This was supposed to be a one part review of the three novellas that make up A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, but the first part grew too extensive, I grew too fatigued, and so three parts it shall be. If this is your first time hearing of this, the introduction and my review of The Hedge Knight can be found with a click of that magical link above. The Sworn Sword’s magic is still gathering (ugh why am I making puns for things I don’t even play??), but I promise it will be available soon. Without further pomp or any more prompt, let’s jump right in.
The Sworn Sword
The Sworn Sword picks up a year and a half after The Hedge Knight leaves off. Dunk and Egg have had many adventures unseen (or unread in our case) in that interim. They have been to Dorne, which we only hear about in recount, but this fortune of location spared them the disastrous effects of the Great Spring Sickness, which reached neither Dorne nor the Vale of Arryn as both regions closed off their access roads and ports to all travelers. Tens of thousands died mostly in the cities, King’s Landing succumbing to the sickness the worst. Both the king Daeron II Targaryen and his two most immediate heirs the Princes Valarr and Matarys. The current sitting king is Aerys I Targaryen, a man who loves books more than ruling and who loves his wife even less. The kingdom is currently heir-less and many whisper that the king’s hand Lord Brynden Rivers or Bloodraven is more ruler than he.
Currently Dunk is in the service of Ser Eustace Osgrey of Standfast, an old, (minimally) landed knight who has nothing left but ashes and heartache being the last surviving member of his family and forced to remember the ancient honors they once owned. On their way back from a supply run in Dosk along with another of Ser Eustace’s knights Ser Bennis, Dunk notices a local stream has run dry. Ser Bennis insists it’s just due to the drought, but Dunk is more suspicious. Upon investigation, they discover workmen of Lady Rohanne Webber (who *spoiler* is the great-grandmother of the Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion Lannister *end spoiler*) of the neighboring lands of Coldmoat have built a damn. When the men refuse to leave peacefully, Ser Bennis wounds one and drives them away. This act sets in motion all of events of the story for good or for ill.
When the hedge knights report back to Ser Eustace, the old man realizes that Lady Webber (whom he derisively refers to as the Red Widow) will see the wounding of the worker as a slight on her honor so her orders Ser Bennis and Dunk to gather all the available men from his villages in order to train them to fight, but Dunk wants to seek another solution. He beseeches Ser Eustace to parlay with Lady Webber, but the old knight reveals *spoiler* that those lands were once his family’s and he will never set foot there unless to take it back *end spoiler* so it falls to Dunk to make the gesture.
Upon arriving in Coldmoat, Dunk sees that things are not what he’d been led to believe. Ser Eustace’s bitterness and spleen had convinced the young knight that Lady Webber was a dour old widow when in reality she is a young woman of five and twenty whom he’s instantly attracted to
nor does the river belong to Ser Eustace though once it did. The Chequy Water, as Eustace so named it for his family’s sigil the Chequy Lion,
was taken from House Osgrey as punishment for their support of Daemon Blackfyre during the rebellion two decades ago. The river was granted by King Daeron II Targaryen to House Webber for its services against the “Blackfyre Pretender.” Dunk also learns that Lady Rohanne must remarry within a certain time period or lose her lands to a cousin as stated in her late father’s will. Lady Webber is a quadruple widow so Ser Eustace’s bitter title is not wrong so much as misleading. Her four prior husbands’ deaths seem more misfortunes than foul play and the young head of House Webber even has a dead son to add to the mix. Lady Rohanne’s father also left her with Ser Lucas “Longinch” Inchfield to protect her against “unworthy suitors,” which Ser Lucas took to mean all suitors save him as he wished to marry Lady Webber himself.
Ser Duncan’s meeting with the Lady of Coldmoat does not end well. She neither agrees to break up the damn nor take the blood price offered. Instead she demands that Ser Bennis be brought before her where he will forfeit his nose for cutting her man’s cheek. When Dunk returns to Ser Eustace’s lands, he tells all that he learned and is quite angry that he’d been serving a “traitor.” The hedge knight wishes to leave, but the next morning in the wake of a fire more than likely due to the drought, Dunk realizes that the gathered peasants will stand no chance against Lady Webber’s more seasoned soldiers and can do nothing less than be a true knight and stay.
