Now Comes the Knight, part 4

(Yes, I realize I didn’t post yesterday. I think I forgot what day it was. For those of you anxiously waiting, I hope to get the next bit of Wind Age out today.

(This is the last installment of the Coronation story, with lots of pictures, as usual.)

 The photographer from earlier, whom we had last noticed by the rapier lists, reappeared, sitting by himself again on the slope below the royal pavilion.

 “Let’s try to go talk to him again,” I said. “I think he might be one of us and not know it yet.”

 “He kind of has that look,” Wynnie agreed. “You go first.”

  She ended up reaching him first, and sat down a few feet away on his left. I sat down between them; he looked up and nodded, and I pulled my distaff out of my belt and put it between my knees again. The hill was steep enough that I could sit with my feet flat against it and still have a proper lap.

 “Hello,” the photographer said.

 “Hello,” I said. He’d probably already been given “the spiel” about the SCA, and the lady with the houppelande had explained the fighting to him, and anyway I knew very little of use about how that worked. I could say something about how combat is probably the most visible of the things we do, but that was such a common thing to say I could almost bet he’d already heard it. So I said, “Are you from the paper?” “The” paper, as if I were a local.

 “No,” he said with a smile. “I’m just a photographer. As you’ve probably already guessed.”

 I asked what I was most curious about. “Had you heard of the SCA before today?”

 “Not until about a week ago,” he said. “Someone who makes a lot of clothes for this called me and said it’s the sort of thing I might be interested in, so I came by. I didn’t even know there was anything going on this morning — inside.”

 “The fighting —” I began, realized that this wasn’t going to be new, tried to think of a way to change what I was saying, gave up, and plunged on all in the space of a second, “is probably the most easily visible thing we do, but we are a lot more than that. This morning was a Coronation, which is usually the biggest event in the kingdom, so there were a lot of people here for that. But other people cook or make pottery or clothes. . . we do pretty much everything.”

 “What are you making?” he asked.

 “String,” I said, then hoping he hadn’t taken me too literally, added, “Well, yarn, actually. You start with a fleece, sheep’s wool, and wash it and comb it, that makes roving, and then wind that on the distaff, which is called dressing the distaff, and then most people use ribbon to secure it, but I didn’t have ribbon, so I used yarn I already had.

  [Parts of this manuscript were tragically lost. We have outside evidence to confirm that this was not the end of this conversation, and we know that after this incident several valuable things happened, but of them only this following scene has survived, without context. -Ed.]

  We went around, skirting the rapier lists. As we passed we saw two gentles, who were not fencing at the moment, in conversation with a mundane visitor. One of them had a venerable beard, and as we passed we heard him say: “Based on an honour system, so you’ll see a lot of chivalry.”

[. . . .]

  I noticed the photographer gentleman talking to a mundane couple, gesturing over the crowd somewhere in the direction of the royal presence, confirming our suspicion that he was indeed one of us but didn’t know it yet. I also noticed that Kita Joru Toramassa, and a fighter who wasn’t currently doing anything, were talking to the museum tour group.

  A knot of people was standing by the church, having their pictures taken and talking. They puzzled me. The men were all wearing nothing but black, not a speck of trim, or spurs, or even a medallion to add interest, and their coats were all an identical boring square. The women (one in black, one in red, and one in green) had neither sleeves nor backs to their dresses, nor veils of any kind. Their clothes looked like they had been made on a shortage of fabric, with no gores anywhere, and in addition to the complete absence of sleeves, their hems barely touched the ground. Their skirts were close-fitting to the knees, and even below the knees their gores were skimpy indeed. All three of the dresses were covered in sequins — so probably trying to approximate a Middle Eastern look — but did they not know any better ways to say these were their most expensive clothes? Trim in a contrasting colour, embroidery, substantial gores, a train perhaps, or even just sleeves, would all have been far better ways to convey the impression of “best”. The only one which wasn’t the same colour all over was the black one, which had gold at the neck, very properly for Northshield, but why no corresponding decoration at the hem as well?

  “What can they be doing?” I asked Wynnie. “Over there, by the church.”

  “Prom,” she said.

  “Explain.”

  “Prom. They’re going to prom, so they’re having their pictures taken.”

  Then slowly I began to understand what I was seeing. For a moment I had looked at them, ordinary mundanes in ordinary modern fashions, and thought of them not only with medieval vocabulary but looked at them with medieval eyes. For once, the SCAdian crowd was in the majority. Others of us, in Japanese or French or German or Irish garb, from the sixth century and the fourteenth and the sixteenth, were walking past the church with baskets, children, food, water — giving the prom-goers hardly a glance, absorbed in our other world. An invisible wall separated us.

