Saturday, October 01, 2022

Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge


Opening Passage:

One evening of late summer, before the nineteenth century had reached one-third of its span, a young man and woman, the latter carrying a child, were approaching the large village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper Wessex, on foot. They were plainly but not ill clad, though the thick hoar of dust which had accumulated on their shoes and garments from an obviously long journey lent a disadvantageous shabbiness to their appearance just now.

Summary: Michael and Sarah Henchard are respectable but nearly destitute and are traveling with their baby, Elizabeth Jane, as Michael Henchard looks for work as a hay trusser. Stopping at a village fair, Henchard buys some furmity (what we would usually call 'frumenty' today) laced with rum, and, having a taste for rum, he eats quite a bit. Henchard is clearly unhappy with his lot and frustrated with his inability to provide for wife and child, and as he eats and gets drunk from the eating, it manifests itself in increasing expression of resentment, so that when he gets into an argument with his wife, he start offering to sell her and the child off to anyone who will buy them. A sailor named Newsom offers, and Sarah, fed up with Henchard's temper, voluntarily goes with him. Because she is not well educated, she assumes that in doing so she is sealing a legitimate contract, and will only learn much later that in fact you can't change spouses by means of an auction. Henchard, once he sobers, regrets his actions and tries to find them, but he cannot, and he makes a vow not to touch strong drink for twenty-one years.

Newsom as a sailor is often away, and one time he apparently is lost at sea, so Sarah, who by now recognizes that her relationship with Newsom, while amicable, was not really legitimate, goes with her daughter, Elizabeth Jane, to find Henchard again. They discover him in the agricultural town of Casterbridge, in Wessex, which is Hardy's fictionalized rural England, Casterbridge itself being a fictional English town with Roman roots (hence the Roman element in the name). Henchard has done well for himself in the eighteen years that they have been away. While not profoundly educated or talented, he nonetheless has an extraordinary energy and willingness to work at things, which has led to his rising from day laborer to the most prosperous seller of hay and grain in the area to Mayor of Casterbridge. He is in a sort of relationship with a woman from Bath (although we learn that things are more complicated than that) named Lucetta, and they are contemplating marriage, or at least Lucetta is. However, on Sarah's reappearance, Henchard breaks it off with Lucetta and they reunite with a superficial courtship and purely symbolic private wedding for public appearances, so that neither of them have to explain the awkward problem of their not having lived as man and wife. Instead, they pass of their old marriage as a new thing, and while people think it's odd, they pass off the Mayor marrying a poor widow of lower status with a grown daughter as just one of those things that happens in the romances of prosperous men. Lucetta is not happy, but Henchard, who has a certain sort of honor despite his unreasoned impulsiveness, has let her know in broad outlines the problem (without mentioning his own role in the absence of his wife).

In the meantime, a young Scotsman named Donald Farfrae passes through town and, without asking anything in return, helps Henchard out of a difficult business situation. Henchard is somewhat floored at someone doing a purely a benevolent deed for him, and impulsively takes a vehement liking to the man. He convinces Farfrae to stay, hiring him as a corn factor, and things are going well for the moment. However, Henchard finds that Farfrae is quite competent -- very, very, very competent -- and Henchard comes to resent how much more people look to Farfrae than to him, particularly as Farfrae is not afraid to cross him if he thinks Henchard is wrong. Farfrae and Elizabeth Jane also are beginning to show signs of a budding romance, and the combination leads to a clear break betwen the two men, although the break is almost entirely on the part of Henchard. Farfrae and Henchard become business competitors, although Farfrae still regards them as friends in at least a general way; but, again, Farfrae is very competent, and by focusing on repeated small profits rather than the kind of heavy gambling on the future that characterizes most of the other grain merchants, he is soon the most significant merchant in the area. Henchard, on the other hand, is continually hamstrung by his own impulsiveness, and his fortunes decline. Things become even worse when Sarah dies and Lucetta, thinking she can now marry Henchard, moves into tow, having newly become very wealthy; but she soon falls in love with Farfrae and marries him.

