Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"A gathering of strangers, A collection of friends."

Some time ago, an associate of mine in the society reached out to me, as many people had before her,
and asked if I could come to Namron's protectorate and teach list heraldry to some eager, but new heralds. Aibhilin is a Trimarin ex-pat (Compliments of a military spouse) who came to Ansteorra (by way of a few other kingdoms between) and settled in Namron. I had actually first met her at the Gulf war's before last during a few of my many visits to the Namron encampment. I think she stuck in my mind so well because she was every bit as opinionated at myself, and none the less shy about saying as much, albeit mostly pleasantly.

I had originally intended to sit Protectorate out this year, mostly for time reasons, My mundane life and obligations had worn me out by the time the weekend would have arrived. But, as with so much of my SCA career of late, I went not for want to felt achievement, but because someone said they needed me.

I arrived just in time to say I missed morning court, but none the less, the greetings were warm and welcoming. Namron has always been a welcoming place for me, good people and good friends. It took me a few minutes, as I recall to track down my makeshift host, Aibhilin. As it happened, I found her in the kitchen, already up to her elbows in feast prep for the evening's meal. Each glad for the other to be found, we talked for a few minutes, and then Aibhilin and I went outside to find her four prospective list heraldry students.

As it happened, it turns out I didt know some of my potential students, one of whom I actually knew from the archery ranges. Lady Vigdis had evidently first tried her hand at list heraldry at Triumph weeks before and wanted a fuller explanation of the process this time around. Also joining us would be her husband, Danner. On top of that, we had "captan", who's formal SCA name escapes me, but he preferred Captain for his moniker anyway. And last but not least, rounding out the quartet, we would be joined by  Donnan, whom I had really first gotten to know during the trip down to the previous AH&SS.

After the morning handshakes and introductions, we all agreed to meet for the actual class in about twenty minutes, allowing people to get drinks and settle any last-minute items they needed to attend to. I took advantage of the break myself to head over to the list-mistresses table,  Standing  just behind it was an old friend and fellow herald, Ekaterina Stepanova doch Novgorodskais (I am quite sure she chose the name specifically to annoy book heralds) whom I know much more informally as Kitty.  Kitty, in many respect, came of age right before my eyes, the two of us having met when I was nineteen, and she twelve.   in something of an interesting parallel, we in many ways grew up in parallel in the society, myself a larger-than-life (and not always in a good way) persona, and she a precocious bookworm and thinker. Having returned only a few months before from  several years overseas teaching English in Korea, I've taken as much opportunity as I can these past few events to reacquaint myself with the spirited woman that has grown out of the teen I knew before.
But no matter what, one of our common bonds in the society was heraldry, and I knew the moment our eyes met that day that she would be glad and eager to help me with teaching. Clad in her black german dress (I think it was german, anyway) and brimmed hat, she eagerly reassured me that she was glad to help out.

We gathered as planned, and I more or less launched into my class. On paper, this is the same calls I had performed before at AH&SS this year, but the reality of the matter was that teaching in the field is a very different thing from what a classroom offers. The classroom's sterile academic setting lets me draw pictures and paint detailed concepts in the comfort of air conditioning and quiet. But here, with the field in place and the sun full in the sky, the students were 'there', feeling the heat they would be standing in, seeing the grass and the thrones, the ropes, and the pavilions. While there was a lot that I couldn't teach there, what I could show them was the fundamental groundwork that lets any Ansteorran list herald build their skill sets quickly.

As something of a late addition to the class, a new member named Jessica ran up to join us with an absolutely adorable, 2-month-old German Sheppard puppy in tow. She was scheduled to help cry the youth lyst later that day and had no previous experience at all with lyst heralding.

We talked about the mechanism of the list, the ropes, the list mistresses, the marshals and the fighters, we talked about the salutes and the gestures, and we  talked about the sun, sunscreen, and hats. They were all quick studies, and I was confident that we would see good things from them. I divided them between the two fields, heavy and light. We divided the pupils between Kitty and myself, half taking the rapier field, half taking the chivalric.

About an hour later, the numbers had thinned some> Vigdis and her husband had an appointment at an archery shoot, and Jessica left to herald the youth chivalric tournament.

I actually departed a little early myself, a persistent rumbling from my stomach reminding me that I needed lunch. I left Kitty and Donnan to handle the rapier and heavy files respectively and dodged into the main hall to get the tavern.

Lunch actually proved a good rest for me and a good chance to catch up with a few old friends and make a few new ones. Susan O'Neal, the mother of my aforementioned fellow lyst herald, was chatting with a circle of other friends when I grabbed an empty chair and joined them.

While we conversed, the tournaments ended, and the participants mad their way on to their next appointments for the day. I headed out to the castle on site to see if the archery fun-shoot was still taking place. As it happened, I was late, though I wasn't terribly surprised.  Keenan, the host of the shoot, had hoped that I would have been able to make it by earlier and maybe help herald, but I had known better than to make any commitments I wasn't sure I could keep. He did confirm that everyone had had fun with the shoot, and the archers I did see were smiling widely in aftermath of the event, so in a way, I was sorry I had missed it.

Coming back, I stopped and talked with Morgan, my adopted niece (one of several at this point) out of the Wiesenfuer area. I've had the pleasure (and at times heartburn) of watching her transition from an adolescent to an adult over these past few years, and now being 19, she has the full weight of law and responsibility on her shoulders. For my perspective, I look forward not only to seeing what she makes of herself as time goes on but what she will bring to the world around her as she does.
I ventured back to the hall then, in time to catch a few friends who were socializing between activities. Namely Ahlanna a'Becket, who was jovially conversing as I walked up and joined them. Another acquaintance from times back, I remember Ahlanna from some of my earliest events and can trust that she will always have something insightful, fun, and sometimes 'inappropriate' to add to any conversation. I enjoyed the chance to talk with her, to catch up and swap stories, and to just let the weight of the mundane work week ebb off of my shoulders.

I chatted for about twenty minutes, if memory serves me, including one surprise visit by the current Princess., I took my leave and ventured out to the main field one more time. I found Vigdis and confirmed that the tournament had concluded without any issue and that she had enjoyed crying the list, and more importantly was looking forward to doing it more in the future. Donnen likewise related a glad experience with list heraldry and was glad to help out this time.

Wrapping up the whole affair, I ran into Jessica (her Sheppard puppy still in tow) and was told that she had managed to herald the children chivalric tourney herself without any hangups. Two tournaments, and 5 students in one day. Arguably a successful venture for a herald.

With these words, my work there really was done, I felt. I had accomplished the goals I had set out, and more importantly, Namron had gotten the list heraldry it deserved.

I made my way back to the kitchen one more time to update Aibhilin of our collective successes. I found her once again up to her elbows in food prep, the kitchen bustling with people as the dishes started to take shape. Between stirring pots and shoveling handfuls of spicing into various dishes, we conversed on what had taken place and were both glad for the end results.

For her part, Aibhilin looked like the day was catching up to her, and she was started to sound like it too. I considered saying goodbye then, heaven knows I had planned to stay only long enough to herald and then head home. But part of my brain pulled at me that I might still be needed,

"Do you have someone to cry the removes?" I asked.

"No, actually." she said.

"Do you need me to?"

"Did you buy feast?" I shook my head. "If you'll herald the removes for me, I'll make sure you get dinner."

It was a deal, and on the surface, it was me offering to do more heraldry. Now, I'm not going to deny that I'm a strong advocate for good heraldry, and am glad to add it anywhere I can. That being said, another part of me quietly pondered if maybe, just maybe, I might have an adventure or two left before the night was over. I settled in to make sure I was ready for the feat when it was served.
in the interim, with my other duties fully discharged, I was free to catch up with some more friends and was able to talk with Ainar, and Castellana, Etienne, and several others who were all glad for the visit.

Feast, came just before sunset, as I recall; round tables set up in the main building, chairs clustered around each one, and people huddled togeather for the longtime SCA tradition. I hovered with the servers, all of whom were kids, even by the younger SCA standards. Fully half of them were under 13, and the rest were shy of adulthood. The mass of them stood under the charge of two joint head servers, women who would later confess that this was their first time to hear up servers.

The feast began well, with a steady stream of plates and dishes heading out from the kitchen, and the children plying their youthful energy to the follow-up rounds of lemonade and tea and water to quickly emptying mugs and glasses.

But by the time the second course was ready to go out, we started to see holes in the plan, such as it was. Tables weren't getting some dishes, and we kept coming up short when plating the food. The cooks and head servers were scratching their heads as to why numbers weren't adding up, and the diners were starting to cast sideways looks at the kitchen, wondering if food was going to make it.
And in the midst of this, I noticed that the very energy that we were hoping to channel in the young servers was starting to work against us. Like swarming bees, they were dutifully doing the tasks assigned, but with each one seemingly everywhere at once, but none of them ever clustered at the front window with the others for more than a moment, it was getting hard to coordinate and get ask questions.

I warred with myself for several minutes about speaking up. This wasn't my feast, I wasn't the head server, and I knew all too well that even a quiet, well-phrased suggesting from my hulking six-foot frame and running base voice could come across as a direct command to those who didn't know me.
But even still, the dynamic of the feast was drifting from order to chaos with a persistent but slow pace, and I realized that Aibhilin wasn't  even in a position to see any of it, let alone had time to with the food prep going entering its final phases.

I walked over to the two head servers, giving them both over. I have no doubt that my calm frame and older visage probably helped convey the "I have a plan" mindset I was framing my next move with.
Qualifying my suggestion with a reassurance that they could listen and cast it aside with no ill feelings on my part, I explained to them both, "you need to reign the servers in, and you need to have them all go and stand by their tables. Then go out and walk the length of the hall, seeing what they see."

"Can we do that?" one of them asked.

"You are the head servers, the only people here who realistically outrank you are the event steward and the nobles and royals, and none of them are going to blink at a head server doing her job."

They both nodded, and I'm sure that while they may have said the idea sounded good, it think a good portion of their reaction was that it was probably the first calm communication they had heard since the start fo feast.

With a new purpose, they rounded up the servers, and then quickly ushered them back out to stand by their tables. A moment later I saw them both standing in the middle of the hall, counting tables and heads. I walked over and leaned in close.

"Trust me, you need to be out there, in the trenches with your people. They will respect you for it, and you'll get a better idea of what they are dealing with. What they can and can't hear and see, and what they are walking into."

There was a moment's hesitation, and I could see that they wanted to just play it safe. Sure, they could see the whole hall from where they were, I didn't blame them, either, it is surprisingly easy to be overwhelmed with information at a time like that, and walking into the thick of it didn't sound like a solution.

But, the reminder was not without good reason, and both of them nodded and walked off with confident strides to directly inspect the whole hall in short order.

A few minutes later, they came back with wide eyes and big smiles. The intangibles of my suggestion had obviously just hit them, as well as a few more solid bits of information.

Most critically, the hall had sprouted two more tables on its north end since feast had started. With the collection of tall bodies at the existing rates, and the rush to get the feast out, the whole event had gone completely unnoticed by the feast staff, and as such, we were playing for 14 tables (not counting head table) when there were, in fact, sixteen. Suddenly the confusion of the first two courses made sense. At the same time, I heard more than a few comments of "now I understand what you were saying". The two leaders now better informed of their playing field, set about directing the servers with a clearly stronger vigor and confidence, and the servers reflected the same in their efforts. In the balancing act between chaos and order, we had tipped the scales back into our favor. We also realized that we were at least one server short (and that was with most of the older kids handling two tables already). I didn't blink and volunteered to handle the the extra two tables. From then on, when a remove went out, I would herald it, and while head table was being served, I would grab my two trays and hop in line behind the rest of the servers.

