Posted by: wrmcnutt | October 14, 2009

The Blow Which Did Not Fall

Ok, for the newcomers, I’m in the SCA, a medieval re-creation organization similar to the Civil War re-enactors you may have heard of.  We get together, put on armor, bash each other with simulated swords, wear funny clothes, and otherwise try and re-create the interesting/romantic parts of the middle ages.  There’s a lot of us, mostly in the United States, although that’s changing.  We’re divided into geographic kingdoms, and call our large gatherings “wars.”  Much of our leadership is selected by trial by combat, in tournaments of armored fighters.  This is the tale of two of our champions.

It was not so long ago, at the Coronet Tournament of the Principality of the Mists.  The Prince, like all mortal men, felt the cold hand of fate, and knew that his days were numbered.  Lacking an heir, and mindful of his duty to his people, he had word spread throughout the land that all worthy Knight and warriors should gather at a certain time and in a certain place, that they might, though trial by combat, select one from among their number to be the Heir Apparent, in the event that the Prince be struck down.

Not all worthy warriors can serve as Prince, though, and that they might participate in the trial of arms that day, the Mists also sponsors a grand Tournament of Roses (no relation).  This tourney is fought in the style of Sir William the Marshal.  Each participant enters the list with a single rose.  When he loses, he presents the rose to the winner. At the end of the day, the warrior is the Champion of Roses, and his lady has a lovely bouquet.

Now it came to pass in that Tournament of Roses, that one Baron Gunar Merielsson did meet Sir Andrew Shae Forestborne.  Gunar is an experienced warrior, and know for his honorable behavior and his strict adherence to the Rules of the List.  But his is a full-bore competitor.  He is there to win.  Win within the rules, win with honor, but win.  Now Gunar had but recently won the Southern Shores Warlord tournament some weeks agone.  It is the privilege of the Warlord of the Southern Shores to wear a splendid surcoat, made of find quality cloth, white, and lined with cloth-of-silver.  The surcoat is cut to resemble the wings of a gull, with dags that hang all the way to the ground.  In announces for all to see that the wearer is the Warlord of the Southern Shores.  Remember the surcoat.  It’s going to be important later.

The sky was a brilliant blue, and brave banners waved in a stiffening breeze as the two warriors entered the lists to face one another.  Gunar, owning a baron’s rank, and years of experience, a stirring sight in his surcoat, and his shinin’ silver maille.  The very picture of  a Knight in Shining Armor. Sir Andrew, a full-belted knight, though young.  They advanced to the center of the list warily, in the manner of warriors unfamiliar with one-another.  Then young Andrew threw a blow at Gunar’s helm, and they were at it, hammer-and-tongs.  The sound of the blunted weapons of the tourney-field rang out from the lists for some moments, then each man stepped back, to consider the measure of the other.  Once again, Andrew took the aggressor’s role, this time reaching for an exposed arm.  But Gunar’s shield was suddenly there to meet the blow, and the dance began anew.  The contest proceeded thus for some minutes, the participants clearly well-matched.  Then Sir Andrew made an error.  It was a small one, but it was enough.  He extend his arm just a little too far in throwing a blow, and was just a little too slow in recovering. It left a whole in Andrew’s defense half as wide as Cooper’s Lake.  Gunar was on it like a starving wolf-hound on a pork chop.  From a low defense he threw a rising snap blow at Andrew’s unguarded ribs.

And in the process, threw the dags of his own surcoat over his faceplate.  His own shot a clean miss, Gunar desperately clawed at his helm, trying to free his vision, all the while bracing himself for the head-shot that was sure to come.  Long moments passed before the sea of white and silver fabric at last parted, to reveal his opponent, Sir Andrew, standing gently out of range, his sword point dangling toward the ground, his shield at rest.  Seeing his opponent had regained his vision, Andrew courteously saluted his opponent and returned to guard.

“What manner of man is this I see before me,” thought Gunar, “to so yield up an advantage granted by his opponents own vanity. To pass on an easy victory.  What manner of man, indeed.”

And in the silence of his soul, Gunar knew the answer.

There was a crash and clatter as Gunar’s shield and weapon hit the ground.

“Hold!” cried the marshalls.

Gunar’s helm and gauntlets joined the other fallen gear.  He motioned for a Page.  Accepting the rose from the boy, he walked over to Andrew’s lady, and laid it at her feet.

“Milady,” said he,  “It was not Sir Andrew’s sword that won this rose for you this day, but in fact, his honor that struck the killing blow.  My lord Marshall, you will have the Herald announce that I yield to the better man.”

Thus is the tale of Baron Gunar Merielsson and Sir Andrew Shae Forestborne.  And if ye seek word-fame, understand this. I do not know the name of the Prince who sat astride the throne to witness this. Nor do I know who won the Coronet List.  I don’t even know who went on to win the Tournament of Roses that day.  But I know the name of the honorable Baron Gunar, and Sir Andrew Shae Forestborne, the better man to whom he yielded.  And for so long as others are willing to hear my voice, so will they be remembered.

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  1. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard you tell this. But know this – I read every word. And I still get goose bumps at the end.

    well done and thank you for putting it down in print.

  2. Thank you. It’s a great tale, particularly in that it’s all true.

  3. there are a few typos by the way, but I didn’t want to ruin your day by pointing them out first. they did not ruin the effectiveness of the story.

  4. A wonderful story, thank you for sharing.

    John Ailbhe

  5. Thanks for posting this one Will…..I hadn’t heard this one before and it just reaffirms my belief that there are those who still chose Honor over Glory.

  6. Like Emma, I’ve heard it many times. And it still brought tears to my eyes today.

  7. Can you tell that one at Silver Hammer? What an absolutely amazing story! I’d love to hear it “live,” as it were.

    • If there’s an opportunity. Not much of a venue for storytelling at Silver Hammer these days. It doesn’t fit the Bardic competition during feast, and there’s never a break in the drumming long enough to tell a story down at the fire.


  8. I’ve *never* heard that story before. Thank you. It made my day.

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