On Being a Warder

I am the Premiere Warder of the Company of the Bronze Ring, what is now the Grant Level (and terminal) Order for Rapier Combat in the Middle Kingdom. Because I’m the premiere, there are a lot of things that never happened to me that have happened to many other members of the Bronze Ring.

  • I was never a cadet
  • I was never officially evaluated by other Bronze Rings
  • I was never voted on
  • I was never given a gorget worn by someone else
  • I wasn’t even originally called “warder”.  The title was assigned two years after the award was created.

But perhaps most visibly… I never wore the Ring Bling.

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The Ring Bling is a five pound brass washer about a foot in diameter.  It’s been worn by many new Bronze Rings, usually after having been dropped on their neck by the King or Queen upon their elevation.  But it didn’t get instituted as a Bronze Ring Tradition for years after I was made the first Warder.

This year was the fifteenth anniversary of my recognition as the premiere Warder of the Bronze Ring.  So at Pennsic, I approached the man who possessed it at the time, Warder Darius, and asked him if I could wear the Ring Bling for a day.  He agreed, pending approval from Their Majesties, and soon after, They had approved as well.

So at Pennsic, on the middle Saturday, I wore the Ring Bling.  Darius dropped it around my neck before the beginning of La Rochelle, and I didn’t take it off except to sleep until the middle of Opening Ceremonies the next morning.  I marshaled wearing it, I fenced pickups wearing it, I eat wearing it, I sang wearing it.  In fact, I did just about everything in it except for… take a picture in it.

The slow burn in my neck muscles grew and grew over the course of the day, along with numbers of people either congratulating me as the newest Warder (because of my hiatus, I guess people don’t recognize me) or asking me what the hell I was doing wearing the thing.  Mostly what I was doing was being reminded every second of the time I wore it of my responsibilities and the burdens of being a Warder of the Bronze Ring.

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Being a Warder is kind of like being a fish riding a bicycle.  We don’t quite fit anywhere.  We’re not a peerage, but sometimes we’re treated like one.  We’re not the White Scarf, but we’re “equivalent” — depending on the white scarf.  Once derisively referred to as the “Brown Ring of Quality” we Warders have struggled for over fifteen years to find our place within the MidRealm, and then within the larger SCA community.  To add to that, I’ve often felt not “part” of the CBR myself.  A wholly personal problem, I assure you, readers, but still something that made me feel excluded.

But in recent years, much of that has gone away.  After a hiatus from the SCA, I returned, and was welcomed back like the Prodigal Son.  The CBR has matured and grown into a respected group of individual leaders respected both inside and outside the MidRealm.  I ruminated on these thoughts as I wore the ring around my neck, and I thought even more deeply on my responsibilities; to the Order, my Cadet, and the Kingdom in general.  Like the five pounds of brass washer around my neck, they weigh on me.  I frequently feel like I’m failing at least one, if not two or all of those entities as I continue to walk my path.  I’m conflicted with various directions.  Am I balancing my love of heavy combat with my rapier commitments?  Can I skip that CBR meeting to go to the Bardic class?  Should I be home late from practice to get in one more set of pickup fights?  Do I make the trip south of Indianapolis to see  my cadet at the expense of a local event?

The next morning, I handed the Ring Bling back to Darius, but while the physical weight left my shoulders (and my neck, ow), my burdens of oath and promise and duty did not.  I still worry if I’m doing the right things.  I still worry that I’m doing the wrong things.  As far as I can tell, this makes me just like everyone else, so I’m not terribly worried about it.  But I still carry them with me.

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Being a Warder is a responsibility.  It’s a job that you do, an ideal you uphold, a relationship you build and an example you are.  All of the rules of peerage bind it, yet it carries few of the privileges.  It’s carried twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  Everyone does it a little bit differently, no one does it perfectly.

So in a sense, it’s just like everything else.

Re-Examining the Knightly Virtues – A Man at Arms’ Viewpoint

Four months ago, I wrote a cycle of ballades in honor of my good friend, Robert Downey’s elevation to the SCA Chivalry.  Originally a quest to write about the virtue of Franchise, it grew to a series of eight poems in the ballade format, a medieval form that was appropriate to the time-frame and location of Sir Robert’s persona.  It details a series of conversations between a Squire and the Duke, his Knight about the Squire’s path to the Chivalry, focusing on the virtues of Courage, Largesse, Noblesse, Courtesy, Humility, Prowess, and Franchise.

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Now, I’ve been in the SCA for a very long time, and I’ve got some experience with the Knightly Virtues, with varying degrees of success.  Courage and Largesse I’ve got.  Courtesy and Humility, well.  We all struggle. 

But when I wrote the poems, I was not a dependent.  I was not Mistress Amelie’s apprentice, and I was not Sir Thoma’s squire.  I became her apprentice a few weeks later, and became Sir Thomas’ man at arms at Pennsic 43.  

So now I read these poems and I have a different viewpoint.  As someone who has openly stated my desire to be worthy of peerage, poems about Knightly Virtues read differently, even when I wrote them.  And so as I reread them, I come back to the same conclusion I had before, only deeper:

It’s all about Franchise.

At Pennsic this year, I was pulled aside by someone who knew me Before, someone who meant well, and this person said to me, “Purple you’re a jerk, but you can’t change who you are.  Tell the truth.  Be yourself.”  And I sort of nodded and went along with it because, well, I was tired, and it was raining, and someone had given me a beer and I was tired.  And they meant well.   I truly believe that.

But I also believe that they’re wrong.  Because what they’re saying, essentially, is “be a jerk,” and I’ve worked real hard to stop being a jerk.  A lot of the time, I feel like I’m succeeding.  But Franchise.  It’s about Franchise.

The Franchise poem in the Virtues cycle is the seventh of eight, the eighth poem being the one where (SPOILERS) the Squire is called to be Knighted.  Originally, there was no eighth poem, and Franchise was the last.  That’s not because Franchise is the hardest virtue to write about (although it’s not easy).  That’s not because it was random selection.  

It’s because Franchise is the most important of the Knightly Virtues.

That’s my opinion, of course.  But look at it this way:

  • Courage is something you can learn.  Fear is not an obstacle to being brave.  
  • Largesse is something you do — give to the poor and those who need help, and in recognition of fealty.  
  • Noblesse is something you do — inspiring others to elevate themselves.  
  • Courtesy is something you do — being polite, forgiving others, offering kindness.  
  • Humility is something you do, praising the deeds of others (Knightly Humility is different from “normal” humility, and I could write a whole blog-post on it.)
  • Prowess… oh, Prowess.  Prowess is the foundation of Knighthood, but it is the one virtue you can get better at without ever getting better as a person.  Prowess the smallest and the largest of obstacles to Peerage.  But it’s something you can learn.

But not Franchise.  Franchise isn’t about doing something.  Franchise isn’t something you can learn.  Franchise is about being who you are.  But not the schlub you are when you take five or six years to get through college and end up with a 2.5 GPA.  Not the cubicle drone you are in your 9-5 job.  Franchise is about being the KNIGHTLY YOU.  It’s about being the best, most Chivalrous, Knightly You that you can be.  It’s about being the Knight you know you Are.

So that’s why it’s not enough for me to just be myself.  I have to be my Knightly self.  And that’s a better self than who I was Before.

A man can change his stars.