A short time later, HE Andrew waved me over to the head table and quietly asked me to collect one of the children from the kitchen and bring her to head table. I went back and found the indicated (no names, here as she is a child, and not mine for that minor), and walked the wide-eyed eleven-year-old to the front. Andrew asked me to gather the attention of the hall, and I took a step back and let fly with  one of my 'shake the rafters" 'hear-ye's that brought the room to silence.

As it happened, the lady in question had been in the kitchen all day helping to cook and prep food, and had then turned around and served the same feast. Oh, and it was her first event!

Feast moved along at a snappy pace after that, and the whole thing rounded out with her Excellency Kyna personally leading the gracious 'vivat' for the cooks and servers.  The whole thing reached it needed, and correct climax just then, with everyone involved glad for the success, and glad they were done.

I found Aibhilin a short time later, already starting to move things towards the sink. In the hall, people were collecting their feast gear and walking outside, leaving an increasingly quieter and quieter setting. She and I talked intermittently as she moved this pot or that plate. She was coming down off of the rush of a successful event, a sensation I had seen before in many different stewards. There was no point in arguing with her, I just let her sort of wind down.

Court started outside, and I shifted between the hall and the front porch, glad for the conversation with the others who drifted back, close enough to hear what was going on, but far enough away to not bother people with quiet conversations.

Aibhilin  was called about in the middle of the court and rewarded for her work as the A&S champion for the group. She came away from the summons with a basket loaded with goodies, not the least of which was chocolate.

I followed her back to the hall, and joined her as she sat, probably the first rest she had allowed herself all day. We sat and talked, at first about the event and heraldry, and then about the feast, and then abut life in general. She needed the rest, I could tell that, but she also looked to be enjoying the opportunity to just talk. It was my first real chance to talk with her outside of the rush and press of an event. Even our few conversations at Gulf Wars were sandwiched between appointments and activities. It was good to see her with her guard down, tired enough to relax, and happy enough to just let bygones be bygones. her day was done, and she was enjoying the feeling of accomplishment.
With the close of court HE Andrew showed up, a small army of volunteers in tow. Before anyone could say anything, Aibhilin  was back in the kitchen, a pot in her hand, ready to move it over to the sink. I stopped her in her tracks.

"Okay, hold it!" I said to her. "Andrew has the pots and pan, she" I pointed at another random woman int he group, "Can start the water running," I pointed to another,  "And he can handle cleaning the counters." I then pointed right at her. "and you need to get out of the kitchen and take a break."
She wanted to argue with me, I tell by the look in her eyes, and lord knows, she had the mindset to do it had she wanted to.

 But there was more than just the tired but true tradition of "the cook doesn't clean" at play here. These were all people who wanted to help, who wanted to be part of "the process". That type of dedication to the game is partially built on the idea that the person you're helping accept the offer and take the well-earned rest. Sure, its not an absolute, but the general rule I still hold to be true, and in this case, it was really the right thing to do for everyone.
And I think Aibhilin realized that as she headed out to the hall to sit and enjoy some of her chocolate.

Protectorate, like so may other events, ended for me in much the same way as it had started; with people coming togeather. After helping in the press of cleaning work, I decided that I needed to return home, my wife and son were waiting for me, and I had been on my feet a good part of the day.

I said my goodbyes, shook hands with some, hugged others, and waived to many in the distance. I came to the event with some friends, some working companions, and some people I hadn't really gotten to know. I left with more of the former, less of the latter, and stronger bonds with those in the middle.

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

2016 Ansteorran Heraldic and Scribal Symposium.

There were a lot of unusual circumstances for me this year as I loaded up my bags and slipped out of the house mid Friday. My wife and normal traveling companion, as well as my son would not be at my side this weekend, mundane obligations having pulled them away for the time being. But I certainly wouldn't be traveling alone by any means. On my way out of town, I stopped and collected Bridget of Mooneschadowe, one of our newest members, to join me on our trip south.

Bridget, both new and unique in her position, had come to us at the same event, one year before. Not a week later, Kerra, the Kingdom Sign Herald, had effectively gobbled up our new member calling on her mundane training in sigh-language in service to the newly called-for role of sign heralds within the Kingdom. Bridget looked to revel in the role, quickly finding a place in the society unlike any other. But now, a year later, I wanted to make sure she got to see the inner working of the kingdom before spending too much time working for them. The week before, she, as well as my wife and I had traveled south to King's Round Table, a chance to introduce her to the administrative workings of the kingdom. Now, I was leading her even further south, and showing her the inner workings of the kingdom's own College of Heralds.

The First leg of our trek took us west and south into the borderlands between Namron and Wiesenfuer. There, we meet up with friends old and new. Castellana and Meadhbh were two long-time friends from the heraldic community, both having earned their stripes on the lystfield, and having later taken on roles with book heraldry to one extent or another.  Meadhbh was a regular player when I first joined the SCA, and Castellana was a later recruit whom I 'guided' into heraldry. The last addition to our party of five was Donnan, a hard working husband and father who's whole family had joined the society much more recently, and fell in with the good company of house "Patrin Or", a now long-standing band of close friends to my own family.

From there, Donnan took over for us, and the five of us made our way south across the Red River and through the heart of Elfsea and down to Raven's fort, who was hosting this year's symposium.

We arrived late at our lodgings, and I, at least, relished in the chance to catch up on lost sleep from the day's travels.

The next day we all rose early and set out for the short last leg of our trip.

Heraldic and Scribal Symposium has long been a center for both heraldic education and interaction within the kingdom. A chance for the newest and the oldest, the most experienced and the most inquisitive minds within the college to join and interact in a day both free of distractions, and full of too many of them all at the same time.

Upon arrival, I noted something most familiar and wondering all in the same time. The stewards for the event had named each room by way of a heraldic color. Now, as to if this was in any way a response to, or inspired by my work the year before, naming rooms after influential heralds and their devices, I don't know, but I was none the less very glad to see the concept carried over for another year.

Somewhat by design, (and somewhat by happenstance), the majority of my day was scheduled teaching, though I would get to sit in on a few classes as well. I had quipped with the first person in the door for my morning class, "List heraldry 101", that if I had two more people come in I would have officially exceeded my expected attendance. As it happened, not only did I double it, but my protected number of two became six, as no less than the Landed Baron of Raven's Fort walked in and rounded out the last of my students.

List heraldry is something that I don't do enough of anymore, but its a skill-set close to my heart, and as I tell my students, it is one of the rolls in the SCA that helps anchor us more firmly in the past. I often quip that it is the second most marketable skill set in the SCA. To his credit, at the end of class the Baron challenged me as to what the first was. "Dish washing, actually," I replied, and all in attendance laughed in agreement.

The previous weekend, at King's Round-Table (colloquially known as Red Tape), a longtime friend and career herald, HE Tostig Logiosophia (whom I got to know first at 30th year) as asked me if I would teach the voice heraldry portion of the Herald's warranting class. This is not a new request, and Tostig is well known for working to bring the best possible people in on any project. In my case, he knew I would be attending and had quickly worked to secure my teaching time.

As it happened, I wasn't the only subject of Tostig's networking. Newly Back from mundane travels overseas, Lady Ekaterina (whom I've known as "Kitty" since she was twelve year old at her first event) was now the newly minted Actuarius Pursuivant (warranting herald) and teaching the warranting class. The chemistry of the class was a good one, with a small size and friendly feel. Kitty and I had years of banter between us, and I felt that the working dynamic between us made for a good trade-off from her administrative lessons and my overview of voice heraldry.

Lunch followed, and the Barony was gracious enough to host a sideboard for us, letting the students and teacher stay and mingle. One of the event's major benefits for the college and its freelance members is the ability to network and make connections that otherwise would not likely happen. It was good to see friends, old and new as well as trade contact information with some of the people younger heralds there.

I also chanced a salutation with Sir Modius, a newly made master of Defence, making him the Kingdom's only quadruple peer. While only a handshake and a greeting at the moment, I was reminded of our more turbulent introduction and early interactions, personalities and dignities butting up against each other like two suborn rams arguing over a tuft of grass. Where others would probably have sought victory, time taught me to respect the man's demonstrated skills, and I have come since then to admire his accomplishments, even if we disagree with each other on the details as often as not. That insight, as much as anything else, is what heraldry has given me that I doubt fighting ever would have.

The afternoon classes for me were twofold, the first was my two hour Site Heraldry class (link to textbook). The attendance was understandably light, and I had expected it to be, not a lot of people what to sit in on a class that long. But I very clearly market the session as "Here is decade and a half of the mistakes I have made so that you can go of and make plenty of your own." This tongue-in-cheek summary aside, I take my instruction on site heraldry very seriously, and my students almost always walk out of the class glad for the time spent.

I moved next to Castellana's rotatable discussion of how to promote local heraldic activity. This class, such as it was, is really the latest evolution in an ongoing conversation had by heralds across the kingdom. With over half of all the groups opting to not field a herald in their local officer corps, and some of the college of herald's administrative missteps not always showing the best face for our customers, heraldry as a field in the kingdom seems to vacillate between "neat" and "why bother" for the general public. For every person we welcome newly into the fold, there is another we seem to have put off with a ill-advised statement, or a poorly worded comment on a submission. As much most things, the idea of expanding information and education if the college's best tool against the naturally shifting tides of interest and indifference.

It is worth pointing out that the ideas shared there were diverse, and fascinating. Heraldry is far from the dead art that many seem to think it is today. I grant you, as the foundation of the United States broke the very tenants of the English aristocracy and the social system that make heraldry so relevant its not hard to understand why so many Americans have no concept of why arms and devices and their display is so important. When we talk about badges, most will think first and foremost of the gold shields carried by police officers today, and this is not an unfair comparison, as the badge carried there has some striking parallels to royal or noble retainers who carriers their lord's badge in ages past. But the example is too narrow, and it really is up to heralds and local leadership to help promote education and use of the arms within the society today.

The final class of the the day is a new entity entirely to my classes. One of the byproducts of my new officer of "submitter relations" is that I was able to really hone my skills at 'bird-dogging' lost submissions. My current record is 12 years lost, with only a fragmentary blazon for a starting point, and I turned that into a full submissions. By the time the last heraldic a scribal symposium arrived, I had jokingly codified my trade-craft into a discipline jokingly called "forensic heraldry". While I don't have any of the tools or gizmos that make CSI so fun to watch, the basic detective type work I do, starting with fragmentary information and building out from there, is uniquely rewarding. The "forensic" part is no joke, however. There is a lot of  "if x happened then Y had to happen" and "I don't' see A, so there is a really good chance B didn't go down either."  Complete with interviews, paperwork, and even a money trail. (I'm not kidding, "follow the money" will take you places in this world).

So, anyway, I have soft of taken it upon myself to make a class out of this new skill I seem to have created, and that was the last hour class of the day for me. The one thing about the class that I made sure to impress upon everyone was this, however.

"At the end of the day, when you're done tracking down the submission, there is one thing you are going to know without any question, and that is the name of the person who lost it."

This is very true, in every case I've work on so far, the name of the person who lost the submission became self-evident early on.

