One of my privileges as an active, long-time member of the Society for Creative Anachronism has been knowing many, many knights. The jewel in this gift has been seeing boys become men. Those who have enjoyed the SCA for a day or a year see a portrait, a moment in the lives of many people. Those who stay longer see the growth and change of individuals. For over eighteen years I have seen boys attain manhood within our Society.
Through my work as a Seneschal of Atenveldt when it was the fourth of five, through my days as Steward of the Society from the time there were seven kingdoms, through the birth of the Trimaris, the eleventh kingdom, I have dealt with knights from nearly every reach and realm. I am honored to know and have spoken at great length, on quiet nights, with some of the founders and early dukes of the West Kingdom. I count among my friends legendary men from many different times and places in the history of the Society, and as I meet them on a different field than they usually meet one another, I have a different story to tell you than their prowess, their skills, their strength. Squires, men-at-arms, and other knights spend long hours asking them “How?” I wait for a quiet moment to ask them “Why?” I have spoken with aged and crippled knights whose armor was useful only to others. I have sought out the glow of the knights of tomorrow, in vigils by firelight, and no better key to their souls have I found than to look into their eyes and ask “Why?”
Some men grow roughly, some without notice. Some through adversity become adults overnight. Others luxuriate in extended youth. Why do some become leaders and teachers, models and advisors, while others do not? Neither the greatest thinkers of our time nor those of the Middle Ages can answer that question with assurance. The factors are myriad, and many things are left unspoken and undissected, perhaps for the best. I can tell you some things I have come to believe are true, and perhaps they will match the truth growing in you.
Glory comes in many forms—the flash of a tournament well fought; the weight of counsel which proves well-taken; the dazzle of a courteous act pulled from the ashes of a social disaster; the teachings which many students seek. In all of these there is an element of luck, of fate, of the hand of God: opportunities present themselves, worthy students appear, witnesses spread the word which magnifies glory. Glory is a delicate construct, made of light and heat, of words and memories. These are not a man.
The finest knights, young and old, have that within them which sets them apart from their lesser brothers, which draws some to them and repels others. They have integrity. They have a foundation of carefully laid truth, self-knowledge, an examined sense of duty and a clarity about where duty is owed. They have compassion, patience, a store of experience through which to filter their thoughts and with which to counsel others. They are open to new and changing belief, never declaring themselves whole and finished men, and thereby are themselves closer to whole and finished than those who feel that their own growth is done, their manhood complete. They are spiritually alive.
Where IS duty owed? To one’s ideals. What are ideals? The images we cannot attain. When duty is internal and ideals are pursued not to be attained, but to be approached until death ends the journey, a man has integrity. When integrity is gained, one is no longer dependent on others for approval or confirmation. Such a person could change continents, cultures or centuries, and maintain the ability to function, to think, to be.
Some do not reach this stage. From fear or confusion, evil advice clung to without examination, jealousy or immaturity, their ideals are external. They cannot see what others have, but they know they want it. They confuse glory with substance, and reknown with manhood. Their goal is to take greatness by force or guile from others. They want to BE the honored knight they see—not to become like him, but to become him. Their eyes and desires and duty are turned outward, seeking, coveting, begrudging, resenting, and they neglect that place where their knighthood must grow, which is in their own hearts. In an immature phase, a knight may wish to be the best, the highest, the greatest. If that phase is survived, he desires to be one among many men striving toward virtue and truth. The strength of a great leader is in nurturing leadership in others. A teacher’s goal is to see his students become teachers. A wise man’s ideal is wisdom, growing not just in him but in everyone around him. From the first time a knight lifts a sword ‘til the last time he lays one down—knighthood is not in the arm, but in the soul.
This was written for and published in Facets of Knighthood, a compendium of articles, poetry, and stories on knighthood and related matters, edited by Cormac the Traveller (Peter Martin) of Lochac, in 1996.