When, at St Radegunde’s Fair in the second half of August, I learned about the prospect of an agricultural track at the Stellar University of Northshield, I asked two friends of mine at church who are interested in forms of farming similar to the medieval if they would like to attend with me. We had many hurdles to overcome, but the morning of November ninth, the day before SUN, saw me leaving the house with bags and baggage, headed for Wisconsin. Along the way I picked up Ariana, the only one who’d been able to come, and her luggage and other provisions. It would be her first SCA event.
Despite being unable to come, or perhaps because of her apprehension of the dangers of me gallivanting across the land without her, Olivia wrote us detailed directions. These served us well until we crossed into Wisconsin, when we proceeded to get ourselves thoroughly lost. It was dark by now, and snow was blowing across the road, and as we bumped around rural roads our prospects were increasingly grim.
We had already asked for directions at gas stations, but by eight o’clock found ourselves in a place too rural even for those, and we began to consider asking at houses. The first time we made sure the farmstead looked respectable, and the woman there was kind, but her directions failed us. We stopped at another house which had a light on, but no one answered our knocking. The third time we were desperate, and stopped at a house whose number was similar to the address we were looking for. A short woman in huge slippers, with smoke rising off her and who blew smoke out of her mouth when she talked (she was probably a gnome), came to the door.
“Do you know where this house is?” we asked, giving the number, and explained we were supposed to spend the night there.
“What’s the name?” she growled.
Ariana looked at each other, and for the first time I realized that I did not know either the SCA or mundane names of our hosts. It had not previously occurred to me to worry about this.
“I don’t know,” I said lamely, and since by this point she was about as suspicious of us as we were of her, we took our leave and went back to the road.
After calling Olivia and Jenny and both sets of parents, we got Ariana’s father on the line, and eventually he got us on a road leading into Wilton (the road Olivia had had us on appeared, from his map, to have gone out of existence). Now we were closer to where we were supposed to be, and there was bound to be a gas station or open store we could ask for further directions at.
The only open places on Main Street were the two bars, but the Post Office was unlocked and a light was on. Ariana and I decided to eat our supper in there, where we could be warm without wasting gas, and have another round of calling people.
Jenny answered this time, and gave us the phone number of our host. We called it and learned that we were just two blocks away from site, where they were still setting up. “The road,” he said, “literally dead-ends into the community center parking lot. Think you can find us?” We thought we might.
After wandering for an hour and a half in the dark, with blowing snow, it was actually that easy. Five minutes later we stumbled inside with our half-eaten sandwiches and muffins and had barely gotten down the stairs when the woman sitting in front of the kitchen said, “So glad you’re here! Have you eaten yet? There’s soup and bread and brownies right there.” Ariana looked a little stunned, and I said, “SCAdian hospitality. It’s the best.”
Now we called home and explained that we were safely arrived, not to crash space, but to site, and called Jenny back (she was driving, but Amanda answered) and said the same.
A handful of SCAdians in mundane clothes were visible in the main room, putting up a schedule on the wall behind a table which also had a huge black and gold Stellar University of Northshield banner behind it. I recognized Domina Berenice and Ealdred, and a few others I might have known if they were in garb.
Other people came through, as the news that we were the two lost girls had spread, and congratulated us on our safe arrival and offered us food. After the second or third time Ariana’s dazed grateful look became a fixture.
We helped set up chairs for a bit, and eventually one of our hosts (we were never quite sure how many people were sharing the house with us at any given time) came over and said, “I’m heading back now, so if you’re read to leave you can follow me. I’ve got the car with the trailer.”
We were feeling a bit dead on our feet, so we went out. I remembered having seen two cars with trailers in the parking lot. A truck came behind us as we were pulling out and kindly stopped for us, and we followed it up the hill. It didn’t have the kind of trailer which hooks on by a hitch, but there was something on the back. Ariana and I did begin to wonder, as we followed it through town and out again, whether this was the right guy we were following, and whether we would turn out to have stalked a passerby to his house, and what then. Ariana later said, “It had to be the right one,” as if the alternative were so unthinkable that it was also impossible. Being less sanguine, and also worn out with driving in the dark on uncertain directions, I figured that if it were the wrong guy I would simply ask for crash space there and forget about the rest until tomorrow.
