Here’s the story from the SCA event my sister and I went to a few weeks ago. It’s long, I warn you — fourteen thousand words. Also, unlike the other one I’ve posted here, from Hadrian’s Feld, SUN is a day event devoted to classes. This means that my telling of it will include a lot of monologues — though some classes, such as the drawing in charcoal one my sister was in, are more hands-on (and all are interesting), I ended up in lectures. Still, don’t confuse these classes with the sort of things students sleep through or never show up to. The people who attend SUN are there because they want to be, which makes things so much more pleasant for their teachers and classmates. . . and as this was not intended to be a post on the ills of modern education, I’ll let you get to the story.
* * * * *
My sister and I left the house before dawn and headed northeast to the Stellar University of Northshield. The sun was in our eyes for most of the way, prompting Wynnie and me to play with the words “the starlight will blind us, and guide our way home”.
The first “SCAdian moment” of the day happened when we were stopped at a red light in St Cloud. A van with two Muslim ladies pulled up beside us, and upon seeing me, began to wave and smile in the most friendly manner. From my veil, done with a pashmina in a manageable late Anglo-Saxon look, they probably thought I was one of them. But I had no way of explaining, and could only wave back so as not to be rude.
We managed, somehow, not to get lost, only missing the very last turn before site and having to find a quiet street to turn around in. We found that the parking lot was full, which was to be expected, since site had opened an hour and a half before we arrived, and had to circle the block looking for a place that was not marked “2 hour parking only”. A neighbouring parking lot was still open, and we parked there and gathered our things. Wynnie uncharacteristically left her camera in the car.
As we carried our baskets and bags up the sidewalk to the front door, His Grace Vladimir went out and crossed the parking lot, carrying a pair of boots and some kind of weapon.
Lady Rachel, the event’s autocrat, was standing by the door talking to someone, but when we came in on our way to Gate she broke off.
“How good to see you!” she said, and then to Wynnie, “And you too.”
“She made her own garb,” I said, and Wynnie lifted one arm the better to display her bliaut’s sleeve of doom. “With some help from a sewing machine and me.”
“Oh, it looks very nice, you did a very good job,” Lady Rachel told her. “The colour suits you, too. Do you know where you’re going now?”
“Gate,” Wynnie said.
“In there, to the right, that’s some populace space,” Lady Rachel said, “so if you want to put your things there after you go through, so you don’t have to carry everything with you.”
We thanked her and went on, but had only gotten a few steps closer to Gate when Jean noticed us. Wynnie curtseyed to him.
“Don’t do that,” he told her, and broke off his conversation to hug us and inquire where we were going first.
“Finding Christiana and getting a belt,” Wynnie said.
“Christiana’s. . . somewhere. Downstairs I think. See you around.”
We finally got to Gate, where Wynnie once again pleased them by producing a waiver already signed, and where we were asked if we had an adult with us. The site tokens were in the form of black folders with a smiling gold sun inside a circle and the words “Stellar University of Northshield”. In each one was a notebook and pen. Once through, we went into the populace room and found a corner in the back for our basket and the other things we wouldn’t need right away.
It was a little after nine-thirty, so according to the schedule Christiana would still be in Autocratting 101. We wandered the basement looking for the room, found her, and stood in the doorway till she noticed us. She raised a hand, dug in her bag for her belt, and brought it to us.
“Glad you’re here at last!” she whispered. “I’ll see you around later, I’m sure. Have fun!”
Wynnie and I separated, she to a class on period dances, and I to “Of Herbs and Gardens”. The room was near the stairs by the back door. Two other ladies were standing outside the room, waiting for the class that was currently in it to finish. I sat down on the floor and pulled my almost-finished tablet weaving out of my pilgrim’s bag, tied one end ot my ankle and the other to my belt, and started. The others waiting smiled knowingly.
People started coming through, some carrying boxes and one pulling a suitcase. A gentleman who was coming through the back door stopped on the doormat and waved a lady down the stairs in front of him, and she went on with a little nod as if that were a matter of course. More people came to wait for the Herbs and Gardens class, exchanging greetings with each other and with those passing through.
The class in room 109 got out, and I untied myself and went in with the others. I took a chair on the end by the door. About a dozen people came in, one of whom was a nun in black and white. Eschina, who had been at Hadrian’s, came in and said hi and sat down beside me.
The lady teaching the class was Viscountess Leyla, who came in barefoot and trailing a blue veil. She passed around the handouts for the class, and then introduced her topic.
“I was going to teach a class at SUN, and I thought ‘I can do it on period gardening!’ And then I got looking, and the topic’s so broad you could teach thirty-five classes on it, so I had to narrow it down. You hear a lot about pleasure gardens, think that lovely scenery in the unicorn tapestry, or Tudor gardens with everything laid out and massive topiaries. You don’t hear so much about the other side of things, the useful gardens, where you grow your food and things, so I thought I’d teach on them. But even that can turn into several classes. I’m not getting into the medicinal side of things in this class — that’s a whole class of its own.
“As with a lot of things in history, we have monks and monasteries to thank for a lot of what we get in gardening. You have a community, self-supporting, of people, they need food — you might have two acres devoted to leeks. Later on you get devotional gardens too, we’ll get to that. But as with a lot of things, in the manuals there were strong cautions against enjoying gardening too much, because of the damage it can do to your soul.”
“If I may interject something, my lady,” said the nun who was sitting in the back, “I am Schwester Felicia von Finsterwalder, a twelfth-century Benedictine, and I am sure you will instruct us with no danger to our souls.”
“Thank you, Sister,” the Viscountess said, bowing slightly.
“So when I was putting together this class, I was trying to narrow things down to herb gardens, and I was going to start with, what is an herb garden? Because ‘herb’ was used for a lot of different things in period. So I go to the trusty dictionary, and found out that ‘herb’ is a plant that grows seeds, that does not develop woody stems, it dies back down every winter. Or, it’s ‘a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic purposes’. Or, slang for marijuana. For our purposes, an herb is a useful plant. Now, they didn’t classify things the same way through all of period. There’s one source that puts mint in the infirmarer’s garden, you know, that thing you chew on when you have a tummyache, and it also puts opium poppy in the kitchen garden. And there’s other things, like if you’re English, you can’t have rosemary until after 1300, but if you’re French, you’re fine.
“So we go on to what a garden is. The medieval writers throw around all kinds of words — hortus, herbarium, viridarium, an herber — and use all of them to mean some kind of garden. They like to sound fancy, but nobody ever explains what they mean by the word, or what the differences between them are, or if there is one. Merriam-Webster wasn’t particularly helpful here either, for some reason. A garden can be an area of ground where plants are grown — so, everybody’s backyard — or a public area with many plants and trees — think Tudor gardens again — or, a large stadium or building for sports or entertainment. Don’t we all wish we had that much room to grow stuff! There’s a thirteenth-century source that says a garden is as much land as you can dig with a spade in one day, as opposed to having to use a plow and oxen, which would make it a field. You’ve probably heard of St Fiacre, patron of gardens, he was told he could have as much land as he could dig in a day, so he dug all the way around the piece of land, and then got everything inside it — tricky, and he got it plowed for him into the bargain. But most of us don’t have that sort of supernatural help either, and I don’t know about you, but my little viscounty is about half an acre including my manor — don’t tell anyone! — so I have small gardens.
“If you lived in period, and you needed twine, how would you get it? You can’t just walk down to the hardware store and buy it. You grow hemp. Hemp was introduced to England by the Romans, and you might have it in your garden, or it’s growing outside your gate. It has these lovely long bast fibers that need really hardly any processing once you’ve broken the stalks open, you can practically twist up your twine right there. An herb garden is useful plants. Peonies are period, but you don’t see them in herb gardens, they were ornamentals for most of period, at least in Europe, but we haven’t gotten into China yet. Hostas, I love my hostas, they smell really good, but they’re not in with my herbs.
“And a note on organization. I threw in some marigolds and verbena in mine, scattered the seeds in with the rest, and one day my husband made dinner, and we were like ‘What’s that funny taste in the soup?’ Turns out he’d mistaken the verbena for fennel. Now verbena’s not toxic, it won’t really make you sick, but what if he’d picked my monkshood (yes, I grow monkshood)? I wouldn’t be teaching this class. So please, please, if you do grow anything like that, keep it separate! There’s a tragic story about a man who was a gardener for one of these big period gardens on a private estate in Britain, who collapsed and died of kidney failure, and it turned out he’d been handling monkshood without gloves on, and he was sensitive enough that that was enough, once it got into his system, to kill him. Monkshood, wolfsbane, same thing. Not that we have much of a problem with wolves around here. It’s aconite, it’s deadly.
“Another consideration is whether the plants are legal. Strabo mentions opium poppy, which you can’t grow here, but Oriental poppies look very similar, and smell good, and won’t get you in trouble with the authourities. Back of the factory where I used to work there was a railroad embankment, and they’d hemp planted along it to prevent erosion, because hemp has a nice thick dense root mat. Well, the teenagers would come at night and try to get high on it, but it was the wrong variety, so all they’d get would be really bad headaches, and the police would come in and flametorch the plants, and six weeks later they’d be fourteen feet high again.”
“Did you ever harvest the fibers?” someone asked.
“No. . . not sure how legal that would be, but I did want them, they were so nice and tall. Anyway. Make sure what you’re getting is legal, and that it’s not invasive or restricted. Our lovely Northshield climate is not quite like the Mediterranean, not even much like southern England, so some things simply won’t grow here, and some things behave very differently. I was on a road trip last year, combining Pennsic with a family reunion, and for miles and miles along the highway was nothing but teazels. They were brought in by –ahem– MNDot to keep erosion at bay, but the problem is, cattle can’t eat them. And they’re definitely invasive over here. When we moved into our house three years ago, which hadn’t been specially well taken care of for a while, I found a lovely yellow flower growing in a brush pile. I looked it up, it’s celandine. My neighbour had found it in her yard that year, and in the time between her finding it and looking it up, it had already spread to my yard. My neighbour works for the botanical gardens and I love her, we’re always exchanging things and she’s one of those who doesn’t think I’m too weird about plants. Yellow Flag is an invasive where I live, so I grow Northern Blue along with the purple irises. Strabo mentions gladiolus and in the picture it’s an iris. It took me a while to figure out that when they were talking about gladiolus they were looking at the leaves, swords you know, and not the flowers.
