Wednesday, March 29, 2017

GW26: The measure of a man, the measure of a mission (part 5)

Part 5: "the first day"

No, Monday was not our first day at the war, but it was a first for me in another, critical way. For the first time I would be not only conducting site heraldry for the war, but I would be overseeing the site heraldry for the second largest event in the whole of the Society For Creative Anachronisms.

There is more to site heraldry than the brute force of loud voices and long lists of things to shout. And the bigger the site, the more strategy and pre-planning weigh in in order to get the job done.

I approached this with very much the same philosophy as I would a game of chess. First, one must know his board, and then one must know the pices of his army before entering into combat.

As to the board we would be playing on:

King's highway run's nearly a quarter mile north to south in rough bearings before the path intersections "the five points". Continuing on a short ways away, Prince Parkway runs nearly the same distance south. Queen's highway runs nearly the same distance east to west, bisected by the five points as well. This gives the event the logistical footprint of a small college campus, an attendance between three thousand and four thousand people, depending on both the year and the time of the week. Anyone crying site would be walking half a mile's distance, and heralding for as few as a hundred people, and possibly as many as a thousand, depending on the time of day and week.

And each road would have its own challenges, including blind spots distances, animals that we needed to be careful not to scare, and plenty of dead zones that would eat sound.

And has to the pieces I would fill my army with;

From the south east, from the great kingdom of Trimarus I would be welcoming Gareth back for the second year. Stately, tall and with an imposing frame, the structure of the man was balanced with a  relaxed posture and calm voice. While Ansteorra and Trimarus may well be enemies for the duration of the week, Heralds' are held to no such treaties when doing our work.

From the near centre of the known world, just north of my home in Ansteorra, I would welcome a steadfast and hard working herald from Calontir. Johann Steinarsson has cried sites in three kingdoms that I know of, a few list fields besides. A friendly face and unassuming manner understated a work ethic like a draft horse. Generals have their men-at-arms as a bulwark for their armies. I had Johann, and for many of the same reasons, I was equally as confident.

From our hosting kingdom, Gleann Abhann came the heraldic force of nature that was Groza Novgorodskaiam, call Skya. The same woman who had handed me my first Gulf War's coin, was now offering her services as administrator and secretary for our purposes.

From my own homeland of Ansteorra came the much of the rank and file of my small army.

From the barony of Namron, a locale where I frequently quip "one can't swing a stick without hitting a herald", came Lord Yancy a man new to Site heraldry, as well has his daughter, Athena.

Also, from those ranks came Lord "Captain Savage" another man new to my circles, who whom I would learn brought skill and articulation to our modest force.

A Northkeep expatriate to the Barony came in the form of "kitty", properly called, Ekaterina Stepanova doch Novgorodskaia, I had known the woman since she was a highly precocious twelve-year-old at her first event, and I was a hair under twenty myself. The "tween" has grown into a formidable presence in her own right, intellectually, and heraldically.

From the Canton of Haltree, Dietrick Beerman joined our ranks, adding his cool demeanour and sharp voice to our ranks. I had not had the pleasure of working with him before, but like any military campaign, I knew the week would prove an excellent chance for us to get a good measure of each other.

Hailing from my home groups, one of the kingdom's first sign heralds was also joining us, Lady Bridgit of Mooneschaodwe would not only sign for us, but would have her own adventure in the days to come, but more on that later.

Also present there were the blessings, and experience of three more people who's hand in this can not be ignored.

Three types of tabards were included in our stores this week, the arms or badges of peers who had agreed to lend us their armoury as uniform and endorsement of the quality of our work to come.

The first of which were four black and white tabards with the arms of Master Alexander Ravenscroft (OP), who was instrumental in reinstituting site heraldry at war, and had been a strong advocate and supporter of the site heralds for as long as I had known the man.

Second, and of no less importance, were the green and gold arms of the first leader of our resurrected  cadre of heralds Mistressss Jalali of Salamis (OL).

And Finally, my own Tabard, bearing a gold Mustache on a red background, technically falling within the registered badge of  "a mustache fieldless" (Whos registration was perhaps one of the great coupe de ta's in the society's college of arms), the visual signature of Master Robin Of Gilwell (OP, OL, MOD). Robin and I have been friends for years, and he had agreed to allow me to wear his badge when I asked, and said emblem stands as a visual statement of his trust if my work as a site herald.

I remember that first day, a cold, tired, still stiff visage of me shuffling into information point, on the northern leg of "the five points" after barely waking up that day. It was just after 9, and the plan was for all of us gather at half past the hour, and then go about our routes at 10. The process would repeat at 2 that afternoon, and then the whole cycle would loop over again each day of the war.

