Sunday, September 17, 2017

I didn't enjoy this weekend, and why that's okay. (Triumph XII)

I'm not going to sugar-coat my feelings about this weekend.

I overall didn't enjoy it.

I know, it's a supremely crummy thing to say about an event, let alone the event that your own home group has hosted.  Triumph is one of the only events that I and my wife can say we have consistently attended for as long as we have been in the SCA, to call the event 'storied' would be an epic understatement of criminal proportions. Some of my oldest friendships were born at that event, some of our greatest local leaders came of age at Triumph, and at least one past crown was knighted at the event. In the truest of SCA fashion, it is an event born of larger than life personalities with deeds worth of the word 'legend'.

So, of course, this begs the question of what, perchance, could have left me with such an ill opinion of Triumph this year.

There is no single thing, of course. Just as there is no magic bullet that can event single-handedly make a gloomy day bright again, no one pitfall could take down the spirits of a man with my history. But as with any armor, enough of the right blows will eventually chip away at it until the body beneath if exposed.

There really can be no overstating the heat as its own factor. Friday night was warm, bordering on hot, and sticky through and through. Saturday was more of the same, rising like a pot of water brought to a boil over hours. All the cold water and shade in the world could only delay the inevitable hammer blow of fatigue and strain as the temperatures soared into the afternoon. By the time the range closed, I was so tired I had lost track of time and was late to feast, which not only pissed me off but meant that I was late to herald the courses as they came out, the ONLY heraldry I had planned to do that day in the first place. By the time we got home Saturday night, I had a roaring headache, was cross-eyed, and, frankly, not safe to drive. I was still sick to my stomach and borderline miserable Sunday when I woke up.

Complimentary to this is the painful, and the hard-to-accept realization that the person I am today, a grant level veteran voice herald, got here at the expense of many things, including my youth, and much of my endurance. I don't have the resilience I once did, and I can't will myself through heat and fatigue like I used to.

As much as I love the art of archery, and I honestly and truly do, I hate running competitions. By its nature, the archery competitions need to be largely isolated, and distant, and the logistical setup is none too small with targets and ropes and backstops.

Out there at the range, I'm isolated, and largely forgotten by anyone who's not an archer. Now I'm not angry about it, per se, it's just the nature of the beast; I wouldn't expect a heavy fighter, or an artisan, or a cook to willfully distract themselves with some casual impulse of "hey, I wonder who's at the archery field right now?" But that doesn't change the fact that its the type of place that makes me, at least, feel forgotten about.

Additionally, the truth be told, I hate running competitions. I hate telling people "I'm sorry, it was good seeing you, but you just lost that round." I'm told I"m good at that type of thing to some extent, but that comes from my 'its a thing that has to be done' mentality. Don't mistake being good, or proficient, or whatever you want to call it, with having a good feeling about it when it's all done.

And please don't take this as some sideways jab at the archers themselves. The archery community of the north is composed of some of the best people I know and are a wonderful, supporting brotherhood. These are people anyone could, and should be glad to call friends. My issues here are definitively *not* with any of them in any measure.

On top of (but unrelated) to all of that,  getting 'corrected' by someone over something honestly stupid and trivial that evening didn't help. And I think the fact that it was something stupid didn't make it any less aggravating on my tired, overheated, throbbing mind. part of it was the heat, part of it was the "where the hell did that come from?" factor.

To talk about the elephant in the room, there is also the fact that I wasn't site-heralding.

I spent close to a decade of my life before the society and I met trying to find something I was actually good at. Someplace where I was good at what I did, where people appreciated and liked the services I offered, and most importantly, someplace where I can make a difference. It was at Mooneschaodwe Guardian (Triumph's predecessor event) two decades ago, when the site herald turned his ankle and asked me to help him out that Sunday morning. Years, ages, kingdoms, ranks, crowns later, I am the head site herald for Gulf Wars, I'm a driving force behind site herald education in the northern half of the kingdom, and I'm a known and respected heraldic leader in four kingdoms.

And I haven't site heralded my own event in four years.

Why? I could say I was driven off by internal politics, but that's not really a complete truth. I could say I lost my temper and did something stupid enough to make people rightfully mad at me, but that would come with the same caveats. I could honestly and truthfully say a lot of things about why I have stopped heralding my own event, but the one truth that stops that from happening is that there really is no good to be had from retelling that story. The important thing is that I finally reached a point where the political ramifications of site heralding my own group's event became too costly for me to pay in.

In short, I just threw my hands in the air and gave up. The blunt and honest truth of the matter is that Archery was an ultra-convenient, coincidental excuse for me to keep going to the event where I otherwise had nothing to do. This year, all of that, for at least two dozen different reasons, coalesced into a too hot, underrewarding Saturday for me.

Now, before I go on, (and now that I have your attention) I don't want anyone to take away from this that I was completely and only miserable.  I did enjoy seeing my friends, and I was elated to see some of the awards given out in court and during the day. Its not that the day was only bad, its that the negatives in my specific case drastically outweighed the positives.

The truth of the matter is that most of us have been there, especially the veteran players with five, ten, fifteen or more years behind us. Sometimes you are able to 'see the big picture' and see past the rough spots. Sometimes you can force yourself to like the event. But there are times when none of that really works.

But in my mind, the true separator between a seasoned member and someone who has just stuck around for a long time is what, if anything they choose to do with weekends like this. To put it more directly, as well as more poetically:

Q: "What is the difference between a master and a student?"

A: "The master has failed more times than the student has had a chance to try."

To put that in a more practical perspective, a lot of the things listed above were within my power to control or avert. The fact that I overall didn't enjoy this weekend is, in retrospect (said with air-conditioning and Ibuprofin as well)  my failure more than anything else. And it's a failure that I need to work to fix.  It's going to mean time, effort, money, and collaboration. Its going to mean changes, and possibly some drama, but its also going to mean new opportunities with old friends, and maybe even a chance to make some new ones.

No good adventure story ever starts off easy, and that's how I am choosing to see this weekend.

The page just closed on chapter one. Its time to get to work on Chapter 2.

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Why I Work.

I had a rather profound moment today at the dojo.

My instructor was talking about how much he enjoys watching people learn as he teaches them. Its easy to look forward and see how far you still have to go (in fact, for some of us BJJ white belts, its crushing), but its just as easy to forget to look back and see how far you have come. Having that outside perspective and sharing it with students is a powerful tool,. and can be a great motivator.

One of the things that I appreciate about my Brazilian Jujitsu class is that as competitive as my instructor, John Paul Taylor is, he really, truly, honestly gets a kick out of when one of us latch onto a technique all of a sudden he's on the receiving end of some bone-popping, neck-twisting hold or grip.

I have to say, after putting on armor in the SCA for 7 years, I never really got that. Sure, it was fun when we did learn something, but then all that turned into was literal permission for everyone else at the fighter practice to ratchet things up. Felt like I never really had a chance to enjoy being good at something (or even passable), just a constant litany of "Oh, but you can be better!" There were plenty of times when I did enjoy the hell out of it, but when I look back, I see a balance where the investment on my part was, on a good day, on parity with what I was getting out of it. In short, for me at least, it was a break-even equation, and one done on my own dime.

The part of today's class that really resonated with me, however, was the idea of enjoying the success of teaching more than the pursuit of rank. John Paul has said multiple times that he is much more interested in teaching us than he is chasing another rank. With my work in voice heraldry, I think that sentiment really, truly encapsulates my feelings.

Honestly, as much as I look at all the perks of someday being a Pelican in the society, I think I've been somewhat programmed to say "things will be better when I'm a peer." I don't know if anyone deliberately set out to make that mindset, but Lord knows, its a very real framework of a lot of conversations I've had.

If anyone wants to know why I travel to Gulf Wars each year and head up site heraldry, or why I run scheduled and impromptu site heraldry classes, or why I autocratic AHSS two years ago or why I'm teaching my girdlebook classes everywhere...

When I do any of those, the thought of an award or recognition is the farthest thing from my mind.

Do I think about it? Absolutely.

But I've been down the "what do I need to do next to get X award" road. It's a dark, backward path that pulls out all of the worst in me. And in the end, no award has never been award been enough to get me out of bed or make me drive multiple hours. No, that motivation much more personal, and much more tangible, again at least for me.

If you want to know why? the reasons are two fold.

First, its because the people I teach or work with have a community that not only welcomes me, but we openly encourage each other. Not only that, but many of these people are people I seek out when I'm not working an event and people I just enjoy hanging out with. As corny as it sounds, voice heralds, and more specifically site heralds, are a relatively unique community, and often, we are quick to bond.

And second, its because I honestly get the biggest kick out of teaching people something new and cool. And watching them grow in that skill and do amazing things with the tools I gave them is an even better feeling. And more to that, coming together, as a team, to tackle a big job (like Gulf Wars) and not only doing it, but doing it well, THAT moment of triumph, success, and accomplishment...
that is what I was looking for for so long in the heavy weapons community and never found.
And that is why I don't think twice about doing the work I do today in the society.

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Of loss, of friends (Mistress Talanna The Violet)

I'm sure my handful of loyal readers (all two of you [laugh]) are probably wondering why I haven't published anything about This year's Ansteorran Heraldic and Scribal Symposium and the following Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium.

Logistically, the reason is rather simple, preparation for the latter started as I was driving home from the former, meaning time to write was non-existent. And after making it to KWHSS in Tennesse, my family continued on to visit my parents and relatives in Virginia for a week. A much needed, if somewhat tiring vacation in itself. Writing never happened.

For something of a summary, our Kingdom symposium was an amazing event, and my hat is off to his (now) excellently Erick, Sar Principle Herald, for helping to orchestrated a series of Heraldic Thistles that not only helped recognised the art in heraldry, but helped set president for future crowns to do the same, a trend I hope to see more of.

Also, My Customer Service class at Known World was a runaway success, with attendance topping twenty-five, and me running out of handouts in seconds. I was able to have lunch with Alexander Ravenscroft, the man I credit with helping to get me part of where I am today, and I was able to join HE Adela from Atlantia for Dinner, a wonderful experience.

Though I'm not going to pull any punches, some of KW was spoiled for me by the conduct of a few people. I know its not fair for me to say I didn't like an event because of a total of two warm bodies, but the fact of the matter is that getting yelled at, or barked at is... unpleasant, to be polite about it.

Between those factors and the time crunch of the vacation, well, as I said time to sit down and write just didn't happen.

But that's not why I'm here now. I'm here because I do have something I need to tell you about.

It doesn't start two weeks ago when I was at my parent's home. In fact, in a way, it ended there. But as a narrative goes we should start there.

I was getting dressed, as I recall, following a morning shower before another full day of museums and meals with friends from high school. My wife looked over at me from the other side of the guest bed, her phone in her hand, a suddenly worried look in her eyes.

"Talanna had a stroke yesterday."

