Sunday, October 7, 2012

A little bit of magic at Wiesenfeuer.

There is a lot to be said for Wiesenfeuer's championship, both in general, and for me personally. Some of my earliest events were Wiesenfeuer activities, first conspiracies, my first tournament fight and not too few list fields were called before the seats of the prairie fire.

This this year was a little different. Heraldically, there was little for me to do. With some new tormenting formats, and a more condensed schedule, things were different this year, especially after mother nature shoved them off of their first event date, months ago, with the very serious threat of tornadoes and heavy rain starting the Friday before. This year was just a little different. Still fun, to be sure, but different.

But I think the one thing that I wanted to talk about more than anything else was something I haven't seen in years in the north. a truly random, spontaneous, bardic circle.

It started when I chanced across a face I hadn't seen in years.The good lady Bella O'Roark. We'd met ages ago, friendly rivals in the bardic competitions, and fast friends in the late night circles. she's vanished for some time, mundane life pulling her from the SCA. But yet here she was, real a life, under a tent at Wiuesenfeuer's baronial championship, at the same site we had lived so many adventures at in times past.

After the sentiment and the salutations, the quick catching up and the long narratives of what we had done with our lives, Bella said something that was so true that I I had just come to accept it as fact and stopped wondering about it ages ago.

"I miss the late night bardic circles, Ivo." She said. "I kept coming back, and they just never happened."

It was true, the practice of old had quieted to whisper, the skill allowed to atrophies,  wither, and hint at its own demise. Even I, a past champion, had stopped carrying his bard book a long time ago; dead weight that never seemed to be used.

but then something remarkable happened. after several false starts, and a few tries to gather the vanguard around and plan for a circle shortly their after, frustration just got the better of us, and Bella opened her mouth and started singing.

Within two lines the rest of us had joined in, a tale of old, a story put to tune, a tune engraved on the heart of those who used to sing it every day. Our Trio, Bella, my wife and myself, because four and then five. Five dropped to three, and then rose to six. The number varied, but ours was light that would not be diminished once it had taken hold, not then. People stopped conversations and turned to hear the tunes we were singing.  I could seen eyes turned from spouses,  children and friends to put faces to those who's harmony was carrying.

We went around the circle, resurrecting the emotions of times pat, of the magic of the bard and his and her craft. Bell practically begged me to tell one of my stories, and we all got to hear my wife preform Harold and Herald. Bella warmed up, and then brought tears to my eyes with Lady of sorrows, a tune I hand't heard in over seven years.

Four forty minutes or so, an island of performance art stood out in the middle of an after-court social event. but rather than be silenced, I saw person after person turn, listen, and then smile. Appreciating the art that was mine so long ago.

Maybe it's time dust off the old bard books.

Maybe it's time, for the bards of the north to cast their spells once more.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mooneschadowe Provincial Triumph of the Eclipse (2012)

As much as I want to start this narrative on the Friday of Mooneschadowe’s Triumph, the story, for me at least, really begins a week before. I was scarcely a day out of my most recent chemotherapy when we loaded up the car and traveled north to the Barony of Vatavia. Liliana drove the whole way while I sat in the back seat and tried not to think about how bad I felt. “flu-like symptoms” just don’t do the body-wide aches and pains justice. When I got there, the heat didn’t help either, stepping out of the van, even well after sunset told me that the weekend was going to be hot.

As it happened, we spent our nights there at the home of a good friend, Yukiko. The blessing of running water and climate controlled sleeping quarters was about the only thing that got me through the long labor day weekend. A good portion of the weekend was spend with me hiding in shade, trying desperately not to tax was little energy I had left. I had cautiously told the event’s coordinating herald, Johann Steinarsson, that I should be able to help with list heraldry during the day. However, that promise dried up the moment the mercury broke triple digits.

I was energetic enough to mosey through morning wakeup calls with Johann on Saturday. Like I said last the last time I was at Valor, the Calons just have site heraldry down to a science. All of the heralds sat down at a table about half an hour before the calls went out and went over every announcement, and even all the jokes. Sure, there was room for individualizing, and humor, but the odds of missing something critical were minimal. We works in teams of two, and alternated lines on each herald. The announcements were substantially longer than what we’re used to in Ansteorra, but with the alternation, it wasn’t anywhere near as rough as it could have been.

The rest of the event, three days’ worth, was more about me hiding from the heat and trying not to collapse than it was about heraldry. I was heartbroken for not being able to do more. I love heraldry, but there is certainly nothing to be gained by working myself into a hospital stay.

Aside from that (yeah, that’s right up there with “other than your husband, how was the play Mrs, Lincoln?”), it was a good time to socialize, have quiet fun and so forth, so long as my head didn’t feel like it was going to explode. The rest of the time (reference exploding head) I was face down on a table in the feast hall, trying not to cry.

The worst of the event was recovered by sleep, lots of it. But I still wasn’t close to 100% until Friday, a full 8 days after the chemo appointment that put me in the predicament in the first place.

So, moving forward…


This is our event, our chance to shine. Our time to show the rest of the kingdom what we can do. HL Reis ap Tudor, and HL Elsa von Shammach took point on the effort this year as the autocrats. I seriously debated not applying for coordinating Herald. Between… well between a lot of things, not the least of which being my condition, I wasn’t certain that I would be able to manage heraldry for a whole event. But when push came to shove, it would have taken a banishment and an armed guard to keep me from heraldry there, and even then I probably wouldn’t have stayed away.

This year, unlike most, I came in with a team already standing by, and unlike past years, I was coming in with some heavy (and unconventional) hitters.