I sat there for a long time, busying myself with notes for the first round of heralds. My mind tracing the routes that would need to we prioritize. No matter what, we would have to cry merchant's row. Whoever did that would need experience and big set of lungs. Second only to that would be the "fighting leg" that went down by the castle, and then back towards equestrian before coming back around kennlelands. No less skill was needed here, but this person would be doing a lot of walking, and I wanted someone who knew enough about horses to minimize any possible bad encounters with our hooved attendees. In order, our next two routes were King's highway out towards the main gate, and queen's highway as far as Early Period Living. Extra people would be doubled up on the larger routes, and if we had our sign herald show up, they would be assigned to Merchant's row.

The whole process was not random but was rather like a paper bag, build to contract and expand based on the number of people we had, with the most critical routes happening no matter what, and priorities delineated out from there. The scheme of the whole thing would help assure the most people got our regular messages, while making the best use of our manpower as we went about the task at hand. It was not something ad hoc, but a process that we had worked hard to develop over the past three years.

As the time inched by, I sat at my makeshift desk inside the information point shed and waited to see who would arrive. I remember mentally drafting a summary of the event, explaining why we didn't make this announcement or that route, and why manpower was short. It wasn't that I didn't have faith, I did, but my nature is to account for such things, and as the minutes moved by, my hope tempered to a controlled certainty that someone had to show up.

Then the door opened, and in walked Yancy, followed by Captain Savage. Gareth came in a short time later, and then Dietrick. Skaia joined us in time to take down the names of those in attendance, and then help compile the collected messages.

In short order, we collected our messages, checked in with the watch and volunteer point for last minute items, and then everyone checked that their name was correct on the sheet.

I handed out the tabards and assigned the routes. By this point, we were coming together, different people, different kingdoms, different backgrounds joined in a single mission. There was not resignation or resentment over the matter, but rather eagerness, confidence, and determination.

We were not a Trimaran, a Glhenn Abbaner and a bunch of Ansteorrans, we were all heralds just then, and we were all going to do what heralds did, and we were going to do it well, with dignity, and with pride.

As the time came to the top of the hour, I looked over everyone one last time.

"Any questions?" I asked.

They shook their heads.

"Then lets make this happen. I'll see you all when we make it back."

And with that, we marched off. And while we may well have been going in different directions, we were very much marching out in true unison.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

GW26: The measure of a man, the measure of a mission (part 4)

Part 4: The Cold

My first morning of my first GulF Wars, ages ago in spring of 1998, saw me wake up with frost on my goatee. My stiff, sore, and still tired nineteen-year-old self-lumbered out of bed that morning and made my way across the road to the old bathhouse, at the time, the only shower building on site.

I walked in the door and was greeted to a sight I could not have imagined in my more fevered dreams.  There were no less than two knights, two kings, and two dukes standing in a quarter-circled in front of the hanging gas heater, slowly rotating like hens slow-cooking on a spit.

How do I know these six random men were knights, kings and dukes?

Because between them, they were clearly wearing white belts, gold chains, appropriate Corrientes...

And not a damned thing more!

To this day, I enjoy telling that story to help highlight how off-kilter we were (and to some extent still are) in the society. But also, for me, I think the more lasting lesson was how much of a factor the weather at gulf wars was each and every year. It wasn't something to got away from, it wasn't something you could just deal with; it was there, surrounding you, ever second of every day.

Whether it was the impressive heat, the biting cold, or the driving rain (or the occasionally evil wind of whatever strength), mother nature was a bigger presence on site than any crown, or any part of the castle.

This year, that character was misjudged.

I remember laying in bed those early nights, a layer of silver foil and heavy foam below a flannel sheet beneath me, and above me three blankets and my cloak, and still waking up to biting, searing pain in my fingers and toes from the cold.

A month before, we had laughed about moderate temperatures and calm skies as projected by weathermen on three states.

Before dawn of our second day on site, my son had woken up to discover a single leak in the tent had allowed one drip of icy water to soak his sleeping bag.

Two weeks before, we had watched with calm interest as talk of   "an off chance of rain" hovered over the second half of the week.

Crawling out of bed each morning of this war took force-of-will that I can assure you my nineteen-year-old self did not have. There was just no trick or method of dealing with the fact that I was effectively getting out of bed in the middle of a meat-locker.

A week out, we had considered packing for a wet war, with reports of "light rain" still hanging over the whole week, on and off, here and there, depending on what weatherman you were listening to.