Henchard's own fortunes will continue to deteriorate, although almost always due to his own headstrong impulsiveness. It's very important to the story that Henchard is not in any way a villain. He is in many ways a very decent man, capable of extraordinary generosity and a sort of rough honor and a willingness to make amends. But he is proud, capable of nursing a grudge and inclined to refuse help from someone else even when it would obviously improve the situation for everyone, and when this is combined with his impulsiveness, he keeps making rash decisions he comes to regret but then through pride keeps refusing to back down from them. This is a recipe for disaster, and Henchard, having risen so high and having so many resources by which to avoid a bad end, will nonetheless end worse than he began. It's a tragic life. It's a tragedy for which he himself is almost entirely to blame, but it's a tragic life nonetheless. But it is not a very foreign sort of life, although most of us are prevented by good luck and different temperament from going as far as Henchard does. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Sometimes, indeed, we are, like Henchard, our only real enemy. The thing about being your own enemy is that, no matter what happens, you are guaranteed to lose that battle. And others may suffer as collateral damage.

Favorite Passage:  The book, while well written, and often showing a striking turn of phrase, doesn't have many striking extended passages, but I like the following for its capturing both Henchard's and Farfrae's characters completely in a brief passage that features neither of them directly.

Abel Whittle was edging his skeleton in at the wicket, and she said, “Mr. Farfrae is master here?”

 “Yaas, Miss Henchet,” he said, “Mr. Farfrae have bought the concern and all of we work-folk with it; and ’tis better for us than ’twas—though I shouldn’t say that to you as a daughter-law. We work harder, but we bain’t made afeard now. It was fear made my few poor hairs so thin! No busting out, no slamming of doors, no meddling with yer eternal soul and all that; and though ’tis a shilling a week less I’m the richer man; for what’s all the world if yer mind is always in a larry, Miss Henchet?” 

 The intelligence was in a general sense true; and Henchard’s stores, which had remained in a paralyzed condition during the settlement of his bankruptcy, were stirred into activity again when the new tenant had possession. Thenceforward the full sacks, looped with the shining chain, went scurrying up and down under the cat-head, hairy arms were thrust out from the different door-ways, and the grain was hauled in; trusses of hay were tossed anew in and out of the barns, and the wimbles creaked; while the scales and steel-yards began to be busy where guess-work had formerly been the rule.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

The Little Flower

Today is the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church. From her memoir, The Story of a Soul:

Well, I am a child of Holy Church, and the Church is a Queen, because she is now espoused to the Divine King of Kings. I ask not for riches or glory, not even the glory of Heaven—that belongs by right to my brothers the Angels and Saints, and my own glory shall be the radiance that streams from the queenly brow of my Mother, the Church. Nay, I ask for Love. To love Thee, Jesus, is now my only desire. Great deeds are not for me; I cannot preach the Gospel or shed my blood. No matter! My brothers work in my stead, and I, a little child, stay close to the throne, and love Thee for all who are in the strife. 

 But how shall I show my love, since love proves itself by deeds? Well! The little child will strew flowers . . . she will embrace the Divine Throne with their fragrance, she will sing Love's Canticle in silvery tones. Yes, my Beloved, it is thus my short life shall be spent in Thy sight. The only way I have of proving my love is to strew flowers before Thee—that is to say, I will let no tiny sacrifice pass, no look, no word. I wish to profit by the smallest actions, and to do them for Love. I wish to suffer for Love's sake, and for Love's sake even to rejoice: thus shall I strew flowers. Not one shall I find without scattering its petals before Thee . . . and I will sing . . . I will sing always, even if my roses must be gathered from amidst thorns; and the longer and sharper the thorns, the sweeter shall be my song. 