Baron Donald Andrew McDonald, and Baroness Zoe Mikre, of the Barony of Vatavia, Kingdom of Calontir. While neither of them technically had a lot of experience they are both type-A personalities, and both have performance backgrounds. And unlike most of my heralds, they have brass hats that more or less let them yell at belligerents who might try and make their jobs difficult. It’s hardly a common problem, in fact I’ve only ever seen one of my heralds mistreated one time in ten years. Still, fighters usually notice brass hats, especially landed ones.

Additionally I had some local help in the form of Lord Lucas Mor Mac Raghnaill, a stately fire-plug of a man who’s as formidable on the list field as he is in the bardic circle. The critical thing here is that he brought a very strong sense of obligation to the job; Mooneschadowe is now his group, so he felt that he had to help, more so than fight. As it happened, he got to do both, but to see that level of personal dedication is always a joy to my heart.

Bringing in another member of the “old guard”, her ladyship Adalia Vonderberg yet again picked up the proverbial banner for list heralding. At this point, I don’t think I could have denied it to her if I wanted to, but she is always a welcome sight as far as I am concerned, and I should point out that it was Adalia who taught me a lot of what I initially learned about list heraldry.

On the other end of the spectrum, I had the newest of new heralds come to help. I won’t say a name as she is a child, but I will gladly say that a very eager 8 year old was alongside the field on Saturday, running cards from the heralds to the list mistresses’ table. She and HE Zoe looked to be having a great time during the Guardian tournament Saturday.

Also from Calontir, Marcus Crawford of the Blackhearts lent a hand Saturday. I’ve known Marcus for several years now, and he’s always had the work ethic of a pack mule. A good man, and good company to keep all around, I assure you.

Part of the reason I talked about Calontir at the beginning of this post is that I deliberately took some pages from their playbook. Up there, at least in Vatavia, there was a sit-down conference of sorts before the morning heralds, and chance to make sure everyone was on the same page and up to date. I very actively pressed for the same thing at Mooneschadowe, even if I was the only one doing heralds, I wanted the autocrats there for some of the critical times so that I didn’t leave anything out, or overdo something. Reis and Elsa were both receptive to the idea, but when they said (in effect) “I can’t really imagine how far off schedule we’re going to be”, I politely put my foot down and insisted that even if all they do is pat me on the head and say “yes, that is what we need announced,” it’s better than leaving me, or any herald to their own devices. They saw the logic in my statement, and agreed.

Another thing I brought back was herald’s point. Unlike last time, which I tried to set up as something of a formal office, this was very much in the spirit of a military platoon CP. My desk was a commandeered table, my “Flag” was my green heavy cloak, and my paper were my own herald’s book. What I needed more than anything else was rally point for the heralds, so a lot of the spit-and-polish I tried for last time was just left by the wayside.

Something I really want to point out here, not heraldry related, but fun, was the kitchen Friday night and Saturday morning. When I was there Friday, there was a respectable clump of SCAers, ages 18 and up, several different generations, working away with food and the like. When I walked in Saturday morning, there were about the same number of people, but aside from my wife and Liliana, not one of them was over 15… a bunch of the kids had spontaneously decided that they wanted to wake up and help in the kitchen at 8 in the morning. And from all reports, they did a respectable chunk of actual prep work for the feast as the morning moved to noon.

I did the morning announcements, bringing out my old fair and highlighting the first activities of the morning. I’ve made it a point to add humor to these, it helps lighten the mood, and keeps what might very likely be a tense situation more humorous than not. Later on in the day, I did have one fighter observe that he was about to come out of the tent and “Punch my snooze button” when I did the 8am rounds. To this I only grinned and said “Don’t worry, you wouldn’t be the first.”

At 8:30, I did the first of the previously mentioned “huddles” with the autocrats. It turns out that this was an exceptionally good idea, several things both small and large had changed, and I was given a set of announcements that, frankly, was very different from what I would have said at 9 otherwise.  

As it happened, Adalia took point on List heraldry, with Lucas, Yukiko and said small all filling out the ranks. I wish I had been there, but communication at an event is a full time job, and one that I do take very seriously.

The day was something of an endurance test for me; my body still feeling the effects of chemo, and still recovering from the heat of valor, I was quickly winded to the point of fatigue at several times during the day. But this is where the small cadre of heralds paid off; for the first time in a very long time I was able to dip into a manpower pool and delegate some of the mid-day announcements.  I don’t know why, but it truly is an amazing feeling taking five or ten different, but willing volunteers and being able to coordinate them into a single functional goal. It’s not a power trip, as I have been accused of having, (in the past and recently),  but rather a sense of accomplishment, the ability to something more complex than just muscling through it yourself, and still get the job done.

At the end of the day, I was so proud of the people who heralded for me, I was literally moved to tears when I thought about it. I know that sounds sappy, but until you’ve walked site as much as we have, until you called the rounds on a list, or worked your way through a name in French or Moorish, until you’ve had to walk until your feet heard so that everyone knows what is going on, you really just don’t fully appreciate how much more work it is than “just heralding.”  These People know what it is, and they do it asking for no reward. That, more than anything else, is something I am always honored to be part of.

Evening brought with it Feast, which my household was the principal organizer for. My Wife and Lady Liliana were the feast stewards, and Lady Svetlana the head server. I, for a number of reasons (sleeping with the head cook might be one of them) was tapped to announce the courses as they were served.  As I’ve said before, announcing courses is something of an emerging art in the north. I don’t often see as much presentation put into it as I think a good feast deserves, so I’m glad to encourage the trend.

Additionally, being the herald, as it were, for feast afforded me the ability to be just about anywhere in the feast area whenever I wanted, a luxury that even the servers didn’t have a lot of the time. I walked around the tables to see how people were enjoying the food. The first course was Russian cheese bread, with cilantro, called khachapuri. A lot of people hesitate as the sight of green cheese… but when the first adventurous souls tried the food, it quickly turned into a feeding frenzy, with more than a few spouses keeping their significant others away from scraps with kitchen knives. The Schi, a vegetable soup with kielbasa, almost didn’t last long enough to hit the table. One person even came in to the kitchen and almost shouted “I hate soup and this is ******* awesome!”

