Friday, January 26, 2007

Armor in Progress

My beautiful blue arming doublet from Revival Clothing came today. Unfortunately, as I had feared, I guessed wrong on the size. From their chart, I'm right on the cusp between the sizes, but it looked like small was a better bet. Nope. So there will be a further delay as I exchange it. But it is a thing of beauty, and I'm certain I'll be very pleased with the medium.

Tomorrow, more work on the aforementioned cuisses. I did buy new power shears - they were actually less expensive than replacing the blades for the old one that belongs to Stormvale.

Progress of a Student of Arms IV (Or How Insults Can Be Compliments)

Well, my last fighting story was a bit of a downer. Here's a more cheerful one.

In the fall of 2001, we were having an armored combat practice at the Black Dragon Farm site, and I was having a rather prolonged sparring match with my friend Kveld-Ulfr Hersir inn Berserkr, of Stormvale, Iron Oak and more recently Northwoods. Kveld-Ulfr has a relaxed defensive style, very hard to get past, and an offensive style of waiting for his opponent to come into range and make a mistake. A good combination, and a bad match-up for me, with a relatively sophisticated offense but relatively poor defense. I had trouble getting past his guard, and staying in range to do so was likely to prove fatal. No point in dancing around with Kveld-Ulfr, my usual style, he would just stand and wait for me to come to him.

On this occasion, we stood in each other's range and whacked away somewhat cautiously, and a few other combatants were standing around watching. It was a highly satisfactory bout, one which went on for a long time and in which neither participant made any serious mistakes.

At last we paused, still in close range, and looked calmly at each other, for quite a long time (by combat standards, meaning it seemed like a long time to me but probably wasn't really all that long). We each waited for the other to do something. The circumstances called for something heroic. One of us, sooner or later, would snipe the other and hit the miniscule opening we might provide with a violent, perfectly delivered snap. That was how this bout ought to end.

Instead, and I don't know what possessed me, because I rarely use this particular tactic - it must have been the time I had to think it over - I brought the hilt of my sword smoothly before my face, let the tip fall so that it pointed toward him and gently poked him in the face. It was without a doubt the most elegant face thrust I've ever delivered, all so perfectly calm and relaxed that he never reacted.

Down went his sword and shield, and Kveld-Ulfr cried "Balian, you dick!" and began to laugh. Ever since, that has been my favorite insult. Kveld-Ulfr was always one for the bon mot.

NPR Story on Medieval Book

NPR did a nice story last year about a medieval book which conceals a lost text by Archimedes under the prayers.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Progress of a Student of Arms III

I was just thinking about the worst mistake I ever made in armor.

It was in 1996, and I had fought at the Red Dragon Tournament in Tirnewydd the day before. I was fighting more than I had in years, and having a wonderful time. I got a little beaten up, mostly the result of an unexpected encounter with a couple of fighting styles I hadn't seen before, having mostly fought in Pentamere. In particular, I got hit several times in my left bicep, where I had no armor (I fought almost exclusively in the so-called Florentine style for about a decade, with reasonable success, and my usual sparring partners either didn't hunt for that opening out of habit, or they knew my style and used other methods to get me). I never got hit there, so I was pretty sore.

In Stormvale the next evening, I probably would not have armored up for the practice, but we had a new young man in armor for the first time, and I was the only one handy, so I got in harness to spar with him. I was making several kinds of mistake without realizing it.

First, I was tired and bruised, more so than I realized. Second, it was dark, and we were fighting under a floodlight. I have always had difficulty fighting in anything other than natural daylight or very well-lit halls, and I wear contact lenses. The only time I had ever fought without them (at that time) was a disaster, and I had sworn never to do that again. But I didn't realize how much trouble I was going to be in.

The young man turned out to be an athlete. He was strong and fast, and he grasped the essentials immediately. I literally could not stop him from hitting my left leg. I mean, literally. I had been fighting for 12 years by then and was no slouch, but this kid could hit my leg at will with perfectly timed blows and excellent force. I could not shift my shield fast enough to stop him. (And I probably had not picked up a shield in months.)