  It was not a magic moment, I realized, as I went on staring and thinking. It was, rather, a magic hour, a magic afternoon, a magic day. I had transitioned into the Current Middle Ages so completely that I had looked at ordinary modern people, the kind I see every day at school, as foreigners. This one moment where the spell was broken was the way of telling us that we had been under the spell, otherwise we would have been so thoroughly enchanted we would not have known.

  The girl in the green-blue dress left the group and came as far as the bike path to take a picture of the crowd, then hurried back, her stride uneven in high heels on the grass. The prom-goers left.

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  A lady wandered from the hill to stand and watch the rapier fighting in almost exactly the same place where the green girl had stood. She was wearing a white oval veil and a gray cotehardie, and the trees’ shadows fell over her and made branching patterns on her garb in addition to the shadows between the folds at the side of her skirt. The toes of red shoes peeked out from under a hem that trailed on the concrete. She had none of the glitter and sparkle of the other girl, as she stood there with her hands on her hips, watching thoughtfully, but everything about her carefully-chosen garb said that this was her best. The veil was fine enough it might have been silk. The cotehardie was only grey, but you knew it was wool. Red shoes were definitely expensive. She had worn her best to honour her King and Queen that day.

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  Perhaps it was because I had brought my distaff and spindle, to have something to do that AEschild would really have done, that I had slipped so completely into her character. Perhaps calling them lorh and spinal (except to the photographer gentleman, which would only have confused him) had helped influence the new way I saw the world. Or perhaps it was the SCA as a whole, our kingdom gathered on this lawn, the knowledge of being at home here, of for once not being the weird one, that gave me the courage to approach total strangers and explain what was going on. The SCA does change the way you see things, I already knew.

  The herald announced this bout was to be His Grace Vladimir Radescu against His Excellency Rhys ap Owen ap Gwyn, and Wynnie and I turned our attention to the lists.

  “Who d’you bet will win?” I asked. “If you did bet.”

  “Well, he’s a Duke,” she said, nodding toward the taller man, in red and silver. “But His Excellency won more recently.”

  “Exactly,” I said. The two entered the lists and faced each other. Also Rhys, though he had won Crown, was not yet a knight.    

  “Respects having been paid, give heed to the words of your marshals,” the herald told them, and left the lists. They faced each other, Rhys, in blue and silver, with his long sword vertically in front of him; Vladimir with his parallel to the ground. They stood like this for a long time while the crowd held its breath and waited to see who would make the first move.

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  Vladimir lunged, and Rhys parried before the blow reached him, and then they were off. Vladimir took one of Rhys’ legs a minute or so later, and we all thought, “I knew it, Vladimir will win.” Wynnie and I turned to look at the Queen, who was sitting in the throne (her husband had stood up the better to watch the fighting) with someone else’s baby on her lap.

  Then clapping broke out behind us, and the herald said, “The winner is Rhys ap Owain ap Gwyn,” and we looked in surprise at Vladimir getting up off the ground.

  A girl in something that passed for “an honest attempt at pre-seventeenth-century clothing” if you were generous, carrying a piece of paper, went hesitantly up to the royal presence, bowed, and stood on one foot till the Queen smiled at her and beckoned her nearer. The girl came a little closer and handed her the paper, which Wynnie said later had a picture of a crown on it. Her Majesty accepted it with delight, and said she’d have to put it on her fridge at home.

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  We heard that Troll was about to close, and remembered that since we hadn’t gone inside to eat, as was the original plan, we had forgotten to pay. Therefore we hurried inside to take care of that.

  Outside was full of shouts and announcements and the banging of weapons on shields, and the sun was beating down out of an almost cloudless sky. Inside was cool and dim, and very few people were around. Some musicians, with stringed instruments, were singing, but they were in harmony.

  We got in line for Troll. “Member card?” asked one of the Gate workers of the lady in front of us.

  “Expired,” she said.

  “Write it down anyway.”

  “Oh, more people,” said the one nearest us, looking up. “We’ll need to start a new sheet.”

  “Are there site tokens?” asked a gentle who had just gone through.

  “Fealty cards,” said a worker.

