The Dialogue of Chivalry of Duke Finnvarr de Taahe
Your Grace, this very year is the twenty-fifth since you were knighted by King Iriel of Brannokh. In that time your fortune has been great. High among the benefits you have enjoyed has been the company and converse of good and wise men and women. A few times over the years I have been privileged to sit in this good company and hear it discourse on the virtues, among many other pleasant things. For you have surrounded yourself with those who believe that in our Society, we not only work and build and play according to the best examples of an earlier day, but also strive to attain the various virtues that make up courtesy and chivalry. You yourself have said to me, "The wise are never so serious as when they play, when they play well."
In January of this year, the thirty-first of our era, I feasted at Ravenhill, not only on fine food and drink, but on fine words too. Much was said there worthy of remembrance. Imagine my woe when I learned, some weeks thereafter, that you wished me to write out all that was said by the noble lords and ladies present! It is a task for a man whose infallible memory is leavened with the discretion of an angel. I can claim neither, being but a poor clerk.
Yet, at your insistence, I have diligently done what a poor clerk may. I have talked to more than a score of the participants, adding their recollections to mine. They have helped me as I have written and revised the tale, doing my best to capture the moment. In the end, however, I have failed. This book of the Dialogue of Chivalry is but a dark glass, reflecting poorly the occasion that brought it forth.
You, my lord duke, and any to whom you show this book, should be warned by this. The folk who appear in these pages, though their names be real, are figures I have devised. The words they speak here, though much like the ones really spoken by actual people, are mine as well. Thus none but me should be blamed for what is recorded in these pages.
If what is here, imperfect as it is, is enough to inspire thought and reflection, and if you are satisfied that the task is fulfilled, I am happy.
Since you laid this heavy duty upon me, your name it must bear. It shall be known as the Dialogue of Chivalry of Duke Finnvarr de Taahe.
The Dialogue of Chivalry
It was at Twelfth Night in the year of our society XXXI that Duke Finnvarr de Taahe and his good lady, Mistress Ragni Dzintara, feasted at their estate of Ravenhill, in the northern fastnesses of Ealdormere. Here gathered the duke's household and the people of the Shire of Flaming Sky to salute the holy season and the reappearance of the sun. In the snowy afternoon, Duke Finnvarr and his squires essayed a pleasant passage of arms in a great hay barn, lest any opportunity for such feats escape them, even in the depths of winter. Then the whole company ate fowls and hams and puddings and other delights prepared by Mistress Ragni.
Afterwards they gathered around the fire and the good dark ale and the good Gascon wine flowed, and hot, spicy cider was drunk. And despite the wintry weather, others found their way to the fireside, many by way of the Middlebridge, and were made welcome. There was much cheerful talk, but also a note of unhappiness. For in those days all was not well in the Middle Kingdom. Some lamented that chivalry and courtesy were dead, while others, not quite so pessimistic, agreed that they languished. When one newly-arrived guest reported that two knights had just then been heard loudly arguing by the Middlebridge, the company fell quiet.
The duke broke the silence. "My ladies, my lords, this last little while we all have heard much complaining and loose, ill-natured debate on issues of real importance. Long ago Mistress Ælflæd of Duckford taught me that to complain lightly is no good thing. If things have gone amiss, they should be discussed plainly and seriously. Only then can we hope to do something about our problems.
"Can we for an evening speak philosophically? If you will oblige me for only an hour, let us talk, with charity and honesty, about the ideals we hold dear and the behavior that flouts them. Let us name no names and make no attacks, but simply seek the truth."
Seeing assent in the faces of the company, he went on, "To get us started let me propose four questions, and make these questions about knights.
"The first question is, what do you find most objectionable about the knights you know?
"The second question is, is this objectionable trait present in candidates during their quest for knighthood, and not corrected, or does it develop after one is knighted?
"If the first is true, how can the trait be corrected by a candidate's friends and mentors?
"If the second is true, how can the problem be corrected by the offender's peers or by others in our society?"
No one seemed anxious to be first to answer. Then up spoke Sir Fernando Rodriguez de Falcon, the baron of Three Rivers in far Calontir. "Good gentles," he said, "I would beg your leave to add two questions to those of His Grace. What do you expect from a member of the Chivalry? And how is this different from what you expect from others?"
Baron Tibor of Rock Valley, who had traveled equally far from the East, smiled and said, "These questions are far easier than Finnvarr's. What do I expect from a member of the Chivalry? 'Prowesse, Noblesse, and Courtesie.' How is this different from what I expect from others? From others I expect a slightly lower level of Prowesse."
There were smiles no laughter at this sally, for it was clear that if Tibor spoke wittily, he was making no fun.
"That is true and worth pondering on, my lord," said the duke, "but I hope we can get beyond a phrase. "
Lord Gwydion of Afonlyn then stepped forward and said, "I think this His Grace's questions are unfair, especially the first. Knights are people. What you're really asking, my lord, is 'What do you find objectionable about Knighthood.'
Replied the duke, "Unfairness was not my intention, specificity was. Certainly knights are people; being people they fall short of their ideals. I was asking in what way, in your opinion, knights you know fail most grievously? Gwydion, may I put you on the spot?"
"I will grant," said Gwydion, "that one or two knights display traits that I find annoying. They seem to feel that they have all the answers, especially in regards to the military arts. They say, or perhaps imply, such things as, 'There is only one fighting style that will get you to knighthood. You'll never be a knight fighting that style.' Or perhaps, 'There's not one of you here that can touch me once I am prepared for a tourney.' Or even, 'Unless you have a white or red belt your blows will never harm me.'
"Those traits are not necessarily restricted to knights, and I can't think of any traits that only knights have. As for the source of these attitudes, I would say they were there before knighthood, but latent enough to not need 'correcting.'
"How can others correct these traits? I don't think they can. They are part of a person's character."
"Are you arguing," asked Finnvarr, "that a person enters our society with a certain character, and nothing they or anyone else does will alter it?"
Gwydion sat thoughtfully for a moment and then replied, "Given that we all join this society to learn and to enjoy ourselves, I feel that trying to change someone's character is going too far. Certainly we should have sanctions for bad behavior. But what penalties can be placed on a knight for unknightly behavior, and who gets to decide where the line is drawn?"
Lord Avery Austringer responded: "I would not be so hesitant to touch the character of another. As I see it, if you convince someone who is a bit of a fool to be less of a fool, then you are doing them a favor."
"Convince and force are two different things," said Gwydion.
"Perhaps," Avery returned, "but convincing someone is merely putting them in a situation where their resistance to change is overcome by how others react to them. It is as much a type of force as anything else, albeit kinder than other forces."
