Short recap. In 1990 I moved to Calontir, and immersed myself in their Anglo-Saxon culture. In 1996 I won their Crown, the first and only Fyrdman to do so. While I was Crown Prince, they made me a Huscarl, and then I reigned as King. In 1997 or 1998 I moved back to the Outlands, met a girl, got married. In 2005, heard about the 940th Anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Hastings, planned for October 14th, 2006, and bent every effort to getting there. Got divorced instead. You're probably aware of the rest of the story to this point.
Last year we heard about the 950th Anniversary reenactment, and again bent every effort to get there, and this time we succeeded. Spent a couple days in London (my favorite food outside of New Mexico), before heading down to Battle. No, that's the name of the little town. Had reservations in the Abbey Hotel and Pub, which, as the name suggests, is a pub, with rooms for let upstairs, conveniently located directly across the street from the gate into the site. THE SITE. Current information holds that this is the place where the invading William the Bastard got amazingly lucky and won the Crown of England from the rightful King, Harold Godwinson.
(If you don't know the full story, the best book I've ever read on the subject is "1066: The Year of the Conquest"
by David Howarth. Amazingly well researched read, and the saddest book I've ever laid eyes on.)
As a Calontiri and Huscarl, I've dreamed, since 1990 or thereabouts, of standing on that Hilltop, defending England from the Bastard, and this last weekend, I did exactly that. It was everything I'd dreamed of, and more. In the SCA, we never, ever, face cavalry. Being charged by horses is its own special terror, but knowing my brothers were beside me with their Dane Axes to punish those foolish enough to charge our lines made me stronger. They charged, we beat them back, time and time again. Their massed volleys of arrows were dreadful to witness; even though in the reenactment there were only about 50 archers, and they didn't exactly darken the skies, it was easy to imagine what it must have been like to have your shield over your head as the arrows fell like rain, and each time the sound died off, lowering the shields to laugh at the ineffectual enemy, exactly as happened 950 years earlier. At this point, to lighten the mood of our troops, I sang to them a Calontir song, which they had never heard, "The Song of the Shieldwall"
, which was rather well received.
Eventually, as this is a scripted reenactment, Harold advanced through our lines to taunt the Norman, and by "pure chance" (he held the broken stump of an arrow in his hand), a volley of arrows fell upon his personal Huscarl guards, and one pierced his eye. We rushed to guard his body as the cavalry and infantry stormed his position, and I died within ten paces of my King. I lay on my back, just as the rain started to fall, completely overwhelmed in the moment. Twenty-six years of longing and planning fulfilled, I died on Senlac Hill, with the last of my Saxons around me, holding the land I'd been given to hold, King's blood and mine running in the grass. I broke protocol at this point, as the dead are supposed to lay still and quiet, but instead, I sang. (Hey, we're Calontiri, we're a singing Kingdom, not a dancing Kingdom. It's what we do!). My good friend Steve Boyd (Master Andrixos Seljukroctonis) wrote my favorite Huscarl song of all, "Requiem for a Huscarl"
, and as I lay on my back, the raindrops hid my tears as I sang his song, our song, and thought of my Huscarl Brothers and Sisters, and wished that someday they, too, would be able to come here and experience this great event.
The battle over, the Normans cried out many times "Guillaume Rex!" for a good long time, and then we were ordered to arise, and received the adulation of the 10,000+ member of the audience. That, too, was pretty neat. I got mobbed by about a hundred kids, in ones and twos, each asking questions and wanting pictures, and it was very gratifying to be their hero.
(And just when you'd thought the singing was over, there was more!)
The following day, the wife and I returned to site for the second show. Essentially the schedule is arrive around 10AM, as the crowd has been filtering in since about 9:30, putter around until 3PM, strap it all on and go kill Normans. There were some really cool lectures during the day, which we got to sit in on a few, bought a book or two, and watched the utterly amazing falconry display, with the particular highlight of watching a Gyrfalcon take down a radio-controlled Crane in a stunning dogfight. Too awesome, in fact, to be able to describe.
After the lectures ended, we walked out of the ruins of the Abbey, and I went to find the Stone which marks the place where it is believed that Harold fell. His body is not there, but the stone is. I reached inside my shirt and took out the Huscarl medallion sent to me by my friend Halidor Arkellson, and my own, laid them on Harold's marker, and sang "I Will Mourn My King"
by Sir Andrew Lyon of Wolvenwood. I first sang it in Old English, so Harold would understand my words, then sang it in English, for the small crowd of about 20 that gathered to watch an old man in mail sing to a rock. Singing it in Anglo-Saxon was tough, but I was able to focus on pronunciation, and such, and made it through. The second time, in English, I lost it. It is remarkably difficult to sing while crying, but I muddled through, and was not applauded when I finished, but was met with stunned silence, the assembled crowd having never given as much thought to it as Andrew did, and their silence seemed to me to be the perfect response, that of people for the first time really realizing how much the immediate death of a King means.
We refought the battle later that day, and it was just as good as the day before. Still more singing ensued. While playing everyone's favorite pre-battle game, "Hurry Up And Wait!", I was again minded to sing. Long long ago, Duke Conn wrote a song about his friend and fellow Calontir Luminary, Master Pavel Yosevich, (who has recently passed away), and his exploits at one of the Pennsic Wars, sometime back in the teens. One of the men in the company behind ours, clearly an Englishman from the North, sang a song or two to lighten the passing of time while we waited, and when he wound down, I struck up "Pavel's Song"
, the punchline of which goes "Oh, do they flee for fear of death, or do they fear dishonour? More likely still I think the thing they fear, is the odor of his armour." This cracked them up, particularly my new Northie best friend.
All in all it was a fantastically fulfilling weekend. Made friends with a great number of the Vikings guys who made up the majority of the fighters, got to salute a bunch of the French, especially the actor playing the Bastard, and got some really nice compliments from the guy who played Harold. Too bloody cool!
(EDIT: I was asked in the comments about my kit. Here are a few pics.)
The sword, a Paul Chen Practical Viking, scabbard wrapped in forest green pigskin, hilt wrapped in twisted brass wire, quillon and pommel drilled and filled with brass brazing rod, Quiet Press Chape and hand-formed throat.
The belt. Patterned after period designs. Hand-made brass shackles. The belt was further tarted up with small Quiet Press plaques, but I didn't have them on when this photo was taken.
My full turn-out, on the actual field:
And another shot: