Niet lang voordat de hitserie op TV was, was ik de boeken aan het lezen. Ik geloof dat ik ergens halverwege deel 2 was, toen het eerste seizoen uitkwam.
Hieronder staat een stuk uit deel vier van de boeken; A Feast For Crows. Wat de schrijver, George R. R. Martin, hier geniaal doet, naar mijn mening, is in een kort stuk beschrijven hoe makkelijk het is voor een man om moreel af te glijden tijdens een oorlog.
Hier in Nederland zijn de verschrikkingen van een oorlog snel uit het collectieve geheugen aan het verdwijnen. Pakweg 75 jaar sinds er op Nederlandse bodem oorlog gevoerd werd. Heerlijk! Een luxe, die vanzelfsprekend is geworden. Vechtkunst trainen we nu als tijdverdrijf, interesse, zelfontwikkeling of sport – maar niet meer uit noodzaak.
Juist daarom is het goed om er nu en dan eens bij stil te staan. In de aanloop naar Bevrijdingsdag is zeker een goed moment! Hoe breekbaar zoiets is. En hoe kostbaar, want hoe verschrikkelijk het alternatief.
Daarom sprak mij dit stuk zo aan uit het boek. Het heeft niets met de hoofdfiguren te maken. In de TV show zit het in seizoen 6 ook min of meer verwerkt, in een andere setting. In het boek is Brienne samen met Podrick op missie gestuurd door Lady Stark, om haar dochters terug te vinden. Tijdens één van hun vele avonden zitten ze met een paar mannen rond een kampvuur, samen met septon (priester) Meribald. Podrick vraagt of een ‘broken man’, een deserteur, hetzelfde is als een crimineel, een vogelvrij verklaarde:
“Ser? My lady?” said Podrick. “Is a broken man an outlaw?”
“More or less,” Brienne answered.
Septon Meribald disagreed. “More less than more. There are many sorts of outlaws, just as there are many sorts of birds. A sandpiper and a sea eagle both have wings, but they are not the same. The singers love to sing of good men forced to go outside the law to fight some wicked lord, but most outlaws are more like this ravening Hound than they are the lightning lord. They are evil men, driven by greed, soured by malice, despising the gods and caring only for themselves. Broken men are more deserving of our pity, though they may be just as dangerous. Almost all are common-born, simple folk who had never been more than a mile from the house where they were born until the day some lord came round to take them off to war. Poorly shod and poorly clad, they march away beneath his banners, ofttimes with no better arms than a sickle or a sharpened hoe, or a maul they made themselves by lashing a stone to a stick with strips of hide. Brothers march with brothers, sons with fathers, friends with friends. They’ve heard the songs and stories, so they go off with eager hearts, dreaming of the wonders they will see, of the wealth and glory they will win. War seems a fine adventure, the greatest most of them will ever know.
“Then they get a taste of battle.
“For some, that one taste is enough to break them. Others go on for years, until they lose count of all the battles they have fought in, but even a man who has survived a hundred fights can break in his hundred-and-first. Brothers watch their brothers die, fathers lose their sons, friends see their friends trying to hold their entrails in after they’ve been gutted by an axe.
“They see the lord who led them there cut down, and some other lord shouts that they are his now. They take a wound, and when that’s still half-healed they take another. There is never enough to eat, their shoes fall to pieces from the marching, their clothes are torn and rotting, and half of them are shitting in their breeches from drinking bad water.
“If they want new boots or a warmer cloak or maybe a rusted iron halfhelm, they need to take them from a corpse, and before long they are stealing from the living too, from the smallfolk whose lands they’re fighting in, men very like the men they used to be. They slaughter their sheep and steal their chickens, and from there it’s just a short step to carrying off their daughters too. And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner that they hardly recognize. They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they’re fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line with their spears and scythes and sharpened hoes, to stand their ground. And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad all in steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world . . .
“And the man breaks.
“He turns and runs, or crawls off afterward over the corpses of the slain, or steals away in the black of night, and he finds someplace to hide. All thought of home is gone by then, and kings and lords and gods mean less to him than a haunch of spoiled meat that will let him live another day, or a skin of bad wine that might drown his fear for a few hours. The broken man lives from day to day, from meal to meal, more beast than man. Lady Brienne is not wrong. In times like these, the traveler must beware of broken men, and fear them . . . but he should pity them as well.”
When Meribald was finished a profound silence fell upon their little band. Brienne could hear the wind rustling through a clump of pussywillows, and farther off the faint cry of a loon. She could hear Dog panting softly as he loped along beside the septon and his donkey, tongue lolling from his mouth. The quiet stretched and stretched, until finally she said, “How old were you when they marched you off to war?”
“Why, no older than your boy,” Meribald replied. “Too young for such, in truth, but my brothers were all going, and I would not be left behind. Willam said I could be his squire, though Will was no knight, only a potboy armed with a kitchen knife he’d stolen from the inn. He died upon the Stepstones, and never struck a blow. It was fever did for him, and for my brother Robin. Owen died from a mace that split his head apart, and his friend Jon Pox was hanged for rape.”
“The War of the Ninepenny Kings?” asked Hyle Hunt.
“So they called it, though I never saw a king, nor earned a penny. It was a war, though. That it was.”