The meal rounded off with rosemary chicken and then rugelach pastry and a fruit dish called kisel. The feasters were having the time of their lives, while the servers were almost knocking each other over trying to inhale their portions of the same meal. As feasts go, this one was a roaring success, the people loved it, the servers seems to have a blast, and the kitchen was not the psychotic mess it has been at times in the past.

Court was uncharacteristically short for Mooneschadowe, but the awards were important.

Of course, the first order of business was the Triumph itself, a  procession of the old and new champions in roman ceremony style. I recall Lord Lucas being one of the heralds announcing the winners, but the other face was out of my view. As much as the triumph is a heraldic activity, it has been the pet project of Mistresses Gilyan and Emma ever since its inception, and I have not had the time or the inclination to add it to my list of responsibilities as of yet.

Moving on to the awards, Reis’s daughter Asha was called into court for her Rising Star after reportedly taking more active a role in the college of heralds than some of its local officers Continuing on that theme, Master Etienne’s daughter also received her Rising Star.  Alice, a college student and hard charger in the newcomer’s cadre received her Comet, as did Paloma, one of our old-guard players.

And last, but certainly not least, was one that was close to my heart. My adoptive niece, and member of house Dogwood, Lady Caer, received her Comet for service to the Province, all at the age of 13.

The night at any event is usually an interesting time, Triumph was no different. It’s amazing what a little alcohol and not a lot of sunlight will do to people. The conversations, for those looking to have them, are always enlightening.

The time being what it is, I think names are best left out, more out of respect than any subterfuge of anyone’s part. But I started the night off just walking around, seeing who was where, who was talking to whom, and who was doing what. I spoke with old friends and made new ones, I listened to gossip and talked shop with people whom I had come of age in the society alongside.

One conversation I do want to call out was a fascinating chat I had with a local, one of Mooneschadowe’s own.  I’ve only spoken with her a few times, and never had anything bad to say about her. But that night we wound up parked on a bench under a lamp, watching a rowdy drinking fest a few dozen yards ahead, talking about our respective roles in the game.

In a society where 95 out of every hundred fighters are men, armored women are obviously scarce, and as both genders have a spectrum of how seriously people take it, a woman with her head fully in the fighting game is a rare thing. But that night, I not only spoke with someone who was devoted body and soul to fighting, but had as strong an idea of the underlying currents that run with the sport as most squires I have spoken with. She didn’t talk about just “becoming a knight”, but concentrated on her personal journey getting there. It wasn’t that she just understood that it took a long time to become a peer, but she understood that that the journey was part of the peerage. We also spoke of priorities, and her has quite  a few, and by her own words she has to pick which ones get her attention. Loyalty, honor, love, kingdom, province; the same scales that anyone in, or associated with the fighting community, knows about but so few seem to really understand.  And yet, here this spunky twenty-something had already identified them, chosen her place between them and was talking to me in terms of two and five year plans. Where most people her age, no matter the gender, would likely define “loyalty” as who their friends are, in her words I heard talk of principles, of honor, of personal integrity. I heard concepts spoken with fluency that some people a decade her senior couldn’t articulate.

At one point in the conversation, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders cordially and said “oh my God, you are such a keeper. Thank heaven we have you.” But at the same time, in the back of my head, I was thinking about all of the same issues in my life where I lacked comprehension. It wasn’t that she was better at anything than myself, or I more so than her., but rather to see someone almost a decade younger than me who’s sense of self within the society was so firm, where mine isn’t so rock solid…

Honestly, I walked away from the conversation thinking to myself “I think it’s time I get off my ass on a few issues of my own”.

Dawn came too soon, and I was more than a little shaky after less than four hours sleep following a very long Saturday.  The only real order of business left was the Insegnante, the provincial rapier competition. Unlike the Guardian tournament, running the rapier is a made more challenging by the fact that just about no one got enough sleep, and we are all felling the effects of Saturday. However, unlike previous years, I was really, really pleased with how the heraldry turned out. We had enough to rotate heralds in, and we had enough experience the day before to more or less (slowly) jump back into the game. For the first time in several years, I felt like the total quality of heraldry given to the rapier fighters was worthy of the quality they give us, and that is something I am very grateful for.

I remember when we first renamed out event to Triumph of the Eclipse; some people thought that we were referring to the struggle we went through to become a province. Some even accused us of (not so quietly) sticking out tongues out at the kingdom after finally making it to our unique status as the only Ansteorran group of its type. But what so few of them really understood was that our events were a triumph for us. A challenge in logistics, will, personality and loyalty. Every year we come together, different people with different ideas, and work together against the elements and time to put together an event that we are proud to call ours. Its not easy, which is way we say it is a struggle in places. But we do it, which is why our success really is a triumph, and why I, at least, am glad to call it such.

And this year everyone who worked with me at heraldry can claim part of that triumph as their own. 

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ansteorrian Heraldic and Scribal Symposium

So where does one begin with a weekend quite like the one I just had? I suppose that if I am to retain any understandability I would start with the beginning, but the best parts are so much later on.

Friday, my wife, my son, Lady Liliana and her daughter loaded up and headed south for the Ansteorrian Heraldic and Scribal Symposium.  This would be part of my effort to get back  “into” heralding and something approaching my old activity levels in the SCA. The plan was to drive down to Elfsea and stay at the home of my Pelican and his wife, then finish the trip to site in the morning.

