The value of honour
Essay written today for my reread book club in reference to A Storm of Swords Jaime VIII
<<The book that rested by his elbow was massive; two feet tall and a foot and a half wide, a thousand pages thick, fine white vellum bound between covers of bleached white leather with gold hinges and fastenings. The Book of the Brothers was its formal name, but more often it was simply called the White Book.
Within the White Book was the history of the Kingsguard. Every knight who'd ever served had a page, to record his name and deeds for all time. On the top left-hand corner of each page was drawn the shield the man had carried at the time he was chosen, inked in rich colors. Down in the bottom right corner was the shield of the Kingsguard; snow-white, empty, pure. The upper shields were all different; the lower shields were all the same. In the space between were written the facts of each man's life and service. The heraldic drawings and illuminations were done by septons sent from the Great Sept of Baelor three times a year, but it was the duty of the Lord Commander to keep the entries up to date.>>
I have talked previously about the Knights of the Kingsguard, but I suppose one can always expect a book nerd to act like a book nerd, so my apologies to those of you who actually get bored throughout my droning.
The knights of the Kingsguard were created by Aegon the Conqueror at the behest of Queen Visenya during one of her angry outbursts - she had a unique way of passing the message across. She didn’t believe in half measures and to convince Aegon that he needed loyal guards, she took her sword and cut him with it. The Targaryen didn’t full-heartedly follow “the Seven”. Evidently a few of them suffered from the church’s nefarious influence, like king Baelor for instance, but most of them had a strong connection to their roots and their principles. The Conqueror and his sisters were nothing if not good players, and they understood the value of appeasing the people in favour of a reign without turmoil. It was behind that pretense that they decided to pick 7 knights to stay and protect the king at all times.
Throughout their history, the Knights of the Kingsguard have had loyalty, honour, betrayal, bravery, lies, corruption, respect and everything else under the sun. There were those who, like our patron, were just, brave and humble, there were those who, like ser Mandon, were corrupt and unworthy of the cloak, and there were those who did their duties but were also living a parallel life outside the vows they were supposed to uphold. Some worth-mentioning examples to show how different they were, there was Ser Toyne who got caught in bed with one of king Aegon (the Unworthy)’s mistresses, which eventually brought the death of one of the best and most revered KOTKG in history, Ser Aemon the Dragonknight; the end of house Toyne and the death of many brothers. There was sad and dutiful Ser Rickard Thorne, who tried to protect Prince Maelor and take him to the citadel during the dance of the dragons, but as Queen Rhaenyra had offered a great reward for the boy’s return so she could hold him hostage, a large mob attacked both knight and boy, tearing the prince into pieces limb by limb and killing the knight in the process. There was Prince Lewyn Martell, who was an uncle to prince Oberyn and a legendary fighter with a spear, loyal to the crown and to his duty, although he had a paramour and his sworn brothers never betrayed him or told his secret.
Everyone quickly judges Ser Jaime for a man with “shit for honour”, but it seems that in the process of protecting the king, many knights saw they couldn’t uphold their vows to both sides. Although Ser Barristan judges Ser Jaime to the point of not even writing his deeds, Ser Jaime simply chose one vow over another as they were conflicting. Ser Jonothor Darry, for instance, was stationed with Ser Jaime outside king Aegon’s door and told Jaime that they would have to protect the queen against rape from anyone but the king, which is absurd. What sort of knight can live with himself and dare look at the queen after that? In a way, Ser Jonothor’s betrayal was even worse than Ser Jaime’s, because although Ser Jaime murdered a king he was supposed to protect, the process of making a knight of the kingsguard is simply to kneel and swear before the king to be loyal and protect him, while the process of knighthood is very intricate and intertwined with religion. According to our story, the making of a knight required the man in question to kneel and then swear by each of the Seven to uphold a vow. That process was often accompanied by the blessing of a septon and in cases of knights that come from traditional families, knighthood even included 7 days locked in the sept tying the connection with the faith. The gods held a higher station than kings to those people, so essentially, becoming a knight and upholding those vows should have been far more important than becoming a brother of the kingsguard.