  I paid, and wrote my name and mundane signature in the proper blanks, and then went to get a token. I saw several stacks of cards, “Oath of Fealty for Pelican”, “Oath of Fealty for Royal Peer”, and so on, but none, apparently, for an ordinary untitled member of the populace.

  “I recommend a populace one,” said a Gate worker, with a grin.

  “Yes,” I said, “But I don’t —” and, of course, just as I was about to say I didn’t see one, I saw two stacks farther back on the table behind the Laurel cards. “Oh, now I see them,” I said, feeling foolish, and took one.

  We went back outside to the tree where we’d first watched the fighting from. His Majesty was conferring with a couple of marshals and a herald, and we heard him say, “Yes, if you could get someone to announce that.”

  A herald came and stood at the base of the hill and cried, “My lords and ladies! It is now a quarter to four of the clock! Court has been pushed back from four of the clock by one hour! Their Majesties will be on their thrones, holding court, at five of the clock SHARP!”

  Eventually only four fighters remained: Duke Lars Wolfsblut, Taon Orbanus, Togashi Ichiro, and one whose name I have unfortunately forgotten.

  “In the final round will be!” shouted a herald whose voice must have been tired by now, though they did take turns, “His Grace Lars against Taon!”

  “The Honourable Lord!” shouted Taon from across the field, and the herald added, “The Honourable Lord! Taon. They will fight on level ground.”

  The two fighters advanced into the lists. Taon’s wife ducked under the ropes and came to kiss him through his helm.

  Before the fight could begin, Duke Lars lifted his voice.

  “Good gentles! I am a Duke, and this man is but a squire, yet he has fought his way through the ranks today to stand before me. It is unlikely that in this bout he will win. Let it be known that if he loses to me, it is no dishonour to him.” With these words he saluted the other man with his sword, and then threw himself backwards onto the ground and rolled over in an exaggerated imitation of the way fighters fell down when killed. When he got up again, Taon saluted him.

 We cheered, of course, at this show of courtesy, before they could start. When the clapping died down, one of the heralds said, “Your respects being paid, give heed to the words of your marshals” and walked off the field. The marshals lifted their sticks, and the fight began.

  Duke Lars did end up winning, giving Taon second place. Togashi Ichiro took third. There were other prizes for the finalists beside the place of King’s Heavy Weapons Champion.

  Afterward Taon happened to be standing near us when his son came up to him, asking, “What did you win? What did you win?”

  “I won that teapot over there,” he said, gesturing with his sword to a basket with a teapot inside.

  ‘No, but did you win anything?”

  “Not a crown, no,” he said. “That’s later.”

  “So you didn’t win anything, then.”

  ‘Yes I did. Remember how your mother got mad at me this morning, and said things? She really likes that teapot. Me winning it for her will make her happy with me again. That means more than getting first place.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the boy said, going off in a sulk.

  “Someday,” said the man Taon had been talking to.

  Lady Rachel came by where we were standing, near the tent for the list table, and said, “Oh, hello, how good to see you here! Have you been having a good day?”

 “Oh, yes, of course,” we said.

  “And, I have to tell you, I was sitting in Court this morning with a lady who was really admiring your spinning, she said your technique was spot-on and you looked like you had stepped out of a picture. I wanted to pass that along.”

  “I think —” I said, “someone came up to me after Court and said almost the same thing, so it might have been the same person.”

  We wandered back to the other side of the hill, wondering where to go next, when someone came from the direction of the church and said, “My lords and ladies! The museum has graciously opened up the church just for us to go look at, and believe me, it’s worth it!”

  “Shall we go see?” Wynnie asked, and we went. As we came around the back of the museum building we saw a white pavilion with gold, red, and green flags, and lettering around it. The part over the doorway read, in dark green, “DISCEDE A LATIFUNDIA”.  

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  “I bet that’s the Laurelled couple’s tent,” I said. Several people were gathered about it, but we were too far away to see exactly who.

  To get into the church one had to step up on the sill of the porch, then onto a stone placed in the gap between that and the bottom of the opening into the church proper. The doorway was oval, and rather too narrow for several of the people in our crowd to get through easily.

  Once inside it was splendid: entirely wooden, and since the wood inside had not been much exposed to the elements, it was still light-coloured. There were no pews, the only place to sit being a bench around the walls. Pillars went up to the arched roof, and intricate beasts were tangled all over the ceilings and walls.

  In the front of the nave, near the alcove for the altar, a fighter in partial armour was leaning against a pillar. He finished singing something, in a foreign language that was most probably Norse, just as we came in.

