Reassurance, and a Digression

Still here.  Still writing, too, although given the pace of updates you’d hardly know it– as of last report, the first draft of the novel was 73% complete, so there’s a vague hope the second draft will be ready for critical comment before the end of the year.

I do not have as much time to devote to my art as I could wish.

That’s the reassurance dealt with.  Now, onto the digression:  I was reading something today which brought to mind King Cnut.  He’s less well known than his Anglo-Saxon propagandist’s version of himself, King Canute, which is a shame.  The “Free the Danelaw” telling of his story has him standing up to his ankles in water, yelling futilely at the incoming tide in a fit of shoe-wrecking hubris.  The other side of the story is a little more interesting.

There were, it seems, an awful lot of hangers-on, lickspittles, and blowers-of-smoke at the court of Cnut.  This makes sense, given the relative power of his kingdom; loads of victories, no neighbours that gave any serious worries, and ferocious armed forces on tap.  Cnut was troubled by this preponderance of yes-men, because when he said “Do we think it’s a good idea to raid Wantage again?” he wanted actual opinions and not a load of “Ooh, you can do anything because you’re so big and strong.”  Even when he told them that there were no wrong answers, there was a worrisome amount of scraping and cries of, “Of course, your Majesty, it is as you say, and your wisdom is infallible.”  He took to formulating a plan.

“I understand that I am the greatest king in the world,” he said to his assembled jarls.  A few, because there are always a few, rolled their eyes or considered the bottom of their mead-horns.  The rest, even those who might have heard of places like Constantinople, agreed loudly.

“So, anything I command will come to pass?”

A chorus of avid agreement followed.

“Let’s give that a try.  Court’s adjourned, and we’ll reconvene on the shore at the turn of the ebb.”  They being a seafaring lot, the members of the court has a good sense of the tides, so this wasn’t as obscure to them as it is to us modern watch-owners, and they all toddled out at the correct time.  There sat Cnut, on his throne, on the damp sand a few feet above the water line, wearing his best shoes.

“Since you’re all so certain of my powers of command, it will come as no surprise to you that I can order the tide to stay where it is, because I don’t want to wreck these really nice shoes I’m wearing.”

The eye-rollers, who had the sense to stand toward the back of the crowd, rolled once more.  The general murmur of agreement had somewhat less fervour than previously, but was still general.  After all, he is the great and awesome Cnut; I’m not going to be the one to say otherwise.

“Right.”  Cnut turned his head to yell over his shoulder.  “Oi!  Ocean!  Knock off that tide!  Stay right where you are!”

Five minutes later, the royal shoes were extremely damp.  They carried Cnut up the strand, where he stopped and said, “I hope you dummies get it– I may be your king, and a damn good king when compared to the others, but I’m also human.  I have limits.  I’m sick of you lot playing suck-up, and the next time you don’t give an honest opinion when I ask for one, remember this.  You’re in the court to be helpful, not decorative.”

He may also have had a couple of the more obsequious members of the court judicially murdered, because they were a fairly rough’n’tumble bunch, and nothing drives home a lesson like an execution.  History is silent on this point.

The thing which brought this to mind is this article regarding someone who has gone… a different direction than Cnut.  You might almost feel sorry for its subject; consider, if that emotion kindles in your bosom, the amount of misery he’s caused for others over the years.  Any price he’s currently paying is but a taste of the interest on his karmic debt, never touching the substance.