“Oh, and a note about researching what plants are period. We get a lot of manuals for gardening, quite a few from monasteries.”
“Hildegarde von Bingen wrote at least three,” Sister said.
“That was another class I wish I’d gotten to take at Pennsic,” Leyla said. “There’s so much in them they would be another whole class on their own. There’s also Strabo, and a whole bunch of others. But you do have to be careful, because a lot of the time they’re writing about things they’ve never seen, especially if it’s things like cardamom, that get imported but can’t be grown in Europe. They’re relying a lot on Greek writers like Galen, and the wisdom of the ancients. They mix things up once in a while. There’s an illustration in one book that’s clearly a strawberry, and somebody wrote under it ‘Rue!’ Yeah, I don’t think they’d ever seen rue themselves. So do take the manuals with a grain of salt. That said, there’s some really fascinating places to study. There’s one source for this, which I put in the bibliography somewhere: wyrtig, w, y, r, ti, i, g. It’s got everything you could ever want to learn about medieval gardening, and links to other good places. And on the last page of your handout, I think, is the plan of St Gall, from the ninth century, for the monastery herb garden. They have lilies and roses in the herb garden. Lilies were introduced by the Romans too. You know that thick, sticky yellow juice that comes out when you break the stem? That was a remedy they used for blisters. You get a lot of blisters walking in hobnail boots on Roman roads. Roses were used a lot for hedges in most places. Another way of making hedges is cutting a tree half through and knocking it over, and then next year cutting it and knocking it over again, and letting things grow up between them, until eventually you get a hedge that’s practically impenetrable. The Romans hated them — they’re really hard on foot soldiers. They still use those hedges in England today for keeping cattle in.
“One thing that can help with the invasiveness is picking a different variety. I grow Strawberry Seduction yarrow, it’s got pretty pink flowers and smells good, but it’s still a close cousin to period yarrow, and it’s not as aggressive in spreading. In one of the colleges at Oxford, one year they had so many new students come in that they tilled up acres and acres just for flax to make enough linen napkins. Flax stands — I’m five feet — about six feet high, with pretty flowerheads, and it needs a lot of room to grow. I don’t have that kind of room on my half acre, so I plant Linum lewisii instead, which is about a foot high and doesn’t take up that much space, as a nod to my medieval muse. Figs and oranges had special houses to winter in, and in the summer they’d grow them in pots. There was a lot of sharing that went on between monasteries, lots of swapping seeds. We owe them a lot.
“Later in period you get what’s been categorized as five different kinds of garden, kitchen, medicinal, patristic and cloister (both devotional) and pleasure — where the really rich people could have their own private gardens, and bishops warned that they ought to have locks on the gates, because all kinds of unmentionable things were going on under the trees — you know, where the lovely Unicorn tapestry comes in. The patristic and cloister gardens are much alike, the idea being to make a sort of garden of Eden in which to meditate, with each flower having a special meaning. Green was thought to be a very soothing colour. One thing about the pleasure garden is that if you’ve just come back from battle and want some quiet, it’s nice to go and look at flowers that haven’t been trampled by horses. The herb garden could be either kitchen or medicinal, though please don’t go experimenting with period herbs for medicine, talk to a doctor instead.
“That’s all I’ve got. Go forth and garden the period way!”
I packed my notebook and the green handout in the folder, put my bag over my shoulder again, and went out into the hallway, where people were waiting for the class after the Herbs and Gardens. The next class I was going to was three rooms down.
I met Christiana in the hall, and we stopped to talk. I forget just what we were saying, however, because all at once I saw a crown not three feet away, and said something about Royalty, and curtsied. The people near us parted and went down, and Yehudah passed by with a retainer in tow, saying, “Thank you, thank you.”
“It’s so hard not to curtsey to the Dean after events,” I told Christiana after he had passed.
“Oh, I bet, you still have that problem,” she said. “Where are you off to next?”
“Insular manuscripts, and then Research and Documentation.”
“And after that?”
“Leak Your Geek, and the Socio-Economics of English Aristocracy, and then How to be a Chronicler in the SCA, and Learning by Oral Tradition.”
“Ooh, good ones. Then we’ll meet in Leak Your Geek. Take good notes on the other ones for me, please?”
I passed the room the dance classes were in, and peeked in to see what they were doing.
“Okay, so that’s confusing,” a man in green garb with tight green hose was saying. “So when I say, ‘Make the triangle’, this is what I mean. . .”
Wynnie didn’t see me, so I didn’t bother waving and risking distracting people.
I found the next room, where the teacher (in 14th-century garb, if I had to guess, wearing the large unadorned silver chain of a knight’s apprentice) was setting up her things. About five other people came in over the next few minutes.
Sister joined us, and sat down two chairs away from me, next to a gentleman in red robes.
“Are you a man of the Church, sir?” she asked him.
“No, I’m a schoolman, but we started wearing red robes about the time the cardinals did, since most of us were of the Church as well.”
HRM Hrodir stuck his head in and said, “You got couches? How come I didn’t get couches?”
“Oh, wait a minute,” said the teacher, leaping up from where she was experimenting with her computer, dodging between two chairs, and running to the door, where she threw her arms around him. “I just wanted to say hi.”
“Teaching something?” he asked.
“Insular Manuscripts. It’s, um, about to start.”
“See you,” and with that, our most dignified Royal went on his way.
“So, this is the first time I’ve taught anything,” said the teacher, when she’d returned to the table, “so please bear with me dumping these things on you. I’m Maeve. I’d like you to introduce yourselves with your names and, if you don’t mind, what you know about Insular Manuscripts, so I can get an idea of where I need to start and how much you already know.”
The lady sitting beside me, in yellow with plentiful embroidery around the neck and cuffs, was the only one I hadn’t seen yet. She introduced herself as “Mechthild zur Drachenhole, which nobody ever pronounces right, so everyone calls me Erilar, and I’m wearing my manuscript. All the embroidery on this dress is from the Grosser Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, or the Manesse Codex. I’ve studied it in depth.”
Then, while Sister was admiring Erilar’s cuffs, it was my turn. “I’m AEschild, and I’ve studied Insular manuscripts for garb.”
“Insular is a term applied to manuscripts from the British Isles, the Isle of Man, Iona, and those places, and the style went from about the seventh century to the twelfth, though it had its height in the ninth and tenth especially,” Maeve began. “Dating of the manuscripts we have is hotly debated, because it’s really hard to tell and we don’t have a lot of evidence for it. I’ll go through what we know, and how I order them chronologically based on my reading, in a bit.
“So the first thing you notice about these manuscripts is that they’re really, really expensive. Not just in terms of money, but in support for the scribes who spend their lives working on these things with no income for themselves. The vellum the manuscripts are written on is mostly made of calfskin, with some of the Psalters in sheep. On average you can get one sheet of vellum per animal, so that’s two pages, and these books are hundreds of pages long, so that’s an expensive work right there to start with. Some people have speculated that some are actually fetal calf, based on how thin the skin is and how it’s cut around some of the edges in a way that seems to indicate the skin wasn’t quite as big as the average, and from the lack of scars. Most vellum is made from young calves or sheep, because though you don’t get as much per animal, there’s fewer scars, and it’s softer and more pliable. In tanning, scars can actually dissolve, leaving you with big holes in the middle of your page — not good. A fetal calf would have no scars at all, since it hadn’t been even born yet, so it would make really good vellum. But it’s speculation, we’re not sure.
“So these manuscripts, like almost any in period, aren’t cheap throw-away things. I’ll zoom in on the picture here” — the picture she already had up of a Lindisfarne carpet page — “so you can see some of the detail inside the knotwork there. Eh, it’s blurry, but that gives you an idea. I use point zero zero five pens, and they’re too thick to do this kind of work. It takes a long time to get this good, a long time to do this — and keep in mind that they’re not doing this under artificial light bulbs. Either it’s in sunlight, which is limited hours and tends to move on you, or it’s in really expensive candlelight. These scribes aren’t working for nothing. Now most if not all of them are monks, we owe them a lot for our learning and histories, they were kept by the monks. So what this is, is very much an active devotion.
“A tentative listing of the surviving manuscripts, in what I believe based on stylistic similarities and changes, is: Cathach of St Columba, six thirty-five; Durrow about six thirty-five; Durham, six-fifty; Echternacht Gospels, six-fifty; Corpus Christi, Lindisfarne, St Petersburg Bede, Kells. The Cathach of St Columba is the earliest we have. Here’s a picture. You can see the capitals tapering into the script, a common thing in the early ones. The hand is Insular magiscule, which you can pick out for being roughly square with rounded corners, easy for the modern eye to read, which is an advantage if you’re considering this style for a scroll. There’s no pictures in this one.
“The Durham manuscript is the earliest painted one surviving. You can see in this one the keywork filling in the gaps — keywork being defined as non-interlocking geometric patterns, to distinguish it from knotwork. One characteristic of the Insular style is a horror of open space. You’ve got to fill it all in, not waste any. And that makes sense, given how much it cost to make a single sheet of paper. So you get a lot of really intricate knotwork, really heavy stuff. Let me find an example. . . here, in this Eagle of St John, from the most famous, probably, of all the Insular manuscripts, the Book of Kells. You can see all that knotwork filling up the border. One of the reasons I like this style for scrolls is that when they hold it up in court, with a big border like that, even the people in the back can tell there’s something on it. Durham has this portrait of David which is unusual in being full-face, normally all the portraits are in profile.
