Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bardic Circle

Ack -- Sorry for the delay in posting this final entry, but I wrote all of the previous posts in a flurry of productivity thinking that surely I'd have time to finish this last one before the schedule warrented it's posting. Yeah. This is the last of my Estrella tales - hoped you all have enjoyed this little tour. Never fear - our next three weekends are full of SCA events, and I'm pretty sure there will be pictures. :-D

The Bardic Arts center around entertaining - singing, narrating, playing music, as well as composing works to be performed. Performed around the hearth or a campfire, you can picture a bard entrancing his audience while dinner settles.

Our barrony's bard, Lady Rivkah, became the kingdom bard last fall after competing in a series of bardic competitions. She's obviously very talented and a great lady to boot. As part of her new standing as the Windhover Bard, Rivkah volunteered to host a bardic circle the last evening of war, in our campsite. Listed in the schedule, anyone at war was invited to attend.

The two large (open ended) tents which, up until then, had been our gathering and eating place, were cleared out in hopes of a large attendance. A second fire pit - raised metal basins in which fires were allowed - was brought in, and two rows of chairs arranged around.

We started casually, as the early arrivers settled (in prime seats near the fire, I might add!). Fires roaring, there was naught to do but try our hand at a few rounds which the choir members could lead us in.

Before we knew it we'd collected a nice sized crowd and Rivkah set the theme : as it was Valentines day, she declared that any bard that brought a tear to her eye with a love story -- be it passionate, bawdy, or riotously humorous, would be rewarded with a chocolate truffle. The play was 'Play, Pick or Pass', meaning that as your turn around the circle came up you could perform, select someone else to perform, or simply pass.

Unsurprisingly I unfailingly chose pass. But motivated to tinker with our camera's manual settings, I was thrilled to finally get some campfire shots. I love the warmth of these pictures, as it really fits the magic of the evening.

Lady Rivkah

Beyond anyone's expectations, we needed every inch of space and every chair that had been set up. The circle went on hour after hour. As people filtered in and out all night we must have had a few hundred come through, and several dozen different performers, many who performed more than one piece. And people are still talking about the amazing quality of the performances there. Funny or sad, spoken or sung, new composition or old favorite, each bard entranced the audience.

One young lady stood up and tentatively admitted that this was her first bardic. Obviously welcomed by the group, she moved into the forefront, and proceeded to sing an amazing Italian aria. Just amazing. Afterwards, Rivkah got up and presented to her a ring which had been given to Rivkah at her first bardic.

Our crown was not the only royalty to join us, but they came and stayed for a long time. And, again beyond anyones expectations, Queen Salomea did not just pass or pick when it came her turn, but performed a beautiful song about Viking raiders (If I recall correctly... there were soooo many performances)

I didn't find out until later, that the gentleman who'd stayed through most of the evening - one of the few die hards that Dave sat around with long after most of us had gone to bed -- was one of the people who was in attendance at the very first gathering where an organization called the SCA was envisioned. Back in Berkely in 1966.

Helen used a turn to tell the story of how, at an SCA event, she is always loathe to leave the comfort of our middle ages to have to return to the garish modern world... "yet, we were out of eggs." Just the evening before they had decided to make a provisions run - Helen ran the meal program. Jumping into the car and stopping at the first mini-mart they came across, they quickly set about stocking up. As is typical when out in garb, they noticed a few stray glances their way - but never you mind, that's typical. Except this one group who seemed to be having car troubles, and their glances seemed a bit more than casual. Alas, the mini-mart did not have eggs, so they hopped back into the car to venture further into mundanity. Helen thought she was just being paranoid when the car from the mini-mart pulled out and started following them. And then turned into Safeway with them. And then parked right next to them. At this point Etienne decides the time for being direct has come, and asks if they can help them? "Oh, yeah. We're lost trying to find Estrella War and kind of figured that if we followed you you'd lead us to it!"

I couldn't resist snapping this shot, of Baroness Rossilind and Master Thorfinn.