Fortunately, after about half an hour, he put his turn signal on and turned left into a house with the very number we had memorized by now. Ariana and I cheered.
It was now after eleven o’clock, and we brought in only our bedding and the bag with our clothes for the morrow. “Welcome to the Nest,” the man said as he opened the door for us.
Jenny and Amanda arrived later in the night, and the others trickled in, but Ariana and I fell asleep so hard that even though we were in the living room right by the front door we didn’t notice anyone.
In the morning, as the four of us got dressed, we warned Ariana of the Court custom of previous reigns, as well as TRM Vladimir and Petranella III, of calling up those whose first event it was, or first court, into Their presence. I offered to escort her so she didn’t have to walk up alone. She said she probably wouldn’t go.
Christiana gave me two pendants, which mainly consisted of a large blue bead and a golden tree, with delicate golden beads framing the blue ones. Myah, or Hrafnrun, had made them for all the members of Avonwood. I tied them onto the fringe of my belt.
Derbail discovered that she didn’t have her Throat Coat tea with her, which would be important as she was teaching on Vocal Care for Heralds and Bards. The two of us were following the two of them to site anyway, and that was how one woman in early Irish garb, one in a blue-and-white particoloured quarterly cotehardie with long white tippets, and two in Anglo-Saxon garb (one of whom, the one without weird sleeves, had a puffy mundane coat on), walked into WalMart on a Saturday morning.
While there, Derbail decided to pick up some sandwich meat, as people had brought bread and fruit but no protein for the lunch potluck. Before we left Christiana checked her tire pressure, gracefully half-kneeling in the parking lot with her tippets spread out.
We arrived at site a little after nine. HE Rhys got the door for Ariana, as well as for Derbail and Christiana when they came in a little after us, their arms full. The line was long, but we got to the front at last, and paid and ran.
White carport tents with pointed tops made eight classrooms in the main room, four on each side of the open middle space for populace, and the stage was a ninth, mostly for dancing. Another tent had been set up outside for “Easy Camp Cooking” and the leatherworking class, and a space in the foyer served as another classroom.
Ariana was bound for a class in the kitchen, and mine was “Anglo-Saxon garb: Looking fancy without the bling”. I found it already underway; Hrodwyn gave me a handout and pulled up an extra chair. Ariana slipped in a little later, and came up to get a handout (her class was canceled). Hrodwyn complimented her on her cyrtel’s herringbone weave, and we grinned at each other.
Hrodwyn had a board on which she put examples of Anglo-Saxon garments getting increasingly fancy without jewelry or embroidery. The first was all natural browns, tabby-woven; the second, natural browns with each having a different pattern in the weave, which was already more interesting to look at; and of the third, of four different fabrics in different weaves and in different colours (saffron yellow, blue, green, and brown), she said as she put it up, “Ealdred would totally love this outfit, except he’d say it needs more pink.”
Partway through that class I ran my fingers through the fringe of my belt to feel the pendants, and only one was there. Since the last time I’d looked I’d been in the car and walked outside and run around inside — it could have fallen anywhere and gotten trampled.
Ariana and I went to the next class together, “Grocery Dancing”, with Christiana and Haakon and Derbail and another girl whose first event it was. I took my shoes off and went barefoot for that. Ariana left after the first half hour for another class, and another couple joined us and left again, so we went down to two couples and had to modify one dance which called for three.
Around eleven o’clock I went to “Easy Camp Cooking” and found a dish in progress: beef cooked in vinegar, with almonds and garlic and a few other things, which was now cooked to the point where the recipe called for “many eggs” to be added, as well as lavender and cinnamon and saffron, and then egg yolks. I tied up my sleeves and offered to do the eggs, which meant I was separating whites and yolks over a metal bowl, by hand, in freezing temperatures. The wipes Sol had brought froze together and we had to use them over the fire.
