Sherwood Hill Manor

Gwen Hir & Paul fitz Denis

Author: Paul fitz Denis

Lay of Sigri∂r and Li∂r, or The Foolish Herald

In June, I traveled from Caid to Ealdormere, to attend the Known World Heraldic Symposium. As I had just stepped up as Crescent Principal Herald, I asked Their Majesties Caid if they wanted me to carry a message or a gift to the Queen of Ealdormere, who was to hold a court at the event. Yesterday, at Festival of the Rose, I presented the following poem explaining how it went.

Song of Sigri∂r this now must I sing,
who longed to Li∂r to send laud and love.
Take heed and hearken, hear how both these Queens
well-matched in merit in memory should live.
Fresh crowned, Caid’s Queen called forth Her herald.
Both herald and bard oath-bound to serve Her.
To Her he came quick heard clear Her command:
“Gifts must be given when gone to the North.
“For in Ealdormere abides royal kin
Long Line of the North leads now to Li∂r.
For cousins We care, Convey now to Her
what wealth is best shared with wolf, wild, and will.
“Thus this We give you with this you are tasked,
Chosen and charged to choose a good gift.
But as bard you are be sure to bear too,
with what you bring Her bring worthy words, too.”
With this writ ringing with Her wish spoken
Her herald went forth Her will then to do.
Such is Sigri∂r to serve Her is sweet.
This work not weighty but willingly borne.
But what gift to give? Gilt-silver or gold?
Though this burden light the bard lost in thought.
So, haughty herald went humbly hunting.
All Caid’s corners he combed in his quest.
Carreg Wen’s white rocks washed by the blue sea,
Gyldenholt’s green groves in golden fruit garbed,
Dun Or’s desert plain dappled red and brown,
Starkhafn’s stillness night strung with silver.
And then thinks the bard this desperate thought:
“Is not Ealdormere always snow-covered?
Blanketed and bathed beneath white frost bound?
Caidan colors these they must crave.”
With haste picked and packed the pigments were found.
From Venice, Verona, rich earth red and vert.
Lapis lazuli and lead-tin yellow.
Mighty vermillion malachite and more.
As each was arranged he was elated.
East to Ealdormere he eagerly went,
Thinking his Queen’s quest quickly completed,
Bringing back honor with boast-worthy work.
But boast not before bold deeds are well done.
Upon arriving in fair Ealdormere
Our haughty herald beheld no white snow.
All Caid’s colors the North calls its own.
At this his thoughts raced: “How could this be so?
What wound will this deal? What close bonds unwind?
Surely I must shield my Queen from this shame.
Failing at foresight the fault is mine own.”
Before Li∂r led his life seeming lost
For his faults, he thought, herald’s head forfeit.
His doom, his downfall he felt it draw nigh.
But high hope returned when Her face he saw.
In Ealdormere’s Queen in eyes and in mien
Vibrance and virtue verses inspiring.
The same as he saw in Queen Sigri∂r.
Both must be most wise and merciful, too.
Indeed, true insight from ignorance born.
By fortune favored was this foolish bard.
Painter of pages Proud Ealdormere’s queen.
Despite his design his deed was well done.
Requested this queen of quick-witted bard
to Her true cousin Her token to bear
to give Her great thanks for gifts well-given.
And for worthy words the bard was well-paid.
Forget then the faults of foolish heralds.
Rather remember these royal cousins.
Let scribes with their skills on scrolls deftly paint
kinship’s true colors, both kingdoms grow close.
Song of Sigri∂r this now have I sung,
who longed to Li∂r to send laud and love.
Heeded and hearkened heard how both these Queens
well-matched in merit in memory will live.