“One of the nice things about a scribe copying from Insular manuscripts is that you don’t need a lot of inks, mostly just red, green, yellow, and sometimes a little blue. There’s a lot of orcein from lichen, some purple, woad and indigo for blue, the really expensive blue is lapis lazuli, most of the red and white is from red and white lead, yellow from orpiment, which is basically arsenic. Green is copper acetate, which is a lovely bright green, but if you look in the corners of the border here you can see dark spots — those are places where the copper has actually destroyed the paper. The ink contains soot or lampblack. Durrow is mainly red, yellow and green. Here’s a picture of one of the pieces we have left of it — sad, isn’t it? It got burned — not back then, it was in the seventeen-hundreds, I think, the library it was being kept in caught fire — but you can see the capital there, and how the style starts to change a little, not so tapery, and the spirals inside the serifs.
“Next comes the Echternacht Gospels. You can start to see some influence of the minuscule, rather than it being all magiscule, and from the Uncial. This capital is very similar to the Durrow one, but the spirals are different, where Durrow would just curl inside itself and end, these add something else inside the spirals, a dot, or a circle, or something.
We get to the Lindisfarne Gospels, which date to about seven hundred, and we start to see a bit of a change. We get more open knotwork, with spaces between the lines, which is unusual. I like it a bit better myself, it makes it seem more like real knots, not so heavy. We can date this one more exactly because we know who made it, so it had to be some time in his liftetime, and from the skill involved, probably toward the later end. You start to see these dots around letters, outlining them — each one of those red dots made individually. You can see on the Chi Rho page some of the letters just are red dots.”
“Could it be that they’re unfinished?” Erilar asked.
“It could be, they’ve found the occasional unfinished letter elsewhere in the book, but it’s unlikely that on a page as detailed as this that whole words would get overlooked. The Lindisfarne is unusual in that it has two columns of text per page — very rare for the Insular style. Here’s a text page, you can see the two columns.”
“What’s the interlinear translation in?” asked Erilar, of the smaller handwriting in between some of the lines.
“That’s an Anglo-Saxon gloss, in the Insular hand. That font is faster and rougher than the magiscule the rest is in, but still fairly readable to the modern eye, and precise. The missionaries who came to Ireland were from Rome, and since the Latin text in these gospels is the Vulgate of St Jerome, there’s speculation that either the missionaries brought a copy with them, which the Irish scribes used as an exemplar, or some fugitives from Ireland made them abroad and brought them back, or learned the skill abroad and made them in Ireland. We’re not sure. It’s hard to say for sure where any of them were made.
“The St Petersburg Bede, or Leningrad depending on when your sources were published, dates to about eighteen hundred.”
Some of us looked to each other to make sure we had properly heard what she’d said.
“Did you mean eight hundred, my lady?” Sister asked.
“Oh, yes, did I say eighteen hundred? Not nearly as recent as three hundred years ago. Sorry about that. It has a definite Coptic or eastern influence. Now some of the others have a Pictish or Anglo-Saxon influence in the animals, but to have that Coptic influence is unusual. It’s another thing that indicates maybe it was made abroad, or by someone who had been abroad, but again, we don’t really know.
“Kells, the most famous of all of them, and probably the latest. The index is really remarkable for how fancy it is. You’ve got figures of the four Evangelists in the arch at the top, and the figure up there, and the tree of life motif in the column, and, as usual, that horror of empty spaces — all the little marginalia. It’s unusual to give so much decoration to a page that’s basically a table of contents. You’ll notice all that gold, it’s not gilding, there’s not a lot of gilding in Kells, it’s the orpiment again.
“Here’s a Madonna and Child, the earliest known one from this part of the world. What’s interesting about this one is that in most pictures the Madonna is sort of furniture, just there to hold the baby up, and Christ is looking out of the picture or sideways away from her, but here they’re looking at each other and their hands are touching. They’re like the artist was looking at real people when he did the picture, which would be strange for this kind of thing, but not unthinkable.
“Let’s find a page, I think I have a picture, of just text so you can see what that looks like. One thing you can see in Kells a lot is the inside of a letter is coloured, like a c or an a. Usually it’s the the first and maybe the second, but sometimes a random letter in the middle is filled in. And marginalia again, because of that horror of blank space. Here’s my favourite piece of marginalia of all time: Rocket chicken!”
In between two lines of text, where a verse or paragraph had ended too soon to line up with the ends of the neighbouring lines, the scribe had drawn a blue bird with a trail of gold following it very much like the tail on a comet.
“This space in between words is at best an eighth of an inch high, and you see all that detail on the wings and the tail? On a little drawing in the margin? This is partly why I love Insular for doing scrolls. You can take the entire border, which is really hard, and have it look stunning, or you can take something like the H from Kells that a lot of scribes go to, and do just that for a capital. You can feel overwhelmed by all the detail in it, because let’s face it, they were terrified of blank space, and pick just one little element and work on it for a day, and then another when you’re ready. Or you can do something like the border from the eagle page in Durrow. And you can borrow these little things inside the text from Kells to make your scroll something special. It’s not the kind of thing that will get a lot of oohs and ahs from twenty feet away in Court, but when the person who got it starts looking at it, they’ll see the little details you put into it, and that will make it even more of a thing to be framed and looked at forever.
“It’s a real pity we don’t have more of these manuscripts, but there’s these pesky people called the Vikings who started raiding monasteries in the eighth century, and when you raid a place you burn it, so there were probably lots more that are lost to us forever.”
“Like the library of Alexandria, only not quite so bad,” said someone.
“Those Vikings, if only they hadn’t had to go destroying things, burning up all these beautiful books. Who knows what we’ve lost. Oh, it’s something I can’t forgive them for.”
“But they had awesome sagas and poetry,” Erilar said.
“Not good enough, sorry. Okay, that’s all I have, and our time’s nearly up, so thank you everyone for coming and listening to me talk and talk about Insular Manuscripts.”
It was nearly noon by the clock on the wall by the door, and I was hoping to get into a class on research and documentation at noon, without knowing where it was, so I left quickly to see if I could find it. Wynnie was in the hall, coming toward me, waving wildly.
“Lunch?” she said when she caught up.
“I’m off to another class soon, but I’ll come get something.”
We went together to find our way back to the populace room. People were going through it carrying food, and two men were setting up thrones and banners, and a hanging behind the thrones to mask the very modern “church” interior. Wynnie cut two slices of bread, one for me and one for her, and a third for Jean. I took a clementine and my bread with me, in my wooden bowl, and went back downstairs.
Christiana was on her way up, and I stopped to ask her where Research and Documentation was. It turned out to be in the same room my last class had been in, and she went off to have her own lunch and go to another class.
I found myself one of three people, all of whom were eating lunch. The teacher, whose name I already knew, was wearing blue and grey garb similar to the most common interpretation of Anglo-Saxon style.
“We’ve got a few minutes still,” said Eithni, the teacher, presently, “so I’m going to wolf down some chow, nobody mind me. Other people might come in too.”
Wynnie walked in with a plastic cup of water, which she gave me with the words, “You need something to drink.” I untied my mug from my belt, poured the water into it, and turned to give her the cup back, but she had already gotten to the door.
“Come take the cup,” I said, and she turned around grudgingly and took it.
After a little while during which the three of us ate in companionable silence, Eithni said, “Well, let’s get started. Since there’s just the two of you, and this class can go in practically any direction, why don’t you tell me who you are and what your geek is. I’m Eithni ingen Talorgain, and this is my geek.”
The other lady introduced herself as Aesa, and said she was working on an inkle loom project and wanted to get more in depth on researching what the people in her period (Norse, in this case) would have used, and how to document her findings for things like Arts & Sciences competitions.
“And you?” Eithni asked me.
“I’m AEschild, an eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon, and researching is my geek — not just in the SCA; I write historical fiction too, so knowing how and where to get good sources, and then document them, is a lot of what I’m interested in.”
“Good, then you’re in the right place. I have an apprentice who does Saxon too, remind me later and I can get you in touch with him. Have you found my website yet? Eithni dot com, I dump a lot of research materials there. I’m Pictish mainly, and they didn’t leave us much to work with, so I end up borrowing from Saxon a lot because we know they had contact with each other.
“So when you’re doing documentation for anything, you want to consider what you need it for. I’m the steward for the Northshield Arts and Sciences competition, and I’ve seen everything from a one-page overview to a thirty-page research paper detailing absolutely everything and the background. The ideal differs depending on the project. What you need to explain for a demo at a middle school is vastly different from the requirements for entering the Kingdom triathlon. Keep in mind your scope — what you need to cover in your documentation. Keep in mind why what you’re explaining is necessary — stay away from those really intriguing side projects that don’t really relate to this one. Be consistent in whatever method you choose and don’t, please don’t, pick just sources that confirm what you did. Do your research first and shape your project to it, rather than the other way around. It’s so much easier on you and on your judges. If you differ from the commonly accepted idea, explain why you did it differently, and make sure it’s still connected somehow. Saying ‘I didn’t have enough money to make this dress out of silk, so I used tissue paper’ isn’t much good if you plan on actually wearing the dress. Consider rayon instead: it’s cheaper and a synthetic fiber, but it has much the same sheen and handle as silk, so for the purposes of clothes it’s a decent substitute.”
By now another three or four people had come in and were eating and listening. One lady looked to be about Christiana’s period; another, in plaid, probably Irish, though early-period to judge by her jewelry and cloak pin; and a Tudor gentleman who looked a little out of place, what with his dark red brocade and the silver goblet he was holding.