While the mixture cooked by the fire, we stood around and talked about camp cooking, and drank tea, and (in my case at least) inhaled a lot of smoke, as it could never make up its mind which direction to blow in consistently, and we went round and round the fire trying to avoid it.
Then we forgot about it for a bit, and when Sol took the lid off the pot again, the meat was looking charred. The adventurous among us tried it, and though a lot of the garlic and almonds were stuck to the pot and the meat was unquestionably well-done and a little chewy, it didn’t taste bad at all. The spices were definitely there without being too strong, and the egg yolks were tasty, and most of all it was hot food to eat outside with frozen fingers. Everyone who tried it liked something about it.
Since it was noon then, I went back inside to find Avonwood. Our potluck lunch was a small affair held off to one side on the stage. Ariana and Christiana and I did some people-watching, having a very good view of everyone from our place.
I went next to “Intro to art history for the scribe” since the other two had to be in other places and we were all interested, and during it I began to doze off. I also lost track of time completely, and went to the tent for “Good King Richard?” an hour early, and couldn’t find the schedule (which I think was with Ariana, whom I also couldn’t find), so I decided to find the quietest spot I could and doze off properly.
That spot turned out to be with the remains of lunch on the stage, and I curled up and closed my eyes. About two hundred people filled the air with noise all around me, and Haakon nearby was giving a “History of dance in the SCA”, but presently the noise faded and blurred.
And then I realized the room was very quiet and I hadn’t heard the end of Haakon’s sentence, and I opened my eyes to see Ariana kneeling nearby, looking at me perplexedly over her schedule. I had actually fallen asleep.
It was one-thirty and the next thing on my list was the “Good King Richard?” class. Ariana didn’t have anywhere to be just then, so she came along. Judging from the title I’d thought it was on Richard I, but it turned out to be Richard III, a very different person. At two o’clock we thought we had another class, but for some reason (possibly cancellation) we didn’t just then. However, between 2:30 and 4 I wanted to go to four other classes, “The old measures: dances from the Inns of Court”, “Enlightening Delights” (A&S documentation), “The Tacuinum Sanitatis: Keeping clean in the middle ages”, and “From picture to pattern: How to make the thing”. Ariana had no pressing engagements either, so we stood by the stage and tried to decide. Christiana looked over our shoulders and said, “You can pick up the handouts from the documentation one afterward — it’s mostly how to write a research paper. Definitely go to from picture to pattern. Seamus is going to Tacuinum Sanitatis, so he can take notes for you.” In the end Ariana decided to go too, so I went off to learn how to make things from pictures.
Classes ended at four, and while people set up the thrones for Court in the front half of the room, people gathered in the back for Berenice’s A&S Town Hall. Berenice was the SUN Chancellor and had questions about how well the populace thought the event worked.
When the Town Hall got done I caught Mistress Eithni and and asked if I might have handouts from her Enlightening Delights class, and we went round to the side hallway where she had hung her bag on the empty chair rack. Ariana came and found me there. We had just finished when from the main room we heard a shout. “All rise for Their Dread Stellar Majesties, Vladimir and Petranella the third, and Her Royal Highness Aibhilin!” Several barons and baronesses were in attendance, and we watched the long procession from the side door. TRM wore matching sable and gold garb with peacock blue underneath, very shiny. When they had all taken their seats, His Majesty said, “You may take your ease,” and we snuck in and went around to the first tent. Christiana waved to us and pointed out a couple of open seats by an aisle, and we took them.
The herald was our host Matthias, a tall thin man with a grey beard, who, in a red and black gown slit up the sides and a red Phrygian cap, looked like an elongated gnome himself. “Their Majesties request the presence of Christoforo Alfonso Pallavincino da Firenze,” he said.
“Is he not here?” someone asked. “But he was here earlier.”
“He knew this was coming,” Her Majesty said.
We waited for another bit. There was a stir in the back, but Foro did not emerge.
Her Majesty said, “While we are waiting for His Lateness, we can take care of another item of business.” Some old laws were being taken off the books and a couple of new ones put on. The herald managed to invent five different pronunciations of the phrase “cut and thrust”, but on the very last iteration it came out perfectly.
