A Question of Honor


Happy New Year everyone! To start 2014, A Drift of Quills has a new post.


How many is a "drift?" Well, this time around, it is three: me, Kristie Kiessling and Robin Lythgoe.  Each of us posed a question to one of our fictional characters. The question: Are you honorable? Why or why not? We would be delighted to have you take a moment to spend with us. . . .

I am up first this time around.  I decided to pose the question to the main protagonist of my epic fantasy, Oathtaker. I quite enjoyed hearing what she had to say and hope that you do as well—


The question posed to me, Mara Richmond, an Oathtaker bound by a life oath I willingly swore for the protection of my charge, is: am I honorable? I ask myself what it means to be honorable. I suppose it is to act in accordance with principles of fairness and integrity; to be worthy of high respect; to be creditable. Great Ehyeh, I know I seek to be honorable, but can I truly say that I am or, even if I am at this moment, that I will continue to be so?


When I swore a life oath to protect my charge, I put my own life on hold and received, in exchange, continued youth. For so long as my charge lives, I am bound by rules that forbid me from a life with another. I sought to become an Oathtaker, trained for years to do so because—well, because I was running from a family that used me and, truth to tell, from a promise I had made and—and had failed to keep. Now I find myself bound by an oath, the breaking of which could cost me my very life, and I wonder if I will have the strength to see this through to the end. 


Who could have known, who could have guessed, that within just heartbeats of my taking my vow, I would meet Dixon? Who could have known, who could have guessed that in the same moments within which I spoke those fateful words Dixon would be released from a similar vow he had previously sworn? Now, I find myself searching for understanding. How could Ehyeh, the master and creator of all things, have allowed this to happen? Am I bound to spend the life of my charge with a heart I fear may simply stop beating? I never intended to love him. Having been betrayed in the past, I thought I was immune. . . . 


When Dixon, who was freed from his oath upon Rowena’s passing, looks at another, my heart trips. But should he not seek happiness now? If I were truly honorable, would I not encourage him to find another? He has become my right hand, my confidant, my friend, my—. No, not my lover. That would be a breach of my oath that would have me removed from my station. But it does not mean that I do not long to be. . . .


Then, there are the girls, my charge, Reigna and Eden, the first ever twins born of the Select, clearly foretold in prophecy, and the current ranking members of the first family. Even if I wanted to deny my vow and abandon them to be with Dixon, even if the cost of such treason would not ultimately be my own life, could I do so? They are but infants, yet I am all they have ever known; I was there from their beginning. Would anyone else know them as I do, love them as I do? Would anyone else be willing to sacrifice for them? What cost would come of my abandoning them? Besides, if not me, then who? To leave them would mean I would have no say in determining in whose care they would be kept. Moreover, suppose I did break my vow and abandon the girls, would Dixon not anticipate that one day I would break any vow I might have made to him? Would he not always doubt me, watch for my failure? I remind myself that I have failed before. Would Dixon’s inability to trust me be a price I would be willing to pay?


So, I return to the question at hand: am I honorable? I suppose time will tell. But for this Oathtaker, being a woman of honor means living in the state of pain that comes from loving someone while subject to my oath, someone I long for but cannot have. . . .


Kristie Kiessling is the author of the short story, Sanguis Dei, and of a poetry collection, Light and Dark.  Kristie's blog is found here.

Here are Kristie's comments—along with those of her fictional character, Mikkayl Arrayn—


As I often do when issues arise, I sit in my office chair and look to the other seating in the office waiting for one of my characters to "have a seat" as it were. Mikkayl Arrayn, main character of my current work in progress, takes a seat. Mikkayl is a half-elf mage, cursed (as he sees it) with the ability to see visions of the future. He doesn't just sit down, mind you. He relaxes. He dusts back a raven curl from his temple and his bright blue eyes sparkle. He sprawls a bit in the chair, one leg over the cushioned arm, casually barefoot. He rests his hands comfortably on his muscled belly. He's wearing a burgundy shirt open at the neck where gold thread embroiders the mandarin style collar over cream colored knee pants. Mikkayl dresses impeccably in simple elegance. Opulence is not his way, but he would look so very good in opulence. 