One of my favorite performances all night was the one about the lonely widow who made a deal with the Devil, for as she said: "Hell on Earth or Hell in Hell it's all the same to me." Well -- Blow me over! I not only found this on the net, but here's a youtube recording! Listen if you are curious as to how "for the first time in eternity, Satan shook with fear." ;-D


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Medieval Mindset

Understandably, a part of recreating another time or place, authentically, involves adopting the mindset of existing in that time/place. A class was offered on just this topic at one of our big annual events last fall, which Dave and I attended. It was an eye opener. Admittedly, going into the class we didn't even know what a medieval mindset meant. But it came clear quickly, as the instructor (who was Mistress Leonora in fact) described some of the things and techniques she uses to transport her back to a simpler time. A time, for example, that didn't have anything plastic. I found another member's comment really insightful -- She'd had that ah-ha moment when she realized that her social calendar would naturally be synchronized with the full moon, so that her guests would be able to travel home from her gathering with the light of the moon.

It was part of that discussion that referred us to an interesting book: A World Lit Only by Fire, by William Manchester. We've been reading this book together, and indeed it paints a picture that is difficult for our modern minds to grasp. But it's fascinating and I recommend it to anyone wanting a glimpse of that era.

At Estrella there was a wide variety of people there, each 'embracing the dream' to best of their abilities or interests. Garb, tents, using the period dialect -- you were jumping in and out of period constantly. But that's all part of the fun.

One afternoon Dave and Rossilin decided to take a survey of the tents on display. She is a bit of a period tent aficionado, and needed photos to use in her class to be offered at an upcoming event. I can't tell you much about them (I guess that will have to wait until I can take her class!), but these pictures sure set the stage for a lot of what we submersed in.

Starting with Rossilin's tent - I thought it very cool that with a 20' round base, she has the ability to set 3 or possibly 4 rooms inside by hanging walls from the spokes that support the exterior walls. How nice it is to have an ante-chamber, inside the tent but not your sleeping quarters. Next time I think we'll do something like that - hang a wall that will cordon off the front 2 feet inside our booth tent, and then have the sleeping tent behind that.

And many other prevalent styles:

A French Bell:

A Viking Wedge:

This last one is a particularly gorgeous example which I believe the owners had commissioned. The woodwork inside is just amazing.

One afternoon - possibly the same as the tent survey, they are all runing together now! - I was napping in the tent when Dave came in. "Come have some bread," he invited. I thought that a bit odd -- why bread in the middle of the afternoon? "Because we just baked it!" Woah, really? Master Thorfinn has been exploring bread baking for a while - he's brought loaves to some of our recent gatherings. And he was all hot to try baking in the earthen ovens. And, David was around at the time so got invited along.

Every year the folks running the Period Campsite, construct several earthen beehive style ovens. They are available for use throughout the week, on a first come first served basis. Thorfinn and crew had baked pizzas early in the week, I guess, and this time had taken over white and wheat bread dough. They first built up the fire in an available oven, heating it to some 500 degrees. Then scooped out all of the coals, and slid the bread in. By stacking bricks in front of the opening they could somewhat regulate the temperature. Here is Thorfinn, AND his bread inside the oven.

And was it ever yummie!!


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Horses at Estrella

As I mentioned in the last post, there were no battle scenarios at Estrella for the forth martial art - Equestrian. In general the equestrian group is far behind the others in terms of prevalence, participation and representation, throughout the SCA. Which is ironic, because really horses played a very large role the middle ages, so to have them segregated in modern day events is disappointing.

Obviously, there are many modern day hurdles that lead down that path: The expense and extra effort it takes to own a horse these days, for instance. Not to mention the fact that people, while excited to see horses in action and have them around, aren't particularly excited to have the 'full' experience of, say, the ever present manure. As in, in the middle of your campground or battle field. The SCA, after all, is quick to say they like to selectively recreate the middle ages.

Anyways, getting more integrated with the rest of the barrony is something I'd love to see our Equestrian Guild work on, and since I'm Guild Head this year... Something we've already done in this effort is in planning for the Equestrian Champions Tournament. Last year, at the Coursers and Quivers event, we combined equestrian with archery championships. THIS year we are combining all of the martial arts - Rapier, Heavy Fighting, Archery and Equestrian. At Sun Pony Ranch. It's going to be a fun time - August 1st, if anyone wants to put it on their calendar. We're really not sure where we are going to put all the cars... But that's just details.

So -- back to Estrella -- what Equestrian activites did they have? About a dozen people brought their horses to war. The site has an arena set up and horse pens lining it. Those with horses typcially camp over in this area, which is on one edge of the main camp ground.

The first event was really very fun - it was a Pas D'Armes.

According to Wikipedia, the Pas D'Armes was a form of martial 'game' that existed in the 14th and 15th century.

