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!"

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

GW26: The measure of a man, the measure of a mission (part 7)

Part 7:  A Diamond, a Rally, and a Bear

Wednesday night for me included a stop off at the Green dragon for purely sentimental reasons.Three years, four wars before, at much the same time, I had walked down Queen's highway and drifted towards the pavilion that sat aside of the dragon, looking for a place to rest for a few. In the dim light of the nighttime setting, I had found myself in the company of a somewhat familiar face. Three days before that, this woman had been the one, as I recall, who had guided me upstairs to the inn's balcony for my dramatic herald to the assembled for help with troll the previous Sunday. That night, however, as we sat in the relative calm of the dark outside of the inn's boisterous crowd, we both sat there, largely quiet. I remember making small talk for a few minutes, thought nothing momentous. Then, by happenstance, I asked how her day was shaping up, and she replied with a bit of an exhausted tone, that she was running a tournament the next day, and was trying to find enough heralds to cry the lists. 

Needless to say, my ears perked up, and in short order, I found myself enlisted in the service of one Viscountess Marian Lioncina da Susa, a member of the order of the Diamonds, past territorial princesses of the then principality of Gleann Abhann. All in one moment, I, a random traveller, and she a hard-working proprietor of the most famous in the SCA most likely, were transformed in our seats to other aspects of ourselves, namely a veteran list herald, and a member of the royal house of Gleann Abhann, respectively. 

For all the miracle that the chance encounter may be I treated it for what it was, a person who needed assistance, and a job that needed to be done. I think my own regret of the diamond tournament the next day was that for all it magic and charm, it was lost in the backdrop of even greater things happening in my life, but I say here that the Diamonds were no less welcoming or supportive of me than any other tournament I cried for that week those years ago. Theirs was a magic no less than any others in the society, and are, I say, still a mark above the rest in many ways. 

And tonight, three years later,  as I walked in the door, I saw the same dress and the same white headcover on the same woman, worked tired, but still happy and energised for the magic of both her efforts and those of her fellow volunteers behind the counter. 

"I wanted you to know," I explained to her after a brief bit of reintroductions, "That I still remember being allowed to herald from your balcony that night. And I still remember heralding the diamond's tournament. I guess," I said hesitantly, knowing I probably sounded a bit like a fool there, "I just wanted you to know that I still look back on all of that and it gives me a lot of great memories, and it was part of a giant adventure for me that year." I stopped there, knowing that I was on the verge of babbling. 

Marian's smile just then told me that the intent of my message was received in the spirit it was meant to be. And in return for my gesture, I finally had a name to put to my miraculous coincidence.

This year at Gulf, miracles and coincidences were not scarce either.

Two days later, I walked into our makeshift headquarters exhausted, and ready to see the final site announcements sent out for the war. It had been a good run thus far, we have cried all of the main roads and even gotten down by the archery field the last three times out. The coverage was amazing for such a modest bands of volunteers, and I was hoping to see the effort go out with a bang. But as the minutes ticked by, no one showed.

In my mind, I wondered if the cold, the fatigue and the long walks had taken their toll on everyone. Maybe they were all cashed out, getting well-deserved rest after heralding site and doing a million other things. Try as I may, I couldn't bring myself to be mad at anyone, though the idea of having to cancel the final cries was a cold bit that sat poorly at my stomach.

Then, at about quarter till the top of the hour, they came in the door. First, it was just Yancy, then Johann, and then Athena, and then Bridgit and then the rest. Within moments, I had no less than eight people standing there, ready to carry the messages out. Just when I had prepared myself for a fizzling end to our campaign, the site heralds of Gulf were going to rally for one glorious sendoff. As we wrote down the final words for the day and assigned out the routes, it was so crowded in there that I had to tell everyone to go outside so we all would have room to point and talk. I quipped that I felt a bit like General Patton as depicted by George C Scott in the famous movie opening credits, standing before an army worth of pride, and professionals in their task.

I literally felt tears come to my eyes as I assigned the last of the routes and sent them on their way. We had done it, we had heralded the second largest site in the SCA, we had done it for five days, and we can hit all the main roads each time.