So, there he sits and I pose the question at hand. Here is his answer:


Honor is judged on such a varying scale. "Do I consider myself honorable?" According to whom? According to the people I've helped, yes. According to the people I've hurt, no. Those I've hurt would call me - and have called me - scoundrel, demon, halfer - all manner of not-so-nice things. Even those I've helped would lift me above what I am to make something more out of me and I, scoundrel that I am, would like the praise. Is that honorable? I don't think so. So, no, I do not consider myself to be honorable. Why I don't is not the sort of thing one talks about in polite company.


Even so, you've asked me and I rather like you, so I will endeavor to explain. 


I know what I've done. One does not forget the motion that takes a life or the feel of blood splattered across the skin of the hand that has shed it. The cloying smell of death clings to memory. I've made choices that hurt those who have done no wrong, for no greater reason than to save my own skin. There is no honor in that. I have defended the one I care for above all others, hurt others I care for to do so and not always because it was the right thing to do but because I could not live without him. And then, in an effort to save myself pain I did not think I could endure, I have hurt him; a thing unforgivable.


I am not honorable. I am loyal. I see the good I ought to do and endeavor to do it. I try to be fair-minded, but honorable? I have a very long way to go to be honorable by a standard that I respect, and I am in no hurry to get there. For instance, if I thought you would hurt my bond mate, I would skin you alive and feed you, living piece by living piece, to the dragon. I would savor every drop of your blood and every scream you uttered. 


That is not honorable.


Finally, we hear from the last of our quills, Robin Lythgoe. Robin is the author of As the Crow Flies and two short stories. Her website may be found here.

Robin posed our question to her fictional character, Crow. As one might expect, Crow gave a snarky response. So, here is what Robin and Crow had to say—


When I first thought about which character I would ask this question, I leaned strongly toward Sherakai dan Tameko, the protagonist of my current work-in-progress. And why not? He’s one of my favorite fictional people and often on my mind, particularly as I’m writing his story. But… there was Crow, leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded and that familiar cheeky gleam in his eyes.


Here is Crow's answer, in his own words:


Honorable? I declare that I am, although my friend Tanris will gladly tell you that my perspective is completely off kilter when it comes to morality of any kind. He exaggerates. Let me ask you this: is it honorable to watch my friend's back? Yes, and I have watched Tanris’s on numerous occasions, and do not listen to him when he snidely asserts that it’s because I always let him go first into dangerous situations. Of course I do. He's the warrior, not I. 


Is it honorable to teach young people a profession and to always be aware of their surroundings? Yes, and I am in the process of teaching our young ward everything I know. Well, most of what I know. We’ll see if some day she warrants such extensive knowledge. Tanris, of course, disapproves of my part of the curriculum. She should be taught honesty and hard work, integrity and other such lofty characteristics. I agree. 


It's important to be able to tell if you’re being lied to. 


It's important to recognize the hard work of others. Their education will net a better profit.


And integrity, my friend, is a two-edged sword. Even a non-warrior knows that. High moral principles can put a man in an uncomfortably tight spot. One needs a certain amount of flexibility in their integrity.


Is it honorable to ignore the gifts of the gods? They have bestowed upon me unequaled talents and skills. I turn a blind eye to them at my own peril.


Is it honorable to save the lives of countless countrymen? Yes, I say! And I humbly assert that I have done so—at much personal risk. Yes, yes, I will give credit where it is due: Without Tanris's strong arm, sharp blade, and peerless brawn my efforts might have gone unrewarded. As it is, the reward isn’t exactly tangible. Yet…


—Thank you all so much for taking time with us today and, once again, HAPPY NEW YEAR!—