Master Lothair von Drachenstein then said, "We must remember, though, that every 'fool' has a story to tell as well as feelings that can be hurt. You should talk to any person about a problem not with condemnation, but in an attempt to understand. You may find that you have been wrong, that you are the 'fool.'"
At this point Lady Sabina de Almeria, who had come from Nordskogen, rose to speak. She was well known as someone who took chivalry with utmost seriousness. "Your Grace," said she, "Let me begin by saying that I know a very high caliber of knights who do very little that is objectionable. I would also like to add that there are many for whom knighthood has improved them. Captain Dameon here mentioned the late Sir Angus to me and reminded me of this. He was a man who saw knighthood as a duty -- not a privilege. He was always striving to be worthy of the accolade.
"There are two traits that I do find objectionable. Unfortunately, like those Gwydion mentioned, they are held by everyone, not just knights.
"First is the attitude that all peers, and I assume," she said smiling, "that we will get to other peerages soon enough, have received an award that makes them above reproach.
"I once witnessed an ugly fight in a Crown Tournament between an unbelted fighter, whose reputation was not good, and a knight of high repute. As the bout progressed it seemed to me that both were acting in an unacceptable way. Later, I mentioned to someone who does not fight that I thought it would have been a good statement if His Majesty had simply walked out to the field and said 'I'm sorry but this bout is bringing no honor to the crown. Neither of you are welcome in this Crown Tournament.'
"My listener responded with 'Well, they should have kicked the unbelted fighter out of the tournament but they could never do that to Sir _____.' I replied 'If His Majesty can't confidently do it to both, then he can do it to neither.'
"The point is that knights and peers are human. They have not yet attained perfection. They have, like most of us, only begun upon the path. It is not unreasonable to say to any peer 'That action is beneath you as a ranking noble of the realm.' It is unreasonable to feel we can't say it to their faces and then gossip about it later, as so often happens.
"I think the solution to this problem lies with everyone. It is simply a matter of recognizing that peers have follies and that they need to be corrected at times. It is also, however, a matter of the peers accepting that correction."
There was much agreement and nodding of heads. Another of the company, Lord Midair MacCormaic, sat up and said, "Lady Sabina touches on a common problem, I think.
"When a fighter who is not a knight behaves badly, especially in the lists, I see the knighthood do something about it, they talk to him at the very least, but when a knight has a lapse, and most are just lapses, I see nothing happening, and it looks like it just gets hushed up, or forgotten at best."
"In other words," said Finnvarr, "the flaw is not so much in a knight falling short of his duty, but in the apparent lack of reaction from other knights present, whom you feel should react visibly and promptly?"
"Yes, exactly," returned Midair. "And 'apparent' is a very important word here. The public sees something happen during a tournament, but even if there is a reaction, that is hidden, and thus to many new members, it looks as though the knights do not care."
"This reminds me of an incident from a Midwinter Knight's Siege in Meridies last November," said Lord Wolfger Silberbaer. "A knight's zeal went beyond safety during the combat. The knight saw a fighter capturing our flag on the castle wall, and ran full tilt at him, hurdling over a fallen comrade, to knock the man with the banner literally head-over-heels. And yes, this knight definitely did get a talking-to. To his credit, he removed himself from the field for the day. Luckily the fighter he plowed into was unhurt, and managed to keep his temper. The knight showed remarkable self-discipline in removing himself from the field. I doubt, from my other experiences, that anybody else would have asked him to leave."
Gwydion spoke again: "I think I see now what your questions were aiming at, Sir Finnvarr. May I add one to my list? I don't know what trait or 'deadly sin' it falls under, maybe arrogance, but some knights seem to put themselves above the rules of the lists and of chivalric behavior. I've seen knights do things that violate basic standards. In such cases I've been told that it's His Excellency or His Grace So-and-So, as if that is a license. I mean such things as attacks from behind in melee, lack of a lanyard on secondary weapons, knocking an opponent over by body-checking him from the blind-side, (an ex-Earl Marshal!), or attempting to wrestle someone to the ground in single-combat frustration, (another ex-Earl Marshal!)."
At this point Count Jafar, who had been listening intently, exclaimed "Hey! That was me! In the melee, I mean. I believe I apologized to the gentle in question, eventually, and you and I and several other marshals had a informative discussion about the rules applying in the situation." This last was with a wry smile. "Seriously, I was wrong and I admitted it. If that one instance has soured your opinion of the chivalry, I am sorry."
Gwydion answered, "But no, that incident did not sour my opinion of the chivalry or peers in general. I do not have a sour opinion. I tell the tale because those who are not peers are often at fault for not standing up for what is right, whether to avoid tarnishing the moment or ruining their chances of advancement. In this incident I did not back down to any pressure, real or apparent, and took a risk. I'm glad I did.
"And, my lord count, whether you had apologized or not, the fact that you were willing to discuss the situation objectively, publicly, and in a timely way instilled in me great respect for you. There was in fact some confusion about what was to be allowed in that encounter."
"Gwydion," said Viscount Myles Blackheath, a knight who had traveled from Fenix to be present, "Your story reminds me of something my knight, Duke Talymar, said to a council of marshals many, many years ago. His Grace said to the assembled marshals, 'You are the guardians of my reputation. If you don't tell me when I've done something wrong, and let me go on fighting, half the gallery will walk away having formed a new, and lower, opinion of my honor.'"
Just then there was a stir at the door. A porter came in and announced that Duke Dag had arrived. A moment later, the duke strode in, a curious expression on his face. He appeared dejected, but his color was high, and not simply from the cold. Some of those standing nearest him looked at him rather askance. Dag noticed this, grimaced, and then, after saluting his host, addressed the company in general.
"I can see that some of you heard, or at least heard about, the argument at the Middlebridge. I freely admit that I was one of those involved. Those who know me know that I am a plainspoken man, who has not shied from controversial topics. Nor do I always take the politically safe stance, or use the mildest language. But never before have I allowed myself to descend to personal abuse. This time I did, and I was wrong to do so. I have found the practice detestable in others, and inexcusable in myself. I was admonished, and deservedly so, by several wise and honorable people.
"Down by the bridge I broke a vow. Long ago I took an oath to be 'courteous at all times.' I failed in that oath. While it was sworn before the Crown, I believe it to be a compact with the people as well. When such an oath is broken, amends should be made. I have argued this point in the abstract before now, in discussions with my fellow knights. Now is the test of my sincerity. I see you are a noble company, and you include some of those whom I offended by my display of temper. Thus I ask you to set me a penance. I think that some sort of public service should to offset my public offense. What do you think is appropriate to the transgression?