It involved a knight or group of knights (tenans) who would stake out a traveled spot, such as a bridge or city gate, and let it be known that any other knight who wished to pass (venans or "comers") must first fight, or be disgraced. If a traveling venan did not have weapons or horse to meet the challenge, one might be provided, and if the venan choose not to fight, he would leave his spurs behind as a sign of humiliation. If a lady passed unescorted, she would leave behind a glove or scarf, to be rescued and returned to her by a future knight who passed that way.

You know, the more I read about medieval knights, the more their reputations seem to resemble hoodlums, rather than the chivalric ideal popular today. *sigh*

Anyways, in the SCA the Pas D'Armes has survived as a tournament where instead of an structured competition with an elimination tree, the competitors issue challenges to each other. The goal is to entertain and impress the gallery(audience), who, in addition to being encouraged to cheer for or boo the feats they have displayed before them, they can also request specific acts to be performed. It is up to the gallery's whimsy to award points to competitors according to what ever criteria they desire, and thus declare a champion at the end.

The field of competitors were first introduced to the gallery.

Upon which challenges began to be issued. There were several obstacles set up to choose from: quintain, rings, reeds and javelin targets. Each competitor declared the events they intended to compete in, and we, the gallery, had a set of score cards to note the results of each challenge as well as bonus points along the way. Mistress Yasamiin, for instance, won bonus points right off for bringing her own herald to the event to introduce her.

Yasamiin challenges Danielle to a run at the rings.

Jacque had a fantastic pass at the quintain,

As did Yasamiin.

Lady Virginia takes a nice javelin shot.

In all we saw a lot of fun competition, and the structure of Pas makes for a wonderfully varied and participatory event.

The following two days was held a Jousting Clinic. I didn't have a horse, but audited the class intending to bring it back to conduct in our own guild. It was very helpful and I'm excited to start working on these introductory techniques. Through this process I've gotten to know our Kingdom Equestrian Officer - my direct superior in the bureaucratic organization. She lives in Las Cruses but I'm hopeful she'll be able to pay us a visit sometime this summer.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Battle; Corona Gramineae

Once the business of muster is completed, the troops line up to march out to the battle field. Lead, of course, by the crown, and our way cool war-drum wagon.

Some of our barony's contingent:

Once on the field, the groups huddle, put on the last of their armor, get a last strategy talk from their commanders.

Each battle has a scenario, such as the following laid out in the War Treaty for this year's war:

One of the very special things about Estrella War is the size and diversity of the armored combat scenarios, and the viewing stands around the battlefields that allow the populace to view this combat. Generally run over a period of days, the scenarios include from 1000 to 1500 armored combatants in two great armies (Allied Realms) fighting fixed, open field, and resurrection battles.

LOCATION: Eastern Battlefield
One stationary, reversible Control Point Banner shall be placed at the mid-point of each of the three bridges (Upper, Middle and Lower Trinity Bridge).
The Control Point Banners shall be in a "neutral" position at the start of combat.
Siege Weapons may be used against combatants.
Combat Archery may be used on the Upper Trinity Bridge, but may not be used on the Middle or Lower Trinity Bridges or in the no fire zone.
DESCRIPTION/STARTING POSITIONS: A timed battle shall be fought for control of the three bridges as follows:
A bridge shall be considered "controlled" by an Allied Realm when the Control Point Banner is fully raised and flying the colors for that Allied Realm.
The Allied Realms shall start with their forces positioned on opposite sides of the Crescent River.
Fighting shall continue to the last man standing, or until 30 minutes (whichever occurs first).
VICTORY CONDITIONS: The Allied Realm with the last man standing, or controlling the most bridges at the 30 minute mark (whichever comes first) shall be the victor. If there are no bridges controlled at the 30 minute mark, or each Allied Realm controls only one bridge, this battle shall be declared a tie.
VICTOR RECEIVES/GAINS: The victor in this scenario shall be awarded one (1) Victory Point, and shall determine their starting position for Battle 3: Ruins of Baron Kragon's Keep Battle. In the event of a tie, the winner of the previous battle shall choose their starting position for the next battle.

From: Heavy Combat Scenarios on the Estrella website.

And here's a pic of 'light' fighters - fencers. Rapier, Heavy, and Archery scenarios are set up separately, though I think there can be combined scenarios.

Alas, there are no scenarios for the forth martial art - Equestrian. But, that will be a subject for another post.