"What I advise you to do is this, jot it down for the sake of posterity, and then promptly forget it. We are here to fix submissions, not rake other heralds over the coals. If you happen to see the same name show up several times, send a letter to star with your factual findings, and then again, forget you ever found that name. This is a customer service mission, not an inquisition."

So, ending on that note, the event itself concluded with a royal court thanks to their majesties attendance, and two grant level awards being handed out, amongst others. The one drawback to the day was the air conditioning took that moment to shut down, so the call was a little warmer than I might call comfortable, but all told it wasn't unbearable.

Following that, we made a mass exodus for dinner, and as I shortly found out, there was local steakhouse that was a favorite amongst the SCAers there.Fully a third of the event must have descended on the  place. Our group were some of the the first, and we got a take near the back. As we all sat down, instinctively clustering together as we waited for others to join us, I said "we should spread out, that way when everyone else shows up we have new people to talk to. The plan, such as it were, worked wonderfully, as we were joined by, amongst others, Her Excellency Elisaveta Af Isafjord, pelican and newly made baroness of Northkeep. Elisaveta and I have known each other for ages, and it was good to speak socially, something we don't always get to do at events. Another longtime friend of mine who joined us was Annais, who I also have known for years. Annais is a Namron ex-patriot moved to Northkeep, and like me, one of the people who will probably grow old and gray burried in projects we only just barely have the time and energy to tackle. A kindred spirit through and through she was someone else I was glad to see again.

After dinner, we all said out farewells and departed, my traveling companions loading up for the trek back to our lodgings for the night.

As something of a side adventure, I well it worth talking about a endeavor undertaken by Bridget. As we're all want to do, the five of us talked about heraldry in its many forms through the trip home. One of the branches of that conversation was a part where I pointed out that while I support the office of Sign herald, and its duties, there was limited historical justification for translation type services like this in courts. Bridget seemed to take some measure of (good-natured) umbridge  to this suggestion, and set to work then and there (courtesy of her her Iphone) to see how far back she could document sign language in a royal court setting. To my sock, (and with largely preliminary information in the moment), she was able to document the practice of finger-spelling for deaf courtiers as early as the 1620s, practically at the doorstep of the 1600 line that we generally accepts for a workable cutoff. I am hoping she manages to firm up her findings and publish them some day, as I fell that the office of sigh herald could use the historical bolstering, at least in the kingdom.

And not long after, we came to the front door of our shelter for the night. I think there was an even blend of excitement for the event and fatigue from a long day by then, most of us were just glad to have beds waiting for us to sleep in, even if they weren't our own.

Like so many events, Heraldic and Scribal symposium was only partially about the classes, thought those were, and will always been on of the cornerstones of its purpose. The real advantage of the event is its ability to bring people together in unique ways and to build new relationships and spark interests within the college of heralds of Ansteora. And in that I feel that the event was an outstanding success this year what what I could see.

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Thoughts between the cries (Northkeep's Castellan)

One of the things that site heraldry has afforded me over the years is a unparalleled chance to philosophize. I'm not joking, between cries, there is all of the walking I have to do, and in my case, that walking is a perfect mental laboratory for me to dissect and study thoughts of all different types.

I had made the decision to head out to site Friday earlier in the week. I already had off of work, so the option was worth taking advantage of. I went without garb, planning on both saying high to people and helping set up where I could.

Between all of the normal greetings, my first real 'contemplation' (to be dramatic about it) struck me.

It's no secret that the SCA is, in full, the vast majority of the social life. I make a very deliberate effort not to socialize with too many people I work with. And for all of the benefit I draw from my church, the feedback I need from my faith is not something that encourages me to just randomly call someone up and say "hey, lets hang out.". No, my chance to talk with, and interact with people that I share a common interest with comes almost completely through the SCA. Is this a good thing? I don't know. I'm not one to say it is a bad thing, but at the same time, its a decision made out of habit, reflex, and concussions action. I never set out to say "I only want to hang out with SCAers", but at the same time, here I am. That being said, am I really any different than the kid who hangs out with his football teammates, or the factory worker who hangs with his buddies after punching the clock? A social circle is a social circle, isn't it? 

While I chewed on this, I went through the critical steps of talking with the event steward and making sure my information was current. I had been specifically asked to come and herald, so me being who I am, I wanted to make sure I was at my level best and didn't leave anything to chance. One of the first rules of heraldry I learned (ages ago) was that understanding where your information was coming from was more important than knowing where it was going.

Not long after this, I ran into an old friend. Hellos transitioned into a conversation, and that turned into a foray into town for dinner.

Not for the first time, I considered that night how I had come full-circle in the SCA in many respects. its no secret that my entry into this world was loud, rude, and hurtful. I was  a brash kid who had no volume control and too big an opinion of himself. My one saving grace, and in many respects my biggest obstacle was my crushing sense of guilt when I was made aware of (after the fact) the actual results of my impetuous comments. That was nearly two decades ago, and while the transition from loudmouth to trusted confidant and friends was a steady conversation, its arch across my evolving autobiography is fascinating for me to consider. I don't say this because I'm melancholy about the past, or obsessed by it. Rather, if one looks at the past, and the "lines" it draws on our timelines, where do those lines point to going forward?  From a strictly academic perspective, where would my lines point to? Am I destine to be an officer, a leader, a peer, a noble? There's no way to know for sure, of course. And before anyone offers a speculation, just consider the unexpected, or unwanted. Within my own life, even within the past decade things have happened and choices made that no one, even me, could have predicted, even the day before. Still, its a fun conversation to have with myself. 

Friday night turned into the trip back home and  respectable, if short night's sleep. My family and I climbed out of bed early the next day, my wife and our friend were off to mundane obligations for the day while my son and niece would travel with me to the event.

The first cries of the day were morning court, or rather my telling people that it was pending. most people were up, but I saw a few groggy eyes clambering out of tents later than they had probably intended.

Learning how to herald, for me was a much about learning from others as it was falling on my own face and getting up again. As a walked between camps, I, for whatever reason, remembered watching Master Ulf cry a wake-up call one time, back at Camp Cimarron. He walked tent to tent, softly saying the words "oyes, oyes, I have coffee, if you want coffee too, you should head to the main hall." For a population used to tuning out the walking thunderclaps that were traditional heralds, his walking whisper approatch was surprisingly effectively at rousing the populace relatively early at that event. Ulf was one of the people who taught me that heraldry was as much a conversation with people as it was an announcement. Being loud was part of the skillset, but knowing what to say to get and hold their attention was the other part, and what set apart a medicare herald was a good one.

Morning court was brief, with the crown and their excellencies of Northkeep hitting a few strategic pieces of business before promising to do a 'roaming court" on order to keep recognition up throughout the day.

There really wasn't anything about the morning heralds that stood out for me. not that routine is boring, or the job not important for me, far from it. But in retrospect, listing off my announcements would be a tired repetition of what most people already know, or better yet remember. After the cluster of morning cries, I took a moment to sit and talk (and rest) in the main hall, hovering by the raffle table and talking with passers by.

An interesting conversation bloomed then, a stark contrast of thoughts, if you would. There was a time in the kingdom's history, a long time ago, when Northkeep didn't play with Namron, Mooneschadowe and Wiesenfuer weren't on the best of terms, and Eldern Hills wasn't exactly cozy with too many other groups. People, for the most part, fell in line with these factions, and the north of the kingdom, was composed of many very individual groups. Now, over a decade an a half later, we are (largely) northerners who happen to pay our taxes in different locations. Sure, its an oversimplification, but the interaction and social overlap between groups is ages beyond what it was. With this as the framework, the question posted to me was if people outside of Northkeep should be doing jobs at the event. More specifically, should those people have been given first access to sign up, next to Northkeepers. Its an interesting puzzle, and not one with an immediately clear answer, other than to say "it depends". On the one hand,  a group as large and Northkeep should be able to field its own site heralds (for example). On the other, the north didn't get where it was today by each groups giving blanket deference to its own people. But even then, those are two extremes on the scale. I don't think anyone wants to ignore skills help in any skill set at an event, and several of us there were not Northkeepers, but were, arguably some of the strongest players in the north in our fields. And just when you think the answer is simple, I'll throw in there that years ago, when I blogged about a canton that had managed handle all of its own heraldry internally for its event, I was accused of insulting the baronies. All told, the question of who should staff an event is sort of like choosing a date, the answer is a reflection of who you are (as a group) and what you want out of the situation. But be assured, it is a reliant question, and one that I am quite confident will come up again.

The day itself, not unlike a great many different events, from shaped by my making strategic, but mostly circular transits of site ever hour of so, and getting more announcements to make with each circle. Not surprisingly, I was able to stay on top of the inflow, however, keeping a good pace while managing the stream of rather dynamic information.

I don't know why, but as the afternoon bled into early evening, I was struck by the type of relationships I had formed in the SCA. People I would never have spoken to a decade before were now regular stops at my normal eventing plans. Adversaries of a time were now friends, and some of my early friends had drifted away from me, and some of those exists were with unapologetically cold shoulders between us both. I started the society as a fighter, discovered heraldry almost literally as an accident, and soon hung up my armor for good, trading in helmet for a notebook and pencil. The shift in role was reflective of, and in many ways symptomatic of my own shifts in life. As much as I say I don't mind losing a fair fight, chivalric combat had changed for me over the years, rather that being a source of fun and stress relief, it was the epicenter of increasing frustration and tension. I was starting to dread getting into armor, where I was looking forward to calling lists or fields instead. That type of shift changes who you meet and how they interact with you. Rather that trying ti beat someone senseless, or pretend to fit in at some of the "frat house" revels with the heavy community, I was forming increasingly stronger and stronger relationships in the heraldic community, and the people that community served. As a herald, you don't just meet heralds, you meet fighters, stewards, peers, newcomers, artisans, leaders, students... the list goes on and on, and only after I took my helmet did I feel like I really got to meet those people, and see who they really were. I don't know if this shift was caused by other changes in me as I matured, or if this change in SCA circumstances helped cause those changes and helped me to mature, but it is beyond debate that the two dynamics existed in parallel throughout that time in my life. 

Sitting at feast that night, My wife, who had managed to make it after her mundane appointment, joined some new and old friends at feast while my son ran around like the over energized ten year old he was with some other kids. The outside setting was pleasant, but because of the earlier than normal hour, it was a tad hotter than I was used to for feast.

Between removes of food, I contemplated some of the feasts I helped serve, or work in the kitchen. The one that I was head server for, and the few where I was wing-man for the same. Its hardly a spotless record, my younger side didn't lend itself well for leadership back then, and my tendency to direct things was equally unhelpful. I'm told (by sources I'm not completely sure I trust, depending on who they are, and when they said it) that I'm even responsible for a few people quitting the SCA. I really don't know for sure, but its one of those things that I don't forget easily. Maybe I'm overly sensitive to the accusation, I don't know, but I can say that I don't have the fondest of memories looking back at feast serving. 

Court was a momentous event for most people there, and maybe my heraldic pragmatism simply leads me to take things ins stride, but I really was sitting in the back, watching the while thing play out. First, two relatively new friends stepped down after a solid, and from all appearances good run as Landed hats of Northkeep. And then, two close friends  were elevated to the same, taking the mantle of leader and guide of a groups who's stubborn individuality was legendary.