By dawn, Monday, the effects were setting in. This wasn't a war without enemies, this was a war where mother nature was reminding us who was in charge. As a matter of personal policy (mostly for health reasons) I made sure to shower each morning. It was a necessary evil, and while the shower house at the end of Queen's highway had hot running water, nothing else in the building was heated, leaving anyone there to just tough it out as they dried off in 35 or 40 degrees F air.

I know I wasn't the only one feeling it either. The whole site was just a small measure more subdued, more restrained, more careful with what energy they had to spend. Late night conversations and parties were quietly ebbing out earlier, and reunions with old friends were cut short when eyes started drooping sooner rather than later. We were all feeling it, and we were all doing the best we could to cope with it, but no fight was had without some cost, the fight against the cold was had with what was probably one of the more finite of recourses that war; energy.

It has been said that fate is a cruel mistress, but this year just reminded us that nature is little more forgiving. There was, without question, a lot of fun and joy had and shared at this war, but it was very much had in spite of the weather rater than alongside it.

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

GW26: The measure of a man, the measure of a mission (part 3)

Part 3: pens, paints, and rope.  

Three years, (four Gulf War's) ago, I had walked into a small pop-up pavilion just in time to barely escape the latest onslaught of rain from that year. The makeshift scribes point was almost completely abandoned, with the walls and roof tested to their limits as they shed water by the bucketload. Sitting in a corner of the leaking structure, Her Ladyship Vastillia, of Trimaris sat and painted a scroll in one of the few dry spots left in the tent. Nearly every space was otherwise wet, or soaked through, and the temp was cool and trending to cold. 

My contribution to the moment was to go through to all of the power strips hanging from the roof of the tent and to re-hang them so that water wasn't running into the outlets like it had been. In truth, I think the real bond between me any my newly met Trimarian friend was more the fact that we were willing to stay there in the middle of a thunder storm like the insane people we were, thought to this day Vastillia still talks with gratitude about my work in rewiring the pavilion.

The following year, the scribed has been allotted an impressively large "fixed" pavilion with a fifteen-foot vaulted roof. I had arrived that week just in time to hear Vastillia begin resigning herself to having to drape the power cords and strips across the ground since no one there could reach the roof. There was a little bit of "hold my drink and watch this" that second year as I ran a length of rope over one of the roof pipes and worked it up to the peak, tieing it off like a line of stage rigging to a pole on the other side. Improvising like that was in my blood, but also it meant we could run main power down the middle of the space, out of the way, and give the people there in access to lamps for nighttime work. For a tradecraft like scribes, this was not a trivial advantage in the least.

But with this, my reputation, and bond with Scribes point had been formed. And through Vastillia I had also met then Lady Mara Palmer, an energetic and fun-loving Meridian Calligrapher. And lastly, rounding out the scribal trio, was Her excellency Adela Scrijver van Brugge, Baroness in Fief from the same Kingdom, and Mistress to the Laurel. The three of them were the perpetually ink-stained, paint smeared, talkative partiers who had kept scribes point not only alive but vibrant for all of the time I had known them. 

This year was little different, and I was met with a running hug from each of them as I made my way into tent following a night of bone-rattling cold and wet. While I doubt you'll find my name anywhere on the scribe's point roster, or in any paperwork leading up to Gulf, I'm both honoured and humbled to be welcomed into the inner circle of the dynamic force that keeps the point running each year.

And, in true Scriba fashion, each of the greetings were met and cut short with "And I need to get back to this project." Even on Sunday, the first day of the war, there were things to go and deadlins to meet.

As the morning transitioned into midday, I went to work helping with the infrastructure of the point. between conversations and laughs, I cannibalised a fresh roll of heavy twine a bag is zip ties to help run the internal power across three pavilions, including the one where we had all first met, now repurposed for a classroom. Vastillia took pointing in guiding me to where she wanted outlets and cables, and I worked to make it all happen.

Its been said that man is happiest when he finds a place for himself, and in my case, one of those places is situations like. 

Another contributor to the effort was Olyeg the Quiet. When Vastillia voiced the idea that we should run a tarp the twenty feet between the classroom pavilion and the main shelter, I had hesitated. The distances were not small, the scale not minor, and none of us had any means to reach the ten and fifteen-foot ceilings involved. I wasn't going to call the project impossible by any means, but an answer was not instantaneous in coming.

Olyeg stepped in a short time later with ingenuity of his own. The slightly built rus, had tied a heavy knot to a fifty-foot length of nylon rope, the bundle of coils adding enough mass to the end to make it throwable. With a few well-aimed launches, he had first run the rope over the tallest obstacles and then used it to pull the heavy and massive tarp behind.

