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The Oath-Breaker
Jaime Lannister's betrayal earned him the nickname The Kingslayer.
"I'm the bloody Kingslayer, remember? When I say you have honour, that's like a whore vouchsafing your maidenhood."
Jaime Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire

In fiction, oaths are powerful things. They bind demons. They bind honour. They create pacts that grant great power. They are things to be respected, feared, and fulfilled.

And then there is the Oath Breaker.

This is the character that has broken a oath of some sort be it magical or mundane and now is forever branded by his misdeed. Sometimes they see this as almost a trophy. Sometimes this is seen as a mark of shame. It almost always brands the character as a pariah until they manage to restore their lost honour.

This is not just a character that has broken a social taboo. They need to have broken something that they have personally sworn. May be the result of a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow.

Some characters will feel this even after Releasing from the Promise or the oath's becoming impossible to fulfill.

It is not unknown for a character to beg another to allow something that would technically fulfill the vow to avoid this.

Often follows from someone saying I Gave My Word, Blood Oath, or Heroic Vow.


Examples

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    Ballads 

     Comic Books  

  • In Planet Hulk, Hiroim the Shamed is a member of the Hulk's Warbound, sworn allies for life. Hiroim, however, was ostracized from his people for breaking a previous Warbound pact, and accordingly given the appellation of "the Shamed" to forever mark his treachery.
  • In Sandman by Neil Gaiman: "As this blood is shed, so spills your blood, Ruthven Sykes, adept of the 33rd, whose secret name is Ararita... Traitor and Oath-Breaker." Cue skull implosion.
  • While Cyclops of the X-Men has numerous other issues, one thing that people throw in his face every now and then is how he married Madelyne Pryor, fathered a child with her, and then ditched them the minute Jean Grey came back from the dead. (During Inferno, Mr. Sinister claims to have psychically manipulated Cyclops into that betrayal, but even Chris Claremont, the guy who wrote that story, considers it a blemish on Cyclops' character.)

     Fan Works 
  • In An Alternate Keitaro Urashima, Granny Hina tries to guilt-trip Keitaro into taking over the Hinata Inn by talking about how disappointed she is that he's forgotten all about his Childhood Marriage Promise. Keitaro retorts that he made that back when he was five. When she keeps pressing the issue, he reveals that she previously promised the Inn to his aunt Marumi, a more serious vow that she's since broken.
  • Queen Of All Oni: This is how Karasu refers to Drago, as the latter swore an oath of loyalty to the Matriarch (Jade's future self) after she freed him from Verde's control, only to eventually betray her.