 But of what avail to thee, my Jesus, are my flowers and my songs? I know it well: this fragrant shower, these delicate petals of little price, these songs of love from a poor little heart like mine, will nevertheless be pleasing unto Thee. Trifles they are, but Thou wilt smile on them. The Church Triumphant, stooping towards her child, will gather up these scattered rose leaves, and, placing them in Thy Divine Hands, there to acquire an infinite value, will shower them on the Church Suffering to extinguish its flames, and on the Church Militant to obtain its victory.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus

 Today is the feast of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church. 'Jerome' is an Anglicized version of 'Hierom', a shortened form of 'Hieronymus', his actual name. From his treatise against the Pelagians (Bk 3.11):

Made up of soul and body, we have the nature of both substances. As the body is said to be healthy if it is troubled with no weakness, so the soul is free from fault if it is unshaken and undisturbed. And yet, although the body may be healthy, sound, and active, with all the faculties in their full vigour, yet it suffers much from infirmities at more or less frequent intervals, and, however strong it may be, is sometimes distressed by various humours; so the soul, bearing the onset of thoughts and agitations, even though it escape shipwreck, does not sail without danger, and remembering its weakness, is always anxious about death, according as it is written, What man is he that shall live and not see death?— death, which threatens all mortal men, not through the decay of nature, but through the death of sin, according to the prophet's words, The soul that sins, it shall die. Besides, we know that Enoch and Elias have not yet seen this death which is common to man and the brutes. Show me a body which is never sick, or which after sickness is ever safe and sound, and I will show you a soul which never sinned, and after acquiring virtues will never again sin. The thing is impossible, and all the more when we remember that vice borders on virtue, and that, if you deviate ever so little, you will either go astray or fall over a precipice. How small is the interval between obstinacy and perseverance, miserliness and frugality, liberality and extravagance, wisdom and craft, intrepidity and rashness, caution and timidity! some of which are classed as good, others as bad.

Freshness, Fairness, Fulness, Fineness, Freeness

To a Movement in Mozart's E-Flat Symphony
by Thomas Hardy

Show me again the time
 When in the Junetide's prime
 We flew by meads and mountains northerly!
 Yea, to such freshness, fairness, fulness, fineness, freeness,
 Love lures life on. 

 Show me again the day
 When from the sandy bay
 We looked together upon the pestered sea!--
Yea, to such surging, swaying, sighing, swelling, shrinking,
 Love lures life on. 

 Show me again the hour
 When by the pinnacled tower
We eyed each other and feared futurity!
Yea, to such bodings, broodings, beatings, blanchings, blessings,
 Love lures life on.  

Show me again just this: 
The moment of that kiss
Away from the prancing folk, by the strawberry-tree!
Yea, to such rashness, ratheness, rareness, ripeness, richness,
Love lures life on. 

'Ratheness' is an old word meaning 'earliness', particularly in the sense of having come unusually swiftly. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

We Walked that Ancient Thoroughfare

 The Roman Road
by Thomas Hardy 

The Roman Road runs straight and bare
As the pale parting-line in hair
Across the heath. And thoughtful men
Contrast its days of Now and Then,
And delve, and measure, and compare;

Visioning on the vacant air
Helmed legionaries, who proudly rear
The Eagle, as they pace again
The Roman Road.

But no tall brass-helmed legionnaire
Haunts it for me. Uprises there
A mother's form upon my ken,
Guiding my infant steps, as when
We walked that ancient thoroughfare,
The Roman Road.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Two Poem Drafts

 I Am a River

I am a river, time is a boat,
the world beneath its sail now floats.
My waves are rippled out and round
to shores of some eternal ground.
The boat is bobbing up and down.
The world is trying not to drown.

I am a river, time is a boat,
the world is but a dusty mote
that clings to quickly flapping sail.
I tend to ocean without fail.
I carry time along my way,
to deep and never-ending bay.

The Poem Inside

I'm sorry that I cannot tell you
the poem I have inside.
I swear that I have tried before:
I wrote it. The writing lied.
Sometimes with undocile heart
I clouded it with pride.
Sometimes I blew the spark to glow
but still the fire died.
Sometimes when I reach out steady hand
the words all run and hide.
I'm sorry that I cannot give you
the poem I have inside.

Rain on the Windows, Creaking Doors

 The Division
by Thomas Hardy 

 Rain on the windows, creaking doors,
 With blasts that besom the green,
 And I am here, and you are there,
 And a hundred miles between! 