It was good to see Robert again. It’s been almost a year since we had a chance to see each other and so much has happened since then. Robert and I have been friends  for better than a decade, almost 15 years at this point, and the best part of the friendship is being able to just sit and talk with him, sometimes about the SCA, sometimes about writing, sometimes about books… sometimes about nothing at all, and just bounce ideas off of each other for no other reason than to see the other’s thoughts on a subject. A unique relationship, but a good one to be sure.

We were all up the next morning and on the road very early, the drive from Elfsea to Rosenfeld was another two hours, and classes started relatively early so we wanted to start off on top of things. We rolled into site around 8:30 and my wife signed us in.  His Excellency Tostig was there, and showed me my classroom for the morning. He even had the forethought to pick a room where (of I needed to) I would be able to go out on a back balcony and herald into a open grove of trees. While I hadn’t planned on a “lab” element to my class, this advent certainly was something I was ready to take care of.

Classes started around 9, and I was set up and ready to go just before the top of the hour. I had brought five copies of my handouts, and was planning for a class of two to four people for each of my list and site heraldry classes. About half an hour into the first block, I sort of came to terms with the fact that no one was going to make it to my “Road heraldry” class. I wasn’t devastated, but for a heraldically centered class like AHSS, I was disappointed.

Not long after this Mistress Adelaide de Beaumont more or less swept into the classroom, wanting to touch base with me on a number of levels about classes. Adelaide has long been a teacher of heraldry and voice, and I was able to attend her voice class during a previous AHSS down in in the deep south of the kingdom several years ago. I have to say, her technical expertise o the subject of breathing and projection are second to none that I have meat. Its not that she was or wasn’t able to teach people to project better, but her ability to break down the act of projection into component parts where a person could see each individual step was very beyond helpful when I took the class.

Today, however, she was wanting to talk with me about how much of my class covered breathing and the like.  Aside from the basics, I don’t deal with such items, so that part of the conversation was really only a few minutes of conversation. It did, however (and in true SCA fashion) lead to a hop-scotching conversation across a myriad of topics for the next half an hour.

I wound up following Adelaide to her next class, a basic introduction to book heraldry. While not a book herald myself, I had a number of good reasons to brush up on that part of heraldry. It was interesting listening to the class, Mistress Adelaide certainly has some specifics ideas about how to use each of the resources in the heraldic tool box, so to speak. One of the more telling items of conversation was bit of editorializing about the pictorial  Dictionary (or PicDic). Per Adelaide, showing such a reference to a newcomer who is interested in heraldry was tantamount to heraldic malpractice because it is (in condensed terms) is really only for heralds who know how to use it. Its interesting because I have heard others say, more or less the opposite.

To be clear, both sides are flat wrong on their face because of the use (or implication) of the words “never” or “always.”  While both sides certainly bring a huge number a valid points to the conversation, I would like to think that I can look at an individual myself and make a relatively accurate judgment about their maturity, intelligence and experience, and decide for myself if handing them a technical manual like the PicDic is a good idea or not.

Anyway, my second class was almost as much of  a flop  as the first, the only saving grace was I got to answer a list heraldry question for a friend involved in the youth combat movement. But other than that, no one came in to learn list heraldry.

Lunch was an amazing sideboard done my Mistress Rhiannon. It was here that I sat with a bunch of other and talked shop for a while. I got to swap stories with Danyell Lincoln (or however he spells it today, the man actually keeps a rotating list of alternate spellings for his e-mails).

After lunch, I got to attend a class that was a game changer for me. Master Etienne, another long time friend and fellow herald (and recently announced Golden Staff for Jean Paul and Gilyan), did a class called “court blocking.” I don’t even want to try and recount the whole class, I wouldn’t do it justice, but I do want to point out what he taught me.

Normally, a herald is given the court agenda, and then he maps out the order of things with direction/guidance/approval of the presiding noble. And then during court, he does his best to entertain the audience while court happens, mostly because it has to happen in order for these things to take place.

Etienne turned that completely on its head. He asked himself first “What do I want to have happen here?” and then works the agenda into that dynamic.

In slightly more specific terms, one example is he gave was to say “okay, I want to surprise the audience this time” so the whole court structure was centered on a slight of hand/misdirection that would hinge on a surprise. Then, using that surprise to keep their attention, he would give out the awards he wanted to right after that when most/all of the audience is engaged.

It's not that other heralds don’t use tricks to engage the audience, and its not that other heralds may not think this way (Etienne compared it to thinking like a stage director as opposed to a court clerk), but he is the first to teach it as theory at the academic level, and for me this theory is a game changer. I am seriously looking forward to see when/if I can use this in the future. He’s already given his class a theoretical model we can use to test ourselves. And the gears are ticking even now as I write this.

The afternoon brought the plenary meeting where all of the heralds on site collected and talk business for about an hour, if I recall correctly.

I wont pull any punches, I brought up that I felt (and still currently feel) like heraldry is getting short shrift in some areas. Participation is down, heraldic activities are smaller, fewer and farther between, and getting less respect in some extreme cases. That, not surprisingly set off some interesting conversations, with lots of opinions flying this way and that. I tried hard not to try and dominate, but I certainly will admit that I pushed the conversation as much as I could.

One item of note, just because I found it interesting, was a reaction to the question of largess. The starting point of that was giving out largess to heralds, which is certainly a good idea. Then someone (no names. And if you know who said it, keep quiet!  The “who” isn’t important here) expanded on that a little on that, more or less responding to me, but then stopped and said “Oh, wait, you don’t have a baron and baroness, you can’t do that.”

I frowned at said person really hard just then. “And why not? We give largess and recognition amongst ourselves all the time.”

“You don’t have hats.  Oh! Wait, I guess Jean Paul and Gilyan run your group, so they would be able to do it.”