The sad fact of the matter is that I am very good at compartmentalising such information. I think it's part of my emergency services training and experience, but I also know it comes in part from surviving being bullied at school. You just learn not to get mad or wrapped up in the things you truly can't do anything about. From what we learned later that hour, Talanna was alive and had paralysis on one side of her body. Even knowing what the prospects were for a stroke survivor, I was too far away, and too buried in a super busy trip to do much more than say "God, I hope she recovers."

I remember my first time ever seeing Talanna. The Laurel arrived at a Mooneschadowe populace meeting just a few weeks, as I recall after I started playing so that she could formally take Rhiannaon Redwulf as her apprentice. The relationship would ultimately see Rhiannon make it to her own peerage, but at the time, I was too green, you mouthy, too young and far, far too stupid to really understand or appreciate any of that. I just remembered her as the woman in purple, for all that was worth to me at the time.

Years, ages later, I was three days back from my trip "home" to see my parents. I was tired, I was not fully rested, and I was grouchy because how tired I was. The day at work was not going well for me, and some of my customers were being... pushy.

My Phone buzzed just then. We're not supposed to have them out on our desks, but some of us push the rules. I glanced over and saw a facebook notification. I didn't even think twice, I just tapped it to see who had said what.

The wife of my former liege lord had posted one of her characteristic comments on life just then.

"Dear death, please stop taking my friends. It's not okay."

Confused, I IMed her asking after the cryptic comment. For some reason, some worthless, stupid, self-involved reason just then, I had totally forgotten about Talanna. When Aline replied back with the news of her terminal prognosis, of a  mind too traumatized by successive strokes, I suddenly felt an icy cold ten-ton weight land on my shoulders.


A few years ago, for reasons you can read about on your own if you want, I jumped headlong and shockingly into the world of book heraldry. I had people coming up to me left and right for help with this and that. Even though I didn't know anything, I knew who to ask, and people I knew wanted to talk to me.

I remember somewhere in there I had made some time to talk with Talanna about some garb ideas I was interested in. We had sat down at Will Rodgers Scout camp and gone over details and books and much of what you would expect from a clothing Laurel being asking for help. I don't remember how it came up, but somewhere in there, the point came up that she had actually never registered her name or a device.

"By the way, Mistress," I said, "If you ever want to register it, I'm happy to do the legwork for you." I shrugged just then. "Just tell me what you want, I can probably make it happen for you. I'll ever fill out the forms."

To my surprise, she gave me a bit of a startled look and said, "You know, I've never, in all my years of playing, had a herald offer to do that for me?"

I shrugged again. I wasn't trying to impress anyone, or show off or anything. I was a Herald, that was what heralds do, wasn't it. And she was a friend, friends are who we're supposed to help, right? It was just the right thing to say.

She thanked me for the offer, and that was that. I honestly never gave it a passing thought after that until a few months ago when she caught me, ironically enough at the same camp side, but a few years later, and said: "Ivo, does that offer of helping me with a heraldry submission still stand?"

"Of course," I said, instantly recalling my offer.

And so, that was how I got Talanna The Violet as a client for a name and Device submission. Just like all of my other clients, I called up my friends and confidants in the College to document and check a name, a badge, and a device. When it came time to submit, I just pulled out my own check book and wrote the check. She had told me to tell her the costs and she would refund me, and that was my plan, but at the moment, it was easier to just write the check myself and settle up with her later.

The decision meeting on that submission actually happened at this past Ansteorrian heraldic and scribal symposium. Sitting in on it, this was where we decided that the name's documentation didn't hold up. I wasn't thrilled, but hey, you can't win them all, right? So, we would have to rework the name when I got back from my trip, another day, another job to do. I was actually okay with that as a next step. I pulled out my phone before leaving and set an appointment on my calendar to IM Talanna when I got back so we could talk about how to fix her name submission.

Sitting there at work, looking at my phone, between customer calls, probably one of the most poetic bits of irony landed in my lap like a two by four to the face.

My email chimed with my weekly reminder of my personal schedule for the next 7 days.

Item 2: "Remember to IM Talanna and talk about name submission this Saturday/All day reminder."

And then, ten seconds later, my phone beeped and I had to say "Thank you for calling [redacted] Pro Support, My name is Cisco, How are you doing today?"

They say that loss has five stages. It doesn't with me. I cut my teeth on too many situations too young to even think about denying when bad things happen. I don't say "no, it can't be, I don't say, "Its not possible". I just accept that bad things happen and that they can come in like a rabid lion too mad to understand its own damage.

In the midsts of all of this, I remember the last time I had actually spoken to her in person. She had come to a Mooneschadowe meeting to teach how to clean and fix sewing machines. It was just a few weeks ago now. Afterwards, she had asked me how much she owed me for the submission.

"Well, the total was for three submission items, $8 each. So lets call it $24 total... in the form of some service or item of Garb to be given to a new member or some other appropriate person."

She had smiled, nodded, and agreed. Nothing more was said, but I am supremely confident that she both understood my point, and was in agreement that the price was fair.

It felt odd remembering that conversation that day. It was so vivid, so real, so current in my mind.

But while I didn't sit there at my desk and try to deny what I had just heard, I did get angry.

Not just angry, furious. Mad at the world, the sun, the sky, the earth, the concept of existence. I was mad that this had to happen, and I was mad that the world would now be a lesser place without the likes of Talanna.

During a break, I took to Facebook, and composed my rage:

When the angel or messenger of death comes to me, whatever its name, Azriel, Anubis, Hades, aValkyriee, whatever... when they come, no matter how much pain I'm in, how old I may be, how ready I am to leave this life, I'm going to look it in the eye, say "welcome", and then I'm going to break its nose and yell "That one was for Terrick, My Aunt Candy, My Dog Pippin, and my friend Talanna the Violet. I hope your fucking snout heals crooked!" Then I'm going to walk past him and add "I'll walk from here."

It felt good to write it, it felt good to get the idea out. For just bout the first time in my life I was mad enough to contemplate honest heresy, if the Angel of the Lord had walked up to me just then, I would have more than seriously contemplated a prizefighter's right hook with lethal intent behind it.

That was time-stamped at 1:11 pm CST on my facebook page.

Twenty-one minutes later, my IM chimed.

Elena Wyth (of all people) friend and a member of the College if heralds, was IMing me.

I'd met Elena relatively recently, and my fondest memory of her is actually an argument. We had crossed sword, as it were wit strongly differnt opinions about a class idea I had, and she had gone toe-to-toe with me (quite literally) to criticise my proposition. She had walked up to me later and apologised.

I literally laughed. "For what?" I asked with an honest smile.

"I was a little more... passionate than I should have been."

"Nonsense! its good to see someone stand their ground and make a good, solid argument! You're okay in my book. No hard feelings at all!" I had meant every word of it too. Sure she was strong willed, but her arguments were sound and solid. and she never resorted to name calling or any such nonsense. For me, it was perhaps the best possible impression I could have asked for from someone.

And that memory is what was hovering in the back of my mind as I pulled up her message.

"In the scope of all things - this is very minor message, but, you were consulting herald, so! I'm going to push through Talanna's stuff."

I don't even know if Elena had ever met Talanna, or knew more than to say the name before that date. But here she was, ready to help do a unorthodox fast track on a submission so that maybe we could register Talanna's arms (and still possibly name) so that they would be on the books and protected. It turns out that the idea was her lord's to claim, but she had agreed and had evidently been closer to a computer to make it happen. But within the hour, none other than Star Principle Herald himself had called and left a message verifying that he was putting his name to the plan as well.

Later on, Elana confirmed that the special letter of intent for society level submissions had been sent.

Somewhere that night, the anger finally broke like a fever, and the weight of the whole situation landed on me like a load of laundry soaked in cold water and dropped from twenty stories up. Enough to make you miserable, but not enough to know me down. I felt sad for the loss, and sad those who had lost more. I felt guilty for feeling the way I did when other had lost so much more, and I felt worst still for not feeling worse, for being so f*ing resilient and strong that I was going to work and I was talking to customers through it all.. acting almost as if none of it bothered me.

Again, I took to Facebook

Guys, I need something to remind me there is still good in the world.
I don't need comedy or a laugh.
I need to know there are still cases where 'the good fight' is out there, and still worth fighting.
I need to remember that there are still causes worth fighting for.
I guess I need to be reminded that there still is a light at the end of this really ugly tunnel right now.

I didn't know what I expected. In fact, I'm fairly sure I wasn't expecting anything, but I just needed something, anything to remind me, on an emotional level, that there would be an end to this.

To my surprise, one of the replies was from Master Darmaid, Talanna's Husband.
"Yes, there is still good. I've learned that from the most wonderful partner a person could have. And she'd tell you so if she could."
That a man still immediately involved in the process of his wife's death could stop and write such a thing for the benefit of someone who at best is a casual acquaintance is, to my mind, a testament not only to his strength of character but also to the legacy of Talanna herself.

Its said that the 4th stage of loss is where you try and negotiate. With whom... I have no idea, but its evidently human nature to try and mitigate or otherwise control the impact of the loss.

I don't.

I don't say "I'll do anything", or "maybe we can change this" or whatever. One of the lessons I learned early, compliments of the fire service, is that death isn't a businessman. You don't negotiate, you just pay the bill hen it's due and picks up the pieces when it's over.

Trust me, as life outlooks go, this one is not something to brag about.

But, with that step gone before it ever arrived, it left me with the cold, mirthless embrace of acceptance.

I accept that I am going to walk away from this less complete than I was. I accept that the world is a lesser place without Talanna, and her contributions to us were still vibrant, and honest, and real and current and valuable.

I accept that the "other side" of this will not look like what life did before this happened. I, at least, and probably others, will forever carry the reminder of what might have been, and what will never be now.

But I also accept that to embrace these facts is to keep with the spirit of the person in question. Because to accept them is to learn to add them to life's load and move forward so that we do for others by the example of what Talanna did for us.

When another friend of mine lost his son to a fire, I wrote a poem to help me make some semblance of sense to all of this. Here, I write it again, with one line changed in honour of Talanna.

I do not pray for those lost, for they are in God's hands.
Is is for us, the living, that I now pray. For it is we who shoulder the weight of loss, the darkness of despair, and the loneliness of an empty place in our lives. 
Talanna is at peace, at rest with friends long gone.
But let us now turn our thoughts to those still with us, those next to us, friend and stranger, far and near. For I believe in my heart of hearts that there is still work to the done on this earth, and still friendships to be forged, rivalries to be set aside, lives to be built, and built up, and built upon.
There is work to be done, and it is good work, and it is important work.
~And ironically, much of it is exactly the type of monotonous work that I would expect Talanna to be doing with her sleves rolled up and her hands busy with a project or three.
For those hurting, I ask peace. 
For those morning, I ask hope.
For those haunted, I ask blessings.  
For those angry, I ask joy.
And for those lost, I ask guidance.
In Christ's name I pray,

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Congregation, Education, Fellowship (King's college 2017)

It was the type of journey that my wife and I have long ago accepted as part of the ritual pilgrimage owed by us to the kingdom. Perhaps that is a hair on the melodramatic side, but it is something of an accepted fact between us that the collegium events in our kingdom were benchmarks that we should make every effort to attend each year. This year was no different, and as such, we loaded up early the Thursday night before, and then set out Friday night from my place of work (thanks to a friend bringing my wife that far) for the five some-odd hour drive down to the home of a friend who was offering us lodgings for the night, allowing us a fresh start in the morning.

