The Last-Minute Queen

A Romance of the Current Middle Ages

by Leo D.  Orionis

Table of Contents

March Crown
1.  Her First Tourney
2.  Surprises at Court
3.  "On Your Honor, Begin!" 
4.  Words in the Night
Appendix: Saturday Lists
5.  The Duke's Dilemma
6.  Sudden Death Overtime
Appendix: Sunday Lists

7.  Between Tourneys
8.  The Feast of St. Mark the Apostle

May Coronation (Beltane)
9.  Running into the Sun
Appendix: North American Top Thirty,
4/29/1978

10.  Maypoles and Melées
11.  One Banquet, With Revelry
12.  Coronation
13.  Chess and Live Chess
Appendix: Arts Championship

The Weekend War
14.  An Execution in Atenveldt
15.  The Mongol Plot
16.  The Fort, the Feud, and the Filking

(Continued to the right of the cover)

Dedication

To everyone who knew me and put up with me in the SCA,
especially the members of my household,
I dedicate this book, with love.
June Crown
17.  Lady's Day
Appendix: Saturday Lists
18.  Winning the Hard Way
Appendix: Sunday Lists

19.  Conventions

August Coronation (Purgatorio)
20.  The Burning Man
21.  A Royal Wedding
22.  The Courtly Dragon

October Crown
23.  October Drown
Appendix: Saturday Lists
24.  The Perfect Tourney
Appendix: Sunday Lists

Twelfth Night Coronation
25.  All Of Our Days

Appendices

About This Novel
Glossary of SCA/SGU terms
Kingdom Calendar, Patria, 2731
Libri Personae
Royal Succession of Patria
SGU Song Book

Chapter 1
Her First Tourney

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

"Scarborough Fair," (traditional)

… I can assure you that your fears are completely unfounded.  Your daughter is doing well in the United States, even though she has never been away from home before.  Nor is she unaided in dealing with things American.  Almost instinctively, she has gathered about herself a court of American girls, so that she always has a friend at hand for advice.  And she has done this without using her wealth or her birth, simply by the openness and friendliness she shows to whomever she meets.  Unaware of the resources on which she can draw, her "girlfriends," to use the American term, fear that she is too trusting and too friendly.  In effect, they gather around her to protect her from people who would take advantage of her!

She does well in all her classes.  With her intelligence and scholastic preparation, she could have aspired to a much more prestigious or demanding school than San Diego State University.  But spreading her wings so far from home, where no one is likely to recognize her, has been good for her, in your servant's humble opinion.  Attending a public school rather than the University of San Diego (the local Catholic college) has also been a valuable experience.

Despite the secular education she is receiving here, despite the love of American college students for beer and parties, despite the local politics and American radicalism, your daughter is unchanged.  She does not drink, she does not swear, she goes to Mass every Sunday, and she behaves just as she should.

In closing, let me tell you something that I'm sure you will find most amusing.  Your daughter will be attending a "medieval tournament" this weekend…

HE early-morning sun was hot and bright, but it hadn't had much time to work yet.  At 7 a.m. on Saturday, March 11, 1978 (2731 if you were Latin), the dew still wet the grass and trees in Cleveland National Forest, miles north and east of San Diego, California.

The Society of the Golden Unicorn had a permit to hold a tournament in one of the camping areas of the Forest, so volunteer "constables" of the Society had arrived at 6 to make sure that the porta-potties were in place and clean, to lay out the fighting field, to mark the emergency lanes for fire vehicles and ambulances, and to designate the place for "merchants" to sell costumes, jewelry, books, and other items dear to SGU hearts.

By 7 the cars started coming in, full of SGU members of all ages, some in costume, some not, but most with a windshield decal of the Society's badge, a gold unicorn head on a blue shield.  Often the bumper stickers were medievalist: "My other car is a war chariot," said one, and "They can have my broadsword when they pry it from my cold dead fingers," said another.  A few cars also bore the green laurel wreath on yellow of the Society for Creative Anachronism, showing membership in the older club as well as the SGU; many of these had the SCA's semi-official bumper sticker, "Anachronists do it knightly."

One of the vehicles in line was a brand-new cherry-red Volkswagen bus with the SGU decal on the windshield, and a bumper sticker showing Daffy Duck in plate armor, saying "How now, Sirrah!"  Four girls were in it, along with a mountain of gear.  The green-eyed blonde in the driver's seat was Aino Suominen, a Finnish-American and native Californian.  The blue-eyed redhead in the other bucket seat was Jenny Harper, Irish-American, Aino's best friend since third grade.  On the bench seat behind Jenny was Deborah Weichel, Aino's other best friend since junior high school.  Deborah's dad was an Austrian-American cop from East Texas, and her mom was an African-American school teacher from Louisiana.  Deborah had warm brown hair, warm brown eyes, and warm brown skin like fine milk chocolate.  The three of them were "The Three Musketeers", one for all and all for one.  They had nicknames, too.  Aino, blonde and devastating to mere boys, was "the dangerous one;" redheaded Jenny, who swung from one enthusiasm to another, was "the wacky one", while Deborah, who grounded the other two, was "the sensible one."

The fourth girl in the car had only met the other three the previous September, when they all started taking classes at San Diego State University.  Isabella de León, sitting behind Aino on the left side of the bus's bench seat, wasn't an American, but a student from the Empire of Iberia, which included everything south of the Pyrenees; it was the richest country of Europe, if not the whole world.  Isabella had black hair falling to her waist, and her skin was a darker brown than Aino's or Jenny's, though lighter than Deborah's.  Aino, Jenny, and Deborah had taken an instant liking to Isabella, and made her their D'Artagnan, their fourth Musketeer.  They'd been badgering her, ever since, to come see an SGU tournament.

"There's George!" said Jenny, and waved wildly.  Sure enough, Yrjö (George) Suominen, wearing a blue sash with a gold mace on it from shoulder to belt to indicate he was a constable, was waving them forward.  Aino's brother was as blond as she was, just as good-looking, and even taller; at 19, he was six foot six, and not done growing yet.

"Down, girl!  Make him chase you," Aino said.  She rolled down the driver's window as her brother came up.  "Hello, big bother.  Working hard, or hardly working?"

"Hello, Pain.  Hello, ladies," George said, making it clear that the former was not included in the latter.  "I'm sorry to tell you that there's a site fee for this event."

"Park Department?" Aino asked.  At her brother's nod, she said, "How much?"

"Five dollars per car plus one dollar per person," George said, apologetically.

"Why so high?" Aino grumbled, as they dug out their purses.  She waited until she had $2.25 from each of the others, and gave George the whole $9 at once.  "Are they expecting a small turnout, maybe?" she said, waving at the mile of cars behind her.

"Hey, if this were an SCA event, you'd be paying $5 a head whether the state were charging us or not," George said.  "Go on with you, you're holding up the line."

Aino stuck out her tongue and put the bus in gear.  George saluted in best ROTC style as they rolled by.  Jenny sighed, Aino snorted, and Isabella said, "Don't you love your brother, Aino?"

"You're an only child, aren't you?  To know him is to love him—and to love him is to kick his butt constantly, before his head swells like a hot-air balloon and carries him away completely.  Between girls like this goose here, and his ROTC, and being Dad's squire and dead sure to be a Duke himself someday, he needs all the help he can get, believe me."

"Oh, I'm not an only child.  I know how you mean—my brother, Juan Carlos, is much the same.  But no one 'kicks his butt'," Isabella said.

"Well, they'd better start, then, before he's spoiled rotten!"

"You really think George will be a Duke?" Jenny asked eagerly.

"Of course he will," Deborah said.  "His father's a Duke, both his uncles are Dukes, and he's been his father's squire since he was 16.  I'm surprised he hasn't been knighted yet; he certainly wins most of his fights."

"Here's a good spot," Aino said, pulling into a parking space on the side nearest the tourney.  "Everyone grab something, and we'll go see if Dad or Mom or George remembered to claim a spot on the eric."

"Eric?" asked Isabella, as she picked up a cooler.  Deborah rolled the side door back, and climbed out with a bundle of poles and banners.

"The edge of the fighting field," Jenny said.  "It's called the eric."

"Dad says it goes back to one of the first tournaments, before he was a member," Aino said.  "The way he tells it, they marked the field with two ropes, an outside one with red flags for the populace, and an inside one with yellow flags for the fighters, a couple of feet apart." She locked the bus, then picked up a couple of sleeping bags.  "Some punster called one the 'Eric the Red,' and the other the 'Yellow Peril.' That got shortened to 'the eric' and 'the peril,' except we don't use the 'peril' any more."

"Too perilous," said Jenny, carrying a duffel bag.  It had SWORDS stencilled on it, and clattered when she shifted it.

Aino rolled her eyes.  "God save us from Monty Python fans!"

"What happens if they don't get enough money at the gate?" Isabella asked.

"Then the group sponsoring the event makes up the difference from their exchequer—their bank account," Aino said.  "That'd be the Kingdom, since this is a Kingdom tourney.  But it'll never happen.  More likely, the Kingdom will make a little money on the event."

The parking area was the other side of a little hill from the tourney area.  The path between them went around the hill, not over it; no one wanted to lug gear uphill, either arriving or leaving.  Still, the cars, buses, and RVs were out of sight of the weekend's medieval atmosphere, and vice versa.  So Isabella got her first look at an SGU tourney when the girls came around the hill.

They were early, so most of the space between them and the field was empty, and almost everyone was in street clothes, or "mundanes" as they were called.  Three hundred feet in front of them was the field, roughly 120 feet deep and 180 feet wide.  It was surrounded by the "eric," in this case a red cord with red flags a foot square every couple of feet, suspended four feet off the ground on black wrought-iron poles hammered into the ground.  There were gaps at each corner for fighters to enter; instead of one pole in each corner, there were two of them, three feet apart, with no cord between them.

Tents in a variety of medieval and pseudo-medieval styles were being erected by their owners; high medieval pavilions, one-man arming tents, Viking tents, and a Mongol yurt or two.  The Kingdom pavilion was already up, in the middle of the far side of the field, just outside the eric.  The banner of the Kingdom of Patria was blue, with five crowned golden suns arranged in an X; the Kingdom pavilion was blue silk with softball-sized crowned golden suns embroidered all over it.  It was a high medieval pavilion, with a peak supported by two eight-foot poles 16 feet apart.  Its floor plan was a long oval with straight sides held up by a score of six-foot poles, with the entrance in the center of one long side.  The lines from the tops of the edge poles to the wrought-iron tent stakes were white, and hung with blue-and-yellow flags.

Aino was also surveying the field.  "I don't see a marker," she said to the others.  "Do you?" Jenny and Deborah shook their heads.  "What kind of marker?" Isabella said.

"Anything with the household arms on it, or Dad's, or Mom's, or George's, to show we've reserved a spot for the pavilion," Aino said.  "Come on, let's check with Mom and Dad."

The four girls walked around the eric and put their loads down in front of the Kingdom pavilion.  "There's Dad," Aino said.  She walked up to two men assembling the thrones, which were made of wood and disassembled for ease of storage and transport between tourneys.  "Hi, Dad," she said to the shorter of the two.  David Suominen had dark brown hair, light green eyes, and stood barely six feet tall; his son was taller than he was, and his daughter only an inch shorter.  "Hi, kitten," he said, and hugged her one-armed, holding a piece of the King's throne off to one side; it was dusty from storage, and the grease on the bolts was dirty.  "Ladies," he said, nodding at the others.

"Dad, did you pick a spot for the tent?" Aino asked.

"No, I didn't." He raised his voice.  "Christina?  Did you mark our tent site?"

Two blonde ladies arranging tables, coolers, baskets, and other gear in the back of the pavilion turned around.  The tall one said nothing.  Christina Suominen, green-eyed and five foot four inches tall, said "No, I forgot.  Hello, dear."

"Hi, Mom," Aino said, and hugged her.  "Well, if you didn't and Dad didn't, I know George forgot.  Who has the site map?"

"Right here," said the other man.  He was a couple inches over six foot, dark-haired and fit like his brother.  He studied the map, used during the tourney to direct people to the pavilions of the Kingdom officers, local groups, and larger households.  "The spot just on the other side of the Lists is open.  Why don't you grab that?"

"Thanks, Uncle Bob, we'll do that," Aino said, and kissed her father's brother on the cheek.  "Come on, guys."

"Ah, to be eighteen again," Robert Suominen said, touching the spot where his niece had kissed him.

"But you are eighteen, dear," his wife Maddy said sweetly.  "In fact, you're eighteen twice."

"Ouch!" Bob said.  He turned to his brother.  "Are you just going to stand there while your King is mortally wounded?"

"Her Majesty and her sister outnumber us, Your Majesty," Dave replied.  "Ask me to stand alone against the Aten horde, or defy the Western shield wall, but never those two.  Besides: where were you when I was King?"

"Cowardly, disloyal, weasel-tongued…" grumbled his brother.  Then they all laughed, and got back to work.

Meanwhile the girls dropped their burdens at the corners of the site the King had named, just to the left (if you were facing the eric) of the spot for the Lists tent, which was just left of the Kingdom pavilion.  Then they trooped back and forth to the bus with the tent, the tent poles, the hammers and stakes, and the rugs, leaving everything else in the bus for now.

When the rugs were laid out, they marked the area the pavilion would cover, and helped keep dry grass and burrs out of everything.  The Suominen day pavilion was like the Kingdom pavilion, but round instead of oval, sixteen feet across.  Aino and her best friends worked like a well-oiled machine, having done this many times, showing Isabella as they went.  First the bolt in the end of the eight-foot center pole went through the grommetted hole in the top of the pavilion, and a wooden ball was screwed onto its end.  Then Jenny held the center pole upright in the middle of the rug while Deborah and Aino repeated the process with one of the six-foot side poles.  Then Deborah held that pole while Aino looped one of the tent cords over the pole, just at the base of the capping bell.  Isabella helped hold the cord taut while Aino pounded the tent stake in.  The hammer was hard rubber, and the stake was wrought iron, with a square cross-section and decorative twists in the middle, sold by a Society member in Oregon who was a master blacksmith.  Then they did the same with the opposite pole; the tent had eight side poles.  Once the center pole and two of the side poles were up, the tent was stable; they finished quickly after that, working as two pairs.

All the time they were working, cars kept coming in.  People kept unloading, finding sites, trekking back and forth to their cars, calling out to friends, exchanging hugs and kisses.  The sun rose higher, and the smell of dust and grass crushed under foot became pervasive.  Tents were going up, cutting off the long view, and the sound of hammers on tent stakes was the music of the morning.

"Back another foot!" Aino called.  "Good!  Now stake it, and we can get the rest of the stuff from the bus." A shadow fell on her, and she looked up, already framing a polite rejection of unneeded help.

"Oh, hello, Uncle Juho," she said instead.

Juho (John) Huovinen smiled at his niece.  He was well over six feet, and blond and blue-eyed, with a short beard and a neat mustache.  "Hyvää huomenta, kitten.  Where are your folks?"

"Good morning to you, too.  They're helping Uncle Bob and Aunt Maddy in the Kingdom pavilion, at least," she said, blowing a wisp of blonde hair out of her face, "they were when we started this."

"Probably still are, then.  Hello, Deborah.  Hello, Jenny.  How's my future niece-in-law?"

Deborah said hello calmly; Jenny turned as red as her hair.  "Quit teasing the poor goose, Uncle Juho," Aino said.  "Say hello to Isabella de León; she's a student from Spain who's in my classes.  We're introducing her to the Society."

"And vice versa, I see.  El gusto es mío, señorita," he said, bowing slightly.

Isabella lit up, the way one does when addressed in one's own language by a foreigner.  "Habla Español!"  she said.

"Solo un poco, y solo la idioma de las Américas," he replied.

"Still, it's nice to hear," she said, going back to English.

"The pleasure is mine, as I said," he smiled.  "How are you enjoying our Society so far?  Is this your first tourney?"

"Yes, it is.  It's very confusing.  But fun!"

"There you are, John!  Take this, will you?"  A tall, beautiful blonde woman handed Juho a medium-sized cooler and flashed a smile around the group.  "Hello, girls."

"Hello, Aunt Hazel," Aino said.  She was polite, and so were Jenny and Deborah; but they weren't smiling.  Behind the Hazel Suominen, her husband's face had shed its smiling ease as he stood there holding the cooler.

"So nice to see you," Hazel said.  "Well, come on, John, the tent won't go up by itself."

"I hate that woman!"  Jenny said, after Juho and Hazel had gone on their way.

"That's right, you had the strongest crush on him when we were 14 or so," Deborah said.  She cocked her head.  "Does George know he's only your second choice?"

"Leave it!"  Aino said savagely, before Jenny could compose a coherent reply.  "Come on, there's still a mountain of stuff in the bus!"

They made a couple of trips back and forth in silence.  The clock showed 8 a.m. when a herald in medieval costume, wearing a green cloak with crossed gold trumpets, took the center of the field.  "MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  MY LORDS AND LADIES!  THE LISTS ARE NOW OPEN!  IF YOU WOULD SERVE AS MARSHALL OR AS HERALD; IF YOU WOULD FIGHT FOR THE CROWN; SIGN UP NOW!  THE LISTS ARE OPEN!"  Then he strolled off the field again.

"Dios mío, that was loud!" said Isabella.

"Oh, yeah," said Jenny.  "Master Harold's the best herald in the Kingdom—when he's sober."  She started sniggering helplessly.

"Breathe, girl, breathe!" Deborah said, then she started giggling.

"Please?" said Isabella.

"Last June Crown," Aino said, "we're all in our tents, it's 3 in the morning, and Master Harold strides onto the field, plants himself in place, and starts reciting the Aeneid at the top of his voice."

"The Aeneid?" Isabella said.

"All of it," Aino said.

"All twelve books," Deborah said.

"Seven hundred lines or more of Latin verse per b-b-book," Jenny said, laughing helplessly.

"But," said Isabella reasonably, "didn't anyone object?"

"Are you kidding?" Aino demanded.  "Everyone objected!  The whole camp was in an uproar, after a while."

"And he was louder than everyone else put together, too," said Deborah.

"Insult to injury," Jenny agreed.  "Was it the Baron of Dreiburgen who said he couldn't keep it up forever?"

"That's right.  'Why don't we sit back and listen, until his voice gives out?' So they wait," Aino said.  "And they listen.  And they wait.  And they listen some more."

"A-A-And finally," Jenny giggled, "Sir Christian roars, 'What fool said he couldn't keep it up forever?  The hell he can't!  ' "

"So there we are, five constables yelling at him to knock it off," Aino said, "only you can't hear them, because he's drowning them out."

"Drunk or sober, he has a fiiiiiiine voice," Deborah said.

"So they pick him up bodily, still declaiming, carry him to the lake at that site, and throw him in," Aino said.

"Teucrììììììì!  Splash!"  Jenny said.

"And he still won't shut up, and now the lake's magnifying his voice," said Aino.

"Sound carries just fine over water," said Deborah.

"So they wade out, and every time he sings out, they push him under," Aino said.

"Did he ever stop?" Isabella asked, fascinated.

"When it came to stop or drown, he stopped," Aino agreed.  "The next day the King—Uncle Juho, it was—had a long talk with him, and we haven't heard his voice from then to now.  He was suspended from office."

"And he was just getting to my favorite part," Deborah said wistfully.

At 9 o'clock the cars were still coming in.  The Kingdom of Patria included all the SGU groups in southern California, plus one group partly in Arizona.  With people driving to the Mount Palomar area from Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside County, Imperial County, and Ehrenberg, some were bound to miscalculate the driving time, or just decide there was no hurry, since court wasn't until 10, and the fighting wouldn't start until after court.

The girls were in costume now, and sitting on beautiful x-frame chairs on the grass in front of the Suominen day pavilion.  House Suomainen's pavilion was white, the better to reflect sunlight and heat, with decorative touches like blue fringing along the tops of the sides, the red aprons at the base of the balls on top of the tent poles, yellow tent lines, and tent-line flags in blue and red.  The house banner, a black field covered with a pattern like fish scales in gold, hung as a gonfalon: not a flag attached to a pole along one side, but hanging from a cross-bar along its top.

A flight of personal banners, painted on silk, snapped and fluttered from flag poles on either side of the entrance.  King Pertti's banner had a black lion rampant on a gold field, with the household arms in a rectangle across the top.  Queen Marketta's arms were blue with three stylized white bindweed flowers.  Duke Taawi's banner featured three black battle axes on an ermine field, while those of his lady wife, Duchess Kristiina, had three red hearts on ermine.  Aino's arms were modeled after her mother's; she had a red banner with an ermine band across the middle, with two white hearts above it and one below.  George's banner was like his father's, only with three black swords instead of three black axes.  Duke Juho's flag was gold with black ermine tails, and three black lion's heads.  Hazel's flag was white with three red sleeve shapes.  Deborah's flag showed a red pavilion on an ermine field, and Jenny's had three blue medieval fans, round and non-folding, also on ermine.

"Remember, Isabella, when we're in costume you have to call us by our SGU names," Aino said.  She wore her blonde hair loose, over a blue silk dress that fell to her ankles in full shimmering folds.  Sleeves covered her arms to the wrists, with points at the ends.  On her belt hung a pouch, a Finnish sheath knife called a puukko, and a soprano recorder (a musical instrument, ancestor of the modern flute) in its own cloth sheath with embroidered trim.  Blue slippers showed when she swung her feet.

"Uncle Robert is Duke Sir Pertti Suomainen, and you can address him most of the time as 'Sir Pertti', or 'Your Grace' since he's a Duke; only right now he's the King, so you curtsey and say 'Your Majesty.'  Aunt Maddy is Duchess Marketta, but until May you also say 'Your Majesty' to her."

"It's the titles that I'll have trouble with," Isabella said.  Her costume was dark red velvet in Iberian court style, little changed since the 16th century A.D., with a brocaded front panel and lots of lace.  She swung a lace fan idly, and strings of pearls adorned her neck.  "The 'Sir' means he's a knight?  What sort of knight?  In Iberia we have at least one knightly order for each country, awarded by the King; and Iberian orders, awarded by the Emperor.  How does it happen in America?"

"It doesn't happen in America," Jenny said.  "Remember, this is only role-playing.  Aino's uncle may be Duke Sir Pertti Suomainen in the SGU, but the rest of the time he's Colonel Robert Suominen, U. S. Air Force."  Jenny wore a white gown with no sleeves; it suited her pale complexion and red hair brilliantly.  The green belt, green slippers, and the gold ring with the green fake stone set off the dress and her hair.

"Right," Aino agreed.  "Uncle Bob's O. S.—Order of the Spur.  It's a 'noble order' given by our King for fighting well, being chivalrous, knowing noble things like dancing, music, chess playing, and so forth.  Ah, right on cue."

Master Harold Godfrey took the field again.  Tall, thin, with a little bit of a pot belly, his ordinary face topped with mouse-brown hair and adorned with a walrus mustache, he was nothing much to look at.  The medieval costume he wore was a brown robe down to just below his knees, with elbow-length sleeves, on top of a white robe whose sleeves went to his wrists and whose hem brushed the tops of his leather boots.  His right hand held an elaborately-carved staff as long as he was tall, and his full-circle green cape, lined in yellow, swirled about him.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!" he said, and echoes woke on the surrounding hills.  "MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!"  He did not shout or strain, but pushed the air out with his diaphragm muscle, and so could go on indefinitely.  "ALL KNIGHTS, REPORT TO THE KING!  THE KING SUMMONS ALL HIS KNIGHTS!"  Confident that all had heard, as indeed they had, he bowed slightly and strolled off the field again.

"It's so nice to have him back," Deborah said.  Her brown hair was loose like Aino's or Jenny's, not hidden by a headdress or covered wih a net, but she wore a simple silver circlet around her head at the temples.  Her gown was a deep rich brown, almost black, with lots of cream-colored embroidery she'd done herself.  Underneath that was a longer gown in a the same color as the embroidery of the outer gown, with more hand embroidery on it in the other garment's brown.  She, too, had a belt pouch, medium brown with a white round patch of knotwork embroidered on it; a short knife in a leather scabbard, and a recorder, in its own embroidered cloth sheath, medium brown and white again, all on a black leather belt.  At her throat, on a silver chain, was an enamelled yellow medallion, an inch across, with a green laurel wreath on it.  "It's such a bother when you have a herald you can't hear, or understand, even when they make the announcement in three or four different spots to try to reach everyone."

"Yes," Aino agreed.  "But that's the answer to your question, Isabella.  The King calls the knights together, and they talk about who's ready for knighthood, by our standards.  Then, come the royal court, they call him up and knight him."

"So all your nobles are knights?" Isabella said.  "What about Master Harold?  What does Master mean?"

"Master Harold's also a nobleman," Deborah said, "the equal of any knight.  We have three kinds of nobility in the Society, and they all have to be chivalrous and have a basic knowledge of courtly things.  Beyond that basic courtesy and background knowledge, if they're good at fighting, they become knights of the Order of the Spur; if some other art, like playing recorder, Masters or Mistresses of the Laurel; if they just work their tails off for a long time and accomplish a lot, they become Masters or Mistresses of the Pelican."

Isabella laughed involuntarily.  "I'm sorry.  Pelican?"

"There's actually a reason for the name," Aino smiled.  "The medieval bestiaries said that a mother pelican would feed her chicks, in times of famine, by pecking blood from her breast with her beak.  It's a symbol of self-sacrifice."

"It's a symbol of Christ," Isabella said.  "I've seen that image in the Cathedral Santa María la Real, in the city of Pamplona, in the Kingdom of Navarre, now that you mention it."

"I expect it would be," Jenny said, "but it's in the bestiaries, so we use it anyway."

"After all," said Deborah peaceably, "if printers and book-binders could use it as a maker's mark, why can't we?"

"Indeed, why not?" Isabella conceded.  "So the King makes knights.  Who makes the King?  It's not for life, like our King in Iberia?"

"Role-playing," Aino reminded her.  "No, in the middle of the King's reign, we hold a crown tourney, and the fighters do their thing until there's a victor, who becomes Crown Prince.  Then at the next coronation event, the old King steps down and the Crown Prince becomes the new King.  In this Kingdom we have a coronation at Twelfth Night, in the beginning of January.  Then we have March Crown to pick the new Crown Prince.  Then in May the Twelfth-Night king retires and the Crown Prince from March becomes King.  In June we have another Crown Tourney, and get another Crown Prince.  In August the May king steps down and the June Crown Prince becomes King.  Then in October we have the third crown tourney of the year, to see who'll be crowned at Twelfth Night of the new year."

"So you have three Kings a year," said Isabella.

"That's right," Aino said.

"But this is a crown tourney.  Didn't you say that?"

"Right again," said Aino.  "This weekend they're fighting to see who will be King when Uncle Bob steps down in May."

Chapter 2
Surprises at Court

Dear, when thou hast finished thy task
(Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme)
Come to me, my hand for to ask,
For thou then art a true love of mine.

"Scarborough Fair," (traditional)

ADIES, gentlemen," said the King to his knights, "I have no particular candidates for knighthood at this time.  Is there anyone you'd like to suggest for consideration?"

"Yes, Your Majesty, there is," the Baron of Failte said firmly.

"Go ahead, Sir Christian," King Pertti said.

"Your Majesty, I have spoken with my fellows, as is my right and my duty, and we feel there is one fine young man who has been unjustly passed over.  He is gracious; he is courtly; he plays the recorder; he's a master of several forms of medieval chess.  Last, but not least, he wins most of his fights, even when he's fighting knights."

The King looked at his brother.  Duke Sir Taawi shook his head to indicate he had no idea whom the Baron meant, either.

"Well," said King Pertti, "that certainly sounds like a prime candidate for knighthood, Your Excellency.  But I'm racking my brain to think whom you could mean, and I'm coming up empty."

"Your Majesty, if I may," said Sir Caroline.  The statuesque, handsome female knight came barely to the chin of most of the men present, but they treated her with the respect she had more than earned.  "You are a fair man, and so is your brother.  I don't know how many times I've seen you go out of your way to avoid even the appearance of favoritism.  But this time, we feel, you've taken that too far."

"Exactly!" said Sir Armin, a burly man with long hair and a full beard, both of them black and streaked with grey.  "Your Majesty, we most emphatically propose knighthood for Yrjö Suomainen, your nephew."

The area around the eric was full of tents, in every color of the rainbow, with glad banners waving in the breeze.  The area beyond the eric was full as well, with the modern camping tents farthest away, by royal decree.  The cars were down to one straggler arriving every now and then, and the constables were manning the gate in shifts, one at a time.  People in costumes from ancient times to the early 17th Century (or the middle 24th, by the Roman calendar) strolled about, though most wore costumes from the Dark Ages to the High Middle Ages.  Vikings and Italians, church men and merchants, troubadours and strolling players, were all present—every period, every profession, every country, every talent found somewhere.

The Baron of Calafia sat in the baronial pavilion, his younger daughter on his lap.  The Barony, whose members lived in San Diego and Imperial counties, had a blue banner with a gold sea serpent, and overall a gold trident.  It flew in front of the big white tent with the two peaks.  Inside, little Courtney, blonde like her mother, sat on Mezentius' lap.  The Baron had locked his wheelchair's brakes and was playing with her fingers.  Baroness Rowena was braiding the hair of their middle child, another blonde girl, named Tiffany.  Thomas, their 12-year-old brown-haired son, sat between his parents, his gaze fixed on Aino, on whom he had a crush.

"This is the best time of a tourney," Mezentius said to the four girls sitting on trunks, benches, and stools.  "The day isn't too hot yet, the grass is fresh, the air isn't full of dust from the fighting.  Everyone's hopes are up—for the fighting, for awards, for the weekend—no one's been hurt, no one's been disappointed."

"Well, I have good news and bad news," Her Excellency said.

"What's the good news?" he answered.

"I picked up the mail on the way in," she said, "and there's a letter from David and Julia."

"Great," Mezentius said.  "I'll read that later when it's quiet.  Do you remember Sir David and Lady Gillian, Lady Aune?"