Now, here's the thing. Damn near everybody is faster than me. I'm not that athletic, have no more than ordinary upper body strength, if that. So why don't I always have this problem? Well, because in a normal fight with someone with experience, I can manuever, I can time my blows to take advantage of relative inexperience (that was the only way I could ever lay rattan on Aileran O Faelain, years later), I can charge and keep my opponent too busy to hit me back, I can feint, I can play head games (yeah, look at my nice armor and smooth body language - are you sure you know what you're getting into? God, I've won dozens of fights with that.) I'm pretty good at manipulating range, especially with two weapons, and if I'm not the best fighter around, I actually have rather a lot of "helmet time" and can almost always adjust if I have time and opportunity. Hell, I've adopted styles I've never used before but merely heard described out of desperation to cope with sparring partners who were giving me trouble.

But a newby? It wasn't fair to pull out the bag of tricks just to salve my ego, or even spare me a bruise or two. Our iron rule in Stormvale, and I am the one who literally wrote it down, is "don't break the newby!" So he was faster than me. Good! We would make him a really good fighter in short order. If he surpassed us all, then we would be proud!

No, we wouldn't. Because I couldn't adjust, and I couldn't see, and really ought not to have been in armor that night at all, I stood there and let him beat the hell out of me. And afterwards, he had beat up one the local pros, so to speak, and his head swelled a bit. At the next week's practice, full of himself, the other fighters in the shire had little choice but to do what I had chosen not to do that night: they showed him that there was a whole universe of things to do to him that did not involve standing in his range and suffering his admittedly great speed and strength. And he was surprised and discouraged and never came back.

I assign this as my fault. The moment I realized he could hit me at will, I should have started manuevering and ramped up the pressure on him, even if it was breaking my own rule. I could then have stopped and told him that he was doing great, and kept everything in its proper perspective. Instead, I stubbornly stuck to our usual plan, which was of course designed to help ordinary beginners by not throwing the kitchen sink at them, not a stud like this guy. And then he had a week to have the wrong impression instead of minutes, and had to have it beaten out of him.

That wasn't all. Within a day, my overdoing it that weekend had resulted in a dreadful case of tendonitis that kept me out of armor for over six months and pretty much ended my serious fighting career. It took codeine to keep me upright before long, and I never recovered that enthusiasm I had the day before in Tirnewydd.

I don't know what happened to the kid. Maybe he rediscovered the SCA and is a knight in some other kingdom. Or maybe he has forgotten all about a brief flirtation with our hobby. But I haven't forgotten him, or how badly I messed us both up.

Skalla's Steading

My brother-in-arms now has his own blog: Skalla's Steading. He just started, so check back every now and then. (By the way, this is the Geirmundr not infrequently mentioned below. He is the Honorable Lord Skalla-Geirmundr Ulfsson, CDH, APF, AoA. Everyone else calls him Skalla, and I have always called him Geirmundr.)

Armoring Concerns

Well, I got in armor for the first time in a while on Sunday, and while the fighting was fine (aside from conditioning issues, which are easy enough to correct), I was greatly dissatisfied with the state of my harness, which has become rusty, dented and ragged.

So I have begun to refit and rebuild. An immediate issue is getting my leg harness shaped up. There are three problems: they need urgently to be polished; the belt-based pointing won't do anymore, especially since I actually have a nice new pourpoint to attach them to; and the left cuisse is so battered that it is really rather unseemly. (Early in its life it did more duty as a loaner for newbies than I ought to have allowed for my primary gear.)

The cuisse was the first priority. Geirmundr helped me remove it; I flattened it out and used it for a pattern for a replacement piece. We immediately ran into problems about cutting out the replacement, but nothing we can't solve by Friday night, our probable next stab at at. I hope to have a new cuisse cut, polished, bent and attached by the end of the weekend. A trip to MidState Bolt for the right size of rivet is indicated tomorrow, along with an attempt to purchase a replacement set of shears for the shire's power shears. (Or judging by prices I'm seeing online, I may just buy a new set of shears...)

The second problem is the pointing arrangement. I plan to use the method described in Brian Price's Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction at p. 307. Geirmundr has done something like this and reports it works well.

The polishing, well, that's easy enough, if tedious.

Beyond that, of course, there remains much to do. My new arming doublet from Revival Clothing should be here by the end of the week (and I hope to God I ordered the right size). My helmet needs some short term adjustments and will need a lot of work later to substitute a period padding scheme. I need a new shield, need to retape all my swords, and my gauntlets are in a disgraceful condition.

