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!"

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