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Chains of Fealty
[08/05/2002] [Randall]

The knight’s chain is my favorite symbol in all of Amtgard. Heavy or light, colorful or plain, these lengths of metal hang unadorned around the necks of Amtgard’s brightest and best. Knighthood has always been a thing of pageantry and honor, but the chain is unique among its accoutrements. While the white belt boldly declares to all the world that the wearer is a knight, the chain exists most tangibly to only one person – the knight who wears it. The best chains hang heavy across the shoulders as a constant reminder of the responsibilities and obligations of knighthood, and a good knight understands and cherishes the duty the chain represents. It is the most important piece of garb a knight can wear, for it is a chain of fealty.

But to whom does a knight owe fealty – to the king, or to the kingdom? I’ve raised that question to a great many people, and have received a universal response: a knight is loyal to the kingdom. After all, there could be a bad king on the throne. Plus, kings come and go. Fealty seems to make less sense when your liege changes every six months, right?

Wrong. A knight owes fealty to his king.

The problem with owing fealty to the kingdom is that it turns knights into easily-provoked mercenary rebels. A knight has to consider if he believes the king to be worthy of his sword every reign, and worthiness is a much higher bar than kingliness for a liege-lord to pass. You’re eventually faced with a situation where knights will only consider themselves loyal to the very best of kings... and woe unto the monarch who strays from the path, for he will soon be faced with knights declaring that their loyalty to the kingdom demands that they oppose him.

Consider the alternative. A knight who owes fealty to the king serves each and every monarch by default. He doesn’t get to pick and choose which sovereign he serves, because knighthood is about service, not choices. Breaking that fealty is a powerful thing, and not something done lightly; it is, by definition, an act of treason and revolt. The decision to reject the king stops being something you do “for the good of the kingdom” and becomes a deeply personal decision. Setting aside the thing that makes you a knight because your principles force you to oppose the king becomes the last resort of a hopeless situation.

What if a king is unworthy? Some kings are simple people, thrust into a position of leadership by the mercurial whims of an ever-changing populace. Others bite off more than they can chew. It doesn’t matter; a knight must serve them all. To declare a king unworthy of service is to set yourself above him, and no knight is greater than the person from whom all knighthood derives. A knight is among the brightest and the best Amtgard has to offer, and it is his duty to let some of that light brighten the king he serves. A mercenary picks and chooses who is worthy of service. A knight makes his king worthy.

A knight may also be faced with an incompetent king or a king he personally dislikes. It’s very easy for him to claim that he serves the kingdom, and not necessarily its temporary, 6-month guardian, but that assertion contains its own contradiction. If you owe fealty to the kingdom, then you are bound to uphold its laws – and it's those laws that produce kings. A king chosen by a legal, valid vote of the populace is the rightful ruler of the kingdom. To oppose the king is to oppose the process that produced him. To oppose the king is to oppose the kingdom.

A good knight will do his best to serve a bad king, too. Consider D’Artagnan’s tragic and loyal service to the king in The Man in the Iron Mask. His nobility and sense of honor were some of the best things about that story. They were the traits that made him knightly. Only a complete and utter collapse of any decency in the king forced D’Artagnan to break his fealty. He insisted on trying to bring out the best in his liege until he could do no more. So should it be in Amtgard.

It is the duty of a knight to serve, to the best of his ability, each and every king chosen by his kingdom. Kings are the source of all knighthood and nobility. Without them, knighthood means nothing. If a king is incompetent, a knight must do his best to help him. If a king is bad, a knight must do his best to guide him. And if a king is wicked, a knight must do everything in his power to redeem him. Only when he can do no more must he contemplate treason, and decide if the wrongs the king has committed are terrible enough to justify betrayal. Then, and only then, can he lift the chain of fealty from about his shoulders and join the other peasants in opposing the crown.

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