"Barely," said Aino.  "I was only twelve when he moved away, and I don't think I ever met his wife.  Are they still in Germany?"

"Ask me after I've read the letter.  And what's the bad news?" the Baron asked his love.

"There's a newsmag reporter here who wants to interview you," Rowena said.

"Bring him on," Mezentius said resignedly.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!  MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  PRAY ASSEMBLE FOR THE GRAND MARCH!"  Master Harold called.

"Is it my imagination," Mezentius said, "or does he actually get louder every time?" He reached down and unlocked the brakes of his wheel chair as everyone else stood up.

"It must be your imagination," said Aino, as she took the little girl from him.  The baronial family, and Aino and her friends, moved onto the field, Deborah pushing the baron's wheel chair, the Baroness leading her 4-year-old by the hand.  "I mean, how can he possibly get louder than he is already?"

"Counts and above or Twelfth Night awards, ladies," said a boy about their age.  He was in brown pants and shirt with green floral trim at the neck and cuffs.  White tennis shoes somewhat marred the effect.  A green sash from right shoulder to belt, with crossed gold trumpets, showed he was a herald, but one of the lowest rank, not entitled to the tabard of a Pursuivant or the cape of a full Herald; a Cornet, was the title.  He held out two computer-printed cards.

"Thanks anyway, Jerry," Aino decided.  "We should help out in the Kingdom pavilion.  Come on, guys."

"What did he mean?" Isabella asked, as they continued across the field.

"There are lots of people with Awards of Arms, like me," Aino said, "Grants of Arms, like the Barons, Patents of Arms—that's Knights, Laurels, and Pelicans—and the Royalty, Counts and Countesses, Dukes and Duchesses.  If they let everyone march every time, it would be two hundred people, maybe.  We usually do that only once in a King's reign.  'Counts and above or Twelfth Night awards' means only Counts and Countesses, Dukes and Duchesses, or people who got an award at our last big event, Twelfth Night back in January, get to march as individuals; everyone else marches with their local group, or as part of the household of one of the individual marchers.  There must have been a lot of people signed up for the Lists today; they're trying to save time already."

So Isabella saw her first Grand March from inside the Kingdom pavilion, standing behind the thrones and passing things forward if requested.

"What's a Count?" she whispered.  "In the Society, I mean."

"A Count is someone who's been King once; a Countess is someone who's been Queen once.  A Duke or Duchess is someone who's been King or Queen at least twice," Jenny whispered back.

"And you have three Kings a year…" Isabella said.

"Right," Jenny said.  "Fortunately for keeping the size of the Grand March down, most Kings are repeat offenders."

"DUKE SIR JUHO SUOMAINEN AND DUCHESS HELENA DES TOURS," Master Harold announced.  Aino's mother's brother was already in mail, with an embroidered surcoat over the jingling links showing his arms, three black lion heads on a gold field with black ermine tails.  Hazel had her hair up in an elaborate but authentic headdress involving cylinder shapes on either side of her head, and a matching gown from the same French period, embroidered with three red sleeve shapes on a white background.

"Why's he marching instead of in here?" Deborah wondered.

"Are you kidding?" Aino whispered.  "Hazel miss a chance to show off?  Watch, after they bow, they'll come in."

The King had a different reaction.  He looked around.  "Aino!"  he called softly.  "His Majesty's compliments to Master Harold, and would he please remember they don't need to hear him in Atenveldt?"

"On it, Your Maj," Aino said.

"Wait," the Queen said.  She looked at her husband.  "You can't do that.  It would be like slapping his face in public."

"I'd like to be able to hear when the weekend's over," grumbled King Pertti.  "All right, never mind."

"What if," Deborah suggested softly, "Lady Aune were to ask Master Harold to speed it up a little and to tone it down?  No one need know she carried two messages."

"That's a good idea," Queen Marketta said.

"Do it that way, then," the King said to his niece.  "And thank you for the suggestion," he said to Deborah.

"Almost enough to make me change my mind," he grumbled, as Aino sped onto the field.

"Hush," said the Queen.

Jenny clapped a hand over her mouth and looked at Deborah with wide eyes.  Deborah held a finger to her lips.

"What is it?" Isabella whispered.

"It sounds like the King was talking about not giving Master Harold an award, after all," Jenny whispered back, voice squeaking with excitement.  "He's already a Pelican, and he doesn't fight.  So that must mean—"

"Shhh," said the Queen, looking around.

You'll see, Jenny mouthed.

The March went quickly after that.  A half-dozen dukes marched, besides the two in the Kingdom pavilion, and the same number of counts.  The Kingdom of Patria, in its four years of tournaments, had crowned just twelve kings and queens.  If each pair had reigned only once, that would have been 12 counts and 12 countesses, and no dukes or duchesses.  But, as Jenny had joked, most kings were "repeat offenders", and had taken the throne more than once.  All told, four couples had ruled Patria twice, making them dukes and duchesses; three couples had ruled once only, making them counts and countesses.  One couple, Grigoriy and Natasha, had been King and Queen of the SCA's Kingdom of the West once, and King and Queen of Patria once, making them Duke Grigory and Duchess Natasha in the SGU, since the SGU honored most SCA titles and awards.  But the SCA did not recognize the SGU or its honors.  By the SCA's reckoning Grigoriy and Natasha were only Count and Countess, and the other Patrian ex-Kings and ex-Queens weren't royalty at all.  The other royalty announced in the grand march were fence-sitters; they came to Patrian tournaments from time to time to get their "medieval fix", but they didn't fight in crown tournaments, because they didn't want to win any ranks or honors that the SCA wouldn't recognize, if the SCA prospered and the SGU didn't.  The SGU members respected their achievements and treated them properly—but no more than properly.

After the royalty bowed to the throne, came the persons given awards at Twelfth Night: a new knight, two new Pelicans, a new Laurel, and a half-dozen armigers, or people with awards of arms.  That left the groups.

"The Founding Barony of Calafia!"  Master Harold announced.  Mezentius rolled forward, along with his lady wife, their children, and a lot of people—the tourney was in San Diego county, after all, and Calafia was a large and growing group.

"What's a Founding Barony?" Isabella asked.

"One of the five baronies that joined together to make the Kingdom," Aino whispered.  "Didn't we tell you why the Kingdom banner is five crowned suns?"

"The Founding Barony of Terra!"  Master Harold thundered.  This was a smaller group; Baron Zoltan in fine plate of his own make, his bald head gleaming in the sun; his lady wife; and a half dozen of his subjects, most wearing swords or daggers or helmets from the Baron's smithy.

The Founding Baronies of Failte (large), Isles (small), and Dreiburgen (very large) each bowed in turn, then the (non-founding) Barony of Gyldenholt (also large).  The very last group was announced as the Barony of the Angels, and Isabella was startled when people hissed at them.

"What?" she asked.

"There is no Barony of the Angels in the SGU," Aino whispered back.  "They're Scadians—SCA members—marching as SCA members."

"I thought you had people who belonged to both," Isabella said.

"We do; no problem.  But these guys are marching as SCA members at an SGU tourney; in our face, on purpose."

The King stood up from his throne.  "Master Harold," he said.

"PRAY SILENCE!" cried the herald, emitting the loudest bellow so far today.

"I would that none of my people were discourteous," King Pertti said in the ringing stillness, "whatever the provocation, real or imagined, intentional or not.  Welcome, Barony of the Angels.  Enjoy the tourney."

"Your Majesty is most gracious," said the foremost Angeleno, bowing slightly; a tall, muscular, dark-haired man with a crown on his head.

"Not at all," King Pertti said.  "Please convey our regards to our brother of Caid, when next you see him."

"Thank you," said the stranger.  "I am King Robert the Determined."

"How amusing," said Pertti, "that a Robert should sit the throne of Caid while a Robert sits the throne of Patria!  Will you not be our guest in the kingdom pavilion?"

"I think not," said Robert of Caid.  "But again, I thank you.  Would Your Majesty permit a demonstration of light fighting, or fencing, during the day?"

"If there's time," said King Pertti.  "Mistress Amanda, how stand the Lists?"

"There are eighty fighters signed up already, Your Majesty," Mistress Amanda von Sternheim said.

"Eighty?  Already?" the King said in surprise.  He looked at his opposite number.  "If Your Majesty sees an empty field between rounds, or later when the numbers have diminished, pray command my marshals and my heralds as your own.  But it looks doubtful."

"Eighty fighters," said King Robert unhappily.  Those were more than he'd expected. It meant the SGU kingdom in southern California was in good health.  The Angelenos bowed again, and left the space before the throne.  The Grand March was over.

"Ai-ee," Aino said softly.  Jenny and Deborah giggled.

"Now what?" Isabella said.

"The SCA kingdom here is Caid," Aino said, pronouncing it "ky-EED." "Which stands for Calafia, Angels, Isles, and Dreiburgen.  The SGU was founded in Calafia, and almost all, if not all Calafians left the SCA.  Same with Dreiburgen, which was founded by Calafians.  Isles split down the middle, and Angels stayed in the SCA.  So what's left of Caid," she explained, "is the a and the i, y-EE.  Oops!"

Isabella looked around.  The Queen was drawing her finger across her throat to demand the end of the topic.

Court had been scheduled for ten a.m.; even with the Grand March and the Angelenos, it began at 10:45.  For either the SGU or the SCA, that was quite ridiculously prompt; both organizations used the phrase "Society time," meaning "an hour or two after the scheduled time."

"Field voice" was not needed at court; Master Harold had one of his deputies, the Red Hand Herald of Failte, run opening court.  Lord Peter, in his Red Hand Herald tabard with the College of Heralds' arms on one half, and the Failte arms on the other, announced, "This is the court of Pertti and Marketta, King and Queen of Patria, the fifth day before the Ides of March, in the year 2731 since the Founding of Rome.  Pray attend the words of Their Majesties!"

"Thank you, Lord Peter," said the King.  "Welcome, my people, to March Crown.  As you may have heard, we have a huge signup for the Lists.  I have therefore stricken all presentations but one from this court's business.  I hope those affected will forgive me, and consult with the heralds for tomorrow's court.  My dear?" he said, turning to his wife.

"It's good to see so many friends," the Queen said.  "It seems like forever since Twelfth Night.  I look forward to talking to everyone today," she smiled, and waved at the herald to indicate she was done.

"Master Ioseph of Derry has a presentation," Lord Peter announced, and everyone turned as a gray-haired man stepped out of the crowd with a harp.  He bowed to the King and Queen.

"As this is the first fighting tourney of the year," he said in an Irish tenor, "I would like to remind all the ladies and gentlemen of the sword to examine their gear carefully.  Otherwise they might suffer the fate of Sir Bertram."  Before anyone could say "Sir who?" he struck a chord on his harp, and began to sing:

Sir Bertram was a fighter,
The mightiest of dukes.
He died for real on the tourney field,
And the marshalls cried, "Gadzooks!"

The marshalls cried, "Gadzooks!"
The marshalls cried, "Gadzooks!"
His chin strap broke and his skull did too,
And the marshalls cried, "Gadzooks!"


So Bertram went to Heaven.
He reached the Gates with ease,
Said, "May I speak with His Majesty?
I'm Duke Sir Bertram, please."

"I'm Duke Sir Bertram, please.
I'm Duke Sir Bertram, please.
I'd like a word with His Grace the King,
I'm Duke Sir Bertram, please."


"Who are you?" said Saint Peter,
"Are you humble and contrite?"
"I'm a servant of the humble,
I'm a perfect gentil knight."

A perfect gentil knight,
A perfect gentil knight,
"It's quite a while," Saint Peter cried,
"Since last we saw a knight."


They gave him wings and halo,
And a sword and shield of light,
So he rounded up the dearly departed
And he taught them how to fight.

He taught them how to fight.
He taught them how to fight.
Heaven was too darned peaceful,
So he taught them how to fight.


One day when God was walking
Back from early Mass,
Whom should he see but Bertram,
Holding tourney on the grass!

Holding tourney on the grass,
Tourney on the grass,
Angels and the warrior dead
In tourney on the grass.


Saint Michael was the marshall,
Saint Gabriel cried "Oyez!" 
Saint Patrick blessed the fighters
Ere they rushed off to the fray.

And did they rush off to the fray!
Oh boy, they rushed off to the fray!
The Irish and the English dead
Had quite a grand melée!


"What do you think you're doing?"
The Lord God bid them say.
"Your fighting's done, your race is won,
You're here to sing and pray."

"You're here to sing and pray,
You're here to sing and pray.
Every woman, child, and man
(Spoken)—And where'd you get rattan?!"

So Bertram went on trial
Before the Holy Ghost,
For spreading disaffection
Amongst the heavenly host.

Amongst the heavenly host,
Amongst the heavenly host,
Saint Raphael took the stand and swore
Bert ruined the heavenly host.


The verdict it was "Guilty".
The good duke said, "Ah, well."
He jammed his helmet on his head,
And he drifted down to Hell.

He drifted down to Hell.
He drifted down to Hell.
With tourney armor and duct-taped sword
He drifted down to Hell.


Now seven long years have passed,
And Bertie's doing swell:
He's won the first Crown Tourney
Of a kingdom there in Hell!

A kingdom there in Hell,
A kingdom there in Hell,
He's won the first Crown Tourney
Of the SGU in Hell!

The crowd laughed and clapped and cheered.  Master Ioseph bowed deeply to one and all, then held up his hand.  "There is a moral, Your Majesty, but I warn you, it may offend some who hear it."

"What, Master Ioseph, is it racy?" said the Queen.

"No," the bard said.

"Darn," Marketta said.

"Go ahead," King Pertti laughed.  "We'll risk it."  So Master Ioseph sang:

The moral of this story
Is easy for to tell:
If you want to be a medievalist
You'll have to go to Hell.

Yes, we'll have to go to Hell.
We'll all have to go to Hell.
Heaven's ways are set in stone,
But they still have kings in Hell!

The crowd clapped again.  Isabella, a devout Catholic, was appalled, but a look around found no one else who seemed to be.  They were Americans, she reminded herself, many of them Latins with that emphasis on reason, science, and rejection of spiritual things.  Even American Catholics were notorious for choosing what to believe and what not to believe, as though the Faith were an all-you-can-eat buffet.

"What's the matter?" Deborah whispered, as Master Ioseph bowed and withdrew.

"I don't think His Most Catholic Majesty would approve of that song," Isabella whispered back.

"I suppose not," Deborah said thoughtfully.

"His Majesty calls before him the members of the Most Noble Order of the Pelican!"  cried the Failten herald.  Thirty people, of both sexes, came out of the crowd and knelt before the thrones, leaving a clear path down the middle for others to come forward.  Master Harold was one of them; Mistress Amanda von Sternheim, the kingdom Mistress of the Lists, another; Sir Werner von Sternheim, Baron of Dreiburgen, and Sir Christian, Baron of Failte.  Baron Mezentius rolled up beside his fellow Barons and stopped.  All wore the order's emblem, which the heralds blazoned "a pelican in her piety." The picture of a nest with two or three piping baby birds looking up as the mother bird jabbed herself was engraved in silver in some cases, rendered in cloisonné enamel in others, embroidered in cloth, spun into lace, or carved in wood; but they all wore their pins for this occasion.

"The King calls Gerald the Studious to attend him!" Lord Peter cried.  The college-aged boy in the brown costume and tennis shoes who'd told the girls the rules for the Grand March stood as if turned to stone, gaping.  Someone behind him in the crowd gave him a gentle push, and he stumbled forward in a daze.

"M–" He cleared his throat.  "Me?" he squeaked.

"You're supposed to kneel," said the King, with a twinkle in his eye.  As the boy dropped to his knees, Pertti gave his wife a hand to rise.  She flashed a dazzling smile.  "I love this bit," she said.

"In the Society of the Golden Unicorn, as in the Society for Creative Anachronism from which it sprang, there are three orders of nobility," Lord Peter recited.  "Knighthood is our recognition of prowess on the fighting field, along with chivalrous behavior towards all people.  Mastery of another art is recognized by admission to the Order of the Laurel.  But for those who labor long and diligently, advancing our Society notably by their efforts, recognition comes through admission to the Order of the Pelican, whose members bear as their badge Vert, a Pelican in her piety Proper; which was a symbol of sacrifice in the Middle Ages, and remains so today."

"Lord Gerald," said the King, "your peers in the service of my realm have asked that you be admitted to their number.  Do you accept?"

"Right willingly do I, Your Majesty," the young man said in a husky voice.  "Excuse me," he said, and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

"You have all seen," the King said to his people, "how smoothly Grand Marches go, now that we have a system of computer-generated cards.  Each card lists a person's awards, with a number showing where that award falls in precedence of all the awards ever given.  You take your place by number, and the March proceeds."

"What you may not know, due to Lord Gerald's modesty, is that he conceived of this idea, wrote the program that generates the cards, keeps the data base of awards up to date, and prints out the cards before every kingdom and baronial event."

The King held out his hands, and Lord Gerald placed his, folded as if in prayer, between them.  Lord Peter said, "Repeat after me.  Here do I swear…"

"Here do I swear," Lord Gerald recited after the other herald, "by mouth and hand… to serve the Society of the Golden Unicorn… as I have done till now… and, mindful that the harmony of the Society… springs from my treatment of those around me… to deal courteously with all people… as befits a nobleman… So say I, Gerald the Studious."

"And I for my part," said the King, who had said the words many times before, "do accept your fealty, and admit you to the Most Noble Order of the Pelican."

Queen Marketta held a gorgeous Pelican medallion high on its golden chain so that everyone could see it.  "This medallion was made by Mistress Reginleif, Baroness of Adiantum, for the day her son should become a Pelican.  It's real gold, and the colors are real jewels."  As the crowd oohed and ahhed, she placed the chain about the boy's neck, and kissed his cheek.  It was wet with tears; they were far from being the only tears in sight.

"Rise, Master Gerald, and go to your peers," said King Pertti, pulling the new Pelican to his feet.  The other Pelicans rose also, and hugged him, one by one.

"Three cheers for Master Gerald!"  cried the herald.  "Vivat!" he cried, Latin for "(Long) may he live", and thrust his green-and-gold herald's staff in the air.  The crowd cried out with him, "Vivat!" and "Vivat!" a second time, and "Vivat!" a third; except some, instead of "Vivat!" cried "Gronk!"—a Pelican noise.

"Not hip-hip-hurray?" whispered Isabella.

"Not period," said Aino.  "Not medieval."

"Thank you, Masters and Mistresses," said the King.  They bowed, and began to disperse.  As they did, Lord Peter moved to the next order of business.

"His Majesty calls before him the members of the Most Noble Order of the Laurel!

The Laurels came out of the crowd and knelt.  "Excuse me," Deborah said, and joined them.  Isabella blinked; she hadn't realized Aino's sensible friend was one of the nobility they'd been talking about.  Not being familiar with the symbols and emblems of the SGU, she hadn't realized that the medallion Deborah wore at her neck marked her as a Laurel.

About two dozen people knelt before the King, including Sir Caroline, Baron Zoltan of Terra, Anthony von Sternheim, and Alison von Sternheim, Baroness of Dreiburgen.  All wore the laurel wreath medallion, some in green on a gold background, which was its proper colors; but because that was also the emblem of the SCA, many wore Laurel medallions of silver or pewter instead.

"The King summons Master Harold Godfrey!" said Lord Peter, with grinning relish.  The Kingdom Herald dropped the clipboard he was holding with a clatter.

"Me?" he said, dumbfounded.

"Nice reactions we're getting today, don't you think?" the King said to his lady.  "Better hurry," he said to Master Harold, "before I change my mind."

Master Harold came forward slowly, breathing hard; turned as he left the tent, and kneeled before the King.  His Pelican medallion flopped on his heaving chest.

"In the Society of the Golden Unicorn, as in the Society for Creative Anachronism from which it sprang, there are three orders of nobility," Lord Peter recited.  "Knighthood is our recognition of prowess on the fighting field, along with chivalrous behavior towards all people.  Long and diligent labor is recognized by admission to the Order of the Pelican.  But to those who master one of the gentle arts, practice it to the benefit of our Society, and teach it to others, recognition comes through admission to the Order of the Laurel, whose members bear as their badge Or, a Laurel Wreath Vert."

"Master Harold," said the King, "your peers in the mastery of the arts have asked that you be admitted to their number.  Do you accept?"

"But… why?" said the kneeling herald.

"It's not a punishment, you know," the King said.

"Robert," said his wife.

"You're right," he said, and sighed.  "Master Harold, we would admit you to the Laurels, not because of your truly fine field voice and your excellent elocution, which makes you heard and understood whenever you make an announcement, no matter how large the field, no matter how long the day, no matter how foul the weather."

"Not?" said his bewildered subject.

"Not," said the King, rubbing an ear as if it hurt.  The crowd laughed.  "Nor for your singing voice, though we have heard you in the evenings, and enjoyed the hearing.  Nor for your instrumental abilities, though we have heard you play the krummhorn, and observed you teaching others to play.  Nor for your dancing, though you kick a mean galliard, and we've seen you teaching that, too.  Nor for your poetry, grateful as we are for the villanelle you wrote when we ascended the throne, and other poems on other occasions."

"Not?" Master Harold said.

"No," the King said.  "The truth is, Master Harold, I'm afraid we've taken your excellence for granted, and perhaps thought, well, he already has a Pelican.  But it was your master of Latin verse that opened our eyes."

"Latin—but I was drunk, Your Majesty!"

"Drunk you certainly were," King Pertti said.  "And my brother-in-law did right to punish you for annoying the camp at three in the morning.  But," he said, and waited.

"But, Your Majesty?" Master Harold said, at last.

"But, anyone who can recite the Aeneid, from heart, while drunk, while being shouted at by five constables, while being dunked in a lake, without any mistakes that lesser scholars could detect, following along with book and candle in hand—is a Laurel.  It remains only for me to recognize the fact.  Master Harold, will you yield to the wishes of your peers?"

Tears were flowing down the Master's face.  He looked around at the Laurels.  They smiled and nodded, but it was doubtful he could see them.  He looked at the King and nodded, for once unable to speak.  Pertti put out his hands, and Harold put his in them.  Then he recited, from memory, without being prompted by the court herald, the oath of a Laurel; and the King replied.

Queen Marketta put the chain of an enamel Laurel medallion around Master Harold's neck, and kissed his cheek.  "This medallion was made by Master Nathan.  It was commissioned by all the other heralds of the Kingdom, conspiring behind Master Harold's back; they foresaw this day more clearly than the Crown did." Lord Peter, who'd brought the medallion to the tourney, grinned hugely.

"Rise, Harold Godfrey, Master of the Pelican, and now Master of the Laurel," said the King, pulling him to his feet.  "Rise, and go to your peers."

"This is so great," said Aino, as the Laurels rose, and hugged their new fellow, one by one.  "I wondered OH MY GOD!"

Deborah had hung back, until she was the last of the Laurels, then flung herself on Master Harold, and burst into tears.  He held her, and patted her back awkwardly, his face, like Aino's, and Isabella's, and everyone else's, blank with amazement.

Aino recovered as quickly as anyone.  "Geese!" she said.  "I'm surrounded by geese!  Did you know she had a crush on him?" she asked Jenny.

"Why ask a goose?" said Jenny.  "Honk!"

Aino and Isabella drew the snuffling Deborah back into the kingdom pavilion.  "Thank you, Masters and Mistresses," the King said, and the other Laurels, including the confused Master Harold, rejoined the crowd.

"And finally," Lord Peter called, "let the knights of the Kingdom come forward at His Majesty's will!"

Aino and Jenny, hugging Deborah and scolding her for keeping secrets from them, didn't hear Queen Marketta say to her husband, "You didn't say anything about a knighting," but Isabella did.  She looked up.

"I didn't trust myself to say anything about this one," the King said, and winked at them both.

A full sixty knights came forward, so that the crowd had to pull back to make room for them all to kneel; for this was March Crown, and any fighter whose job could spare him and who could afford to attend had come, knighted or not.  Sir Christian, Sir Werner, and Sir Caroline were there for the second time today; Sir Armin, Sir Frederick the Red, Sir Gamlaun of the Red Lands, some of them Counts as well as knights, some of them Dukes.  And two of the Scadians came forward, too, as was proper, since the SGU recognized most SCA titles.

Nevertheless some were astonished, and some outraged, and there might have been a scene.  But Sir Taawi and Sir Juho held out welcoming hands.  "Well met, Sir Robert," said Taawi, "and—?"

"Sir Edwin the Dogged," said the other, as Juho moved over to make room for him.

"Thank you for your courtesy," said Sir Robert to Sir Taawi.

"If we aren't brother knights, what are we?" said Sir Juho, and heads nodded around him, accepting.

"Well said," agreed the King.  "My lord herald, do your thing."

"Yrjö Suomainen, the King commands you forth!"

Aino, Jenny, and even Deborah shrieked so loud that it was like a bomb going off in the pavilion.  The Queen jumped, and the King held his other ear with a grimace.  So it was Isabella who looked around, found George, and said, "Go on."

He came forth white-faced, and knelt slowly before his uncle in a state near shock.  The King looked at him, and said to the Queen, "And that's the hat trick.  Three calls, three staggering zombies."

"Beast," said the Queen, and smiled at her nephew.

"I commend the chivalry on their discretion," said King Pertti.  "I was sure that someone would give this one away."

"Give it away?" said Sir Christian.  "We had a pool going on whether he would faint!  You cost me five bucks, boy," he said to George.  "Consider yourself challenged."

"And what will he owe you after he beats you?" called Sir Martin.  The knights laughed, and the crowd joined them.

"I don't know why you leave a path down the middle, if all your awardees are going to come tottering out of the royal pavilion," King Robert of Caid said, and got more laughter.

"It's already been a most unusual tourney," said Sir Juho.

"And we haven't even begun fighting yet!" agreed Sir Grigoriy.

"Yrjö Suomainen," said the King, formally.  "Right mindful of your prowess on the field, and having consulted with your peers, we are minded to make you a knight.  Will you accept?"

"If Your Majesty is sure," said George, his composure coming back.

"Your Majesty, may I speak?" said Sir Armin.

"If you'll keep it brief," said the King.  "Time slithers on."

"I'll say my say," said the older knight, and climbed to his feet.  "You know me," he told the populace.  "You know the boy's father and I have had bad blood between us in the past, and I don't always see eye to eye with his uncle, either—either of his uncles," he amended, glaring at Sir Juho.

"But this is as fine a lad as I've seen in a long time, and a good fighter, too.  If he weren't his father's son, if his father and his uncles hadn't been King so many times these past few years, if they weren't determined that someone else should knight him, he'd have been a knight a year ago.  He's more than ready—and we told the King that!  That's all," he said, and knelt again.

"I think I'm in love," said Aino.

"Oh, I don't think his wife would like that," Deborah told her.

"Honk," Jenny agreed.

So George put his hands between the hands of his uncle, the King, and swore to be his man.  His father took his knight's chain off his own neck, and his other uncle took the spurs off his own boots.  Then Taawi and Juho fastened the spurs to George's boots, and his aunt, the Queen, put the chain around his neck and kissed him on both cheeks.  Finally the King gave him the accolade, touching him on each shoulder and the top of his head with his sword, and said, "Rise, Sir Yrjö, and go to your peers." They swarmed about him, and he hugged them all, composed but dazed.

And when the knights had been thanked by the King; when they had bowed and withdrawn, except for the newest, who returned to the pavilion, where his sister fell on his neck; the King said to his herald, "We're done."

"Thus ends the court of Pertti and Marketta, King and Queen of Patria!  Three cheers for Their Majesties!"

"Vivant!  Vivant!  Vivant!"  shouted the crowd—long may they live!

"You have Their Majesties' leave to depart!  Marshalls and Heralds, Knights and unbelted fighters, arm and make ready!  The Lists will begin in thirty minutes!"

Chapter 3
"On Your Honor, Begin!"

The water is wide, I can't get o'er,
Neither have I the wings to fly:
Give me a boat that will carry two,
And we both shall row, my love and I.

"The Water is Wide" (traditional)
T was exactly noon.  About 400 people felt their stomachs rumbling.  Children were fed, a few dogs, one ferret, and one hawk.  The fighters ate heartily or not at all, depending on how well tension and food mixed for them.  Everyone drank lots of water, reminded by the heralds and the increasing heat.  Only the constant breeze, that continued to play with the banners, made it endurable outside the shade.  A kite with the SGU arms floated alone in the blue sky.

The King sat at one of the tables that had come to the tourney in his niece's bus, eating a sandwich on a pewter plate, and drinking soda from a pewter goblet.  With him was Count Sir Martin, the knight marshall of Patria, and Mistress Amanda.

"Please," he said, "have some chicken, or some biscuits." He waved at two covered baskets on the table.  "Or have some of the apple cider in the pitcher, it's fresh this morning."

"Great," he said when they'd each taken something.  "I hate to eat when other people aren't, and I'm ravenous."  He gulped down another bite of sandwich.  "Now, how many fighters did we get before the Lists closed, and what are our options?"

"It's still eighty," Mistress Amanda said.  "I didn't expect that to change, and it didn't."

"Eighty," said King Pertti.  "What do you think, Martin?  Single or double elimination?"

"I hate single elimination," Sir Martin said from the heart.  "One wrong move, and wham!  you're gone."

"I prefer double elimination myself, but can we afford it?  Say we start at one, we'll have about four hours of good daylight.  Start again tomorrow at eleven, that's six more hours.  How do the numbers crunch?" the King asked the Lists.

"With single elimination, we're looking at six rounds for eighty fighters," said Mistress Amanda.  She took a dainty bite of sourdough biscuit.  "Double elimination is less certain, because it depends on who loses each round.  Absolute minimum is seven rounds, maximum 13 rounds, usual case nine or ten."

"Ten hours, ten rounds," the King said to his marshall.

"Or ten hours, thirteen rounds," Sir Martin said.  "The earlier rounds take longer because there are more fights, the later ones because the fighters are tired, and feeling stubborn, and desperate to win."

