Tales of Jusric

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Jusric (A Long But Worthy Remembrance)

Our current Middle Ages has an ever-present self-aware sense of humor. When people asked the bearded man, “What is you name milord?” he responded “Rick, just Rick!” This very quickly became his name: Jusric. Such namings used to be more common. “Ah! Here’s one more!” became the new arrival’s name, Wahn Moore. “I’m afraid I don’t know where you’re from, milord!” answered by a Southern-accented “Neither do we!”led to a branch being named Nytha Dwee.

Originally, the SCA and its College of Heralds required only that your name not be a historic person, such as Richard the Lionhearted, or a famous person of fiction, such as Robin Hood. Vestiges of those days remain, like Duchess Willow de Wispe and Vicountess Constance Vacillations of the Rhododendron. For a while silly fun was acceptable. Then the College decided that names must be registered and approved as authentic medieval usage AND not “conflict” by being too similar to any other name in the known world. And so “Jusric,” as a name, was rejected. For a while Jusric was “officially” known as Gaiseric (pronounced Jusric). This was the same era when the Kingdom of the Outlands was required to be known as Utanwayard (pronounced Outlands) by the wise and distant Board of Directors in support of their heralds.

Cultural tenacity, shall we say, has been a trait of Bjornsborg. Gaiseric was true to this heritage. He, and, for that matter, Utanwayard, continued their respective fights. Ultimately, Utanwayard was recognized as being an outlandish place and was permitted the name Outlands, and the College of Heralds, after years of letter writing, acknowledged that “the Just” was a widely used medieval epithet. Further, it was conceded that “Rick the Just” has exactly the same meaning and usage as “Just Rick.” This was exactly what was wanted in the first place. The name Jusric had been adopted because it looked more exotic and the heralds of Ansteorra thought that it was more likely to pass at society level.

The first part of this story now closes. Jusric remained Jusric and the College of Heralds has relaxed its “high standards and the elaborate, and excessively interpretive two and a half major points of difference and consideration for minor points” system. SCA heraldry is the better for it.

When you think of Bjornsborg, many flamboyant personas in our history leap to mind. But Jusric, quietly competent, was always there. He was important and noteworthy without drawing attention to himself. Flamboyant, no – but as I go over in my mind many of the stories that I have shared with the kingdom historian about “those days,” I am struck by how many of them wouldn’t have been nearly the same without him.

For example, I once took a band of mostly fighters to Grand Outlandish. I had told at story at a local gathering. Meeting, fighter practice, armoring session, lady’s knitting, sewing and assignation guild?…,I don’t remember! I’d talk at local gatherings, most people did. Except for Rick and Ronvaldr; their pronouncements were few and far between until action was needed. Anyway, I had told how long ago, in my uncle’s large and wooded back yard, a few Slovak friends of his roasted a whole pig on a wooden spit. They set up cloth walls to channel the breezes to the fire and spent the entire day drinking beer and turning the spit.

Now, this was Bjornsborg. The conversation quickly went from “we could do that at Outlandish” to “we’d have to bring our own posts and wood” to “where can we get a whole pig?“ We decided we’d have a proper feast, we’d invite royalty. Ideas quickly got big in those days. People like Jusric made them happen.

However – just before the event, the Outlands announced that due to the extreme fire hazard, no ground fires or open flames would be permitted. That makes it difficult to roast a pig – which had already been bought. Jusric had an Idea. He consulted with Ronvaldr and and Ivar and then said he had the solution. At the event we dug a shallow trench and surrounded it with short pieces of corrugated metal roofing, such as is commonly used for tool sheds. The pig was placed on a rack in the pit. The pit was surrounded by catalytic tent/space heaters fed by propane tanks that were outside the corrugated iron walls. Plenty of heat, but no open flame!

Grand Outlandish that year was a collection of small tournaments and a course of scenarios for melee teams. We periodically checked back to make certain the heaters were running. I don’t think we even had to change propane tanks. But by late afternoon another problem presented itself. In one direction the sky became very dark with brown and tan edges. A very big dust storm!

We rolled down the sides of the GP medium tent and staked the sides to the ground securely. Carpets and blankets overlapped the bottom edges. We covered the top edge of the walls with banners, hangings, blankets, and bedsheets. The doors were covered three layers deep. The wind was whipping the whole event site when we brought the pig in. Other food had been prepared in the shelter on Coleman stoves, and brimming ice chests buttressed the windward side of the tent walls. This was a dust storm, not a sand storm, and though the taste of dust was everywhere, you could comfortably eat and drink and breathe inside the tent.

And our royal guests arrived: a king of either Atenveldt or Caid and the prince and princess of the Outlands. The tent would shake, the wind would whistle whenever somebody entered in a puff of dust, but it held firm the whole night. The pig? Oh yes! The pig! It was almost funny watching Rick try to cut it. Except for the skin the meat seemed to be retreating from the blade. You could grab a bone and get no meat. It would all fall off. The dust of New Mexico is a bad spice but, on my oath, the meat was incredibly tender and good.

My lady has sometimes entertained a gathering with the epic tale of Ivar’s pants. The story spans another Grand Outlandish and Krupnik, a high-octane Polish drink that must be carefully spiced, sweetened with honey and heated to the correct consistency. It is said to “fell mighty warriors and conquer conquerors.” The tale itself I leave to my lady, but I wish to add that Jusric prepared the libation upon which the tale is based.