Anyways - battle is... terribly confusing to the uninitiated, which we certainly are. So we tended to watch as we walked by, stop if something identifiable (i.e. photo-worthy) appeared to be taking place, and then go on our way. Since battle was raging most of the day, we had lots of chances to look, then move on.

Dave got a chance to capture this movie, when he happened by and the action was for once very close to the sidelines.

In the evenings we heard tales from the battle field. One day in particular our group had a challenging time in that they kept being successful at charging into the center where they were supposed to be, but then were sitting ducks and thus were killed off quickly.

We learned that there were types of battles known as Resurrection battles - once killed a player could make his way to the sideline and be resurrected to return to battle. An interesting tactic in this type of battle is to wound your opponent badly enough they cannot walk... and then leave them! That way they cannot leave to be resurrected. LOL. Some started killing 'friendlies' in that situation just so they could continue to play.

For some years our barrony has recreated the period tradition of recognizing the warrior who made the biggest impact upon the field by awarding him the Corona Greamineae - literally a crown of grass. This crown was woven of grasses and healing herbs collected from the battle field - awash with the blood of our enemies. Alas, today we imagine the blood.

Mistress Leonora honored myself and Lady Rikvah by inviting us to help collect the grasses, and then construct the crown. It was fun. Before fighting had begun, we dashed on field to collect grass growing underneath our kingdom's banner. And then in the area anywhere there was nice grass or distinctive weeds growing. We did get kicked off the field fairly quickly, but we had plenty by then.

The last evening we held court for our barrony, and the Corona Gramineae to Sir Deotrich, who displayed it upon his banner outside his tent.


Monday, March 02, 2009

The last blow

About 8 am every morning we were greeted awake by heralds walking through the camps calling the troops to muster. About 9 typically troops gathered in their camp and walked to the kingdom muster area, where they would then be addressed by the crown and lead to battle.

As our camp neighbors are a group known for their drumming, our local group got to be led to muster by the war drums that also escorted the entire kingdom out to the battle field. I suppose each morning differs by who is up and ready for muster, today's was a small group.

AND - we were fairly early in the game, so waited as others assembled.

Eventually our King and Queen addressed the group. There were the typical congratulations for the battle the day before, news about the battles for today.

And then King Alrik said there was just one little thing left to do. His smirk revealed that this was something a bit special, and special it certainly was for our first ever muster. All the knights in the group were asked to approach the crown. In the SCA, being a knight is an award, the highest level of award for the heavy martial arts. The majority of people engaging in heavy fighting are not knights, but are referred to generically as 'fighters'. Knights are distinguished by the right to wear a white belt, and a chain around their neck. Probably some other symbols too, but those are the most obvious. The knights approached and knelt.

Boleslav, who was King Alrik's predecessor (SCA Monarchs sit for 6 month reigns) was to be knighted. I thought it interesting that a previous monarch was not a knight - since the right to serve as monarch is won through fighting tournaments. However I in turn found out that Alrik himself is not a knight either. Since the honor of knighthood must pass from knight to knight, Alrik required the assistance of the ranking knight present to actually convey the honor.

Half a dozen knights were called upon to rise in turn and make a statement about what traits Boleslav exhibits which justifies his knighting.

Meanwhile, there is a chain made up of individual links provided by all of the other knights from our kingdom, added at the time each one was knighted. This chain was brought forth, and passed throughout the rank of knights, I presume each finding his own link.

What ever they were doing, it was a solumn and intimate exchange. These three huddled around it so tightly you can't even see the third knight.

The King and Queen meanwhile were addressing both Boleslav and the court while this was going on. Eventually the chain made it through the group. King Alrik placed it around Boleslav, and then with the ranking knight at his side, did the sword taps on the shoulders, and presented to him a new sword.

The annoying thing about court, and the going's on up at the thrones in general, is that a lot of it is done in normal speaking voices - which means the audience can't hear a thing. So a lot of stuff was going on up there. But after Sir Boleslav had sheathed his sword, Alrik announced he was a knight... blah blah blah. And finished with "And let this be the last blow you ever receive, without answering with your sword."

And the king is to punch the knight. I take it, it's usually a symbolic blow. But Alrik wound way up and delivered a heck of a shot right to Boleslav's chest. It connected with a thunk we all could hear, rocking him to his heels. I noticed several gasps from the audience.

And then big grins from Alrik and Boleslav as they embraced.