"I know," said Pertti.  "Amanda, we laid out the eric with six fields to start, sixty feet square.  Does that affect your numbers?"

"Not really.  It doesn't change the number of rounds we need, only how long each round takes."

"The more fields, the more fights happen at the same time," Sir Martin agreed.

"So how many fights per round do we have, with eighty fighters?"

"Umm…" Amanda dug out her notebook.  "Single elim, seven fights the first round, four the second, two the third round, one per field on five fields, then two fights and a bye, and one field in the remaining rounds."

"Short rounds, except for the first one," said the marshall.

"Uh huh.  And double elim?" asked the King.

"Again, it depends.  Min is… 7, 7, 4, 2, 1, 1, 1.  Max is 7, 7, 4, 4, 2, 2, and then ones."

"So.  Three or four big rounds, and then a lot of little ones," said the King.  "I'm inclined to go for double elim, Martin."

"So am I, Bob."

"There is one way to nudge the odds a bit," Amanda said.

"Good!  What is it?" said Pertti.

"I know that the fighters like the custom of the unbelted fighters challenging the belted fighters in the first round.  But I think we're too short on time for challenges.  If Your Majesty will permit me to assign the fights of the first round, and to match knights to unbelted fighters, it will nudge the odds strongly away from the maximum number of rounds.  It concentrates losses on the unbelted fighters in the first round, then they get their second losses in the second round, and we're over the hump."

"That doesn't seem fair to the unbelted fighters," Sir Martin said.

"It doesn't change whether they win or lose," Mistress Amanda said.  "It just makes any losses happen sooner, by pitting knight against non-knight, instead of letting knight go against knight and unbelted fighters go against each other.  An even distribution of losses is what will give us thirteen rounds."

"All the other rounds are assigned anyway, and Amanda's right, we don't have time to fool around.  Many a fighter enters the Lists not expecting to win; the rest can only get better by fighting their betters."

"As Your Majesty wishes," Sir Martin said dubiously.

"Your Majesty?" said a young herald from the front of the pavilion.  The fact that he had his baldric on indicated that he was the herald on duty at the moment; the apprehension on his face said that unexpected responsibility had fallen on his shoulders.

"Yes?" said King Pertti.

"His Majesty of Caid, and the other Caid knight, beg a moment of your time."

"Did you tell him I was meeting with the Marshall and Lists?"

"Sir, I did.  He bid me say their presence is relevant."

"Now there's a word," Sir Martin said.

"Very well, my lord herald, show them in.  Well done," the King said.

"Thank you, Your Majesty!"  the pursuivant said.  He ducked back out.  In a moment he returned with King Robert and Sir Edwin.  The Patrians stood up as the Caidans entered the pavilion.

"Well met, King Robert," King Pertti said.  "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Well met, King Pertti; Count Sir Martin; Mistress Amanda," King Robert said.  "Sir Edwin has a request to make, and I came along to let you know I have no objection to it."

"Sir Edwin?  What can we do for you, sir?"

The Caidan knight bowed slightly.  "Your Majesty, I was hoping you would permit me to fight in the Lists today."

"The Lists have closed," Mistress Amanda protested.

"I beg you will open them," Sir Edwin said.  "We arrived just before court, not being familiar with this site, and I had no chance to sign up."

"The Lists can be opened, but why do you wish it?  Shall we expect a sudden inrush of Caid fighters at our tourneys?" King Pertti asked.

"I approved Sir Edwin's request as an experiment," King Robert answered.  "The SGU says that SCA members are welcome to attend its events, so long as they conform to its rules, and claims to acknowledge all our titles except Court Baron, and anything bestowed or decreed by our Board of Directors.  I wanted to see if this were true."

"It's true enough," said Sir Martin.  "I have no objection to Sir Edwin fighting in the Lists, or even to him winning, if he can.  But is he willing to give our kingdom the whole of his attention if he is King?  Is he willing to fight by our rules, and reign by our rules?  If your BoD declares him a traitor, will he stick?  And if he does all that, will his fellows of Caid trust him as before?"

"I think the answers to your questions are Yes, and insofar as it's within my power, I will undertake to make it so," King Robert said.

"And what does Sir Edwin say?" said the King of Patria.

Sir Edwin looked him squarely.  "What I swear, I do," he said.  "If I win your crown, I shall be as true a King of Patria as any."

"Do you have a lady?" Mistress Amanda asked.

"I beg your pardon?"

"One of our rules, Sir Edwin, is that anyone who fights in the Lists must have a lady who will be his Queen if he wins.  We don't permit bachelor Kings," said the Mistress of the Lists.

"Oh," said the Caid knight.  "Our rules do.  No, I don't have a lady at present."

"You have a have a lady who's willing to be Queen," King Pertti stressed.  "It has happened in the past that a gentleman has entered the Lists, then found that his lady refused to undertake the duties of Queen.  In such a case he must find another lady who will serve, or resign from the Lists.  We frown on that; it's unfair to anyone he defeated in the earlier rounds."

"I must agree," said Sir Edwin.

"How about this?" said Sir Martin.  "Let me go with Sir Edwin and make sure his armor meets our rules and that he understands how we fight.  Then, if one of the SCA ladies—or one of ours," he smiled, "will agree to be Queen if he wins, why then, I for one say let him fight."

"A good compromise," said King Robert.  "Will that satisfy you, Sir Edwin?"

"It will," said the knight, "if His Majesty of Patria agrees."

"Oh, I am all agreement," said Pertti.  "Better get to it, gentlemen, the Lists begin in less than an hour."

Three recorder players from the Isles began playing; two Calafians with krummhorns joined them.  A couple from Dreiburgen came over, he to beat time on the claves, she to sing, and the group switched from instrumentals to ballads.  By 12:30 there were four soprano recorders, one alto recorder, two tenors, a rare bass, two krummhorns, a racket, and a serpent playing; claves and drum for the beat; and a half dozen singers.

Aino was singing:

"I leaned my back against an oak,
Thinking it was a trusty tree."
when a male voice joined her:
"At first it bent, and then it broke,
And so my love proved false to me."

Startled, she turned her head.  Master Anthony von Sternheim smiled at her and whispered, "May I speak with you for a moment?"

Aino held up her right hand at chest level, palm down; he put his left hand under it, and they walked away from the ad hoc consort.  Jenny and Deborah looked at each other with round eyes, and continued to sing.

"I put my hand in a rosy bush,
Thinking the sweetest flow'r to find.
I pricked my finger to the bone,
And left the sweetest flow'r behind."

"I told you to stay away from me until you made up your mind," Aino said.

"I love Amanda," said Master Anthony as they strolled.  "I think I always will.  But as a sister, and a good friend.  When I'm near you, my heart lurches and bumps, I break out in a sweat, and I can't think, I can't breathe, I can't talk straight—"

"You're talking fine," Aino said.

He stopped, and turned his hand over to clasp hers.  "May I carry your favor in the Lists today?"

She opened the pouch on her belt, and took out a strip of cloth, six inches wide, three feet long.  The white cloth bore her arms in embroidery, a red shield with two white hearts above an ermine fess and one below; a red border; and red letters, Tam Fidelis Mihi Esto Quam Tibi Ego, which is Latin for Be As Faithful To Me As I To Thee.

They returned to the singing holding hands.  He kissed her hand before he went off to put on his armor, and said "Tibi solum," To thee only.

"Good luck," she whispered.

Master Anthony bowed to all three ladies, and strode away, Aino's favor fluttering on his belt.  Behind him he could hear her soprano voice soaring:

"A ship there is, she sails the sea,
She's loaded deep as deep can be.
But not so deep as the love I'm in,
I know not how I sink or swim."

"We already sang that verse," Deborah said.

"And your point is?" said Aino.

"Honk honk, goose girl," said Jenny.

While King Pertti was meeting with his Marshall and Mistress of Lists, and while the musicians and singers got together for their jam session, Isabella was sitting with Queen Marketta in the Suomainen day pavilion, the sides tied up to let in the breeze, both women in the beautifully carved x-frame chairs, idly swinging fans as they talked.  The Queen was envying Isabella's long black hair, falling in waves over the dark red velvet of her gown; while Isabella was looking at the Queen's green eyes and thinking that the majority of women she'd seen today seemed to be blondes.

"So your household, it is family?" she asked.  "So many new faces all at once, and two sets of names, I confess I am a bit lost."

Queen Marketta smiled, and a passing gentleman in fool's motley, complete with three-pointed hat with bells on the points, clasped his hands to his chest and mimed swooning.  She waved her fan at him: shoo.  He bowed deeply, and his hat fell off.  So he stood on his hands, picked up the hat with his teeth, and walked off on his hands, the bells on his toes jingling.

"Master Renfrew is such a dear," the Queen said, fanning herself.  "Households.  Households can be family, or any kind of group at all.  House Suomainen was originally Robert (my husband Pertti, the King) and his brother David, back before they were even knights.  They weren't even in the SCA then, but an earlier group, the Medieval Recreation Society, that's now a professional jousting organization.  Then David met Tina, my sister, and they got married, and at their wedding I met Robert.  David and Tina (Taawi and Kristiina) had two children, Aino and Yrjö.  And my brother Juho came to see what was tying up all his big sisters' weekends, and met Hazel.  And that's our household, small but growing, with Aino's friends and whoever they attach—unless they start their own households, of course."

"And what does Suomainen mean?" asked Isabella.

"It means Finnish," said Marketta.  "Robert's family came over from Finland early this century, or the middle of the last century if you're Latin: 1905 A.D., 2658 A.U.C.  Suominen wasn't their family name, but their grandfather didn't speak much English, so when the immigration people asked, he said "Olen Suomainen," "I'm a Finn." There are actually a lot of people named Suominen in the U.S., not all of them related to each other.  My father came over as a boy, but his father spoke English, so we stayed Huovinens."

"So Aino's Finnish on both sides of her family, even though she's American."

"That's right," said Marketta.  "And what about your family, dear?"

"Oh, we're Iberian since before the Empire was a single country, and my ancestors come from all the kingdoms," said Isabella.  "My father spends most of his time in Madríd, but sometimes we travel a bit, or spend the summer in the house in Lisboa, or the one in Barcelona.  I wanted to go to college where I could be away on my own for once, so here I am."

"Here you are," said Marketta.  "Did you know you're being followed?  There's a tall, thin man in Spanish Renaissance costume, about forty I'd say, who's been trying to watch you without anyone knowing why he's here."

Isabella bit her lip.  "My bodyguard," she confessed.  "Father said I must have at least one.  His name is Rodrigo."

"So you're Spanish nobility, dear?" Marketta asked.

"My father is a Baron," Isabella said.  "I beg your discretion.  I wanted to get away from all the fuss and bother for a while."

"You may rely on me," said Marketta.  "That explains why I thought you were older than Aino, at first.  It must be a lot of responsibility, being a… Baron's daughter."

"You have no idea," said Isabella.  Then she cocked her head to one side.  "Or maybe you do," she said softly.

At 12:45, Master Harold took the field, accompanied by Lord Peter of Failte, Master Conrad of the Barony of Gyldenholt, and Lord Aelfrede of Dreiburgen.  "ALL FIGHTERS!  ALL FIGHTERS, ASSEMBLE NOW!  FIGHTERS!  MARSHALLS!  HERALDS!  THE KING COMMANDS YOUR PRESENCE!" 

Knowing how many were enlisted, and alerted by the urgency of his phrasing, most did not delay.  King Pertti and Sir Martin waited very little time while the fighters, marshalls, and heralds streamed onto the field.

"Separate them, my lord herald, so we may see whether all the fighters are here," said the King.

"My lords and ladies!" said the herald.  "Everyone who is marshalling or heralding, but NOT fighting, move to my right, please," he said, pointing.  "If you ARE fighting, move to my left, EVEN IF you will be marshalling or heralding.  Fighters, left!  Non-fighters, right!" 

"Quickly, now," the King called.

"We're missing six fighters," said Sir Martin.

"Did you count yourself?" said the King.

"Oh.  Five fighters, then," said the Marshall, sheepishly.

"ALL FIGHTERS!" cried Master Harold.  "ALL FIGHTERS!  HERE!  NOW!  IF YOU ARE FIGHTING, YOU ARE HERE!"

"Here they come.  Good job, Master Harold."

"I thank Your Majesty."

"What's the word on Sir Edwin?"

"He's fighting," said Sir Martin.

"So we have eighty-one fighters now?"

"No, Sir Ulfdan yielded his place to save Amanda the extra work," Martin said.

"Remind me to do something nice for Sir Ulfdan."

"Your Majesty, your subjects await your word," said the kingdom herald, bowing.

"Ladies, gentlemen," said the King.  "I'm pleased that most of you are in armor already.  I ask you most urgently to get in armor, and to stay in armor.  We have a lot of fighters today, and barely enough time; there will be no breaks between rounds."

"Sir Martin and I considered single elimination," he said, and smiled as a groan went up from the fighters, "but we feel the same way you do."

"Two points.  First, there will be no challenges the first round.  Don't interrupt!" he said, as several voices were raised.  "We have no time for interruptions, and no time for challenges.  Take it up with me later, if you must have your say."

"Second, we welcome Sir Edwin of the Kingdom of Caid to the Lists.  Count Martin has examined his armor and weapons, and is satisfied with his knowledge of our rules; and Sir Ulfdan Ullrsson has most chivalrously yielded his place in the Lists.  Good luck to you, Sir Edwin." Sir Edwin bowed deeply.

"Master Harold, start the ball," said the King.

The herald bowed.  "Here are the first six fights," he said.  "If your name is called, arm and report to your field right away; the fighting will begin as soon as both are present.  All others, arm and stand ready!  You may be called at any moment!  Do not assume you have lots of time!  On field one," he began…

"They wear real armor, and use real shields," Baron Mezentius said to the woman from the San Diego Union newsmag.  "The swords are made of rattan, and handle like real swords.  But there's no metal in them, and they have no edge.  Other weapons are made of rattan, hard rubber, foam rubber, plastic, whatever, held together by liberal use of duct tape.  All the equipment has to meet Kingdom and Society standards, and the marshalls inspect them each tourney."

"Don't they get hurt?" she said.  In her light-green pantsuit and short hair the reporter stood out from the SGU members.  She watched a squire fastening the straps on the back of his knight's suit of armor, steel scales riveted to thick leather.

"They get some spectacular bruises," the Baron said, "but broken bones have become very rare with the new armor requirements.  We could eliminate bruises, too, but the fighters have to be able to feel blows."

"Why?" said the reporter.  "I would think they'd want the best armor they could get.  Bruises hurt."

"We don't have judges," Mezentius told her.  "The marshalls are there to keep the fighters inside the eric, the spectators outside the eric, to make sure everyone is up to our standards, to make sure the rules are followed, and to call a halt if something goes wrong.  They're more referees than judges."

"What's the difference?"

"The marshalls aren't allowed to tell the fighters how or where they've been hit, or whether they're dead.  When a sword's in motion, even the fastest film shows only a fan-shaped blur.  The fighters getting hit are the only ones who know for sure where, and how hard, they've been hit."

"If a fighter gets hit hard enough on a leg or arm, he can't use it for the rest of the fight.  If he gets hit hard enough on the body or head, he's dead."

"So who decides what's hard enough?"

The Baron looked at her.  "The man or woman being hit.  It's an honor system."

At 1 p.m. exactly, Lord Robert Godwin and Lord Stepan Totentanz, marshalls on field 3, nodded to the herald.  Master Conrad drew a deep breath and cried, "My lords and ladies!  My lords and ladies all!"  Having gotten everyone's attention, he went on: "Duke Sir Juho Suomainen here battles Fenris, son of Fenris, for the Crown of Patria!"  As he named each fighter, he indicated him with his green-and-gold herald's staff.  The marshalls, wearing black baldrics with the crossed gold swords of their office, did the same with their black-and-gold marshalls' staffs.

Master Conrad then continued in a normal voice, allowing Alicia Du Valle on field 5 to make her announcement.  "My lords," he said, "salute the Crown." Both fighters, both marshalls, and the herald turned to face the kingdom pavilion, located next to field 2, and saluted or bowed to the throne, each in his own fashion.

"My lords, salute your ladies," the herald said.  Duke Juho faced about and held his sword upright before his helmet for a moment, saluting the Calafian pavilion where his lady wife was talking to the Baroness.  Marketta's and Kristiina's brother wore a full suit of mail, a sugarloaf helm, and plate-steel elbows, knees, and articulated neck guard.  His right hand was safe within the metal hand-guard on the inside of his heater shield, and his left hand was protected by the metal basket hilt of his sword.  The linen surcoat he wore over his mail was painted with the Suomainen household arms, while his shield was painted with his personal arms.  He looked great, but Hazel didn't bother to watch.

Fenris, son of Fenris, unsure where his lady was, waved his sword in a vague circle, and faced the Duke again.  His armor was hockey gear with metal reinforcement, plus a metal one-piece neck guard and a bullet-shaped helmet with metal bars protecting the face.  He had no surcoat.  The 30-inch round shield on his left arm was painted black, with a snarling white wolf's head.  In real life, he was a senior at UC Santa Barbara.

"My lords, salute you each the other," said Master Conrad.  Duke Juho held his sword up before himself once again.  Fenris banged the rubber-and-plastic mace in his right hand hard against his shield, and gave a creditable wolf's howl.  Then he crouched a bit, and pretended to gnaw on the edge of his shield.

"Points for style, anyway," Master Conrad said sotto voce.  Leaning on his marshall's staff, Lord Robert held out his left hand, wiggled it back and forth: so-so.

"On your honor, begin!" said Conrad, and ducked under the eric so he was off the field.  Duke Juho stepped forward.  Fenris howled again, and charged.

The first round ran from 1:00 to 2:10, an average of ten minutes per fight.  Sixty knights and twenty unbelted fighters met in forty fights, six each on fields 5 and 6, seven each on the other four.  Unbelted fighters were matched against Dukes, Counts, and the better knights, then the remaining "bachelors" (knights who'd never been King) were paired off.

"So?" said King Pertti to Mistress Amanda, as the heralds began calling fighters for the second round.

She held up her left forefinger, begging a moment while she copied the last of the first-round cards into her ledger.  Then she put down her pen and flexed her cramping right hand.

"18 out of 20 unbelted fighters now have one loss each, as do 22 of the 60 knights.  Two unbelted fighters, and 38 knights, won their first fight." She shrugged.  "That's only the first round."

"True," said Pertti, "still…"

"No one in House Suomainen lost," she said, knowing what the King was asking.  "House Sternheim didn't do quite as well, but Werner won, and Anthony was one of the two unbelted winners.  Sir Edwin also won," she added.  "He's carrying my favor."

"So they're both—"

"No," said Amanda.  "Anthony's wearing Aino's favor."

"Oh," said the King.  "I'm sorry, Amanda."

"Don't be," she said, looking at her ledger.  "Someday I'll explain, in exhausting detail, how it's all for the best.  But not now, if it please you."

"I look forward to it," he said.  The King put one arm around the shoulders of the Mistress of the Lists, gave her a hug and a kiss on the top of her head, and went to watch the second round.

"My lords and ladies, gentles all!  Good my lords and ladies!  Sir Marcus Julius Caius Metellus Augustus Aurelius Porcus here does battle with Anthony von Sternheim; for the Crown of Patria!" cried Lord Peter on field 4.

"Oh no!  Oh no!  Oh, I can't watch!" said Aino, wiping tears of laughter out of her eyes.

"It's Sir Nutcase!  Go, Nutcase, go!"  Jenny.

"There's this one knight," Aino explained to Isabella, "who thinks we take ourselves way too seriously.  So every time he fights, he has a different name and he's poking fun at something different.  This time, it's the Latins."

"He's actually quite a good fighter," Deborah said.

Anthony von Sternheim was shaking with laughter.  The rings of his suit of mail jingled with it; light sparkled from his plate gorget, elbows, and knees as they shook.  The closed black helm hid his face, but Aino imagined his eyes filling with tears of laughter, and wiped her own in sympathy.  Anthony's surcoat displayed the baronial arms of Dreiburgen on the left side, a white field with three blue mountains and a white tower on each of them.  The right half showed House Sternheim, a black field with an eight-pointed gold star under a gold chevron; Sternheim is German for "Star Home."  His round shield showed his personal arms, a white field with a fess engrailed between three pairs of calipers, all black.  In his left hand he held an axe.

His tormenter was dressed in Completely Authentic Roman Armor of steel bands, complete with the funny-looking sideways crest of a centurion, possibly to denote that Sir Nutcase was a knight, or maybe just for comedic effect.  On his left arm he held the rectangular, curved shield of a legionnaire, only instead of Jupiter's thunderbolt, it bore something else that Jenny and Deborah were peering at, trying to decipher.  In his right hand he held a regulation short sword with padded thrusting tip, only he'd shaped the pad and wrapped the sword so that its shape was distinctly phallic; and covered the dull grey duct tape with shiny silver tape, so that it resembled nothing so much as a big metal dildo.

This he pointed at Anthony, and shouted, "Epare-pray o-tay ie-day, og-day!"

"Oh no!" said Deborah.  "Pig Latin!  You take each word in English," she explained to Isabella, "put the first consonant or group of consonants on the end of the word, and add -ay.  If the word starts with a vowel, you just put -way on the end."

"Well, one of his names was 'Porcus'," Jenny said.

On the field, Anthony von Sternheim stopped laughing.  He drew himself up, and banged his axe on his shield in challenge.

"Oop!" said Aino.  "Making fun of the Latins in one thing, but now he's insulted the language.  Anthony's going to smear him like peanut butter, you watch!"

Jenny shrieked, and put her hands on either side of her face.  Then she shrieked again, and turned and ran off towards the porta-johns.  "Kiwis Romani sum!  Kiwis Romani sum!" she cried as she ran.

Once Jenny had cracked it, Isabella could see that the top picture on Sir Nutcase's shield was a cartoon bird in Roman armor with a long curved beak; below that, a plus sign and the same bird again; below that, a horizontal bar; and below that, two more of the cartoon birds.  The rebus was "One Roman kiwi plus one Roman kiwi equals two Roman kiwis," or a "Kiwis Romani sum," as Jenny had said; a pun on Civis Romanus sum, "I am a Roman citizen."

The second round of the Lists ran from 2:10 to 3:30.  When the dust settled, 16 knights and 16 unbelted fighters had lost two fights out of two, and were out of the Lists.  14 knights and two other fighters had one loss each; 30 knights and 2 unbelted fighters had won both of their fights.

"All of the people we… discussed before are still undefeated," Mistress Amanda said.

"That includes Sir Edwin," King Pertti told King Robert.  "He's won both his fights."

"That doesn't entirely surprise me," said His Majesty of Caid, "as I'm the man who knighted him.  What does surprise me is the way you turn the rounds over right away, with no delay between them.  How do you do that?"

"The secret is to work all the time, instead of waiting for batches," Amanda said.  "I bring hundreds of blank fighter cards with me to a tournament.  I prepare the first card for each fighter when he signs up, and write down who challenged whom as it happens, and then match the rest quickly.  Since the cards are numbered, that just means writing the number of each card on the other fighter's card."

"Then when each fight ends, the herald writes W on one card, L on the other, and gives them to a Lists page, who runs them to me.  I make the cards and assign the fights for the next round while the current round is going on."

"And what if the herald makes a mistake?" King Robert said.

"There's redundancy built into the system," said the Lists lady.  "Fighter A's card says he beat Fighter B, and Fighter B's card says he lost to Fighter A."

"That eliminates inconsistencies, but what if the herald confuses A and B, and writes the outcome down wrong on both cards?"

"That rarely happens, because new heralds start out training with experienced heralds, and soon know most of the fighters.  If they make that mistake, they'll probably announce it wrong, and the marshalls and fighters will correct them.  If they announce it right but write it down wrong, I've seen them catch it themselves, or the Lists page catches it, or I may catch it if I was watching that fight while waiting for cards to arrive.  If it slips past all of that, which I've never seen happen, you'd have one fighter saying "I'm not dead yet!"  and the other saying, "But I'm dead, ain't I?"

Mistress Amanda looked at the King.  "But if we keep having tourneys like this one, I'm going to need an assistant or two to help me doublecheck as we go."

King Pertti nodded.  "By all means, train several.  What in the world would we do if you came down sick, got tired of doing this, or moved to another state?"

"On another subject," the King of Caid said to Mistress Amanda, "I wanted to thank you, as I have Sir Ulfdan, for making it possible for Edwin to fight today."

"It was His Majesty's wish to reopen the Lists," Amanda said, blushing.

"I meant letting him carry your favor," said King Robert.

"It's my pleasure to serve," she said shyly.

"Yes; I see that it is.  True Pelican!  But thank you, just the same," he said, and kissed her hand.

Chapter 4
Words in the Night

Bibit pauper et aegrōtus,
Bibit exul et ignōtus,
Bibit puer, bibit canus,
Bibit presul et decanus,
Bibit soror, bibit frater,
Bibit anus, bibit mater,
Bibit ista, bibit ille,
Bibunt centum, bibit mille.

(The poor man drinks and the sick man,
The exile drinks and the stranger too,
The boy drinks, the old man drinks,
The leader of the parade, the dean as well,
The sister drinks, the brother drinks,
The old woman drinks, the mother drinks,
That woman drinks, that man too,
Hundreds drink, a thousand drink.)

"In Taberna" (Carmina Burana 175)
N the third round, Duke Taawi found himself facing an unbelted fighter calling himself Daniel the Dashing, who placed all his faith in speed.  It was not entirely misplaced, as the dance student from Cal Poly Pomona was the other non-knight who'd won both his fights.  Tall, thin to the point of emaciation, instead of a shield he carried a sword in each hand, and wore the minimum armor permitted by the rules.  He kept trying to run around the Duke, so he could hit him where the heater shield with the three black axes on ermine was not.  The Duke just kept turning.

"I'm getting dizzy!"  Jenny complained.

"Don't watch then," said Aino.  "Personally, I think it's funny.  That kid doesn't have a clue."

Whack whack!  The twin swords landed, one on the side of the Duke's helmet, one on his shield.  He didn't even shake his head, just kept coming.

"He hit him!  He hit your father!" Isabella said.

"Yup.  Almost as hard as you'd hit a puppy with a rolled-up newsmag, too.  Poor kid," Aino said.

Duke Taawi turned towards the marshall, one of the knights who'd been eliminated.  They couldn't hear what he said, but Sir Magnus cried "Hold!" and all action stopped on that field.

The Duke walked up to his opponent.  After a moment, one of the swords went whack! against his head.  The Duke shook it: no, not hard enough.  The boy swung as hard as he could, making a slightly louder whack!  Taawi shook his head again, and some of the spectators laughed.

On the field, Taawi said, not unkindly, "Look, son, edge or no, the medieval sword is a mass weapon.  My brother and I call sticks like those toad-turners, because your only hope of winning with them is to use them as magic wands to turn me into a toad."

"I've won two fights today!" the student insisted.

The Duke shrugged.  "Maybe they were afraid of looking dishonorable.  Maybe they actually thought they'd been hit hard enough.  But I'm telling you flat, if that was your best shot, you're not going to be able to kill me.  I'd be glad to lend you a heavier sword."

"I'll stick with these," the other said haughtily.

From the other side of the field, Taawi's daughter and her friends couldn't hear the talk; but they saw the duke shrug again, back up three steps, and raise sword and shield to the ready.

The third round ran from 3:30 to 4:20.  The sky remained clear, but the day had reached and passed its hottest point, and the light was changing.

"I think we have light enough for one more round," said the Marshall.

"It should be light enough for fighting until 5," said Pertti.  "I hate to have court in the dark, though.  Amanda?"

"Twelve knights and one unbelted fighter were eliminated this round, Your Majesty.  That leaves 35 fighters, and three fights per field."

"Can we leave it until tomorrow morning, and hold court now?"

"Whatever you wish, of course.  I can guarantee you that we won't have thirteen rounds—ten more, that is.  But we could still have nine more."

"Get the next round started right away, then," said the King.  "Herald!"

"Sir!" said Geoffrey of Rannoch, a freckle-faced redheaded boy with a cornet's sash.

"My compliments to Master Harold, and would he attend me at his earliest convenience?"

"On my way, Sire!" said the youth.

"Wait.  After you see Master Harold, my love to the Queen, and tell her I'd like her advice."

"I'll do that, Your Majesty," said another cornet; Mathilde of Rannoch, Geoffrey's twin.

The King blinked.  "Thank you, quick now," he said.  Off they sped.

"Why did you break away from the other society, Mr.  Hall?" asked the newsmag reporter from the San Diego Sun.  He was a thin, intense young man with thick glasses, who'd gone to the trouble of borrowing a costume from the hospitality office, the Gold Key, and wore it over his mundanes, or street clothes.

"The SCA has a basic problem that wasn't being addressed," Mezentius said.  "Early in its existence, a handful of people appointed themselves its Board of Directors, and asserted their right to meddle constantly.  They interfered with internal Kingdom politics; they reserved to themselves the right to say what SCA groups were official, and what kind of groups they could be; they appointed SCA-wide officers and required the Kingdom officers to report to them.  They imposed the local fighting rules on the whole SCA.  And they charge a fee at every event, solely to pay for publishing and mailing their magazine, Tournaments Illuminated."

"That's an unusual name," said the reporter.

"It's a joke, a reference to Sports Illustrated.  Unfortunately, the joke is on the SCA.  I went into the office of one of the history professors at San Diego State, trying to build a bridge between the people who actually study and teach the Middle Ages, and the SCA, which claims to do so."

"And what was his reaction?"

"He listened for a while, until I mentioned T. I.  Then he opened a file cabinet and pulled out five or six issues.  'You mean this publication?  I admire your nerve, young man!' "

"And then what?"

"Then he showed me the door," the Baron said.

"Was that when you decided to start the SGU?"

"No," said Mezentius patiently, "that was just one straw on the camel's back.  Another was when the Board added a laurel wreath to Calafia's arms."

