Of Knights and Knaves
The stories are full of shining knights and their tremendous deeds, but not all knights are true, nor are all knights born of nobility. Many young boys dream of becoming knights one day, and girls dream of marrying them. Noble boys may begin training as pages as early as 8 or 9 and then become squires to knights. They may attain their knighthood as early as 15 or 16. Of course, some men never become knights, and old squires are not unheard of. Knighthood is a martial position, so men who are incapable of taking up arms may not be knighted, even if they are the son of a powerful lord.
Knighthood is also a religious matter; thus, it is only embraced by those who worship the Seven. Men of the North who follow the old gods may be excellent fighters in their own right, but they are rarely knighted. The ceremony traditionally involves keeping vigil through the night in only an undyed woolen shift. At dawn, the man walks barefoot to where a septon and knight await him. The septon anoints him with seven holy oils, and the knight touches him upon the shoulders with a sword while calling on the Seven.
However, knighthood does not actually require such ceremony, for any knight can anoint another knight, even in the wild. The aspirant must make his solemn vows, and the knight may grant him his title in the name of the gods. Nobles, smallfolk, and even bastards may all become knights, though no woman has ever been a knight. Knights gain the title of “ser” before their given name; one would say Ser Jaime or Ser Jaime Lannister, but not Ser Lannister.
Calling a knight “ser” is the formal style of address and may be used even if you don’t know the knight’s name. Knights may choose their own personal arms that may be distinct from any family arms; however, only a trueborn son has the right to inherit his father’s arms, otherwise he must come up with his own device.
Of course, some men claim that they are knights when they were never knighted. Although it is hard to prove such, they may be punished for this false claim. On the other hand, mysterious knights who show up at tourneys with hidden or unknown shields, only to be revealed as someone famous or important, make for great stories.
Knights may be granted lands and keeps (and are thus known as landed knights—or if very successful, as greater landed knights). Even the greatest and richest knights have less legal authority than the smallest of lords, however. Knights normally swear their service to a particular lord and do their part to keep his peace and enforce his rule. Those who have no lord and wander are called hedge knights; they tend to be poor and serve anyone who will feed and shelter them.