And not one of them, not one of us as complained about the challenges or the time involved.

We had come, we had face challenges, and when the final round came, we rallied.

and they succeeded!

But the adventure was not over for us, not just yet.

Lady Bridgit of Mooneschaodwe, our resident sign herald that day, was just wrapping up her announcements in the Merchant's row when a figure sprinted up to her. Meridies own Taran The Wayward, a herald and good friend of myself, had run from the site of the ravine battle in desperate search for a sign herald. He'd first reached the five points, only to be told Bridgit was out doing announcements. From there, the search turned into a chance as he raced through the rows of merchant's tents.

He explained the situation, in brief, his crown was about to present an order of high merit in fighting, and the recipient was Deaf.

Bridgit, who stands barely a hand's breadth over five foot, and little wider than a fibreglass spear, was reported to have taken off like a shot at that point, her herald's tabard trailing behind her like a wind swept cape.

A few minutes later, Bridgit did, in fact, find the court of Mercedes, held on the battlefield. And did, in fact, and for the first time that I know of, serve as a sign herald for a foreign court. The recipient was made a member of the order of the Bear, an order for chivalric fighting. And, thanks to the skills of Bridgit, and her fleet-footedness, every line of the ceremony was conveyed in America Sign language, allowing them to be fully part of the ceremony in real time.

Friday had ended on the highest of high notes for the site heralds.

And through our work, the lives of others were made better for it.

Back L-R: Ivo, Kitty, Yancy, Johann, Gareth
Front L-R: Detrick, Athena, Kayla, Bridgit. 

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

GW26: The measure of a man, the measure of a mission (part 6)

Part 6: "Brotherhood" 

My last time to attend Gulf Wars in armour ages ago though it may be, still left a lasting impression on me. Remember the ravine battle, and that it was a gruelling endurance test for everyone. Halfway through, fully a quarter of the army was lingering in the backfield, spending more time walking to and from the lines of battle than we were actually fighting on them. I remember one moment, sitting amidst a cluster of fighters from different kingdoms, different groups, when I wanted to do something other than walk across the Ansteorrian backfield and die ten seconds after hitting the main line. All of us were dog tired, all of us were openly ignoring the random calls of "we need to get up" from younger fighters as they raced by in each direction. The rest of the Liondragon guard was largely committed on the far side of the line, and for a number of reasons, I was not really inclined to walk the distance over there. I rose to my feet, sore, tired, and bruised.
"I'm going over there. I'm going to go up to the middle of the Trimarin line and I'm going to kill as many of them as I can. Who's coming with me?"
I hefted my glaive up and held it firm, my resolve codifying. I didn't say anything else, and I didn't intend to wait. If no one else stood up, I was ready to go out there alone.

I remember the first person to stand was a Midrealmer, his kingdom's arms on his chest. Then a Calontiri who had been separated from his company for a moment. Then another, and then another...
A moment later, we walked forward, twelve strong, ready to go take the first to Trimaris one more time.

Twelve Strangers, twelve brothers.

I think few of my stories better encapsulate the dynamic that permeates so much of my SCA experience as that moment in the ravine. As much as we may claim loyalty, or fielty, or even service to crown or kingdom, vague concepts of grand ideas usually feel hollow in the face of bone bending fatigue and stomach wrenching overwork. But the one thing that can be said without question is that when a person, an honest-to-God real person,  covered in sweat, tired, sore, and still determined, looks at you and asks you if you will follow them, even the most exhausted of us will usually find strength that we didn't know was there.

In a more macroscopic perspective, that mentality was a lot of what was behind my return three years before, under the invitation of Master Alexander Ravenscroft. But such things are not limited to the battlefield or held only to grand moments between towering personalities.

Between the aforementioned cold, and the newly defined scope of our roles as heralds, not to mention my own latest health considerations, the work being asked of us, and the conditions we were all in when we accepted the tasks did not lend themselves to quick recoveries or light sleep. By Wednesday morning, my back and legs were feeling the pain of too many steps walked, and too much time shivering in bed rather than actually sleeping.