"All right," said the young man, "why did they do that, and why did it incense you?"

"Taking your second question first, it incensed the whole Barony!  We designed our arms just as you see them in front of our pavilion, and we didn't like having them messed with by a group of people up in the Bay Area."

"So by 'we' you mean…"

"Everyone who was part of the Barony then.  Either the SCA didn't have their rule yet, when we submitted our arms, that every SCA branch must have a laurel wreath in its arms, or the College of Arms was asleep when it passed ours without one.  But they did pass them, and then, years later, they told us we had to change them."

"How did that make you feel?"

"I was so mad I wanted to have the laurel wreath coming out of the sea serpent's… well… let's just say it would have been underwater.  That's how angry it made me, personally."  The reporter laughed.

"It wasn't just Calafia's arms, either," Mezentius added.  "There are five baronies in our kingdom, and none of them have a laurel wreath in its arms now.  As soon as we left the SCA, we removed the SCA's brand from our banners, and they reverted to the clean, simple, medieval arms we designed in the first place."

"I see.  So did you strike the laurel wreaths because they marked you as SCA groups, or were the laurel wreaths being forced on you part of the reason you broke away?"

"Some of each," the Baron answered.  "The wreaths were one of the reasons we left, but for most of us, a lesser one.  If the Board had been willing to reform the way it did business, I don't know that the mandatory wreaths on the arms of local groups, and the mandatory wreaths and crowns on Kingdom arms, would have led to the SGU."

"I want to hear more from you about things the SCA Board did," the reporter said, looking at his notes, "but let me return for a moment to Tournaments Illuminated, which seems to be a sore point with you.  Doesn't the SGU have a magazine?"

"We have several," said the Baron.  "There's Medieval Arts, published here in Calafia by Mistress Greta; Scientiae, published in Dreiburgen by Master Anthony; and Annals, which is an archive of events held by the SGU, successions of Kings and Queens, awards given, and an SGU-wide order of precedence.  Baron Sir Thumas of Tir Ysgithr publishes that."

"Tir Ysgithr is?"

"Tucson, Arizona."

"And how are these magazines better than Tournaments Illuminated?"

"The printing is better, the paper is better, the content of the magazines is enormously better, and the subscribers pay for the magazines.  There's no one saying they must be published, and using membership money or site fees to keep them going.  If they can't keep enough subscribers sending them money, they're out of business."

"So what was the final straw, that split the SGU off from the SCA?"

"I was reading the minutes of the latest monthly Board meeting—an exercise in ulcer maintenance, believe me.  And right there in black and white was the statement that the Board of Directors was the SCA."

"Not the ruling body of the SCA, or the court of last resort, or—"

"No, it was a direct quote from one of the Directors: 'We five people are the SCA,' if I remember it exactly.  So that made me think, if they're the SCA, what are the rest of us?  Why are we paying money to be abused by something we're not part of?"

"Sounds like a revelation."

"It was.  And a bit of a relief, too."

"But the SGU, like the SCA, is a non-profit educational organization.  Doesn't the SGU have a Board of Directors?"

"Yes, it does.  Every corporation is required by law to have one.  But they aren't required to be appointed by themselves, they aren't required to appoint their own successors without the consent of the members, they aren't required to meet monthly, and they aren't required to decide everything on their own.  The SGU has an annual Director's meeting, open to all SGU members, and all members with their dues paid up are entitled to cast votes on the business before the Board.  This is the way most corporations operate."

"What about matters that come up between annual Board meetings?  Who deals with those?"

"The corporate officers, elected by the membership.  And then their actions are reviewed at the next annual meeting," Mezentius answered.

The fourth round of the Lists started at 4:20, and ended at 5:00.  35 fighters fought 17 fights, three fights per field on fields 1 through 5, two fights on field 6.  Because the numbers were uneven, one fighter got a free pass, called a "bye", to the next round.  A flip of a coin decided which unbelted fighter got the bye.  Eodric the Mad, who lost to Sir Christian in the first round, but won in the second and third, didn't have to fight (or get to fight, depending on your perspective) in the fourth.

Fighting against Dreiburgen wasn't proving lucky for Sir Nutcase.  Having been "smeared like peanut butter" (as Aino had predicted) by Anthony von Sternheim, the self-appointed clown prince now got hammered like a nail by Anthony's older brother.  Just as the new Master Gerald was about to announce "Victory to Duke Sir Werner von Sternheim!" the Roman corpse went through more twitching, dramatic gesturing, and moaning.  The herald waited until the death was over.  Then, just as he was about to make the announcement, Sir Nutcase started acting his death all over again.

"Go ahead, Master Gerald," said Count Armin.  He grabbed the corpse by one ankle and started dragging it off the field.

"I'm-way ot-nay ead-day et-yay!" said Sir Nutcase in a high, quavering voice.

"Yes, you are," said Count Armin.  "Shut up, or I'll sit on you."

Nothing more was heard from the battered legionary carcass.

When Master Harold strode out onto the field at 5:00, 12 knights and one unbelted fighter had suffered their second and final losses.  Only Anthony von Sternheim and Eodric the Mad would go on to the fifth round without the white belt of knighthood around their waists, Eodric with one loss, Anthony with none.  Twenty knights would also be in the next round, four with one loss each, 16 with none.  The knights with no losses included Duke Taawi, Duke Juho, Duke Werner, Sir Yrjö, and Sir Edwin the Dogged, the SCA knight.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!  MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!" Master Harold cried in the waning light.  "THERE WILL BE NO COURT THIS EVENING!  IF YOU HAVE BUSINESS WITH THE KING THAT MUST BE PUBLIC, AND CANNOT WAIT UNTIL CLOSING COURT TOMORROW, SEE ME!  THERE WILL BE A COURT AT 9 IN THE MORNING.  THE LISTS WILL BEGIN AT 10!  TIME RULES US ALL, GOOD GENTLES; THE KING IS ONLY REGENT.  SO HE BID ME SAY." And the herald bowed to one and all.

Failing light might have stopped the fighting, Isabella thought, but that didn't mean anyone planned to sleep.  People strolled about, or sat in circles around "fires" of Coleman lanterns turned down low.  Here and there in the dark, couples necked earnestly, or retired to closed tents for privacy.

Master Renfrew was performing an oldie but goodie from the Danny Kaye movie The Court Jester.  When he reached the last line, "…and so I made a fool of myself!"  his audience laughed and clapped.  Jenny was there, leaning back against Sir Yrjö, his cloak wrapped about them both; Isabella was glad to see that he wasn't indifferent to her.  She realized that she didn't know Jenny's or Deborah's medieval names yet; she'd have to find out.

Isabella looked around.  Away from the "fires," Master Anthony von Sternheim was introducing a dozen or so people to naked-eye astronomy, pointing out medieval constellations, naming stars, letting his listeners see Mars and Jupiter and know, if only this one time, that they had looked on them.  Aino stood beside him, wrapped in her cloak; impossible to know whether she watched the sky, or was watching him.

"Beware of clove lemons," said a voice behind Isabella, in Catalan.  Unsurprised, she turned.

Rodrigo Seturino was old enough to be her father, if just barely.  The tall, thin Spaniard wore the ceremonial costume of the Spanish court, unchanged since the 1630's; a little late for the SGU's period, but not drastically so.  Much of it was concealed beneath the heavy cloak he wore in the March night, but Isabella didn't need to see the rapier he wore to know it was there, or the jeweled blue doublet, or the modest ruff; she'd seen them too often for that.  Somewhere on his person there would also be a small but powerful hand gun, which Isabella had never seen, and hoped she never would.

"Clove lemons, Uncle Rodrigo?" she responded, also in Catalan.  "What are clove lemons?"

"You jab cloves into the skin of a lemon, until there is no room for more," the bodyguard said.  "When you see a person whom you would like to kiss, you pull out a clove and crush it in your teeth, presumably to sweeten the breath.  Then you kiss your victim."

"Are you warning me or instructing me?" Isabella teased.

"Then he takes the lemon, and goes off to find someone else to kiss, who does the same, until all the cloves are gone."

"This sounds very much like the sort of thing an Iberian would come up with," Isabella said. "Someone from Andalusia or Granada, perhaps.  This is an SGU custom?"

White teeth flashed in the night.  "Let us say, that these Americans are very selective in their re-creation.  Clove lemons, but no priests—in the Middle Ages, the Age of Faith!"

"Well, many thanks for the warning, but please remember you are my bodyguard, not my dueña."

"He's married, you know."

"What?  Who is married?"

Rodrigo shook his head.  "It won't do, señorita.  I have known you too many years not to know how your mind works.  I can read your thoughts—or, at least, I can see where you look, and read your expressions."

"I shall have to ask my father to find someone else," Isabella said.  "You are getting senile, and imagining things."

Rodrigo shrugged.  "As you wish," he said, bowed, and walked away.

"I've never known anyone like you," Sir Edwin said.

Mistress Amanda turned red; it was barely visible, seated as they were apart from the nearest "fire."  "Come, sir, you hardly know me at all."

"That's true," he said.  "Or is it?  It doesn't feel true.  I feel as if I've always known you, and we're meeting again after a long separation.  Or as if you've always been there, in the corner of my eye, and now I've turned around, and seen you clearly for the first time."

"You go too fast, Sir Edwin.  You don't know me; and I don't know you."

"What is it, love?  Who has hurt you this much?"

"No one meant to hurt anyone," Amanda said, after a silence.  "I'm Alison von Sternheim's sister.  She went to Comic-Con one year when it was held at UCSD, and the SCA was providing security and doing demonstrations and recruiting; this was before Mezentius started the SGU.  She met Forrest there—Werner von Sternheim—he was one of the original Calafians, and a fighter, though not a knight yet.  They fell instantly in love, and they've been together ever since."

"How nice for them," said Sir Edwin.

"Yes.  Well, they started House Sternheim, and one of their members was Forrest's brother Tony, who became Anthony von Sternheim.  Forrest graduated from San Diego State, married Alison, got a job as a computer programmer in Riverside; he and Alison moved there and started the Barony of Dreiburgen."

She stopped, staring into the darkness.  He took her hand, found it was like ice.  "You're cold!" he exclaimed.  "You should have said," and draped his cloak around them both.  Wrapped in his cloak, held in his arms, she sighed.

"Anyway," Amanda continued, "Anthony was still at State, so they made him the other head of household, and he kept Sternheim going in Calafia.  Then, after graduation, he got a job as a computer programmer for Crocker Bank, so he was pretty well set, too."

Edwin said nothing, just held her and waited for her story to get to a point.

"Eventually," said Amanda, "Alison's sister met Forrest's brother, and it was second verse, same as the first.  Anthony loves Amanda, Amanda loves Anthony, what could be more natural, or more right?"

"But?" said Edwin.

"But Aino—Lady Aune—is sunlight dancing on a river, moonlight on silver, music made flesh, and all sorts of things Anthony never said about me.  It seems he loves me like the sister he never had."

"Shall I hurt him for you?"

"Oh no!" she said.  "He didn't do anything wrong!  It's just that I thought—or rather I hoped—I am so unhappy," she said, starting to cry.

"Shh, shh, go ahead, that's all right," he said, rocking her.  After a while, when she had done, he said, "May I call you, after the tourney?  We could have dinner, and get to know each other?"

"That sounds nice," she said, cradled in his arms.

Standing in the "fire" light, accompanying himself on the harp, Master Ioseph sang:

Once upon a tourney in olden Calafia
There was a handsome laddy delighting ladys' eyes.
Or so he told us, told us, and told us;
Denny, don't you know that a gentleman's discreet?

Well, every lord a ribbon bears, a token from his lady.
He pins it nearest to his heart and shelters it from blows.
But not for Denny to single out one lady—
You couldn't see his armor for the favors that he wore!

To take the field for the lists the heralds call for Denny;
He's flirting with his latest and hears them not at all.
Oh, Denny Murphy!  Calling Denny Murphy!
He's counting up her fingers, with a kiss upon each nail.

Now in those days they called three times, and you would answer smartly;
They did not call you after that, you forfeited the bout.
Oh, Denny Murphy!  Calling Denny Murphy!
He's searching for a scrap of space to pin her favor on.

Then suddenly he hears the cry, they're calling for the final time!
He jams his helmet on his head, and snatches up his sword.
See Denny Murphy sprinting for the eric,
Not a second's time to check his gear before the fight!

His knees of finest Kirby plate have locked up at the field's edge.
He topples like a stricken oak, no knight hit him so hard.
Poor Denny Murphy, face-down Denny Murphy,
His pig-snout bascinet he drove into the muddy lawn!

Now shall we help him to his feet?  I think I see him twitching.
Do you suppose his air holes are all buried in the ground?
Or shall we leave him? And let the ladies grieve for him?
O how could we use such a dashing laddy so?

His audience laughed and clapped.  "Olden Calafia?" called Duke Grigoriy.  "That was what, four years ago?"

Master Ioseph bowed.  "True, Your Grace.  Don't fret.  Every year it will become more accurate."

Harold and Deborah were sitting side by side, he in his cloak, she in hers; but they were holding hands.  As those around them laughed again, he said, "I had no idea."

"People take me for granted, too," she said.  "Because I don't scream or shout or make a weeping fool of myself—most of the time, anyway—they think I don't feel strongly.  But I have as many tears and screams and rages as anyone."

"You're a very private person," Harold said.

"So are you," said Deborah.

"Me?!" said Harold.  "Private?  The man who's heard in five counties whenever he opens his mouth could hardly be private if he wanted!"

"We're private right now," Deborah said.  "No one's looking at you, no one's listening to you but me.  Isn't that the purpose of Master Harold Godfrey, to keep just plain Harold Gibson private when he's not wearing the crossed trumpets?  And hasn't it worked altogether too well?"

"You've been watching me a long time, haven't you?" Harold said slowly.

"A long time," she said.  "There's only one thing I'd like to know."

"What's that?"

"When are you going to kiss me?"

And so the singers sang, the musicians played, and the lovers murmured all the things that lovers must say, in all their infinite variations; while California, cradled on the breast of the Earth, rolled inexorably eastward toward its reunion with the day.

Chapter 5
The Duke's Dilemma

Alas, my love, you do me wrong
To cast me off so discourteously,
And I have loved thee so long,
Delighting in thy company.

"Greensleeves" (traditional)
HRISTINA Huovinen had always been an early riser.  Born on a farm outside Eugene, Oregon, in 1942, she had been accustomed to getting up before the sun to feed the animals, collect the eggs, and do other chores before her own breakfast.  Nine a.m., for her, was like noon for anyone else.  Unable to lie in bed any longer, she kissed her sleeping husband on the ear, and slid out of the double sleeping bag they shared at tourneys.  She threw on several layers of robes and her cloak, put on clean socks and her wooden shoes, and gathered up a small bag of toiletry articles.  Maybe she couldn't get a shower, but she meant to brush her teeth, anyway!

Slipping out the front of the tent, the green-eyed blonde let the flap fall behind her.  Judging by the uncouth sounds coming from the family pavilion, her children were also asleep.  She peered through the front of the big tent.  Yes, she recognized the ungainly lumps of Yrjö and Aino in their sleeping bags, snoring away like a sawmill and a train whistle, respectively.  And, of course, both denied indignantly that they did any such thing!  Other lumps were presumably Jenny and Deborah.  And the third?  Oh yes, she thought, as a head of long black hair peeped out of the sleeping bag, the Iberian girl.  Tina smiled and put a finger to her lips.  Isabella—that was her name—nodded, but didn't collapse immediately back into sleep, but sat up instead.  Christina didn't wait to see the outcome; there was a drinking fountain and a porta-potty calling her, maybe even in that order.  She let the flap fall, and walked past the tent where Maddy and Robert slept, and the one with Juho and Hazel inside, intent on her morning ablutions.

Fifteen minutes later, her face and hands washed, her teeth brushed, and her hair brushed out and brought under control, she felt much less like Christina Huovinen, washed-up ex-model, dowdy old married lady, and mother of two almost-grown children, and more like

KRISTIINA
HURMAAWA

Duchess! 
Flirt! 
Turner of heads! 

She wondered whether she had time for David to mess up her hair again—and other things!—before things started rolling again.  Only one way to find out!

"Good morning, Your Grace!" called Harold Godfrey.

"Good morning to you, Master Harold.  What happened to court?"

He waved a hand around the camp.  Almost no one was visible besides them, and those who were, huddled in capes and nursing coffee.  "Oddly enough, no one wanted one badly enough to hold it this early."

"It's a beautiful day!" she caroled, holding out her arms and spinning like a girl.  Her long blonde hair, with just a hint of honey color in it, fanned out around her.

" 'Tis," said Master Harold.  "And Kristiina the Charming makes it more beautiful still."

She laughed.  "You're a dear," she said, kissed him on the cheek, and went on her way.  As she returned to the edge of the field she passed the Dreiburgen pavilion, another big oval like the Calafian and kingdom tents, with the arms of the Barony and the arms of House Sternheim displayed on either side of the entrance.  The sides of the pavilion were still down, but Sir Werner and Mistress Alison, Master Anthony, Mistress Amanda, and a couple of Dreiburgeners she hadn't met, were eating egg or meat pies for breakfast—typical tourney fare.  "Good morning, all," she sang.  Then she came back to her own camp, and stopped.

Juho was sitting in one of the chairs, fully dressed, his mail spread across his lap, pliers in hand, spare links in a leather pouch on the seat of another chair; looking for rings that had broken or pulled open in yesterday's fighting.  He seemed intent, a bit pensive, nothing more.  But he was her baby brother, ten years her junior, and she knew at once that something was wrong.  She went to him and bent over, her golden hair mingling with his, and put her right arm around his neck.  "What's the matter, my darling?"

Juho let the pliers drop onto the mail in his lap, and reached up with both arms to hug her around the shoulders, pressing her face into the curve of his neck.  After a moment he released her, and said, "Let me up, Tina."

As she straightened and stepped back, he put the pliers in the sack, stood up himself, and slung the mail, all forty pounds of it, onto the rug.  He took her hand.  "I need your advice," he said, and led her out onto the fighting field, away from the tents.

"Hazel," she said.

"Bull's eye, big sister!" he laughed, without real mirth.  "It's bad enough—" he started.

"Tell me—" she said.  "Sorry, go on."

"It's bad enough," Juho said, "that everyone in my family dislikes her—my sisters, my brothers-in-law, my niece and nephew.  No, don't argue, you'd be lying, and you know it."

"And it's bad enough," he went on, "that she's started acting like touching me is an unpleasant chore.  And it's more than bad enough, it's horrible, that I'm starting to feel the same way about her."  He looked at his sister.  "I used to love her, Tina!"

"I'm so sorry, love.  So sorry," Tina said helplessly.

"You know what she's saying now?"

"Tell me."

"She says she's tired of camping out all the time, and tired of bowing and scraping, and sick of being embarassed when her friends ask where she's been all weekend; or when they don't ask, but make jokes about 'Her Royal Highness'."

"Sounds like she needs a better class of friends," said Tina.

"She says I'd better not win the Lists this time, because she's not going to be Queen again, and that's that.  She says she's not coming to any more sometimes hot, sometimes cold, always dirty, lame-brained 'tournaments'."

"I can't say I'm really sorry, or even surprised," Tina said.  "I'm only sorry for your sake.  Do you love her?"

"I used to love her," Juho said, bewildered.  "I remember that clearly.  When did I stop loving her, and why didn't I notice?"

"We'll get you through this," Tina said, squeezing his hand.  "For today, the problem is finding you a Queen at the last minute—just in case my own husband fails to pound you into the ground like a tent stake," she smiled.

"Yes, just in case," he said, beginning to smile.  "Hey, why don't I carry your favor?  Then you can be Queen if either one of us wins?"

"Frankly, my dear, that would feel a bit incestuous, to be Queen for you.  And if I'm going to do all that work, I want to do it on behalf of my own lord and love."

"I suppose that rules out Maddy and Aino, then."

"I doubt Maddy wants to be Queen two reigns in a row.  It isn't illegal, like fighting in the Lists when you're already King, but she's no doubt looking forward to a rest.  And Aino, I'm almost certain, doesn't want to be Queen unless Anthony wins it for her."

"Which he might," Juho said.  "He's been fighting like a man possessed."

"He is," she smiled.  "They're in love."

Then, seeing his expression, she hugged him close again.  "We'll get you through this, baby brother; the whole family will, I swear.  As for the last-minute-Queen problem, we've all day.  Maddy and I will put our heads together.  If we can't come up with a better notion, I will be your Queen."

"I love you, Tina."

"I love you, too.  Now let me get cracking on it."

The early birds, those who'd gone to sleep when it was only 1 or 2 in the morning, were stirring by 8 or 9, and they woke a few more, and the noise woke a few more… Like children on Christmas morning, the SGU members awoke, remembered where they were, and sprang out of their sleeping bags—except for a few with hangovers, who crawled out hand over hand.

Twenty-two fighters, still in the Lists, woke up, washed and ate and brushed their teeth, and started putting on their armor.  Others, freed of that, could dress in houpelandes or cotehardies or any kind of finery, and make a leisurely start.  Now there were marshalls and heralds enough, and more than enough, without needing to call on fighters who were still in the Lists.

Every barony still had fighters contending for the Crown.  Isles, small as it was, was represented by Sir Fergus McFergus, undefeated yet.  Even Terra, smallest of all, had Eodric the Mad still fighting for it.

Anthony von Sternheim embraced his brother and Baron.  "Good luck, Forrest." Sir Werner returned the embrace of his brother and squire.  Then Anthony held out his hand to Sir Edwin, and as it was taken, said "Good luck to us both, my friend," while Amanda smiled at both of them, misty-eyed.

At 9:45 a.m., Sunday, March 12, 1978, Master Harold Godfrey took the field.  He didn't bother to summon the fighters to the field; the King had nothing new to say to them.  For a bare second he savored the bright morning, the cool air, the rapt attention of hundreds.  This was the life!  He was never going to face the morning hung over again, he decided.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES, FIGHTERS ALL!  ALL FIGHTERS, PRAY ATTEND!"  The leaves shook, and all thoughts of sleep vanished from the camp.  "THIS IS THE ORDER OF COMBAT IN THE FIFTH ROUND!  ON FIELD ONE: COUNT SIR ARMIN VON BERGEN, SIR EDWIN THE DOGGED, ARM AND REPORT!  COUNT SIR MARTIN THE SOBER, SIR PATRICK OF GOLETA, ARM AND REPORT TO FIELD TWO!  SIR FERGUS MCFERGUS, EODRIC THE MAD, ARM YOURSELVES AND GO TO FIELD THREE!  ON FIELD FOUR…"

The game was on again.

"Are you out of your mind?" Queen Marketta asked her sister.  "No way am I going to be Queen for another four months!  Don't you remember how much work it is?"

"I remember," Duchess Kristiina said.  "And still I would do it for him, only it feels…" she hesitated.

"Naughty?" Marketta said.  She laughed.  "Oh, if you could only see your face!  You look like a little girl who's been caught playing doctor!"

"As a last resort, I'll do it," Tina said.  "But surely we can find someone else."

"Who?" Maddy demanded.  "Who can we trust not to hurt him?  Aside from you and me, the girls are all attached now, more or less; there'd be jealousy problems.  Deborah would have been perfect—calm, sensible—but then she had to…" she trailed off.

"What?" said Tina.

"You know, I was remarking only yesterday how mature she seemed, and responsible."

"Who?"

As the King came up behind Master Ioseph, he heard the elder bard humming an unfamiliar tune, and scribbling in a spiral-bound notebook, between glances at Baron Mezentius and his son Thomas watching the fighting, along with Aino's friend Isabella.  It reminded Pertti of a painter with a canvas, rendering a scene from life; only a pen was the brush, a notebook the canvas, and words the pigment.

The King cleared his throat.  "Good morning, Master Ioseph."

Master Ioseph rose, turned, bowed, pen and notebook in either hand.  "Good morning, Your Majesty.  It's going to be a fine day."

"I believe it is," said Pertti.  "That tune you were humming—do I know it?"

"Not yet, Your Majesty, not yet.  If I can make the words behave, you will; but not yet."

"Will you sing me what you've got?" the King asked.

Master Ioseph shook his head.  "Forgive me, Majesty!  It isn't ready; let me hide it away until it's done, if it ever is."

"Very well," said Pertti.  "I'll not try to tell you your art; you know best.  If it's ever done?  Does it happen often, that you can't make a song complete?"

"Too often," said Ioseph.  "It may not seem so to you, but I only show my successes."

"Well," said Pertti, "I'll leave you to your craft and wish you luck.  I must attend to mine."

"We are both Masters," said Ioseph, and bowed.

The fifth round started at 10 a.m., and ended at 10:30.  The average fight time was creeping up; 22 fighters meant 11 fights, 2 each on fields 1 through 5, only one on field 6; but those two fights took half an hour.  Eodric the Mad took his second loss, leaving Anthony von Sternheim the only non-knight in the Lists; and Anthony lost his fight as well, ruining his perfect string.  Sir Edwin also suffered his first loss.  Altogether five fighters were eliminated, leaving five knights and Anthony with one loss each, and eleven knights with no losses.

"Gentlemen," said the King to the assembled fighters, "and lady," nodding to Sir Caroline, the only female fighter left, "congratulations on making it to the sixth round.  Seventeen fighters makes eight fights and a bye.  That goes to Anthony, as the only unbelted fighter remaining."

"Your Majesty, I object!" said Anthony.

"Master Anthony?" said King Pertti.

Anthony took a step forward.  "Win or lose, Your Majesty, let me fight!  I have never done so well before; don't ask my blood to rest!  Let me fight, of your courtesy; and give the bye to Sir Edwin, our guest from Caid."

"I don't want it," said Edwin, "but that is well said." In a voice that only they two heard, he added, "I see why she loves you."

"Well said; and in a noble spirit," said Pertti.  "Very well; but if you refuse preference, let chance determine it.  Pick a number between 1 and 17, Master Anthony."

"Twelve," he said.

"Run these cards to the Mistress of the Lists," the King told a Lists page.  "And I mean run!  Tell her number 12 gets the bye.  As soon as she's done, run back here with them."

"This is the order of combat," said Master Harold a moment later.  "First, Count Sir Armin von Bergen gets the bye."

"Glad of the rest," said the graying Count, who was still undefeated.

"As I call your names, go immediately to your fields," said the herald.  "Duke Sir Taawi Suomainen, Duke Sir Grigoriy Ilyich Azizov, field 1.  Duke Sir Juho Suomainen, Sir Uilleam ap Eoin, field 2.  Duke Sir Werner von Sternheim and Sir Eadmund of Runeden, field 3.  Count Sir Christian Julian, Sir Edwin the Dogged, field 4.  Sir Caroline and Sir Gamlaun, field 5.  Count Sir Martin the Sober, Sir Alejandro di Padua, field 6."

"The rest of you gentlemen," he said to the remaining four, "stand ready.  As soon as a fight is over, we will grab that field, so stay armed and stay alert.  Sir Yrjö and Sir Frederick will fight at the first opportunity, then Sir Fergus and Anthony von Sternheim.  Good luck, everyone."

"Pero no, it's impossible!" protested Isabella.  "I have never been to one of these events before!  I don't know half your rules!  How could I be Queen?"

"It probably won't happen," Tina said soothingly.  "I've never seen such a field!  But I would feel so much better if you would agree, just on the slightest chance."

"And if it should happen, we'd all be helping, you know," said Maddy.  "We'd guide you every step of the way, so that all you had to do was sit on the throne and smile.  Please say you will!"

"But to call myself a Queen!  I could not!  And my father, what would he say to such a thing?" said Isabella.

"It's only play-acting," said Kristiina.

"Role-playing," said Marketta.  "Would your father mind so very much?  I know, with your upbringing, you'd be perfect."

"You said you wouldn't tell!" accused Isabella.

"Tell what?" said Tina.

Count Christian and Sir Edwin were well matched, old-style SCA heavy weighters with mail shirts, mail pants, plate over the knees and elbows, heater shields, and the heaviest swords they could swing for an extended period of time.  Christian's arms were gold, with a red wingless devil holding a red pitchfork; Edwin had a shield divided down the middle with blue on the left, white on the right, and three rampant brown bears.

They stood toe to toe exchanging combinations of blows.  It wasn't graceful, any more than two battleships exchanging fire are graceful.  It was powerful, and deadly, and it took its toll.

Edwin fell to one knee, keeping his guard up; his right leg had been hit hard enough, so he mustn't use it.  At the same moment Christian cried "Hold!" and stepped back.  The marshalls helped him remove his shield, and one carried it to the edge of the field, out of the way, while another helped him don an armored glove.  With sword in his right hand, Sir Christian tucked the stricken left behind his back, and called to Sir Edwin, "Do you yield, sir?"

Sir Edwin grinned at the now-shieldless Count from his knees; he still had both sword and shield.  "No, do you?" he answered.

Sir Christian saluted Edwin's courage.  Edwin responded, and waited for the Count to bring the battle to him.

"So what do you think, Uncle Rodrigo?  Will my father be very angry?" Isabella asked her bodyguard, in Portuguese.

"Why should he be?" Rodrigo shrugged.  "It's acting, isn't it?  If you took drama at the University, and had to play a role in class as a whore or a beggar or a queen, should he care?"

"So you think I should do it?"

"If you want to," Rodrigo said.  "Only, now that you've drawn attention to me, I think you should introduce me as your uncle, and I'll ask your father to send another whose cover isn't blown."

"Well then," she said, starting to turn away.

"Just remember," Rodrigo said, "he's married.  He is American, and so a commoner.  And he's from a Finnish family, and so Lutheran."

"There you are wrong," Isabella said.  "Most Finns are Lutheran, true; but his family is Catholic.  I don't know how observant," she said thoughtfully.

"It is Sunday, and he is here," said Rodrigo.

"And so am I, and so are you!"

"If you are, so must I be," he said.  "But be he the most devout Catholic in the world, he's still married."

"Really, Uncle Rodrigo, you verge on tiresome."