“As for where to find sources, have either of you heard of Google Scholar? It weeds out all the advertisements and cheap stuff that’s not really research quality from your search. I love it. And one really handy feature it has is a little button at the bottom of a source, that says ‘cite’, and if you click it it gives you the citation entry all properly formatted so you don’t have to do it. I love research, I don’t know about you, I love research but I hate, absolutely hate, doing bibliographies. So any tool that does it for me is a blessing. Another handy tool there is the “Cited by” button, which I love, because you can search Google Scholar for the gold standard texts in your field, and then see who cited them, and sometimes — not always — but sometimes you find some pretty decent secondary material. There’s always the bad eggs, but you get good at figuring out who’s a hack and who’s serious.
“When you find things on the web, download, download, download. Things disappear off the Web. Site addresses change. If you find something and you want to know it will be there tomorrow, download it, organize your folders, make detailed names and tags for the files so you can find it again. Track every source you’ve used, so that you don’t check out a book only to remember, once you get it, that you looked at it last year and it only has two paragraphs that apply to you. Take the time to write an annotated bibliography, with a paragraph about everything important, so that before you order a book by inter-library loan, you can check to make sure you actually need it.
“Jstor. Have you heard of Jstor? It’s one of those pay-to-play sites, but if you sign up for a free account you can get up to, I think it’s five, free downloads a month, which isn’t bad, and they do offer free previews of things. It’s got journal articles on every subject you can think of.
“There’s another really handy tool on scanners. You’re all familiar with scanners, right?”
“Perks of being a librarian: you get unlimited access to scan things,” said the 14th-century lady.
“Oh, I bet. Well, they’re good for more than just scanning things. You can tell them ‘Scan to CCR’ and that won’t just transfer the article, it will turn it into a Word document or a PDF right there — so no long process of transposing things. No typing needed. Which is awesome, because sometimes those articles are pretty long.
“When you’ve exhausted all the sources you can find elsewhere, sometimes you have to ask museums. That can be pretty scary, and you want to do it right, because if you just say ‘Hi British Museum, tell me all about the Vikings’ they’ll send that one straight to the trash. But if you do it right, they can give you great help. You know that whole discussion over ‘did the Vikings do embroidery’, right? Well, they didn’t do the whole huge Celtic knot beasts around the neck thing that you see some people do, but they did do some, I was sure of it, so I was digging into the research, and there was this scrap that was found at Sutton Hoo. But I couldn’t find any good close-up pictures of it with enough detail to show that, actually, the stitching isn’t just your normal seam.”
“Didn’t they do embroidered pillows?” asked a lady.
“They did, you’re right, and some people say they only did pillows, but this scrap wasn’t from the pillow, it was nowhere near the head, it was way over to the side under a jar. So it couldn’t have been the pillow.
“So I sent an e-mail to the British Museum, and I started — if you’re writing to Norway or some place where they all speak English, but English isn’t the language, it never hurts to apologize and say ‘Sorry for writing in English, but’ — by apologizing for being a stupid American — oh, and find the exact name of the curator or whoever you’re contacting, it’s much more personable than just ‘British Museum’. And I said that I had exhausted their online photos of the Sutton Hoo exhibit, and mentioned some of the gold standard sources I’d already looked at, to make it clear that I’m not trying to waste their time, and got very specific. It always helps to give the most specific details you can, it saves their time, and it’s another thing that marks you out as not being a hack. Show that you know what you’re talking about. I said that I was looking for evidence that there’s embroidery on the Sutton Hoo fabric find, and that the photos on the site weren’t quite clear enough when you zoomed in, and did they have any better ones hanging around, or could they perhaps take a close-up for me. And I got a reply, really soon, within three or four days I think, saying that unfortunately they didn’t have anything, but there was a student who was studying that find for her master’s thesis, and here was her information, maybe she had a picture. And what do you know, she did! And she was willing to send it to me.” Eithni flipped through a folder and pulled out a large picture that was clearly woven wool fabric, with a blue tinge left to it after all the centuries, and a different stitch zig-zagging across it. “See that detail? Awesome, right? See, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The only thing she said was, her thesis isn’t published yet, so I can’t really share the photo or let other people take pictures of it, but when it comes out in a year or so, I told her I’d buy ten copies for my classes.
“And don’t forget thank-yous. If someone helps you like that, let them know you appreciated it, and they’ll be more likely to do it for the next one who asks. It’s kind of the SCA principle of leaving a place cleaner than you found it. And extra good help gets paper mail.” She smiled. “And sometimes there’ll be a point when you have exhausted everything, and there’s nothing left. It’s one of the challenges of going with early period. I’m Pictish, and they didn’t bury people properly to leave things for us to find, so we really don’t know what they wore.”
“It’s like choosing Irish,” said the lady with the plaid. “A lot of the time I have to say ‘I think this is what the dress should look like based on this figure, assuming it isn’t completely allegorized’.”
“Right,” Eithni said. “The whole allegorized part can be a real problem. We don’t get a lot of art, and what we do, it’s so hard to tell if it was meant to be realistic. Those Tudors have it far too easy, I always think, with those tailor’s manuals.” The Tudor looked sheepish and played with one of his slashed sleeves.
“All right, looks like our time’s about up, so any last questions? Oh, before you go, let me hand round this about documentation. I highly encourage all of you to enter the Kingdom Arts and Sciences competition, which is March fourth, and the deadline for submitting things is January fourth. That’s to give us time to find judges for all the things, so that you get a judge who knows about what you’re going to be talking about. There’s a new category this year, for people who haven’t entered before, who are just dipping their toes into all this. The only difference from the regular category is that you get just one judge, instead of a panel of three you have to talk to, so hopefully it’s less intimidating. Okay, I’ll let you go.”
I threw my clementine peel and bread crumbs in a garbage can and stuffed my bowl into my pilgrim’s bag, to return to our basket whenever I happened to be there next, which gave me one less thing to carry.
Leak Your Geek (Teaching in the SCA) was just across the hallway. The room was already nearly full, and a couple of people were standing by a wall. Lady Una Duckfoot was sitting on the floor. Christiana was surrounded, so I couldn’t sit by her.
“You can come sit on the sofa by us,” Berenice offered, and I saw an empty spot between her and Maeve. “We’re by all the candy.”
“Better yet, there’s a table leg for my tablet weaving,” I said, and made my way over there without tripping over any chair legs or dropping anything. I set up my tablet weaving and tried to figure out where in the pattern I had left off.
Sister joined us, and then Eithni came in. “Wow, a lot more people are interested than I thought,” she said. “Are you all here for Leak Your Geek? I don’t think I have enough handouts for you all. Take one, and pass them down, but if you have my information I’ll send you an electronic copy, so if you do, give the handout to somebody else. After class, if someone needs them, I can give you my teacher notes too.”
By the time the handouts had gone all the way around the room, one was left over. “Oh look, see, we actually have extras,” Eithni said. “Anyone want one? No? Okay, let’s get started.
“I call this class Leak Your Geek because one thing that all of us in the SCA have in common is some weird talent or hobby, that we like to share with others. A class can take place anywhere, at any time. It can be you one-on-one teaching somebody this really cool embroidery stitch you just learned, or it can be a huge lecture class delving into really obscure things about ancient Celts or something. It can be taught anywhere. I had a class that was in a really poorly-ventilated room, at the fifty-year celebration, so I said, ‘If you guys help me move my stuff, we can find a cooler place to have this class, what would you like to do?’ I have never seen people move things so fast. We found a spot in a hallway with air conditioning, and crouched around the vent, and it didn’t feel so much like we were going to die.”
After a little while I made a mistake in my weaving that would require ripping out, which I didn’t have room to do — ripping always turns me into a spider surrounded by poorly-fashioned webs — so I stopped. Eithni was talking about choosing a topic and the different formats that work best for different kinds of topics and the levels of knowledge required, when Sister, who was sitting by the door, got up to leave and dropped her folder, spilling some papers. She and the lady sitting beside her picked them up, and then Sister accidentally knocked a pen off the table beside her.
“Sister’s just trying to leave the premises,” said the lady helping her, a bit embarrassed, “not stealing anything.”
Sister managed to leave without further trouble, and the people standing by the door (others were listening, but there wasn’t enough room for them to come in) made way for her.
The room began to get warm and airless. We were in the basement, with two windows too high up for anyone to open them, and a single door, more than a dozen breathing bodies, most of whom were in several layers of clothing, and people blocking up the door. Even that didn’t get too bad until a class down the hall got noisy enough to be distracting.
“Can you tell them down the hall we’re trying to have a class?” Eithni asked, gesturing toward someone near the door. A lady went out.
“Can we just close the door?” someone asked.
“The room doesn’t have enough ventilation for that,” someone else said.
“I bet it’s the Pelican meeting making all the noise,” said a third.
The lady who had gone out came back in, and said, “It was mostly the Royals.”
“The Royals, why am I not surprised?” said a couple of people.
“We have such fun royalty,” said another. “Gravitas, semper gravitas.”
But our royalty quieted down, and posed no trouble for the rest of the class.
Eithni was explaining what is needed in a class handout, and how some classes are just fine without any, when I saw a lovely sight. Hs Grace Vladimir was walking down the hall with Sister holding his arm, and she was talking to him about something, and he was smiling down at her. He had to look quite a ways down, as he’s no small man and Sister is my height at best (which is under five feet). It was at that moment that I knew I had to write about this day. Not merely to impart the things I had learned, but to tell this story, to show the SCA’s daily life, as it were, people all living like a family. Ordinary interactions, small displays of the virtues it lives by. The SCA is not always grand coronations or glorious battles, or even all sunlight and green shadows as a background for garb, as at Hadrian’s. Sometimes it’s little things like a Duke helping an old nun down the hall.
When the class was over, Christiana said something to me which I could not hear through the chatter that had sprouted. She accompanied her words with sign language, only a little of which I could grasp, so I untied my weaving and tried to manage my folder, notebook, pencil, and mug, while hopping over the coffee table so as not to get in the way of the people standing to my right.