  • The poem is written in alliterative málahátrr, an Old Norse poetic meter found in the Poetic Edda. Each hemistich (“half-stave”) has five syllables. Two syllables in the first half-stave of a line start with the same consonant sound; that sound repeats at least once in second half-stave of the line. These alliterating syllables are given stress when the poem is read aloud.
  • When I presented the pigments and the poem to Queen Li∂r, I had not yet written the fourth- and third-from-the last stanzas. (Starting with “Indeed, true insight” and ending with “the bard was well-paid.”) I had no idea what her reaction was going to be, so I emphasized her positive qualities (“and merciful, too”) and then moved on (“Forget then the faults”). When I reported back to Queen Sigri∂r, I added those two stanzas to explain how it turned out.
  • Unbeknownst to me, Queen Li∂r is an avid scribe, so when we presented the box of a dozen period pigments (selected by Master Martin FitzJames), she was overjoyed. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, I guess.
  • Queen Li∂r asked to take one of her pewter tokens back to Caid to give to Queen Sigri∂r in thanks for gift (which I did at Festival of the Rose). The one pictured at the top is the one she gave me as thanks for my verses.

On Training and Rank Structures

There has been recent discussion in parts of the Caidan bardic community about the development and recognition of skill. Beorn of the Northern Seas, premier Bard of Gyldenholt (and the third to hold that title), shared how the Royal University of Meridies used to promote that development with a standardized curriculum and rank structure. It occurred to me that I’m part of two communities in Caid that seek to promote and recognize learning. To (hopefully) further the discussion, I thought I would share my knowledge of and experience with both of them.

The Caid College of Heralds has a rank structure, the purpose of which is to recognize competency. The policy is available on the web, and is pretty simple. If you call yourself a herald, you’re a Macer. If you demonstrate basic competence in two of the three areas (book, field, and court heraldry) and the Crescent Principal Herald agrees, you get made a Pursuivant. If you demonstrate advanced competence in two of the three and basic in the third,and the Crescent Principal Herald agrees, you get made a Herald.

The Right Noble Brewers’ Guild of Caid also has a rank structure, the purpose of which is (I believe) to develop competency. That policy is also available on the web, and it’s substantially more detailed. Here are what I think are the critical parts of it:

  • The program has three major components: education through classes, experience through the making of drinks and having them evaluated, and participation through the attendance of meetings.
  • In reality, the classes are the least emphasized of these. They’re pretty short, and can be replaced with a Q&A session with a senior brewer to demonstrate that you already know the material. However, the inclusion of a standard curriculum means that everyone at a particular level has at least been exposed to the same standard set of things.
  • The experience and evaluation component is the central piece. It encourages breadth and depth at what I feel are the appropriate points on the learning curve. Want to become an Apprentice? Make three different kinds of things that “don’t kill judges” (which is Reinhardt Medebruer’s description of what a 50-point score is). Want to step up the next level to Journeyman? Now you need to demonstrate consistent brewing skill across seven different kinds of drinks (and a 70-point score is a solid result). Want to become a Masterbrewer? Pick a speciality and wow us with your knowledge and skill in that area (because 80-point scores are hard to get, particularly if your documentation isn’t top-notch).
  • Because of this, the Brewer’s Guild also has a very rigorous judge training program. (And my experience has been that the better I get at judging drinks, the better I get at making them.)
  • The participation component puts a cap on how quickly you can advance, particularly at the higher levels. There are only four Council meetings a year, so even if you had a local branch that meet monthly, you couldn’t really get from Novice to Masterbrewer in less than two years. This program take a long time to go all the way through (and I think it should).
  • This program is entirely opt-in. There are many brewers in the Kingdom who don’t participate in it, and the Brewer’s Guild doesn’t force them to. Nobody outside the Guild is really aware of the existence of these ranks or what they mean. (And amusingly enough, Master Donal O’Brien, who was made a member of the Order of the Laurel in 2006 for his brewing skill and has served as Guildmaster, is a Journeyman in the Guild.)