I'd first gotten to meet Olyeg the year before, when his wife had volunteered him to help me site herald. He'd answered the call just in time to get hit with the leading edge of the storm that would later make history. But, to his credit, and without flinching, he had walked an impressively long and challenging circuit down King's highway from The Five Points, and back through the Calontiri camp, I never once heard him so much as mention the cold, let alone offer complaint about it.

Of course, the whole story does not exist in a vacuum. Far from it, in fact. His wife is Honourable Lady Groza Novgorodskaia, called "Skaia", the same woman who had given me the first of my treasured "four coins" that I chronicled after my return to Gulf wars three years prior. The connection was the type of continuity I had come to expect from my times at Gulf, with friends of friends coming togeather in random and wonderful ways to share the magic that was the SCA for many of us.

In much the same way as the chivalric fighters were checking their armour, the archers their arrows, and rapier fighters their swords, the scribes were buckling down, preparing for war in their own way. But rather than clanking metal or layered fabrics, this bulwark was a castle of fabric and tent poles, held up as much by the relationships it sheltered as the frame within. 

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

GW26: The measure of a man, the measure of a mission (part 2)

Part 2: The weave of tent canvas and friendships. 

Mooneschadowe was on familiar ground this year, and when we arrived at site Saturday night much of the terrain was as I had last seen it the year before. We were nestled between the woods at the end of the ravine, and Queen's highway, on the far side of Ansteorra way. back and flank to the trees, while we faced the road and our other side was butted up against Camp Whitticare. We weren't tired so much as stiff from the journey just then, still, pitching "the Hawk and Lilly" (Mine and my wife's name for our 12x18 black and red oval pavilion) was not something to be casually ventured into.

Help came, as it always did from the bulk of the Liondragon guard present on site. Both the military arm, and strong back of the shire-turned-province, its membership was fleshed out with the robust frames of young men and women eager to invest time and energy into a good cause.

I had parted paths with "the guard" ages ago, and not long after I had hung up my armour for the final time. It was a bitter decision, but one that even now I don't regret making so much as regret having to even consider it. The consequences of that decision were several. Intended was the fact that I then had time to pursue my heraldry more thoroughly. Unintended was the separation between myself and the fighting community of Mooneschaodwe.

As schedules shifted, leadership changed hands multiple times over, and both people and culture changed across a span of years, Mooneschaodwe developed two very distinct arms, vaguely delineated along fighter and non-fighter lines. While hardly a perfect relationship, the two groups are still both fiercely loyal to the whole that is Mooneschaodwe. And as such, I was sadly out of touch with fully half of our more active membership due to a decision that perhaps a half dozen people in the group had been playing long enough to remember.

In testament to the true spirit of the Guard, dep[site the fact that I only casually know three or four of the members present, and could only barely say the same of the other four or five, the tired but energised guardsmen swarmed over the campsite and helped us erect the Hawk and Lilly in good order.

The process was also changed this year. After surviving the storm that ended Gulf XXV, I added high-wind ropes and a doorframe to our tent to reinforce the structure, changing how it was pitched. I found the process to be actually a lot easier than before, and within the hour, we had the tent up, the walls hung and staked down, and our heavy baggage under shelter just in time for the late-night drizzle to begin.

In the midst of this wartime construction project I found myself shoulder to shoulder with an unlikely, but not unexpected compatriot. To not expect Centurion Charles the Grey was to blanketly forget his role both within the province and the guard. But at the same time, to count it likely that he and I would be working togeather would be to forget a not-short run of friction between us.

Perhaps the best summary one could offer on our conflicts is that the bigger the issue, the bigger our disagreement. In only a handful of circumstances were he and I aligned even remotely in our talking points. Most notably of these were during the push for Province, which started as a "good idea", and became a crucible of group self-identity. But even then, our talking points in favour of the move (and rebutting naysayers) contained vastly different perspectives on the core concept.

But by that same metric, the smaller the issue, the smaller the challenge, it seemed, life would offer us little room to argue or even disagree. When push came to shove, we were both equally likely to to be amongst the first to help carry something or help raise a pavilion. In the end, it was in our nature.

There was a time when the two of us within eye-shot of each other would have promised, at the very minimum, a short exchange of verbal barbs, and an escalation was not unlikely in the least at one point.

There was no cataclysmic event that ended our fights, nor were there any epic moments where we set down our differences in some dignified agreement. I think, if I had to put words to it, we both grew out of the more fevered temperaments that had accelerated our earlier conflicts. The building blocks for more are still there, and I doubt they will ever go away, but that night, as we worked in honest unison to settle the latest arrivals in, I think I was most taken with the idea that maybe, just maybe, the darkest and most destructive of our moments were truly behind us.