  “You want a full song?” he said to a woman who had just spoken. “Well, let me think. I might know one.” He paused for a moment, looking up to a corner of the ceiling for inspiration, then began to stamp his foot and tap his hand against his leg, then started to sing.

  This song also sounded Norse, and had a regular refrain. One of the verses contained the name of Olaf Tryggvason. Toward the end he wavered, faltered in a line, stopped, regained his bearings, said, “It’s been a while since I’ve done this one, sorry,” and was able to pick it up again and finish. Probably that church had never heard a song like that in it before; though the original one, in Norway, might well have been familiar with something of the sort. I looked it up later and discovered that it had 86 verses, not counting the refrain after each.

  “Thank you so much for doing this,” said a lady, coming up to him after he finished. “You were one of my magic moments at Pennsic and I wanted to tell you that.”

  At some point during his song, a single mundane woman had come in, and found herself in the midst of a crowd of Vikings, Tudors, 14th-century gentlewomen, the occasional Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Norman, and in the midst of them all, an armoured man singing a story more suited to a mead-hall (of which the church’s architecture was reminiscent) than a church. She stood in the middle and slowly blinked like one in a dream.

  We came out of the church and found Lady Leigh coming toward us. “They’re cleaning up over there,” she told us, “so you might want to go get your basket.” We turned toward that section of the lawn to do so, but had not yet left the hill when Jean met us. He asked us about the idea of helping sew costumes for Romeo and Juliet. “I won’t ask you to do anything else,” he said, “knowing your background, having you read an uncensored Romeo and Juliet —” he shook his head and laughed.

  “I’ve read the original Romeo and Juliet,” I said, “It’s not Shakespeare we have a problem with, but acting in general.”

  “Ah, I get it,” he said. “Well, put it this way — I’m going to be spending my summer teaching two teenagers to kiss passionately. Yeah, it’s awkward. Are you staying for Court?”

   “We have to leave,” Wynnie said.

  “Really? You sure?”

  We sadly informed him that we were.

  “Well, I’m glad you guys — ladies, I mean — could make it out here for today,” he said. “You may not make it to work days, but you make it here, and that’s — frankly, that’s something not a lot of people actually do. You make it to the important things.”

  The obligatory hugs followed, and then we were free to go find our basket. The lists were almost all dismantled by the time we got to it, sitting alone and forlorn in the grass.

  “I want to take pictures of you in the church,” Wynnie said. “You think we have time for that?”

  I thought so.

  We went back to the church and set our things in a corner of the porch, with my spindle on top of the pile and my distaff leaning against it, where it was likely to be out of the way and escape notice by any roaming children.

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  Wynnie mostly took pictures of me in the roofed walkway that went around the outside of the church. One wall was solid, being the outer wall of the nave, and the other wall had arches starting about two-thirds of the way up. Behind the place where the altar was, the hall curved instead of going straight. It was a bit like a maze at first.

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I took a few pictures of Wynnie, trying to capture the way the sunlight and dark brown wood made her red bliaut glow, but mostly failed.

Wynnie

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  She had me go through one of the side doors, once, and when I opened the door I heard “and of the golden plains and rolling hills. We are the children of the waters cold and wide, and cool dark forests,” and after that, where we knew the words, Wynnie and I sang along with Shield My Kinsmen. Apparently an impromptu bardic circle had started.

  The second time we came around to that side of the church, they were singing “Drink to the one-eyed Wanderer, for Odin’s sons are we! Drink to the mead that warms. . .”

  Wynnie was taking pictures of me by one of the arches, when her battery ran low. We gasped and looked at each other.

  “But, I have another battery with me!” she remembered, and ran around to the front of the church, dug in the basket, replaced the battery, and went back to work as if nothing had happened.

  Another time she was taking pictures of me by another arch, when a small boy’s head and arm popped through. “Hi,” he said. “How are you?”

  “We are well,” we said, as if it was a normal thing for little boys to climb church walls and stick their heads inside.

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  When Wynnie was finally done taking pictures, we began the official leaving process. First we were going to take our things and load the car. I was trying to carry my distaff, my spindle (which kept wanting to fall out of my belt), and the basket, and Wynnie had everything else.

  “I’d like to say goodbye to Lord Manfred,” Wynnie said.

  “Well, he’s over there,” I said.

  “Where?”

  “There,” I said, pointing.

