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.
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.
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.
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.