Even in the days before week-long wars with multiple public houses were the norm, taverns were a focal point at even very modest local events. The Bjornsborg gathering or campfire was, of course, legendary, but we also had a tavern; thanks to Jusric, a very good one. When the barony finally got enough sophistication to worry about legalities and taxes, Rick volunteered to see to it. The tavern tent (see the GP medium mentioned above) became a baronial institution. Though mostly in operation at local events, other branches would sometimes request and even pay for the Bjornsborg tavern at their events. Rick would boil, peel, and pickle eggs. He would make his own small sausages and dry them to be sold from the bar. Lit only with candles and lanterns, and an occasional tiki torch by the door, the tavern provided a place for bustling gatherings or late night diehards. I know of no bad incidents under Jusric’s watch, which was almost all of the time.

I could go on with small stories, and maybe I will some time, but there is an elephant in the room that I must address. These are not meant to be stories about me, but Jusric was my squire, my last squire taken. I never asked anyone to be my squire. When a person asked me, I would invariably give them what salesmen call a “put off.” I’d give them a couple of things to think about until we could find time to talk at length. Many never came back for a longer discussion, and some decided that they would find what they wanted elsewhere. Those that still wanted to be my squire knew what I expected from them. Too often squires are treated as pledges for a fraternity. There’s an annoying or menial task, call out “Squire!” It’s a long-running joke, but if help is needed, I’ll do it. My squires were my noble companions; true, the junior members of the relationship, but never lackeys.

I believe that anyone who has ever known Jusric would agree that he was worthy of being a knight. He had a good background in a martial endeavor. His knowledge of archery was encyclopedic. His was in good physical condition and his skill at knightly weaponry was sound, if not as subtle as I usually preferred. I would not accuse most knights of being too subtle, but I did try to encourage it in all my squires. He never got to the point of mastering what I consider “advanced techniques,” but an opponent would disregard his ability at their peril.

Jusric fought in few tournaments but many melees and wars. Too many “war veterans” are only adept at standing in a line with a big lightweight shield guarding their heads with their weapon and well, standing in a line with a big shield, guarding their heads with their weapon. Rick was adept at the mobile and aggressive tactics that I taught. These tactics were based on Roman, Renaissance Polish, and what I learned in the Marine Corps. Rick watched, attacked and maneuvered well. I never saw a situation that intimidated him. Rick fought in a knightly fashion on many fields and displayed prowess regardless of the odds, fatigue, or annoying marshals.

And at one point Jusric truly stepped into legend. It is a story that we should never allow to fade. It has been brought up to me in recent years in various parts of the kingdom by people who feel blessed that they were there. It was one of those instances where so many people in a large gathering can, to quote Baron Cynric, “experience a medieval moment.”

Picture a large hall with bright armorial banners filling all the rafters. Lit by the flickering light of a oblong firepit whose smoke winds up into the darkness. A crescent formed of noble lords and ladies seated. Behind each seat is a shield painted with the arms of the occupant raised on a pole with livery colors hanging to the floor. Those who hold office in these lands have their badge of office displayed on another pole beside their personal arms. Between each couple in the crescent is a small table that holds filled goblets, a plate of fruit and dainties, and a candle. Those in the baronial order have their shields edged with a twisted thick cord of azure and argent and from its base hangs a metal bear polished to glint in the light of the fire.

It is the baron’s court. Noble guests are welcomed; gifts are given. Challenges met that day are honored. Musicians perform, as does a choir. Toasts are given and more gifts formally presented. Noble guests wander and refresh themselves as they wish. Many choose to sit to the right of the court near the choir. There are other candles and lanterns in the hall but all seems dark and mysterious beyond the circle of the fire’s light. Out of the relative gloom comes a bearded man wearing a simple coif, which he hastily removes. This is Leon Dunne, a bowman. He has risen to be captain of archers in these lands but soon must depart and journey north.

Leon’s capacity for alcohol is storied, but even with his capacity, he seems a bit tipsy this evening. He summons with a wave of his arm and introduces Lord Jusric, declaring him to be worthy of the vacated office. I mentioned that Leon is perhaps a bit tipsy; he is also garrulous. He begins to overstate how much he taught “the lad” and, if possible, inflates his own deeds. His gibes prove to be as sharp as his arrows. Rick objects, and a scene seems about to commence. The baron has reached the limits of his tolerance. He commands that the lower end of the hall be cleared and a butt set up. Tables and chairs are swiftly moved and people flee to the upper end of the hall.

A duchess, excited by the prospect of a contest, proposes a wager on the outcome. Soon wagers would be placed on each arrow loosed. As the formal court dissolves, the gentry and guests become noisier, and, might I suggest, better lubricated. The butt was placed at what seemed like a good distance, but the baron ordered it moved – so that the archers were to shoot across the fire and down the hall. The smoke and wavering heat were an added test. A candle was placed on either side of the target.

Six arrows each, a match of legend. Leon draws his longbow and the first arrow strikes gold. There are cheers. Rick’s first arrow does less well, and money and jewelry change hands. Each archer drains a tankard of (faux) ale, and the contest continues. Each archer “encourages” the other bringing more cheers and laughter from the crowd. The hall became more raucous with each arrow. In the end, Jusric outscored Leon and graciously offered to buy a round at “the pub” in Leon’s honor before he left town. The baron decided to finish his business in the morning and closed court and the hall was used for dancing.

This is the true tale of how Lord Jusric became Captain of Archers.

Rest in Peace, My Good Friend