 O were it but the weather, Dear,
 O were it but the miles
 That summed up all our severance,
 There might be room for smiles. 

 But that thwart thing betwixt us twain,
 Which nothing cleaves or clears,
 Is more than distance, Dear, or rain,
 And longer than the years!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Rings of Power

 I have a number of things I eventually want to get around to putting up, but I've been a bit under the weather the past few days, so in lieu of any of those things, I thought I'd say something about The Rings of Power, particularly since Darwin has recently put up some reflections.

I want to try at least to be nice about it. I think it is good to have Tolkienesque things, and I think the Chestertonian dictum that something genuinely worth doing is worth doing even if done badly is at least often right. The situation underlying the show is unpromising, since they only have the right to use information from the LOTR appendices that are not licensed for other things. This makes it already difficult to build anything coherent, and it is ill-advised, in and of itself, to take a literary work that is famous for its unusual degree of worldbuilding coherence and try to adapt it under circumstances in which you are unlikely to do justice to that coherence. Nonetheless, I think here and there you can see that there was potential, and given that there is so much to complain about, I do want to recognize the potential. Nonetheless, the criticisms very easily crowd very thickly.

Let's take the Aristotelian elements: Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Melody, and Spectacle. Those are, roughly, from most important to less important, at least for serious drama and epic, and I think one obvious problem with the show is that the importance of its elements are reversed, so I'll go through them in the reverse order.

Spectacle: The show mostly does very well with Spectacle. Spectacle is one of those things you can reasonably guarantee if you throw mind-boggling quantities of money in the direction of reasonably talented people, and this is certainly the case here. I remember thinking during the first two episodes that you could take stills of many of the scenes and make them into book-illustrations, and it would be a genuinely beautiful book. There are some weaknesses, and particularly the sorts of weaknesses that come with CGI. Numenor is weirdly substanceless. It's beautifully depicted, in the same picture book vein, but you don't get much of a sense of its being lived-in; very few people seem to work there, they mostly just congregate artistically against backdrops. 

The costuming is often decent, although it's also weirdly inconsistent -- the nomadic Harfoots without sheep or agriculture are somehow much better dressed than Men in the Southern human settlements, almost all of whom dress like they make their clothes from old sacks. Part of that, I think, is that the Southrons are depicted in a very unhistorical Hollywood Medieval. When you look at actual historical clothing that has survived through the centuries, you find that it is almost all very well made and very colorful -- prior to the machine age, textiles were one of the most important industries in almost every society, so a huge amount of social effort was devoted to clothing, and it was largely handcrafted. Because of the expense, people would not have had large numbers of clothes, but what they would have had would have generally been custom-tailored, or else expertly re-tailored, by people who spent huge quantities of time doing that sort of thing. To be sure, not everything would have been consistently good, and lots of people would have clothes with lots of repairing to make them last as long as possible, but it was the sort of thing that civilized people put a lot of time into; there were a lot of highly competent people around with the relevant skills because it was usually a thriving and profitable industry; and almost any large household would have people who did a lot of at least basic work on clothes, at least part of the time. I remember seeing promos for the Vikings show some years ago, and thinking, "No real Viking would be caught dead in clothes like that." And it's true; wearing badly fitting, badly stitched, drab-colored clothes would be a sign that you were a destitute failure. But Hollywood has developed the convention that you show pre-modern societies mostly dressed like vagrants who had been wandering in the wilderness; thus we get the Southrons in RoP dressed in truly ugly clothes. But when the LOTR movies were made, the costuming for the Hobbits was very nicely done, and much more plausible than you usually get; the Hobbits mostly dressed in nice country clothes with a fair amount of color, like you would expect in a prosperous and respectable agricultural community. The Harfoot costuming seems to be someone's imagining of an early version of the movie costuming for the Hobbits, with the odd result that the nomads dress like members of a wealthy farming community. The contrast is sometimes jarring, and is emblematic of much of what you get in the show: a lot of thought put into things combined with not always thinking things through.