Standing there, watching the ceremony, I at first thought of the whole thing as seeing a friend off on a grand voyage. There was no doubt that  Beorhtlic and Elisaveta had a grand adventure ahead of them, no mater what came of the seats while they were in them. Bu then, it dawned on me, this was far, far from a sending off, but rather a welcoming aboard, because this was an adventure I was relatively confident that I would be part of as well. Certantly not a central part, but something told me that I my part in their leadership would not be merely that of spectator. 

After court, my family and I went to the camp of some close friends, for a fresh serving of cobbler. I had know Liadan and her family, as Castianna and hers for as long as I can remember at this point, and all of the associated company was always appreciated.  in the dim light of the nighttime camp e sat and talked and walked around and ate cobbler.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about my situation is that I truly don't understand how different people see me. I have all the imposition of an ogre, looming tall and powerfully over anyone who's smaller than me, and at 6'3", that's a lot of people. And to be sure, there are  a lot of people who see me as intimidating, or aggressive. But at the same time, there was young girl there that night, not older than 6, as I recall. A stick-figured waif of a kid, springy and bouncy as only a child can be. We had met before, and she was been utterly terrified of me, hiding behind her friends every time I looked in her direction. Her mother has said she was like that with everyone.  I recalled wanting to at least leave her with  good impression of me, so I showed her my girdle-book, hoping that she at least wouldn't' think me scary. As she saw me work the latch on my small book, her eyes opened, and she had literally run at me and jumped into my lap, all fear gone in an instant. Now, a few weeks later, the same energy and glee was in her as she ran up to me and hugged me like a long-lost brother, a huge smile on her face, and joy in her eyes. I truly am a contradiction in that way. To some I am very much a looming ogre, power and vanity personified, framed in intimidation. But at the same time I'm also the person that scared little kids suddenly warm up to, and the person mothers can trust to protect their daughters. I understand that these two perceptions can coexist, and can both be true in their own way. Yet, even now I am not completely sure I do, or ever will fully understand all that goes into those perceptions of who I am. Maybe I never will, some things were not meant to be known by one person. But the dynamic is still a fascinating consideration for me. 

Driving home that night, with my wife and son both asleep in the late hour, one last thing came to my mind, a complex realization that had been percolating in my mind for some years now, but only recently had come together.

I've long wondered why it is that I so heavily fell into the SCA. What was it about this band of people that met my needs so much better than church, or the fire service, or even college and its inherent social structure. The answer for me, at least, was something rather simple. Rules. The inherent structure of teachers, students, leaders and subordinates, men-at-arms, apprentices, proteges... all of it may well have been a throwback to past times, but it was a formality of what I never had. Its no secret that I was a social outcast in school, alternately bullies, mocked and ignored by most. My self esteem was throughout beat up by the time I got to college, and much of my bravado was me convincing myself that I didn't care what the world thought about me, a backlash to when the opinions of others could be wielded like swords for the amusement of others.  The causality of all of this, or one of them, as it were, was the fact that I was blind to social ques and body language. Its not that I didn't see them, I saw them clear as day, I just never learned all of what they all meant. Socially, I was blind and deaf, but not mute in most situations, and nothing in modern society existed in my world to make up for what wasn't learned in school. Only the SCA and its makeshift formal structure of titles, ranks, rules, etiquette and customs gave me the groundwork I needed to relearn how to "fit in". of course, I recognized none of this at the time, I simply knew that compared to the rest of my life, the SCA was a better fit than most places, so I kept going. But looking back at it now, I see that it was for me what the Marines probably were for my father, a place where a lot of social questions were answered for you, and you could be left to do a job. I know this sounds dark and depressing, but trust me, even at my darkest days, my life still had joy and hope in it. Some days more than others, I admit, but this recollection isn't about pity of sympathy, two things I want no part of. Its about putting an academic, skeptical eye on my own past, and seeing what I wasn't seeing then. Believe me when I say that there are still lessons to be learned from those times. 

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

Friday, April 22, 2016

Red Plains baronial championships

So, a few days before the combined Wiesenfeuer / Eldern Hills championships, I got a message from a fiend of mine directing me to contact yet another old friend, who "might" be needing some help with voice heraldry at the event. Now if I were to actually sit down and recount the number of times I have gotten site or list heraldry jobs this way (in one way or another), I think it would account for fully half of my career as a voice herald in the SCA. You can go back to my first site herald, (which amounted to "at the right place, at the right time"), and go from there.

But, I digress... sort of.

So, what followed was a string of emails between myself and the Wiesenfeuer herald, whom I've known since my first event back in 1997. The call out was for a site herald that would let him concentrate on the needs of the day's two major courts. I had intended to go anyway, so the chance to site herald and help a friend out was an added bonus to the day.

Friday would be a light day in terms of heraldry, as it is for almost any weekend event, but none the less, I opted to take advantage of the fact that site was literally on my way home from work. I packed my garb in an extra sports bag and took it with me to work. When the work day was over, let me tell you I was glad for the chance to change out of the office attire (we do business super-casual at work) and into garb. I think I gave most of the second-shifters at the office a collective case of whiplash as I walked out of the bathroom and towards the front door.

I made it to site just before sunset on Friday. Ascant few people were already there, and most of them, less the event staff, were setting up for Saturday. I got a chance to talk with some old friends, and meet a few new ones. A casual affair all told, but I knew it would be. The critical things to do that night would be to herald the prep for the bear-pit tournament, and then the Wiesenfeuer bardic competition just afterwords. Bur before that came to pass, I got to help Namron put their pavilion up, and talk with a few of the fighters (including a few who would not be fighting the next day). It was the usual, casual, laid back conversation, held in the failing light of a sunset through thick spring foliage.

I had to cross the infamous Da-Ka-Ni bridge more times that I care to recall that night. It was a fun walk the first few times I crossed it ages ago, but now, with both it and I a little older, and showing the respective ages, I am far, far less fond of the metal and cable spans, their bouncing spring under every step, or the tendency of people to clump on it in numbers that aren't reassuring.  But, I am a herald, and I go where the job takes me... besides, I'm a decent swimmer if it comes to it.

The first cry of the night was for the aforementioned torchlight bear-pit. I started at the bottom of the kill, and walked every so slowly up towards the covered pavilion, crying the blanket welcome to any and all who would come and fight that night.The tournament itself took some time to get going, with fighters trickling in late in the process. The "pre-show" entertainment consisted of a heard of little kids running around in the walled in goat pen chasing volunteer adults around with glow sticks in a raucous game of tag. The truth be told, it was actually very entertaining, for adults and kids alike.

In the moments before the tournament, His Excellency, Sir Morgan made his way over, armor half on, waiving off the heckles and calls from his fellow fighters to hurry up so that they could start the tournament.

I had actually met Morgan for the first time at Gulf Wars two years before, a brief encounter where he had commented favorably to me about my work, and gifted with with larges in the form of one of his personal coins. While Morgan was pulling on his armor, he called me over, at first to help him armor up, and then to ask me to help him track how many wins he had in the tormentor for the scorekeepers. I was glad to do both for him. And was equally glad to help him with some frustratingly stiff buckles and straps on his armor. His kit, like a lot of the people there, had survived the sudden storm at Gulf War a month before, and while it had weathered the worst of the storm relatively well, the leather was a little more uncooperative than might be the norm.

As the two of us worked, we also talked, albeit briefly, about gulf, both this year and the one two before. I commented that I still had his coin, and he seemed surprised that I had kept the small item. "Oh, I still have it, It's the type of think I'm not going to let slip away."

"Yeah," be agreed as he pulled on a van brace, "Being Baron... its not about me," he explained. "its about everyone around me, and making sure they have as much fun as possible." The bit of SCA existentialism was actually the type of casual comment I have come to expect from the veteran barons I have had the pleasure to know. While the words are almost always said easily, the profoundness of their meaning is usually understated at the same time, an unusual byproduct of the balance between keeping ones dignity in a SCA nobility role, and not feeling too self important. I wouldn't accuse Morgan of the later at all, but I think the reality of his impact, or any person's impact as a landed baron in the SCA is a power that must need to be experienced to be fully appreciated for its depth of magnitude.

The semi-armored philosophic conversation concluded, he moved to the pen where the others were assembled, and I moved to the edge to watch.

The tournament itself was a fascinating, bear-pit speed fight with the fighters standing inside a fenced in area about fifteen feet across and taking turns at what can only be called brutal close quarters combat. The rounds, three in total, were timed, and in the intervals fighters took turns at breathtaking speeds to see who could win more times than anyone else. By its very nature, the whole process lent itself  towards fast shots, hard hits, and quick, violent decisions.

Not that any of the fighters were complaining about that at all.

When the tournament was over, close to eleven-thirty, I got up from my seat on the sidelines and started the announcement for  the pending bardic competition, drumming circle and hafla up at the covered pavilion. I made it that far up the hill, tired both from the hour and the work put in that day. I managed to get up there long enough to say hello to some last few friends, and then say goodbye to all o the same and more. I wasn't camping, and had to be home in time to get some semblance of sleep so that I could come back with my family the next morning.

My wife, my son, and I arrived back on site the next morning in time for the royal court where the sitting hats of Wiesenfeuer stepped down. The main hall at the top of the hill was packed to the point where it was standing room only in the back. I was fortunate enough to find an empty space on the edge of the brickwork of the cold fireplace along one wall. I don't mean to diminish the the court for what it was: a new crown, a stepping down, a packed room, it was an emotional time for some, and for many different reasons. A lot of awards were given, and of some unique interest for me, at least four baronial awards were handed out to children by their majesties after the stepping down. Holding duel titles as both crown and landed hats during the interim period before the later stepping up court, the scrolls given out were signed, as I recall, in the crown's names, but as baron and baroness. Myself, I had not seen such a practice before, but each day in the society is a lesson of one sort or another, so this was filed away as another such encounter.

When court recessed for the day's activities, I made my way forward to speak with the Baronial herald. I've known Grímólfr since my first event, a bard, herald, viking and overall relaxed figure in the north, he's good company and a good friend. He was just pulling of the baronial tabard after being one of a team of heralds crying the Wiesenfeuer side of the court. We Spoke briefly, and he was glad I was there, but in an unexpected turn, he asked me if I could swap with him, opting to cry the list field while he handled what site cries were needed. Of course I had no objection, I'm glad for either, or both, and as the local officer in such things, his word is the overriding decision.

Walking back down the hill from the main hall was actually little less punishing than the trek up. Where the latter was a test of punished knees and underused leg muscles, the former promised a twisted ankle or torqued knee for the unwary traveler who didn't keep one eye squarely on the uneven, rain-shaped ground at their feet.

In an interesting sequence of events, I arrived at the list field to find not one or two heralds, but an arguable plethora. Aside from myself, HL Adalia was there, one of the people I had first learned list heraldry from, and Kitty, a woman whom I first met  seventeen years ago as a child, and had watched grow into a formidable, and quirky, charismatic woman in her own right. A fledgling herald and new member to my home group, Thomas de Groet stood in his six-foot-plus glory, waiting eagerly to learn how to site and list herald. Two more people also came forward, eager to learn, though their names, sadly, escape me now.

This this development was unusual in itself has heralds are usually barely able to get enough people together to manage a 4 field list like we had here, yet this time, we would have enough to rotate people out, and teach the newer members, and have a backup or two to spare.

The oddity got even more interesting when the heavy weapons fighters announced that they were running a modified format that needed no heralds. Our service were now down to two fields from four. At that rate, we would be tripping over each other if we weren't careful.

