Henrik Hammarberg. Because it is a more human exploration of descent and loss of identity, portraying and highlighting every stage of the process: initial resistance, wavering, downfall, punishment, redress, forgiveness/redemption, and the final consequences, positive and negative, of the sum of all the stages. The discipulus (student/pupil) of Cerimon in the Apollonius saga is a "puer-senex" or child-elder ("a stripling in appearance, yet an aged man in wisdom / of youthful appearance, but mature judgement"), a typically classical and Catholic portrayal of a person in this liminal stage of life, as physically young yet learned and cultured; the young characters created by Protestant authors, and their depictions of their child and adolescent royals (Gustavus Adolphus, Christina...), are the children at heart of Lutheran lore, whose innocence and kindness are unflinching guiding stars; while many of Shakespeare's Italian and French youths, like Cassio, Portia, Beatrice, Audrey and Touchstone, Miranda and Ferdinand... blur the line between these two conceptions, incorporating both.