“You’re spilling your water, dear,” said a couple of voices, and I set down my things on the floor beside Christiana’s, and turned around to see that, in fact, my mug had showered the coffee table and the floor. I pulled my last remaining tissue out of my bag and mopped up the floor, while hoping the person standing with their back to the puddle would not take a sudden step backwards, but the tissue was too soaked to do anything for the table. I took the cuff of my right sleeve in my hand and mopped up the puddle.
“Wool is great for that kind of thing,” Berenice said.
Since my mug was now practically empty, I tied it back on my belt, and then turned my attention to putting my notebook back in its folder and generally making things easier to carry.
“Having fun?” Christiana asked, when I was finally put together again and we were heading for the door.
“Do you know where your sister is?”
“I haven’t seen her since — in a long time. Last time I asked she hadn’t decided between sauces and netting, though.”
“Where are you off to next?”
“Umm, the Socio-Economics of English Aristocracy.”
“Sounds fun. Take good notes for me, please?”
“And let me know when you’re heading out.”
“We’re staying till the end of classes, but leaving before Court still.”
“I like this change of plans.”
She turned one way down the hall and I went up the stairs, at the top of which was a garbage can, where I left the soggy tissue.
Apparently not many people were interested in the socio-economics of the English aristocracy in period. I found myself the sole woman, and besides the Knight teaching, only two other men came in. The schoolman in the red robes was one of them — he came in, looked at his schedule, and said, ‘What should I go to next. Basics of bellydancing and furry hats, such a hard choice. I guess it’s this one, then,” and sat down, with his back against one arm of a stuffed chair and his feet over the other, so as to face the teacher.
“Well, thank you all for coming,” said the teacher, also sitting down. I tied myself up to a table-leg and started on my weaving again. “I’ve never taught this before and I’m not very organized about it, I’m afraid, so prepare for an hour of me yakking on about nitpicky details of English knights. I just came from my class on William Marshal, which was pretty interesting, if you were there you’ll probably notice some overlap. And there’s Edwin, of course,” and he gestured toward the red-robed gentle, “who’s read all the same sources and came to the opposite conclusions.”
“I’ll try not to interrupt you,” Edwin said. “We can always have this conversation another time.”
“So this class is going to focus on the aristocracy, the knights and up, in England mainly through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, since that’s my period of study. There’s enough about the lower classes for a whole ‘nother class, but we’ll have to leave them out today.
“The earliest record we have that points to a certain guideline for a knight’s social standing is in the Domesday book, where a knight’s fee is set at five pounds. That’s a lot of money back then, when for one shilling, one-twentieth of a pound, you could buy a cow, and a pound was your average working man’s yearly salary. The knight would hold his land in fee, meaning the king gives him a certain bit of land to take care of for him, in return for the king’s protection and everything, and in return the knight has to provide one lance of men — a lance was a basic unit like the squad, only they didn’t always fight together — to guard the king’s castle forty days in a year. And later you get people paying substitutes to guard for them, so they don’t have to make the trip and all that, and people get annoyed with that, but as long as you can point to your records and say, see, I’ve provided my forty days of guard, they can’t do anything against you.
“There’s two main ways knights get their money — and a lot of ways they spend it — the way you probably think of right away is people working for them. All the knight’s tenants, the people living on his land from the king, work two fields, one for him and one for themselves, and the third lies fallow. The yield the people get, half they keep, and half they give to him, and he takes what he needs from it and from his field, and sends the extra off to the town where it’s sold to everybody, and you get a lot of money from that. There’s taxes and things too, taken out of it.
“The other way is ransoms. Say I’m fighting Edwin in a tourney, and we’re both doing pretty well, and he starts to get the upper hand. I don’t want to die, so I say to him, ‘I’ll give you something to let me live.’ And he says, ‘How much?’ And then if he likes it, he takes me prisoner and my folks pay him. Horses, too, sometimes you’d take a knight’s horse instead of money. Destrers were worth a lot. This system has an advantage in keeping knights alive, and as king you kind of want your best skilled warriors alive. The king of France made the order of the Knights of the Star, his response to the Garter, and they all made a pledge never to surrender in battle. With the result that you have a lot of dead Knights of the Star. Not very good. There was one time, at Poitiers I think, that the King of France got captured and England asked for two hundred thousand pounds for him, France paid one hundred thousand of them and never paid the rest. So France still owes England one hundred thousand pounds today, plus inflation, which is a lot. They’re not in any hurry to pay that debt.
“We have documents from this time that help us figure out who was retaining for the King at what time, and when they disappear we can usually guess that was when they were out of favour. Charters and pipe rolls are two of the best. Charters have to be signed by witnesses, and usually your witnesses are people of rank, like knights, and they have the place they were signed and the date on them too, so we can tell from them who was where and when. Pipe rolls are called that because for transportation they were rolled up and then a sort of cap put on the end to protect them, like a pipe. They were used a lot for taxes and accounts. So from them we can find out who’s paying so much, and from that how much they’re making, and how much livestock they’ve got and things like that.
“The idea is that if you’re rich, you don’t hide that fact, you show it. You buy fancier clothes than anyone, and you have big jewelry. It’s not like modern ideas of wealth at all. Hoarding is such a middle-class idea, leave that to the merchants. If you make twenty pounds a year, spend it — on your retainers, on yourself, on your house. Make rich gifts. There’s a Duke somewhere who gifted a monastery a clock — state-of-the-art technology at that time, and it wasn’t a modest little alarm clock either, it was big. That statement is like giving someone a supercomputer nowadays.
“Then the sumptuary laws come in, you’ve all heard of them. People nowadays say they were just put in place to keep the poor man down and all that, which is partly true, but the main reason is to keep folks from bankrupting themselves. The knights were going, ‘Oh, look, Edwin is wearing red too today, well at least it’s a slightly different shade of red than mine, I’d better add gold trim too’ and worrying more about how they looked than how well they fought. If you’re a king and this is your army, you don’t want that. The sumptuary laws are them saying ‘please don’t bankrupt yourself so you can’t afford a horse and sword’.
“There were laws restricting the number of retainers you could have based on your rank, too. I think it was something like two hundred for a king. People fought over who got to attend the king. Louis the Fourteenth was smart, he invited all his nobles to court and let them fight for his favour, so that they were too busy with each other to plot against him. He also invented a post which was basically to help him in the bath — a silly thing, but people jumped at it. Not just for flattery, either. You’re alone with the king for a long time, you have his ear, you’ve also got him in a pretty vulnerable situation where he’s kind of got to listen to you.”
I finished my weaving, untied it from the table, and pulled out the cards. I had a good six to eight inches of yarn left, and I took the four strands at one side and began braiding them to keep it from unraveling.
“Another part of showing your status is in clothes, especially heraldry. If you rush into battle looking exactly like every other foot soldier, nobody’s going to stop to ask if you’re a prince. They’ll cut you down now, and find out later. That happened to somebody’s brother, Duke of Burgundy I think it was, when Gaunt was out of favour. The English were in camp and the Scots were in a position that was good for them, but bad for the English attack, and the guy knew this and was hesitating, when the king told him he hadn’t intended to have his commander be a coward. Poor Burgundy grabbed a pennon with his heraldry on it to wrap around him, rushed off just like that, and charged the Scots all by himself; he knew full well he wasn’t going to survive this, but he had to prove he wasn’t a coward. And because he wasn’t wearing his proper heraldry — anyone might grab a pennon, and it sure looked just like he’d grabbed a pennon to wrap around himself — he was killed in no time. The Scots didn’t find out till too late who they’d killed. And they wouldn’t have done it if they’d known who he was, if he was wearing his own heraldry properly. They’d have drug him off his horse and held him hostage, for sure, but they wouldn’t have killed him. As it was they all mourned him as much as the English did, and they viewed it as a wrong thing they’d done.
“Another thing about retainers is that they cost money, so the more you have, the more money you obviously have to waste on them, It’s not like they’re getting huge salaries with Christmas bonuses the way people nowadays do, mostly they get food and sometimes clothes, but they’re valuable, so you make sure you keep them around. They make you look impressive. And the restrictions were on how many you could have for a reason. Most people didn’t like people bringing a small army with them wherever they go, it costs a lot to feed them, and it doesn’t make you look good if your guest has more. Not to mention the risk if someone turns treacherous. If you were an earl for example, say Edwin has thirty-five men following him around all the time, think how inconvenient that could be. But neat too. I mean, imagine having thirty-five men who serve you, to follow you around. Wouldn’t that feel great?”
“I’ve noticed that even with our royalty,” Edwin said, “not that they have two hundred retainers, I mean, there’s about five hundred folks in Kingdom, and a good-sized event has a hundred and fifty, but there’s always people following them around. At events if for some reason they’re unattended, you see people running up to them offering to help. The idea that it’s a little shameful, especially like at wars and things in front of other kingdoms, to look like we can’t take care of our royalty.”
“Yeah, it’s a pity we can’t give them horses to ride everywhere on too,” said the third man, who had mostly been listening as quietly as I had. “That would be cool.”
“Oh! You know what?” said the knight. “There was this guy, I think Henry the fourth or fifth invented the post, who only had one job, and you know what it was? After the king’s coronation, when everyone was at the feast, he’d ride in on a war horse, in full armour, complete plate mail, and say that he’d sworn fealty to whoever the new king was, and if anyone doubted the king’s right, he’d better challenge him now. And everybody’s in their feasting clothes, settling down after a long day — nobody’s going to challenge him, of course, they’re all going to be like ‘Nope, no problems here’, and keep on eating. And then the guy rides out again. That is literally his only job. It would be fun to watch him do it, though. I wonder if they still do it? If they did it at Elizabeth’s coronation, if it’s one of those old traditions that’s survived? I don’t remember, it’s been so long since Britain had a new ruler.”
“That would be cool,” Edwin agreed. “As long as you weren’t the guy who had to challenge him with a butterknife.”