Even before I could open my mouth to rebut that, about five other people (including one who I could have sworn was literally asleep in his chair) uniformly corrected that “little” isunderstanding.

The point to this isn’t that someone didn’t understand Mooneschadowe, that’s been the case for better than two decades. The only group in the north that didn’t go Barony when given the chance, the first to hold the King’s battle Ribbon (with Northkeep), the “little shire that could,” the shire that baronies went to for help when help was needed, trust me, we’re used to getting funny looks. That part of the comment didn’t bother me in the least.

What did bother me, however, was the idea that somehow there had to be someone ‘important” (read whatever you want into that) in order to give largess.

Just to clarify, largess is broadly defined as any gift given as a thank you and/or in recognition. Anyone can give largess. Now, does largess coming from a Baron or Baroness have some different implications than largess given by someone with only their ambiguity? Of course there are differences, I’m not blind. But the idea (or implication) that largess given from someone who isn’t noble, or royal, or “important” isn’t good enough to encourage or reward service is just…. odd. I’m really wondering if the mental transmission slipped a gear there and what was said wasn’t completely what the person meant.

In any event, the conversation moved on from there, and was finally brought to a close. I highlighted that part more to contemplative purposes than anything else. I value a good conversation, and this is a good talking point.

The afternoon bled into the evening, and the event closed it doors with the usual quiet fanfare of friends (old and new) budding farewell to each other.

The evening was another adventure all to itself. My party rolled back into the Elfsea area about two hours later, and pulled up to the home of Robin of Gilwell and his wife Serena. The plan was to stop buy, buy some books from Serena, and then head out to dinner. I knew that wasn’t going to happy; of all the times I have ever interacted with Robin, the man has been a fountain of good information, perspective and history. I’ve never walked away unhappy with a conversation, and I know few who even might say they have. What followed was a five hour discourse between me, Robin, Robert and Liliana (the rest were running around the house with Serena admiring the books, the comics and the conversation in their own right) that bounced from history to philosophy to politics to religion to mathematics to writing and back again. “Erudite" just doesn’t cover the quality of the overall conversation.

And it wasn’t just that time was well spent, time with people like Robin of Gilwell and Robert Fitzmorgan are an investment for those who are willing to sit down and learn from them, like I was. its more than just information, too. It’s perspective, its scope, it’s the idea that what is happening now is not only unique, but is also part of a trend that started many, many years ago. These are things that I just don’t think can be gotten from e-mail and books.

In fact at one point, our good host lightly apologized, “Sorry about that, you hit my auto lecture button there. Actually, you’ve done that a couple of times tonight.”

“Well, of course I have, Robin! And deliberately so.” I quipped back, meaning every word of it.
We stayed up and talked until well after midnight before fatigue got the better of me and I said my good buys. The family and friends loaded up, and we headed back to Robert’s place to get some needed sleep. The next morning was breakfast and conversation, the usual fanfare for the last day of a trip, and then the return home.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crown Tournament

After not posting at all about my trip to Namron's game, I guess I should make a doubly hard effort to talk about crown. There really are two reasons for this, the first is which is personal; crown is not an event one attends lightly, even of you aren't a fighter. The logistics, the politics and the history of the event dictate that nearly every person who shows up has a reason to be there, and its usually a good one.  This isn't a bad thing, mind you, at least not any more so that the interpersonal dynamics of any other event, but it is far, far more prevalent at crown than most any other event I go to. What this means is anything done (or not done)  by people is more likely to be noticed, and a  lot more likely to be remembered in times to come.  So, for someone working there, the stakes are up a notch, and that's just starting off.

Secondly, crown, coincidently, marks the opening step for me applying to the herald's office of Mooneschadowe, my local group. To be an officer, I have to be warranted, and my Heraldry warrant ran out ages ago while I was still trying to recover from having my mundane  job pulled out from underneath me three years ago.

My wife, Ladyship Lillias MacGuffin, will be stepping down as the local herald, and I sort of came to a realization that if I'm going to get back into this game, this is as good a chance as I'm going to get.  Four years ago, being a local officer wouldn't have worked for me, for a lot of reasons, some very simple, some very complicated. But things have changed, people have moved on, dynamics have altered, and the group that is Mooneschasdowe is not what it was four years ago.  I have a chance, a very real chance, to  get back into the game, to herald, to teach, to serve and to help again, albeit at a different level than before.

So, back to Crown.  There was a warranting class there Friday night, held my his Excellency Kevin Kleary, Northern regional herald, my former deputy when I was in that position, and more directly, a fellow herald and good friend. I arrived on sight just before eight, in time to meet up with a lot of people I haven't seen in ages, and haven't talked with is almost as long. The class itself was well attended; seven students crammed around a table, some new to the heraldic fold, some just getting into it after years of time in the society, and some just plane new altogether. A good mix, a good crew, and a good class. I've warranted before, and the class then was almost 4 hours. When I taught it, it was three, and  had heard that they had it down to two hours not that long ago. Kevin's class was probably two hours, but a lot of that was questions, and interaction between us, as well as Kevin spelling out the basics of being a local herald.  As a funny aside, One of the newer members of the fold asked an interesting question, looking at the men in attendance, he said "Um… is growing facial hair required of being a male herald?"  Kevin and I thought on that for a second and said "not technically, bit it will probably help in the long run."

As for the class, really, being a local herald amounts to three critical things.

  1. Making heraldic services available to the local group.
  1. Turning in reports that track your activity and report it to the kingdom
  1. Knowing who to ask for help when (not if) you run into something you don't know or understand.

Once you get those things down, you're in good shape.

Afterwards, we went on a bit of a field trip; the Autocrat, HE Elizabeth De Calais, needed site heralded for an announcement, and about half of us jumped, while the other half tagged along (with one or two conscripts).  As heraldry goes, it was simple, but it was a great chance to get to meet some of the others.