I was openly limping when I got to the shed that morning ahead of my people. It hurt to stand, it hurt to sit. I just hurt, period. Skaia was one of the first people there, as I recall, and it took her a grand total of thirty seconds to note my injuries. With the same indomitable personality that had let her run Herald's point previously, she took charge of the process that morning that I had established, collecting notes, writing down the actual verbiage we would use, and then taking names and assigning routes. Largely, I was left to observe, not that I was complaining. The final note to the whole thing, however, was when Skaia levelled a commanding look at me and directed me back to my camp for bedrest. The tone in her voice brooked absolutely no conversation on the point. I think arguing with her just then, even if I had wanted to, would have been about as productive as yelling at a mountain.

I complied with the instruction for two reasons. First and foremost was my respect for Skaia, there was nothing good to be had arguing with her when she was absolutely right. And secondly, I honestly had not wanted to walk further than I had to. I would have gone out if need be, but it was not my overriding goal that morning.

However, going back to bed wasn't going to work either. Little known to my comrades that morning, my cot was less than comfortable this war, and the support I needed was not being provided by it or the foam mattress we had also brought. As fortune would have it, however, one of the Ansteorrans there was also skilled as a massage therapist and was a local legend for his ability to relieve people of muscle or joint pain. I found said person in his camp, and by then I was limping even worse, the muscles on my back, hip and shoulder were now tightening up as I tried to move.

For those who don't know, being worked on for pulled or strained soft tissue injury is the process of having whole muscle groups pulled, pushed, twisted, pinched and shifted. Its not comfortable, and I wouldn't even consider it pleasant, but I can't argue with the final result. My range of movement was increased drastically, and the pain, though still there, was mostly manageable, and markedly reduced from what it was.

About an hour later, perhaps more, I casually made my way into herald's point, just north of the castle. I wasn't three steps in the door when half of the heralds there (none of whom are site heralds) locked eyes with me, and in a scowling fusillade chorus demanded: "Why aren't you in bed?". Evidently, Skaia had anticipated that firstly might not stay as sedate as she thought fit, and secondly where I was likely to go if I did get up and start walking.

When people ask me about family reunions or get together, my mind doesn't go to back yards or convention centres, amusement parks or restaurants. It travels to placed like king's arrow ranch, where people I see five days a year watch out for me with a determination rivalled only by my time with the fire service.

It took me a few moments of explanation and reassurances before the last of my accusers relented and agreed that I wasn't likely to do something permanent by walking around. I assure you there were no hard feelings at all, just a lot of people who wanted to keep me both around, and healthy.

Much the same dynamic came to the centre of a conversation a few hours later. In what would become a tradition for me this war, I had stopped by the scribal pavilion after sunset to check on the small core of scribes and illuminators who were painting and caliging well into the late hours. As I said before, while I officially have no role in scribe's point, my place there as a welcome friend has been cemented over the past several years though my decision to help where needed and to socialise for as long as they would have me.

Tonight, however, was another matter. No sooner had I walked into the pavilion than the scribes point Head, HE Mistress Adela pulled me aside with a more serious look on her face than was normal for her. In two nights, it had become clear that several things would come a confluence that needed some advanced planning.

As was always the case, dedicated calligraphers from many kingdoms would come and work late hours. However, the cold was having two effects on that dynamic, first sending all but the most dedicated (Or insane) volunteers to their tents and warm beds much earlier than previous wars. And second, leaving those who were saying late to walk home in the cold. Compounding this, the distances to walk were not small, and the roads were not smooth something all of us knew were risks that needed to be accounted for. Lastly, the rowdier crowds that were up at those insane hours were just rowdy enough that the more security-minded of us didn't want to 'just' trust that they would offer no problems to our people.

The realisation had come to Adela undoubtedly a short time before or after word reached her of my rough the event was being on my legs and back. As grateful as she was for my presence and help, we both quickly agreed that just saying "Ivo will do it" was foolish, not to mention unhealthy to myself. Between us, we quickly agreed that it would be convenient, and even nice if a few other people were around during the late hours of the night in order to see people safely home.

Towards this end, I set out later that night, after walking several more people home myself, for a specific location to try and make our abstract plan a reality.