With luck and effort, I hope to be in decent shape by the weekend of February 2-4, and back in the style I prefer to present by the end of February (see the picture above for what I looked like at the peak of my form). My new brass-trimmed arms and legs are supposed to be done soon, or so I hope, so that will be a major upgrade.

My other ambition is to effectively have a somewhat plainer rig for practice and save the nicer equipment for tournaments. Also, I will during February attempt to substitute proper kit down to the skin, including hosen, a medieval shirt and shoes, the whole bit.

Monday, January 22, 2007

January Revel Report

We had a good turnout at the revel, although many regulars were absent. New member Carrie brought her young sons – I may have lost track, but I think there were four or five, and some youth combat practice was done. We had surprise visitors at the practice, longtime member and former seneschal Lord Gavin and Sir Jocelyn le Jongleur. Gavin, Lord Torashi, Lord Geirmundr and I all donned armor and practiced a bit. Lady Terryl’s garage is as promised, highly suitable for single combat, with plenty of room for others to stand back and watch the fighting in reasonable safety.

In the evening, we dined on stew, delicious sauerkraut and sausage, meatballs, roast chicken and other delicacies. I provided mulled wine, which was not that timely, considering the number of young men in attendance. We discussed upcoming projects, and I proposed, as suggested below, that I form a committee to plan a somewhat upgraded version of Founders Day for the 25th Anniversary of the shire. This met with agreement. We will report back on our plans, I hope, at the February Revel and business meeting.

Lady Eron suggested that we might want to consider new t-shirts and the like for the shire to commemorate the occasion, and Geirmundr and I were able to report that we have already been looking into this. is a very convenient method, cost free for set up, but we need suitable art. Eron, of course, is just the person for this, so we will consult. In my opinion, we’ll need both regular Stormvale wares, hats, t-shirts, cups and so forth, and also specialized items to commemorate the 25th year.

25th Anniversary Celebration

As noted below, we're forming a committee to organize a suitable celebration for 25 years of the SCA in Stormvale. So far me, Geirmundr and Melisande are on the committee, and we've got feelers out for more. Watch this space to keep an eye on our plans and thoughts on the topic. Suggestions are also welcome - email them to

Saturday, January 20, 2007

25 Years Ago

It was just about this time of the year. Several of us had encountered the SCA while we were students at UM-Flint. I was the editor of the Michigan Times student newspaper and did a story on the local SCA branch, the Shire of Westvale. I had a heck of a time persuading them that I actually wanted to join, too, not just write about them.

I don't know quite how to describe Westvale. It was a long time ago, and I was young. There was something wrong with the branch. In standard SCA language, it would make sense to say that they were a household trying to be a branch and not realizing that they had other options and were only frustrating themselves and everyone around them. Even my choice of terms, I guess, reveals the problem. I was never one of them, and there were many like me.

In September, they did a series of things that were unjust and cruel, attempting to persuade me to join in their scheme, and they made me angry, and that, I guess, is when it started. In October, Garth Brandon and I persuaded the kingdom to recognize a different slate of officers, including me as seneschal. For all intents and purposes, again to use modern SCA language, Westvale was a "proto-incipient group" or perhaps "attempting to organize", and the kingdom seneschal decided that they weren't going to pull it off and it would be better for the SCA in mid-Michigan to let us give it a try.

It is possible to look back at myself at age 21 and smile. That shouldn't have worked, and it shouldn't have lasted. There were only three of us at that first meeting on October 27, 1982. But the next week there were four, and the next week five, and we never looked back.

The next 25 years had some high points. We held a Crown Tourney, and maybe 40 more events. We birthed four peers, two kingdom officers, several regional officers or senior heralds. We have fought for our kingdom, and made our little contribution to its glory.

One year, we constituted most of the army of our friends in the Barony of Andelcrag at the Border War with Northwoods... represented mostly by Cynnabar! I will never forget standing in the midst of a little army of green and white surcoats, assailed on two sides by white and red, and being privileged to rally my comrades in a loud voice, and being told by friends on the other side that we made an impression in that moment.

We began to form a good-sized camp every year at Pennsic in the late 1980s. One year, we camped on the edge of the battlefield (the only year that was permitted in the modern configuration at Cooper's Lake, I believe), and some fine young men of our shire built a magnificent castle wall for the camp. Passersby asked us which barony we were, or sometimes which kingdom. Our neighbors from the Barony of Carolingia in the East Kingdom stormed the gates one hot afternoon, in their surcoats and shields, but helmless and without swords, laughing, to be driven back by water balloons.