Sir Fergus McFergus of the Barony of the Isles was an Irish madman, a laughing, shouting red-haired bearded giant who fought with a two-handed sword.  Celtic animals were burned into his leather armor, which was also decorated with brass rivets.  Anthony, hardly believing he'd come this far, and fired up with Aino's love, took an axe in each hand and ran to meet him.  With a whoop on either side, they set to.

It wasn't slapdash, like some of the earlier fights where new fighters had rained blows and hoped to connect.  Everyone left in the Lists was better than that, either a knight seeking perfect mastery of the fighting arts, or someone well on the way to his first mastery of them.  It wasn't slapdash, but it was reckless, in that neither Sternheim nor McFergus cared greatly which of them won.  They whirled, they rushed, they charged, they ran the marshalls ragged keeping up with them, and finally they spun past each other, each striking too fast for the eye to follow.  Fergus McFergus fell to his knees with a thud.  Anthony von Sternheim literally fell on his face, axes flying from open hands.

"Juho, do you know Isabella?"

Juho had his helmet off to get some water.  Sweat stained the padded coif in his lap, and plastered his blond hair to his head.  A smile lit his face, and flashed in his blue eyes.

"Aino's friend," he said, putting down the pitcher.  "Cómo está, señorita?"

"Bien, señor, gracias," she answered.

"Are you drowning your sorrows, baby brother, or celebrating your victory?" Tina teased Juho.

He smiled more modestly.  "I'm afraid Sir Uilleam will not be the next King of Patria," he said.

"Wonderful!" said Maddy.  "I mean, not wonderful for him, of course, but you've won all your fights so far, haven't you?"

He nodded.  "So far," he said.  "Now if you ladies will excuse me…"

"Juho," said Tina, stopping him with a hand on his arm.  "That matter we talked about earlier?"

"Yes?" he said.

She tilted her head in Isabella's direction.  After a moment, he realized what she was telling him.

"Your pardon, ladies, too many blows to the head," Juho said.  "Señorita… I don't know your name," he said awkwardly.

"It is Isabella, as your sister said," she answered.

"Queen Isabella?" he said.  "That sounds like you're about to finance Columbus.  Have you picked an SGU name yet?"

"This is my first event," she said.

"Well," he said, studying her.  "How about Esmeralda, then, for now?  If you want, you can change it later."

She opened her eyes wide.  "But that is what my father calls me sometimes!" she said.  "Mi esmeraldita!  How did you know?"

"A lucky guess," he said.  "It suits you." He took her hands in both of his.  "My lady Esmeralda," he said, "will you do me the honor, if I should happen to win the Crown, of being my Queen for that reign?  Por favor, señorita?"

She blushed, and dropped her eyes for a moment, then raised them to his.  "Sí, señor, I will."

Round 6 ended at 11:30.  With a second fight on the first two fields to become vacant, the round had still taken 45 minutes.  Six fighters were eliminated: Sir Uilleam, Sir Eadmund, Sir Edwin of the SCA, Sir Alejandro, Sir Frederick, and Anthony von Sternheim.  Of the eleven fighters remaining, Duke Sir Grigoriy and Sir Gamlaun each took his first loss.  Duke Taawi, Duke Juho, Duke Werner, Count Armin, Count Christian, Count Martin, Sir Caroline, Sir Fergus, and Sir Yrjö were still undefeated.

The King decreed half an hour for lunch, so the fighters could rest after two grueling rounds, and so that the fighters, and everybody else, could make up for a hasty or skipped breakfast.

"Aino, Aino, I lost!" Anthony cried.

She ran to meet him.  "But you made it to the sixth round!" she cried, eyes shining.

"Exactly!" he said.  Then he dropped his axes and helmet, snatched her up against him, and kissed her with enthusiasm.

She kissed him right back…

Presently he said, "Whoo," and, "How come you understand me so well?"

"I have a brother," she smiled, "and a father, and two uncles—and they're all fighters."  She gave him a push.  "Go change out of that stinky armor, you sweaty man, you, and put on some warm, dry clothes before you catch a chill."

"Yes, ma'am!" he said.  He wanted to say I love you, but he was suddenly choked with emotion.

No matter.  It shone in his eyes.  It shone in hers, too.  They laughed together, and he picked up his gear and went.

Master Ioseph couldn't get the new song right, so he gave up for now.  If it wasn't ready, it wasn't ready; forcing it would only ruin it.  He put away his notebook and pen, picked up his harp, and began running his hands through the strings.  He had no intentions, he was just clearing his mind, like a wine taster cleansing his palate.

Presently he realized he'd drifted into a tune, one he'd written long ago.  Well, why not?  They were in Calafia, after all.  He cycled around to the beginning, struck a chord, and began to sing, his Irish tenor echoing from the hills:

Daughter of the West, Patria's first seed,
Bountiful and best, free from hate and greed.
Kingdoms split, and provinces decay,
Baronies dissolve like ocean spray:
Immortal, Calafia.

Restless breakers plead favors from her hand.
Eastern mountains speed shade to desert sand.
Gray whales spout, and grunions mob the shore,
Condor soars above the cougar's roar.
Here in our Calafia.

Where her people go, baronies arise.
Dreiburgen started so, Sternheim's golden prize.
Du Lac reigns in far-off Germany,
Eilonwy beside the Western Sea,
Offspring of Calafia.

Mezentius decreed the dream be made anew.
The Pelicans took heed, and like a flow'r it grew.
The Golden Unicorn breathes the southern air,
Knights protecting it stroke its silky hair.
Laurels praise Calafia.

When our exile's past, when the work is done,
Then our feet turn at last to seek the beaming sun.
Foreign lands have lured us long away,
Now our hearts will brook no more delay.
We've come home, Calafia.

"Yes, we've come home, Calafia," Ioseph sang, wishing with all his heart that his late wife Deborah were beside him, and unaware of the tears running down his cheeks.

"Your Majesty, may we speak with you?"

King Pertti looked up from the letter he was reading.  Harold Godfrey stood before him, and Count Sir Christian, and Baron Mezentius in his wheel chair.  What did they have in common?  The kingdom herald wasn't a Baron, like the other two, while Sir Christian was a fighter and the others weren't—ah.

"Certainly," he said.  "What can I do for the Pelicans this morning?"

Noon came and went; the King, the Herald, and some others were seen to be talking earnestly about something.  Mistress Amanda looked at Sir Martin.  "Do you know what's going on?" she asked.

"Not a clue," he said.  "Are your cards all ready?"

"I'm ready," she said, "whenever they are," nodding to the King and his Herald.

Martin grimaced.  "I'd go ahead and start, but Christian's with them, too, and he's still in the Lists."

"MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  MY LORDS AND LADIES!  THE FIVE FIGHTS OF THE SEVENTH ROUND ARE AS FOLLOWS: ON FIELD 1, DUKE SIR TAAWI AND SIR CAROLINE!  ON 2, DUKE SIR JUHO AND DUKE SIR WERNER VON STERNHEIM!  SIR YRJÖ AND SIR GAMLAUN, REPORT TO FIELD 3!  COUNT SIR CHRISTIAN AND SIR FERGUS, FIELD 4!  ON FIELD 5, DUKE SIR GRIGORIY AND COUNT SIR ARMIN!  ALL FIGHTERS, ARM AND REPORT NOW!  COUNT SIR MARTIN HAS THE BYE!"

"And he'd damned well better not argue with me about it," the King called, evoking laughter.

"Interesting," Martin said to King Robert.  Since he had the bye, Martin had removed himself to a "neutral corner."  The Caid pavilion certainly was that.

"What is?" said Edwin absently.  Amanda had told him to make himself scarce while she worked, otherwise she'd be distracted and make mistakes.  But he could look, couldn't he?

"The distribution of the fighters," Martin told the others.  "We have four Calafians left: Taawi, Juho, Yrjö, and Grigoriy.  Three Failtens: Christian, Caroline, and me.  Two from Dreiburgen, Werner and Gamlaun.  One each from Isles and Gyldenholt."

"And households?" said His Majesty of Caid.

"Let's see… Three from House Suomainen, everyone else is from a different house."

"What about personas?" Edwin said, entering into the spirit of the game.  "Three Finns, two Germans, one Russian, one Irish, and I guess three English.  But what kind of name is Gamlaun?"

"Damfino," Martin said.

"Only five fights and five fields to fight them on," said King Robert.  "How long can that take?"

It took 40 minutes.  Count Armin and Duke Grigoriy kept killing each other simultaneously.  Double kills were void and refought; but they did it four times.

"How about this?  Five double kills and they're both out of the Lists," Pertti grumbled.

"Do you think we could?" Amanda said wistfully.

Finally Armin caught Grigoriy looking the wrong way for a second, and nearly took off his head with a rising snap.

"Well, Your Majesty, there is good news and bad news," Amanda said, writing furiously.

"What's the bad news?"

"We only eliminated two, Gamlaun and Grigoriy.  We'll still have nine fighters in round 8."

"I take it back!"  Pertti said.  "Give me the good news."

She smiled briefly.  "Three fighters now have one loss apiece—Caroline, Fergus, and Werner—so only six of the nine fighters are still undefeated."

Pertti shook his head.  "Six out of nine with no losses after seven rounds!  Never have I seen such a OH SHIT!"

Startled, Amanda looked up.

Hazel was beside herself with rage.  "What are you doing still fighting!"

Juho grabbed her arm.  "Keep your voice down!  If you're going to scold me in public, at least deny the audience the vocal portion of your tantrum!"

"Get!  Your!  Hand!  Off!  Me!"  she said, vibrating with fury.

"Fine," he said, releasing her.  "Then control yourself."

"Didn't I tell you—"

"You said you wouldn't be Queen," Juho said.  "Very well.  If I win, someone else will be my Queen, instead."

"Who?" Hazel said.  "Your loving sister?  Don't you know how that looks?"  She smiled, slowly.  "Or maybe your adoring niece, who follows her uncle around like a bitch in—"

"SHUT UP!" he said.  People were trying to give them privacy, but they jumped when he shouted that.  "Keep your filthy mouth off my family," he said more quietly.  "This is your only warning, Hazel."

"Who?!" she demanded.

"It's none of your business who!  Now if we're done here…"

"Oh, we're done, bastard," she said, and slapped him as hard as she could, rocking him back on his heels.  "Damn you to hell," she said, and stomped off towards the Suomainen tents, leaving him trembling and flushed beet red with rage.

"Let go of me!" Aino said.  "I'll claw her eyes out!  I'll yank out her hair and strangle her with it!  I'll rip off her arms and beat her to death with them!"

"Take a number, already!" Jenny said; she and Deborah were practically sitting on Aino to keep her from racing after Hazel.  "Don't you think your poor uncle's been humiliated enough for one morning?"

Aino suddenly stopped fighting and began crying.  "Damn her damn her damn her," she wept, "who does she think she is?"

"La esposa," Isabella said, handing Aino a clean white handkerchief.  "His wife," she said softly, as Juho's two sisters wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth.

"Are you all right to continue?" Taawi said to his brother-in-law.

"I'm shaking like a leaf from adrenaline, and in a little while I'm going to crash and be exhausted," Juho said.  "Is that what you want to hear?"

"We could give you the bye this round," said the King his other brother-in-law.  "No one would mind after what happened."

"Hasn't Amanda already made up the cards?" Juho asked.

"Yes, but—"

"Then can we please just get on with it?"

Between the double kills and Hazel's exhibition, they lost twenty precious minutes.  At 1:00 Master Harold announced all four fights of Round 8 from the center of the field, leaving the individual heralds to administer the salutes and start the fights; winning back a little time.  Taawi and Armin, each undefeated, took field 2.  Juho and Martin, each undefeated, engaged in combat on 3.  Baron Werner and Sir Yrjö were assigned field 4, the Duke with one loss, the new knight with none; they went resignedly, because of the long history of friendship between their households.  But possible combinations were running out; soon brother must fight brother, son must fight father, uncle must fight nephew.  Sir Caroline and Sir Fergus, each with one previous loss, took field 5.  The dice decreed that Christian (who had no losses) got the bye.

It took 25 minutes.

"Damn if this isn't one for the record books," Sir Alejandro said to King Robert of Caid.  "Can you imagine how this will look in the photo albums, ten years from now?  You guys in the Grand March, three count'em three peerages at Court, Duke Juho standing there with that handprint on his face and blood on his mouth, and this incredible fighting—the photo buffs must be using up film by the case, never mind by the roll!"

"That's a relief," said King Robert.  "I was afraid this was a normal tourney for the SGU.  I'll tell you plain, the SCA doesn't have tourneys like this!"

"Neither do we, Your Majesty," said Sir Alejandro, shaking his head.  "Neither do we."

"Taawi beat Armin, so Taawi's still undefeated and Armin has one loss.  Juho beat Martin; Juho undefeated, Martin one loss.  Werner beat Yrjö, one loss each.  Caroline beat Fergus; still one loss for her, he's out.  Christian is still undefeated," Mistress Amanda summed up.

"So we still have eight fighters left?" said Pertti.

"Yes, but five of them have a loss now.  We must lose a few of them next round."

"Let's hope so.  We're going to need fewer fighters in the future, three-day crowns, or some way to fight after dusk."

"Hmm," said Martin.  "Indoors, maybe?"

"My lords and ladies!  My lords and ladies, gentles all!  The King decrees that there SHALL be rest for the wicked!  There will be fifteen minutes before the next round!  Fighters, rest and take refreshment!" Lord Peter cried.

"What the hey?" said Sir Christian.  "Don't tell me Master Harold's voice gave out at last?"

"Hardly," said Martin.  "Look."

Master Harold had been standing on the top of the hill hiding the parking area, as far from the field as he could get; with his back to the eric, to make it as hard to hear as possible.  Now he turned around, beaming, and walked to the center of the field.  He clapped Lord Peter on the shoulder and said something they weren't meant to hear; then embraced the shorter herald.

"Looks like Lord Peter passed Master Harold's field testing," Martin said.

"Will you two shut up?" said Sir Caroline, flat on her back in full armor.  "I'm asleep for fifteen minutes.  Or else."

"I bet she's ticklish," said Martin.

"Slow.  Lingering.  Painful.  Death." Caroline promised, without opening her eyes.

Chapter 6
Sudden Death Overtime

After the sunlight bright on burnished mail,
After the clash of the axe and mace,
After the greatsword grazing soft-rimmed shield,
After the shouting and the agony
On grassy sward amidst pavilions,
They who died stand grinning at final Court,
Holding their ladies at their sides,
And shout hurrahs with those who've never died
And wonder that they can think it sport.

"Northern Wasteland" by David Mackie
(SCA/SGU name "David Scholarius")
T 1:40 Master Harold called the fighters to the field.  Duke Taawi and Duke Werner were sent to field 1, Duke Juho and Sir Caroline to 2, Count Christian and Sir Yrjö to 3, Count Armin and Count Martin to 5.

"Which one do I watch?" Aino wailed.

"Sit right here in the kingdom pavilion and watch 1, 2, and 3," said Jenny.  "That's what I'm going to do."

"You'll get tennis neck," predicted Deborah.

"Watch me not care," Jenny said.  "Big time!"

There was a reason the Lists had been avoiding fights between members of the same household, between knights and their squires or former squires, between long-time close friends, even between people from the same barony as much as possible.  It wasn't favoritism; if the King had ordered Mistress Amanda to maximize his household's chances of keeping the throne, by never pitting one Suomainen against another, she would have refused; and the King, not the Mistress of the Lists, would have been in trouble.

But familiarity masks ability.  People who fight each other regularly know all each other's tricks, all their favorite moves, weaknesses, strengths, and quirks.  A weaker fighter will do better against a stronger fighter he knows well, just because he's fought him so often.  If he fights a different strong fighter he doesn't know so well, the only factor will be who's the better fighter.

The other reason was time.  When two fighters have been up against each other over and over, it's harder for them to find new ways to beat each other.  The fight will drag on and on.  Also, they'll tend to a high number of double kills, which have to be refought, which also makes the fight longer.

The eight fighters left in the Lists had all known each other, and fought each other, for years.  Round 9 took thirty minutes.

"We just cut the numbers in half, Your Majesty," said Mistress Amanda.  "Duke Werner just lost his second fight, as did Martin, Caroline, and Yrjö."

"Oh well," said Pertti.  "Still, nine rounds.  He did very well." He shook himself.  "So Taawi and Juho are left, and?"

"Taawi, Juho, and Christian are still undefeated, all three of them," she said.  "Armin has one loss.  Page!  Take these cards to Master Harold!"

Caroline turned to George.  "It would have been nice to see a new face on the throne," she said wistfully.  "Still you did well, Sir Yrjö.  Congratulations."

He smiled at her.  "It would have been nicer to see a woman win Crown.  Better luck next time, Sir Caroline." He stuck out his hand.

She surprised them both by giving him a hug.

"Two counts and two dukes left," King Robert of Caid said.

"And both dukes are Finns," Sir Edwin answered.  "I'd say there's a better than even chance that the next King of Patria will be a member of the same household as the current one."

"We've got to have a break, Bob," Duke Taawi said to his brother.  "Juho's wrung-out like a dish rag from that scene with Hazel, and all four of us are bone tired."

"Another fifteen minutes, then.  You tell the fighters, I'll tell the heralds."

Master Ioseph looked at the fighters lying by the eric, wet cloths on their heads, their wives and daughters around them.  Duke Taawi and Duke Juho, both Finns; Count Christian; Count Armin, aggressively German.  Something clicked.  He took out his notebook and jotted down:

Oh the southern lands breed friendly folk,
They'll treat you as if you were kin;
But for martial prowess and deeds of arms,
Give me a German or Finn;
A German, a Dane, or a Finn.

"Hmmm!" he said, pleased, and put it away.  He could do something with that before the next tourney…

"Your Graces," said Master Harold at 2:30.  Duke Taawi and Duke Juho, Count Christian and Count Armin opened their eyes and looked up at him.

"If Sir Taawi and Sir Christian will take field 1, and Sir Juho and Sir Armin field 2, we're ready to begin," the herald said.

When three of the four semi-finalists had kissed their wives and all had put their helmets back on, they saw that the marshalls had rearranged the fighting fields during the rest.  The fighting area, 180 feet wide by 120 feet long, with the kingdom pavilion in the middle of the long side, had been set up with ropes dividing it into six fields 60 feet square.  Now those ropes were gone, and a single rope divided the fighting area into two fields, 90 feet by 120.

Duke Sir Werner von Sternheim, marshalling on field 1, smiled at his friends.  "Still have your cup on and all your gear in place, Dave?  Need me to check anything?"

"I'm fine, Forrest, thanks."

Werner looked over at Sir Frederick the Red, who'd been checking Sir Christian's gear.  Sir Frederick nodded.  Both marshalls stepped back, Werner saying to Lord Peter, "We're ready, my lord herald."

At the same time, on field 2, Sir Yrjö turned from Count Armin and nodded to Duke Grigoriy, the senior marshall on that field.  Duke Grigoriy clapped Duke Juho on the shoulder, and looked to Lady Adrianna, a short, very slender black-haired lady whose sister was married to Sir Christian.  "Go ahead, my lady," he said.

"Good luck, Your Grace," Sir Yrjö said to the man about to fight his uncle.

Count Armin studied him.  "Damned if I don't believe you mean that, boy.  Thanks."

"My lords and ladies!  My lords and ladies all!"  cried Lord Peter.  "Duke Sir Taawi Suomainen," he said, pointing with his herald's staff, "here battles Count Sir Christian Julian," pointing again, "for the Crown of the West!"

For a moment there was silence; then the crowd burst into laughter.  "Good idea!" King Robert called.  "Hold a tourney for that, then Caid and Patria can go up to the West and fight to seat the winner on their throne!"

"My lords and ladies, your pardon!"  cried the beet-red herald.  "Old habits die hard!"  More laughter; southern California had been part of the West before the SGU broke away from the SCA.  "Duke Taawi and Count Christian here battle for the Crown of Patria!"

As the embarassed Lord Peter began directing his two fighters through the salutes, Lady Adrianna cried, "My lords and ladies!  My lords and ladies!  Duke Sir Juho Suomainen and Count Sir Armin von Bergen do battle on this field for the Crown of," one beat, two beats, three beats, "Patria!"  she said, making the crowd laugh again.

"Is this a tournament of honor or stand-up comedy?" growled Count Armin.  "Enough, already!"

"Yes, Your Grace," the herald said meekly.  "Your Graces, pray salute the Crown."

"I thought you said yesterday that we couldn't have 13 rounds," said Martin.

"That's right," said Amanda.

"Well, look," he said.  "We have three fighters, call them A, B, and C, with no losses; and one fighter, D, with one loss.  Say A and B fight, C and D fight, and A and D lose."

"All right."

"So we have three fighters in round 10; A with one loss, B and C with none.  If C gets the bye, then round 11 is A and B."

"Just show me," Amanda said.  So Martin did:

Round 10
A 0 --> 1 (Loss)
B 0 --> 0 (Win)
C 0 --> 0 (Win)
D 1 --> 2 (Loss; Out)
Round 11
A 1 --> 1 (Win)
B 0 --> 1 (Loss)
C 0 --> 0 (Bye)
Round 12
B 1 --> 1 (Win)
C 0 --> 1 (Loss)
A 1 --> 1 (Bye)
Round 13
A 1 --> 1 (Win)
C 1 --> 2 (Loss; Out)
B 1 --> 1 (Bye)
Round 14
A vs. B (finals)

"God!" said Pertti.  "We'd be fighting by torch light!"

"You're not wrong, Martin, except in your notion of a round," Amanda said.  "One fight is not a round; that's part of the definition our charts use.  Your 11, 12, and 13 is a single round-robin round, then your 14 is round 12, fought two out of three as usual.  This outcome is in the charts, as a 12-round result."

"In fact," she said, "if you wanted to, you could even eliminate a round.  If the fighters agreed, or the King insisted because time was short, your 11-14 could be combined into a single round-robin round 11; the difference would be that your 14 wouldn't be two out of three."

Martin and Pertti looked at each other.  "Amanda, we don't pay you enough.  Effective today, your salary is doubled."

"Twice zero is zero," she smiled; SGU offices are volunteer positions.

"All right, triple then," the King joked.

In half an hour of hard fighting, Taawi killed Baron Christian; but Count Armin beat Duke Juho.  It was Juho's first loss, Christian's as well.  At 3:00 the round was over and all four fighters were still in the Lists, Taawi with no losses, Juho, Christian, and Armin with one each.

After a ten-minute break, the fighters switched partners and resumed the dance.  Taawi fought Armin on 1, Juho and Christian fought on 2.

"Come on, you're too quiet!" the TV reporter said to the half-dozen people his camera man was filming.  "You want to look good, don't you?  Come on, Kill!  Kill!  Let's hear you say it!"

Brow thunderous, Master Harold Godfrey, Crowned Sun Principal Herald of the Kingdom of Patria, strode towards the offenders.  Four slim figures passed him.  "We'll deal with it," Deborah said.  Harold stopped and watched.  The King's niece put her hands on her hips and glared at the SGU members, who melted away under the heat of her displeasure.  Isabella and Jenny planted themselves in front of the camera man however he turned, so he couldn't get any shots.  Deborah explained to the reporter that he wasn't at the Roman Colisseum, and if he wanted a bloodthirsty crowd, they had bull fights in Tijuana, just over the border in México, every weekend.

"Magnificent," breathed Master Harold.

Count Christian had Duke Juho on his knees, but he wasn't happy about it.  Acknowledging the blow to his leg, Juho on his knees was even harder to hit than standing up.  Christian would step forward and rain blows on him, and Juho would block them with his shield and sword, undaunted.  Wait!  There was an opening!  Christian leaned forward—and the axe in Juho's left hand crossed his sword coming in and caught him squarely on the side of his head.  Christian did his patented go-limp instant-death act, falling on his foe.  "That'll l'arn ya," he muttered.

On field 1, Taawi and Armin were doing a great impression of two battling windmills.  Not that they'd lost their skill or gone wild; but neither was holding anything back.  Like a fencing match, the shield movements and the combination blows were too fast for a non-fighter to follow.  Somehow, Taawi led Armin's shield out of line, just long enough to strike him in the gut with all his strength.

Armin reeled back, and held his sword to the sky.  "Pox, plague, and pestilence!" he bellowed, audible even with his helmet on.  "Will no one scotch this infestation of Finns?!!"  Then he fell forward, not breaking his fall one bit, his sword pointed at his foe in a last gesture of defiance.  The onlookers cheered his spirit and style.

It was 3:30 p.m., and Juho and Taawi were the finalists for the crown.

"It's customary to place two chairs next to the eric in the kingdom pavilion, so the finalists' ladies can watch from positions of honor," Aino chattered.  "I've got this chair, Deborah's got the other; could you help Jenny, Isabella?  There are a couple of footstools back there, and some cushions."

While they set up two places for the finalists' ladies, the marshalls took up the last rope, leaving the vast field undivided.  People bustled here and there on errands Isabella could only guess at.  She looked over at Aino's father and uncle, and found Juho looking at her.  She blushed and looked away.

"Married," said a voice.

"Uncle Rodrigo," she cried, "I'm so glad you're here!  Aino, Jenny, Deborah, this is my uncle, here in town for—how long, uncle?"

"A little while, I think," the bodyguard said.  "It depends on so many things.  Gracious ladies," he said, extending a leg and sweeping the ground with the plume on his hat, "the pleasure is most definitely mine!"

"Why, Isabella!" said Aino.  "You didn't tell us your uncle was in town!  And so handsome, too," she smiled, batting her eyes at him.

"God, Aino!" said Jenny.  "You need a keeper!"

"Why, what's the matter?" Aino said.

"You're exhausting, that's what's the matter!"

"Just because Anthony's made up his mind, that doesn't mean I'm dead," Aino protested.

"No, but are you stable?" asked Jenny.

"Hey, not all of us decided whom we'll marry when we were in kindergarten!"

"It's no use," Deborah told Jenny.  "Sixty years from now, in the nursing home, you and I'll be complaining how tired it makes us to watch her, and she'll be chasing men up and down the halls in her wheelchair."

"I won't.  They'll be chasing me," Aino said demurely.

"The hell of it is," Jenny said, "she's probably right."

"Your Majesty," said Pertti of Patria to Robert of Caid, "would you care to join me in watching the finals?"

"I would be honored," King Robert said.  As they stepped onto the field, Master Harold called, "MY LORD AND LADY KNIGHTS!  ALL KNIGHTS, PRAY ATTEND!  THE KING INVITES ALL HIS KNIGHTS TO WATCH THE FINALS ON THE FIELD!" 

None of the knights present refused the invitation; they entered the eric and spread themselves out around the field, some standing for a better view, some sitting on their heels so they wouldn't block the vision of the non-fighters and unbelted fighters outside the eric.

"Mom will sit here and watch Dad fight," Aino said, "and I guess the other chair will just sit here empty because Aunt Hazel's off having her snit over whatever it was.  God, to think she can act that way and still be Queen!  But Uncle Juho didn't withdraw from the Lists, so if he wins, we're stuck with her."

Isabella looked at her friend with a sinking heart.  Aino didn't know?  But surely her mother or her aunt had told her.  Had they expected Isabella to do so?  "Aino," Isabella said.

"Yes?  Isabella!  Are you all right?" Aino said.

"Come, ladies, come!" said the Queen, as she and her sister swept up with a rustle of skirts.  "Let's get organized.  You sit there, Tina, and you in that one, Esmeralda.  And I'll sit on the Queen's throne and we'll all look dignified and try not to jump up and down in our seats."

Isabella sat in the left-hand chair, and gave her attention to arranging her skirts, not looking at Aino.  Aino said, "Isabella?  But.  B-But if—B-B-But why—excuse me!" she said, and bolted for the household encampment.

"Oh, dear," said Tina.  "Maddy, I'm sorry, you'll have to excuse—"

"No," said the Queen, standing up, "stay here.  All of you," she said as Jenny and Deborah would have risen too.  "I'll go; Robert's not in the finals.  A Queen's work is never done, and neither is an aunt's."

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!  MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!" cried Master Harold, as the Queen went after her niece.  "DUKE SIR TAAWI SUOMAINEN HERE BATTLES DUKE SIR JUHO SUOMAINEN, FOR THE CROWN OF PATRIA!"  Then, because there were no other fights, and no other heralds waiting to announce their fields, he continued in full voice to direct the salutes.  "YOUR GRACES!  PRAY SALUTE THE CROWN!"  Two Finnish dukes saluted the third, King Pertti.  "SALUTE THE LADIES WHOSE FAVORS YOU BEAR!" cried the herald, rolling out the syllables: sa-LUTE the-LA-dies whose-FA-vors you-BEAR.  The fighters saluted Kristiina and Esmeralda.  Kristiina was short, blonde, green-eyed, in a blue dress with lots of white accessories; Esmeralda five inches taller, eighteen years younger, raven-haired, brown-eyed, in a dark red dress with black and brown accessories; both strikingly beautiful, in very different ways.

The fighters, on the other hand, were almost identical; both in complete suits of mail, with identical sugarloaf helmets, plate knees and elbows the same, identical articulated neck guards, both with basket-hilted tourney swords in their left hands, curved heater shields on their right.  Taawi was a head shorter than Juho; otherwise they could be told apart only by the arms on their shields, Taawi's three black axes versus Juho's three black lion heads.

"ON YOUR HONOR, BEGIN!"  All the knights on the field watched as the fighters advanced on each other.  It was 3:40.

"Poor darling girl," said Maddy.  Aino went on weeping into the pillow she'd grabbed when she'd thrown herself down on the rug in the day pavilion.  Maddy sank down gracefully beside her niece and began stroking her shining hair.

"Didn't you know?" she said softly.

"Not—so much!" came the muffled reply.  "Like—stabbed!"

"That's the real thing, all right," Maddy sighed.

Aino rolled over on her back, still clutching the pillow.  "Don't laugh," she said.  "I love him!"