Then... the rapier fighters got their instructions, the day's format would be a challenge tournament.

No heralds needed.

So, no sooner had we assembled a relative platoon of heraldic capability than the proverbial invasion was called off.

As I walked away from the list field flanked by Thomas and Kitty, I quipped with them "So, what type of trouble can three unemployed heralds get into?"

The reality of the situation, however, was much more tame. Thomas, Kitty, and I went our different ways, friends, interests and opportunities playing the type of random havoc life at an SCA event is usually subject to. I ultimately made my way to the covered pavilion halfway up the hill that was, more or less, site. not long after I arrived.

Not long after, I was pulled aside by Vigdis, one of my fellow officers and heralds in the college. She showed me small green banner painted with a key, the badge of the hospitaler in the kingdom. It turns out that she made a batch of the small flags as markers for the small army of newcomers attending the event that weekend.With those, she explained, people new to the society would have a good idea of whom they could direct their questions towards as the event moved forward. My part, as it were, was to help disseminate the message across as much of sight as I could.

Yet again, my reputation as a voice herald had brought work to me.

This certainly was not going to be a "fighting starts in ten minutes" type of announcement that people were expecting. An economy of words would work against me, not only was I to inform, but I had to inspire, to promote. I needed to put the emotional energy of Vigdis's efforts to the masses. It needed to be a narrative, an invocation, and it had to have gravitas to it in order to last in people's mind more than the time my voice was in the air.

And yet, I still didn't have unlimited time. People's attention spans are fickle things at best.

The pavilion, fill of people in one for the lunch tavern, looked to be my best audience. Competing with the chaos of two, simultaneous tournaments might as well have been yelling at an avalanche for all the good it would do. I walked to one corner, where the newest number of people would have to turn to see me, hoisted my baton into the air with a commanding gesture and opened my mouth,

Hear ye, hear ye, I beg all's attention. I hold here a banner, green of field with a gold key displayed across it's face the badge of the hospitaler, welcome to all. This flag is one of many on display here today, and to see this flag flown, or worn, is to invite all queries from any who would ask, but most especially the newest members who have flocked to this great event. I ask all here to spread this word to all would should hear it. To those new to us, they need to know what this device means. To those of us who know such things, more of these flags are in lady Vigdis's possession by the list field, and she urges any who would, to display them. 
I stopped, feeling the natural end to the narrative I had improvised. The announcement had gained and commanded the attention of the whole pavilion for its length. I felt that the task given me was completed in earnest and that word would spread as it should.

The day progressed as days at events do, with conversation and activity, socializing, and happy work. Old friends, and new, the waters of the society were ever in motion, and always changing as they should.

The heavy tournament saw its final blow landed with the fast footed Ottoman, Vlad, taking the field with his signature  two weapons, dancing around shots and landing blows that were deceptively fast and as accurate as they were stout.

The rapier field saw another interesting turn, with the Don of the previous year's champion claiming the now dual title of rapier champion for Wiesenfuer and Eldern hills. Don Trevor's relaxed, six-foot plus frame had carried the war-horse though the tournament with a commanding lead in the final points tally.

With the afternoon had come an unexpected bout of fatigue for some, most namely my ten-year-old son. The event, the weather, and the early rise had taken it out of him and he wasn't having any fun. Not normally one to abandon an event, even for a short time, I decided that both he and I, however, might want a change of pace.

"How about some ice cream?" I offered him. He warmed quickly at the offer, and a few minutes later he, I, my wife, and Liliana were on our way to the parking lot for the prescribed break when I opted to pull my cell phone out and check for any messages. To my surprise, I saw one from another SCAer, one who wasn't at the event that day.

It would seem that I was also being asked to help with an upcoming event as well. My reputation as a site herald, or just "that loud guy", looked to be alive and well in the north of late.

The foray out for milkshakes and soda was well spent, and I think in the end we all appreciated the short change in pace.

Coming back, I adjusted myself for the afternoon, opting to park the car on the top of the hill rather than the main lot at the bottom, and not across the bridge, I also opted to leave the baton this time, I didn't anticipate any real point is carrying it around as we moved into the evening, and there was certainly no need for it in court.

The next few hours, as I recall, were social for me, more conversation and more glad company than anything else. The afternoon turned into early evening, and the time for court came. As it happened, I was late for the reopening, and as I found a spot by a door into the once-again packed room, I realized that the king and queen were wasting no time with the 'main event' of the day. I walked in just as the coronet was placed on the first of the two new hats for the barony.  The investiture was almost done.

The event, or more specifically the baronial investiture was notable for me on two levels.

As a political, social, and kingdom landmark, this is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time a pair of landed hats had been bestowed to two people not of different genders.

I am reminded of the earlier conversations had about this topic within the SCA. The shape of the conversation at the time, at least such that I can recall, was a dynamic one. I had been resistant to the rules change, largely because much of what I had seen up until that point in time had been a thoroughly modern argument of "this is the way society is going, you *have* to accept this." Needless to say, this argument dell on largely deaf ears, and I, for one, no matter how laughable my 'reenactment' credentials may be by more formal, academic standards, am still respectable enough in the field to not overly bow to "the weight" of a modern society. I recall a lot of my friends were the same way, not necessarily opposed to co-regents of the same gender, but not caring for the shape of the argument we had heard at the time. Our, or at least my rebuttal at the time had been a simple one, "show me a historical precedence, and you will silence my objections".

As it happened, there was a strong historical precedence for the practice, including, but by no meant limited to King Leonidas, the spartan monarch who fought and died in the battle of Thermopylae had been a co-regent with another, separate crown along a different family line. Both men had wives and families, yet ruled the kingdom as part of a complicated governmental system that did, in fact, recognize two male regents at its head. The history of Europe is dotted with other examples of monarchies headed by two regents of the same gender. Some were father and son, others siblings, others uneasy allies, and others still were, in fact, lovers. My one demand on the subject, a strong historical base for such a proclamation, had been met. And with that, I withdrew all objection to a change in corpora allowing for landed baronies and royal thrones to be sat by a two people of the same gender.

And this weekend, I witnessed the first such step in our kingdom's history in action of that option with the investment of two women, Mistress Deirdre Ni' Raghailligh and Mistress Valia of the Mists, to the baronial seats of Wiesenfeuer.

Now, on a far, far more pragmatic note, I also saw an "interesting" cascade failure in the same moment. Somewhere in the process of planning the court, the decision on how the ceremony would take place was made, but never completely transmitted to the populace. I know this because a huge portion of them were standing outside, waiting to process in with the soon-to-be invested leaders, but unable to see that the process had begun in earnest without them. There wasn't any real drama over the incident (at least none that I could see), but I imagine there was some disappointment at both missing the ceremony, and not being able to process in the planned ceremony. As a some-time court herald, I know all to well how many hands a simple message can go through in order to each the right people, and as such, I have no idea where the disconnect was in this event, but that, I dare say, is not my mystery to investigate.

Court was both mercifully short, given the amount of material covered, and rather long, as evidence by how much my feet hurt from standing in the back. Ultimately I found my way back to the same spot I had been that morning, an empty place on the brickwork of the fireplace, a chance for my knees and feet to rest.

Another adventure started for me after court, however. With the echoes of the closing "vivat"s still hanging in the air, I was already making my way forward to talk to a few people. I wound up next to my wife, exchanging greetings with her excellently Amelot Lisette, whom I had first met at Gulf two years before, and whose company I had come to enjoy, as well as that of her towering husband, the seven foot (okay, six foot 'something', but taller than me, a lot taller) Sir Alejandro. Alejandro is another earth-rumbling bass-voiced herald who's power and projection lends itself well to court and site heraldry. The two of us actually fell into a bit of a talk on the science of heralding, how higher and lower pitches work in different environments, witch carries better, which cuts through the din of a crowded room better. The glorious collision of physics and history was the type of thing that you never expect, but can revel in when it happens.

Not long long after the start of the conversation, Lisette moved back to behind the now empty thrones, explaining that she had to collect the crown's possessions and move them back to the royal cabin. I offered to help, two strong hands are usually a welcome addition to any effort.

My wife and I wound up carrying some of the coronet boxes while Lisette and Alejandro carried some of the other trappings of the office. It was, humorously, only then that I recalled that Lisette was the crown Chamberlain for this reign. We made out way through the failing light of the dusk to the royal cabin, the one closest to the main hall, but still a bit of a walk. We found the cabin empty, and were welcomed to rest for a moment. I took advantage of one of the unattended chairs (technically ot was one of the folding "thrones", but the back was down, and with no heraldry displayed, it was just another seat), and rested my legs. The conversation was sedate, but pleasant. Lisette had taken to shifting through the box of insignia and awards used by the crown for all of their courts. Alejandro had rested for a few, I imagine his towering frame was only slightly less forgiving on his knees after a long court than my own body was on mine.

A short time later, the door into the cabin opened, and the Crown, flanked by a small party of retainers walked in. I didn't even wait for either of their majesties to make eye contact with me, and hopped out of the seat. As I recall, the new arrivals brought the collection of people to just over half a dozen, including Vlad. Somehow, talk shifted to talk to big cats, it seems than his majesty, when not in the SCA was fond of the larger felis breeds. This proved a fortunately coincidence as Vlad is, mundanely, an Oklahoma Game Warden who in in charge of the mountain lion division in the sate. Vlad quickly settled into a pattern in the conversation, sharing his opinions of the state's several big-cat rescues and offering high marks for a few. The King, looking tired when he walked in, became more upbeat and rested with the talk, and at the end of the conversation thanked everyone for the chatter about big cats.

Lillias and I departed soon after, opting to make out way back down to the covered pavilion and the pot luck dinner that was the event's feast. Our son had found a cluster of kids his age, and not long after sunset someone had broken out a glow-in-the-dark boccie ball set. I don't think any of them knew how to actually play boccie, but lights, a hill, and youthful exuberance worked well to keep the heard of them entertained.

Lillias, Liliana, and myself enjoyed dinner with friends, a mostly standing and talking affair under the large, open-sides shelter.

Some time after I had finished eating, Ahlanna a'beckit bounced up to me with her school-girl type energy level the belied her age.

"Ivo," she said over the din of talking people. "I need you to be loud."

Not for the first time, my reputation had done what a promotional drive probably wouldn't have been able to do.

In this case, the announcement was twofold. First, in support of an injured friend, Ahlanna was part of a consortium who were running a donations-only shots bar to raise funds. Secondly, there would soon start the booze pinata game (and yes, that is just what it probably sounded like to you. A stuffed wheel shaped box was loaded down, filled completely, actually, with plastic shot bottles of hard liqueur.)

Heralding a party is actually not that easy. First you have to get their attention while everyone is talking, then you have to convince them that you need them to keep giving you their attention past the first three seconds (I'm not kidding, people turn away and start talking again if they don't think you are talking to them), and then you keep to tell them what you want them to know... fast. Still, no challenge was ever met by being meek, and I, as always, reveled in the environment. The trick, is the initial sales pitch. Make the hook big enough, and you have them for an easy twenty count.

"Hear ye, hear ye! I bring news of things alcoholic!"

Let me tell you, that will get a room's attention in a hurry at an event, even if half of the people there don't drink. I probably could have read a few lines from a phone book and still had most of their attention, even if only so that they could decide weather or not to tar and feather me for invoking such a "personal" subject.