Melody: Middle Earth as Tolkien conceived it is a very musical place, but Hollywood Medieval typically doesn't have a lot of room for music. We do get a nice, somewhat Hobbit-ish, song in one of the episodes, and a Dwarvish song that's at least interesting, but there's not really that much in-story music. Tolkien's Elves are singers, but RoP's Elves show no real sign of being so. The overall soundtrack, though, is fairly decent; the main title, which is nicely done, was scored by Howard Shore (who scored the LOTR movies), and Bear McCreary, who is the primary composer, is rightly famous for his work on television soundtracks, and is obviously making a serious effort here. 

Diction: The dialogue is very uneven and, frankly, the writers struggle write Tolkienish dialogue even when they try. Speakers sometimes range from fairly casual to formally florid in a single speech, and the metaphors and similes often come across as someone straining to find a metaphor or simile. But there are also stretches that are perfectly fine. The writers seem to be fairly good at capturing ordinary one-on-one conversations about homely topics, and less so at anything grand and sublime.

Thought: Thought, Character, and Plot are the most important elements, and on all three the show often falls flat. The basic story that is being told is in Tolkien's work a theological one. Numenor's corruption and destruction come about literally due to heresy fueled by pride and fear of death. The Noldor are in a semi-disobedient state; they left paradise because they wanted to rule in their own right in Middle Earh, and in the Second Age, the Noldor still in Middle Earth are those who refused to return to paradise when offered forgiveness. They, like the Numenoreans, are taken in by Sauron due to pride, although in the Elven case it is a pride of making and achievement that has no trace of any fear of death. The writers seem to recognize that pride should be a big issue, but they don't seem to have a very nuanced understanding of it; in the story, pride seems to come mostly in the form of arrogant jackassery. Subtler modalities of pride seem to be missing, which does not bode well for the themes of the work. And the underlying conception of the world seems to be almost Manichaean: Dark and Light as equal and balanced powers, rather than evil as parasitic on the good. This gives a very un-Tolkien feel to the occasional attempts to be profound or mythological.

Character: With Character we reach the point at which the series is sometimes a disaster. The Spectacle, Melody, and Diction work well enough; there's plenty to criticize, but none of it's in any way fatal. Even the shift to non-Tolkien Manichaean themes are not fatal; they may make some of the story seem more like The Dark Is Rising than The Lord of the Rings, but they could still be done quite well with proper Character and Plot. But with Character, the show almost completely drops the ball. There are characters I like, mostly because of the actors -- I like some of the Harfoots, who are played charmingly, and I like Disa (Sophia Nomvete has, I think, some of the best acting so far). Some of the interactions between Elrond and Durin aren't too bad. As far as characterization goes, Arondir has been interesting, although we still don't know where any of it is going. But having watched five episodes, I think all of the Elves except Arondir are badly written, and most are miscast. Gil-Galad, who is the most powerful person in Middle Earth and one of the greatest leaders in its entire history, always seems as interesting as a wooden block. Elrond, when he's not talking to Durin or Disa, is equally dull, and Celebrimbor somehow manages to be worse. 

But notoriously, Galadriel, although Morfydd Clark sometimes looks the part, is a complete disaster. She is the front-and-center character for the theme of pride, which, remember, the writers can apparently only write in the mode of arrogant jackassery. She has apparently lived thousands of years without learning anything about how to interact with people. We have yet to see her talk to anyone whom she does not insult at some point in the conversation. Very early on, we discover that she is a poor leader who, when her band of warriors is attacked by a troll, does not do anything to organize her soldiers in the attack against it, but instead kills it on her own in  an immensely improbable and showy manner, apparently without any concern for the dangers it creates for her people. It is not at all surprising that they mutiny and go home. Ever since, her story has put her into diplomatic situation after diplomatic situation, and in every single one she has failed miserably at even the most elementary basics of diplomacy. I mean, you can do a surprising amount in diplomacy just by being polite to people, and she can't even manage that. There is no way to make sense of her juvenile behavior given her millenia-long backstory, and no way to make sense of it given where we know she has to end up. She comes across, frankly, as a little sociopathic. Given that she is so far the primary character, this is not good.