King's College was one of the events that I didn't get to make it down to as often as I would have liked. With it occasionally showing up in the southern region, there were times when it was one of the first casualties of time and fiscal responsibility. Not that I never make it, some of my favorite stories still come from one of my earlier ventures down.  Still, as come has passed, the focus of such trips has also changed from one of an exclusive student to one of teacher and comrade. Much like it's cousin Ansteorrian Heraldic & Scribal Symposium, King's College is as much a chance to network and socialize as it is anything else. And, to be fair, my goal this year was one of teaching, education, and networking.

The first class for me was my newest addition to my library: "Introduction to Ansteorra". This was my attempt to help give a framework of information to new members. As it happened class was scheduled for the main fellowship hall, and my collection of five students shared the space with about thirty people sitting and chatting. We were successful in holding the class, but I felt like the setting wasn't as conducive to conversation and interaction as it could have been. Still, I am not sorry I held it.

Afterwards, I chanced across a familiar face on her way into the same event. Less than a fortnight following her elevation, Deanna was walking in the door just as I was making my exit from the main hall. It wasn't just good to talk to her again, but it wad good to talk with her as a friend, and without the weight of a job to do hanging over my shoulders. Not to suggest for a second that I even slightly regretted accepted the request to herald her into her Laureling, but part of success is the ability to look back at it and enjoy it for the accomplishment it was.

Mistress Deanna de la Penna at her elevation, two weeks before.
Photo compliments of  Master Caelin on Andrede
With permission of Caelin and Deanna. 
Deanna has always been one of the "kind spirits" in my circle, a pleasant person with a pleasant outlook on life, the type of calm a chaos junky like me enjoys being around ever so often. We only spoke in passing, her on her way up a small flight of steps, I on my way down the same flight. It's not that there was anything momentous about the conversation, but I write about it here because I feel it's important that people understand the value of a "kind spirit". Is there any word, or sentence or even conversation in my friendship with Deanna that is somehow moments or epic? no. But would my life be a lesser story without her influence on its narrative? Yes, I wholeheartedly believe it would be.

The event broke for lunch at this point, and we all went our separate ways, my wife, myself and our host travelling to a local Italian eatery. The waitress there was fascinated with our garb, and we made sure to leave her with a SCA business card.

My next classes weren't for some hours after lunch's conclusion, so I set out to wander the halls and enjoy what conversation I could. I had looked over the class list already, and would continue to do so throughout the day, but for a myriad of reasons, and some questions of fatigue, I didn't feel up to attending any of the offered classes just then.

In something of a happy coincidence, the same length of steps from where I had spoken with Deanna was stage for another figure when I walked by some time later. Tall, and stately in a way truly unique to his six-foot-plus frame, Duke Adb al-Mahdi Jamal ibn Hakim, was dressed in his typical Moorish splendor, sharing a laugh with friends when I walked up to him that afternoon. if someone had a write a thesis statement about our resident Moorish duke, it would be that his cool confidence was perfectly counterbalanced by an inherent humility, and the whole package pivoted on an innate drive to make others happy. For all of his regal trappings, Mahdi was about as dignified as a high-school birthday boy, with an expressive face more likely to smile than anything else. Nearly every other sentence I have heard from the man is some empathetic recognition of something said to him a moment before, what has to be a reflexive pattern of engagement and encouragement at this point in his life. In every encounter with the man over my two decades here, each conversation was treated such that, regardless of our respective ranks, we were always met as equals, two men linked by a love of fun stories and lives that can only be called larger than the sum of their parts.

Duke Adb al-Mahdi Jamal ibn Hakim from spring coronation , 2017
Photo compliments of  Stephen Blakele
With permission of Stephen and Mahdi

The conversation that day was epic in its simplicity. Madhi was still very much coming down off of the unexpected high from his Lioning two weeks before, and even as he stood there, a lion's medallion handing off its mantling on his chest, the majority of his conversation revolved around illustrating how amazing his friends were, and how humbled he was for the ongoing recognition. A man of extraordinary energy and enthusiasm, nothing better defines him than his drive to lite others up with his good spirit. All that being said, he also brings an extraordinary career to any conversation, and the ability to talk about as many battles as he has been in, or camp fires that he has been around adds depth to any exchange.

This day we swapped stories about Ansteorrian 30th Year and some of the heraldic submissions Madhi and I had both seen, as well as bringing up some of the frequent ruminations about "the militant arm of the college of heralds". We shifted the conversation about membership numbers, and recruitment issues ever closer to the forefront of modern SCA policy. Every word out of his mouth punctuated with an expressive face that spelled out his thoughts on a subject before the words could be shaped by his mouth.

My second class of the day, held close to the end, was my Girdlebook class. I had discovered girdle books at Kings College some time ago when they were handed out as site tokens for instructors. The first was a slip cover for a small marble notebook. I later expanded on the idea, making a larger, more durable book for storing my cell phone. When that got stuck in a car door, I finally assembled another one, this one with a fake leather cover and metal hardware. My class is the product of historical research and some soap-boxing I have taken to doing lately about people pulling out their model phones while at events, and worse yet, while they are in court. The class was well attended, with, as I recall, over a dozen people attending, and paying close attention, asking questions and swapping stories and feedback.

The final class of the day, starting at four, wasn't a class at all. Rather it was a roundtable I described as "a chance for voice heralds to sit down and just talk for a few". More specifically, this was a chance for younger or prospective heralds to ask questions of the more experienced core of heralds.

Master ‎Brian O'hUilliam (left) and Master Alden Drake (right)
Both photos taken from Facebook (I *might* have asked permission)

I've known Brian and Alden for longer than I really care to try and remember. Though I think my first real interaction with Alden was when he was Star principle herald and I was interviewing for Northern Regional herald Brian, on the other hand, is a southern voice herald, and student to Master Modius (another personality I know well) whom I have crossed paths with on only a few occasions, though we sometimes meet like a pair of rams trying to see who's head in harder.

Alden has always been, at least in my conversations, the quit, reasonable voice in a room. The guy who puts his hand up and says "you know, that guy over there just said something interesting." I'd imagine he has as full a spectrum of emotions as any of us, but his demeanor in my presence has always been one of calm determination.

Brian, (again much like his mentor, Modius), is an intense, focused personality. His words are not just chosen, but sculpted, and if you listen to him talk, its clear that where many of us would tolerate, or perhaps just survive administrative settings, Brian thrives in them, much like my mundane self did in the chaos of an emergency situation. It's tempting at times to unflatteringly call him a policy wonk dismissively, but to do so ignores the fact that he doesn't talk to hear himself talk, he talks to accomplish things, and those things, more often than not, as real world with tangible consequences. He's a rare man, able to display the type of stoic determination at times that I would more often associate with a soldier or warrior.

As to the hour-long meeting, the conversation was well attended, with heralds and non-heralds, new and veteran in attendance. It was a good roundtable, actually, with some interesting questions being asked. One young herald asked is things overhear from other heralds has any sort of expectation of copyright, or the like. Another asked about the roles of the herald at an event, and who they work for, also who seeks out heralds for what activity. That lead to a fascinating (and expected) conversation about differences in how groups manage their own event. I really do want to call out Alden for reminding us that talk of what heralds are needed where is something that should be talked about earlier rather than later. I also pointed out that approaching a subject from the standpoint of "we need a herald" will play into the conversations of detractors who don't approve of voice heraldry at events. The subject of information flow, communication, and timeliness, things that do resonate with event stewards more often than not.

The interplay between seasoned heralds and the younger crowd (not to mention two non-heralds who also attended and contributed as well) was encouraging and educational for all of us I felt. It wasn't epic, or earth moving, but being a good herald isn't about being larger than life all the time. It can be about the little conversations, the hints, the tips, the words of reassurance between comrades.

I'm glad for the classes I taught at King's collect this year, but I'm more grateful for the chance to reconnect with friends, old and new, and the ability to build up the network of people, heralds and not, who help make my SCA career as extraordinary as it is. And also, I'd like to home that in turn, I am able to do the same to others as our paths cross each meetings and each event.
His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

101 Reasons

I hit a point about ten years ago, give or take, when I was ready to quit the SCA. There wasn't some catastrophic fight or major drama this time. I just woke up one morning, not wanting to go to a meeting, or attend an event. It wasn't some temporary lethargy. This was a persistent, confident fatigue, like the joy of the game had finally drifted away. As I crawled out of bed that day and climbed into the shower, my mind dwelled on all of the mistakes that had pot marked my SCA career so far.

The misunderstandings, the bullying, the taunting. It felt like reliving my middle school career all over again. People I once called friends were now distant, some openly mocking of our differences. I'd been called "a petty little bitch" and "pussy" to my face more times by members of the fighting community in a single season than I think I had been called in two years of middle school. What "friends" I could recall that morning were few, far between, and none of them really inspired confidence. I was once again a confirmed member of the looser's club. mocked or ignored for things that I never actually said, but oh "it's something Ivo would say, so it must be true." For some reason that seemed to carry with it more weight and credibility than any flavor of denial I could ever give, and that was assuming I was ever asked my side of things. All too often I was not.

I probably washed my hair twice that morning. It's something I do when I'm distracted, usually not noticing until I went to rinse my hair and notice the shampoo suds already on the walls. I would just roll my eyes and hope that the extra scrubbing helped with my dry skin.

I think I've been called every name in the book at least once. But that wasn't what killed me most of the times. What used to just hack me off was when I would work my ass off at an event. I'd help stack chairs, or do dishes, or load trailers on Sundays, good, honest, hard word, the type that leaves salt stains on your shirt from all the perspiration. Did I ever get thanked? Sometimes, but honestly, I wasn't in it for recognition. So, that wasn't what made me mad. No, what made me had was that a week later, I would arrive late at some project, or just as they were wrapping up something, and help with the last tent pole or something really insignificant. You know, one last drop in the bucket, the type of penny-any bullshit that anyone can do. Then, someone would turn around and say "Good to see you finally helping out." Yeah, those words, one flavor or another, at least a half dozen times in two years. I remember when our resident centurion said it to me while I was hefting a ridge pole over my shoulder. I more than seriously contemplated taking his head off with it when his back was turned. Well, I'm not in jail, or on death row so you can guess what impulse win that little skirmish.

When I was drying myself off, the whole thing just played over and over and over again in my mind, like the credits on some 60s epic movie. It was a never ending list of every screw up I had ever legitimately done, or been wrongfully accused of. they just hung there over me, like lead bricks pulling down on my shoulders. Somewhere in there, I decided that there were a hundred reasons to just quit. I don't completely know why, but a round number like a hundred just sounded good. I went back to my room to get dressed, more than seriously wondering what I would do with my newfound free time when I quit the SCA and suddenly had even less than no life.

I don't remember when it crossed my mind, if it was before or after I got my blue jeans on, but some odd piece of logic came to me just then. if there were 100 reasons to quit, to walk away, to break off all ties, were there as many reasons to stay? It was an academic question, but still, the type of thing I liked to chew on.

Were there 100 reasons to stay?

I remember honestly counting just then. one, then two, then three...

Five, nine, seventeen...

Thirty-five. I remember that I got stuck on that for a while. Maybe, I reasoned, this was my logical side telling me that there really weren't enough good reasons to stay.

Then a name came to me. A man who at one time compared me to "a diamond in the rough".

HL Alarich Von Thorn, my first liege lord.

Then another name.

Lord Facon Du Prey, rapier fighter, friend, and fun spirit I knew from my times heralding the rapier fighters.

And then another, and another.

Then two more, and then twenty. Faces without names, voices without faces. People only known to me by a thank-you, or a smile.

I remember counting that day. I remember counting from one to one hundred.

The sales were even, and I felt the moment of uncertainty as the decision was no longer out of my hands, but felt like a ton of weight on my shoulders. Did I stay, and face the same bullshit? Or did I walk away and find some other pursuit?

Then one more name came to me. Honestly, it could have been anyone. It could have been any person from any time in the society. I assure you that the name was random, but not insignificant.

The name belonged to a man who welcomed me into a conversation, offered me a chair, and asked me how I was doing. He shared a laugh with me, and spoke with me, rather than to me. A man who's great status and stature were as distinct as they were visually powerful. But, the same could be said for his friendly demeanour and encouraging attitude.

Perhaps it could have been anyone who just happened to be that hundred and first person. But in my case, it was (then) count Mahdi.

So, feeling the scales of the decision shift with the silent weight of an iceberg, I walked out of the house that day not contemplating an exit from the society but wondering what I was going to bring to the next project's night.

Now, as easy as it is to sit back an enjoy this narrative for what it is on the surface, I ask you not to leave it at that. For if you carry this thought, this tidbit of philosophy forward to its logical conclusion, it doesn't head on a high note or a low note. Rather, it ends with a question.

"Are you someone's hundredth reason to quit, or are you reason one hundred and one to stay?"

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

The SCA is writing its own historical fiction (and why that's okay)

SCA publication release form for this article if located here.

As a writer and reader, one of the genre's I have the strongest emotional reaction to is historical fiction. Whether it's trying to slog my way through a  Harry Turtledove novel, or watching S. M. Sterling rewrite the ancient world, historical fiction novels have duel responsibility of having to know the actual history before deviating from it. And regardless of your opinion of historical (or alternate history) fiction, the one thing that can be said for the heavy-hitters in the field if that they bring hardcore academic credentials to the game, long before they put pen to paper for their works.

As a twenty year SCA member, I feel that there is something to be taken from this approach as we flirt with the very poorly defined grey area between LARPing and historical reenactment. The first thing we need to understand is that our game, which is the framework for almost all of what we do, is founded in fiction. The first SCA meeting was a costume party with some fantasy characters in attendance, and our own royal structure, as defined by society law, is ahistorical to ranks and policies in Europe from the time we claim to represent. Everything from how we select officers to what powers the crown has is little removed from a game children might play in their spare time.

So, how do we differentiate ourselves from the LARPing community, and how do be answer the scrutiny of the more staunch reenactment communities we exist alongside?

And before I move forward, let me clarify the importance of these two benchmarks.

 Live Action Role Play is on the rise in the US, gaining popularity and acceptance. It engages the aspects of the human mind previously reserved for fantasy book and movies. They gather in general seclusion, usually preferring their own company and not to become a public spectacle. Alternately, more rigorous reenactment groups, specifically American Civil War reenactors, strike for visual accuracy and personal research that is not only strongly academic but hold close personal relevance to the US as part of its history. These groups appeal to the every-day outside world to come and see history come to life before them. Both of these groups have overlap with SCA interests, and both represent examples of both what we want to accomplish, and what we want to avoid. Also, both have strong relevance in modern society, though for almost opposite reasons.

Most importantly, how can we call ourselves any sort of historical group, let alone an educational one, when our structure is as far departed from reality as it is?

I have heard people say "we recreate the best parts of the middle ages," but always thought that an imperfect answer as it was too vague for me. Most importantly, it was subjective of what people thought were "the best" parts.

For me, the answer is, literally, staring us in the face here. Rather than say "the best parts", or "what we want to do" when we talk about our game, what we should say is far, far more potent towards our actual goals.

We are a group of medieval enthusiasts who pull fragments of history togeather with arbitrary rules in order to both inspire and administer ourselves. But what is vital to this is that we understand where we deviate from history.

I have no illusions about how historically accurate my garb is when compared to my chosen culture and timeframe. And yes, I am investing time and money into upgrading my kit so that I do start to look more historically accurate. But for our purposes here, that's not the important thing. An authentic reenactor would never be seen wearing my costume. And a LARPer would most likely not give a thought to historical accuracy. In our case, or rather, in my case, somewhere in between, my personal, goal is not absolute accuracy, but the ability to say where I deviate from history.

No, the hat isn't strictly historical, I had the design modified to give me extra protection from the sun, for health considerations.

The shirt isn't even remotely English, but I do know what I would be wearing, and I do know where this design comes from. It would not be implausible, or even hard for an English merchant or travelling gentry to purchase this style if he were in Italy, or southern France.

No, the belt isn't really accurate for me, in fact, it would be considered old-fashioned even amongst the old men of my day. But as a SCA-ism, it works and it offers me a place to put my personal items. I am looking towards a more accurate, late period belt style. My belt is much, much more typical of the 11th century men.

I don't wear leggings, and I don't like or wear cod pieces, just deal with that. But, the legwear of the day was generally fitted, but not skin tight for men, so the visual appearance of my garb in that respect is not terribly far off the mark.

No, absolutely nothing about my footwear is period. However, I am a heavy-set, six foot, three-inch tall man who needs to support of modern insoles with proper arch support. As a working herald in the SCA who walks as much as I do, this is just a non-negotiable.

My current messenger bag is about 75% accurate, with the black plastic parts and adjustable strap being the major deviations, of course. None the less, the design, fabric type, and overall use are spot on for any number of locations in Europe across the whole of the "middle ages".

While there is no record to support that an Englishman of my timeframe ever specifically  lived the life I claim to have lived, or regularly donned the clothing that I have now, actual historical records of the day show that the English did travel across Europe for political, military and economic reasons across most of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. As with any travellers, they tended to adopt the clothing of the local area in all but the most formal ceremonial situations.

The life I live in the SCA is a fiction. But it is a fiction built on facts, and so long as I can remember, and reference those facts, I feel confident that I am, indeed, contributing to the educational mandate that is part of the society.

For us who balance history and budget (not to mention time), its not about getting it perfect out the door, it about being who we are, and what we want to emulate when someone asks the question.

And to be clear, part of what I have seen a shift in the society over the past two decades is a trend away from conversations like this, where we learn about each other's cultures and interests and influences and how they relate to our character or even our real selves. I feel that this type of conversation is part of not only want helps us learn more about the society and ourselves, but also helps lay the legwork for personal growth both in the society and within ourselves as individuals.

But even as we ask these questions, the fact of the matter is that we as a society will never have the high levels of historical authenticity set (and at times mandated) by other organisations. However, if we consider our actions here with the same metric that historical fiction authors use before they pen their intricate tales of what might have been, we can see that the idea of knowing real history is what allows us to better create our own fictional tales.

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

GW26: The measure of a man, the measure of a mission (part 8)

Part 8: afterwards

While my homeland may be called Mooneschaodwe within the society, in the real world its called Stillwater Oklahoma, and it has its share of history. One place where the two realities overlap is Finnegan's Pub, on Main street. The owner is a story worthy of a few books in his own right, but a good summary would be to say that Belgati started the SCA when he was a kid, becoming a page to a then Lord Owen ap Aden, When he turned 18, he joined the US Army and saw action in Iraq before completing his contract. After that was complete, he was hired by Blackwater International. In Medieval parlance, he would be proudly called a mercenary, through the term carries slightly more stigma today that it might have in history. But while the reputations may have shifted over time, the chief benefits of such service did not. He returned home with a  few scars, a lot of stories, and a respectable sum of money. Perhaps not a king's ransom, but enough to do things with. To everyone's surprise (including Belgati's, if you ask him), he opened a bar. To this day, if you know where to look, you can relatively easily see the hints of SCA heritage in the otherwise modern establishment. As a final touch, perhaps an added bit of obliqueness, Finnegan's set itself apart from nearly every other bar in the city by being tobacco free. if you wanted to smoke, there were chairs and cover on the patio, but the house rules were meant to make the place welcoming to people with respiratory sensitivities. 

And this interesting confluence of facts was why I was sitting out front that Monday night after the long drive back from Gulf. While I didn't smoke (or drink for that matter), a good number of the Liondragon guard did, and most of them liked to congregate together. I didn't mind sitting outside with them, the night was comfortable if not hot, and the breeze kept the patio well ventilated, I could barely smell any of the spoke as the few others puffed away. We were all tired, but for different reasons.

The Liondragon had done well at the war, but not enough to turn the tide of several reportedly heavily mismatched battles. While the King's battle ribbon had gone to House Wolfstar this year, an interesting turn of events had lead the Liondragon Rapier fighter's to take home its younger counterpart, the Queen's battle Ribbon.

I recalled from my first year in the SCA how a rapier fighter had seen the Liondragon guard return home with the King's Ribbon held high and proud. The comradery and esprit de corps of that image had inspired the man to take up heavy weapons fighting and to join the unit. Just over a decade later, Jean Paul de Seans would be knighted at Gulf Wars, before the castle that the had fought for and against so many times.  In the following years, he would reign over this same kingdom two times, and author critical changes to kingdom law that helped shape the kingdom we now live in.

Knowing about that story, and knowing how it stands now, I was left to wonder what affects the new battle standard would have on another crop of new members trying to decide if they were more interested in rapier or chivalric combat. Time, I knew, would tell the tale.