The festivities of the night concluded when the third person to take up the blindfold and bludgeon of the pinata challenge was none other than the queen. With a crowd standing around her and cheering, she was quickly blindfolded, handed a rattan bastard sword, and spun around three times. Then, she put her own spin on the adventure when she flipped the sword on its end and took hold of the tip. In reality, she had just traded a narrow baseball bat for what amounted to a steel plated fly swatter, thanks to the metal hilt that was now an unapologetic striking surface. She swung and missed two times, but on the third, with the crowd (myself included) cheering her on in a deafening roar, she pulled back and deceived a stout blow that tore a dinner plate sized chunk out of the cardboard construct, and sent some dozen little plastic liqueur bottles scattering across the ground.

The night ended for me in much the same way as the day had begin, with a quiet walk. My wife, our son, and Liliana were tired, excited, and glad to have come. We talked until there should have been nothing else to talk about, and then talked some more, because between us, we can always find something.

It's said by some that when you leave an event, you leave a little piece of yourself there. The challenge is always what you take with you. As we climbed into the care at nearly midnight, we were leaving behind a lot spent energy, a lot of time, and a lot of conversations.

But, for myself, I took with me the reminder of what pricelessness there was to be found in greeting old friends, and meeting some new ones.

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

Monday, April 11, 2016

An Argent Journey: a trial of wind and water.

As I sat here and started writing this, my hands were still stiff and shaky from the events.

We had all known that it was going to rain that day. Even as I packed for the trip down to Gulf Wars the Friday before, there had been talk of rain in the middle of the week sometime. Back then, it was little more than an annoyance, another factor for me to chew on as a totally new chapter in my SCA career came to fruition. After my strong showing as a voice herald and coordinator two wars before, I had been welcomed to join the event leadership as a deputy department head over Cry Herald's (Site Heraldry) with an eye towards taking full stewardship of the role in the year to follow. Needless to say, my mind was full of such prospects, the challenges, and the adventure to come. The promise of rain later in the week was just something that I wasn't going to let bother me.

The four days between the trip itself and that night were a study in fatigue, adaptation, rest, and revelry. As was the case in nearly every Gulf Wars, my family was breaking in some new equipment with the usual campaign kit, and I was taking on a workload that had me moving around a lot more than my body was happy about. I started each day somewhat rested, but not fully recovered from the day before.


By Wednesday, I was fully invested in the goal of not only coordinating site heraldry, but also recruiting new heralds as our existing crop were pulled away for other tasks. Come Thursday, we were looking at skies threatening rain almost from the moment we woke up. Unlike last year, we weren't limiting ourselves to only part of the camp. Cries were going out at eleven and three each day, to all parts of the Gulf Wars site. Ideally, we would have three people, but by the time the afternoon came, rain came with it and with that came a more... aggressive plan to get words across site.
My voice had more or less given out earlier that week, but the need to teach those willing to do the task kept me moving. The final result, and little did I know at the time the final scene setting for Thursday night, was me walking a lot more than I had planned that day.

The Cry Heralds post closed at five each day, and I was glad for the break on Thursday, though I was wet, and cold, and tired as I took advantage in the break in the weather and made my way down Queen's Highway from the Five Points to the Mooneschadowe Encampment. My 'work day' was done, and I was looking forward to the Herald's social that-night, as well as another swing by Scribe's point. The rain had never stopped me before at an event, and this was nothing compared to come of the drenching I had muscled through in my younger days. It was going to be a cold, wet night, but I was prepared to push through and enjoy it all the same.

Dinner that night was loaded potatoes. I got to camp a little later than planned, so my food was cool, but I didn't complain. I needed the energy and was glad I wasn't cooking for myself. In the distance, we could see cloud formations that hinted at something vaguely cyclonic against a gray sky, and people were running around with their cell phones, checking, and confirming that we were, in fact, under a Tornado Warning, with conditions highly favorable for a cyclone to drop at any moment.

I accepted the declaration with my normal calm of someone who knew that panic over the uncontrollable was pointless. The campground offered no hard cover against even a modest tornado strike. We were out in the open and knew it the moment we left home five days before. Some time later, the warning lifted, and we watched as the cloud formation seemingly dissolved. The mood lifted, as I recalled just then, for a group of people who mundanely called Oklahoma home, this was another all-too-familiar brush with nature's most compactly violent feature.

My morbid humor flashed just then, and I turned to Alex, my niece's boyfriend and quipped "Wouldn't it suck for someone to get hit by lightning just now?" The big kid laughed with me, a defiant bit of humor that dared nature to try and take our defiance away.

Not long after that, a car rolled up next to the camp, and Aesileif climbed out from the back seat. Right on time, she was joining the war effort late after twenty four hours hopping buses from Mooneschadowe down to Gulf Wars, the last leg of the trip was covered when one of our own had driven out to pick her up from the town's makeshift bus station. It was her own adventure (and her's to elaborate on, if she ever wants to), but worth the trek in order to make the last half of the event with her friends and SCA family.

By now, I was tired, and the rain was threatening to finish soaking me after almost accomplishing the same that same afternoon while I was out. I headed over to my tent, a huge black and red oval pavilion that had served my family well for a decade and a half. Under its roof I knew I would find shelter and rest. Liliana joined me a moment later, looking to get out from under the huddle of the main camp tent and possibly rest herself.

I pulled off my hat, and sat at the end of the cot that served as half of my and my wife's camp bed, while Liliana stood next to her cot, shifting through her things on a set of hanging shelves. I don't remember what we talked about just then, but I recall that I was tired, had had to think about my words, had to think through the want to lay down and sleep. It wasn't a unfamiliar emotion for me, especially at war. I had long ago learned to work through it, and eventually I would get my second wind and be back on my feet. Just then, I was waiting for the food I ate to kick in.

I remember the rain first; a few drops really, a loud splattering across the tent roof. I looked up, unimpressed, and unworried. If this was the worst I was going to deal with, then my cloak and some hot chocolate would be the best protection I would need against the night.

But this time, I was wrong.

All in one second, the entire face of the tent surged inward, the open door flapping violently as a cacophonous rush of wind filled my ears. Outside, I heard screams and shouts, muted orders, and cries for aid as things shifted, slid, toppled and then crashed into each other.

I jumped to my feet, Liliana calling out "What's going on?" as we both moved towards the door, the tent shifting and moving around us like some living organism, threatening to fly away, or come down on us at any second.

I looked out the door, and saw what my mind feared the most; mayhem. People were moving in a dozen different directions. My eyes caught site of the main camp pavilion, several people were trying to bring it down in a controlled collapse. Someone was shouting "drop it! Drop it!" and a few others were screaming  for help with the same over the winds. A second later a loud snap ended the conversation as the main ridge pole snapped and the whole thing dropped down on anyone who hadn't gotten clear yet.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my wife pushed our ten year old son towards the ravine, the place we had talked about as the safest cover should the worst happen. The ravine offered the only low ground and likewise only protection against a tornado.

The First Decision

"Brace the tent!" I shouted over my shoulder at Liliana. "Grab a pole and hold it!"

The door to my tent was flapping violently. I stomped my foot down on it, and grabbed the closest pole, reinforcing whole structure by hopefully preventing the stakes from coming up from the ground.

"What's going on?" Liliana repeated urgently.

"The camp's coming down around us!" I shouted back.

With my foot still holding the door flap and hands still on two poles, I stuck my head back out into the driving rain. Tt was like looking into a garden hose with the water turned up to full pressure. My wife was nowhere to be seen, people were still scrambling in all directions, and the wind wasn't stopping for a second.

I saw Rosma running for the kitchen pavilion, calling for help to bring it down. Before anyone could get there to help, one of the ropes slipped its anchor and the camp kitchen was laid out into a soaking wet, muddy mess across the campfire, tables and storage bins toppling in the wind.

"What are we doing?" Liliana shouted.

I came back in, head, arms and shoulders soaked completely, cold water running down my back. "We have to keep this tent up! People are going to need shelter when this is over!"

In the back of my mind, I knew that wasn't the only reason. This was my home, damn it! I'd pitched and struck that tent for fifteen years, and I wasn't going to abandon it.

But pride wasn't my only motivator either. The cold on my back reminded me of the very real threats that could and would follow this moment. Even if the wind stopped then and there, we could have injuries, or just cold wet people coming off of an adrenaline rush a perfect situation for shock or hypothermia.

But the rain didn't stop. and the wind not only didn't stop, but it changed directions a moment later, slamming us from the other side. The walls shook and flapped, coming off of their hooks, and pouring water in here and there around the tent. The battery-powered lantern shook and spun from its mount on the metal ridgepole as the fabric walls surged and fluttered against the force of the onslaught. This wasn't just a storm, I realized, and for the first time that night I considered that I might be seeing the edge of an incoming tornado. Even a modest one, an EF-0, would have enough kick to take the tent down and send all of us flying with it if we took a direct hit. My blood ran cold at that thought, the unknown in that moment was the most dangerous thing.

And in the midst of it all, my hardest thought came to me, what of my wife and son? I looked outside again, but didn't see them, or anything that could be them. I had to assume they were safe. My wife was a capable person, her will to live was strong, and her will to act when needed had been demonstrated before.

At the same time, we had medications, clean clothes, essential medical supplies and the keys to the van in the tent, all buried away where I couldn't easily get them all and run for safety. If the tent went down, we could all very easily survive this only to face peril in the aftermath from lack of the very supplies we had with us.

We were going to stay, I decided just then. We were going to stay and keep the tent upright.

The Storm

The gusting slowed, but didn't stop. It could have been blowing for minutes, or just a few seconds, I honestly don't recall. A moment later, Aesileif pushed through the door, soaked to the core.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Yes." she answered.

"Grab a pole!" I shouted. "And help Liliana keep those walls hooked in place!" The other did as directed.

The wind surged again, and the tent lurched forward, pushing against me, almost sending me staggering back. I leaned into the pole on my shoulder, gripping the other closest one with my right hand, keeping my foot planted on the door flap's end.

The whole time the walls flapped and shook violently, the hooks that suspended them to the tent roof coming undone, water flying in like an errant garden hose. Liliana and Aesileif moved quickly around the tent, putting it back together as fast as the wind could try and take it apart, but only barely so. The floor, a tarp layered with picnic mats, was wet and getting wetter with the water flying around, though at the same time the beds and a large portion of our possessions were intact and dry.

"Is anyone in there?" a voice shouted from outside. I stuck my head through the door to see Jo standing there, soaked, the rain coming down around her and her bare arms and shoulders glistened with water running over her.

"Get in here." I said, pulling her in. "Grab a pole and brace it."

We worked, the four of us, against the shifting winds and driving raid for what seemed like forever, but would could have been a matter of minutes. Time's passage was both fluid, and irrelevant to me just then. We shifted this way and that, pushing and pulling, tucking and hooking, working to keep the tent upright as the wind buffeted and rocked us more and more.

"We just lost another rope." Liliana said. I looked over to see her straightening up one of the perimeter poles, now slack without the mention of the rope to hold it in plate. If we lost too many more there wouldn't be enough hands to keep the tent up.

Out situation was compounded by a particularly loud thunderclap just then. A reminder that the wind and cold weren't the only threats we were chancing with our all-or-nothing stand.