I had fun with the announcements when I heralded them, ending things off with:

"If you know what I am talking about, you need to attend the meeting in the feast hall. If you don't know what I am talking about, but are interested, you should probably go to the feast hall. If you are currently loading your cross bow in order to shut me up… I will be leaving now."

I got a few chuckles out of that one.

The next day we all arrived again, early, ready for a long, hot day.

I wound up helping to pitch the royal pavilion (after a fashion, but the less said the better on that note).  And bumping into more white belts (in mundane) in ten minutes that I am used to running into over the course of a whole event. But then again, this was crown tournament.

The list heraldry was headed up by HL Adalia Vanderberg, and Kevin was in charge of overall heraldry, with site being the other major responsibility.  In true SCA fashon, a lot of the finer points had not be ironed out yet,  so there was some on-the-fly planning  done through most of the morning.

I was asked to herald site after that. Kevin had woken up the populace, I was asked to remind them to adhere to parking rules (under the threat of  being towed), and let them know that the tavern was open.  Not long after that I was giving the "court is happening now" cry that usually brought the last of the late sleepers out of their tents.

Court was quick, and with there really only being a single purpose for being there the conversation was relatively short.

This was when I grabbed my newly assembled heralds book. Before the tournament itself, there is the presentation of the entrants and their consorts. Each person is to be heralded in, their awards and honors called out to the crown and the assembled court for all the hear. Many of the people in the presentation had brought their own heralds, but some had not. About halfway down the line I was flagged down my lady Maeve, who aside from being a good friend, was also a good herald and one of the pair who helped me cry Eldern Hill's tournament several years before.  She and her husband, Aldric De Kerr were entering the list, and needed a herald.  It took her and I about ten minutes list off all of his and her awards, and than about five minutes or so to write out a workable script. I checked it with them, and they both seemed relieved to hear it. From there perspective, I guess I can see where they are coming from, one more thing falling into place, one more thing not still to do.

When our turn came, I took a deep breath and walked up the aisle as a steady pace projecting every line of the conversation out to the crown, listing off Aldric's awards and accomplishments with all the rigor and pomp could. I stopped at the edge of the Royal pavilion's ropes and let them continue on. After a brief conversation with the crown, we stepped to one side and exited the area. It was smooth, quick, and at least from a heraldry standpoint, as good as it could get. Maeve and Aldric were happy, and I was thrilled that I had the presence of might to bring pen and paper.

Ironically, I only wound up heralding a few fights of the tournament, but the overall effort from the heralds, new and veteran, was sizable. First of all, we had  tournament tree, something I had never seen before. Small placards bearing the arms of each fighter were placed on the tree's branches for each round of the fight. I'm told it is an extremely period thing, but actually managing it required some considerable training for the handful of conscripts we roped into it.

Also, we were running four fields for the first round. The advantage was that we would get  almost fourteen fights out of the way in less than half an hour, a merciful development for people in the sun.  But the drawback was that it meant four heralds trying to keep track of the fights and not call over each other. This is hardly insurmountable, but it does require more discipline than most tournaments, and more attentiveness.

To everyone's credit, and must like most tournaments, things went well. The first round went over without a few bumps and nothing catastrophic, and the second, which was down to two fields, was even smoother still. I helped out with the first round,  mostly showing a rookie herald (also a 17 year US Army veteran) the basics before handing the cards over to him and letting him have fun.  As much fun as heralding is, I have to admit it is almost as much fun taking someone who does know how to do it, and teaching them how. In the interim, however, I was running this way and that, both watching the fighting (with decreasing interest), and running messages and looking for people (with increasing urgency) . By the time the final round came, I was exhausted, both from the heat and from  all the work that had gone into the day so far.

When Count Jean Paul landed the final strike on Duke Miguel, I was sitting down, too tired to really say or do much of anything. But still, I was glad for the day, and the work I had put into it.

At first I had not wanted to go to the pool that Northkeep had paid extra to have open, but when I realized I was taking the heat a little harder than I thought, I relented and decided to take advantage of the chance to cool off.

As it happened, I chanced into Robin of Gilwell while I was there. He was exiting the Pool as I was heading in, and we struck up a conversation as we made a respective preparations.  Robin, for those of you who don't know, is arguably one of the most accomplished members of the kingdom,  soldier, scholar, poet, noble and artist in the truest sense of each word, his experience is the stuff of legends.  I've known of him for many years, and over time have gotten to know him and speak with him on many occasions, never once have I come away from these encounters without something to think about. 

But today was fortuitous for me, because I was getting back into the SCA, somewhat, after almost three years of life-mandated  "light duty".  As tired as I was, I was also conscious of… well, there really are no other words for it… the politics of the situation I was getting back into.  It wasn't just that I knew so many people, but so many people were going in so many different directions, doing so many different things, that conflicts were an inevitable byproducts of that, and I would be amongst it all as a herald, especially a local one.  Add to this that the newly made crown prince is a Mooneschadeen, and part of the kingdom game was just put on our doorstep.

In situations like this, it is almost inevitable that people, at least a few of them, will say "you know, I think you should/shouldn't do this this way or that way…". The catch is that sometimes, there is some disagreement on how much weight you might want to give some opinions. I've picked more than my share of fights in the past, and honestly I've grown up enough to know that there are better ways of doing things, or at least their have to be, even if I don't always know them.

All of this is relevant because at some point, Robin looked at me with the type of expression that simply says "I've been there myself a hundred time, listen to what I have to say",  and told me "Find something you like to do, and just do it. That is the best advice I can give anyone in this game."