As I said, I have experience with both of these: I’m a Herald in the College of Heralds and an Apprentice in the Brewer’s Guild (with about half of my requirements for Journeyman met). Of the two, the Brewer’s Guild model is much more my style. It lays out what you need to do to gain the experience needed to develop theory-informed practice. It really is a training program, whereas the College of Heralds model is a certification program. I don’t know if some sort of structure would be useful to the larger bardic community in Caid, but if there were one, I would like to see on much more along the lines of the Brewers’ than the Heralds’.

Herald and Bard

Tomorrow is Caid’s Twelfth Night celebration, at which two things involving me will happen. (No doubt a great number of other things involving other people will also happen, but I know less about them.) First, I will be made a Herald (note the capital letter). In many kingdoms, heraldic ranks (Herald, Pursuivant, Macer, etc.) are attached to particular offices. When you serve in that office, you hold that rank. In Caid, titles are attached to offices, but ranks are attached to people and indicate levels of proficiency. (You can read the Caid College of Heralds rank policy if you want to.) I currently serve in the office of Dolphin and have the rank of Pursuivant, ergo I am Dolphin Pursuivant. Tomorrow I will become Dolphin Herald. So that’s pretty cool. There’s a whole ceremony based on a period text that involves swearing a series of oaths and getting some water dumped on your head, and one of my friends will be becoming a Pursuivant as part of the same ceremony, so I’m looking forward to it.

The second thing is that I will competing to become the next Bard of Caid. This competition is held once a year, and usually involves four performances. This year those four are: a historical piece, an original composition about an event occurring within the last two years, a piece that you consider your best, and on-site composition involving three words that will be announced in opening court. Last year’s was the first of these competitions I had seen, and I immediately knew that I wanted to be involved this year. While I certainly would like to win, it is not so important to me whether or not I become the next Bard of Caid. The important thing is that I give a performance worthy of the Bard of Caid. If someone else comes out and presents something that just blows mine away, there is nothing that I can do about that, and it would in no way diminish the work that I do. My goal is for people (and, perhaps most importantly, me) to think, after they have seen me perform, “That guy could be a pretty good Bard of Caid.”

Wish me luck.

Five Amazing Months

Almost an entire reign has gone by (Coronation is on Saturday) with a post. Is that because I have nothing to say? Definitely not. The last five months have been full of amazing things which I have not made time to write about, including:

  • In June, I attended the Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium in the Barony of Starkhafn, which blew my mind. (I was also the Proceedings Coordinator.)
  • At Lyondemere Anniversary in July, just over a year after we met, I entered the service of Sir Artus Quintus as his man-at-arms.
  • In August, I got to support Sir Artus at Crown Tourney, in which he reached the semi-finals.
  • In September, at the request of my patrons, the Baron and Baroness of the Angels, I performed a song for Her Majesty’s birthday, comprising a 12th Century tune and new lyrics which I composed. She cried.
  • The same day, to my great surprise, I was inducted into the Order of the Virtue, a polling order in the Barony of the Angels.
  • In October, in addition to taking the field with the Royal Army of Caid at Great Western War, I fought in the Company of Saint George Pas d’Armes, which was amazing.
  • I also took three prizes at the Multi-Kingdom Brewing Contest at Great Western War: 3rd Place Varietal (for my Peaty Malt Vinegar), 2nd Place Beer (for my Summer Saison), and 1st Place Varietal (for my Oatmeal Stout Malt Vinegar).
  • Last weekend, at Dreiburgen Anniversary, it was announced that I will be succeeding Master Cormac as Crescent Principal Herald at Coronation next June.

So, yeah, it has been busy and amazing, and reflecting on it helps me realize exactly how amazing. I suppose I should do more of that kind of reflecting here, right?

A Recognition & A Reminder

Fealty token, list shield, and Dolphin medallion

I mentioned last week that I was surprised that Their Majesties Agrippa and Bridget made me a Companion of the Dolphin at their first court. I feel that requires a bit of explanation.

First, go read Gebhard’s post about the Purple Fret, the Middle Kingdom’s equivalent of Caid’s Dolphin. I can wait.