The White Book, theoretically, has the entire history of each knight who served in the order since the brotherhood’s inception. The good, the bad and the ugly. As a king could make a knight, any man who proved his worth could join the brotherhood as the king desired, and once they served, they served for life, now, any person who’s been in a bad marriage understands that “for life” is oftentimes very bloody long. Abandoning the order, however, wasn’t as simple as getting a divorce (although one man, to become a kotkg, sent his wife to become a silent sister) so the fact that Ser Jaime needs to close the chapters of those who died (as the book follows a chronological order rather than an alphabetical one), will leave something odd behind, for Ser Barristan, under the terms of the law, is still a member, and as new members have been added, the brotherhood is currently holding a greater number than the one they intended.
The structure of the book itself is another issue that requires considerations. If I start writing something now that is supposed to last for many centuries it is not a problem. We have some technology that will certainly be outdated in 300 years, but that can potentially hold its own. We understand the importance of acid-free paper and dyes, we know where and how to keep this book, we know what can be done so it withstands the passing of the years, but ASOIAF is based around the time when Henry VIII was king, so our story takes place from what is equivalent to the 16th century, which then makes Aegon and his sisters have put the book together in the 13th century. In the 13th century in Europe, bookbinding was done with a flat spine, usually a piece of wood that sat on the fold of sheets of vellum folded in two. Overtime, those books would get a wedge due to humidity, so to protect the books, they often had a heavy cover made of wood and metal clasps that held them together.
In the 15th century, the bookbinding technology took a major leap and the rounded spines we use nowadays were invented. At that point, the cover could be leather and oftentimes expensively decorated with gold leaves and calligraphy, but the pages were still rather rudimentary, not the same size and books differed significantly from one copy to the next. That was the book Tyrion gave Joffrey on his marriage, but a book as old as the White Book, no round spine, no calligraphy and most definitely, no possible glue. Alternatively, books could be bound using long stitches, which prevented the books from opening completely. It is something that works for small material, like comic books or children’s books, but a large tome would be torn by the thread. To keep the books in place, some copies had a pierce and thread construction around the spine that was a medieval equivalent to our wire spirals, but glues for bookbinding weren’t used until 1931, and then, they used “cold glue”, which would crack and fall apart over time. That is why many of us had books growing up with pages that would detach eventually (or am I showing my age too much with this?) After World War II, the hot adhesive was invented by Dupond and it started to be used, but as it was far more expensive than cold glue binding, many of us from the 60s and 70s had books bound that would fall apart as we manipulated them. All that, however, is to say that Ser Jaime describes a book very different from the historical viewpoint and GRRM isn’t the sort of writer who makes these mistakes, so it seems that the White Book, which was a massive tome, had been uniquely developed and as it was a “secret book” of sorts, the idea and technology used to bind it were a kept secret alongside it, and nobody better to keep that sort of secret than a bunch of grown men who chose to spend their lives running after their boyhood dreams, being heroes and hopefully proving their worth with their lives so songs were sung about them later. Those boys were likely to have been the sort that liked to run and play outside, not the sort that would enjoy the indoors reading books to one day figure out that the average volume could use the genius used on the brotherhood. Also, as only the Lord Commander had access to that tome, the few men who could possibly like to read had a very reduced chance of ever seeing the book to begin with.
It is fun to imagine what Jon’s kingsguard would be, but it is important to remember that a new king cannot simply fire the current guards, so if the monarch decides to change the guard, he will have to do that by killing the old ones. Otherwise, the Others will end with them all and the new king will get to appoint whomever he wants. I do hope, however, that if Ser Barristan and Ser Jaime survive the story (I know, neither one is likely to do so) that at least it comes with the recognition that each, under his own right, did what was right and fair. I would also like to know that a woman or two could join the kingsguard, but let’s not get carried away just yet.
It is not for nothing that this chapter highlights the book. Ser Jaime has to taste what he was in order to fully avoid falling into the temptation of his old ways, but when his story is over, it seems that he will truly be worthy of his cloak.