"Liliana! Do everything you have to to keep the tent up. I'm going out to reset the ropes and hammer down any loose stakes." I heard her acknowledge, and then turned to Jo. I called her over and showed her what I had been doing.  Shorter than me by no small measure, she still looked level headed enough to stand up to the task.

I ducked out  the door and into the maelstrom that was the rain and wind.

The camp was in shambles, items strewn across the ground, the main pavilion on the ground, some of the armor racks under it a heap of leather and metal, tables were on their side, contents spilled out in the mud. Two of the modern tents in the back were flapping against one or two remaining stakes, moments from tearing or flying away. The kitchen and its pavilion were even more of a mess then when I had last seen them.

I found our sledgehammer on the ground near the tent, probably where it had been since we pitched, I figured, but that was irrelevant just then.

Soaked to the core and shivering, I worked my way around the tent, tightening ropes, re-sinking any stakes that needed it, and moving a few to harder ground. The soil was beyond saturation point by then, and the ground was broken  up by growing rivulets of water moving over the ground hard enough to take a foot out from under you if your footing wasn't true.

While I was out, I heard a man's voice shouting for Rosma. I looked up from the stake I was driving back into the ground and saw Caius, shirt gone, pants soaked, running around looking for Rosma. Not five days before, he had proposed to her on the same ground we were now facing the storm on, His eyes telegraphed a frantic urgency to find her that one would expect from any man in his position.

I ran over to him, grabbing his shoulder.

"Where is she?" he demanded. "I have to find her."

"Caius!" I shouted over to rush of wind and falling rain. "You need to get back with the others!"

"I have to find my Fiance!"

"Caius! Look, you have to trust that Rosma has a good head on her shoulders. She's not here. She probably ran for cover. Your friends need you here and now. We will find her when the storm breaks."

He looked furious, and I don't blame him in for a second for it. Behind the fear and anger, I saw a resentful acceptance of the fact that he could, in fact, do more good helping the others around camp. He nodded, and ran out of sight towards the sounds of orders being given. I figured the voice was probably Charles the Grey, rallying the rest of the group under whatever shelter was still standing, But I didn't have time to find out. I ran back to my tent and went back to hammering stakes.

By the time I got back in, I might as well have been swimming. My clothes were heavy with water, my skin was cold and my fingers were going numb. But the tent was markedly more stable, despite the still driving winds.

I stood there in the door, dripping water on the floor-mats, chilled to the bone, still having no idea where my wife was.

We held the poles for another while longer, winds buffeting and shaking the tent off and on throughout the time-span. The adjustments seemed to be holding, but some of the gusts were strong enough that I could see stakes close to the door starting to work their way lose.

Somewhere in there, I remember bowing my head and praying. While we had made it that long, my mind swam with worry that we would not be able to outlast the storm. Even if my wife and son were okay for the moment, what would follow? Another blast of cold rain, an actual tornado, lightning, shock, cold, fatigue... maybe someone would just trip on a piece of fallen debris and break something. The possibilities were like a poison to my thoughts just then, and while the wind wasn't getting worse, it wasn't letting up either. The cluster of us worked inside the shelter of my tent for a while, refastening walls, holding poles in place.

I don't remember when the wind stopped, but the relative quiet of the moment was almost as scary as the initial blast had been. I ducked my head out to see the rain falling down for a change, I looked at Jo again, "Here, take the pole one more time, I'm going to go look for my wife."

I dove out of the tent and ran in the direction I had last seen Lillias and our son running. As I came up to the woods I called out her name. A second later, I heard her shout back, "We're down here!"

The first person out of the thicket in the ravine was Zahava, Alex's mother.  As I edged down the embankment to help her out, I saw Lillias pulling our son up along a rivulet of rushing water that had carved its way through the dirt. A moment later, Alex followed, carrying his younger brother.

"Our tent is still up, and dry. We're keeping it up against the winds." I explained as I grabbed my son and lead the four of them back to cover.

No sooner were we back inside than the wind picked up again. The second assault had started in earnest.  The tent was getting crowded, but the rain and wind were still off of us. But by now we had worked out an informal system, of sorts. People understood where to go, what to do, and how to react to each lurch and twist of the tent. Alex, a hulking figure in his own right, was a good addition to the team, his brute strength and youthful energy help shore up our efforts.

"Alright," I remember calling out during a short lull. "I want everyone to do a self-check, fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms, legs. I don't want anyone working through an injury and not realizing it until its too late." My training kept running in my head; while the immediate threat of wind, rain and possibly lightning was still very real, the near-term threat of hypothermia, shock, or a twisted joint were just as real, and just as dangerous. Much to our good fortune, no one was injured.

Soaking wet, cold people kept sticking their heads into the tent, checking on us, looking for someone else, or asking if we needed anything. What we needed was for the winds to stop, but that was another matter. In the background, over the rush of wind and clatter of rain on the tent, we could hear the rallied Liondragon Guard shouting the marching cadence over the storm as they (we would later learn) held down the kingdom pavilion against the storm.

Alex would make several sorties out himself to both retrieve dry stores (mostly clothes) from his family tent, and to help stake down our pavilion as the wind continued to pull the stakes up from the increasingly softer and softer dirt. at the same time, several people took advantage of the chance to change into dry clothes, whole others would dive into the tent asking for space to drop a bag or purse in order to save it from the rain.

Close to this time, I heard a female voice calling out in the distance. I stuck my head out in time to see Rosma, soaking wet, and Cais collide in a tight embrace. With the wind blasting them, rain pouring down, and bit of debris flying around them, the scene would have been too corny to be real if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes. But there, in the moment, with very tangible relief on both of their faces, it was the embodiment of everything I believe love and hope embody. We'd later learn that she had run towards the sounds of other voices calling for help, another camp next door that was fighting to keep its pavilions up as well.

Finally, after how long, I don't know, the worst of the assault died, leading a cold rain in its wake.

The assault was over, and the tent was still standing.

The Walk

While the storm may have passed, the situation was not over by any means. The floor of the tent was wet, groundwater running under the tent walls and over the tarp had soaked anything that was on the ground, including our shoes and some articles of clothing. The three towels we had were now soaked through as everyone has used them to pull water off of their arms and faces. Even if we could have worked around the wet floor, most of the cots we were supposed to sleep on were also wet, victims of the times the tent walls had come open.

Word came from Belgutei that hotel rooms off site had been reserved and that everyone was piling into cars and trucks to get off site.

Scattered and conflicting reports were also coming in about what was to come with the weather. Those that had working phones were trying to get reliable news, and the rest of us were going on faith. The sky wasn't clear, the wind had died down but was decidedly not still, and the sun was gone from view, the night had set with black, ominous absoluteness.

The decision to abandon camp was not long in coming. Zahava had already decided that the first chance she got, she and her kids were heading home, and my wife quickly decided that we couldn't stay there with our equipment and clothing in the shape it was. No one, that I recalled, said anything about the possibilities of future storms, but we all knew that the weather took no heed of the people it could potentially flatten, and the skies certainly looked like they could usher in another round of storms at any minute.

Zahava and I agreed to make the trek across site, first to her car, and then she would drive me to the van we had come in. My wife, Liliana, and Aesileif would stay and pack as much of the tent as they could. Hailey and Alex (the other Alex) volunteered to take our son ahead to the hotel. Jo would go with Zahava, She had had enough of the event, and after shouldering a tent pole against the wind  for nearly an hour, I didn't blame her.

I grabbed my car keys and my cloak, and set out across site with Zahava.

The walk from the Mooneschadowe encampment to the first lot was not a short one. The site still had power, but the pitch black sky left a lot of blind spots in the ground as we walked. From what we could see, some parts of camp had taken the hit head on, while others had been spared the worst of the onslaught. Cars were pulling out already, and volunteers were manning intersections with flashlights to keep traffic in some semblance of order. The rain was off and on, but not anywhere near as hard as it had been. As we came near Five Points, I swung by the Watch to see if there were any reports of tree or road blockages. There were, but no one could pin down specific locations when I asked. The fact of the matter was that the site was still in disarray, and news was trickling in slowly, and probably not as fast as it needed to be.

As we passed the cabins, we ran into Rosma again. She had run off to the Scribes' pavilion the first chance she had, moments after the storm broke -I later learned- to check on the scribes, the tent, and the scribal gear therein. As we passed her, she shouted a warning as us.

"Hurry up, there is another cell on its way right now!"

I remember my heart stopping when I heard that. Myself, I wasn't terribly worried for me, or even my stalwart traveling companion (nothing sort of an infantry battalion was going to slow her down). But the camp was still in shambles, people were still out in the open, and my family had no more shelter than what our pavilion could offer. Time was not on our side.

The walk through the densest part of site, skirting merchant's row and artisans row was early quiet and calm, and the phrase "the calm before the storm" echoed in my ears as I walked, dividing my attention between the wet, soggy ground at my feet and the black, threatening sky above.

We came out the other end of site, and out into the open, away from any real cover, We could see the stables and the edge of kennel-lands as we walked. The ground was firmer out there, more gravel and hard packed clay to slough off the water, but it was all still wet. My shoes sloshed with each step, water trapped in soggy leather. The wind was picking up, and the already cool air was getting colder still. I kept my cloak around my shoulders in case the storm broke again. Zahava's determination aside, if she went down from fatigue, we would both need cover immediately.

The whole time, she was moving forward with purpose, a daring determination that seemed to challenge even the sky itself to try and slow her down. I suppose neither if us was to be easily stopped that night, she had her two sons, I had my own. While neither of us openly speculated about it, I suppose it was an unwritten agreement that would would see each other through this trip, no matter was came of it. The last leg of the walk was through an empty patch of trees that separated out the parking lot. It occurred to me that if either of us were to fall injured there, we would be alone, isolated, and probably an hour from any medical help. A flash of lightning overhead punctuated the thought, and sent a shiver down my spine.

We found her van a short time later, and for the first time in days, I felt the security of hard shelter that I knew would shrug off anything short of a direct hit from a tornado.

Zahava put the van in drive and we made our way across the open grass lot and into the slow stream of cars making their way off site. It was slow going, and even though I knew we were most likely safe, I was still worried for the others back at camp. Another storm like the one that hit us could have finished off what we had kept standing so far.

A few hundred yards short of the main gate, we watched as an ambulance edged it way, lights off, against the flow of traffic. People were screaming at us from behind to move forward while Zahava and I sat there, unable to move at all. Stress levels rose until she saw an opening and edged the van off to the side enough to let the ambulance pass. I noticed the wind start to kick up just then, and my heat caught in my throat. We weren't even close to my car, and things looked like they could get worse any second.

We drive slowly. The overcast made the night inky black, headlights and flashlights the only offering the we had for guidance. Some time later, a few minutes, maybe ten, I don't recall, we came back to the main gate and turned in. I guided Zahava to the front lot where I was parked. The road got wetter and sloppier with every inch. Finally she stopped the van, refusing the drive any further. The road ahead was a heavy, thick looking swamp of mud and wet grass, looking ready to bog down anything that got to far into it.

I jumped out, closed the door behind me, and then shouted in the window, "keep your headlights on me as long as you can then get the hell out of here." Zahava nodded, and I turned. She had two kids of her own back and camp, and I knew given the choice she would leave me to my own devices in order to get back to them. Honestly, I was glad for it. Heroics too often preceded tragedy, and I was acutely aware of the stakes, both actual and possible that night.

The mud came up to the middle of my shoes as I slogged into the parking lot, unable to see any detail at all. I wandered for a few minutes, then was left in darkness as Zahava turned the car and drove away.

I stood there, in near total darkness, trying to see any recognizable sign of my vehicle from the flickers of passing, distant headlights. I was cold, and getting colder, and I knew that even with my cloak, I was not without a time limit. If I started to shiver, I knew I would have only a few minutes before I got too cold and risked slipping and falling. The problem was that even if I turned and started walking just then, I was probably a few minutes from anyone as it was, and the walk would not be fast.

I slowly walked around, nearly blind, in the parking lot, not even completely sure if I was on, or near the correct row of cars, unable to see anything more than the most vague shapes, and starting to feel real fear in my heart just then.

In an usually surreal moment, a lightning bolt split the sky just then, and perfectly illuminated the parking lot for a half a heartbeat. Just off to the right a few dozen yards away I saw the van I was looking for.

I had made it.

The Drive

I climbed into the driver's seat and held my breath as I out my key in the ignition. This wouldn't be the first time a car had decided not to start on me. I turned the key, and the 8 cylinder came to life. It felt like a hundred-pound weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. As far as I was concerned the hard part was over.

I put the car into reverse and slid out of my spot. When my headlights were on the gate, I switched to drive and pressed the gas pedal.

I didn't move.

I fought down a panic attack as I tried to keep my head in the game. I looked at the dash board, the engine was revving, and the pitch told me it was carrying some sort of load. I looked out my window and realized I was stuck in the mud.

Quickly, I worked the transmission back and forth, trying to work my way out. Back had more luck than forward and I wound up retreating a few yards. I turned the wheel, trying to find firmer ground and drove forward again. I got about three feet and stopped yet again. It was right around then that I realized that the lot was on a slight incline, and that the exit was uphill.

For ten minutes I slid and shifted back and forth, sliding further and further away from the exit as I tried, increasingly more desperate, to get moving. I was about ten feet from backing into a parked trailer when my first left tire hit something... bit into it and the van lurched forward with a determined pace. It was a few more long, deliberate minutes, some of them with my wheels spinning, but I finally got out of the bog and got the tires on gravel.

Now I was officially moving. The word "relief" didn't even begin to cover it.

Once I was on the road, I was confident that the worst of the night should (at the very least) be behind me.

The drive back to camp took about twenty minutes. And to be clear, what I was driving into was a somewhat calm nighttime evacuation of the second largest event in the SCA. Roads that were never meant to handle that volume of traffic on an emergency basis were doing it now, at night, in the rain, with another storm possibly on its way. As I drove by, I saw volunteers managing traffic, directing people, and doing their best to keep everyone safe in a largely unsafe situation.

After far, far too long, I finally made the turn onto Ansteorra way, and slowly drove down to the edge of Mooneshadowe camp.

The last straw...

My wife,  Aesileif, and Liliana and I worked in a controlled, but feverish pace for close to an hour throwing as much as we could into the van. We knew instantly that the tent was staying, at least for the night. Thanks in large part to the efforts of everyone who stayed and held fight to keep the tent up, most of our belongings were dry, or at least undamaged, but the floor was still sopping wet, and the ground under the tent saturated. There was absolutely no guarantee that the next storm wouldn't take it down on top of us. And the sky was officially pitch-black and the wind was just fast enough to let a storm fly in again.

The one saving grace in all of this was that my wife had arranged for our son to grab an empty seat on one of the first rides out of camp. He would be with friends, and safe after an already harrowing experience.

For what was probably an hour... give or take... we worked quickly to fold down the cots, stuff things in the totes and move everything to the van as fast as we could. With the additional rider (we were Aesileif 's ride home from the event), space was at a premium, even without the tent in the equation.

With the last few things going in, I hopped into the driver's seat to turn the heat up, we were all cold and wet. When I sat down, I noticed the engine wasn't on.

I brushed it off, not the first time something had stalled. I turned the key.


I remember stopping, forcing myself to not panic, and take a deep breath.

I turned the key again.

The engine wasn't turning over.

By now, the wind was starting to pick up again, and the rain was intermittently sprinkling, like the weather was threatening us with what might yet come. I knew from the damage pattern that we hadn't been hit with an actual tornado, but a decade and a half in Oklahoma had also told me that that didn't mean a thing.

I jumped out of the van, running my hands through my hair in frustration. First the fight to keep the tent up, then the walk across site to the parking lot, then the stream of cars heading out into pitch blackness and oncoming emergency vehicles, then the slippery mess that was trying to drive my car out of its lot...

And now this!

I was running out of tricks and patience, and for all of my cumulative training over the years auto repairs was not in the mix.

Zahava and I worked on the car for ten minutes, even grabbing a pair of jumper cables, and trying to start it, but all to no avail. I was at my wits end when the reality of the situation suddenly dawned on me. The gas tank was showing empty. That didn't make sense, as it was at 1/8th of a tank twenty minutes before. Then, as I got out, I realized my mistake. The car was on a gentle downhill slope. Whatever was in the tank was now pulling away from the gas pump.

Zahava, who still had her own family to worry about, finally made the decision she had to, and told me she was packing up and driving out. She didn't want her kids in the path of another storm any more than I wanted them there. As a family, they had done as much as anyone could ask, and I would later learn that her oldest, Alex, had continued to help my wife and friends with the emergency packing effort while I was seeking out the van. They had done more than their part, and they needed to get to safety.

Bordering on panic, I started asking around for help, but a lot of people had problems of their own. it wasn't that they didn't have time for me, but a stalled van with an effectively empty gas tank was not a problem someone was going to fix with their pocket knife or tool box.

By happenstance, I bumped into His Excellency Andrew Turnbull on the road as I walked up to Queen's Highway. I blurted out my situation, wondering what, if anyone, he or anyone in his group could do to help.

Andrew didn't hesitate. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. "Go, find my wife and she'll tell you where my truck is. If it comes to it, you can try and use it to pull the van out."

And with that... he turned and continued on with whatever mission had brought him that way.

So there I was, in the middle of a pending rain storm, wind all around me, with a dead car, and a friend's keys in my hand, and no real assurance of how all of this was going to come together. After all, walking to the parking lot for another vehicle could be another hour.

Out of the corner of my eye just then, I saw a flicker of light. Looking over, A cluster of Namron campers were restarting their camp fire. Hoping for the best, I walked over to them and explained myself. "So, right now, if we can, I'd like to see if we can push the van up to the road where it's level." I said by way of ending.

Everyone there looked shaken, tired, and just a little miserable. The camp looked like it had taking the storm better than some, but wasn't without damage. I'd imagine that if something else, everyone was more than a little burned out from the shock of it all.

"Okay, let's go!" someone said. And to my shock, everyone there just hopped up and started over to the Mooneschadowe camp with me.

It took us a few minutes to organize ourselves, and I was in no rush. We were talking about pushing a fully loaded (large frame) minivan up and muddy incline, at night, with no real assurance that it would start once we got it up there.

Everyone got on the front end, Liliana took the wheel. I made sure no one was exactly in the middle of the bumper. If something went disastrously wrong, we didn't want anyone under the car as it rolled forward.

"Alright, on three!" I shouted.

"One"... Everyone leaned against he van.

"Two"... Feet settled into the ground, finding purchase.


With a giant heave, the van lurched backwards, and to my shock, it kept moving. With about a dozen people working at it, we actually got it up to a good clip, and rolled it all the way up the shallow incline to Queen's highway, with was level ground. Liliana turned it on the road, and put the car in neutral.

I tossed her the keys and she put them in the ignition.

I remember saying a prayer just then. I was out of options, out of resolve, our of confidence, and out of patience. Whatever was left would be God's to province, because, even with the Almighty's help, if the van didn't start, I had no idea what to do next.

Lilian turn the keys...

And the engine started right up.

Just about everyone within earshot of the van cheered at the sound.

I almost broke down in tears from the relief. We were going to make it out of there ahead of any storms that were coming.

Before I hopped into the driver's seat, I ran over to Kyna and handed her her husband's keys.

"Wait! What the hell are you doing with Andrew's keys!?" She blurted out in total shock.

I laughed. "He heard I had some car trouble and tossed them at me. Said to use the truck if I needed it."

"Oh." she said, suddenly calm. "That totally sounds like something Andrew would do."

We laughed in agreement, I thanked her, and told her to pass my thanks to Andrew, then I turned and ran back to the van.


The war was over the moment the storm hit, or at least effectively so. Days later, word of a small, subdued known world party trickled out from the event, but most of us, fully nine tenths of the people on sight, made their exit that Friday after the storm.

Injuries were few, but not unheard of. I learned later than a small cadre of people, all volunteers, had pooled their resources and converted the Green Dragon into a makeshift first aid center to evaluate and tend to the injured. At least one person was transported off-site by EMS, and reports of several others traveling under their own power to Hattiesburg for medical treatment started circulating later in the day.

Anything that even looked like a "Car port" pop-up tent on site looked like it had lost a fight with a ogre. Outdoor carpets and flooring were either destroyed by the rain, or left behind because they were soaking wet and too heavy to move. Period pavilions, arguably the toughest of the fabric structures there, did not escape unscathed. Mooneschadowe's main pavilion had snapped its ridgepole and one center strut, and the heavy canvas had torn open in the collapse. The Calontir Kingdom pavilion was destroyed outright, and multiples walls, doors, and other sections of fabric from around the site had been gobbled up by the wind, not to be seen again. In terms of a material, the event was a mind bruising for the society and its people. Not a devastating loss, but one that would be talked about for a good time to come.

The truth of the matter was that, at least for me, the real cost of the night was the fear that we all felt when we didn't know who was where, or if anyone was injured. Several tents were crushed under falling limbs or trees. All of them were empty, but that was a matter of chance over any real design. Several of the injuries could have been a lot worse, and per a few, were only inches from being life altering, But chance and the Divine being what they are, "close" was the worst that most of us actually came to serious harm.

There wasn't any followup storm activity that night. The truth of the matter is that if we had been stuck there we would have been safe (if cold), not that there was any way to known that at the time, even if my cell phone had worked.

Most people had flocked to hotels after the storm, including my family and I. We'd come back to a camp that had been beaten down, but not broken in spirit. In the midst of chaos, people were laughing at the defiant chorus of the marching cadence they were singing in the face of the storm. Tired, we were all still helping each other with what energy we had left, though that wasn't a lot.

So, for us, Gulf Wars XXV ended on Friday, around 4 pm, or so, as part of the slow, wet exodus from site.

There was easily a week's worth of soaking wet laundry in the van. And just as easily a month's worth of stories. The worst of it hadn't erased our spirits, or even dulled them. And in the midst of it all, rather than turn on each other, as the modern age as warned us about, I saw, first hand, that people banded together, and saw each other through it all.

Gulf this year was the twenty fifth year of the event, an argent year, And as with every SCA war, it is a trial to be endured by those who would embrace it for what it was. Sometimes it was a trial of heat, others a trial of strength. For me, in times past, it was one of character, and of endurance.

But this year, it was definitively a trial of wind and water.

A trial where friends banded together to hold up a tent against driving winds.

A trial where friends rallied to each other's sides.

A trial where trust was as much a weapon against despair as any sword in a fight.

A trial where fear was bested with courage and determination.

I dare say that after being weighed and measured in this trial, the Society for Creative Anachronisms was found worthy of the honor I know it holds dear to its heart.

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"