"Of course you do," agreed her aunt, brushing Aino's hair out of her eyes.  "He's fine and good and kind and sweet and sexy as hell.  Who wouldn't?"

Aino looked at her with astonishment in her red eyes.  "You too?" she said.

"Well, not so much," said Maddy.  "Remember I'm twelve years older than Juho; when I call him my baby brother, I remember when he was my baby brother.  Sit up, I want to tell you something."

"Three things, actually," she said, as Aino put aside the pillow.  "Here's the first, and most important: love itself is never wrong."

"Never?" said Aino.  "Not even—"

"If you had sex with your uncle," Maddy said, "that would be wrong.  Evil, even.  But loving him is not wrong, no matter how much.  Understand me?  An act would be wrong; love itself is not.  Ever.  Nod if you grasp the difference."

"Good," she said, as Aino nodded.  "Here's the second thing I want to tell you.  Your mother loves her brother as much as you do."

"Mom?!  You mean—"

"Tina has never said one wrong word to Juho, or done one wrong thing with him," Maddy said.  "But she loves him as much as you do; and she's loved him longer than you have.  So if she can control herself, so can her daughter.  You're so much like her, darling."

"Really?" said Aino, pleased.

"Really," said Maddy.  "And here's the third thing: someday you'll find someone else, and you'll love him just as much as Juho, and you'll be confused."

"Anthony," said Aino, guiltily.

"Do you love him?"

"I do!"

"Well then," Maddy said, "do.  Love Juho with your whole heart, and love Anthony with your whole heart."

"That doesn't make sense!" Aino laughed, wanting to believe.

"Yes, it does," her aunt said.  "Love isn't a brick, that can only be given to one person; and the heart isn't a bucket, that can only hold so much.  Love is the water of life, and the heart is an inexhaustible fountain.  Love can't divide the heart; only jealousy can do that."

"You're so wise," Aino marveled.

Maddy laughed.  "Love Juho with your whole heart, darling, and Anthony too.  And if you find someone else, love him—or her—with your whole heart as well.  Circumstances may limit what you can do—but never stint your love."

Duke Juho sank slowly to his knees, shield ready and sword held high; then the air seemed to run out of him, and he fell forward in an ungainly sprawl, his sword kept from bouncing away only by the cord around his wrist.  Duke Taawi bowed slightly, and saluted with his sword held upright before his helm; then he straightened up, and waved his sword aloft in a fluorish of triumph.

"VICTORY TO DUKE TAAWI SUOMAINEN!" cried Master Harold, as the marshalls pointed to the victor with their staffs.

Isabella was confused.  How could she feel disappointment that he'd lost, and relief that she'd been spared, both at the same time?  It didn't make sense!  But that's what she was feeling.

Then she saw that all the knights remained on the field; the two Kings still stood there, talking; and the herald waited, while the marshalls carried away the fighters' shields, and brought them each another sword.  Isabella looked at Kristiina in bewilderment.  "Wasn't that his second loss?  Why are they still there?"

Tina smiled.  "In the finals, all previous losses are forgotten," she said.  "That was Juho's first loss, in the finals.  They'll fight until one of them has beaten the other twice in the finals."

"YOUR GRACES!" cried Master Harold.  "ONCE AGAIN, SALUTE THE CROWN!"

"So you see," said Duchess Kristiina, "there's either one or two fights left."

"SALUTE THE LADIES FOR WHOM YOU FIGHT!"

"Dios mío," muttered Isabella, thrown back into confusion all over again.

"Wave, dear," said Tina.  "He's saluting you."

"ON YOUR HONOR, BEGIN!" cried the kingdom herald.  As he did, Juho sprang forward.  Perhaps Taawi was overconfident.  Perhaps, without meaning to, he'd fallen into the trap of expecting his opponent to proceed in a certain way, at a certain pace.

Whatever the reason, he was caught unprepared.  Juho was on him like a hungry snake on a fat mouse.  The sword in Juho's off hand, his right, struck Taawi's left-hand sword, blocking it wide, even as Juho's left-hand sword smashed against the side of Taawi's head.  Taawi's feet went out from under him; he fell over on his left side, and lay still.

Master Harold, caught in the act of ducking under the four-foot-high eric, gaped as Juho saluted his brother-in-law.  Then, as one marshall pointed to Juho with his staff, and the other rushed to Taawi to make sure he wasn't injured, Harold stepped back under the rope and cried, ritually and unnecessarily, "VICTORY TO DUKE SIR JUHO SUOMAINEN!"

"Good lord!" said Aino to Jenny and Deborah, as she sank down on the rug next to them.  "Did you see that?"

"No!" complained Jenny.  "I blinked, and missed the whole thing!"

"Shortest fight since the first round," Deborah agreed.

"Is she all right?" Tina asked her sister quietly.

"She'll be fine," Maddy said softly.  "Remember when he got his first girlfriend?"

"Oh God, I made such a fool of myself!"  She looked alarmed suddenly.  "You didn't tell her about that?"

"No details," Maddy promised.

"YOUR GRACES," cried the herald, "I PRAY YOU, YET AGAIN, SALUTE THE CROWN!" The finalists, now armed with short-handled axes and shields, saluted King Pertti.  He nodded to them.

"Axes for close work," Armin said to Christian.  "This will be brutal."

"Don't distract me!" said Christian.  "I'm trying not to blink!"

"SALUTE YOU EACH THE LADY WHOSE FAVOR YOU BEAR!"  Kristiina and Isabella (Esmeralda, she thought) smiled at the fighters.

"SALUTE YOU EACH THE OTHER!"  As the fighters crashed their axes against their shields, Aino leaned over and whispered to Isabella, "I'm sorry I acted so badly."

"Let it be forgotten," Isabella said.

"ON YOUR HONOR, BEGIN!" 

"I wish he had asked you, you've been doing this so long, and I scarcely know what's happening."

"You're doing fine," Aino said, and squeezed her hand.

Short axes are for infighting, as Armin had said.  The weapon has barely more reach than the empty hand, and the one using it must get past the longer reach of his opponent's sword, and reach past his opponent's shield, to strike a blow.  When both fighters are armed that way, they stand body to body, and the blows flicker like summer lightning.  There's no time for fancy blows when you fight in arm's reach; split seconds of reaction time become crucial.

So the knights strained to see, and worked not to blink, as the two dukes slugged it out with one of their favorite weapons.  They spun; they whirled; they slipped blows with movements of their helmed heads, that at sword distance they could have blocked with their shields.  Juho slammed his shield into Taawi's and threw the smaller man back by main force.  Taawi kept his footing, and met Juho coming in with a whistling blow that would have taken his head off, if the axes had been real, and if it had landed.  Juho blocked it, and the fight went on.

And on.

And on.

Fifteen minutes doesn't sound like a long time.  Both men were in top shape.  But they were carrying forty pounds or more of armor, plus large shields, and working as hard as runners in a sprint, gasping for air in their helmets even as they blinked the pouring sweat out of their eyes.  In the end, with all else equal, Juho was a little taller than Taawi, with just a little more reach; and younger, 26 years to Taawi's 39.

None of the spectators, not even the ones with white belts observing from the field, knew what happened.  There was the sound of a blow, distinct from the sounds of axe sliding along axe, axe landing on shield, or axe handle striking axe handle.  Armor rang, and both fighters stopped, shields up, axes at the ready.  Then Juho took a step back, and Taawi toppled forward and lay still in the torn-up grass.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!" cried Master Harold, as the knights shook their heads in wonder.  "SECOND AND FINAL VICTORY TO DUKE SIR JUHO SUOMAINEN!"

"Nombre de Dios," Isabella muttered numbly, and stood.

"You're going to be Queen!" Aino said.  "It's your first tourney, and you're going to be Queen!"  She hugged her friend.  "This is so great!"

Is it? Isabella wondered.  She looked at the field, where the knights were gathered around the finalists.  As she watched, they took off their helmets.  Juho's face was visible now, flushed and sweaty, the golden hair plastered down, the beard and mustache wet.  Someone passed him a rag, an old t-shirt with holes, and he wiped his face with it, and ran it through his hair.  When he was done, his hair stuck up in spikes all over his head.

He was just possibly the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.  Married, said an echo in her head.

At 4:30, as the light was dimming, Lord Aelfrede, Blue Mountain Herald of Dreiburgen, told the crowd, "This is the court of Pertti and Marketta, King and Queen of Patria, on the fourth day before the Ides of March, in the year 2731 from the founding of the City!  Let all who have business before the court draw nigh!"

"That's our cue," Juho said quietly, in the middle of the field.  The procession moved towards the kingdom pavilion, Juho and Isabella in the lead, with her left hand resting on his right, leaving his left hand free to draw sword.  Somehow, in twenty minutes, he'd managed to wash his hair, strip out of his sweaty armor, and change to clean white robes with gold trim, over under-robes of deep red.  He looked good.  He even smelled good, Isabella thought with something like despair.

He mistook the reason why the cold hand resting on his warm one was trembling.  "Don't worry," he said.  "It's just role playing.  We'll talk you through every step of the way, I promise."

Beside Juho was Duke Sir Werner von Sternheim, and Juho's nephew Yrjö carrying Juho's banner.  Beside Isabella were Aino, Jenny, and Deborah, Aino carrying the household banner in place of the personal banner Isabella didn't have.  Recorders and a deep-voiced serpent played the crown prince's processional march, written long before by Master Raoul the Urbane.

"Who comes before the throne of Patria?" challenged Aelfrede, silencing the musicians.

"Juho Suomainen comes," Sir Werner answered, "Knight and Duke, who this day has overcome all others in the Crown Lists.  Juho Suomainen comes to be made Prince, until the day when he succeeds to the throne of Patria."

"Who saw these victories?" Lord Aelfrede demanded.  "What knight will attest them?"

"I saw them," said Baron Werner.  "And I," echoed a dozen others; except one knightly clown, who had to say, "I think I saw it, but I had to blink."  There was a little laughter.

The King and Queen rose then, and Juho and Isabella knelt before them, Like a wedding, she thought.  Also like an Iberian wedding were the oaths they swore, which flew past her; fortunately, all she had to say was, "I swear."  More and more unreal everything seemed, minute by minute; it would be so good to get back to her dorm, and away from this fantasy of royalty.  She felt a moment of sympathy for Hazel.

Then the coronets of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess were on their heads, and House Suomainen was reunited in the kingdom pavilion, Pertti and Marketta, Juho and Isabella seated, the rest standing behind the thrones, serving as the royal household.

"Your Majesty?" Lord Aelfrede said.

"Proceed."

"The King calls before him the members of the Most Noble Order of the Pelican," the herald cried; and everyone but the King, the Pelicans, and the herald gaped.

"Again?" Anthony von Sternheim marveled as he sat, holding Aino's hand.  "Four peerages at one tourney?  What in the world is going on?"

"I have heard people say," King Pertti told the people and the kneeling Pelicans, as the sky turned a darker blue, "that the King honors a person when he makes him a Laurel, or Pelican, or Knight."

"This is nonsense."

"For the peer has worked long and hard to become the equal of those already in the noble orders—that's what 'peer' means.  By his own efforts he elevates himself to nobility.  All the King does is recognize the existing fact.  Indeed, he does honor to himself by taking credit for noticing.  Thus we fight a tendency to claim a Peer as one of 'ours': I knighted this person, I made that one a Laurel, I get the credit for this Pelican.  But patents of arms aren't party favors.  Better a peer wait, than be recognized too early."

"Absolutely," Master Anthony said softly, to Aino.

"One way a King may know, beyond all doubt, that it's time to recognize a peer, is when the members of an order come to him, and ask him—most respectfully, of course!—when he plans to get off his fat ass and admit Lord Such-and-Such to their order," Pertti said, getting a laugh.

"At noon today, some of the Pelicans did exactly that.  Oddly enough, when they came to me, I was reading a couple of letters from Mistress Greta and Master Thumas, on exactly the same subject."

Anthony's mouth dropped open.  "Greta and Thumas?  He can't mean…" words failed him.

The King nodded to the herald.  Lord Aelfrede cried, "The King summons Anthony von Sternheim to appear before him!" 

Everyone was looking away from the pavilion, waiting for Anthony to appear at the end of the cleared space.  But he'd been sitting with Aino behind the thrones.  So when she pushed him out, and he said, "But, Your Majesty!", 400 people almost got whiplash.

"When the Order of the Pelican was created," the King said, holding up a hand to silence Anthony, "an odd situation was created.  Some Laurels had been given for mastery of the arts, but some had recognized service.  The SCA, and later the SGU, could conceivably make someone a Pelican for continuing the service for which he'd already gotten the Laurel, which would be pointless at best."

"Fortunately, the Laurels themselves rectified the situation.  Some traded their Laurels for Pelicans.  Others set about mastering one or more arts, thus converting their service Laurels into arts Laurels."

"Your Majesty," started Master Anthony.

"Don't interrupt me," said Pertti.  "I'm on a roll here." When the laugh stopped, he went on, "You've all seen the beautiful illuminated scrolls Master Anthony does.  You may recall that he won the Latin portion of the kingdom poetry contest last year, and the chess tourney at Twelfth Night.  The prettier ladies—and, to his credit, the plainer ones as well!—can attest to his mastery of a variety of dances."

"What you may not know is that his Laurel was for service, for his long involvement with the College of Sciences." He focused on the younger man kneeling before him.  "Master Anthony.  Satisfied that your Laurel is no more than your due for your mastery of diverse arts, and having been petitioned by your peers to recognize your service in publishing Scientiae and in organizing and maintaining the Library of the Sciences, I am minded to make you a Pelican.  Will you accept?"

Anthony looked around him at all the smiling faces.  Amanda and Werner knelt with the other Pelicans, beaming at him proudly; Baron Christian and Baron Mezentius, two other founding Barons of their Baronies, and of the Kingdom; Master Harold; Master Gerald, the new Pelican from yesterday; and many others.  And Greta and Thumas, who did the same kind of work, had written the King.  And Aino was nodding like a child asked whether she wanted cake for dessert.

"When Your Majesty makes your case so logically, how can I refuse?" he said.

So Anthony von Sternheim became the fourth person in Patria to have both a Laurel and a Pelican; and the King said, "I haven't the words to do justice to this weekend.  I'm only a dumb Finn, and a stick jock at that."

"But," he continued after the laugh, "I would like to thank His Majesty of Caid for attending, and all those who accompanied him.  Sir Edwin's participation in the Lists was one of many things that made this event unforgettable."

"Your Majesty is welcome," said King Robert, as Sir Edwin bowed.

"Master Ioseph!" called Pertti.  "Has the King's bard a song to commemorate this occasion?"

"Alas, Your Majesty," said Ioseph, bowing.  "No song yet; but if it please you, I have some words that might serve."

"By all means," said Pertti.  Ioseph bowed again, and in the near-dark said:

Evening falls, the day is done.
We have worn out the watching sun.
The deeds he saw has made him weary,
So now he takes his rest.

Evening falls, the day is done.
Eighty fought so long, so well,
That all the Kingdom's bards can't tell
The story in one night.

Evening falls.  The day is done
For Armin, who died majestically,
For Caroline, true Amazon,
And for Yrjö, new-made knight.

Evening falls!  The day is done,
Turned into golden memory,
That breeds in us the tourney-lust:
The sun will see us here again.

As the court applauded, the King told the herald, "that's it."

"Three cheers for Pertti and Marketta, King and Queen of Patria!" cried the herald.

"Vivant!  Vivant!  Vivant!" roared 400 voices.

"Three cheers for Juho and Esmeralda, Crown Prince and Crown Princess!"

"Vivant!  Vivant!  Vivant!" washed over Isabella, sending chills down her spine.  They were cheering her!

"Three cheers for Mezentius and Rowena, Baron and Baroness of Calafia!"

"Vivant!  Vivant!  Vivant!"

"Three cheers for His Majesty of Caid, and our other guests!" shouted Pertti.

"Vivant!  Vivant!  Vivant!" they cried, without hesitation.

"You have His Majesty's leave to depart!" cried Lord Aelfrede.

Chapter 7
Between Tourneys

Vaga fanciulla, leggiadr' e vezzosa,
ognor ringrazio Amore,
c'ha la mia ment'e 'l core
fatto fedel di tua visa piatosa.

Con tuo belleza e con gli ochi tuo vaghi
la mie pen'amorosa, ch'ognor sento,
e 'l mio infiamato petto sempre apaghi,
convertendo in riposo tai tormento.
D'ogni doglia, et se piu, son contento
e d'esser tuo fedele,
poi che non se' crudele
a darmi di tuo vista dolce posa.


(Lovely girl, fair and comely,
I always thank Love,
who has made my mind and heart
devoted to your merciful presence.

With your beauty and with your lovely eyes
my amorous pangs and my passionate breast
you always appease,
Converting into repose such torment.
Every pain and sigh makes me content
to be thy faithful servant
since you are not cruel,
and give me with your sight sweet peace.)

"Vaga fanciulla" a ballata by Francesco Landini, 14th Century A.D.
O the weekend ended, and the members of the Society went away, leaving the site cleaner than they found it, as was their rule; to San Diego, La Jolla, and the other cities of San Diego and Imperial counties, known to them as the Barony of Calafia; to Blythe, California and Ehrenberg, Arizona, the Border Barony of Terra; to Riverside, San Bernardino, and the rest of Riverside County, which was the Barony of Dreiburgen.  Those who lived in the eastern part of Greater Los Angeles considered that they were going home to Gyldenholt, while the western part of that sprawling collection of cities was the Barony of Failte.  Those going home to the Barony of the Isles—Santa Barbara, Goleta, and so forth—had the farthest to go, except perhaps for the Terrans.

Wherever they lived, the same transformation came over them as they drove.  Dealing with traffic, and beginning to think what they must do tomorrow, Monday, in the real world, they felt the magic slip away, and the mundane return.  So it was Count Sir Armin and Countess Hilda von Bergen, Baron and Baroness of Gyldenholt, who left the tourney; but it was Armin Bergen, Lieutenant General (Retired) of the Army of the Republic of Germany, and his wife Hilda, who parked the car in Pomona.  Count Sir Christian Julian and Countess Denise des Fleures, Baron and Baroness of Failte, left Cleveland National Forest, but Tex Jones, fiberglass fabricator, turned off the car in Orange.

It helped to travel in groups, keeping each other's spirits up, clinging to the dream with many hands.  Werner, Alison, Anthony, and Amanda hugged Lord Robert, Lord Stepan, and the other Calafian Sternheimers goodbye, then departed in Werner's and Alison's bus, stuffed full with several tents, Werner's and Anthony's armor and weapons, everyone's costumes, banners, tourney furniture, and camping gear.  They laughed and chattered and went over the weekend all the way home to Riverside, where they put Mandy's stuff in her car, the rest in Forrest's and Alison's garage; hugged all around, and went their separate ways for a day or two. Sir Eadmund of Runeden, who'd been Forrest's second squire, the one before Tony, had volunteered to drive Tony's car from the tourney site to House Sternheim. Meanwhile Tony went back to his apartment on the city bus, in armor, carrying his helmet under one arm.

It was still early by the time of the mundane world, which had electric light.  House Suomainen pulled into a Denny's in Escondido and went inside, all in costume.  The waitresses there had seen movie stars, biker gangs, rock bands; once, the Governor of California; once, a pair of Childes who spoke Latin between themselves and left behind napkins covered with incomprehensible symbols.  But they weren't prepared for a party consisting of two Dukes, two Duchesses, a Crown Prince and a Crown Princess, a knight, and three ladies in waiting, the gentlemen all with swords on their belts, six of the group wearing real-looking crowns.  For a party of ten, Denny's pushed three tables together, and three waitresses took their orders.

"Are y'all in a play?" asked one of them, as she waited for them to decide what they wanted to eat.

"No, are you?" asked Aino, keeping a straight face.

"Manners," said Taawi to his daughter.  "Actually, we're members of a club called the Society of the Golden Unicorn, which holds medieval tournaments," he told the waitress, launching into the spiel that all SCA and SGU members develop for briefing non-members.

"The best story I ever heard along those lines," Pertti said when the waitresses had left, "concerned a long-time Western duke.  A buddy of Jim's had a kid in a school that was doing Hamlet, or maybe MacBeth; anyway, they needed a lot of swords and armor, so Jim agreed to lend them some.  So Jim and his buddy are loading swords and maces and armor and shields into a bus, and this passerby stops.  Now the classic line," he told Isabella, "would be what our waitress just said.  We hear 'Are you in a play?' all the time.  But this happened in Berkeley, up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the SCA started back in '67.  So this bystander looks at all the gear, nods, and says, 'Are you guys in the SCA?'  Jim and his buddy look at each other, burst out laughing, and Jim says, 'No, man, we're in a play!' "

The whole party broke into laughter, including Isabella.  Juho said, "That's how we suck you in, señorita."

"Como?" she said, wondering whether she'd heard him right.

"First we get you to wear the weird clothes, then you learn to laugh at our jokes, and before you know it—"

"You're Crown Princess or something," Jenny said.  "Oh wait, you skipped right to that part!"

"It's too bad your Uncle Rodrigo couldn't have dinner with us," Aino said to Isabella.  "He's so distinguished."

"Exhausting!" complained Jenny.  "What about Anthony and the googly eyes you two were making at each other all weekend?"

"But he's all the way up in Riverside, and Isabella's interesting uncle is in San Diego," Aino explained.

"Aino, seriously, you mustn't bother Isabella's uncle," Tina told her daughter.  "I'm sure he must have important business, to have come all the way from Spain."

"Not to worry," Isabella said calmly.  "Uncle Rodrigo is a man of the world.  He won't let Aino take advantage of him."

Everyone's mouths opened in shock.  Jenny broke the spell by saying, "Yes!  Zing!"  Aino pretended to be mortally wounded, and Deborah told Aino that she was going to forge her signature on a name change to the College of Arms.  "And when it goes through, your official name will be Agnes the Exhausting!  How do you say that in Finnish?" she asked Juho, who was the most fluent.

"Oh," he said, distracted from looking at Isabella with surprised respect, "Aune Wäsyttäwä."

"Hmmm!" said Aino.  "Maybe you won't have to forge my signature."

Over the next six weeks Isabella learned what the SGU did between tournaments.  Starting college in a new country, speaking both English and Latin less well than she felt she should (for she was painfully aware that the Latin of the Church and the Iberian nobility was not identical to New Latin), she had easily resisted attempts by Aino, Jenny, and Deborah to drag her to things on week nights.

That was no longer possible.  Having accepted the position of Crown Princess, she couldn't dismiss arguments that it was her duty to bring herself "up to speed" as an SGU member before her coronation on the last weekend of April.  Though she continued to put her classes first, they posed too little challenge to her education and her intellect to keep her from entering fully into the life of the Barony of Calafia.

The fighters met every Wednesday afternoon at a park near Duke Grigoriy's and Duchess Natasha's house, close to State, and every Saturday near the Laurel Street bridge in Balboa Park, the big park east of downtown which contained the Zoo, the museums, and acres of grassy fields and trees.  There the marshalls learned their craft, new armor was tested (to destruction, if need be), and fighters were certified as ready to fight in Baronial and Kingdom tournaments, if they satisfied the marshalls that they understood the rules of SGU fighting.  Experienced fighters taught newcomers what was "hard enough" in the only way possible, and the new fighters learned not to flinch from blows, or to fear the pain of bruises.

The heralds met every other Tuesday and advised members on heraldic devices.  SGU heraldry was based on medieval heraldry, which meant that devices had to be simple so they could be distinguised under battlefield conditions.  Isabella, being Iberian, well understood that a modern coat divided into many little parts wouldn't serve in the confusion of battle, in dawn or dusk light, or in bad weather.

"It's best if you pick a persona and a device together," said Geoffrey of Rannoch, a skinny red-headed cornet with freckles.  He and his twin sister Mathilde were brainstorming possible devices for Isabella.  "Since your real name is De León, you could be Esmeralda de León, which suggests… hmmm… a gold background with three emerald lions?  Green is fairly rare in medieval heraldry, so that might pass without further changes.  Or instead of rampant, the lions could be sejant, couchant, dormant…" He showed Isabella a page full of lions in different standard heraldic postures.

"Of course," said Mathilde, "your persona doesn't have to be Spanish just because you're Spanish.  You could be Aztec, for instance, or Chinese, or Greek.  You could be African!  The kings of Ghana and Mali and Songhai, west African states in the Middle Ages, were wealthier and lived in bigger cities than any in Europe in their day."

Isabella thanked the twins, but decided not to decide just yet.  They took this with good grace and went looking for other victims.

Costumers' Guild taught newcomers the different clothes worn in different times and different places, all of them coming under the heading of "medieval costume." Some of the costumers preferred the word "garb," or "raiment," because, as Lady Eloise told Isabella, "Costume makes it sound like we're in a play.  This is real clothing, made the same way they made it, not stage costume that can be made with zippers and plastic, as long as it looks OK from the audience."

Various masters and mistresses gave personal instruction in musical instruments, often free, sometimes for a small fee so that the students would take it seriously and keep showing up.  For those who'd progressed far enough, the Baronial Consort met once a week and welcomed any who wanted to join their practices, playing medieval and renaissance ballads and dances, arranged for two, three, four, or more instruments.  Isabella learned the sound of the recorder, ancestor of the modern flute, sweet but not strong; the nasal sound of the krummhorn; and the comical, flatulent sound of the racket.

She attended a collating party for Medieval Arts.  Mistress Greta, a big beaming blonde woman, welcomed her at the door of her little two-bedroom house in North Park.  On the kitchen table sat 32 piles of paper, each printed on both sides, while opened boxes under the table contained the rest of the printing.  Isabella and almost a dozen other volunteers with no previous experience marched around and around the table, picking up the pages in order, and putting each collated set down on one of the piles on the other side of the table, at right angles to the previous one so that each completed copy was clearly separate from the one below and the one above.  Mistress Greta and her two deputies kept the piles of uncollated pages replenished from the boxes below the table, carried off completed piles before they got so big they'd fall over, and made sure everyone took breaks.

During one of these, sitting on a chair with a glass of Pepsi in one hand and a home-made snickerdoodle in the other, Isabella saw what happened to the collated magazines.  Four fighters were using the strong hands developed by making mail to staple each copy twice, once in the top left margin of the cover, once in the bottom left.  Duke Grigoriy, Sir Uilleam ap Eoin, Sir Kevin the Keen, and Crown Prince Juho stapled each copy quickly, neatly, slid it into a rapidly-filling box, and reached for the next.  Juho looked up, saw Isabella, and smiled across the room.  She smiled back.  It was strange to see him in jeans and tennis shoes and t-shirt, like an older version of the skinny boys she saw on campus every day.  His t-shirt was dark blue, with a white spiral galaxy across the chest at an angle.  From a point near one edge of the disk a white line ran out to white letters saying, "You Are Here."

"What a nice surprise to see you here," said Marketta, sitting down next to Isabella with a cup of coffee and a saucer.  "Isn't this singing night?"

"Hello," said Isabella.  "Should I call you 'Your Majesty' when we're both in normal clothes?"

"Heavens, no," laughed the Queen.  "I hope you will call me Maddy, Isabella, unless court formality at an event requires anything else.  I hope you won't think we're taking you for granted, if we consider you part of our household."

"Thank you," said Isabella.  "Maddy—that is short for Madeleine?"

"Normally," said Maddy.  "Actually my name is Margaret, but that was too hard for me to say when I was a baby, so I said Maddy, and it stuck."

"I see," said Isabella.

"So, are you dizzy from walking around and around the table?"

Isabella laughed.  "Sorry, but no.  My father insisted I take care of my own horse since I was old enough to do so.  That table is nothing compared with holding the ends of a horse's reins, and walking him around you, training him to step correctly and to switch paces."

"You have your own horse?" Maddy sighed.  "We grew up on a farm, Tina and Juho and I, but we didn't have horses.  Some cows, pigs, chickens by the dozens, cats and dogs coming out our ears,"—she laughed at Isabella's expression—"but no horses."

"Horses are wonderful.  Big, strong, affectionate, stupid just when you need them to be intelligent, intelligent just when you're counting on them to be predictable and stupid, afraid of their own shadows—and magnificent, just the same."

Maddy's laugh pealed out.  "Oh my," she said.  "Are you sure you're talking about horses, and not men?"

"Well, these domestic animals," Isabella said languidly, "how is one to tell them apart?" And they laughed some more.

Maddy returned to her work, and Isabella went with her, after a backward glance at the blond head bent over the stapler.  The stapled magazines were slid into 9 x 12 envelopes which had the Medieval Arts return address rubber-stamped in one corner.  The mailing labels came in sheets; Maddy had been peeling off the labels and placing one on each envelope, before her break.

"We used to have to type the labels for each issue," Maddy said.  "But David is a computer programmer, so one weekend several of us typed all the names and addresses into the computer where he works.  Now, every other month, when the new issues goes to the printers, David and Tina add the new subscribers, delete the expired ones, do changes of addresses, whatever Greta gives them, then David prints out the labels for the new issue."

"How clever!" Isabella said.  "That must save a lot of work."

"You have no idea," said Maddy.  "There's so much more we could do with computers.  But David's bosses will only allow him so much time for his own use, and it's not like the Barony could buy its own, at a half-million dollars even for a small one."

Isabella knew nothing about computers except the word.  She said, "And what are these ladies doing?"

Three plump, plain girls with dark hair looked up at Isabella and beamed.  "Your Highness," gushed one, "please forgive us if we keep on working.  I'm Mary, this is Martha, and this is Rose."  Only she said it in Latin: "Marìa sum, haec Martha est, et haec Rosa." She continued, "Nonne Catholica es?" You're Catholic, aren't you?

"Sic, Catholica sum," Isabella answered.  "Are you—are you nuns?"

"That's us," Mary said.  "Three Dominican sisters given leave to go to Society events when our duties permit, trying to inject a little faith into these heathens' Current Middle Ages." She said heathens lightly, and Maddy took no offense; nonetheless Isabella started at the word.