Plot: The problems with Plot are not as glaring as those with Character, but they are in some ways worse. They can be summed up in this way. I originally intended to do a post on The Rings of Power after the first two episodes, but I didn't because, when I considered doing it, I said, "But nothing has really happened yet. I'll wait until the third episode." Then the third episode came, and when I considered writing a post on it, I said, "Well, I don't know what to say about much of it, because I don't have an idea where any of it is going; things are only just starting to happen." Then after the fourth episode, I still had the same problem, because very little had moved. Things finally start coming together, a little bit, in the fifth episode, but it's still moving slowly. My dear friends, we are not Elves. We cannot sit watching television for a century before something happens. This is not about patience, but about the simple artistic fact that at some point you have to put story into your story. We're over halfway through the season and only just getting started on the actual story. If I were to try, Aristotle-like to give you the Plot so far, it would be something like, "An Elf ended up in Numenor by accident and tried to convince them to send ships to Middle Earth to fight an enemy she doesn't know anything about. An Elf and a Dwarf renewed an acquaintance and discovered that the Elves need mithril to survive for some reason. An Elf is leading a band of Orcs for some reason and for some reason is marching to take a fortress. Not-Quite-Hobbits are moving for some reason and have found an old man who fell out of the sky for some reason. Everything else is episode." I think they are trying to build mystery, and there are parts, like some of those concerned with Adar or the Stranger or Hallbrand, that work reasonably well in that way -- we learn a little bit about them through a bit of story and it sets up puzzles and questions. But these are rare and only in come in snippets. Most of the story is a mystery in a bad way -- we just have no idea what is going on, because too little has happened for us to put anything together, even speculatively. It's not that the story has built up a mystery; it's that things are baffling because the story hasn't built anything up.

It's clear watching it that instead of dividing an episode into several storylines, they should have limited themselves to one storyline, or perhaps a main storyline and a supplementary storyline, per episode. As things are, every storyline is moving at a snail's pace. And even worse than that, it's a dilatory snail, because sometimes the storyline itself is just stalled, and we get a significant portion of an episode with just Galadriel swimming the ocean, or the Harfoots going somewhere for some reason we don't know, or a bunch of people in Numenor congregating to complain about how the Elves are going to take their jobs when they've literally seen one and only one Elf in more than a century. There are just too many points at which you can stop, and, when you ask, "Why are you here?", the answer comes back with crystal clarity, "I have no idea."

And that's about the whole of it. It's not that you don't occasionally see considerable talent on display. Some things are nicely done. But about most of it, the answer to the question, "Why?", ends up being, "I have no idea." Why even do this? I don't know. Why are these artistic choices being made? I don't know. Why is the story unfolding in this way or that? I don't know. I can make some guesses here and there, but, honestly, I don't really know.

A Man Intractable

 A Man
(In Memory of H. of M.) 
by Thomas Hardy

 I. In Casterbridge there stood a noble pile,
 Wrought with pilaster, bay, and balustrade
 In tactful times when shrewd Eliza swayed.
 On burgher, squire, and clown
 It smiled the long street down for near a mile. 

II. But evil days beset that domicile;
 The stately beauties of its roof and wall
 Passed into sordid hands. Condemned to fall
 Were cornice, quoin, and cove,
 And all that art had wove in antique style.

 III.  Among the hired dismantlers entered there
 One till the moment of his task untold.
 When charged therewith he gazed, and answered bold:
 "Be needy I or no,
 I will not help lay low a house so fair! 

 IV.  “Hunger is hard. But since the terms be such--
No wage, or labour stained with the disgrace
 Of wrecking what our age cannot replace
 To save its tasteless soul--
I'll do without your dole. Life is not much !" 

 V.  Dismissed with sneers he backed his tools and went,
 And wandered workless; for it seemed unwise
 To close with one who dared to criticize
 And carp on points of taste:
 Rude men should work where placed, and be content.

