Monday, April 17, 2017

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!"

1 comment:

Leota Manners said...

VIVAT! H.L. Ivo Blackhawk! VIVAT!