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.

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