"If you will be good enough to make suggestions, I will ask Her Majesty, Queen Caitlin to make a final judgement on their suitability. You may approach me privately if you wish."
Duke Finnvarr smiled. "Your request is most timely, Your Grace. We have been speaking of vices and their cure."
Qajir al-Katiba stood from where she had been listening. "If you fine lords and ladies will excuse a contribution from a member of the Dark Horde, I have a suggestion. Your Grace," she said, turning towards Dag, "may I suggest that as your penance that for a period of six months, when you attend a shire meeting or a tourney or a revel, anywhere, that you find a person or a group of persons very new to our society, and foster them. Do not don your fancy array, and wear only a small symbol of your rank. I will not ask that you not wear your white belt, because that is also to be part of your penance.
"Then, take these folk and teach that a knight and a former monarch must be gracious, courteous, humble, helpful and ready to serve anyone in need. Help the squires who struggle with both their knights' armor and their own. Assist the lady whose lord has left her to her own devices. Help the merchants struggling with their wares, trying to get everything set up for the day.
"The important thing is that you explain -- or better, demonstrate -- to these newcomers, that the qualities for which you may have been originally knighted are not the means to an end, but that they are qualities that should never be left by the roadside by those who have attained rank."
As Duke Dag stood and thought, Finnvarr said, "Now there would be a penance truly good for the soul."
Baron Arundel the Falconer added, "And very fun to do! You might become infected with your old enthusiasm! Doing new projects and having fun again!"
Mistress Nicolaa de Bracton said, "It's one of those things that is good to do, whether as penance or not. Your Grace, if you wish to hear more about penance, let me introduce you to my brother, Simon de Brakkele, a friar who has studied theology at Oxford. I see him in the next room." And Mistress Nicolaa and Duke Dag moved off together, leaving the company by the fire.
Lady Sabina said, "Duke Finnvarr, if I may speak again. A while ago I said I could think of two objectionable traits held by some knights. The good people here agreed so enthusiastically with my first point that I never was able to raise the second. May I do so now?"
"Of course, my lady, we are all ears," said Finnvarr.
"Some knights feel that their task is to sit in judgement of other fighters, rather than to bring every fighter as close to knighthood as possible. I have confronted knights about this. There is one fighter I know whose reputation has been sorely abused and may never be knighted because of it. I was told by not one but three knights how badly he accepted defeat in the lists, and I asked them, 'Who among you is taking this up with the man?' None of them had and one replied, 'Well, that's really his business.' If that is so, then why were they all talking to me about it?
"This problem I believe has a solution, which has been offered by my husband Urien ap Taliesin. Whenever a fighter is being discussed by the chivalry, that person and any who have made claims against him or her should attend the meeting. That way the fighter would know what is being said and can defend him or herself and can also better him or herself. The rest of the chivalry do not have to puzzle over conflicting claims made by various people, and any who have denigrated a candidate would have to take the responsibility of assisting him or her in learning to walk in the right paths."
A knight who had been standing on the outskirts of the circle then moved forward and spoke, "You are wise, lady, to speak of responsibility. The trait I find most objectionable in knights is irresponsibility, and not just in the matter you speak of."
"Earl Brion Thornbird," exclaimed Duke Finnvarr. "I had no news of your coming. Ladies, lords, this gentleman has come from the West Kingdom, so make him welcome. Can a chair be brought?"
A chair was brought, and Earl Brion was convinced to continue.
"Too often," he said, "I've seen knights who have failed in their duty take the easy route of blaming someone else, placing the blame for their poor behavior on the poor behavior of another. I find this the most objectionable trait because as knights we are expected by historical, romantic and popular accord to strive with all our power towards the ideal. And when we fail, we bring discredit to all who strive towards these distant goals.
"I believe, Your Grace, you asked how such faults can be corrected. The hardest thing to do in approaching a dispute is to get the parties to assume their own responsibility. I believe that we, as peers, must push our brethren -- and our sisters, too -- to take the responsible path, which is usually the more difficult path. Mentors and friends should assist the knight in upholding the burdens of the office. Let me make clear that I use the term 'knight' in this sense to refer to all who strive towards the ideals, be they knights, squires, or men-at-arms.
"Furthermore, before any is granted the accolade, I would have the candidate's virtues discussed thoroughly and specifically. We often discuss a candidate's merits in a vague way or in accordance with purely modern ideas. Could we not use the older descriptions of virtue and character? These things are available, what if we used them? I think it would be a fascinating discussion and would give us a powerful glue that might draw us together.
"Suppose that knights examining a candidate asked specifically whether anyone had evidence of a candidate's courage? Loyalty? Whether they possessed the humility that befits a noble, a knight, or a peer? Whether they avoided the traps of vainglory, and whether they practiced largesse as is expected of a nobleman, to the degree that they are able? This is where one would discuss generosity of spirit, generosity with one's time and talents.
"I think if we looked at it this way that the discussions would be quite different.
"Of course, we would then need to connect candidates closely to the historical and romantic underpinnings that form the chivalric ideal. There is little to match the power of Chretien de Troyes, Froissart, Geoffry de Charny and Ramon Lull. These are some of the old writers who articulated and formulated the ideals to which we aspire. It upsets me that many of our knights and peers are unfamiliar with the history of what has gone before in matters of chivalry. "
Lady Alysoun de Roos, who had been sitting quietly, then said, "My lord earl, you speak very eloquently. But let me tell you what I see, as a newer member of our society. I see a world where fighters say they are doing it all for their ladies while never noticing that those ladies have no place to sit at many tournaments, being stuck on the ground in the hot sun with their view obscured by fighters waiting in line. In other ways we fall short of what we profess to believe in. We say that we should be doing all this for the fun of it, while making up a steady stream of new awards and honors.
"We can wave the 'ideal' at people, but unless we can connect with their realities, we might as well be waving a hankie. If I were a knight disappointed with my fellows, I would see what they did about it older days. I'd wager it would still work."
"Lady," said Earl Brion, "I find little to disagree with in this."
"But what you say raises another question in my mind," continued Alysoun. "Are the chivalric ideals you speak of suitable for all the folk in our society? Most do not fight in the lists. Most, if we are honest, will never become peers or even be considered for that honor, for a variety of reasons, many of them practical. Do we exclude them, by holding up such a specific ideal, from any feeling of truly belonging? Are there not other challenges to be pursued?"
"This is indeed a large matter you have opened up," replied the earl. "Certainly there are other challenges. I myself have wrestled with artistic challenges, if armoring be considered an art." He smiled.
"Earl Brion is also a Master of the Laurel, for those of you who do not know him," added Duke Finnvarr.