Partway through the reading of the laws, Foro finally appeared at the end of a row of chairs a bit behind us. When the herald finished Foro came forward and made an elaborate bow at the end of the aisle.
“Here you are at last,” Her Majesty said graciously.
His Majesty stood up, taking the sword from an attendant, and unsheathed it. When he planted it on the cushion, Foro knelt and placed his hands on the hilt, and TRM put their hands on his.
Foro was the newly appointed Kingdom Chronicler, and he had to be sworn in. The herald read the oath, pausing at appropriate places for Foro to repeat the words. “I here swear fealty and do homage to the Crown of Northshield; to well and loyally administer my office.” The last sentence did not lend itself to being broken up and the herald read it all at once. “I will diligently serve this crown and kingdom, uphold its laws and customs, guide by my example all the people of Northshield, and in all things comport myself with the dignity” (here Foro glanced up at His Majesty) “befitting one who holds my office.” Foro paused before going on, and Her Majesty leaned forward and hissed, “Just say it!” Foro repeated the words, and ended, “Here, by my honour and my heart, swear I, Christoforo Alfonso Pallavincino da Firenze.”
When TRM replied they left the herald behind, not needing prompting. “We accept your service and leadership, and will rely on you to advise us wisely. As you hold your office in good faith we will act toward you respectively in all things, protecting you with our aid and rewarding you with our love. But may all your strength fail you” (His Majesty’s voice was very stern as he said this) “and the world turn against you if you should break your solemn oath.”
“For the Kingdom Chronicler, Vivat!” the herald instructed us, and we cheered appropriately.
Their Majesties next requested the presence of Princess Aibhilin Fionn. That lady, being seated right next to TRM, stood up and turned toward them. Her Majesty beckoned her onto the cushion.
Their Majesties gave Her Highness a scroll announcing her status as Countess. Usually the consort of a ruler becomes Count or Countess automatically upon stepping down, but for some reason this seemed not to have happened, and naturally she was excited.
TRM handed out a few more awards, and made an announcement. Usually before Gulf Wars they took a muster of fighters, of course, but this year they also wished to take a muster of the people in the arts and sciences who contributed things, because although many people went to War for the fighting, many others go to teach or learn or simply practice and share the peaceful arts. Her Majesty explained that therefore they planned to choose an arts and sciences champion, and at War would escort the champion to where they dropped off their work, to show how important this is. They would also take a muster of the youth fighters, because everyone matters.
Something involved His Majesty saying, as a passing comment, “the allegéd people in authourity over us, the Us Government (who shall be dealt with shortly)”, with a dismissive turn of his hand.
Someone was called up for an award, but was absent. “Can I accept it for her?” asked one of the Baronesses seated with TRM.
Whoever it was, Her Majesty explained, while the Baroness knelt before them, “is known for her great skill in working jewelry, a subject near and dear to my heart, as you all know,”
“And near to my pocketbook,” His Majesty added.
“As well as armour,” Her Majesty went on smoothly, “no less dear to his heart.”
At last they got to the part of Court where, “Their Majesties request the presence of any for whom this is their first event or first Royal Court.” A few other people began to move forward. People all around us started telling Ariana, “That’s you,” and “It’s your turn, go up!” Seamus, in front of us, turned around and encouraged her; Christiana came up from a couple of rows behind; I took her hand; together we finally convinced her to come. I walked beside her to the end of the aisle, curtsied, and let her go. There were three others, and she ended up right in front of His Majesty.
Their Majesties said something about the importance of welcoming newcomers, especially young folk, as they would carry on the kingdom after the currently established folk were dead and gone, and they gave each of them a mug.
“For the future of Northshield,” the herald said as TRM dismissed them and they turned around, “Vivat!”
Avonwood was well represented elsewhere, as Domina Berenice called up the teachers who’d travelled farthest, Ladies Rachel and Derbail. (Derbail took Lady Rachel’s arm and pranced up the aisle with her.) Berenice gave them each a travel bag with SUN’s sunburst on it, which contained, she said, “all the necessary toiletries, so that wherever they go they will not lack.”
