Because of one of my library’s last batch of books, I was thinking about unwritten rules today. One of my works in progress gets most of her characterization from her society’s unwritten rules and her ability to use them to her advantage: these are the principles from which she operates.
There is a kind of person who is beyond reproach. Strike at her, and society will return the blow with three.
She does not start fights. She may stand in defense of another, who cannot raise hand or tongue for his own sake; would she be respected still if she did not? She may prevent clashes of word and of fist, may intervene in one that has begun—though she is a fool who does so in a fight she does not know she can sway—and as long as the first blow was not hers, no blood will stain her when she emerges, and the blows she has taken will be a sign of honor.
She knows the masters by heart—all three hundred and forty-seven—and wields their arguments as a scholar does his pen. History, literature, art—if it might be known, learned from, quoted, she can and will. Many assume she remembers the names of the Regnants.
She makes all that she does look effortless, simple. A project of hers that would gain sentience as soon as its last stitch was made might appear from a respectful distance to be the work of a week at most.
She puts herself together with the same complexity over simplicity that she does her projects.
No matter the dispute in which she sits, no matter the thorns it possesses, she never pricks her finger upon the artichoke*.
Most importantly, there is no rule that she does not know. Whether it is written in the great scrolls of the law or grasped as a child grasps the words of his parents, she is aware of it and pays her respects to it.
And in keeping to every code, written and unwritten, she becomes the flower of society. In doing so, she gains its favor. The arrows of her foes are turned aside; their calumnies flow off of her like water over the falls. The rules are the tools of her trade, her armor, her weapons, her sustenance, her concealment.
*Societal imagery; in this culture, artichokes are traditionally boiled and eaten during mediation. The time required ensures that the meeting is paced, and the thorns, along with the challenge to fine motor control they generally present, provide a means of saving face for a participant who loses emotional control.