"Let me ask a question in return," said Brion. "Is our society merely about enjoyment, does it concern itself only with learning the skills and the diversions of older days? If someone answers yes to this question, then I have little advice to offer. But if one believes it goes beyond that, then surely courage, humility, loyalty and largesse are relevant. If the way Froissart or Chretien depicts virtue and excellence does not speak to a given person, then there are other places to turn to: the sagas, the lives of saints, even the paintings and manuscripts and buildings of old. A knight of our society became a builder; in speaking of his fascination for this art, or to use an older word, this 'mystery,' he liked to talk of 'sacred spaces.'"
"You are indeed an eloquent and thoughtful man," said Alysoun, "and I will think on your words."
Lady Sabina then exclaimed, "We have been talking so long now about what goes wrong and how it can be fixed. Am I alone in feeling that our society is often a source of inspiration? Even if I think only of knights, I can come up with a long and distinguished list of good, inspiring people.
"Let me tell a tale of Count Thorvald the Golden. Here is but one instance of him going beyond the usual courtesy.
"In preparation for the Pas du Roi Rene, which was sponsored some time ago at Nordskogen by the Tenans of Noble Folly, there was a young lady, relatively new among us, who had offered to help out by cooking foods to give away during the day. The food was meant as largesse, such as might be distributed at a tournament by a Company of Nobles. She slaved for days, making meat pies and cookies and breads. On the day itself, she was giving them to people and many of them did not even say thank you, though none of the knights were guilty of this ingratitude, for those of you feeling superior. She had become a little sad when she offered something to Sir Thorvald. He asked what she would charge and she said, nothing. He then asked who had made this wonderful food and she said, herself.
"At this point he went to his knees and said that, since his lady was not present, would she be so kind as to be her proxy? He left with her coins, model suits of armor, and jewels. And for the rest of the day he sent every opponent to her. If they had bested Sir Thorvald then they were to state that he had failed her and she must determine the cost of this failure. If they were bested then they were to let her know that her inspiration had been more than they could bear. He did this at great cost to himself, with great majesty, and only because it was the right thing to do. He did not know this lady from Eve. She had no rank or influence and could give him nothing in return. He had nothing to gain by this exceptional effort. That is the mark of true chivalry. Sir Thorvald, and those like him, are my inspiration.
"I have more such stories, about other good folk, but since they are long, I will only tell them if you want to hear them."
At this, Baron Tibor said, "I for one love a heart-warming story of this sort, but I feel impelled at the moment to answer Duke Finnvarr's questions about less worthy behavior. No one yet has mentioned the trait I object to most among knights, though I feel all of us have seen it. That is the narrowness of some few of them. These are the knights who do little but fight, who yet see what they do as so important to our society and our existence that they are satisfied that they do their part. You know the ones: the ones who never dress nobly, who go nowhere unless they will find fighting at the end of the journey, who stand in the back of court and talk during it. Master Galleron de Cressy," he gestured to the man standing next to him, "and I were just discussing this."
Galleron bowed to the company and said, "Noble Finnvarr, and all you good people, I think that when fault can be found with the knights of today, it is most often this: that they overemphasize the skills required to win the typical tournament, to the relative neglect of other virtues. Consider how greatly the average knight exceeds the average man-at-arms in skill at arms. How often does the knight excel to the same degree in courtesy, or generosity, or the splendor of his array?
"And often the quest for knighthood does not correct this fault, but worsens it. Consider a man taking up the profession of arms, utterly undistinguished in skill, in courtesy, in largess, and in his equipment. He measures himself against those that are knights, and sees none admitted to the order that are not the equal to the skill at arms of the other knights, which is a high level of skill indeed.
"He looks at the array of the members of the order, and at their courtesy and generosity, which has its greatest measure in the honest and just acceptance of blows. In these things he sees many members of the order that, while without glaring fault in these things, are in no way superior to an ordinary gentleman.
"If the order is in great disarray within his kingdom, he may even see knights that are less than generous in their judgment of the blows struck upon them, or arrayed like pillagers or base villeins, or devoid of proper courtesy.
"So, if this aspirant desires to become a knight and is a sensible person, he will naturally put all his efforts into improving his abilities to win as many tournament combats as possible, and waste little time on developing other virtues. He may also discover that he has much to gain and little to lose if he gives himself the benefit of the doubt a bit more often in judging blows than he gives that benefit to his opponent.
"Likewise, he may discover that he wins more combats, and suffers no reproach, if he wears armor and uses weapons that are well suited to our tournaments but little like the armor and weapons of a true knight.
"How can this be mended? First, the aspirant should be encouraged to cultivate all the virtues proper to a knight, even if they do not lead to the reward of knighthood. They are to be sought for their own sake.
"Second, the Crown and Chivalry should, in considering entry into the order, give proper weight to all the virtues pertaining to a noble knight. And those that are now members of the order should examine their conduct, and always carry themselves as befits a noble knight, not simply in prowess, but in all things.
"Third, a kingdom should not be so large that the Crown and Chivalry cannot know well all the qualities of a candidate. The fame of victory can travel far, but a man can only judge the courtesy, generosity, and judgment of a gentleman with his own senses."
At this Sir Saeric was moved to comment. "I have been a knight of this realm for only a few years, and I can still remember that one of the things that surprised me most about chivalry meetings is how little the prowess of the candidates was discussed. Usually, their prowess is there or it isn't, but there is always discussion about their peer-like qualities.
"I've seen knights speak against various candidates because they couldn't tell a saucepan from a sonnet, had worn the same faded tunic for the last three years, had armor that was always cobbled together, or had no knowledge of or interest in the ideals of chivalry. And the discussion of candidates is always taken seriously, with no consideration of politics, favoritism or cronyism."
"Your Grace, may I reply?" asked a noble squire.
"Certainly," said Duke Finnvarr. "My ladies, my lords, this is my squire, Lord Nicolae Cioran. "I confess I am curious as to what he is about to say."
"Your Grace, Sir Saeric, ladies," said Nicolae, "I regret to say that to those watching, there seems to be little common agreement as to the behavior to be noticed and rewarded by the chivalry, and little common agreement on what is correct. Also, knights seldom intervene in the formative training of new men at arms, waiting to squire them once a degree of prowess is attained. While squiring every new fighter is not necessary, gentle direction at an early stage will help direct and form their image of the knight they wish to be. If the chivalry agrees on the example they will set, there will be little cause for complaint with new members of the order, as they will have matured into a figure the community finds is admirable."
Tibor looked surprised at this and interjected, "Is this, indeed, true? That knights do not train all new fighters? I would have thought that the Chivalry would train as many new fighters as possible, in love of their art, reserving squiredom not just for those they feel have the potential for prowess, but also the potential for friendship and a good relationship. Am I mistaken?"