VI. Years whiled. He aged, sank, sickened; and was not;
And it was said, “A man intractable 
And curst is gone." None sighed to hear his knell, 
None sought his churchyard-place;
His name, his rugged face, were soon forgot. 

 VII.  The stones of that fair hall lie far and wide,
 And but a few recall its ancient mould;
 Yet when I pass the spot I long to hold
 As truth what fancy saith:
 “His protest lives where deathless things abide!”

Monday, September 26, 2022

Speeding on to Its Cleft in the Clay

The Dream-Follower
by Thomas Hardy  

A dream of mine flew over the mead
To the halls where my old Love reigns;
And it drew me on to follow its lead:
And I stood at her window-panes;

And I saw but a thing of flesh and bone
Speeding on to its cleft in the clay;
And my dream was scared, and expired on a moan,
And I whitely hastened away.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

St. Cadoc the Wise and King Arthur

 Today is the feast of St. Cadoc the Wise, who is one of the Welsh saints whose legends link him to King Arthur. According to the legend, a man named Ligessawc, son of Eliman, killed three soldiers in the army of King Arthur. Arthur, concerned with justice, pursued him relentlessly, and no one would protect him out of fear of Arthur. Eventually, however, Ligessawc came to St. Cadoc, who took pity on him and provided him shelter in the region of Glenllwg. Ligessawc was able to hide there for seven years, but eventually word got back to the king about it, and Arthur came to the river Usk with a large contingent of soldiers. However, he did so to establish a court of law; he did not dare act with violence toward the saint. Therefore St. Cadoc negotiated with Arthur for some of the trial judges to be several saints of Wale, and Arthur appointed some for his own side as well, in equal numbers. The two sides argued their case back-and-forth, vehemently, with the river between them. The judges, after consultation, decided that, on the basis of custom, for each of his men, Arthur should received one hundred cows in reparation. Both sides agreed, but Arthur peremptorily demanded that that the cattle not be of a single color but all be red in front and white in back. They had no idea where they would get three hundred cows with that one pattern, but St. Cadoc instructed young men to bring him three hundred heifers of whatever color and pattern. And when the cows were marched in front of St. Cadoc, they immediately became red in front and white in back.

Having the cows, they had to negotiate the exchange itself. The judges came to the solution that St. Cadoc's side should drive the cows to the middle of the ford, at which point they would become the responsibility of Arthur's side. This they did, with the transition being overseen by Sir Kay and Sir Bedivere. Kay and Bedivere, however, began grabbing cows by the horns to guide them over, but as soon they grabbed a cow's horns, the cow became a giant bundle of ferns. Seeing this, King Arthur apologized to St. Cadoc for the injury Arthur had inflicted on St. Cadoc by demanding that the cows be red before and white behind, and the saint forgave him. King Arthur then consulted with his advisers and granted Ligessawc a reprieve of an additional seven years, seven months, and seven days. And after that, the cows that had been turned into bundles of ferns were found safe and sound in the stalls of their owners.

The legend is often interpreted as an expression of the superiority of ecclesial over temporal authority, but what is noticeable is that King Arthur actually comes out well here. (This is not always the case when he shows up in hagiographical legends.) The distinction between King Arthur and St. Cadoc is not really one of authority; they essentially operate as equals in the trial. (And in any case, despite Arthur's unusual importance and the fact that St. Cadoc had given up his role as war chieftain to found a catechetical school, St. Cadoc is operating here in part as a Welsh prince, and not merely as a random holy man.) Nor is it a case that one is in the right and the other is not. King Arthur's claim is legitimate, and a fair trial determines that he is due reparation. Rather, the difference seems to be that King Arthur is operating entirely on the principle of justice, while St. Cadoc is not. The king arguably makes the strange demand about the cattle in order to make actual reparation impossible and force Ligessawc's protectors to hand Ligessawc over for judgment of law and likely execution. This is the second time in the story that he has not recognized the right of mercy but has tried to force things to conform to his conception of justice: he forced the trial to begin with and now is trying to force the result he wants. Realizing that St. Cadoc is doing miracles, he repents and accepts the claim and superiority of mercy.