I don't know why, but that simple, almost blunt approach to my current career hadn't registered with me. For some reason I had convinced myself that I would have to almost ask permission of everyone around me to do things like herald, or become a local herald, or teach. Its not quite as simple as that, but still, it was bothering me. But Robin was right, it's not for others to decide what I can and can't do, at least not in terms of heraldry. Its for me to chart my own path, and seek my own council in the process. Maybe I would have figured it out for myself, but for I still fell that the conversation with Robin itself was worth it. 

The pool itself was a rare treat. We all left out ranks and titles at the door, and everyone just hit the cold water and enjoyed the relief from the sun.  I must say also, it was a little unnerving looking at some of the kids who I knew whey they were barely out of diapers. Some of them are shaving… and a few of the girls were wearing two-piece swimsuits. The really scary part about the girls was that they were filling the suits out just a little too well.

Sigh… I guess my gray hairs are due any day now.

The event ended for me, like most SCA events do, with the feast and lots, and lots of conversation. I'd have to write another ten pages just to do the topic justice.

All told, however, as an event with heraldry, I feel like I am back in the game, so to speak.

And as a member of the SCA, I am glad to have so many people who were glad to know I was doing well.

I'm back, and from now on, I think I'll have a lot more to write about.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Northkeep's Castellan this year was perhaps the most unique event in the course of my life. This is not for any SCA reason, but rather my own.

In my mundane life, I was recently diagnosed with cancer, a treatable, but aggressive from of Lymphoma. In times like this, I knew that it would be the strength of both my own spirit, and the support of my friends that would get me through the other end of this mess. So I knew Saturday morning as I loaded the car up and helped my wife and son get ready, that this would be an event unlike any I had ever attended.

We left early, and rolled into sight perhaps ten minutes later than I had hoped. It would be a light trip for us, no camping, no major supplies. We were there to socialize. For reasons of health, I wasn't planning on heralding, though even in that intent, I wound up making a few choice cries.

All in all, it was a good day, however. A chance to see people I don't see often, and today we had decided to bring my aging Pyrenees, Herald, out for some sun socialization. In close company is the slightly younger, and much, much smaller Sheba Inu, Pippin, a spastic, wild card of a dog. Herald is old and arthritic, and spent a lot of time collapsing on the ground, but he had a chance to meet people and see new places and explore, and that's the type of thing he enjoys. I wound up taking him home early, but that was okay, I needed the break myself.

Before we left we grabbed lunch at the Wolf Star Tavern. One of the cooks offered up a sausage for us to divide between the dogs. Herald, who was lying down and utterly exhausted, eagerly entailed his half. But when we offered Pippin his, the smaller dog hesitated, not really seeming to understand what in the heck he was supposed to do with the offering. Well the uncertain hesitated lasted all of five second before herald lurched to his feet with unexpected zeal, walked five steps over and inhaled the sausage right out from in front of Pippin's nose. He stood there for a moment, chewing, and when he had swallowed the last bit of meat, he collapsed again, a satisfied groan coming from him.

I wish I had had more of a chance to see the event, but by the time I had returned for the afternoon, things were winding down, and I was still dealing with the after effects of three stitches in my leg. Hobbled and tired, I spent a good portion of the event letting people come to me to say hello.

There were some items of note; not all heraldry related specifically, but the act of rebroadcasting information as I am here is as time honored a job as any other in the herald's resume.

One of Northkeep's own is proving himself quite the man of many talents. Sir Evangelos, a long time fixture in the fighting community, preformed three original pieces in the bardic, as I understand it. And ultimately took the title, despite stiff competition from more veteran competitors. I've known of the man for a long time, and never considered him an artist. It looks as if my appraisal was very, very lacking.

Northkeep this year will be hosting Crown Tournament, the July crown, where the real fight in the third round is between the fighters and the heat. So, during Castellan, they held a raffle to help pay for the extra fees to have the pool open. The target was supposed to be $300, I believe. When the count was over, they bested $500. As good as this sounds here, I'm sure it will sound even better when we're all in the water two months from now.

I have to say watching evening court was a lot more fun that normal for me, Their Excellencies Facon and Keigan kept the pace up, and the emotions sincerer. They had a lot of fun, and the crowd seemed to feed off it well. its a hard thing to keep court going that long, but they did, and better yet, they did it well.

I didn't spend the night, I had to get home with my family. But as always, Castellan was an event worth going to, and I was glad that I made it this year.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Norman Medieval Fair

I guess I have something of a unique relationship with the barony of Namron. The best way to describe it is to say that they have some really cool toys, and once a year, if I can make it, they  let me (an outsider) come out and show them off for a few hours at Medfair.

And when I say "toys", let me go ahead and spell that out for you. They have "Persuasion", a fully functional, SCA combat-legal trebuchet, and a fully functional, SCA combat-legal ballista. For anyone who ever had a penchant for knocking over sofa-cushion fortresses and storming sandcastles, these are the tools of childhood dreams.

This past Saturday, it was a hot, sticky, uncomfortable day when I showed up with my wife and son. I shook hands with, and hugged  people I hadn't seen in too long, then presented myself to the baroness, offering my services.

The first hour was spend gladly melting on the list-field, calling pairings for the fighters, adding pomp and show to the fights while the fighters engage each other with their swords, and the crowd with their wit. I think it was Vincenttee (sp?) who traded out with me, pointing me towards water and shade for a few.

The truth be told, I think there was also a bit of a conspiracy afoot, no doubt my pomp and ceremony clashed to an extent with some of the more expediently minded members of the rapier community. But I hardly begrudge them that, and even now am grateful for the chance to have heralded on it for the time I did.

And then I got to stand by the entrance to the SCA encampment, and work the crowd, proclaiming the the majesty and marvel of war engines designed centuries before Columbus was born. Putting the big engines there was probably one of Namron's biggest strokes of genius; everyone from the very young, to the very old were drawn to the unusual, but familiar shapes of weapons from times past. Children no older than five, and combat veterans in their seventies, and anyone in between, stopped to look on in amazement, thus creating the perfect segue for me to eventually say "oh, and the people who made these are just over there, and they have a million other cool things to show you, too."