"You are both right and wrong, Baron Tibor," replied Duke Finnvarr. "It would be a bold man who would try to speak for all knights or all masters of arms, but I think many of them do take squires because they find a kindred spirit, or someone they feel they can teach important things. In my case, the things to be taught are never martial prowess. There are many others who can teach fighting better than I.
"But most knights want squires who are committed to excellence in arms as well as to the other knightly virtues. And so they often wait to see signs of prowess in a possible squire, because without commitment few gain any skill.
"As Nicolae said, knights can train new fighters without taking them as squires. This is true -- if a knight is present when new fighters are introduced to our society or the practice of arms, it that knight's duty to take a hand in this most important matter. Yet often there is no knight there. How many shires, even baronies, are there in our society where there are no knights, or none who are actively exercising arms?
"I am aware," said Finnvarr, "that this is too easy an answer to Nicolae's charge. He clearly speaks of situations where the chivalry could act but do not. And to the charge that the chivalry give no consistent direction, no words are adequate answer. Only deeds will do."
"Your Grace," said Nicolae, "you have questioned us about the faults of we see in the chivalry. You have been a knight for many years. What say you?"
"I am caught," laughed the duke. "But what I dislike is no laughing matter. Let me first define chivalry as Duke Gyrth Oldcastle once did. Duke Gyrth said chivalry differed from courtesy because 'chivalry involves killing people.'
"The ideal of knighthood--old or new--wrestles with this difficulty: how can we train people to be killers, or even to emulate killers, and expect them to remain civilized? Or perhaps I should say 'courteous'?
"Knighthood has no validity if the ability to use force, prowess, is not tempered by humility, courtesy, and other gentle virtues. Thus the most offensive fault any knight of our society can manifest is forgetting the duty to uphold the gentle virtues.
"Let me say that I do not expect everyone to follow a single definition of courtesy or gentility. No time or people has a monopoly on generous behavior. However, to act as a brute because you can get away with it is the antithesis of knighthood.
"Knights and other fighters pursue a sweaty vocation--high spirits and crudity will break out among them. I am talking about more serious matters. I have seen knights intimidate and abuse new fighters whom they were supposed to be training or authorizing. I have heard knights denigrate those who do not fight. I have been told of knights who encourage their households to flaunt rudeness where it is least welcome and most inappropriate.
"Those who do such things no doubt feel that they are proving something -- perhaps how tough or how superior they are. They do not realize that no one doubts their toughness. They do not realize or care that we reserve our highest respect for those who know when to stop being tough, and when to be generous, courteous, helpful, and even humble!
"If we want our knights to realize this more difficult challenge--to achieve prowess with gentility--we have to keep reminding them that this is what we want. If we praise victory alone, then we deserve the consequences."
Sir Myles then said, "I, too, see this arrogance, manifested as condescending bad manners. And I have wondered where it comes from. When I'm in a bad mood, I think it was there all along and cleverly hidden. When I'm in a good mood, I think it was misread as pride and exacerbated by the accolade. The signs of arrogance can be excused as manly pride or youthful enthusiasm, especially if the mentor, the knight or the master, shares in that arrogance. It sometimes seems to me that this fault tends to run in veins from knight to squire.
"This makes it more important for others in the Chivalry to speak to fighters who are not their squires, and especially to knights gone astray. I am somewhat ashamed that I held my tongue on occasions when I should have stood up and been 'a Champion of the Right and the Good.' If only I could exchange those for the times I jammed my boots into my mouth up to the spurs."
Master Crag Duggan, who had journeyed from Calontir, spoke. "Finnvarr asked, what sullies our society? I say, when we stand by and see wrong things done, and we turn our heads. This responsibility is on all of us, but falls on the peers the heaviest, for we are keepers of the flame. When I speak to gentles on their vigil, I urge them to ponder the difference between respectability and honor. Respectability is a cloak that you may put on and off, and is only for public consumption. Honor is what you do because you know it is right even when no one but you and your God know it.
"Many times honor and respectability clash. Sometimes your fellows, your friends, your peers, even your Crown will say don't make waves, let it pass. Sometimes you cannot be popular and respectable while at the same time being honorable. If you chose honor, you will have to be prepared, sometimes, to risk your popularity and good name for what you hold right. People have been nailed to the cross for that.
"I have had over the years to read the riot act to a monarch or two and at least a few peers," Crag said with a smile. "The art of it is to be civil, kind, and courteous, all the while being unyielding. Crown or carl, treat them kindly but firmly. Look them in the eye, and tell them gently and kindly what you feel is right, and bow not to what is wrong. Give them a chance to fix things, but take your stand. Of course, not all will respond to sweet reason. If they won't, study their weaknesses, and you will find how you may lead them to fall on their own sword. Then," he said, with a second, smaller smile, "you can shed an honest tear for such a waste."
Then Mistress Alexis MacAlister, who had been silently listening, said, "There are times when a bold word can make all the difference. I know of one instance where a knight spoke to a squire of some martial accomplishment, and told him 'Although you are hot with a sword and are generally a good guy, you have the manners of a goat, which is not likely to get you knighted.' That squire took the words of the good knight to heart, and he is now a member of the order of Chivalry. This sort of criticism would not be easily taken by most, I would wager. And yet, if someone was to come to me and tell me about a problem with my behavior, it would give me pause to reconsider my actions.
"I sometimes wonder how the strutting peacocks can think that they fool us. I was an officer of the Crown for almost three years and watched Crown Tourneys very closely, knowing that behavior exhibited on the tourney field can be indicative of behavior in curia. I was never surprised. It may be difficult to judge a fighter's honesty from the gallery, but what cannot be mistaken is the temper tantrum on the field, or the words in anger."
Sir Fernando said, "Merely a different form of overweening pride, is it not, my lady? Gutierre Diaz de Gamez has often told me that humility in victory is the distinguishing characteristic of the good knight. Is that not so, Gutierre?"
"Yes, my lord," replied Gutierre. "Their humility is part of God's plan to remedy the arrogance of the wicked, by the principle contraria a contrariis curantur . It is this humility in victory that makes them the order of knighthood of the good defenders."
"But you've said more than this, another time," said Fernando.
"If you insist, my lord. I have stated that they are not all good knights who ride upon horses; neither are they all knights to whom kings give arms. Some who attain the name do not pursue the calling. These wear the mantle and bear the name but they do not observe the rule of life. They are not knights but phantoms and apostates."
"And, alas, such do exist, even in our society," said Finnvarr. "I suppose we should not be surprised. The Round Table itself had them."