Presently the herald began, “There being no further business, the Court of Vladimir and Petranella,” and we all stood up in anticipation of the recessional. But someone whispered something to him, and he said, “Oh, sorry, one more thing.” We all sat down, and they handed out another award or whatever it was.
“Now, there being no further business, the court is closed,” the herald said, and we rose again. The usual cheers followed.
“Long live the King!”
“Long live the Queen!” They swept by us.
“Long live the Prince and Princess!” we said just as HRH passed us, smiling.
“Long live Coile Stormeill!”
“Long live Jararvellir!”
“LONG LIVE NORTHSHIELD!”
We began to dismantle Avonwood’s space and collect our things, including my spinning, which had spent all day on the table, as I never got a free moment. Other Avonwood folk discussed plans for supper. Ariana and I had already decided to go back to the Nest and eat our supper in quiet, shower, and go to bed at least somewhat earlier than we had the night before. The others decided to go to a Mexican place.
Ariana was now extra visible on account of Court, and several people as they passed through stopped to welcome her and ask if she were having fun, or in the case of one lady known to me, to compliment her on her wise words in somebody’s class. Ariana thanked her, a little dazed by now from all the sudden attention, and Christiana said, “That was Baroness Samia.”
Ealdred stopped near us at some point, wearing his Pelican hat, and I leaned across the table and said to him, “You’re actually wearing something on your head. That’s got to be one of the first times I’ve seen you do it.” I had earlier told Ariana that he was an especially notorious stealth peer.
“Well,” he said, taking it off and studying it, “hats from this period are hard to come by, and it’s about the only thing that actually covers my ears and keeps them warm. When I was going to get it, part of my elevation outfit, I said to somebody we could do it like this, two weeks before the event. Then we had to order the trim, which arrived four days before the event, and it was sewn on in the car on the way to the event — I wasn’t the one doing it. And it actually fits.”
Before we left, I asked Berenice if a pendant like my remaining one had made its way to the Lost and Found, but it hadn’t. Hrafnrun said she could make another one without much trouble, and would pass it on to me by Jenny.
Ariana and I followed Christiana and Derbail back to the Nest, where they changed into mundane clothes before going out to eat. The two of us sat on the couch and discussed the day’s events a little. We touched on the topic of going garbed to WalMart, and Ariana confessed that it wasn’t her favourite part. “I like being different,” she said, “but I don’t like to show it.”
Jenny laughed. “This is the wrong crowd to say that in.”
We had supper by ourselves and showered at our leisure. Seonag told us about her history in the SCA, how she and her husband had met there, and about the Great Dark Horde, their household (all of which was new to Ariana, but I knew a little), and her friendship with Elashava. We went to bed at ten and fell asleep almost immediately.
The next day while Christiana and Derbail were dressing for the second day of SUN, we were dressing for church. For my part, as always, elements of medieval clothes carried over, with long sleeves and a long skirt, and on the spur of the moment I added my belt, so I could still wear my Avonwood pendant.
We met Seonag on Friday night and hugged her goodbye on Sunday morning.
* * * * * * *
Post-script: After getting off the right road twice on the way back, once involving a freeway, and all the stress that comes with that, I have a deeper understanding of and sympathy with Gabriel Syme’s remarks below (from The Man Who Was Thursday). When roads don’t match up the way they’re supposed to so often, when all of a sudden you come to an intersection and there’s the sign for the road you want and you can even turn onto it in the right direction without hesitating — well, by the end of it Ariana and I began to cheer.
“An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetical thing in the world would be the Underground Railway.”
“So it is,” said Mr. Syme.
“Nonsense!” said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox. “Why do all the clerks and navvies in the railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I will tell you. It is because they know that the train is going right. It is because they know that whatever place they have taken a ticket for that place they will reach. It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. Oh, their wild rapture! oh, their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!”
“It is you who are unpoetical,” replied the poet Syme. “If what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!”
“Must you go?” inquired Gregory sarcastically.
“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word ‘Victoria,’ it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed ‘Victoria’; it is the victory of Adam.”