The heat won on around four in the afternoon, and I wound up retreating to the refuge of the hospitality tent so that I could get some desperately needed shade and rest. Without realizing it, I had burned myself out under several hours of direct sun and not enough water. My own fool fault really, but a survivable mistake.

In the end, I bid farewell to friends, and said a formal thank-you to the Baroness for welcoming me in, and letting share in Namron's fun for a while.

It was a good day, and one of many more that I hope to have as the year unfolds.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mooneschadowe Provincial Games, and a quiet, but warm welcome.

On so many levels, Mooneschadowe Provencal Games was a nice little reintroduction to the SCA for me. Sort of like coming in from a long walk in the cold, where you’ve been in the wind so long its kind of hard to remember what the warmth feels like. That’s what it was like showing up on Friday night to help set up, and that’s what it was like Saturday being at the event.
Setting up with Mooneschadowe is always a social event. We’ve worked hard to both create and maintain that dynamic. It’s not just “everyone help”, its “everyone come here, help everyone else, and when we’re done we all go out to dinner and find out more about how cool everyone else is.”  I know there are a couple of ways of reading that, (and believe me, not everyone reads it the say way), but in large part, there is a groups consensus that we all have a lot to offer, and the best way to bring that out is to encourage the best in each other. Friday was a lot of. A lot of people showed up, worked hard, and within the space of about minty minutes turned over some thirty man-hours worth of work before heading off to Rib Crib top eat dinner and gab. 
Dinner, it turns out, was important for me. I got to meat two people I really hadn't had a chance to before. (Names left out, because this is public and they don’t need more publicity than they asked for). But suffice it to say that one of them said she liked horses, and the next thing I know my wife and I are trading animal stories for close to an hour and a half.  It was the type of idle chatter that helps build up friendships, and helps make Mooneschadowe what it is. 
Saturday was… low key. At least for me. Watching His Excellency, Count Jean Paul de Sens “Beta test” his  “the king must escape” melee scenario was amusing. It was kind of like watching an armored cross between capture the flag and Football, but set in a rat maze all at the same time. I’ll post photos as soon as I get them pulled off the camera.
There was a wreath’s meeting there as well, run by Mistress Emma de Featherstan, and I was in-and-out of that all morning. As much as I wanted to stay for the whole thing, it was a several-hours long process, and I’m still not terribly enthralled with name and device heraldry. I’m sorry, but people like Mistress Emma and HL Reis ap Tudor actually enjoy the mechanics of names and devices and all that. For me, its very interesting, and very good, but not something I want to spend hours doing when provided with alternatives.
I got to spend a good portion of the day talking with Rose the O (as in Rose the obnoxious, who religiously believes in truth in advertising). It was good seeing her again, and good talking with her. She’s taken up the mantle of regional scribe, and taken to it very well it seems. She set out to make 20 hand-painted “thank-you” cards as gifts for the Calontir crown at Gulf Wars (part of the Gift Basket that the kingdoms give each other). She evidently bested 20 a while ago, and I helped finish one and got about 80% of the way through another one when I was called away. 
The other thing that happened yesterday was that I was reminded what two years out of practice in anything will do to you. It’s been two years since I called a court of any type, and when I was asked to cry the royal court (held by his highness), I was rustier than a beached ship. Between mispronouncing the name of the queen, forgetting the opening and closings of the royal court, and then blanking of the Princess name WHILE I am looking at him, It was, frankly, amateur hour up there and I am just grateful beyond all measure that the audience was in good spirits, and that I had the character to roll with the well-deserved ribbing that came with. But at the same time, I did get to cry three Awards of arms, including one for someone I had just really gotten to know the night before. And another for a guy who I met in the Anime community, and was sort of cross-trained into the SCA. The third was for someone I only know of. But after hearing the Prince detail his exploits so far, I think he’s the type of person that I now want to get to know more about. All told, the event was more of a learning experience for me than anything else, but a good one, and one where friends abounded, new and old. I think the take away from this, for me, was manifold. First of all, the game, and I have both changed, so I need to change with it. As much as I love voice heraldry, I can’t let it be the only pillar upon which I build my SCA career. From a simple strategic standpoint, it’s not wise to be a one-trick-pony when you have a yellow-belt on your waist. Number two, as marketable and wide spread as Heraldry is, it’s not universal, and as I have seen, there is a lot of dead-time between needs for heralds.
So, the first thing I am going to do is get back into scroll painting. I loved it when I painted award scrolls before, and I think it’s time I got back into it. It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it’s something lasting that others can take home and enjoy. Painting those awards charters with Rose reminded me of that, and I think that I’m at a time in my life when charter painting is something I now want to embrace for a bunch of personal reasons.
Secondly, I’m going to brush up on my heraldry. I can’t count how many mistakes I made yesterday before I even opened my mouth. I preach constantly that preparation is everything, and yesterday I totally forgot my own lesson.
Way to go, moron!
Anyway, moving on.
Third in line, while there wasn’t a kitchen there yesterday, I think Its time I start making myself proactively available in the kitchen to help clean. I say this because I’ve noticed that so long as I wasn’t the one cooking, I tend to be able to hit an SCA kitchen with a good head of steam and am more or less not intimidated by the volume of work. That’s going to get me in trouble ome times, I’m sure. But all told, I do want to reconnect with the service roots that I had a long time ago, and I think kitchen work is the best day to do that. 
Lastly, I think it’s time I reconnect with my Pelican. Two years is a long time, and that’s a friendship that needs to be maintained.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God Save the King!"