“I guess that’s all I have, and it’s ten till anyway. Thanks for coming, and Edwin, that book I was talking about on WIlliam Marshal. . .”
I slipped out of the room to find the next class, one of the ones I was most interested in: How to be a Chronicler in the SCA, with or without being an officer, in room 102. As I came down the stairs, I found myself behind Erilar, who was going down slowly with the aid of the railing.
“If you’re in a hurry, you’ll just have to slide down the banister,” she said, hearing me behind her.
“I’ve not got good enough balance to try,” I said. “I’m not in a hurry.”
Wynnie was coming out of a room downstairs, and upon seeing me forgot where she was heading and dodged two gentles in coronets to come greet me. “Was lunch good? Where are you going next?”
“Yes, lunch was good. I’m trying to find 102.”
The room was down the hall and to the right, the last room on the left before the kitchen (I saw Maestra Suzanne and three other ladies in Renaissance garb in it, and Lord Iain looking slightly out of place, in black and yellow) and just before the door to the downstairs populace room. Two ladies, one of whom I recognized as the Honourable Lady Elashava Bas Riva, were in the classroom already, and a gentleman in late-period garb. I sat down and took out my weaving, tied it to the chair’s arm, and continued braiding the ends. Erilar came in and sat down across from me, leaving one empty chair.
Rosanore of Redthorn, the bard I’d met at Spring Coronation, came in, and the gentleman sitting on the couch beside Elashava stood up and moved to the last empty chair.
“Oh thank you, thank you,” she said, creaking over, and sat down.
“We’ll give people a few more minutes to come in,” Elashava said. “Is it just me, or is it warm in here?”
“Oh, it’s definitely warm,” Erilar said. “It’s warm everywhere.”
“Not as bad as fifty-year, though, so I guess I can’t complain,” Elashava said. “Still. I’m getting uncomfortable.” She lifted her coronet (which was holding a small oval veil in place) and set it on the arm of the couch. “Time to be scandalous.” She took her veil off too and ran her hand through her short gray hair to keep it from being too obviously “veil hair”.
Belle came in and sat down on the floor beside my chair. The gentleman stood up for her too, but she flapped her hand at him and said, “I’m fine. I’ve been standing most of the day, so the floor is nice for a change.”
“I’m Elashava bas Riva,” that lady introduced herself, “most of you probably know me. Sometimes I’ll show up in pictures on Facebook with a camera in my hand, which is known, I believe, as ‘Shava in her natural habitat’. I got into the SCA years and years ago, and took pictures for a while, and then I realized I wasn’t a tourist anymore, this was my home. I stopped taking pictures. Then a few years later I got into Kingdom history, and I found out that we don’t really know much about our early years. There’s a lot of stories and things leading up to the first reign as a Kingdom, and then once we became a Kingdom everything stopped, until a couple of years ago. Well, there are people who will come in, who maybe are coming in now, who don’t know the stories from that time because they weren’t there, unlike a lot of us. And those stories are important. Our history shapes who we are as a kingdom. So I started taking pictures again, documenting things in my travel logs.”
“I do the same thing,” Erilar said. “When I travel to Europe or go on trips in the States.”
“I know you do, and I read your logs,” Elashava said. “It’s one of the ways of keeping up with you. So I noticed this, and I started wondering, how do we tell people? How do we tell people our stories? And I started doing a lot more on Facebook, posting pictures publicly. I’ll try to keep this class from being all photography, though that’s most of what I do.”
“Which we love,” I said, “for those of us who don’t have Facebook, we can still see what happened at events we couldn’t go to. Thank you for doing that.”
“Aren’t there some problems with Facebook pictures, legally I mean?” asked a lady.
“There can be, but those can be avoided. It’s always good to ask people before you take their picture, to make sure they’re fine with it, and if they’re not and you already did, delete it. It’s the SCA idea of courtesy. Yes, courtesy extends even to Facebook.”
“When I took pictures for the paper,” the lady said, “I’d always have to get a signed release form, and then I get into the SCA and there’s none of that, and after a while I go, ‘I’m not a journalist here’.”
“The general rule is, if a photo’s going to be published anywhere like in a paper,” Elashava said, “you need a release. Same if it’s going to be published across the kingdom. For Facebook and photo sites things are more relaxed usually, just remember courtesy. And no pictures of children, not with their names. If it’s something special, like a kid in Court, I’ll tag their parents, but never them.”
“Some people find it distracting, or they don’t want to get so much attention,” said a gentleman in green, who had come in a little late and was sitting on the floor near Belle, eating an apple. “And some people complain about cameras being a really obvious piece of technology that’s hard to hide when you’re holding it up and shooting.”
“That is a valid thing,” said Elashava, ‘and I’ve tried to help people, give them tips on ways not to be so obvious about it. It’s nice to have documentation in pictures of what happened in Court — I’m a Court junkie myself — so people who got their AoA can have a picture of that. For some people, the AoA is the only award they ever get, and they love having a picture of themselves with the Royalty. But I try to avoid, you know, crawling in front of people and being really out there about it, lifting it over my head or anything.”
“That’s why I stopped taking pictures,” Erilar said. “Too many people were finding it distracting, and I was worried about ruining Court. Now, this,” and she held up a red rectangular device, “this is my cool ipad that isn’t as chunky as a camera, and the front is a book, so all you see is me with a book. The modern side is what I see. Trouble is, the ipad is a lot more sensitive than my camera, and that takes getting used to — I’ll be trying to catch someone, and find out I’ve got a video of my knee.” She laughed. “That’s the disadvantage.”
“Another thing with these new cameras is that you don’t always need flash to take pictures, which is so nice, because flash is one of those things people complain about a lot,” Elashava said. “They don’t like getting blinded in the face, for some reason. And there are ways to avoid moving around, zoom is a good one.
“So as chroniclers yourselves, what sort of things should you focus on? Look for firsts. A barony’s first tournament, a shire’s recognition, someone’s AoA, the first time someone fought in Crown, things like that.”
“I remember Nordleigh’s first Baronial tournament, we had an odd number of people show up,” Erilar said. “So I was told I had to fight, and I did. I got killed pretty quickly, but I still fought in my barony’s tournament. Last time I ever did, too.”
“See, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about,” Elashava said. “That’s a great story you have to tell. But has anybody written about it? You should. It’s that kind of interesting thing our history needs — not ‘so-and-so visited another kingdom and went to an event there’, but the things that have that spark, the real stories.”
“So look for firsts. And where to put the stories once you have them? We’re trying — I think I can speak for the current Kingdom Chronicler when I say this — we’re trying to make the Northwatch more of a chronicle of things that have happened since the last issue, not just ‘this is what’s coming up’, which it’s kind of turning into. Oh, the Chronicler’s here.”
“And I’d like to say,” Belle put in eagerly, “that you don’t have to be an officer to submit things to the Northwatch. We’re looking for stuff from anybody. If you have something, submit it, don’t be scared. We don’t bite. Well, I don’t, not sure about Ionasc.” The gentleman looked down, embarrassed.
“It doesn’t have to be Kingdom-wide sites, like the Facebook group,” Elashava said. “So much is happening on that page that stuff tends to never get seen. Put things on the local group sites, if they have one, or start one if they don’t. There was a page started for Northshield History a while ago, and the guy who kept it up was leaving the SCA a couple of years ago, and was going to take it down, and I told him no, I’ll do it. It’s me and Ionasc who are the admins now. It’s a page, not a group, so just anybody can’t post, but we do have it set up where you can send us things.”
“At what point does it become too much?” the gentleman in green asked. “Quantity over quality, people taking pictures of things that don’t really matter? You can easily take fifteen hundred pictures at an event, but do you need that many? Would fifteen tell the story better, without getting lost in unimportant details?”
“Well, I take fifteen hundred pictures at an event, and post them all,” Elashava retorted, smiling, “but that’s kind of just me. And like the young lady said, people who weren’t there can see all the fun things they missed.”
“I will sometimes take hundreds of pictures and weed out the bad ones,” said the lady sitting beside Ionasc, “and only post the good ones, delete the rest. It never hurts to take more pictures, you can always delete later.”
“Erilar and I remember the days of film,” Elashava said, “when you had a very real limit and had to make sure you got the perfect picture right away. Fortunately they invented these things called digital. Makes our lives much easier.”
“What happens then when all the people do dump all their pictures? When is enough too much?” the gentleman in green persisted.
“There was a gallery on the NS website, that that happened to,” Elashava said. “It got too full, and I had to take it down. I’ve got the pictures, I think, but they need someone to sort through them and catalogue them and pick out the ones really worth keeping. Personally, I’d rather have too much than too little. You can weed things out, but you can’t invent a photo of something that happened eight years ago and looking back you say, ‘Oh, that was important’. You can’t stage the thing. That makes it fake, like a movie, not actual history.
“You also have to keep in mind, what is the point, why am I doing this, what am I trying to accomplish? New people need a place to learn our history. Not everyone is a SCA kid, a lot of them learn these things on their own. Anplica won’t always be here to tell the stories, Ionasc won’t always be here, my time is running out. We hate to think about it, but it’s true.”
“I’m eighty-two,” Erilar said. “I was playing before some of you were born, and dropped out, and picked up again a few decades ago. I know.”
“Not all of us know we’ll make it to eighty-two,” Elashava said. “So we leave stories of what has happened to be passed down. I had a lot to do with the Memory Wall at fifty-year, and people kept coming up to me, ‘Can you put this in? This happened. Can you do this?’ and I accepted a lot of it. There was one of the memory walls that had the bucket helm. It’s an artifact from the early days of the Society, and it’s literally a bucket with a nose-piece cut out and the shape of the bucket all intact, no padding. That thing — ugh, that had got to hurt so much. And while I was standing looking at it, a guy comes up behind me and says ‘The bucket helm. I’ve heard about this, but I’ve never seen it’. Things like that are part of SCA legend now.”