Lord Padraig O'Conchobhair then spoke for the first time. "I have been thinking about your questions, Your Grace, for a long time, because I wanted to present my story properly. It is not about a knight, but about a Laurel who did something quite hurtful to me, though not I think with malicious intent. The lack of malice makes the story more important.
"Although we did not and do not know each other personally, one particular Laurel and I had mutual acquaintances and I had seen her before. Always before, I had thought of her as fun-loving and friendly.
"At a certain Crown Tournament, I was sent by my baron to retrieve something from the arts and sciences judging, or perhaps to ask a question of someone who was there. In that room where the judging was taking place, happened to be that Laurel I speak of, who was somehow involved.
"As soon as I stepped in the door, before I had a chance to say more than two words, she told me loudly and in no uncertain terms to get out!
"I was crushed. I would never have expected to be spoken to in such a fashion without provocation by anyone, much less one I knew to be sworn to courtesy--and especially without being allowed to explain my mission there. I felt even then I might be taking the matter too seriously, but her rudeness caught me by surprise, and I took her comments to heart. It is one of the few times I seriously considered quitting our society. The values we hold dear are the reason I got involved. I almost went home from that tournament and didn't go back. Then my practical side kicked in, and I decided I had spent too much learning the art of defense to let her chase me off. " This with a small laugh.
"Looking back, I can try to understand. Was she feeling ill or in pain? Was she doing someone else's work on top of her own? How many other people had interrupted the judging? I don't know the answers to those questions, any of which might explain her outburst. I could see myself under certain circumstances acting the same way, although I would feel terrible about it after.
"On the other hand, what if I had been attending my first tournament, and just wandered into the wrong room at the wrong time? What are the chances I would have ever returned? I would hope to keep this scenario in mind with every dealing I have in our society. It might curb my tongue when tempted to lash out at someone on a bad day."
"Well," said Mistress Alys Katherine, "For a moment during your story I wondered if that was me. Even when I decided it couldn't be, I felt a great deal of sympathy for that Laurel. I find myself wishing I could explain to all of you how terribly restrictive for me the expectations of peers are sometimes. Over the years I have learned to curb my tongue and watch my words. But, every once in a while I become frustrated about not being able to be a regular human any more. Others can yell or curse, in fun or not, but if I do it I feel I am letting the Orders down or that someone will hear me and tell others that Dame Alys just said such and such. It is hard to express an opinion, not because I don't have any but because it has to be couched in a helpful, positive fashion that will not cause the person to be discouraged or quit doing whatever she is doing."
Lady Dorothea de Beckham exclaimed. "And I sympathize with you! Certainly it is unfair to expect perfection from peers. Are all our ideals to be realized only in the peerage? I understand accepting a peerage means taking on greater responsibility. But to have that responsibility be the perfect embodiment of all virtues? Have we forfeited our responsibility for good conduct to a small group and been grievously disappointed that they aren't taking up the slack for all of us?"
"This is a problem we bring upon ourselves by having peers in the first place, or aspiring to that status," said Finnvarr. "Peers can't escape the obligation to put on a courteous face even when they don't feel like it, though it is an obligation that no one can always fulfill. Peers will have bad days and they, and our society at large, will pay the price.
"But it is not possible for peers to be on duty all the time, nor is it reasonable to expect this. I have told new peers on vigil to remember that even though peerage is a serious matter, they are in this society for fun, too. Not only do peers have a right to have fun, at least most of the time, sharing their fun is one of the best ways of doing their duty, one of the best things anyone in this society can do. Our society exists to increase the sum of joy in the world, not to increase the sum of drudgery, or hard feelings, or envy, or inordinate guilt that one does not measure up to impossible goals."
Lady Elspeth nic Cormac of the Barony of South Downs applauded this sentiment, and then said, "I believe that part of the problem is that some folk, not peers, go around trying to convince others that the peers are awesome beings and are to be tiptoed around at all times. I saw evidence of that when I first joined this society many years ago.
"When I was very new to our society, I attended an exhibition of our arts, martial and peaceful. I sat down on a chair that had a big pointy coronet in it. No, don't laugh, I did not sit on the coronet; I put it on my lap because that was the safest place for it. I was tired and I figured that the person wasn't using the chair then and when they returned I would give back the seat. Soon a fighter with a white belt and gold chain came over and started divesting himself of helm and such. I asked him if this was his chair and if he would like it back. He kindly said no, he would never take a chair from a lady and bid me sit back down. We then made small talk for a while. I recall he explained how to tell where the front of the coronet was.
"Then the friend who had brought me came and told me it was time to leave. Once we were out of sight, my friend, who was a squire, exclaimed 'Don't you know who that was? That was Duke Talymar! And you were sitting in His Chair!'
"In my happily oblivious state, I just ignored the squire's overreaction to my pleasant conversation with a kind gentle. I count myself fortunate that I had the good sense to do so. However, others confronted in such a fashion could well think that they had committed some major and heinous transgression and would think three or four times before coming up to another awesome being lest they be blasted again for their presumptuousness.
"I do not know what the peers can do to stop others from scaring people away from them. Perhaps they should simply introduce themselves to newer folk, be as courteous as Talymar was, and generally show them the ropes. If it happens enough times, perhaps people will laugh when they are told that peers are to be feared."
Lord Grimkirk ap Greymoor said, "I've had the unfortunate pleasure of being labeled presumptuous, to put it mildly, simply because I was not in awe of a given peer, and acted as though peers were real people. It seems that it isn't enough that some suffer from peer fear, but that the awe, if that's what it is, that they experience must be shared by all, or they will protect everyone else from your impertinence by impugning your good name."
"Someone once told me," added Morgan Cely Cein, "in a similar situation, that people who act as you described are really jealous, and wonder how you can do what they would like to do."
"I had never intended to spend all of our philosophical hour discussing knights," Duke Finnvarr said. "If we speak of leadership and excellence, if we speak of people who try to embody ideals, we must speak not only of the Order of Chivalry, but of the Order of the Laurel and the Order of the Pelican, too. Long ago we got into territory that all three orders share. But in some ways the orders differ considerably. Indulge me, then, good folk, and let me pose two more questions.
"What is the greatest challenge, specific to the Order, of being a good Laurel?
"What is the greatest challenge, specific to the Order, of being a good Pelican?"
"I am not a Pelican," said Mistress Nicolaa, who had returned to the circle, "so let me try to answer the first. To me, the challenge of being a Laurel is continuing to advance one's knowledge after one's elevation. I am a fairly new Laurel, and I must now learn how to be a good mentor. At the same time I would also like to broaden my activity in the arts and sciences, but still continue to pursue my original field. A good Laurel must overlook the temptation to be satisfied with oneself upon elevation."