     Literature  

  • Jaime Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire; the broken oath and consequences thereof define large chunks of his character, as well as earning him the nickname "The Kingslayer". He killed Aerys II Targaryen after swearing to protect him, and even though Aerys had a nickname of his own ("The Mad King"), and one of the main reasons Jaime did it was to prevent the sending out of the Mad King's order to burn King's Landing to the ground to "thwart" an impending sacking, he is treated like the lowest of the low by most of the nobility, even in a Crapsack World where people like Gregor Clegane, Qyburn, Joffrey Baratheon, and the Bolton family exist.
    • Those that leave the Night's Watch are condemned to death for breaking their vows and deserting The Wall. Ned Stark tells his son that there's nothing more dangerous than an oath breaker whose life is now forfeit. They will do anything to survive.
    • Lord Frey is generally viewed with suspicion because he is infamous for not picking sides until the odds are heavily stacked, and his late arrival to a battle to defend his liege lord earned him the In-Series Nickname "The Late Lord Frey." However, House Frey as a whole stepped it up several notches when they violated the law of Sacred Hospitality at the Red Wedding.
    • Jorah Mormont is treated as this by Daenerys once his spying for Lord Varys is revealed. In the fifth book, he attempts to capture and bring her Tyrion to win her favor again.
    • The worst example is/was The Night's King, who broke every vow of the Night's Watch good and hard. So much so, that what he did has tainted the reputation of the Nightfort. In fact, he's practically blamed for metaphorically cursing the place to constantly have horrendous things happen in and to it.
  • Marietta from Harry Potter, told the location of their secret hideout to Professor Umbridge after signing a magical contract claiming she wouldn't do that. As a result she had the word "SNEAK" appear on her face made out of pimples and was shunned by her classmates.
    • Not to mention Peter Pettigrew.
  • Merry Gentry's cousin Cel has broken his oath. It's a huge scandal because among the fey this carries a death sentence, but everyone is so afraid of his mother that they don't do anything about it.
    • Merry also becomes head of The Wild Hunt for a night in order to punish an oathbreaker.
  • In typical fashion, the Vorkosigan Saga has an example of this, but it's not that simple. Ekaterin's husband was killed in a accident immediately after she told him she was leaving him. Because she never went through with the divorce her honor remains intact in everyone else's eyes; but she knows she's an oathbreaker, and suffers the shame of it.
    • Miles himself qualifies, for the events in the first part of Memory. He also provides a more balanced perspective: sooner or later, "death before dishonor" means everybody is either dead or forsworn.
  • The Dead from The Lord of the Rings. Isildur cursed them when they swore to help him fight and then refused; three thousand years later, they break the curse by helping Aragorn — the Heir of Isildur — instead.
  • The novel Oathbreakers, from the Heralds of Valdemar series, is about the heroic duo, Tarma and Kethry, avenging the murder of the leader of their mercenary company at the hands of her brother, the king of Rethwellan. When they find out what he did, they invoke the Oathbreaker's Curse on him and enact some spectacularly karmic revenge.
  • In The Dresden Files, Harry has a literal Fairy Godmother. But... this is The Dresden Files. It's not what you think. He made a deal with her a long time ago that says that she can now do with him as she pleases - and it turns out that that is to transform him into one of her hunting dogs. He's had to dodge her attempts to collect on his debt. However, it turns out that she really does want to him safe since she made a deal with his mother, and part of her reason for wanting to transform him is to keep him safe at her side.
  • Nick Seafort from the Seafort Saga broke an oath to save his ship from a Well-Intentioned Extremist. Although other people see nothing wrong in his actions, he considers himself damned to hell for it.
  • In the Discworld novel Jingo, "71-hour" Ahmed got his nickname from violating Sacred Hospitality and killing his host (Klatchian Sacred Hospitality lasts for three days, or 72 hours). He wears the nickname proudly as a way of inspiring fear and distrust, which is a good thing for him since he's a Cowboy Cop and being feared by criminals is a definitive bonus. As for the man he killed, he was an admitted mass-murderer.
  • The man who's name is not Jack Bannister apparently got quite rich by being one of these, according to Fisk in the Knight and Rogue Series.
  • In the Chronicles of Prydain, breaking oaths is one of Arawn's most infamous habits. If this guy makes a deal, he WILL break it. No matter how little it might cost him to keep it. Or how much more dangerous NOT keeping it could be. And SOMEHOW, there are always more idiots willing to make deals with him.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only In Death, Ezrah thinks the only way he can atone for surviving Gaunt's death is to go on a rampage against his enemies until killed.
  • In Jane Austen's novels:
    • In Northanger Abbey, when Isabella breaks her engagement with Catherine's brother to take up with Captain Tilney, it is taken as a matter of great gravity. Henry and Eleanor only manages to persuade Catherin to stay as their guest by assuring her that their brother would not dare bring her to their father's house.
    • In Sense and Sensibility, Lucy's breaking her engagement with Edward Ferrars for his brother is treated as shocking — even though Edward no longer wants to marry her and maintains it out of pure duty.
  • In Dante's Divine Comedy, the lowest sphere of Heaven, the Moon, holds the oathbreakers. Dante meets two women there who had taken vows in a convent and then been taken out to be married. He objects to Beatrice that they had been forced; Beatrice says that if you gave The Promise and are forced not to fulfill it, it doesn't count as oathbreaking, but you are not forced if having been forced for a time, you don't even try to fulfill it as soon as the force is removed, you break the oath at that point.
  • In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Rosemary and Rue, Toby thinks how Sylvester would do Releasing from the Promise if she asked. So she never will, given changelings' reputations as The Oathbreaker.
  • In Poul Anderson's "The Live Coward", at one point the narrator observes that a member of the Patrol must be willing to make promises that he will break without hesitation.
  • The Book of the New Sun:
    And they swore me never to reveal it save—as they did—to one about to enter upon the mysteries of the guild. I have since broken that oath, as I have many others.
  • In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, Princess Ludorica talks to Roane about the crown, taking her for a Guardian. When she realizes that she is not, she is distressed at revealing what she had promised not to.
  • Rana Sanga in Belisarius Series is less an oathbreaker then an oathdodger. He manages to avoid an oath which has bound him to fight for an evil empire simply by using the Exact Words.
  • In Andre Norton's Catseye, Troy reacts with fury when he was promised safety and was attacked. Later he realizes that the men who attacked were not those of the man who had promised and apologizes.
  • In Andre Norton's Forerunner Foray, the sensitive who reanimated Turan's body has enough of his memories to throw at Zuha, his widow, her oft-repeated promise to revive the custom of joining her husband in his grave.
  • In Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog, Verity tells Ned that Terence can't break the engagement, only Tossie can. When Terence meets Maud, he is keenly aware that this would be reprehensible.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, those who walk the Dark Path were greatly strengthened when a Vestal Virgin broke her vows in the Back Story.

     Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor considered his past self, the War Doctor, to be his own oath-breaker:
    The Doctor: My name, my real name, that is not the point. The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it's like, it's like a promise you make. He's the one who broke the promise. Clara? Clara! He is my secret.
    The War Doctor: What I did, I did without choice.
    The Doctor: I know.
    The War Doctor: In the name of peace and sanity.
    The Doctor: But not in the name of the Doctor.

     Table Top Games  

  • In Deadlands: Hell on Earth, Oathbreaker is specific disadvantage sykers can take. It means that they have broken 'the Oath of Unity', a promise to never attack a brother syker (generally interpreted as a syker from the same unit or one of its allied units).
  • Changeling The Dreaming featured Oaths quite heavily. Characters who made oaths gained sizable bonuses, but those who broke their oaths lost far more. An oathbreaker was also heavily ostracized, and an entire noble house of The Fair Folk were treated as pariahs because they had broken a forgotten oath in ages past.
    • Changeling: The Lost also puts heavy weight on oaths, but for different reasons. Breaking an oath earns you a measure of disrespect in changeling society, likely has tertiary consequences if you swore it on something important (e.g., your faith or your fortune), is a sin against Clarity... oh, yeah, and your Keeper is perfectly aware that you did it, and may likely be hobbled by the conditions of the broken pledge.

     Mythology and Religion 

  • As The Other Wiki says, the most commonly accepted etymology derives the word "warlock" from the Old English waerloga meaning "oathbreaker" (from waer "promise, agreement" and loga "deceiver").
  • Ironically, Oathbreaker is one of the names of Odin, head of the Norse gods. Given that intangible things like vows are supposed to be impossible for gods and the like to break (the god wolf Fenrir was bound by a ribbon made from such ingredients as the root of a mountain and the beard of a woman), the fact that Odin can do that is rather frightening, especially when he can extract vows from everything else in the world and expect them to be kept (like when he made all the things in the world, save one, give an oath to never hurt his son Balder).
  • Samson fell after breaking his Nazarite vows.

     Religion  
  • During the witch trial era, some pagans who gave their oath to secrecy broke that oath. Anyone who does so, male or female is known as a warlock. This literally means "oath breaker." So, calling your male Wiccan friend a warlock is highly offensive. Both male and female practitioners are called Witches (unlike in Harry Potter, which — in case you missed it — is not intended to be a guide to real-life practitioners of anything remotely occult).

     Video Games  

  • Cassiopeia of League of Legends was once a beautiful human woman who served as a spy for Noxus by seducing foreign diplomats. However, upon breaking an oath of secrecy to a certain Freljord noble, she was cursed and transformed into her current snake-like form.
  • The premise of God of War: Ascension, which takes place before the first game, is that Kratos betrayed his blood oath to Ares when he left Ares' service after the god of war tricked him into killing his wife and child. The Furies who punish oathbreakers and are complicit with Ares' plan to conquer Olympus with Kratos' aid hunt Kratos and torment him with illusions trying to force him to return to Ares' service.
  • Illidan Stormrage of World of Warcraft has not only turned his back on the kaldorei- his native people- but has also spurned the aid of Sargeras and Kil'jaeden, the highest commanders of the Burning Legion. He has thus been branded as "The Betrayer" and is loathed by both mortals and demons.

     Web Comics  

  • In Girl Genius, Captain Vole is the only person who underwent the transformation into a Jagermonster who has broken his oath of Undying Loyalty to the Heterodynes. As a result, he is no longer considered a Jager by the others. Nor by himself, as he calls the other Jagers weak and takes pride in no longer being one of them.
  • Eugene Greenhilt from The Order of the Stick went through his life leaving everything he ever started only half finished. The Blood Oath of Vengeance he took as an (ex-)apprentice is the first commitment of his to catch up to him. Leaving the oath unfulfilled by the time of his (permanent) death resulted in him being stuck on the wrong side of the heavenly gates in his afterlife. He spends most of his time in the series harassing his eldest child Roy to complete the oath for him by proxy. When Roy dies, he gets let into the Seven Heavens because he actually tried to fulfill that oath... which pisses off Eugene to no end.
  • In Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger, a Confidantine skirts the edge of her vow in which she reveals to Quentyn, and they pounce on this clue. The crime they are trying to identify must have been terrible or she would never have gone so far. A Confidatine who breaks their oath is disconnected from their collective regressing them to infancy which is considered a Fate Worse than Death.


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