We developed a reputation for fine feasts. A newsletter article in Three Walls describing the virtues of the various branches in Pentamere ended by saying that Stormvale was like a family. During the late 80s and 90s we had by actual count more awards made than the entire Barony of Andelcrag. In the late 90s, we staged many equestrian events at a much-envied site.

We birthed our own successor group, but unlike Westvale, we survived the experience, though not without tears, lofty rhetoric, furious lawyering, sundered friendships, and dogged determination. Much of that latter quality.

For myself, I will always remember the glamorous feasts, the stupendous charges in the woods at Pennsic (overrun by Haus von Halstern our first time out but complimented anyway, stopping the Barony of Windmaster's Hill the next year and dueling their armored baroness, an old friend, on the left flank), the pleasures of seeing friends rewarded for their efforts, the delights of court, workshop and practice hall. The great pleasure of being told one day that I looked in my armor as though I had stepped forth from a museum display, and the shock of realizing that heads turned everywhere whenever I wore that particular gear. Baron Thorvald presiding genially over our first event, at which Count Merowald came to visit. Oaths by torchlight in the Pennsylvania night in 1989. A baronial award which I value above all other honors. Cocktails in the kitchen before late 1990s revels with my partner in arts, Eschiva. Being entrusted with the secret that my wife would be given the Pelican a month ahead of time so I could arrange an heraldic cloak and banner for her, and then blithely getting her to help me make the banner, all unaware of the circumstances under which it would first be unrolled, in court. Cooking a feast for the king and queen in a hall that had no stove or ovens, and providing their favorite dishes. My second partner in the kitchen A'isha, who honored Stormvale by coming up from Kentucky in four successive Octobers to cook our feast; if I never cook another feast, plating that last one at her side will be sufficient.

I will always remember Stormvale being called up to receive its charter in 1987, and the gasps of genuine surprise at how many of us there were, and how gloriously we were clad, and the privilege of leading our throng of folk up the aisle. Perhaps we will someday have yet a more showy moment in court. But if not, that one will do nicely.

In a quarter-century, there have been some difficult moments, though I am proud to report than when things have been at their lowest, that is when Stormvale has risen to the occasion, determined to rise and recover. I still remember being the only man on the Pennsic field in a Stormvale tabard one dreadful year, taking it off in disgust, then weeks later being given a photo of myself taken surreptitiously in that gear by a friend from Northwoods who understood and never failed to support us. (And I know exactly what I was thinking when the photo was taken.) And then I remembered why I had worn it to begin with, and never again forgot.

At the five year mark, in 1987, we had a Founders Day local event, or revel, to commemorate the group. At the ten year mark, in 1992, Founders Day featured the gift of a heraldic tapestry to the shire. At the 20 year mark, in 2002, we had a full-scale event to celebrate the anniversary of the branch.

It has been a good 25 years. If it ended this October, with no more to come, I would not be sorry. But I don't think it will end, or that we have even seen the best yet.

I propose that we hold a substantial local function to celebrate a quarter century of Stormvale in late October 2007. Tomorrow at the business meeting I will see if some of my compatriots from long ago who are still around would like to form a committee to host this year's extravaganza. I have some ideas for commemorating the occasion in a suitable fashion.

January Revel

January 21 Stormvale Revel: What to cook, what to cook? Been a while since I made dessert. I am thinking about pears in wine sauce, or possibly peaches in wine sauce. Then mull the leftover wine, that should go over well on what promises to be a cold day.

Ides of March

On March 24 of this year, the Canton of Iron Oak will hold Ides of March in Morrice, Michigan. They have held this event several times before.

Stormvale had been tentatively planning a heraldry workshop for that day. I hope that we change the date. Plenty of other dates with no nearby events, in my opinion.

Iron Oak and Stormvale, as I'm sure is no mystery to locals in either group, have a somewhat awkward history. Iron Oak was formed in 1995 by former members of Stormvale, and the location of the branch was for some time not settled; let's put it that way and leave out the details. But now Iron Oak is the Shiawassee County branch, a part of the Barony of the Northwoods, and therefore a close neighbor. We would hope that Iron Oak members would naturally attend Stormvale events; therefore it is natural for Stormvale members to attend Iron Oak events.