Lord Mikjal Annarbjorn added, "From my observation, some Laurels appear to have trouble resisting the temptation to act like the complete authority on all things related to the arts. I don't think they necessarily do so because of conceit -- a sense of duty could push them in the same direction. But it would be good for them to remember that being a Laurel doesn't mean you can no longer say 'I don't know.'"
Lord Andrew MacBaine then said, "It seems to me that the greatest duty of a Laurel is to encourage the arts and sciences and to teach. The hard part seems to be the teaching part -- how to teach, how not to teach, how to correct, how not to correct. One person may let a Laurel scribble all over her notes and plans, while another may be unwilling to let a Laurel touch pen to paper. Judging how people will react to a Laurel's written criticism must be a difficult thing. I was apprenticed for a while, and I always wanted my Laurel to be more active in criticising and suggesting changes in my work. But others wanted to be left alone in that regard. Some of these are now Laurels and are reluctant to offer to much advice.
"Laurels can look overly critical without meaning to; they can also look like they are not being helpful enough. A Laurel can only do justice to so many apprentices, but there are always more people who are working on projects. It must be hard to encourage everyone."
"The only story we've had of a Laurel in action wasn't very cheerful," said Mistress Alexis. "Lady Sabina, do you have a tale of an exemplary Laurel to match the story of your parfait knight?"
"Well, since Mistress Alexis requested," Sabina said. "There are, again, many great examples of those who will teach anyone, even if people try to stop them. Mistress Alexis, of course," she continued with a smile, "is among them. The best I've known, however, is a lady of An Tir whom I knew for my first six magical months in our society, more than seven years ago. Unfortunately, her name escapes me but I know that she was a former queen and came from the Barony of Three Mountains. I came to my first feast wearing the worst dress I have ever worn. I think I have since burned it. I was changing in the garderobe when I met this short, older woman who carried herself with great dignity.
"She looked at me and said, 'What lovely material.' This was the only thing reasonable about the dress. 'It's in the later Italian style, yes?' In fact, it was nothing recognizable. I replied, 'Actually I was trying to make it in the English style." She then showed me a proper lacing for my era, and as she was lacing me up began discussing what resources she had in her library, whom she needed to introduce me to and how I could do my hair so that it improve my appearance on that day. She then started to get into her own court clothes, the most stunning Norse dress I have ever seen. As she was dressing, she kept talking to me. She gave me her address so that I could come look at her library to make sure that I had the information I needed to decide what era and country my next dress would come from.
"Finally, someone opened the door and said to her that the Laurel meeting was already started. 'It's time to get to work,' he said. She smiled very sweetly at him and said 'But, my lord, I am already doing the most important work I can be doing.' Before she left she arranged a time to meet with me after her Laurel meeting. In fact she left the meeting early so she could make her date with me, and introduced me to all the right people to help me develop dress and accouterments that met my desires.
"The keys to her courtesy were, first, at no time did she say that a single thing I was doing or wearing was bad or out of place. She just gave me the resources and the opportunity to find that out in my own sweet time. Second, she realized, and strongly stated, that teaching was more important to her than meeting to discuss candidates. Finally, as Thorvald was in my previous story, she was generous although I could do nothing for her.
"I only pray that when I encounter new people I am as patient and as tolerant as this fair Mistress. I also pray that, if I am ever in the position to hold high rank or office that I am able to still remember what is 'the most important work I can be doing.'
"But someone else must have a good story," finished Sabina. "I love to tell stories, but I love to hear them even more."
Padraig O'Conchobhair, who had just returned to the circle, bowed to Lady Sabina and asked, "How about the story of a peer who recognized herself in a story I told earlier -- yes, she was here somewhere when I told it -- hunted me out and made a beautiful apology? She insisted on apologizing, even though the incident was long ago, and no one would ever have known that she was involved. She could have just let it slide, but her sense of honor would not permit her to do that.
"In case she is still in earshot, let me say, 'Mistress, please allow me to honor you publicly for the integrity you showed in speaking to me. You would honor me if you would accept my apology for any part I might have played in adding to your frustrations of that day.' "
"Wonderful," said Duke Finnvarr. "Tonight, Lord Padraig, your courtesy and hers are well matched.
"I fear," he went on, "that it is difficult to do justice to the chief virtue of the Laurels with words. They bring joy to us by their work, and seldom can the rest of us do much but exclaim at the beauty they create. In this very hall, you can see the Tapestry of Septentria, made by the hand of Baroness Caffa Muriath, or the brass portrait of me engraved by Master Alasdair of Raasay. I was joking with some friends from the Kingdom of the Outlands not long ago that I owned some of the greatest treasures created in our society -- but that I knew many others who could say the same, and truthfully."
"Indeed, Your Grace," said Mistress Nicolaa, "I have been pointing out your share of the treasure to many of your guests. Their very presence here testifies to the generosity of the makers. But isn't the encouragement of another potential 'maker' the greatest artistic generosity? I have a story of my own that illustrates my point.
"More than a year ago, I was looking at some cabochon garnets at a merchant's booth and wishing aloud that I had a nice circlet with garnets on it. A lady, a Laurel, was standing nearby and said, 'Why don't you come over to my house--I'll show you how to make one!' Inspired, I bought some garnets, and took her up on the offer.
"Over the course of two evenings, we made a circlet -- the first time I'd ever tried cut metalwork. She showed me how to use the jewelers' saw, how to set the stones, how to handle rivets, and how to polish the thing, mostly by letting me do the work myself so I'd learn. She provided all of the materials, except the garnets. I ended up with a circlet I really liked, and wear all the time, as well as a few new skills. She set me a fine example of teaching just for the joy of helping someone to learn."
"This Laurel, whom those of you from Ealdormere have probably recognized, is Her present Majesty, Queen Caitlin."
Andrew MacBaine was moved to reply. "But, as I said before, there is surely an art to giving. When Padraig told his story of the angry Laurel some time ago, I thought to myself that it might have been about a Pelican. The Order of the Pelican exists specifically to recognize and reward great service, which is a form of generosity. But though everyone has a temper and sometimes loses it, Pelicans have a reputation for being crotchety."
Sir Alan Culross looked up from the fire and said, "I personally would forgive a candidate for the Pelican for being something of a curmudgeon. I don't think it's reasonable to keep someone at a job like Kingdom Seneschal for years and then not expect them to have a short fuse when it comes to stupidity. Those who keep a sunny disposition after years of backbreaking labor I really admire. Mistress Ranveggr, from Aethelmearc, I admire for her even-handedness after a decade of hard work doctoring people at the Pennsic Wars. That kind of stress, and things like dealing with foolish, self-inflicted injury, would tax my sense of humor about the whole thing."