"But where are your habits?" she asked, for the three nuns were wearing ordinary street clothes, though they were longer and plainer than what was fashionable.

"The American dioceses have abolished nuns' habits," Martha answered, in a way that made it clear that she disapproved.

"Indeed," said Rose, the youngest of the three, perhaps thirty years old to the others' forty.  "The only time we get to wear our habits is at SGU events."

"Where they should blend in," said Mary, "since all married women in the Middle Ages dressed that way.  But married women in the SGU dress like girls, so we stand out."

"So what are you doing here?" Isabella asked.

"Sorting," said Maddy.  "Medieval Arts, like other publications, qualifies for a special low mailing rate, provided there's at least 200 copies mailed at a time, and provided the magazines are sorted and bundled by zip code.  See?"  She held up an envelope.  In place of a postage stamp, it had been rubber-stamped "SECOND CLASS POSTAGE PERMIT", and the permit number, and "SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA 92104."

"So we bundle together every ten or so with the same five-digit zip code, for instance this one is 97404, which is in Eugene, Oregon, and put a '5' sticker on the bundle.  Ones that only match the first three digits, say 974, are bundled together with a '3' sticker.  Envelopes that don't qualify for either of those get bundled by state, and get an 'S' sticker."

"Mary-Margaret-Rosa are our best sorters," said Maddy, "and they're catching up on me, so I'd better get back to filling envelopes."

"And I must return to my long march, sisters," said Isabella, with a curtsey.

Helping to get 5100 copies of Medieval Arts ready for mailing was one of the few times Isabella went to an SGU gathering without her friends from school.  Aino was serious about singing, if nothing else, and never missed madrigals at Baron Mezentius' house.  In a contest to describe a person of one's choice in four lines or fewer, Mezentius' son Thomas had beat Master Ioseph and Master Anthony, among others, by writing:

When Aune Suomainen smiles,
A hundred heads turn to see;
When Aune Suomainen sings,
A hundred spines turn to water.

But singing happened every week, while collating parties for the SGU's arts magazine only occurred every other month.  So while Aino, Jenny, and Deborah went to one, Isabella went to the other, and spent an evening with adults.

Unfair to feel that way, for she was the same age as her classmates, and no one had treated her like a child in their company.  And yet, at the collating party she was just as welcome on her own, and the average age was ten years greater than at school.  While there was, of course, lots of chatter about upcoming SGU events, it tended to be about the logistics of the sites, getting the permissions to use them, contacting park and recreation departments to make sure the toilets were clean and empty on the day.  Non-SGU gossip, instead of being boys and rock groups and movies, was children and families and work and news: The major political parties were starting to make noises about the 1980 election, the fifth moon-base module had auto-landed safely, and the Director of the FBI had vowed again to find the people who had killed 600 million others, all over the world, with the gene-engineered Green Cold.  Quebec was seeking independence from Canada, Puerto Rico was pushing for statehood (perhaps in combination with the American Virgin Islands and the American Bahamas); Cuba and Haiti were growling at each other over the tourist dollar.

Perhaps it was her upbringing that let her feel so much at ease among people a decade older than herself.  Her father's court had taught her poise, and quiet dignity, and grown-up manners before she had her First Communion, a Catholic rite of passage undergone at six or eight years of age.  She had learned very early how to be her Daddy's giggly girl in private, and her Father's second-born noble child in public.  And if the smiling welcome of Aino's father and mother, aunt and uncle made things easier for her, no one need suspect that Juho's equally glad welcome, and equally warm smile, actually made her composure more difficult to maintain.

"I hate being out of the loop!"  Aino complained.  "Let Lord X and Lady Y fight, or the Canton of Z plot to be made a Barony at the next Board meeting, and we hear all about it.  But everyone's gossipping about you and Uncle Juho, and no one will share it with us."

Isabella stared at her friend.  The four of them were having lunch between classes on the lawn between Love Library and the concert arena.  A steady stream of other students mobbed past, headed for the library behind them, the book store behind them and to their left, or the student center in front of them and to their left, with its meeting rooms, bowling alley, and cafeteria.

"Me and your uncle?" she said.  "But there's nothing to talk about!"

Aino, Jenny, and Deborah laughed.  "Silly," said Aino, "I didn't mean they were talking about the two of you as a couple!  But they have to be talking about him winning the tourney, and that scene Hazel made, and you becoming Crown Princess at your first tourney!  Only," she scowled, "no one's talking to us about it, because we're household."

"I see," said Isabella, relieved.  "But you know things they do not.  Surely that makes up for it?"

"Things?  Like what?" Jenny said.

"No, Isabella's right," said Deborah.  "They can talk about what they saw at the tourney, but we're household, so we know the private stuff."

"Like what Uncle Juho found when he got home from the tourney!" Aino exclaimed.  Jenny and Deborah nodded.

"What did he find?" Isabella said.  "Did she wreck the furniture?"

"What furniture?" Aino said.  "She took it all!  He walks in to this echoing silence, and everything's gone!  The furniture, the rugs, the TV, the stereo, the books, the dishes… everything but his SCA and SGU scrolls, and a note in the middle of the living-room floor."

"What did it say?" asked Isabella quietly.

"One sentence," Aino said.  "You can keep the house."

"That's it?" said Jenny.  "Oh, Isabella was right, this is better than whatever guesses we're missing out on!"

" 'You can keep the house,' " Aino confirmed.  "After she takes every single thing in it!"

"But how did she manage to strip the house between the time she got back from the tournament, and the time Juho did, what, five hours later?" Jenny wondered.

"More than that," Deborah said.  "Hazel left the tourney around 1 p.m., and we were at Denny's until 10 or so, so she had nine hours, more or less.  Still, she must have had help."

"Just watch," Aino predicted.  "If we ever see her again, it'll turn out she's had a boyfriend for years, and he and his buddies came and emptied the house after she called them."

"A boyfriend?  A lover?" Isabella said.  "But why would she want a lover, when she had him?"

Aino opened her eyes wide.  "Hey, that's my line, you Portuguese plagiarist!" she cried.

Juho found it hard to think, let alone write, in the empty house.  Even at the best of times, it was hard to write to a deadline and produce anything but hack work.  Even at the worst of times, on the other hand, the sound of his typewriter rattled off the books and piles of papers in his office in a familiar way, and there was the sound and presence of Hazel, even when they weren't speaking to each other.

Now there was nothing.  The first night he had driven himself to a hotel, too angry and hurt and humiliated and shocked even to call his family, and slept like the dead in a strange bed.  After that he'd told his sisters and brothers (well, brothers-in-law, but that was a distinction he'd stopped making a long time ago).  They'd rallied around him.  David was a computer programmer, Bob was a Colonel in the Air Force, Juho was a successful newsmag writer and novelist; it was no problem to buy new furnishing, reference books, TV and stereo, though the total made him blink—Hazel hadn't been so far off in her division of their property.  The rest of the books, and the records, would take years to replace.

But even with furniture, rugs, and curtains restocked, the house still felt empty.  He'd been married six years, and wasn't used to sleeping alone, to not hearing another person moving around the place.  How could he write when he kept wondering how it had come to this, and why?

He cleared some desk space at the Reader using his seniority, and tried to work there.  That wasn't any better.  There were too many people, making too much noise, and the wrong kind of noise.  He wasn't used to it any more.  Add the resentment he felt, or imagined he felt, at his grabbing space in the office again.  Add the curiousity he knew damn well he wasn't imagining, and all the possible reactions to them learning his wife had left him.  He gave up after two weeks.

He went by the TV station where Hazel worked, just to see that she was all right, and nearly ended up in jail.  Hazel had put him on a watch-out-for list with a colorful set of lies designed to get him thrown out with maximum prejudice.  Juho barely escaped a beating at the hands of the security guards, and washed his hands of concern over how she was doing.

The swing of his emotions amazed him.  One minute he'd be sky-high over winning twelve of fourteen fights, and the final victory, over the toughest field he'd seen in years; the next minute, a process server handed him divorce papers.  Then Forrest and Alison called from Riverside to see how he was doing, and he was up again.  Then he had a sleepless night and missed a deadline, which he hadn't done in many years.  Then David and Julia called him from Germany, which helped for a while.

Family was constant.  He knew his sisters would do anything for him, and Hazel had better make sure that Aino never caught her alone!  He forced himself to keep going to fighter practices and other Calafian meetings.  It was amazing how much better it made him feel to have Grigoriy do his best to smash him like a bug, just as if nothing had changed.  Amazing, too, how it heartened him to see long black hair rippling down a slim back, or to smile into deep brown eyes and receive a smile in return.

Isabella went to scribes' night, and learned about the perpetual backlog.  "Every time someone gets an award," she was told, "there's a scroll to go with it." Lord Avram, tall and thin and dark-haired, was a great contrast to his short, plump, blonde wife; but they seemed very happy.  Three boys ran around getting in the way, all of them adopted.

"We keep a record of every award given in the Kingdom," Lord Avram said, "and a card file with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of scribes and illuminators."

"What's the difference?" Isabella asked.

"A scribe is someone who can do calligraphy—fancy writing in a period, that is, medieval style.  A scribe does the words on a scroll.  An illuminator is an artist, someone who can do layout, initial letters, pictures, fancy borders."

"No one does both?"

"Quite a few do both.  We get some magnificent scrolls from people like Eleanor," he squeezed his wife's hand, "Master Anthony in Dreiburgen, Countess Hilda in Gyldenholt, Countess Denise in Failte, to name a few.  We also have some great teams, where one designs the layout and prints the words, and the other does all the artwork; Sir Fergus and Lady Caitlin in Isles are a prime example of that.  But we also get quite good results from illuminators who donate blank scrolls with borders and pictures, which scribes who aren't illuminators can take to completion."

"So… I'm not clear what the scrolls are for," Isabella confessed.

"They're the permanent record of an award," Lord Avram said.  "No matter what records are kept or lost, remembered or forgotten, if a person can produce a scroll with the proper seals and signatures, that's proof of the award.  Awards of arms; baronial service awards like Calafia's Order of the Golden Trident; Kingdom service awards like the West's Order of the Leaf of Merit or our kingdom's Order of the Royal Sun; grants of arms; the Spur, the Laurel, the Pelican; Count and Countess; Duke and Duchess.  Any time one of these happens, a promissory note is given, followed by a proper scroll with signatures and wax seals."

"And you never catch up?" said Isabella.

"A scroll is a work of art, and takes time," Lord Avram said.  "Also, sometimes a scribe or illuminator will ask to do a particular scroll, and then doesn't do it for quite a while.  Or someone will request that a particular person do his scroll, but that person already has a backlog.  We try to keep things moving alone, but between these factors, and a shortage of scribes and artists…"

"Do you have classes to teach calligraphy?" Isabella asked.

Baronial council meetings were held once a month at the Baron's house, and they were all business.  The officers were in the forefront of things; the heralds and marshalls little mattered here, but the Seneschal, the Baron's executive officer, very much.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer, or treasurer, was also consulted frequently.  The Master of the Sciences tendered his report, and the Mistress of the Arts hers.  The Gold Key begged for donations of old costumes, for newcomers to borrow at tourneys.

Events had to be planned, starting long before the day; a tournament like March Crown didn't just happen by itself, and the Barony gave thanks to Mistress Jeanette and Mistress Helena of Ladyhouse, who'd been the autocrats of that occasion.  Seeing the two ladies sitting there holding hands set off all kinds of alarms in Isabella's Catholic upbringing, but no one else appeared even to notice.

A small party of brave souls gave a pithy description of their reception at Western Crown, one Saturday after Patria's.  It had been considerably less hospitable than Caid had gotten from King Pertti.  "Naturally, we didn't expect to fight, since the SCA only allows paid-up Scadians to fight in its tourneys," said Sir Uilleam.  "But when they realized we were SGU members, no one would even talk to us!"

The experiment wouldn't be repeated soon; the West's next tournament was the same weekend as Patria's, April 29 and 30, also a coronation.  Dreiburgen was the host for Juho and Isabella's coronation, not Calafia; but because of the closeness between the two baronies (Dreiburgen having been founded by Calafians), and because two Calafians were being crowned, the Barony would be there early, and in numbers, helping out in many ways.

The three-day Memorial Day weekend was May 27-29, and the Baron and Baroness of Adiantum (Eugene, Oregon) extended their usual invitation to House Suomainen (Baroness Reginleif was a member) and all of Calafia to attend their big annual tournament, Egillstourney.  Since Patria was fighting a war with Atenveldt that same weekend, it was unlikely that Oregon would see any Calafians; but a thank-you would be drafted.

The next Crown Tourney was June 17 and 18 in the Barony of the Isles, with no special duties falling on Calafia; and the West's Crown Tourney was June 24.  "Curious," Grigoriy said, "that they can hold a Crown Tourney in one day," and left it at that.

The annual SGU Board Meeting would be July 22 and 23 in Kansas City, Kansas.  All members were urged to attend, if possible; otherwise, to designate a proxy to vote for them, if they hadn't done so already.  The deadline for joining the SGU, in order to vote at the meeting, was May 1.

"Which means they'll be having a big membership drive at your coronation," Aino said.

"I should join," Isabella said.

"No one's going to say you must," Deborah answered, "not even to be Queen.  But, yes, you should."

The Longship Company, Calafia's first household, volunteered to organize ("autocrat") this year's Leodamas Tourney on August 5; all were reminded that an autocrat was still needed for Calafia's Anniversary Tourney on November 4th.

A couple of weeks' evenings were occupied deciding what Juho's and Isabella's costumes should be for coronation, for it went without saying that their costumes should match, and should be new and elaborate for the occasion.  Isabella had vaguely thought she would wear her Spanish court costume again, but Aino vetoed that notion.

"If you were very poor, you could do that, and people would understand," she said.  "Or if you were too busy with an important job every minute between tourneys, say a surgeon with special skills whose time was heavily booked.  Or, if you were a Laurel famous for your costumes, you could wear the same one several tourneys in a row, and people would ooh and ahh each time over the hand-made lace, or fancy embroidery, or hand-woven braid you'd added since the last time."

"But if you were poor, the household would spring for the costume, because it's Uncle Juho's coronation too, and your costume should go with his.  Not everyone gets to be Queen, Isabella; it's an occasion; live a little!"

"All right, all right, I surrender!" Isabella laughed.

"Nine," Jenny said suddenly.

"Nine what?" said Aino.

"Isabella will be the ninth woman to be Queen of Patria," Jenny said, "if I count it right?  Where's your copy of the Annals?"

"Right here," said Deborah, running her finger down the list of Patrian reigns.  "Hilda, Marketta, Kristiina, Denise, that's four, Helena (sorry, Aino), Natasha, Alison, that's seven, Kristiina again, Marketta again, Alison, Helena; Miriam makes eight; Marketta a third time," she looked up.  "And then you, Isabella.  You make nine.  Jenny's right."

"Nine," said Isabella.  "That's such a small number, compared with, say, Queens of Castille, or Portugal, or Aragon." She shook her head in amazement.

The color of the coronation costumes had to be considered carefully.  If Hazel were going to be Juho's queen, color would've been no problem, since Juho and Hazel were both blond-haired and fair-skinned.  But Isabella's skin was a little darker, her hair black, her eyes brown.  Pale blue, for one example, would look good on Juho, but not on her.  That left black ("too funereal," said Jenny), or white.  The designs they were working on—long sleeved, long skirt trailing on the ground, with a train—were already too much like wedding dresses, without making them white, too.

In the end they picked the exact shade of red that would complement Isabella's coloring and contrast well with Juho's, and added bands of black-and-white trim around the hem of the skirt, around the sleeves and neck, and along the train.  Isabella put her foot down when Aino wanted to add lace as well.

"You're right," Aino admitted.  "I'm getting carried away again.  By the way, you're invited to dinner Friday the 21st.  Mom says, please come."

"Dinner…" said Isabella.  "That would be nice.  Your family?"

"Actually, it's a household dinner," Aino said.  "We do them once a month, more during tourney season.  It'll be you, me, Jenny and Deborah, Mom and Dad, George, Uncle Bob and Aunt Maddy, and Uncle Juho."

"Ah…"

"Please come," Aino said again.

So she did.  She'd never been to Aino's family's house before.  It was a large five-bedroom, two-story house, with red clay tiles on the roof like many other Southern California homes, and white walls.  The walls were vinyl siding, of course; most houses built since the War had aluminum or vinyl siding, for durability and ease of maintenance.  The house was located on five acres in the unincorporated area north of Clairmont, east of La Jolla, and west of Miramar Naval Air Station, a territory that didn't even have a name yet.  It had cost the Suominens an obscene amount of money, $200,000 more or less; only David's pay as a senior computer programmer made it possible.

Christina welcomed them at the door, along with cooking smells that made Isabella instantly hungry.  But dinner wasn't quite ready, nor were the girls welcome to help; Christina and Maddy had a system for sharing a kitchen, and were too busy to introduce anyone else into it.  So the four of them went looking for the men.  David's and Tina's cars were in the garage, but Robert and Maddy's car, and Juho's car, had been in the driveway when the girls parked the bus.

Downstairs, besides the kitchen, were the living room, the two bedrooms used for David's office and Tina's sewing room, the dining room, and one of the bathrooms.  No male voices came from any of these.  Bookcases lined the walls of the living room, the office, and the sewing room, books on the tables and chairs as well, with bookmarks in them.  David's typewriter was a new model Olivetti, sharing desk space with a Bund terminal connected to the computer at his job.

Upstairs was the master bedroom with its own bath, George's room, Aino's room, and the other bathroom.  Aino's room had bookcases on two walls, and a desk by the window, though the best of the books had been carried off to her dorm room at State, along with her typewriter.  Looking through the window, Aino said, "There they are!" and pointed.

Out behind the house the Suominen property joined undeveloped land, where the lawn and flowers turned into wild Southern California grasses and stunted trees; not the cactus of the Arizona desert, or even the water-conserving chapparal in areas higher above the water table, but a long dry way from an English garden.

Taking advantage of the lack of neighbors other than rabbits, coyotes, lizards, and snakes, the men of House Suomainen had long ago erected butts, into which hay bales could be inserted to absorb arrows and spears.

As the girls came out of the back door, they saw Robert, David, Juho, and George, fitted with wrist guards, with quivers on their belts, backs, or in stands, standing with long bows sixty feet from the butts, sending arrows into round, professional archery targets.  None of them could split an arrow with another arrow, except by accident, but most of the arrows were in the bullseye, or the first ring outside it.

When each archer had shot eight arrows, he lowered his bow to show he was done.  David, as range master, made sure everyone was finished before he gave permission to recover arrows from the targets.  "Hi, kitten," he said to his daughter, and smiled at her friends too.  "Last round, guys," he called, "then we have to put everything away and wash up for dinner."

Whether shooting a rifle or a bow, the key to accuracy is doing everything the same way every time.  Robert, the best archer of the four, stood with his right foot pointed at the target and his left foot at right angles, drawing the bow like a Roman, with his left forefinger over the string, and drawing back to the left corner of his jawbone.  David, less ambitious, and knowing himself less skilled, used a stance that faced the target more, with his left cheekbone as his anchor point, because it was easier to find consistently.  Juho, trained in a different school of archery, held the string with the nock of the arrow between forefinger and middle finger in the Persian grip, but used the same stance and anchor point as David.  George drew like the American college student he was, open stance, Persian grip, drawing the string to the center of his nose and mouth.

After the last round, the girls helped pull the arrows from the targets, putting the fingers of one hand around the point of penetration, and pulling the arrows straight out to avoid bending the shafts.  "You're all very good," Isabella said.

"Thanks," said Juho.  "Practica, practica, practica.  Do you shoot?"

"Only a little," she said.  "And the rifle, too, a little."

"There'll be archery in the War," Juho said, "and an archery contest at Coronation.  Maybe we can shoot a few rounds together."

"That would be nice," Isabella said.

With the bows unstrung and tarps thrown over the targets, with the arrows and bows and quivers stowed in the garage, the eight of them returned to the house.  After they'd all washed up, there was just time to show Isabella, in the family photo albums, the clippings and photos of March Crown.

No one in the household had been free to run around snapping pictures.  They'd been the royal household, some of them had fought all weekend; still every one of them had taken at least a few photos, and had ordered multiple prints so that they could trade them around.  With typical Finnish thoroughness, Christina had started a new page with the label "March Crown, March 11 and 12, 2731" in her neat printing.  Then came the photos, five or six to a page, each page arranged differently from the next, each picture with a short description like "Mezentius and his family" or "Yrjö knighted!", and the initials of the person who took it, C.F.S. for "Christina Frederica Suominen," M.V.S. for "Margaret Venetia Suominen," etc.

After the neat pages of color photographs came the newsmag clippings.  The SGU was colorful, violent, romantic, and weird; every San Diego newsmag was represented, the Union and Tribune for both days, the Herald, the Sun, the Reader, and the Times in the following week's edition.  Christina had photocopied the Union and Tribune articles on a color Donner photocopier, to keep the newsprint from turning yellow or contributing excessive acid to the scrapbook.  She'd bought two copies each of the other newsmags, which were printed on better paper, and mounted their articles and pictures.  It ran to 22 album pages all told, and Isabella was dismayed to see how many pictures of herself there were.

"I hadn't seen half of these," Jenny said.  "Your mom's been busy, Aino."

"Look at this, Isabella," Deborah said.  "Isn't this a great picture?"

It was a wonderful picture: Christina and Isabella side by side in the x-frame chairs, one light, one dark, both looking regal, with Aino and Jenny and Deborah sitting at their feet, and Maddy standing with her hand on Tina's shoulder.  The Sun had captioned it "Court of Love" and spread it over the top of two pages in vibrant color.

Fortunately, Tina and Maddy chose that moment to announce that dinner was ready, so Isabella could consider the likely ramifications of published photographs of her in silence.

Chapter 8
The Feast of St. Mark the Apostle

See, see, mine own sweet jewel,
See what I have here for my darling:
A robin-redbreast and a starling.
These I give both, in hope to move thee,
And yet thou sayest I do not love thee.

"See, See, Mine Own Sweet Jewel", Thomas Morley, 1557-1602
UHO said "This must be the place," and turned off the engine.  Aino and Isabella looked at the mission-style church, parish hall, and rectory, with the school and playground attached.  The sign in front of the church said "St. Didacus Catholic Church," and listed the hours of Mass.  The first two were at 5 and 7 a.m.

"We're in time for Mass before school starts," Isabella said.  "Do you mind?  I would like to go."

"On a Tuesday?" Aino said.  "In costume?"

"It won't hurt you—or me, for that matter—to attend Mass on a Tuesday," Juho said.  "And I doubt God will mind the costumes."

"I'm going to feel silly," said Aino, as they got out of her uncle's car.

"You look great, kitten," Juho said.  "You both look great."

Juho and Isabella were in their coronation costumes, which were essentially finished on the Tuesday before the event; only the train was missing from Isabella's costume, left off so it wouldn't have to be washed before the weekend.  The red costumes, deep red not dark red, were like shouts in the sleepy grey of early morning.

Aino was dressed as a lady in waiting of the coronation court.  Her costume was like theirs, but white instead of red.  Instead of the black-and-white trim on Juho's and Isabella's costumes, Aino's was trimmed with a black braid, and another of the same red color as her uncle's and friend's garments.

Juho locked the car carefully; his sword, the crowns of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, a suit of mail, and some other materials were in the trunk, and hidden under blankets on the back seat.  While he did that, Isabella drew two white lace handkerchiefs from her purse.  "My mother says a lady must always be prepared to enter a church," she told Aino, handing her one.

Aino eyed the hand-made lace with awe.  "Your mother must be a spectacular sinner, to need preparations like this!" she joked.

"My mother?" Aino said.  "Hold still…" she added, as she began pinning the handkerchief over Aino's blonde hair.  "I can't imagine my mother being so… adventurous."

"Perhaps she is so beautiful," Juho said in Spanish, picking up the other kerchief, "that she needs churches for sanctuary from her many admirers." As she was doing for Aino, he did for her, pinning the lace over her hair with a few deft motions.

"Tal vez," Isabella said; Perhaps.  Her spine had gone liquid.  She couldn't think with his hand brushing the nape of her neck.

Fortunately, she had lots of practice seeming imperturbable.  "Gracias, señor," she said politely.

"De nada, señorita," he smiled.

They ascended the three short, wide steps into the church, Aino and Isabella holding the fronts of their skirts to keep from tripping on them.  Inside the door they dipped their fingers in the holy-water cups and signed themselves: In the name of the Father, touching two fingers to the forehead, and of the Son, touching the breast bone, and of the Holy, left shoulder, Spirit, right shoulder.  The little hallway between the outside door and the door to the nave was like every other Catholic church in America, if not the world.  There was a little narrow table against the far wall, to the right of the door to the inside; a box for donations; a rack of literature on various topics, and some copies of Treasure Chest, the Catholic comic book.

"All the way up front, I think," Juho murmured as he held the inside door for the girls.

"Everyone will stare!" Aino whispered.

"But if the children have to turn around to stare, the nuns will be angry," said Isabella.

So they went all the way to the first row of pews, where the students attending Mass before school could look at them without drawing the wrath of Mary, Margaret, Rose, and the other sisters, and where they wouldn't be too distracted by the eyes boring into their backs.  A fourteen-year-old boy of Hispanic appearance, with dark hair and eyes, in cassock and surplice, gaped at them from the sanctuary within the communion rails, as they genuflected and slid into the unpadded wooden pews, first Aino, then Isabella, then Juho.  The altar boy watched, then returned to his duty, lighting the candles on the altar with a long pole whose end had a wick on one side, and a bell-shaped snuffer on the other.

After a moment, Aino slid forward onto the padded wooden kneeler in front of her, put her hands together with the thumbs crossed, and began to pray.  Please, God, she thought, you know I can't help it.  If this is a sin, then lift it from me.  But if Aunt Maddy is right and only acting on it would be wrong, please help me keep my love pure, and never do wrong.  Help me love Anthony as he deserves to be loved…

Isabella looked about her as they waited for the priest to appear.  How much like every other parish church it was, and how much at home it made her feel.  In front was the sanctuary, with the altar against the back wall, covered with an altar-cloth in the proper color for today; in the liturgical calendar, it was the Feast of St. Mark the Apostle, whose sign was a winged lion with a halo, holding the gospel he had written.  On the altar stood the tabernacle where the host was kept, among a choir of candles; above the altar hung the crucified Christ in nearly life-sized agony.  Two other rows of pews flanked the one she was in, leaving two aisles to the front.  Midway to the front on the right side was the confessional, a central booth for the priest and one on either side for the penitents, all empty now.  On the left side of the church, opposite the confessional, stood a statue of the Virgin; votive candles stood before it, some lit.  Twelve of the columns, six on each side, bore pictures marking the Stations of the Cross.

After a moment, when the priest didn't enter, Isabella took her rosary out of her purse.  Holding the silver crucifix that began the Rosary, she started to pray.  Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificētur nomen tuum.  Adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua… Her Latin was the Catholic dialect, which Pius XII had decreed should be pronounced more like Italian some fifty years before.  In particular, the letter v was pronounced like an English "v" instead of an English "w", and c before i or e was pronounced "ch."

She hardly knew what she was praying for, or about.  Perhaps she was simply praying.  The peace of the church had wrapped itself around her, and her soul drank it like water.

Juho looked at Aino, kneeling on the other side of Isabella.  Aino looked troubled.  He made a mental note to ask Tina whether she knew why, and whether an uncle's help would be welcome. Then he watched Isabella saying the Rosary.  What a picture Isabella and Aino made: the troubled blonde praying into her folded hands, the serene brunette with her beads.

Perhaps he should pray, too.  But his soul felt too empty, and he didn't know what to pray for.  Should he pray that Hazel would return to him?  Should he pray that he find someone else?  Should he apologize to God that his marriage, blessed in church by one of God's priests, had failed?

What he needed most, maybe, was the strength to just wait, and see what would happen, instead of rushing in and trying to fix things.  His nature was active, not passive.  For now, though, it contented him to sit in the pew in silence, and gaze at the stained-glass windows.  Over on his left was one featuring the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Wasn't the Emperor of Iberia, as King of Castille and León, the Captain-General of the Society of the Sacred Heart?  He felt certain Isabella could tell him.

And who was Saint Didacus, anyway?  He made a note to look it up, as he should have done before today.  It would be embarassing if someone here were to assume he knew about the saint's life.

In came the priest and the altar boy and put an end to Juho's musings.  The weekday congregation—school children under the supervision of the nuns who taught them, a few old women, and Juho, Aino, and Isabella—rose to their feet.  The priest and the altar boy faced the crucifix and genuflected, then the altar boy knelt behind and to the left of the priest, his hands together in prayer.

"In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti," said the priest, making the Sign of the Cross in unison with everyone else present.

"Introibo ad altāre Deo," he began.  I will go up to the altar of God.

"Ad Deum qui laetificat iuventūtem meam," responded the altar boy and the congregation: To God, who makes joyful the days of my youth.

"Class, I have a treat for you today," Sister Rose said.  "Remember me telling you about the Crown Tourney I saw in March?  Well, here is the winner of the tourney, the Crown Prince; and the Crown Princess, and one of her ladies in waiting." She waved at the door, and Juho, Isabella, and Aino walked in from the hall.  Juho was wearing his sword, and he and Isabella were both wearing their crowns.

For a moment there was stunned silence at the spectacle they made, so different from everyday life, then the class of sixth-graders all started talking at once, in English and Latin and Spanish.  "Class," Sister Rose said, then "CLASS!"

There was silence.

"I'm surprised at you!" Sister Rose told them.  "Is that any way to behave in front of our guests?  Now they're going to talk, and then you can ask questions.  But you must raise your hands and be called upon!  Your Highness?"

"Thank you, Sister," said Juho with a smile.  "Hello, class.  My name is Juho Huovinen, but in the Society of the Golden Unicorn I am Duke Sir Juho Suomainen, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Patria.  I became Crown Prince by fighting in a tournament, and winning."