“There was a mailshirt too,” Erilar said, “chainmail, heavy stuff from back then, with sleeves. And the guy who made it wore a sweatshirt for padding, with the sleeves cut off, but the mail sleeves were longer than the sweatshirt sleeves, so he had these very interesting red welts in the shape of chainmail.”
Elashava winced. “That’s something I don’t think any of us miss. Still, things like that — who remembers carpet armour? The new folks won’t, they’ll be like, ‘what’s that?’ But it was an important part of our beginnings. So thankful we’ve evolved beyond that. Did you know how long the average SCA generation is? Three years.”
“What!” said several people.
“I know, I was shocked too. Three years isn’t a long time at all. People get in quickly, they stay for a while, then they leave. We do need to work on keeping people in, that’s a different class, but if the people who are only in for three years are trying to hand down history on their own, how well is that going to work?
“History isn’t necessarily what happened, but how we remember it. Telling stories, the oral tradition, is a perfectly period thing to do. Different versions crop up over time. If the people who are invested in the kingdom now start chronicling things for those to come, they might put in a personal slant, because they tell things as they saw them, we all do that. In a story that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It all comes down, in the end, to how we want our Kingdom to be in the future. Our history shapes us.”
“History is written by the victors,” said the gentleman in green.
“There’s different ways to do this, some less period than others. I made a photobook for Their Majesties documenting their coronation, it’s not expensive to make.” She pulled a book out of her bag and handed it around.
“How much did it cost?” Anplica asked.
“I had a coupon at Shutterly for a free one, so eight dollars for shipping.”
Rosanore sat up suddenly and said to Elashava, “My dear, I’m so sorry I think I slept through your whole class. Was I snoring?”
“No, I never heard you, don’t worry about it. It’s so warm in here today, and the couch is comfy.”
“I discovered, on my last trip with my girlfriends,” Erilar said, “that we all snore. At different times.”
“Gravitas, semper gravitas,” said the lady currently looking through the book. “Gotta love ‘em.”
“That’s all I have for this class, so I guess you are dismissed, unless you’re staying for my next class,” Elashava said. “Thanks for coming, and I hope you got something to think about.”
“I like our Highnesses too,” said a lady to another as they left, “I just hope Her Highness doesn’t do a lot of talking in court. She’s so soft-spoken.”
“Oh, yes, but I love her. She’s fast becoming my favourite,” said her friend.
The gentlemen waited for the ladies to leave, and then I was the last one left, except for Elashava.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name earlier, my lady,” she said.
“AEschild?” she said, pronouncing it correctly. That is, I think, the first time anyone’s ever done so on the first try.
“Yes.” I added, “I’m a writer, and since I got into the SCA I’ve been writing about all the events I go to, but not really with the idea that I’m a chronicler. My sister’s a photographer, and I’m a writer, and between us we cover the events we go to pretty thoroughly. This is my seventh.”
“Who do you share them with?” she asked.
“The first ones only got shared with a few friends, but recently I started a blog for my other writing, and the one from Hadrian’s Feld went up there, and today’s will be in about a week, when I finish.”
“Oh, good,” she said, lifting her veil and shaking it out.
Presently Cailin, from our group, peeked in and came and sat down. The clock on the wall across from me told four o’clock, and Elashava stirred and said, “Looks like this is our class. We might as well start. So are either of you at all familiar with Born on the Listfield? Good, you’re going to learn it today. The story goes that one night around a campfire some gentlemen were talking, and some knights were sort of poo-poohing a Master of Arms, saying he didn’t know anything about fealty and loyalty. A Master of Arms, you know, is just like a knight except he doesn’t swear an oath to the king. And the Master of Arms got up and walked away and spent some time by himself, and he wrote this song.”
Maeve peeked in around the half-closed door, and Elashava beckoned her in. “Come in, come in, we’re only just starting. You’re looking for Learning by Oral Tradition, right?”
The turbaned gentleman who had been in Leak Your Geek followed Maeve in, and Elashava went on, “Now Ivar Battleskald, who wrote the song, asked that it not be recorded or the words set down, because he wanted to see how it would change as it was passed on through oral tradition. He lifted the ban before he died, and people have made recordings, and there are different versions floating around. It’s often sung at elevations to the Chivalry, or when people are put on vigil for it. I wanted to sing it at Roisin’s knighting, but I only found out three days in advance, so I went to a friend of mine who knew it and asked if I could record him, since I didn’t have time for him to sing it over and over again, and told him I’d delete it when I was done, which I did. And I don’t have the best memory, but Roisin was swept off her feet all the same, and that was the point. I’m not the best one to be teaching this, because of my spotty memory, but I’ll try. And after we’ve learned it I’ve got some recordings of different versions we’ll listen to. Let me see if I can remember the first line.
“ ‘Once came a warrior, fresh from the field.’ Now sing it after me.”
Hesitantly, and out of tune, our voices made something a little like the ghost of harmony as we repeated, “Once came a warrior, fresh from the field.”
We went line by line through the five verses and each refrain, none of which were quite the same, from the warrior’s knighting to his last line, “I have lived by my oath till I die.”
“All the feels,” Maeve said, producing a white handkerchief edged in embroidered violets.
“I know,” Elashava said. “It has that much more power if you slow the last verse and refrain down a bit. Let’s go through it again, all the way.”
The second time was better, because we had an idea of what was coming next.
“Now let’s listen to some recordings,” Elashava said, taking out her phone.
The first one was the same version we had learned. “This one,” Elashava said of the second, “is really good, almost professional quality except for the dog barking in the background. It’s a knight and his squire.” The higher voice sang the verses, and the lower voice the refrain. Maeve was wiping her eyes again by the end of it.
The third one, among more minor changes in wording, re-did the words to be for a lady knight, and added a verse at the end in which the knight’s heir, while not yet a knight, made the same vow to live by her oath till she die.
“I don’t get why she added that verse,” Maeve said at the end. “It’s confusing. Like why would someone who’s not a knight be talking about an oath to keep? Why add a verse that just confuses people?”
“It can have that effect, but it’s a very popular version,” Elashava said.
“And she was saying the sword was rusty and old, where when you were singing I was hearing dull,” Maeve said. “Which makes sense. Old is not a problem for a sword. Dull is.”
We listened to one that was just one of the refrains, which had no significant differences from the version we’d learned, and then one that Elashava explained was a knight singing, with his five-year-old daughter in the background. “From the way she joins in, I think it’s her lullaby,” she said.
Maeve had her handkerchief out again by the time it was done. “Did you hear what happened to Wyndreth?” she asked.
“Kira was singing Savage Daughter to her. Apparently it’s Kira’s favourite lullaby.”
“Oh, sweet.” Elashava looked at the clock — it was ten minutes to five, and she said, “Do you think we have time to sing it one more time? Do you want to?”
No one disagreed, so we went through it again, and this time the tune was sounding like music and we weren’t stumbling over the words quite so much.
“Well, I guess I’ll hang out and wait forty minutes until Court,” Elashava said when we finished, putting her veil back on and settling her coronet in place. “I’m a Court junkie. It’s kind of the highlight of my day.”
The cooking class was still going in the kitchen. I peeked into the populace room and didn’t see Wynnie anywhere, and was heading back toward the stairs to go look for her, since we were technically leaving at five, though as with any other time-related thing in the SCA, you have to add half an hour, when someone who looked half familiar and half out of place came down. A moment of scrambling in my head and I remembered her — Leah, a Creative Writing student whom I’d known was one of us, though she didn’t know it yet. Perhaps today she’d found that out. She saw me (I was half blocking the hallway) and smiled, and I said something to her, some word of greeting that I’ve forgotten. Wynnie came from the other hallways just then and saved me, because introductions are easy to make, and to ruin, without people minding. Most likely other people, like Jean, had already welcomed her and made her feel at home. She went on to find the rest of the Medieval Astronomy class, which had gone outside, and Wynnie was showing me her drawings with charcoal, when a Baron in purple and yellow came out of a room down the hall.
“Having fun?” he asked us.
“Of course,” we said.
“That’s excellent, keep it that way,” he said.
“Yes, Your Excellency,” Wynnie said, curtseying, and he waved it away and proceeded into the populace room.
“I lost my bracelet,” Wynnie said. “I took it off for drawing, and I thought I’d put it back on, but I can’t find it now. I’m going to go look in the room and see if it fell down somewhere.”
Christiana was in a scribal class in that room when we got there. A lady across the table from her tossed a little jar of yellow to her just as we came in, with the words, “That’s a decent all-purpose yellow. You have gold, right?”
Wynnie moved the nearest chair out of her way and looked under the table. A lady sitting in a rocking chair saw her and said, “What are you looking for?”
“I lost a bracelet earlier,” she said.
“What did it look like?”
“It was mostly silver, with blue beads.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for it,” she said, and Wynnie thanked her and backed out.
“Will you come talk to Elashava?” I asked Wynnie when we’d gotten to the populace room. “She does so much photography, you know.”
“Maybe,” Wynnie said, with unusual reluctance. “Can it wait? I want to talk to Christiana. Oh! And I have someone for you to talk to. And it’s five o’clock. Let’s at least get our stuff together first. I don’t see Christiana anywhere. There are so many people.”
We began to weave our way between the round tables, looking for her, but didn’t find her. We went back out, and up the stairs. Through the glass window at ground-level I saw the Princess, conspicuous in large white furs.
“There’s Her Highness,” I told Wynnie.
“Outside. You see that big window? She’s in the furs.”
“Oh, that’s the Princess. I’ve seen her before. She’s pretty, isn’t she?”
We did not see Christiana in the upstairs populace room either. We were returning to the stairs by a back hallway when a gentle — with nothing whatsoever on his head, besides hair — came out of the bathroom with a mug in his hand and went down another hallway.