But there was certainly no inspiration to be had that night, we were all dead-on-our-feet tired, and not one of us had failed to earn our slouched postures and warn expressions. The captain had lead the guard not only on the heavy field, but also the rapier, and members had acquitted themselves well on both fields. Our Camp "mom", Rosma had shouldered the responsibility (and stresses) of organising and/or preparing three meals a day for us for the whole week, and she was so tired she couldn't even making it out to the makeshift "we made it home" celebration. Charles, who on paper had no responsibilities this war, had none the less busied himself doing what he did well, and to his credit, he had inspired and lead the manpower of Mooneschaodwe more times than I cared to count as we worked to pitch, and then strike camp, build and maintain fires, and then make sure the place was clean before we left. But even he was slouched in his seat, seeming to enjoy the fact he was back on home soil. 

Just then, Belgati stepped out from the front door and announced to us, "Alright, Liondragon's only, I've got food in the back, and we're all going to do a shot! let's go!"

Everyone got up and followed the man in to descend on a massive order of Ti food, and a bottle or two of some of the better stuff the bar had to offer.

Everyone, that is, except for me.

There were no hard feelings, no resentment, not even an ill thought. The fact of the matter was that I resigned my enlistment with the guard ages ago when I declined to take the oath. I had marched with the guard, I had lead them in battle, and I had died  (many times) in defence of this kingdom, and in pursuit of its king's orders. But as I transitioned from the young fighter to a person of my own character, I started to realise that the same attitude and drive that were making me into who I was were also not compatible with the guard as it existed at the time. Just as soldier, by the very nature of his job and his oaths, would make, at best, a constrained diplomat, a Liondragon guardsmen would make a very poor voice herald in the vein of what I had made myself to be all these years. I needed the freedom the cross borders and political alliances, I needed to distance to walk away from fighting and put my time elseware, and when those decisions were being made, the guard needed its members and it needed them close, and at hand.

So, all those years ago, for a million reasons, some polite, some passionate, and every one of them deeply personal, I walked away from calling myself  Liondragon. I still missed it. My heart still remembers what it was to be part of that group, to be one of the famed, and feared Liondragon guardsmen. Honestly, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't look back and smile at that time in my life, even in spite of its many shortcomings and rough spots.

That choice wasn't just a choice, I knew. I knew it then, and I know it even now. That choice was a fork in the road I call life.

To the one side, prestigious, if someone overshadowed service with the guard, whose prowess on and off the field were known kingdom wide.

And to the other, the vague mission to teaching myself site heraldry, and finding others to teach me court heraldry while I tried t stay active as a list herald. To take that path, was to wake up every morning, and be completely at the mercy of others who could, at any point in time, elect not to show up, and face no repercussions for it. It was to trade armour and sword for pen and paper. My enemy would no longer be Triamrus, or any of her allies, but rather the concepts of disorganisation, complacency, and time itself. It would either make myself, to break myself on my own merits, I would have only my own reputation to stand on, and none to fall back when and if it fell short.

And for some reason, or rather for a million reasons, I made that second choice. Its not that it was a harder one. to this day I'll confess that a guardmesn works physically harder at war than I ever do. Nor was it the more glorious, though that is admittedly a subjective metric.

But, it was the right choice for me, and people- no, comrades!,  like Yancy, Dietrich, Bridgit, Captain Savage, Johann and Garith were proof of that.

Getting to meet people Like Master Robin, and Alexander, both teachers, mentors, advocates and friends, were proof.

The goal and accomplishment of site heralding Gulf Wars, the second largest event in the whole of the society, was proof that I had made the right decision all those years ago.

And the friends made along the way, Skaia, Sofia, HE Adela, and HL Vastillia, just to name a few, were a silent testimony of how important that decisions was.

And as I sat there, tired and sore from five  days of walking and good portion of seventeen hours worth of driving, I quietly considered that while I had made the right choice, I still missed being able to honestly call myself "one of the group" out of respect for the fact that I didn't wear the uniform anymore.

Just then, Belgati came back out the door, mot of the others with him. in his hands was a shot glass.

"here you go, man! You too!"

"What?" I blurted out. "I'm not Liondragon anymore!"

"You worked your ass off at Gulf, and you worked for Moonechaodwe a chunk of that. You're entitled to this drink as much as any guard member." He pushed the glass into my hand.

I eyed the orange contents, "what is it, anyway?"

"English breakfast," he said with a smile, hardly the strongest concoction he could have handed me.

As I put the glass to my lips and drank my first taste of alcohol in more years than I really care to recall, I looked over at the rest of the guardsmen there. Some of them were smiling, others nodding at me as I joined them, an invited guest in a circle that I thought myself rightfully excluded from. And my mind went back to that first day on site, when some of these same people had rallied to help us pitch our tent. just like they had so many times before.

Maybe, I considered as I handed the empty glass back, maybe Mooneschaodwe was a relationship that I needed to rethink.

And maybe Finnegan's was a place I might want to hang out at a little more, even if only hi every once in a while.

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

The elevation of Deanna de la Penna

Prologue (Coronation, April 8th, 2017)

I remember literally throwing my hands in the air and cheering out loud when I saw the announcement come over the lists that Deanna had been offered her Laurel. I'd known Deanna for close to fifteen years, and the soft-spoken, gentle soul had always been kind to myself or anyone I saw around her. Her pen and brush work had been the stuff of SCA legend, and with the blessing of social media, the progress of her latest project had increasingly amazing us over a progression of weeks. But it would be nearly two months before I was able to pass along my congratulations in person.

As my wife and I travelled down to the moderately warm March coronation of  Gabriel and Sonja, we had a great many things to make sure were complete before the day was over, thought at the time, most of the said items were hers. Foremost on this list, of course, was the delivery of soon-to-be count Jason's county scroll, caliged by mistress  Niccolaia, and illuminated by my wife. I recall feeling like a royal envoy carrying terms of a peace treaty as I drove to site that day, so much import was placed on the scroll's delivery, through rightfully so.

The main event of the day, however, was the Elevation of HE Kyna Terricsdottir, Baroness of Namron, and longtime friend to many, including my wife and I. The day itself, was very much a regular SCA event for us in a great many respects. It was a great many long periods of casual conversation and "hello"s dotted with bits of excitement and joy.

The stepping down court of Jason and Margarita was much what we had come to expect from such courts, with everything painted heavy with the brush of glad wishes, heavy emotions, and a few joyful tears on the part of the departing royals. Theirs had been a good reign, and they were glad for it, to be sure. One of their final acts was to advance Kyna to the order of the Pelican, bringing the room to its feet for an eruption of celebratory "Vivat"s.

After this, and with the break between courts, I chanced upon the sight of their Excellences Romanius and Deanna, sitting off to the side.

Romanius I had known first from my time in armour, he was arguably both the shortest member of the chivalry of the kingdom and as of the last time I crossed swords with him, one of the hardest hitting. Fortunately for me, that last time had him on my side, and more than a few Trimaran knights were left to learn first hand the power of a short man and an unpadded glaive. But in the intervening years, we had exchanged friendly greetings and fun quips along the themes of parenthood, and life in general.

Nearly every time I had seen Deanna, she was either sitting, taking a break from her own busy schedule or chasing one (or both) of her two sons around, a regimen I am quick to sympathise with. For myself, however, few moments better clarified my standing in Deanna's eyes than a chance encounter years before.

It had been a northern event as I recall, and Deanna was outside, next to a line of pavilions, holding her infant child. I had chanced a greeting just then, and a short conversation followed. Somewhere in there I had asked of I could hold the baby in question, and the new mother had handed over the sleeping boy with a smile that hinted a gladness for the moment of rest. I had paced for a few, my tall frame and broad chest offering ample surface for the baby to rest against, and he's slept there without so much as a sound, content and quit.

Then, to my surprise, Deanna sort of stammered out "Um, Ivo, I don't mean to impose or anything, but I, sort of have a roses meeting, and, I mean, could you just hold him, I mean, for a few minutes?"

Now the meeting in question was only a few yards way, so it wasn't like she was leaving site or such. Still, she was trusting me to hold her son while she tended to other matters. As a father, I understood precisely where she was coming from, and likewise was glad to help, and honoured to be trusted with such a task. I had waived her on just then. "Go on, go on. He's asleep, and I'll stay right here. Go and take your time. We'll be fine."

An openly grateful Deanna smiled warmly, said thank you, and then rushed off.

I recall that I was standing there for more than just a few minutes, but less than an hour. Her son stirred perhaps twice but didn't cry once. For the most part, he slept contently, and I had paced quietly. Deanna returned, as I said, some time later, and I handed off my sleeping charge than without incident.

For what it was, it was a simple matter of two parents, one helping the other in a moment where help was asked. But for myself, I will always consider that a codifying moment where Deanna's opinion of myself was etched in stone by way of entrusting me with her infant son. Before, I had always wondered, as I do with a great many of my friendships, where, precisely I stand with this person or that. With Romanius and Deanna, I thereafter had fewer such questions.

But to this meeting, all these years later, the conversation far more jubilant as I took the opportunity to give a face to face congratulations to Deanna, finally. We talked and laughed for a few minutes before I asked about final plans for her elevation, and got the confirmation that it would be held at Stepps Warlord. At some point in this, and entirely for idle curiosity, I asked how the planning for the procession was going. I had seen so many elevations over the years and heard about so many more, that I'm sort of calibrated to see how such things are being handled.

Deanna hesitated just then. "um, actually," she started. In retrospect, it was very much the same 'I don't want to impose' type tone I had heard those years before as I gentled cradled hr sleeping infant. "I was wondering if you might want to organise the procession for me."

I blinked, taking aback at the offer, then said "Sure! I mean, I've never done it before, but I now a few library shelves I can kick over to study up on it. I'm confident I can do that for you." I was thrilled at the offer, it was the type of opportunity that didn't even dare ask about, with her or anyone else. Ceremonies like this are second only to weddings, in my opinion, when it comes to personal preferences. it wasn't something a heraldic extrovert like myself needed to barge into uninvited. this was akin to being asked to direct a 3 minutes stage play at the Oscars. No, I wasn't any sort of contender, but just being in the room was a compliment of a high order.

We excitedly talked a few minutes longer, ideas and concepts, thoughts and some basic questions.

Then I asked the all important, "By the way, who did you have in mind to actually herald you into court?" 

"Um, I was wondering if you wanted to do that too?"

blink.. blink.

I had just been promoted from writer-director to supporting actor all in about 3 minutes.

"Alright," I said, now visibly taken aback at my situation. "I'm going to call a 'few' of my friends and play a few games of '20 questions' with them," and even as I added levity with the joke, I felt my thoughts begin to codify, and my resolve began to build. Yes, this was a tall order, but for reasons that I couldn't have put my finger on just then, I was suddenly confident that I could,  in fact, do this.

To be clear, 'this', as much as some might want to think of it this way, did not mean to impress the court, or show off my skills to anyone or everyone. My singular thought just then, as it was later that day and the morning after, was that it was now my responsibility to make Deanna Dela Penna look and sound as amazing as possible in the 3 minutes between when she was called into court at steps, and when she finally knelt down before the crown.

