The Tale of a Defeat to Beat all Victories

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by Robin of Gilwell

I had joined the Barony of the Steppes, and was fencing, performing, and a few other things, but didn't really understand the SCA yet. I had talked to the Knight Marshal, Master Lloyd von Eaker, about starting to fight heavy, but had never actually made it to a fighter practice.


Then came Steppes Warlord, our big tournament. The morning of the list, Master Lloyd came up to me and said, "You've said you wanted to start fighting. We've got 23 fighters in the list. Would you like to make it an even number?"


Authorization? This was the seventies, and there was no such thing as "authorization" in Ansteorra. I said yes, and they found me some armor. Squire William of Weir gave me two minutes of shield practice, and I was called to the tournament field, my first time in armor, having never actually swung a sword before, to face... His Royal Highness, Count Jonathan DeLaufyson, the Crown Prince of Ansteorra. There's only one fighter in Ansteorra who has ever won Crown tourney, and he's done it twice.


He was very polite. He let me throw a bunch of blows, then he threw one ... to the leg. I got on my knees, he threw away his shield, and then he killed me.


I walked off the field in pain and sweat, feeling stupid and miserable and confused -- and worse yet, it was double elimination and I had to do it again. And I had no reason to do so. I sat on the side of the field, seriously contemplating going home, and leaving this organization forever. A few hot, miserable minutes later, a messenger came over to me -- the Crown Princess wished to see me.


The Crown Princess didn’t know me from Adam’s off ox.


I was scared to death. I didn't know the protocol; I didn't know what I had done wrong. I had certainly not done anything right. She knew only two facts about me.

1. I had just tried to kill her lord, and

2. I was appallingly bad at it.

So I walked over to her, scared, confused, and lost.


I walked up, bowed awkwardly (thereby exhausting my entire store of protocol), and waited. She had to be reminded who I was. [See Adam’s off ox, above.]


Her Royal Highness, Princess Willow de Wisp, having seen my miserable excuse for a fight, told me, "My lord, I understand that you faced my lord in combat, even without having practiced before. I know that he can only earn glory because there are those who have the courage to face him, and I thank you for that.


"I also saw that when they called the fighters to salute their ladies, you had no one to salute. Will you do me the honor of carrying this my favor for the remainder of the day?" And she handed me a simple ribbon. All of her ladies in waiting added their favors as well. I proudly entered the list in the second round with seven favors on my belt.


That was forty years ago, and I've fought in many tourneys since. I've had my share of victories, won my share of prizes, and gained my share of glory.


But I have *never* had a victory to match that defeat.