"And this," interjected Finnvarr, "is from a man, a Pelican himself, whose long and mostly unsung service has hardly been stained by a cross word. And much of that service was in the heat of Pennsic."
"You are too generous," said Sir Alan.
"No," said the duke, "it is right to remind people, occasionally, of duty well done in years past. Nothing is more fleeting in memory."
"Indeed," Alan replied, smiling, "I think that the work of our Laurels will astonish people a century from now; the deeds of our knights will be forgotten in five years; and nobody knows what the Pelicans have done."
There was laughter at this; that from the Pelicans present was loudest.
"Sir Alan," said Andrew MacBaine, "or rather, Master Alan, jests all too truly. A great challenge for anyone elevated to the order must be staying active enough for the people of the kingdom, who may never have noticed her or him before, to think that the award was justified."
Finnvarr turned to him. "Unfortunately, this is a dilemma we cannot escape. The Pelican is the peerage for those who deal with mundane stuff, what we all seek to escape at tourney or feast. The members of this order grease the wheels so that others can play. You sometimes see Pelicans doing this, the ones who are always busy at our gatherings; others work between times so that those gatherings can take place. Often the 'busy' Pelicans are overlooked even though they work among us -- we are all looking elsewhere, at some glorious sight. The case of the others is worse; they often escape the notice even of those whose duty it is to look for Pelicans. Lady Sabina, you are smiling again. Do you have another story?"
"Yes, Master Finnvarr, I do. There are many good Pelicans, many more perhaps than I know. But the picture of their virtues for me is His Grace Moonwulf Starkaaderson, whom I have only met once, and that briefly.
"Once on a Pennsic War, my lord Urien and I entered the food market at the six of the clock in the evening. His Grace entered from the other side. We quickly got our dinner, sat and began to watch His Grace trying to cross the market. Of the first five people he met, three stopped him to talk about some issue or problem. At that point we started counting these petitioners. A full twenty-seven people stopped him before he got to the booth he had chosen. Each had a problem either large or small. As it neared the hour of eight he still had not even ordered his food. When the last gentleman stopped him, we were close enough to hear their conversation, which went something like this:
"'Your Grace,' said this person, who was clearly relatively new to our society.
"'Yes, that's me,' Moonwulf responded, with all the cheer and enthusiasm of someone who had never been approached.
"'I just wanted you to know that a friend of mine recommended a technique that he said you taught him and it really worked!' He then went on to describe some martial tactic and how it had won him a bout during a tournament. His Grace entered into an excited conversation with the man about his fighting, how long he had been doing it, and what else he might learn.
"Now, remember, this was twenty-eighth person that Moonwulf had talked to in the last thirty yards. He was now a full hour and a half late for dinner. But, if he had said to this young man, politely, 'I'm sorry but I'm starved, can this wait until after I've gotten my food?' the young man would surely have thought he was imposing and left. Instead, he got a full five minutes of the great Moonwulf's time. I'm sure this was a high point of his entire Pennsic.
"This is the kind of thoughtfulness that I pray I remember if I am overwhelmed with burdens. It is the guilty thought in my mind when I do snap at people who have 'trivial things' to talk to me about as I am on an 'important errand.'
"Again, the keys to this good Master's courtesy are that it was unseen and it was directed toward a person who could give him no tangible benefit. The act was at some cost to himself, but given because he remembered how great the benefit was in his power to bestow."
"That was a fine story, Lady Sabina," Mistress Alexis said, "but this time I can top you. I have a tale of a man who bestowed an even greater benefit, with no more fuss and equal aplomb. It too took place at a Pennsic War. As a story of a good peer, it has one fault: it occurred before the person was elevated. Does that count?"
She was urged by several to continue.
"I had asked this person to teach people his special skill -- an art that many people do, but not in proper old fashion. He is also a chirugeon, and was spending much of his time at the Chirurgeon's Point. On the day of the story he was going Chiurgeon's Point back to camp to retrieve his class materials when he saw a disturbance. When he stopped to inquire, he found there was an elderly woman trapped in a garderobe. The door was forced open, and she was revealed to be in the midst of a heart attack.
"My friend worked hard to revive this women, and succeeded. He stayed with her until she was removed to a hospital, not neglecting to give a quick report to the people helping her. Then he went down the hill to his encampment, retrieved his materials and went to his scheduled meeting. He arrived a few minutes late, apologized for his tardiness and proceeded to teach a class on gaming.
"This individual, for those who do not know, is Brusten de Bearsul, Master of the Laurel and Pelican, who was elevated to both peerages the next year. He is one of the finest men it has been my pleasure to know.
"Did someone mention 'the order of the good defenders?' There is a member."
At that moment a lady walked briskly in from the kitchen. Duke Finnvarr rose to his feet, and said, "Mistress Ragni! Please take my seat. May I get you a goblet of wine?"
"No, my lord," said Ragni, "I have wine, I have been celebrating in the kitchen with Lady Sabelle and my other helpers. But we could not help hearing your discussion, and I thought I should come join it."
"Please do, my good lady," said the duke.
"Earlier there was talk about the high standards of behavior expected of peers, and whether expectations were fair or not. Perhaps people find expectations difficult to match because they are thinking about peers in the wrong way.
"Peers are not saints or angels. They are hosts. I have always thought of our society as a great celebration, and every celebration needs a host, if not more than one. Our peers are the hosts -- or among them, for we must not forget our stewards and autocrats and seneschals. Maybe every peer is not actively hosting at all times. But by accepting peerage, they have taken on the responsibility of stepping in when a host is needed to make the celebration work for the guests. All the stories told tonight of admirable peers show them with the virtues and manners of good hosts. What host would not surrender his chair to a tired newcomer? Or wait a moment for his own dinner to talk to an enthusiastic guest? Or, if a guest was taken seriously ill, drop everything to help, until it was possible to attend once more to the other guests?
"Did not someone say, 'It's the job of the king to make sure that everyone else has a good time, and not vice-versa?'"
"That was Duke Gyrth again," said Finnvarr.
"That, at least," said Mistress Ragni, "is my opinion, and my philosophy. And if I deserve my own Pelican, there must be some truth in it."
"More than some," replied the duke. "For if we have been fit for philosophy tonight, if we have settled any questions or cleared our minds of our vague discontents, much credit must go to you and the way you have set the table and laid this blazing fire.
"Good lords and ladies, please take what food and drink you will. Our hall is yours this night. May you have much joy of it."
And here ends the Dialogue of Chivalry of Duke Finnvarr de Taahe.