So, I had read that a few days before Coronation, and it was in my head when Their Majesties hung the medallion around my neck. I agree with so much in that article… and yet I still found myself thinking, “I feel like I have not done enough to warrant this.” Fortunately, my friend Sir Artus (who is also a Master of the Pelican) congratulated me after court and gave me the opportunity to work through my complicated feelings (because I often do my best thinking out loud). What I said was something like this:

I am not saying Their Majesties were wrong to give this to me. One of things that make it difficult is that text of the ceremony says,  ‘This award is intended to honor those persons who have served Caid above and beyond the normal expectations of their offices or ranks.’ And I feel like I have just been doing my job…

At which point Artus says, “That’s what they always say,” and I laugh.

I suppose it’s really the timing that surprised me. Yes, I have been doing a fair amount of service work. And I know I’m not supposed to think about ‘what it took for other people to get this award.’ I guess it’s that I’ve seen other people who I feel like have done more than I have who haven’t been honored in this way… which I suppose means I need to be be writing award recommendations.

At which point Artus nods, as he sees that I’ve gotten it.

I realize now that awards in the SCA are both a reward for work done and a reminder of the expectations your actions have created. At least three times in the last week I have found myself thinking, “As someone who has been given a service award, this is the kind of thing I ought to do.” The medallion I wear reminds me what others have seen in me and encourages me to do continue to be seen that way. I need to thank Their Majesties for recognizing the kind of person I want to be and giving me something to help me recall that from time to time.

And I need to write some award recommendations.


Saturday was the Coronation of Their Royal Majesties Agrippa and Bridget, Undoubted King and Queen of the Sovereign Realm of Caid. Their Majesties had indicated that They would be having a 5th Century Romano-British reign, as befits Their personas, so my talented lady wife made Roman garb for us to wear.

You might notice some shiny things hanging from our necks. Therein lies a tale.

I had been thinking for some time that I needed to make sure I got more pictures of the two of us in all of the different garb that Gwen has made for us. This was in part because her parents want to see them, but also because I wanted to recommend her for the Harp Argent — the Award-of-Arms level Arts & Sciences award in Caid — and I wanted photographic documentation of what she’s done. When we arrived on site, I kept thinking that I needed to get someone to take a picture of the two us, but I also kept forgetting. Then I ran into Their Majesties’ Chamberlain, who said hello to me, and then asked if my lady was there. There was something about that question that struck me as a little… odd. I began to get the feeling that Gwen might get called up in court that day.

The final court of Their Majesties Conrad and A’isha was lovely, and the Coronation of Agrippa and Bridget was just as a much of spectacle as we hoped it would be. (Any Coronation that involves a savage British chieftain in chains is worth seeing.) I went up to swear fealty as a Lesser Officer of State, and I then went back to sit with the rest of my Shire, as awards were given and presentations were made. When I saw Their Excellencies Angels move to the back of the hall, to get ready for their Barony to make a presentation, I got up to join them — since as their Bard and Thrown Weapons Champion I am part of their court, even if I’m not resident of the Barony. As I got to the back, I heard the beginning of the Harp Argent text being read (which, because I’m herald, I recognize in about four words). I froze and thought, “Are they going to call Gwen up?” Sure enough, out came the words, “Therefore do Their Majesties call before them Lady Gwen Hir.”

Remember that picture at the top of this post? How I was wearing Roman garb? You can’t see them in the picture, but I was also wearing Roman shoes. Caligae. Hobnailed caligae. Now, if you’ve never worn hobnailed shoes, you might not realize that while they have fantastic traction on the field (think baseball or golf spikes), they turn just about any polished surface into ice. I had told the story earlier in the day about the account from Roman history of a troupe of Praetorian Guards charging across a marble floor and wiping out. So when I attempted to hustle up the aisle so that I could escort my lady to Their Majesties, let us say that it was less than graceful. Gwen had no idea where I was, so when she was called, she stood up from her seat (halfway up the aisle) and began to approach the Thrones. I doubled-timed it up the aisle, attempting to not look like I was about to rush Their Majesties. I caught up with her near the front and put on the brakes… at which point, according to witnesses, I slid about five feet. I somehow stayed upright, took my rather surprised lady’s arm, regained my composure, and escorted her the rest of the way.

