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!"

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