It wasn't hard to find the person I had in mind. I've known his excellency Facon Du Prey since he was just an armidous lord fighting on the rapier fields across the kingdom with the likes of Don Timothy and (then) HL Teresa. Standing an imposing six foot and change tall, he used to sport near lion's mane of black hair, but of late he has taken to sporting a "classically bald" look.I met Facon (albeit in passing) at my first event nearly two decades ago. Since then I had sat and talked with him as a friend, confidant, and we have taken turns as counsellors in each other's lives. I interviewed him for my podcast when he was a candidate for Barron of Northkeep, and when I was going through chemotherapy, his was one of the voices that cheered me on.

One of the most amusing stories I have ever heard from Facon was about one of his earlier events before he and I met. He had awoken one night to hear a young woman issuing choked, gasping cries for help. Jumping from his cot, he rushed into the night, every bit the gallant 'white knight' one would envision, armed with what wits he possessed, and a rapier pulled from his bedside. He arrived at the scene to find several men, also armed, and ready to impale a certain gentleman should he not comply with their orders. Before the situation could escalate any further, the young lady emerged from her tent and waved everyone off, explaining in embarrassment "no no, he was only tickling me!"

The punchline to this misadventure, however, is perhaps the most telling of both the society and Facon. For you see he pulled the young lady aside and explained to her "For God's sake, whatever you do, don't scream for help at a campsite full of men who's waited all their lives to rescue a woman in distress."

This pragmatic philosophy, jovial spirit, and willingness to race off into the unknown to aid another was precisely the reason I sought out Facon that night. He wasn't terribly hard to find. The truth of the matter was that most of the Ansteorran rapier community has some generally predictable haunts after dark at Gulf wars, and Facon was easily located with a cluster of his rapier brethren by the ansteorran gates.

We met on the road, both tired from the day, and relative lack of sleep from the cold the night before. I hadn't had enough time so far to talk to nearly as many people as I wanted to, and Facon was a casualty of that time crunch, but as we always do, we greeted each other with firm handshakes and big smiles.

I didn't need to make a long explanation or a detailed narrative of my situation, and I knew I wouldn't. We were both protectors by heart, both eager and willing to help when asked. As soon as I had given the overview, he nodded in firm agreement, adding that he would see about having a few of the other rapier fighters swing by the scribal tent near midnight on the nights following to make sure everyone made it home. There was no talk of quid-pro-quoe, or will anyone have any food or a good wine. And I doubt that such considerations of payment ever crossed his mind. Much like myself, he heard that someone, somewhere, was in need, and his motives for active were as simple as they were honest.

Now, as glorious as it would be to say that a small platoon of Ansteorran rapier fighters did, in fact succeed in this mission, the facts of the story tell a different tale. As it happened, the same cold weather that had tormented us thus far in the war would play hell with the best of plans later on. The scribed didn't last until midnight after that. Cold and fatigue took its toll on them early, and the scribes point was empty before eleven each night after. So, sadly, it was to an empty tent that Facon ventured two nights in a row after that. The first with Master Donnavin  (MoD), and the second lord Miguel from his own home barony. And yet these three jovial, chivalrous men made the not-short track across site only to the thwarted by happenstance.

It would be easy to dismiss this little narrative as yet another gulf wars misadventure, and I don't take away the humour to be had in such a telling. In fact, I am sure that between the three of them there are some funny stories to be had from the walk alone.

But, I also want it known here that these three (and possibly more) set out to help people whom they had never met, and even though the final plan was thwarted by chance, it speaks not one word less of their will to render aid when asked, and that, more than any joke, of why I tell this story.

For these men, no matter how much or little we know of each other, are as much brothers to me in this respect as the men who marched up that ravine slope with me all those years ago.

They are as much brothers to me as the heralds from four kingdoms who answered a call for help this war.

And by the same metric do I gladly class HL Skaia a sister in arms, not only for her work with the site heralds this year but for dutifully standing up to me and making sure I didn't foolishly injure myself that day.

To these to I gladly say, "you are my brothers and sisters."

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
– Aesop

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