From the most unexpected of places, and from arguably the quietest of my friends, a great opportunity had been handed to me, and with it a responsibility as well.

Almost giddy with excitement, I collected myself and said, "Thank you, so very much."

"Not to worry Ivo,"  she replied. "I'm sure you'll do great."

Part 1: Preparations (Monday, April 10th)

The following Monday was not anything to do with the society or things medieval. Early morning jujitsu practice, a long day at work, and an hour's commute on either end of it had left me tired and worn out. I wasn't beat down, mind you, but the day had taken its toll on me. As something of a last minute twist, a friend was also coming in from out of town to say high and visit with us for a while before heading back. What I had hoped would be a calm evening to recover from the day was becoming its own little social adventure.

And with this as a backdrop, I had ducked away from the dinner table at Olive Garden and stepped outside, a notepad in hand and my headphone set in place for the phone call that I had wanted, needed, actually, to make.

When I had quipped with Deanna that there were a "few" friends that I had who were knowledgeable of such things, the truth of the matter was that really, there were three at the top of the list who would easily qualify as experts on such things. Master Etienne De Saint Amaranth was arguably the top such name.

We had known each other since my early days in the society, long before either of us held a grant, and just after his AOA and long before mine. Where I had set off on a personal journey of effectively reinventing site heraldry in the north, Etienne had buried himself in the finely documented nuance of court history and ceremony. A man of faith, and a family man, we had enough of a shared perspective on things to easily talk on many matters, and at the same time, our intellectual sides allowed us to challenge each other to things beyond our normal mental processes. We were friends, and by many metrics brothers, both alike in many ways, and in many others as different as night from day.

Tonight, our correspondence would be by phone, as matching schedules for nearly anything else was neigh on impossible of late.

"So, as to why I have called," I said after a few moments of salutations and good wishes. "You, of course know Countess Deanna and that she was announced for laurel, yes?"

"Of course, of course." he replied.

"Well, I caught up with her and her husband at Coronation, While we were talking about here elevation, she asked me to organise and herald her procession."
"Oh, wow!" the Norman Frank exclaimed in his normal, bookish tenor. "That's fantastic!"
"Yes, well, there is also the matter of my inexperience in theses things. Deanna is aware that this will be my first procession, but none the less, I told her when I said yes that there were about 10 people I wanted to "play 20 questions" with, and you were number one on that list.
"Well, I'm honoured." He said modestly. This was very much why I wanted to Start with Etienne. He was the last person to ever invoke his rank and the first to lift up those around him, no matter their rank. The truth of the matter was that while he was probably the best-trained court herald in the north as of late, I could get the information I needed from any of about thirty veteran heralds. But what I wanted was someone who both knew me (as well as my strengths and weaknesses), and who would talk with me on such subjects, rather than at me.
And what followed was just that, a nearly one-hour conversation between men who had shared many such talks, and had seen each other's respective works time and time again. When the talk was over, I thanked him profusely and added. "I so owe you one. Thanks for the help!"
"the only thing you owe me, Ivo," he countered firmly, "Is to do a good job up there."
I smiled, fully aware that he couldn't see me, but was none the less able to hear the gesture in my next word. "Absolutely!"

Part 2: A Narrative (April 17th)

One of the things that Etienne and I talked about that night was the structure of the herald's dialogue as he announced a candidate up to the crown. The overwhelming majority of such processions were built on a straight list of awards and championships. The more skilled the herald (or in some cases bards), the more elaborate the presentation, but safe for a few, the standard was to build off of the listing in the kingdom OP.
Etienne was candid when he said that this was largely meant to fill up space, and was not technically required by any means. I had seen several such exceptions, including a knighting where the candidate was heralding in by a bard singing "born on the Listfield". For his part, Etienne, emphasise during out talk that I should emphasise the candidate, saying their name multiple times, and make sure that the audience understood that this was her moment, her award, after years of her accomplishments.
I latched onto this last bit of advice, and quickly thereafter I decided that rather than start with the list from the OP and build out, I should play to my strengths, and develop a strong narrative, making sure to work in the awards as part of the story, but not have them be the centerpiece. Deanna was the principle character in this story, so rather than having the awards being things that she won, I would need to take care and frame them as waypoints, or mile-markers she reached while she was on her personal journey towards laurel.
A few days later, I saw down at a table with the same pad of paper and pen I had used when taking notes from Etienne's phone call. I thought on it for a few minutes, then put pen to paper and let my ideas take form.

"Behold the entrance of Deanna De La Penna, scribe, Illuminator, Champion, Countess and rose. With the beauty of a perfect sunrise, and the dignity of a lioness, Deanna's Journey to this day is a quest worthy of heroes, a pursuit of skill spanning nearly two decades. The doorstep of this journey was marked with an award of arms  in AS 34. Seven years later, on the arm of her Husband, she was names princess and then afterwards ascended the throw to lead this great kingdom as the 56th queen of Ansteorra."
I stopped writing and looked over the opening paragraph. I wanted to like it, but at the same time, I didn't know enough to gauge it confidently. I needed to sleep on it, to think it over, and to read it with fresh eyes.

But, it did sound like the opening to an adventure novel, and that was very much what I wanted.

Part 3: Composition and Research (April 20th - May 6th)

The following weeks were not put to waste. Between shifts at work and local SCA duties, I had toted around a notepad to jot down thoughts and ideas, occasionally stopping to more formally compile them into coherent sentences. By the end of April, my research had including conversations with heralds in three kingdoms, a product of gulf war's connections as well as friendships dating back to my earliest days within the SCA.

Including in this ongoing process was Honorable Lord Alarich Von Thorne, my liege lord, and earliest mentor within the SCA. Perhaps one of the single most significant things he ever did for me was to hand me a copy of "The Book of the Courtier", Baldassare Castiglione. The (translated) old tome is both one of the great essays on court conduct (then or now), and one of the building blocks for the fledgeling student who would become the herald I am today.

Another friend, compatriot and fellow herald that I corresponded with for ideas and information was Terran the Wayward, a meridian herald with whom I had made friends at Gulf Wars three years ago, and who revelled in burying his nose in old tombs almost as much as he loved burying himself in court ceremony or the occasionally off-the-wall armary submission.

The work, though all of this, was a combination of writing, research, and diplomacy. One striking example of which was when Deanna pointed out that in the second draft of my opening monologue, I said: "and with the dignity of a Lioness". She pointed out a concern that that might step on some toes in our kingdom, where one of the most coveted awards is to be named a "Lion of Ansteorra". I agreed, Knowing that while no one could truly claim the metaphor for their own (even the Dead Sea Scrolls talked about lion-like qualities in people), finding another animal would be the political thing to do.

So, with my SCA logic, and 21st-century resources, Went about this tidbit methodically. First of all, "De la Penna" was Italian, so I knew that I should start with the Italian peninsula. From there, I looked up native animals to the region, and at that point, I just scrolled down until I found something recognisable enough to be easily associated with the desired metaphor, but unique enough as not to step on any political toes.

All of the big cats were out, as Lions were the obvious stumbling block, Tigers were Asian, and most of the rest were known for being scrappers and hunters, not something that immediately brought "Dignity" mind. I found out that there were bears in pre-industrial Europe, even in Italy,  but still, definitely not the image I was looking for., I slid across the bird section, and a moment later I found Bonelli's eagle. The picture, from a 19th-century German Natural History book, was striking. And the photo included with the article were no less. An apex aerial predator, native to Italy, it carried itself with the type of confidence that usually came from a "I do the hunting in these parts" type animal. And few people would not associate an eagle with a dignified posture.

"...and with the dignity of an eagle".

As a literary metaphor it worked, as a heraldic narrative it worked, and when I mentioned it to Deanna, she liked it as well.

Most of my work at that point was built like that, a careful balance of political savvy, historical authenticity, and heraldic spark, with none of the factors taking a majority share in the equation.

Part 4: a Conference, a Gathering (May 5th)

By the last week in May, however, I had gone as far as I wanted to with what I had. One of the first things that Etienne had said was that I needed to make sure to have a sit down with Deanna before the event so that I could ask questions, get feedback, and more importantly get non-verbal feedback from her. I needed to see if she was confident, engaged, and on top of the situation, or if she was feeling the deer-in-the-headlights type sensation that some peers do weeks out from their elevation. The possibility was no slight on her in the least, I knew. An elevation carried with it only slightly less emotional weight than a wedding for many, and since it wasn't something you could ask for, it was very much like having a wedding thrown at you.

And on top of this, the handful of time I had spoken with Deanna on a social level were just outstandingly pleasant conversations, and it was a friendship that I also wanted to invest more into.

The obvious place would have been an event, but as it happened, out schedules weren't overlapping between then and Stepps. Playing a mundane card, I invited her to the Oklahoma City Zoo. My parents had made maintaining a family zoo membership for us a reassuring Christmas gift, and my wife and I enjoyed the perks of discounted food, fast entry and no fees to get in the door. The card also made a blanket provision for "three adults, and 5 children" at a time, just so long as one of the adults was the card holder. And with the zoo, guests were not only allowed but encouraged.

The plan codified itself earlier in the week, with Deanna agreeing to meet us on a Sunday afternoon, her two children in tow for an afternoon in the Zoo with a spot of time in there to talk ceremony.
The plan was to meet at two that afternoon, and with a  bit of good luck, we all managed to hit the front door within a minute of each other. It was actually my first interaction with Deanna outside of the trappings of an SCA event, so it was something of a reintroduction to her, but at the same time, she still had the same sensibilities and sense of humour that had carried well through the SCA. Her two Son's, Ben and Zach were in tow, and both a little wide-eyed at the new location and excited about the prospects of seeing new animals.

Our little Journey started off with my son jumping into the conversation and offering a joke. Over the past few years, my son's sense of humour has sharpened itself to the point where he is quite the little entertainer.

What type of bread do you take to heaven?
Tawny frogmouth,
arguably one of the
coolest looking birds
at the OKC zoo.

And only in the SCA kid would 1. be expected to recognise "Valhalla" as the Norse afterlife, Challa as a type of bread, and 2. make the conceptual comparison to a judeo-Christian "heaven",  and 3. pick up on the acoustic cues that make the pun quirky but funny at the same time.

I have a weird son. But, Deanna genuinely laughed at the joke.

Our adventure took us down by the pachyderm house, which long ago was divested of actual elephants. They have their own huge enclosure at the far end of the part, but the selection of birds along the back wall of the building still includes one of my favourites: the tawny frogmouth.

We wandered next through the big cat enclosure, past the Sumatran tigers, the snow leopard, the Jaguar, fisher cat, ocelot, and finally ended with the Lions.

The Oklahoma walk was its own adventure, with all of the kids eager and energised to see everything they could take in as they surveyed all of the different animals the state includes.