When the final items were pushed through the door, and the last of the stakes were hammered into the ground, the guard and myself met with hearty handshakes and big hugs of gratitude, I for the help, and they for the company. It struck me then, for no particular reason than chance itself, that these were truly people I knew far, far too little about, and had too few reasons to not learn more about them. Perhaps these cold, tired moments of guidelines and tent poles could prove to be the rebuilding of a bridge I had inadvertently left to crumple years before.

Time, I knew, would tell, but for the moment we had a camp, meaning my family, and our friend would have shelter for what was quickly shaping up to be a cold, wet night. As the hour closed with midnight we slowly bunked down, seeking refuge from the plunging temperatures.

Dawn, I also knew, would see a great many things begin.

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

GW26: The measure of a man, the measure of a mission (part 1)

Part 1: Preparations

That last night before we all departed for our now annual pilgrimage to the heart of Gleann Abhann was both warm and tiring. While my wife and son worked inside our home to ready the last few items for storage, a family friend and longtime confidant and I worked to load tents and material. What Tote Derega (properly called Derega, as the Kipchek put the family name first) lacked in brute force, she more than compensated for with stubborn determination, a trait that we were both invested heavily in that night was we worked to make the absolute most of the limited space we had for a long day's travel.

Between loads of cargo and tent canvas, clothes and tent poles, my Mind divided itself as it had taken to lately, making use of the unused to contemplate that which I had been putting off thus far. Three years before, I had done much the same as I was doing that night, but with vastly different company. Where Ansteorra had for two and a half decades eagerly taken up the war-banners and rushed down to Meridies, and now Gleann Abhann, in order to meet its enemy on the field of battle, I was travelling for quite the opposite reason, and yet I was also travelling with very much the same great caravan of troops and material.

The dichotomy of the situation struck me, and not for the first time. As good friends of mine checked armour and weapons for the last time before setting out, the tools of my chosen trade were more herald's batton. In place of a weapon, I carried an assortment of pens, and in place of a uniform, I carried the badge of a dear friend. easily collected, tucked away, and used. In place of armour, I carried my

Nearly four years ago, a chance encounter with Master Alexander Ravenscroft, of the Kingdom of Meridies had shone a light upon a path I had never even dared dream could exist for me. Following my condensed class on site heraldry at Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium, the smiling, and outgoing man had walked up to me and in one breath said "I am Alexander Ravenscroft, and I would like you to come down to Gulf Wars this year and help me restart site heraldry for the event."

And there it was; no pleasantries, no formalities, just a blunt-as-a-mace statement of fact that included with it a tacit declaration of confidence, a request for help, and a hearty welcome all in one statement.

For each war since, while others surged forward to embrace the violent competition that was chivalric or rapier combat, I made the same journey not to compete, or combat, but to cooperate. In the end, I went not for want of personal glory, but because someone said that they needed my help.

In the present, while I contemplated my situation with my usual detached philosophical side, Derega and I worked out way through the list of items, including her tent, mine, and the supplies there with. Straps and boxes marked our progress with too slow of a pace as the early night wore on into late. Fatigue began to set in and we pushed closer and closer to completion.

And yet even through that, of all the things on my mind, the single item that bothered me the least, interestingly enough, was the principle task I was travelling to complete.

No part of the task of site heralding Gulf Wars so much as worried me in the least. Its not that I felt it would be easy because I knew it would not be. And it's not that I was simply cavalier about the challenges involved because I most decidedly was not. What I can say my confidence rested on so much that night between freight and provisions was the knowledge that I had such a solid core of well-tested heralds rallying around me in the week to come. In much the same way that fighters know the best of their number, or artisans can almost instinctively trace the most skilled of their ranks, heralds, and specifically sight heralds, know whom that can call comrade and compatriot by the time, energy, and sweat invested into our craft.

I was going into this war with the best army I could assemble and was quietly confident that whatever challenges made their way to me, I would have the skills needed to meet them head on, and best them.

No, the task of heralding site didn't bother me in the least. Nearly two decades of voice heraldry had given the piece of mind to meet that challenge with composure, even if failure awaited me.

Rather, I was alternately contemplating how I was going to best use the limited space Derega and my family had, and the other challenges, known and unknown that awaited me upon my arrival on site. These questions, the unknown most specifically, were what was going to challenge me for a sleepful night that night.

It was sometime after midnight before the last of the baggage was loaded aboard and checked. It took a deliberate effort to let the last of my unanswered questions exhaust itself as I worked the last tie-down for the night.

Sleep awaited us all with that, and with the dawn would come the outset of our voyage.

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