  The hill went steeply down to the parking lot from the place where we were standing, and the first thing that had caught my eyes was Lord Manfred’s red and white shield, apparently walking along by itself. In fact, a small boy was carrying it, walking behind Lord Manfred himself, who had some weapons and a bundle of gear slung over his shoulder. We ran down to catch him before he got too far, and caught up to him in the parking lot.

  “Not leaving, are you?” he said. “Really? Well, say hi to Jenny for me and give her a hard time for not coming today. I’ll do that too. Did you hear she’s working on a belt for me? She said she got three inches done, and ripped it out, and started over and got about an inch done. She’s doing way more than I expected, going above and beyond, but, y’know, that’s Jenny.”

  We went to pack our respective vehicles, and once we had deposited everything, Wynnie discovered that she was still wearing Jenny’s belt.

  “We should probably also go to the bathroom while we can,” I said, perhaps vaguely remembering the “Rest Area: 90 miles” sign we’d seen on our way in. “We’ll try to catch Jean while he’s still somewhere close.”

  On our way in, a mundane man with two children called to us, “D’you know how much it costs to get into the fair?”

  Fair? I wondered. It’s the wrong time of year. “I’m sorry, what?” I said, stepping closer, trying to gain time.

  “The fair out back. Do you know how much it costs to get in?”

  “Oh! Th-that’s an SCA event, we’re a medieval living-history group. We’re not like a Ren Faire, people get to participate, but one requirement for being in events is an attempt at pre-seventeenth-century clothing. Ordinary people can just watch without needing to pay anything, though. It’s fifteen dollars, and there may be loaner garb available still.”

  “Okay, thanks,” he said, and as we continued on our way into the building I heard him say, “Maybe next time.”

  Fortunately Jean was easy to find in the building, and we were able to hand off the belt to him without much fuss. He’d been of the impression that Jenny was giving it to Wynnie permanently, so he hadn’t thought to say anything.

 You know you are in the SCA when you walk into a bathroom and waiting in line are two Norse women and a lady in a sideless gown, and that is all I shall say about that except that as a wise man truly said, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.”

 “It was quite the event, wasn’t it?” Wynnie said as we went across the lawn to the parking lot. “Long. But loud.”

 “It still is,” I said. “It’s not done yet.”

 As if to illustrate this, someone behind us called, “Wilhelm!” We both turned to see what was going on, and saw a gentle in armour, carrying several weapons, coming around the corner of the building.

 “Hey!” answered someone we didn’t see.

 “I saw you before, but I couldn’t think what to call you, and I knew you didn’t want to be called Keebler, and it didn’t seem right to use Keith, so that’s why that pause before I said anything. Had to go down the list of available names till I got an appropriate option.”

 “Oh, yup, makes sense,” said the other.

  This time when we got to the car we were able to actually leave. We turned left out of the parking lot behind a blue car, which had a stick in the back of a certain distinctive shape.

   “You know you are in the SCA when you can tell someone else is in it because of the weapons in the back of their car,” we said, and I decided to follow him, since he was presumably also leaving site, and might help keep us from getting lost. When we got stopped at a red light and he was far enough to go through it on green, though, we lost sight of him in traffic.

  Some distance from town, on a stretch which was 70 mph, I was driving in the left lane (at the speed limit, for once) to avoid having to get stuck behind the slow semi trucks, when a car passed us in the right lane. Now most people, when they’re passing someone and decide to wave, lift their hand to do so after they’ve gotten beside the other car and see who’s driving it. But this man already had his hand up to wave before he was that close. Wynnie made a sort of automatic return of the wave, which could have been mistaken for anything, and I didn’t dare take a hand off the wheel.

  “Bet he’s a SCAdian!” Wynnie said, and a moment later we were scanning the back window of his car for tell-tale sticks, or bumper stickers. He had two of the latter.  The first one we noticed said “I make MPR happen.”

  “Ooh!” said Wynnie, “I bet he likes classical music!”

  The second was a Northshield sticker, with the white compass.

  “I knew it!” we said.

   But the question remained, how did he know we were SCAdians even before he got beside us? Had he seen us at site and remembered our car? Had Wynnie been leaning in her seat, and from behind he saw one of her braids and assumed that was a medieval fashion? Or does our car just look SCAdian, somehow? We may never know.

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About Nolie Alcarturiel

Christian, student of Philosophy, writer, SCAdian. Crazy cat lady who likes to keep cats and birds at the same time, and who's too young to be called an old cat lady. Medievalist. Creative Writing major, Philosophy minor.
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