By then, we were close to four thirty in the afternoon, and the Zoo closed a five. I took the opportunity to commandeer one of the tables under a pavilion, and pull out the notes I had so far on the procession. The narrative I had worked out (and it was very much shaping up to be a narrative, much to my satisfaction) had filled out well, with names of crowns to go with the awards, but also concepts and transitions as well. This was more than me shouting a resume, it was my telling a story in the truest sense of the word, and I wanted to get it right.

Deanna smiled after looking over my notes, and offered no corrections or qualifiers, much to my relief.
We also worked out some of the finer details of the ceremony, including who were the known quantities taking part, what positions still need to be filled, and who would doing what. Her two children would be the banner bearers, and that revelation instantly prompted me to suggest they take up the rear of the line, where they could see and be right behind their parents (specifically their father, as Deanna would be completely focused on the ceremony.

I added that we would also be doing a walkthrough a few hours before court, and I would be literally marking people's places with tape for them to hit as the procession moved forward. Perhaps it was over-thinking things, but the reassurance of planning ahead seemed to register well with her.
In the midst's of it all, Deana commented that it was a bit overwhelming having everything suddenly pointed at her, and for the briefest of moments I far a glint of fluster under her normally calm exterior. There are those who might call such a display a sign of weakness, but I doubt any of us would fair differently. Much like a wedding, there really isn't any preparation for what is to come in some respects.

The conversation that had brought us both hours from our homes for this meeting actually took only a handful of minutes, but as we got up from the table I realised that the real reason why Etienne had stressed that we meet face to face wasn't in the details on paper and in ink. No, the true benefit of this meeting wasn't to be found on paper, but in the smiles and laughs shared between us all as the afternoon moved on. Each of us, no matter our background, would be going into the ceremony new in many ways. For Deanna and the boys, it would be their first to be part of, and for me, it would be the first to herald. For Romanus, it would be his first as the consort in the equation.

But the critical thing would be that for whatever it was to us, it would not be our first time together, and that insight, that common thread of shared laughter and conversation would be what helped us make the coming moment as special as it deserved.

Part 5: The week before (May 22nd)

Not to be overlooked in the least was the fact that the site of Steps Warlord was no small distance from my home. Five hours road time from Stillwater, and four from my office in Oklahoma City. I didn't actually own an individual tent, halving always camped in "the hawk and Lilly", or at a friend's home close to site (which has been the more persistent tradition at this site).

The trade day's site is not new to me. During my second year in the SCA, my first battle as part of the Liondrgon Guard was during the Battle of Three Kings (Scottish Wars for Independence). On a more personal note, that was also where my wife and I shared our first SCA kiss when we were still just barely started dating. Years later, Ansteorra's 30th year event was held on the same site, and was the same event where Owen won his first crown. Later Still, Mooneschaodwe would process in Adb al-Mahdi as he stepped up to his second reign as sultan.  The grounds were old and storied for people like me, good and bad times both dwell on those grounds. Going back is like seeing an old relative's home.

But, all the same, the voyage there is none too short a drive, especially for someone with modest resources, which I have currently.

My original plan has been to travel with Don Facon and Lady Aurelia, but circumstance would cut into both of their options at the last minute. I certainly bear neither of them hard feelings on the issue, I've had to make some hard calls in the past myself when it came to events and money. But still, transport was still an issue.

On top of not having a tent to pitch myself, I had no means to transport the tent we have. And even if I had gone out and strung for a small tent for myself (something I'm thinking on currently, actually), the four-hour drive, alone, from my office, and starting at six pm didn't lend itself to safe travel. I needed an alternative, and with a promise and heraldic contract on the line, failure was just not an option.

As it happened, and in the way that really is unique to the SCA, a friend came through in the form of his Excellency of Namron, Andrew Turnbull. I'd known Andrew for a few years now, as SCAers go he's young to the society, at least compared to those I came of age with. But youth is not to be confused with diminished skills to offer. Myself, I've found him engaging, fair, fun loving, and encouraging whenever I have seen him interact with myself or others. While any and all of us have detractors to be sure, I can't say I have happened across any of his thus far. This, I  decided instantly, would promise to be a glorious little adventure just getting down to site.

Part 6: The Unexpected (May 23rd - 25th)

It started as a slightly scratchy throat, the type of thing a shift in the weather can cause. By Tuesday morning, I recognised the signs of a respectable head cold. I thought I had it under control until I drove back to the house that night after work. What should have been uncomfortable but noticeable sinus pains became an eyebrow-to-kneecap ache. I grabbed some Sudafed in hopes of arresting the worst of it, and knowing that there wasn't anything really to be done for a virus. That night, I woke up covered in perspiration, suddenly cold. It took me a minute to put it all togeather and realise that I had just had a fever break while I was asleep. I'm no doctor, but past expereince told me that viruses rarely come both with conjestion and fever. The next day after work, (much to my less than stellar judgement) I swung by an Urgent Care close to my house. It took the physician's assistant on duty about three minutes to decide that whatever this was, it wasn't some garden variety head-cold. That pronouncement, however, didn't bode well for my making Stepps Warlord. I didn't have time to run the poor woman through "SCA 101" and explain what a Laureling was, so, in the interesting of good (if not entirely honest) communications, I improvised. 

So, you see, Doc, I have a close family friend who's getting married this weekend, and I am part of the wedding. Will I be safe to travel then?

Fortunately for me, the PA understood my predicament and ordered a relatively powerful course of antibiotics with an assurance that I would be safe to be around after 24 hours, but a strong reminder that I needed to take the full 10-day cycle as well to make sure I didn't reinfect myself. All told, after facing a really ugly near-miss, I was still going to be able to make it to Stepps Warlord.

Part 7: The Event (May 26th - 28th)

The drive down

I clocked out of work at six o'clock sharp and made haste to my car. The drive down to Andrew Turnbull's house took the better part of an hour, with a stop along the way for a bag of ice and some dinner. I arrived just before seven as I recall, and Andrew and I made haste moving my items to the back of his truck. Planning the trip before hand, he had quipped that it would be two of us, a truck, and a full tank of gas. I countered with "and If memory serves me, that movie ended in the State Pen, so let's not emulate that too closely." And that humour was very much the characterisation of the whole drive down, with spots of conversation interspersed with Andrew's playlist of folk and ren fair music.

We arrived close to midnight, the site a patchwork of lights broken by shadows cast by trees and tents. Andrew was welcomed as a brother as we both walked up to the cluster of wolfstar tents and pavilions sandwiched between two paved paths through camp. After a quick round of introductions between people known and new faces, we agreed on a location and set about erecting Andrew's tent. The mundane pop-up went up quickly, and we moved our gear in quickly thereafter. We were both stiff from the trip down, but not necessarily tired, at least not yet, and stayed up, talking and socialising with the nocturnal wolfies. Andrew ultimately crashed first, I know because when I finally succumbed to my better judgement sometime later and found him sound asleep on his cot when I rolled into my own. The night was hot and sticky, the humidity as thick as a blanket soaked in warm water. It took me some time to finally relax enough to sleep


I rose early, my body pulling me out of a sound slumber sometime between eight and nine in the morning. The night had cooled a little, but the daylight was heating up again, with the air still stick with water. The sky was clear, and the at leat the prospects for rain were distant, thankfully. I showered and made my way to the breakfast line, where the Longship association was cooking omelettes after a long wait, I got my meal and was glad for the charge of protein, I needed it just then. With the morning rituals behind me, I made my way back to the tent and dressed for the day, including my bag. I made my way up to the main hall.

By happenstance, between my location and the hall, I came across the crown and some entourage beginning to set up the royal tent. Never one to let such an endeavour go unaided (if I can help it anyway) I jumped in and helped with the polls and canvas. There was a small group of us, so the work went fast. As we wrapped up, I noticed  Sir Alejandro, Golden Staff Herald, helping with the last of the setup. I asked him aside for a moment, and we went over the plans for court, specifically the last few items of business that the court would go through so that I would have some idea of when we would need to be ready. Armed with a good working idea of time, and my que, I continued on again to the main hall. 

Walking in, I was reminded of the hall's status as both a blessing and curse to event's held there. Massive, spacious, and climate controlled, it offered summertime events a refuge from the Texas heat. But the structure also ate sound by its very nature, with the massive open space, exposed metal beams overhead, and a glass smooth cement floor. the building was an acoustic obstacle course for which finesse or technique alone would not prevail. I stood there, looking over my own personal battlefield, wondering how the events of the evening court would play out. 

It took a dedicated few minutes to make me put the worst of my apprehensions aside.I knew that much of my concerns wouldn't  even be able to be addressed until court itself, so worrying about them was pointless now. 

As it happened, Deanna's vigil was set up just left of the door I walked in, a perfect segue to my next item of business for the day. I signed my name in the guestbook, and sat down, relishing the cold air of the huge room.  The vigil was set up inside of an extremely well-decorated pop-up pavilion with a spread of cold fruit for the waiting visitors to enjoy. The wait wasn't terribly long, and some twenty minutes later my name was called. I rose and was gestured within the enclosure to see Deanna seated comfortably in the corner, a welcoming smile on her face. 

We exchanged greetings, and reassurances, she that was ready for the day, and I that my cold wasn't going to get the better of me. she presented me with three ceramic coasters, explaining that she wanted her visitors to have something useful when they walked away from their visit, and the coasters were just such a thing. I was also gifted with a newly acquired 'heraldry game' board and cards, a personal thank-you for my work as her herald today. 

In closing, I offered my own bit of advice, drawn from a line at my own wedding, reminding Deanna that in the hardest of times, it is easiest to forget that our strength is in our friends and that it is a mark of courage, not weakness to ask for help. With that said, we both smiled warming, hugged, and wished each other the best. 

While not possessed of a timepiece just then, it couldn't have ben much after ten at that point, if even that late in the morning. With court not until six thirty, I knew I would drive myself mad with apprehension and worry if I didn't find something to do with myself for the next eight and a half hours. I spent the majority of the day at the scroll-painting table working on a Rising Star. This lead to several conversations and a number of new and interested painters joined us after I offered encouraging words. I also made several runs back to my tent throughout the day, taking things to, or carrying them from the hall for various reasons. There was also the inevitable random conversations that are unavoidable for me at most events, and thankfully so that day. My nerves were calmed with the reassurances of friends and the laughter of people enjoying their own event.

Morning turned to noon, and that to early afternoon with the type of calm persistence anticipation creates. But by the time court was two hours out, I was both nervous again, and wound tight for it. Fortunately, I had also made sure to give myself a list of things to do once the time came. When we were an hour and a half out, I put that list into effect. I made my way back to the tent to collect my toiletries, and then to the shower house for a good scrub. And from there, I dressed in my court garb, including my spatts, red linen shirt, and black linen surcoat. Once I made it back to the hall, I made a point of detailing myself, pulling on the Garter for my Star of Merit, and my awards mantle. I made way over to the table next to Deanna's now disassembled vigil and located the tabard she had set aside for me with her arms.