“Um, that was the Prince, and we didn’t curtsey,” I said.
“Well, you don’t just not curtsey when your Prince walks by!”
As we tore back down the stairs, passing a woman who looked up, surprised at our haste, and smiled, I said, “Is it just me or are we going in circles?”
Wynnie strode once more, determined, between the tables in the downstairs populace room. We passed Elashava in a knot of people, saying something about the oral tradition, and I saw Erilar with a card-weaving loom set up at a table.
Christiana appeared seemingly out of nowhere just in front of Wynnie, tossing up her arms in excitement.
“We’re getting ready to head out,” Wynnie told her.
“Aww, too bad you can’t stay for Court,” she said. “Here, you do group hugs, right?”
As I peered between the shoulders of the other two, who are taller than me, I noticed that on the wall next to the door of the room opposite was a neat and correct sign saying “Brides Room”. And just above it, in orange ink on yellow paper, clearly done by a different hand, the word “ROYALTY”.
“I lost my bracelet too, the one she bought for me,” Wynnie told Christiana, “so if you find it let me know.”
“Aww, that’s too bad. The blue and silver one? I am so sorry. I’ll watch the lost and found for you.”
“I have someone for her to talk to,” Wynnie said, heading back toward the door, “so we’re not leaving right now.”
“Are you planning to stay for Court?” Christiana asked Cailin, who was sitting at a nearby table.
“I think so?”
As Wynnie and I went up the back stairs to the populace room where Court would be held in half an hour or more, a young gentle came through the door. His tunic, which reached his knees and was split in four places according to the middle-period fashion, was a stiff fabric in a purple-and-gold diamond pattern. His hose, and the sleeves of his shirt, which showed outside the tunic, were green and blue. To my eyes, accustomed to the different time, his garb looked very fine, probably Court garb. It reminded me, for some reason, of the descriptions in Arthurian legend.
“So who am I talking to, exactly?” I asked Wynnie as she steered me through the room to our corner.
“Belle. We were talking after the dance class, and she asked if I’d like to write an article for the Northwatch about being new, and I said, uh, you want my sister that. Does twenty thousand words sound good? and she said the limit’s five hundred. So I said I’d bring you so she could talk to you herself.”
Her Grace Petranella was sitting with Her Highness in one of the rows of chairs, explaining something. She was wearing a green velvet houppeland with a train and brown fur trim, and a hennin with a white veil (very obviously silk) that fluttered whenever she turned her head.
Wynnie put her drawings and the charcoal she’d been given next to the basket, where they wouldn’t get stepped on, and packed up the rest of our things. I crouched on the floor beside her and looked around. Through the window I saw the astronomy class talking, though since it was full daylight I wasn’t sure why. People were bringing things and setting them on a table where Gate had been. The youth whose garb reminded me of the Arthurian stories was helping move things, and snitching food.
“Okay, where’s Belle,” Wynnie said, standing up.
“She’s over there,” I said, pointing to the green Indian garb surrounded by miscellaneous Vikings and Tudors.
“How do you know her?”
“She came to Chronicling.”
Wynnie hopped down the steps and set off toward her, passing the thrones with a hurried reverence. Belle had her back to us, and was talking, but one of the people she was talking to nodded toward us and said, “There’s someone here for you, Belle,” and she turned around.
“Oh, good, so you brought her! Okay, so I don’t know how much she told you, but I’m Kingdom Chronicler, which means I’m in charge of the Northwatch, and January’s issue’s theme is newcomers to the SCA, because a new year, a new beginning. And your sister told me you could write something for it. Just five hundred words, it isn’t that much. But the deadline is the fifteenth. Can you do it by then?”
“Easily,” I said. “Five hundred words isn’t that much. And I was new not that long ago.”
“Great! And your sister has my e-mail address, so you have somewhere to submit it to. So glad you can do this. We’re trying to get the Northwatch to have more articles, but there’s so many different ways that general idea can go, it’ll be lots of fun to see where you all take it. It will get published, your name will be on it. High five!”
We went back down the aisle to go back and get our basket, and Wynnie walked right by the thrones without even a glance.
“Reverence, reverence!” I said. She turned around and made me a curtsey, then made Derbail (who was sitting in the front row) one for good measure.
“No, not me!” I said. “The thrones. It’s no reverence to them if you curtsey with your back to them.”
“And I’ve not even got my AoA,” Derbail said.
“Well, everyone is assumed to be some kind of minor nobility so they can sit in Court,” Lord Iain said. Wynnie turned back, nodded to the throne, and went off.
With our various bags and baggage we made our way to the front room, where Wynnie stopped to take three gluten-free cookies from a package that was lying open (presumably for the enjoyment of the populace at large). “One for you and me, and one for Mom,” she said, wrapping them in a tissue. “Oh look, a lost and found box.” She tipped it so as to be able to see inside. At the bottom was her bracelet, slightly entangled with an unidentifiable silver object. I took them apart and put the silver thing back in.
“I’m going to go tell Christiana I found it,” Wynnie said. “Hold my stuff and don’t move. Hold up the post.” She took me by my shoulders and set me up against the square pillar in the middle of the room, and darted off, leaving me with the basket and her drawings.
People were taking tables down and moving them around. An old man in mundane clothes wandered in the door, looked into the populace room, and turned and went slowly out again. Helgi helped stuff a collapsed table into the elevator.
Wynnie came back in and took her things and led the way out the door. The various gentlemen hanging around made way for us. We went out along the sidewalk, past a group of girls in Italian Renaissance garb, playing ball. Two guys drove by in a car, giving us weird looks indeed, and we smiled at them.
The gentle in green who had come to the Chronicling class was out in the back parking lot, talking on his phone. We put our things in the car, I rearranged my veil so it would be secure while I was driving and not slide over and block my vision, and we got in. Wynnie took my knife and put it in the pocket of the door at her side. Ever since the incident with the policeman in New Ulm, she’s been nervous about it.
When we were fairly started, after turning the wrong way and going down a one-way street and having to turn around in the same place we had earlier that day, Wynnie asked me, “How much money do you have?”
“Five dollars. Why?”
“Mom said we could stop at Culver’s, but I don’t have all my money, ‘cause I had to pay for some of the classes.”
“Netting and drawing.”
“Charge for materials, probably. The teachers don’t want to lose too much money.”
“Well, I have fifty cents. Let me see yours.”
“It’s in the little bag in my pilgrim’s bag.”
Wynnie reached behind the seat and picked up my bag by one of the bottom corners. My driver’s license, pencil, notebook, money, and tablet weaving, along with all the cards which were no longer tied to each other, all fell out.
“What were you thinking?” I said, as she held up the empty bag and giggled. “Did no one ever teach you that was dangerous?”
“I can still reach the money,” she said, leaning down and rescuing it. “Five dollars and fifty cents. So if it’s two seventy-five we can buy something for both of us. Or we can share. I don’t want food from them, do you? If we get hungry we have lots of bread left. Jean never got his. I cut the bread and he disappeared.”
We got lost in Willmar and blundered about the wrong side of town, following a couple of streets Wynnie thought were First Street, until finally we came to the familiar signs and Culver’s.
“Flavour of the day double salted caramel pecan,” Wynnie read. “Ooh.”
I found a spot in the parking lot where I could pull through (parking is not my greatest talent) and ended up next to a van full of people eating.
“Don’t bang into their car when you open your door,” Wynnie ordered, jumping out on her side with the money in her hand. “Don’t let them grab you.”
“Then hand me my knife,” I said, putting my hand to my side where it had been all day. Then I saw myself walking into Culver’s with a dagger on my person, imagined the headlines in the Sunday paper, and said, “Or wait, don’t.”
“Oh no,” Wynnie said. “Got the car key?”
“I’m not leaving it in here, don’t worry.”
“Lock the door. We’re back in the twenty-first century now.”
“Not entirely.” But I locked the door and looped the key’s lanyard through my belt where the knife had hung.
“Ready to do this?” Wynnie said when we reached the sidewalk. “Oh, it’s suppertime too.”
We walked in, braced for the usual weird looks. The people eating at the tables couldn’t see us, but as we stood back from the counter, Wynnie debating what to get, all the workers behind the counter, or in the kitchen, or working at the drive through, saw us. One girl, her mouth half open, tapped another on her shoulder and whispered something to her. The other girl stopped in the middle of putting a platter away.
“Flavour of the day?” Wynnie said. “We can share.”
The people in line ahead of us finished ordering, and the girl working left the counter to get their food. A thin, bald man whose name tag said he was a manager stepped up and said, “Can I take your order?”
“One flavour of the day,” Wynnie said, moving forward.
“Scoop — dish or cone?”
“Two seventy-five, please.”
Wynnie handed him three of the gold coins, and he looked at them puzzledly.
“They’re dollar coins,” she said.
He gave her change, and we moved aside to wait while he dished it up. “I’ll have it comin’ right up,” he said.
“Looking sharp!” someone told us.
“Thanks!” Wynnie answered.
The manager brought her the custard, and she stopped to grab some napkins, and then we went out — not too quickly, seeing our reflections in the glass doors.
Then she stopped on the sidewalk and turned a stricken face to me. “They only gave us one spoon.”
She didn’t need to add, “Which means we have to go back in and ask for a second spoon.”
We groaned and turned around, bursting into the already back-to-normal noise.
“May we have a second spoon, please?” Wynnie asked.
“You’re looking nice,” an employee said, grabbing one and handing to her.
“I like it,” said one of the two girls I had noticed earlier.
We thanked them again and made a slightly more hasty retreat than the first time. This time we made it all the way back to the car.
“I wish I’d had time to explain,” I said, taking the key out of my belt and turning the van on.
The rest of our ride home, in the dark, without getting lost, was uneventful. We finished the custard and sang Born on the Listfield as we made our way through that confusing time which is the transition between worlds. . .