I often have myself; once I found myself an impromptu marshal-in-charge at an Iron Oak event, and I was pleased (though a little surprised, and not the only one) to be of service. My best day in the lists came at a bear-pit tourney in Iron Oak one time; I suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, began tearing through my opponents, a pretty competent assemblage including one knight and a knight-to-be, at a ferocious rate, holding the field for a long time, and finally getting defeated by an opponent who dented my helm and then apologized for hitting me so hard, as he had not realized I was going to suddenly tire and let the blow through. I was greatly pleased by that, headache and all.

Iron Oak events, in my experience, are small, friendly and exuberant - rather like Stormvale events as I recall them from the late 1980s. And perhaps that should be no surprise. I hope there will be a good turnout from Stormvale this year. Certainly I will go.

Update: This post was corrected to reflect the actual title of the event.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Artisan's Guild Begun

The Stormvale Artisan's Guild had its first meeting/workshop on Tuesday January 16th, as noted below. It went very well, with seven members attending (including one young man for his first ever SCA function of any kind, I believe). Lady Terryl showed us how to gild glass, there was a little boffer practice for the younger folk, and we sketched out the details for the charter. We had candied chestnuts and mead to celebrate the new guild! May it grow and prosper.

In coming weeks: feast gear class, class on making wooden boxes (for feast gear, for example!), Japanese bookbinding, and when I get my act together, occidental bookbinding, probably in the spring.

Terryl's workshop and space for fighting was warm, spacious and well-equipped, by the way, and it was very generous of her to provide it for our use. We immediately began an e-list for members of the guild, and I hope to have a more general web page up soon, as well.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

No Feast at Val Day

Funny how things change. There is no feast at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre event. For many years the Val Day feast was the premeire culinary event of the kingdom calendar. But feasts are a lot of work, as I well know, and they appear to have gone slightly out of fashion at the average event. Perhaps this is not a new phenomenon, as I can recall when I joined the Society (ahem) some time ago, that the eminent members of the time (and many of the early luminaries of the kingdom were still around to rub elbows with on a regular basis) rarely chose to dine at the average feast, preferring to go out for dinner with friends at nearby restaurants. My first feast I got to sit with Duke Finnvarr de Taahe, who was cheerful and friendly, but I realized afterwards that this feast was a special event, cooked by the Middle's leading culinary artist, Duchess Caellyn FitzHugh. (And it was good. Rather spoiled one for the average effort, I guess.) Often feasts have not seemed so glamorously attended as that one, although there are always exceptions. I remember how honored we felt when Baron Thorvald inn Grimmi and a crowd of Northwoods luminaries graced our head table at Stormvale's first feast in 1986. It was quietly pointed out to us that His Excellency "never" ate at feasts anymore, but that he quite liked ours. Possibly he was merely being polite, but then, that's what Barons do.

Artisan's Guild

Stormvale members are inaugurating a Guild for the first time in many years. At one time we had an Armorer's Guild, a Troubador's Guild, a Sewing Guild (which was active for many years to one degree or another) and a Illuminator's Guild.

On Tuesday, January 16, we will have the first meeting of the Artisan's Guild at Lady Terryl MacAodhagain's home. The guild will encourage and embrace all of the arts and sciences, and biweekly meetings are intended to be more organized and focussed on getting work done than we sometimes are able to accomplish.

A note of clarification: because we are having more classes (the first one is on glass beads) does not mean that everyone is not free to come and work on whatever they wish to do. There is space for armored and rapier combat, as well.

The current rules for guilds are in the Middle Kingdom Arts and Sciences Handbook, in chapter 10. We'll be going, I believe, for the local guild option, to report to the shire minister of arts and sciences.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fighting Videos

Kith the Silent has a bare-bones page with links to many fighting video clips from Crown tourneys, instructional sessions, etc.

Feast Manual

The Middle Kingdom A&S site has a link to a very nice article addressing the first time head cook, or chef as the author prefers and we lately have in Stormvale. See also the list of such articles at the Middle Kingdom Cooks Collegium site.

Introductory Video

Follow this link to an introductory video about the SCA. Filmed in Atlantia by Gregor von Leipzig, it is a short, cheerful and informative. Unfortunately marred by having a crying baby in the background every time someone is introduced outdoors, but perhaps useful.