Some time in here it dawning on me that I didn't have anything to hold my script on. I contemplated holding the paper itself, but that was graph paper and would look exceptionally tacky in my mind. I considered my options and decided to tape the page to my velcro binder. it was big, and flat black, and while not even remotely period, it was generically nondescript enough that I was confident that it would not distract from my overall appearance. four bits of masking tape later and that was taken care of.

Court started right on time, and I stayed near the back, keeping the court and Deanna and her party in my view. About ten minutes into this, my sinuses then suddenly erupted with drainage, and what had been a mostly easy day suddenly was broken by multiple coughing spurts where I worked to clear my throat and keep my vocal cords from tearing up.

As the baronial court moved towards it own close of business, Mistress Marguerite (Deanna's Laurel) and I compared notes a few more times, clarifying answers, asking questions, and making sure nothing was left to chance.

The baronial court closed, and things moved on to the royal court. The clock was ticking down in a very real fashion. After another dash to the men's room, so I could hack and cough without people on the other end of the building hearing me, I composed myself and went back to Marguerite, saying that it was time to compose the procession so we could go through the staging. I had hoped we would be able to do that before hand, but there just wasn't a good time. I would have to just hope my own measurements worked.

There were five icons, examples of Deanna's work to be carried, and five people to carry them. We were also adding four guards in the court of Centurions. armed with Spears. I hadn't accounted for this possibility and while I was sitting there, looking the four guards in the eyes, I thought through the various aspects of protocol, staging, and history. I didn't want them bracketing the whole procession, as that would have two of them ahead of or level with me. I also didn't want them in line, or even formation behind the procession, as that would be silly in a ceremonial sense. Armed guards did need to be near the person they were bracketing. I told them to bracket the main body, Deanna, her husband, and their son's who would be carrying Deanna's Banner into court.

From there, we talked about staging, and order of march. The whole procession would be a single static formation that followed me in. I would set the pace, for better or for worse. The court itself was framed with two steel columns hung with banners at the front of the room. That, I explained to everyone, would be a marker that we would use. By staying on that line,  and no walking past it, into the crown presence, the guards wouldn't have to deal with the logistical headache of laying down their live steel spears as they would not technically be taking weapons near the crown.

The Five Icon carriers were directed to slide right when they hit the line, and when all five of them were abreast, to turn in unison, and hold the icons up high for the crowd. The guards would hit he line, and shift to the side until they were off to the side. The two boys would hit the line, and (with some direction from their father) go stand with their grandmother, who was sitting in the front row of court.

I had three important goals for all of this. While I know this sounds tedious and even monotonous, but if you look at it, the whole plan worked in a pattern where no matter wat, everyone would eventually be out of the way for the ceremony. there was no true linchpin where is someone fell, or stumbled, or forgot something, the whole procession log-jammed. And while I didn't say anything, I knew that if, God forbid, I suddenly fell silent, they could keep going without me as well. In the Modern military parlance, "Charly Mike", or Continue Mission, was the how this had to happen.

In the end, my only real goal was to get Deanna from the back of the hall to the front, a distance of thirty paces, or about ninety feet. From there, she was the responsibility of the court herald. Everyone else had to just get out of the way. I had a job that ideally should take about 120 seconds if that, and all I could think of was all of what could go wrong, and how many ways *I* could screw it up at that point.

Time passed, and my nerves wound themselves tighter and tighter as the minutes went by. One of my coughing fits landed me leaning over a stall on the verge of wretching. As I composed myself, again, I looked in the mirror and it suddenly struck me that nearly all of my court regalia was covered by the tabard. I could technically have been wearing my red shirt alone and no one would have noticed, and I would have been a layer lighter, not to mention the weight of the award mantel on my collar, which just then felt like a three-ton collar on my neck.

But just as fast as the thought crossed my mind, the counter through surged up from the recesses of my headache ravaged skull. I didn't come here to cut corners, and even if no one saw my awards, wearing them here reminded *me* that people had recognised me for what I had done in the past. It didn't matter if they were comfortable, or visible, wearing them was the right thing to do, period. I didn't come there to be comfortable, or to do the easy things. I came there that day to herald my friend into what was possible be the highest award she would ever receive. And by God, I was going to do it.

My revelation aside, I emerged from the bathroom flushed, and a little wobbly from the coughing. Deanna locked eyes with me a moment later and asked if I was okay. unlike before, she didn't just accept my nod, and this time specifically said: "I don't want you pushing yourself to the point of injuring yourself." She had on a suddenly hard look, maternal, protective, determined.

"Trust me," I said, forcing myself to stay calm. "I'm going to be able to herald, and I'm not going to hurt myself. I won't have to." She didn't look completely convinced (and I didn't blame here, I probably looked terribly that moment). "Just ask Pete, he knows I don't make promises I can't live up to."

Peter Macintyre was squire brother to  Sir Vladislav Strelec when Vlad still donned a red belt, and the three of us had met at many a fighter practice back when I still armoured up. Chance more than any other force had driven the three of us apart, with Peter's education, employment, marriage and ultimately fatherhood taking him to Texas and keeping me largely disconnected from myself. I hadn't seen him in ages before that day and we had shared a hearty and glad reunion only half an hour or so before. Pete didn't offer a lengthy answer or reassurance, but only gave a silent nod with a deadly serious look on his face,

For her part, Deanna accepted the statements and moved on, assured that none of us (but specifically me) were going to do something stupid to fulfil her request.

By the time I saw the queue for us to get ready, my nerves were raw with energy, like a live wire threatening to melt from too much current. I had had one more coughing fit, and then, miraculously, my throat as cleared. I just didn't know how long that to stand.

I prompted people to their places, and we all shuffled in like nervous high schoolers at a talent show. My heart was racing at this point, and the accumulated hear under my clothing felt like an oven just then.

We were down to seconds.

Then I heard Alejandro call for... someone. There was "Laurel" in the sentence. I made a call in my head, and started with the opening "hear yea". To my horror, Sir Cais shushed me, correcting that the King was calling for the laurels. I stood there, suddenly the centre of... about half of the room's attention, the script for a generic laureling ceremony suddenly coming back to me like a baseball bat to the face.

"sorry" I said to Cais as he joined the assembling Laurels moving down the aisle.

Change the things you can, I said to myself, accept the things you can't, and then just move the F* on. I had just screwed up. I couldn't undo that, so I just had to make up for it.

A moment later, I heard Alejandro call for Deanna.

This, was it. I took a deep breath, let it out, then thrust my baton over my head, using the exact same posture and mechanism as a general or king leading an army forward. I opened my mouth, and in the last instant before the first words, I mentally shouted out to the hall, "You're not going to best this Herald!"

Hear ye, hear ye, make way, fall silent, and pray heed!

Behold the entrance of Deanna de la Penna, scribe, illuminator, champion, countess and rose. With the beauty of a perfect sunrise and the dignity of an eagle, Deanna has journeyed to this day on a quest worthy of heroes, a pursuit of skill spanning nearly two decades. 

The doorstep of this journey was marked with an award of arms by the hand of their Majesties Drake and Kayleigh.

Seven years later, at hr husband's side, she was named princess, and soon after ascended the throne to before Queen of Ansteorra.

The following year she stepped down and received her county, while also being welcomed into the venerable order of the rose.

Deanna's Journey has taken her not to distant places, but on a path of introspection, growth and learning, in pursuit of the skill and character truly worthy of the title of Mistress of the Laurel. This quest as seen Deanna grown from student to teacher, and to become an illuminator and scribe. 

Deanna was awarded a thistle in illumination by the hand of their Majesties Ulsted and Ebergardis, and later welcomed into the order of the Iris of Merit by their Majesties Owen and Genevria. 

Deanna has competed for and won the title of Artisan for the Barony of Elfsea and won the privilege to represent Ansteorra this Gulf War's past as an arts and sciences champion. 

I do now present to this august court and assembled gentles, 

Artist, scholar, Iris, and Rose, and Countess,

Her Excellency Deanna de la Penna!

Edit: Video made available compliments of a relative of Deanna. 

I punched the last line, one last defiant shout out to every circumstance that had tried to know me down, hold me back, or silence me. One more thumb in the eye of a hall that silently promised to gobble up the voices of heralds. One last declaration that this wasn't just another person. this was someone special, this was something important. This was a friend, and even for those who didn't now me, they would be able to tell from the sound of my voice as it boomed off of the fasters that every word that left my lips was backed with iron hard conviction.

With that, I wheeled and walked off to the side of the court. my body ready to collapse and my sinuses draining again now that the deed was done.

Sunday, the trip back, and epilogue.

The trip back was a tired one. Andrew had fought in the tournament Saturday, and had stayed up late after court, leaving him just enough energy to make the drive home. Talk was glad but quieter, and more subdued. We listened to some more of his playlists, and I even slept a few times. We were to men who had enjoyed the hell out of the day but were going to need a good measure of sleep to pay for it.

A lot of it, however, was me relieved, and glad, and more than a little excited for the success of my role the day before. Immediately after court, I couldn't help but ask people around the room how I did, and specifically if I could be heard clearly. There was no debate on either point. People from every corner and all parts of the room said that I was clearly audible and understandable every step of the way. I had not only met the challenge but by all accounts, I had bested with outright.

Nearly every second of the event thereafter was almost an afterthought. I had done what I had come there to do, and the lifting of the weight of anxiety, fear, and nervousness was like a physical weight coming off of my chest.

Master Tostig and Lady Castellana, who had been running the herald's consulting table all day, both offered high praise of my work, and his Grace Hrafn, who had been standing in the back along the wall farthest from court likewise said he could pick out every word I said, even when my back was to him. Perhaps the most interesting feedback I received, however, had been late that night, at the hafla, when one of the newer members, a young man barely a year in armor, waived at me as I walked by and said "Hey, when you were announcing that woman in, that was like,  totally dope!" He'd had a deadly serious and respectful expression as he said it.

It took the fact I had actually accomplished my mission about an hour to sink in. But it took most of the next morning, the drive back, for it to fully register that I had done a good job at it as well. Underneath all of my calm exterior and vocal power, there is very much a stage shy little kid who both wants to do the job right and is terrified of screwing it up all in the same heartbeat.

But perhaps the thought that best codified for me, the one that best helped me encapsulate my thoughts and feelings about the day, was that while I was asked by Deanna to do this, it was also a gift to her. A gift meant to vest in the pomp, circumstance and gravitas that a Laurel deserves when they are elevated.  In the past, my heraldry had been used as a tool, a weapon, an assistance, and a messenger, but never before had I used it such that I would call it a gift. A Gift I was both proud and honoured to give.

And with that thought, I looked not to the past, but to both the future and inside myself as well, and a wondered what adventure next awaited me.

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