At which point Their Majesties called me up onto the dias, bade me kneel, and gave me a Dolphin, the Award-of-Arms level service award in Caid. I was taken completely by surprise… but that, I think is different post.

All The Things

One of the difficulties I have in the Society is that I want to do all the things.

Case in point: Two weeks ago my lady wife and I attended Altavia Anniversary. I had planned on fighting, but I was still recovering from a bout of food poisoning, so I decided not to. I thought I would join the bardic circle, but while I was wandering about after opening court, the baronial herald asked me if I would be willing to help with field heraldry. I ended up running a field all the way through to finals, and along the way I assisted Their Majesties when one of the Peers of Caid needed to swear fealty. The day after, I ran the monthly College of Heralds meeting, and during the week finished up and issued our Letter of Intent. On Wednesday I finished the last of the Fighter Poems from Crown Tourney that I had agreed to write, and I ran our weekly fighter practice. Friday, I started taking with people about the upcoming Isles Anniversary in November, because I recently agreed to serve as the Event Steward. This past weekend I finished tablet-weaving my portion of my Shire’s Coronation presentation to Their Highnesses, and on Sunday we opened up the house for a brew day, during which time I started some loquat wine, brewed a few batches of beer, and moved along some mead that has been aging for a while. Oh, and I padded my new helm

I enjoyed every one of these things. I think that was about half of the things on my list that I wanted to be working on. I understand this is a common phenomenon in the SCA.

The Most Dangerous Bard in Angels

Gwen and I had a lovely time at Robin Hood Tourney on Sunday. It an archery- and thrown weapons-focused event hosted by the Barony of the Angels, and because I was named the baronial bardic champion at Angels/Altavia Yule last December (despite living in Isles), I kind of needed to be there. At opening court, I presented a poem on the day’s theme (“The Myth of Robin Hood”) and then spent a good chunk of the day learning songs from the other bards there.

I also started the process of authorizing as a Thrown Weapons Range Marshal, as that program is growing pretty rapidly in Caid and could use more official practices in certain parts of the kingdom (like mine). We actually have a reasonable space to hold practices, and I’ve enjoyed  what bits of throwing I’ve been able to do, so I’ve meaning to deep my involvement with the form. When I ran into the Deputy Kingdom Marshal for Thrown Weapons at Barons’ Feast a few weeks back, I realized I had no good reason not to start down the path.

The throw itself was a lot of fun (though more difficult than the designer expected), and to my surprise, I was the high scorer after the preliminary round. Five of us advanced to a progressive final. I thought the knife-throwing component would eliminate me, but I survived. After the axes phase, there were two of us left: Lord Sigbiorn Sigmundarson and myself. We proved equally matched at spears (read: neither of us could hit the target), so eventually we were asked to pick our favorite form, agree on a distance, and see which one of us could outscore the other with three throws. We agreed on fifteen feet, Sigbiorn chose knives, and I chose axes. I stuck two out of three, which was good enough for the win. It was a lot of fun; I could feel a few of the things I’ve been working on slide into place.

It wasn’t until closing court, when I was presented with the regalia, that I realized that the competition was the Angels Baronial Thrown Weapons Championship. Lady Arianna Foxford, one of the stewards of the day, called me “the most dangerous bard in the barony.”

When I was named Seraph Bard, I took on the project of writing a poem for each day I held the office. What I need to in the coming year is to make sure that I finish authorizing as a range marshal so that I can run the competition for my successor at next year’s Robin Hood Tourney.

My SCA-related content was threatening to consume my other blog, so inspired by Gebhard and Fulk, I have decided to move my writing about my adventures in the Society here.

Now I have two places to feel guilty about not writing things.