He and Egg ride out to the river, home of the story’s catalyst and climax, meeting Lady Webber and her small army there. He shows her Egg’s ring as proof that the boy is a prince of the blood then cuts his own cheek in retribution for the injury her man took. Despite being impressed Lady Rohanne still demands an apology from Ser Eustace who refuses so they decide to settle the matter by having their champions fight it out in the very river that caused the dispute.
*spoiler* Dunk manages to slay Ser Lucas, though he almost drowns in the process. When he wakes up, Ser Eustace and Lady Rohanne have settled their differences and married killing several birds with one vow. Dunk is angrier than he wants to admit at this for he entertained a pipe dream that something could come of him and Rohanne, but she even says prior that he was of too low of birth. A hedge knight can still dream. *end spoiler*
Dunk is asked to remain at Standfast as captain of the guard, but he refuses. On his way back on the road with Egg in tow Lady Rohanne comes to him, *spoiler* apologizes, and offers him her finest horse. Dunk refuses both apology and mount, but he does take a kiss and her crimson braid so that he will always remember. *end spoiler*
This second installment of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms intimately and tragically shows us the fallout of civil war. The world of Song, of which Knight is a microcosm is one of constant returns and repeats. As the greater tale encompassed in the five currently pushed novels portrays a world in the aftermath of one rebellion, Knight does the same thing a hundred years prior. This is certainly a critique that human nature does not change nor do the hearts of men yearn less for glory, and what side of the war one falls depends on fate’s fatal whim. Had Daemon Blackfyre won the throne, Ser Eustace would’ve sat in Coldmoat and Lady Rohanne might have been a lady in waiting if lucky and a thrall if not. Wars do not have definite heroes and villains, and this is something Dunk is forced to see.
Before his encounter with Lady Webber, he and of course Egg, believed Daeron was the rightful king, Daemon was a pretender who was cast down, and any who fought on the side of the black dragon deserved what they were given. It is rarely that simple. Ser Eustace was dearly punished with the loss of his family’s lands and titles and even more so by the loss of his children. A hundred years in the future, the situation is flipped with those who sided with the rebellion being rewarded and Targaryen loyalist being stripped. In this feudal (and futile really) system, your status flows downward with higher lords and the king having the power to grant or remove lands and titles sometimes dependent on deeds and loyalty and sometimes on whim. If you served one lord or king faithfully and then suddenly that lord or king is deposed, the source of your power could be undercut. Looking at it simply as Dunk originally does, it’s easy to say “be loyal to your king,” but if Daemon Targaryen had succeeded then you’d given loyalty to the wrong monarch.
The Sworn Sword brought the complexities of these issues to the fore where The Hedge Knight introduced us to the situation in the background. TSS showed the real world consequences of choices. GRRM has never shirked on proving to his readers that actions have consequences some of the potentially dire *cough* Eddard Stark *cough* Oh…”dire” consequences hehe. A pun appears without any effort.
Again Dunk and Egg are excellent filters to view this deadly pageantry. They are young but are becoming more worldly in their travels, but not so much yet that their sights are jaded. The reader is brought into the conclusions that the hedge knight is forced to make even though he doesn’t like it. Dunk is a character who wishes for the world to be black and white, as many in our world do, for it would be simpler. Be a good knight, protect the helpless, defend the weak, serve your sworn knight or lord, but as in the first novella with Tanselle and Aerion, it’s not always so easy. Being a “true knight” in that case nearly cost Dunk a literal limb, and serving Ser Eustace meant that the hitherto “loyal” knight was in the thrall of a “traitor.” This is an echo of the dilemma Jaime certainly faced in the last day of his service to Aerys. Being a knight is supposed to be easy in principle, but nothing is easy in a world made of grey.
As before I shall reserve my judgment of the novellas until I review them all. I should have The Mystery Knight up before the end of the weekend.