It was Isabella, presently watching and listening from a chair in the front of the room, whom Sister Rose had approached to speak before her class.  But Isabella didn't feel she knew enough about the Society yet to answer all the questions eager and imaginative young minds could come up with.  Aino had suggested that her uncle, who had more flexibility in his writer's schedule than her father or her other uncle, should accompany them and do most of the talking.

It was going well.  Juho the Duke had a commanding presence even dressed in "sissy clothes" instead of armor, and could tell the class stories from all over.

"After the tourney," Juho was saying, "these barbarians decide to stop at a HoJo's on the way home.  HoJo's?  That means Howard Johnson's, it's a restaurant chain they have out east."

"So here are these six big, hairy, smelly guys coming into HoJo's in fur costumes, with bare arms, bare legs, and bare chests.  They have long hair, beards, every one of them looks like he can tear a phone book in half without breaking a sweat, and every one of them has a big old knife on his belt, and is wearing or carrying a huge sword, or an axe."

"But they sit down peacefully and start looking at the menus, until this little tiny skinny waitress comes up, scared out of her mind.  She goes up to the nearest guy and says, 'W-W-Welcome to H-Howard Johnson's, sir.  A-A-And what would you like this evening?'"

"So the barbarian pounds his fist on the table, and roars, 'MEAT!  Bring me meat!' "

"'Y-Y-Yes, sir,' says the waitress.  'Uh… W-What kind of meat (gulp) sir?'"

"The barbarian frowns, and scratches his head.  Then he reaches into his belt pouch," Juho said, matching actions to words.  He took out a quarter, spun it high in the air, caught it, and slammed it down on Sister Rose's desk.  BAM!  The whole class jumped.  Juho peered at the coin, lifted his head, and growled, "COOKED!"

In Sister Mary's class the faces were different, but even Isabella could see that the questions were the same.

No, Juho said, we don't fight with real weapons.  We're weird, not crazy!  We fight with weapons made of rattan and rubber and plastic, so we get bruised instead of killed for real.  Here, this is the sword I used at March Crown.  Pass it around, but don't swing it.

Is this real mail?  Well, yes and no.  We start with door springs, which are good spring steel, and cut them along their lengths to make rings.  Then we take pliers, and link each ring to four others, see the pattern?  Our mail uses the same pattern of linked rings as mail from the Middle Ages, so it's real in that sense.  But they didn't have spring steel links; they had to make wire of softer iron or steel, wind it around a stick, then cut the coils.  Not being spring steel, the links didn't hold their shape well.  So they flattened the ends of every link, drilled tiny holes in the flattened parts, and used tiny rivets in the holes.  So no, it's not "real" mail because our links are made of better steel, and don't have to be riveted.  It took them years to make a suit of mail.  Ours is quicker to make, and easy to keep repaired.

No, I'm afraid you can't fight.  Not because you're female; we have some female fighters, even some female knights.  Sir Caroline was one of the last eight fighters in March.  You're just too young.  In a year or two you could start learning to fight at practices, but you have to be eighteen to fight in our tournaments.

What if a woman won?  Well, then she'd sit on the King's throne and she'd be Queen Regnant.  Who can tell me what 'Regnant' means?  Correct, 'ruling' or 'reigning', very good!  Her guy would sit on the Queen's throne and be called the Prince Consort.  No, I don't think it's ever happened; but it will, sooner or later.

Yes, it was Isabella's first tourney.  I don't think anyone ever became Crown Princess at her first tourney before, but we don't keep records of that, so I can't be sure.  There was a man once, who became Crown Prince at his first tourney.  Back when the SCA was just starting, anyone who wanted to could fight.  There was no training, no standards; they were just learning how to fight themselves.  The only armor you had to have was a helmet, and they were loaned freely.  So were shields.  As for swords, there was a pile of them at every tourney, and everyone could use them.  Anyway, this guy came to a tourney, decided he wanted to fight, and made up a name on the spot—William the Silent.  Then he beat everyone else, served out his time as King, and went away.  No one's seen him since.

We do lots of things besides fighting.  It's just that fighting is what crown tournaments are all about.  But we have chess tournaments, and play other games like Tafl, Pachisi, Senet, Go.  Mistress Käthe flies kites in all the local kite contests as well as our tournaments.  We dance, sing, play musical instruments—how many of you play recorder?  Raise your hands… Good.  You could play at tournaments, we'd love to hear you.  We make costumes, we make lace, some of us weave, knit, tat, crochet.  We have jewelers, potters, cooks, bakers, scribes, artists—anything they did, we do.

"No," said Aino in Sister Margaret's class, "not everyone in the SGU is Catholic.  I'd say no more and no fewer than the population in general; some of us are, most of us aren't.  The SGU isn't about religion, it's about the Middle Ages and having fun."

"That doesn't mean we have anything against religion," Juho said.  "Sister Margaret's welcome, and so are all of you.  There used to be an Anglican priest in the Bay Area who held services on Sundays.  On the other hand, we've had members who pretended to be monks or whatever just as I pretend to be a knight.  There used to be a 'wandering friar' in brown robes right here in San Diego—until he got a girl friend, and decided he didn't want to be a monk any more."

The good news for Catholics, Isabella was thinking, was that the proportions of religious people who were either Christian or Moslem were both increasing.  Within the world's Christian population, the proportion who were Catholic was also increasing.  Roman Catholics were more numerous than any other kind of Christian, and if the trend continued, might soon be more numerous than all other Christian sects combined.

The bad news was that the proportion of the world's population who admitted to being religious at all was falling, and had been since the War.  In marketing terms, if such could be forgiven, the Church had a growing "share" of a "market" that had been "falling" for over thirty years.

It was a matter of some concern to His Holiness the Pope, and to His Most Catholic and Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Iberia, and to all his court.  One of his titles was Defender of the Faith, and he took it seriously, as the mandate from the Pope that it was.

At lunch time there was a brief fighting demo in the playground.  Brief, because the children still had to eat before going to their afternoon classes.  For the ones from poorer families, the lunch provided by the parish was the best meal of their day.

Master Ioseph (who was retired) sang The Riddle Song and Three Ravens and Scarborough Fair while Juho changed into armor, and Yrjö (who had no afternoon classes today) and Taawi (who was a computer programmer with no fixed hours) strung a rope across the courtyard, for the children to stay behind.  Jenny and Deborah (who had no classes until 2 p.m.) answered more questions from the children, and Lord Robert Godwin (who was on full disability because of the polio he'd suffered as a child) made faces at them.

Then Lord Robert played recorder and Master Ioseph the krummhorn while Juho and Isabella, Yrjö and Jenny, Taawi and Deborah danced the pavane.  The stately processional dance was the only one of the SGU's dances that Isabella had yet mastered, so Aino took her place for the second dance, a bransle (pronounced "brawl", and aptly so).

Then Master Ioseph served as herald and Lord Robert marshalled while Juho fought Yrjö, Yrjö fought Taawi, and Taawi fought Juho for various important and weighty matters of contention—"Because the sky is blue!" for example, a perennial favorite.

Lord Robert had made little or no impression on Isabella at March Crown.  He'd been just one more new face among hundreds.  He really shone at a small weekday demo like this one.  He wasn't in much pain today, and the "field" was too small to require much running.  This left the pudgy, spectacled Sternheimer free to lean on his marshall's staff and crack wise.

So when Juho beat Yrjö, and Yrjö was hamming his way through a death scene—"Agh! Igh! Aiee!"—Lord Robert said, "O, U, and sometimes Y."

When Yrjö challenged Taawi "because his mother wears combat boots," it was Lord Robert who said, "How dare you talk about your grandmother that way!"

It was all great fun.  The children went to lunch chattering over what they'd seen, the priest thanked them for coming, and they went back to work, school, or home, with the satisfaction of a job well done.

"Aino, why do you keep trying to fix me up with boys?" Isabella asked.

"Misery loves company?" Deborah suggested.

"Then Aino should find Isabella boys from Spain, so they can both run up huge phone bills," Jenny replied.

"Come on, guys!" said Aino.  "Seriously, Isabella, this guy's cute.  He's the one with the curly hair and dimples in our Western Civ. class."

"Dimples," said Isabella.  "Wait—Do you mean the boy who was arguing that a democracy's army shouldn't have officers?"

"I remember that argument," said Deborah.  "Isn't he the same guy who said Rasputin did Russia a favor when he killed the Tsar and his family?"

"Good lord!" said Jenny.  "The boy's a Communist."

"My whole family votes Social-Democrat or Socialist," Aino said.

"Socialist is one thing, Communist is another," Isabella said.  "Or maybe he hasn't grown into his adult ideas yet, and he's taking positions just to start arguments.  Either way, I'm not interested."

"All right," said Aino, "but what about—"

"Aino," said Isabella.  "I'm not going to live in California forever.  College is only four years.  Do you think some American guy will want to move to Iberia just to be with me?"

Aino looked at her: the expressive brown eyes, the flawless skin, the lustrous hair, the full lips, the graceful body.  "Hell, yes," she said.

Dearest Mamá and Papá:

Yes, I promise you, I have been to Mass every Sunday, except the weekend of the "Crown Tourney."  I had not realized how far from everywhere we would be.  In future I will know in advance where the nearest church is, and my friend Aino has said I may borrow her car.  Or, if Papá insists I must have a body guard even at tournments, then he may drive me to Mass and back!

The bodyguard, I mean.

School has been very interesting.  I don't believe the classes are quite as difficult as they would be at Universidad de Navarra, or Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, much less Universidade de Coimbra, but classes here are all in English, which makes them a little more difficult.  Nonetheless I am getting A's (highest marks) in everything, as I know you expect, and as I promised I would.

Thank you again so much for permitting me this adventure!  It is so exciting to be living in another country, with its own language and customs.  Do not fear for my safety, I beg you.  I know that back home they are always talking about how dangerous America is, and how violent Americans are, and how everyone carries a gun, and—but seriously, no one has subjected me to so much as an unkind word.  Everyone is so nice, and when they learn I am from Iberia (they always call it "Spain" for some reason, as if Castille y León were the whole country), they are even nicer.  They are used to people from Mexico and Cuba (which used to be colonies of Iberia), and from American states and possessions like California and Puerto Rico, but an actual "Spaniard" (as they always say) they treat as a rarity.  Americans like rarities, and things that are different even if not rare, or so it seems to me.

Of course, I'm living here and enjoying the differences between America and Iberia, so perhaps I should not say too much about that!

I am also glad I came here because of the SGU.  It's a lot of fun.  Americans have no medieval past, though their ancestors may come from countries that do.  Americans are independent and democratic and progressive.  I think play-acting at Kings and Knights is a guilty pleasure for them, like school boys smoking in secret, back when people could smoke.  Let me know if you cannot get copies of the newsmag articles I listed in my last letter, and I will send some to you.

I will write more later.  We are making an early start tomorrow morning because the tournament is a hundred miles away, near Riverside, where Aino's boyfriend Antonio lives.  We could go tonight and stay with the "Baron" and "Baroness" (who are Antonio's brother and sister-in-law), but this will be fine.  We just won't get to this tourney quite as early as we did to the last one.

And then I will be "Queen." Can you grasp that?  I can not.  Game or not, for a few months I will be "Queen of Patria." I'm sure it will be a very interesting experience.

Chapter 9
Running into the Sun

When will I see you again?
When will our hearts beat together?
Are we in love, or just friends?
Is this my beginning, or is this the end?

The Three Degrees, 1975 (2728 AUC)
EBORAH, Jenny, and Aino lived in the same all-female dorm on the east side of campus.  Next year Isabella hoped to get a room in that dorm, but this year she'd settled for one of the last available rooms in a coed dorm called El Conquistador, on Montezuma Road south and west of the campus itself.

At 5 a.m., therefore, she stood in the warm lobby of El Conq, peering out at the street, and saw Aino's VW bus pull over to the curb.  They had loaded it the night before, so all Isabella had to do was walk out the door and pull it shut behind her.  She was warmly dressed in a light coat and a fuzzy knit cap, but her breath was visible in the predawn air.  Street lights reflected from the dew on the dorm's front lawn as Jenny rolled back the side door of the bus for her.

"Good morning," Isabella said, as she climbed in.

"Morning!" sang Aino at the wheel.  "Come on, get in, let's go!"

"Geez, you're chipper this morning," Jenny said.  "What happened to the girl who liked to sleep late on Saturdays?"

"She's in a hurry to see Anthony," Deborah said.

"Oh, and I suppose you don't care when you set eyes on Harold?" Aino shot back.

For answer, or for lack of one, Deborah reached forward and turned on the radio.  "KRQR, the Rocker, San Diego's finest rock and roll station," it said as the bus pulled away from the curb and headed east on Montezuma.  "Down five spots from last week, number 30 is 'Peg' by Steely Dan."

"Perfect!" said Jenny.  "The Top Thirty takes two hours, and the trip to Riverside takes two hours.  This should keep us awake all the way to Dreiburgen."

"I'd forgotten they broadcast this at 5 a.m.," Deborah said.  "I usually listen to the NATT in the evening when I'm studying."

"This is your big debut," sang the radio.

Aino laughed.  "Isabella, they're playing your song!" she said, as she turned left onto College Avenue, heading north.

"What is a 'pin shot'?" Isabella asked.  "That's a phrase I never heard before."

"I think they mean a pin-up picture," Jenny said, "like that time Aino was in Playboy."

"Playboy?!!" said Isabella.  "Aino, they took pictures of you without any clothes on?"

"She's pulling your leg," Aino said.  "It wasn't me in Playboy, it was Aunt Maddy, back when she was a model.  Then they found out Mom was a model, too, so there were pictures of them together.  'Model Sisters,' I think they called it.  I haven't been in Playboy.  Yet," she said.

"This next song hasn't been on our list before," said the radio.  As the bus passed under the bridge that linked the campus center on the left to the girls' dorms on the right, the announcer said, "Debuting at number 29 on the North American Top Thirty, here's Meatloaf with 'Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad'."

The girls all laughed hard.  "All right, that does it!" Aino said.  "Start searching the gear.  That guy's got a microphone in here somewhere!"  She steered the bus around the cloverleaf onto Interstate 8 headed west.

"Isn't this the same way we took to March Crown?" Isabella asked.

"Yep.  Only, instead of turning off I15, we'll just keep right on going another 50 miles or so," Aino said.

"Too bad we couldn't convoy up there with the rest of the household," Deborah said.

"Too bad," Jenny agreed with a sigh.

"Goose," said Aino fondly.  "At least you get to see George between tourneys.  Deborah and I are living by our phone bills."

"And she who lives by the phone bill will die by the phone bill," Deborah said ruefully.

"Why can't we all go up together?" Isabella asked.

"Well, we could," Jenny said, "if we wanted to get up even earlier, or stay overnight at Aino's folks' place.  But their house is west of Miramar Naval Air Station, and we're well east of it, and there aren't many ways through—it's a military base, after all."

Deborah, seeing that Isabella's knowledge of San Diego freeways wasn't enough to fill in what Jenny had left out, said, "Our best route is west on 8 to Interstate 15, north on 15 to 215, then straight on to Riverside.  But the others would have to swing south around Miramar to go that way.  Their best shot is northwest on Interstate 805 to 5, then on 5 to 56, then northeast on 56 to I15.  Their route doesn't join ours until they reach Poway, way north of here."

Aino had turned off 8 to 15 meanwhile, crossing over the San Diego River.  While not a major river, it was quite large for Southern California, and a wide marshy area, full of birds wading and splashing, delighted the eye on either side of 15.

"We're back," said the radio, "and so is Natalie Cole, down five spots to #28 this week with 'Our Love'."

"Good," said Aino.  "Maybe next week it'll be gone entirely."

"I like it," Jenny protested.

"I liked it, too, the first hundred times or so," Aino said.  "Now it just gets sappier and sappier every time I hear it."

"You just wait," Deborah said.  "We remember things like this.  We'll just tuck them away until you're turned to goo in Anthony's arms, and then we'll see who's sappy."

"Yikes!" said Aino.  "Jenny, protect me!  She's turning on me!"

"I'm just a goose," Jenny said.  "How can I protect you?"

"There are three new songs on our list this week," the radio said over their laughter.  "Number 27 is 'Feels So Good' by trumpetmeister Chuck Mangione."

"Ooh," said Deborah as the golden notes poured from the radio.

"Oh yeah," agreed Jenny, and Aino sighed, "Magic."

"I love his music," said Isabella.  "I wonder if there's a video for this one?"

For a moment, only the background sounds of the motor and the road contended with Mangione's horn.  Then Deborah said, "What's a 'video'?"

Dave Suominen glanced in the driver's mirror.  Two cars back he could see Tina and Maddy chattering away in Maddy's yellow Porsche.  Juho's blue Triumph was behind them.  All accounted for.

"Sorry," he said to his brother.  "You were saying?"

"I said, within ten years the cars will drive themselves on long trips, and we can sleep on the way to tourneys."

"Of course they will," Dave snorted.  "Is that before or after pigs learn to fly?"

"Suppose I told you I was serious?" Bob said.

"Then you're crazy," said Dave.  "Look, Bob, I've been a computer programmer for almost 20 years now.  Computers are slow, they don't work if it's too hot or too cold, they can only handle so much data at a time, every manufacturer has its own operating system, and the programs are full of bugs.  None of that matters too much when you're running a batch job in the middle of the night at a bank; but an automated highway?  It'd be more efficient to just line up the motorists and shoot every other one.  Cheaper.  Less messy."

"Good," said Bob.  "That's just what all the other computer experts say, too.  Now picture a computer the size of a file box, a hundred times faster than any you've seen before, with megabytes of memory instead of kilobytes, and hundreds of megabytes of storage.  Picture one of these buried in the road every couple of miles, controlling the cars remotely, and passing traffic back and forth as cars enter and leave each computer's section."

"Sounds like you should be talking to Juho, not me; he's the science-fiction writer.  Are these outer-space computers or computers from the far future that I'm picturing?"

"Luther Hawley says he can build them."

"So what did you tell him?" Maddy asked her sister.

"I told him no, of course.  Aino needs a year or so to settle down.  That kind of attention right now would be the worst possible thing for her."

"And he accepted that?"

"I'm her mother, and she's not nineteen yet.  Besides, Barbi backed me up."

"Good for her!  How's married life suiting her?"

"Pretty well, apparently.  Nothing's been said, but it looked to me like there's a second baby on the way."

"Babies in the Mansion!" Maddy sighed.  "Who'd've thought?"

"Videos," said Isabella.  "Have I got the word wrong?  You know, films of a singer performing a song, or a group performing together, or a film or cartoon with the music instead of people talking?"

"You mean, like the Commodores doing one of their songs on American Bandstand?" Jenny asked.

"You could make a video from that, if you took just the three or four minutes of the Commodores singing, and showed that by itself," Isabella said.  "Don't they do that in the United States?"

"Not that I've ever seen," Aino said.  "So they have these 'videos' in Spain?"

"In Spain, in Portugal, in France, all over Europe," Isabella said.  "There is one by Florencia Cardona I particularly like.  Con los brazos abiertos…" she sang.

"Wait, wait," said Deborah.  "I still don't understand.  When do they show these videos?  What are they for?"

"They're advertising," said Isabella.  "The television stations get them from the record companies, and play them as commercials, so people will buy the records."

"Oh," said Deborah, as the Mangione song ended and the radio began playing commercials.  "I was thinking maybe they had shows where they played the videos, like a TV version of a radio station, or a Top Thirty on TV."

Isabella laughed.  "Oh, there aren't enough videos for that.  Only some musicians make them, and only for some songs."

"Too bad," Aino said.  "That sounds like a good program."

While the radio in Aino's bus was announcing the highest debut of the week, Andy Gibbs' "Shadow Dancing" at number 26, Dave was looking at Bob with disbelief.  "Luther Hawley?" he said.  "Since when is he interested in computers?"

"I don't know that he is," Bob said.  "But he needs smaller, more capable computers for something, and he thinks he can get other people to build them for him if he tells them how."

"He's liable to be right," said Dave.  "Anything Hawley takes a look at tends to be revolutionized.  How's he planning to pull this particular rabbit out of his hat?"

"He says he can induce an electric current to assume discrete levels, instead of just on and off," Bob said.

"WHAT?!!" Dave shouted.

"Good thing I was braced for that," Bob said.  "Watch the road, Dave!"

"How many levels?" demanded his brother.

"Theoretically, no limit.  In the experiment I saw, he transformed a current from two states to eight."

"Christ!" said Dave.  "With octal digits instead of bits, every clock cycle could contain three times as much information, and machine code would run three times as fast at the same clock speed.  Memory triples, storage triples—a double-sided quad-density floppy disk would hold 3.6 megabytes instead of 1.2, and a 10-megaByte hard disk would become a 30.  And circuits!  Think what engineers could do with gates that have one input and eight outputs!"

"Don't you mean four times?" Bob asked.

"No," said Dave, "it's a question of exponents, not multiplication.  Eight is two to the third power; three bits represent 000 to 111, or 0 to 7.  A single octal digit has eight possible values, also 0 to 7.  One octal digit will store the same information as three binary digits, so it's a threefold advantage."

"They were talking higher numbers at the demonstration," Bob said.

"Higher than three?  Oh, wait, I see.  Two octal digits can represent 0 through 82-1, or 0 to 63; three octal digits 0 through 511; so three octal digits can represent a number… um… 511 divided by 7… 73 times as large as 3 binary digits, or bits.  But all the hardware and software is eight-bit; which is 0-127 in binary, but in octal… uh… 88-1 is… 64 x 64 x 64 x 64… 4096 x 4096… 16 million something, which is… 4096 x 32… more than 120,000 times as large a number as 8 binary digits, is all I can tell you off the top of my head."

"Close enough," said Bob as Dave switched over to Interstate 5.  "They said 131,072, but they sat down and figured it out ahead of time.  Pretty good, little brother."

"Thanks.  So how did Hawley work this miracle?"

"By cooling the circuits to liquid-nitrogen temperatures, and subjecting them to a magnetic field like the ones they're using in the fusion projects," said Bob.  "We had to wear suits against the cold, and remove everything ferromagnetic from our persons.  But it worked."

"And I'll bet all the equipment put together was much bigger, took more power, and cost more than a regular mainframe, too," Dave said.

"No takers.  You're right.  But it was only a demonstration of feasibility, a proof of concept.  Hawley says there are other ways to achieve the same results, leading to file-box-sized units in a couple of years."

"So," said Dave.  "It occurs to me a computer that size will fit into a tank, or a bomber."

"That's why the government's interested," Bob said.  "If SGU members can sleep on the way to tourneys, troops can sleep on the way to battles, and supply convoys would need guards, but not drivers.  Add TV cameras and sound equipment, and you could track enemy troops using your roads, even turn off sections so they had to drive around the clock and face your fresh troops tired.  Automatic range finding, automatic position calculation, there are countless military uses for small, rugged field computers, let alone ones as powerful as these."

"So why are you telling me all this?" Dave said.  "Isn't it classified?"

"Yes," Bob said, "but not to someone in the project.  We're going to need an operating system, programming languages, communications protocols, data bases, the works.  This is the ground floor—I assumed you'd want in."

"Hell, yes," Dave said.  "Someone has to keep you clowns on track.  I'll bet you're already talking about having IBM build these computers."

"You don't like IBM?"

Dave snorted.  "I like IBM fine—as an investment.  Making money is what they do.  But for this we need a company that makes computers, not money.  We need engineers, not salesmen."

"Got somebody in mind?"

"Some names occur to me," Dave said.  "Gary Kildall, Jim Treybig, David Packard… Want me to start sounding them out?"

"You're hired," Bob said.  "Tell your boss the bad news Monday, then come by my place and we'll sort out salary and so forth."

"Programmer to tech recruiter overnight," Dave said.  "Well, it'll be a change, that's for sure.  Shouldn't be too hard, either; a lot of these guys are sick and tired of working for German companies."

"The Germans may have invented computers," Bob said, "but we've got Hawley.  In five or six years computer manuals will be translated from English to German, instead of the other way around."

"You know who else we ought to get in on this?  Juho."

"Why him?"

"Juho's deep, and he doesn't think in straight lines like the rest of us, A to B to C.  You can see the military uses of these systems, and I can see how they'll affect traditional computer fields like aircraft design and banking.  But Juho will see more uses for them than a thousand guys like you and me could come up with."

"Really."

"And it'll give him something new to think about, instead of Hazel."

"All right," said Bob.  "I'll call everybody on the CB, and the three of us can do some brainstorming."  He picked the CB microphone off the dash.  "Breaker, breaker, this is Black Lion to Miss August and Three Lions.  Follow us offroad, we're going to rearrange this convoy."

"KRVR, putting the river in Riverside," the radio shouted in Tony Lowe's one-bedroom apartment.  He threw himself out of bed and across the room; he'd learned in high school that an alarm clock next to his bed would only wake him long enough to turn it off.  He twisted the volume down to low, clicked a button to switch it from Alarm to FM so it would keep playing, and stood on the wooden floor trying to remember why he was up so early.

"Down five from last week, number 30 was 'Peg' from Steely Dan," the radio said.  "Number 29 is new this Saturday, 'Two Out of Three Ain't Bad' by Meatloaf."

Saturday—the coronation tourney—Aino was coming!  Suddenly Tony was wide awake.  He dropped to the floor and began doing pushups.

"Natalie Cole is down five spots with 'Our Love' at number 28," the radio said.  "Number 27 is another debut, 'Feels So Good' from the magical horn of Chuck Mangione."

"Damn," said Tony as he exercised.  "Sorry I missed that."

"Number 26 was our third and last debut, Andy Gibb with 'Shadow Dancing'.  Andy also had the number 25 spot, after '(Love Is) Thicker Than Water' slid down three spots.  Gordon Lightfoot is down three spots also, with 'The Circle Is Small' at number 24.  Blondie is down nine spots, the biggest fall this week, leaving 'Denis' at number 23."

"Damn again," said Tony.  He rolled over, hooked his feet under his bureau, and began doing situps.

"England Dan and John Ford Coley are down two spots, with 'We'll Never Have To Say Goodbye' at number 22, while Barry Manilow's 'Can't Smile Without You' falls four spots to number 21."

"I can't laugh, and I can't sing, I'm finding it hard to do anything," Tony hummed.

"North America just can't get enough of these brothers from Australia," said the radio.  "We've already played two songs by one of them.  After the break, we'll play the first of three songs in the Top Thirty by the group as a whole.  Our new number 20 has risen nine spots since last week.  Stay tuned!"

"Feh," said Tony.  He reached up and turned the radio off, and finished his situps in silence.  Then he rose and padded into the bathroom for a shower.

Not everyone in Patria was listening to the North American Top Thirty.  Some radio stations broadcast it at different times, or used a different top ten or top twenty compiled by a different supplier.  Some of the people on the way to the tourney were listening to other popular songs of the moment, such as "The Name of the Game" by ABBA, Randy Newman's "Short People", "Desirée" by Neil Diamond, or April Wine's "Rock and Roll is a Vicious Game".  "Heavier" stations were playing "We Will Rock You" or "We Are the Champions" by Queen; "softer" stations played Samantha Sang's "Emotion", "Wonderful World" by Art Garfunkel, or Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are."

Tex Jones listened to a country-music station for as many miles as his long-suffering wife could stand it, while Armin and Hilda listened to polka music and news on a German station.  Master Renfrew, an Anglophile, was listening to a Top 18 that only shared four songs with the North American Top Thirty.

"More Than A Woman" by the Bee Gees (#20, up nine places) was succeeded by "Imaginary Lover" from the Atlanta Rhythm Section (#19, up eight spots), but Caroline Cheney, her armor in the back seat of her VW bug, was singing along to a tape of songs from Camelot:

Tra la!  It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That darling month when everyone throws
Self-control away.
It's time to do
A wretched thing or two,
And try to make each precious day
One you'll always rue!
It's May!  It's May!
The month of "yes you may,"
The time for every frivolous whim,
Proper or im-.
It's wild!  It's gay!
A blot in every way.
The birds and bees with all of their vast
Amorous past
Gaze at the human race aghast,
The LUST-y MONTH of MAY!

Meanwhile, Joseph Harclerode drove through the darkness, listening to a tape of Kismet and thinking of his late wife.

Take my hand, I'm a stranger in Paradise,
All lost in a wonderland, a stranger in Paradise.
If I stand starry-eyed, there's a danger in Paradise
For mortals who stand beside an angel like you.

I saw your face, and I ascended
Out of the commonplace into the rare.
Somewhere in space I hang suspended
Until I know there's a chance that you care.

Won't you open your angel's arms to a stranger in Paradise?
Don't send me in dark despair from all that I hunger for!
But answer the fervant prayers of a stranger in Paradise,
And tell him that he need be a stranger no more.

Others were listening to Dr. Demento, or an oldies station, or the news.  And some were too busy talking to listen to the radio at all.

"Damn," said Juho.  "I don't know where to start."  He sat in the passenger seat.  Dave was still driving; Bob leaned on the back of the front seats.

"Give us one at random," Bob suggested.

"Well, speaking personally, I want one of your units for my desk.  Hook up a terminal to it, and I can throw away my typewriter.  Or keep the typewriter, and rewire it to take commands from the computer.  Every writer in the world will be shoving money at you for a word processor like that."

"Word processor?  What's a 'word processor'?" said Bob.

"I just told you—a computer, a terminal, and a typewriter instead of a teletype," Juho said.  "People have been dying to get them, but no one can afford one, not at half a million dollars apiece for a computer.  They're so desperate that some of the ham radio guys and electronics hobbyists have been building their own micro-computers and writing their own word-processing programs.  But no two of them worked the same until Gary Kildall wrote an operating system for them, and the hardware is still all over the place."

"But if you already have a typewriter, why do you need a computer?" Bob said.

"Suppose you spell a word wrong," Juho said.  "Instead of using white-out, or striking over the error, or retyping the whole page, you fix the error in your data storage, whether that's audio tape, floppy disk, or hard disk, and just print the page again."

"Or if you decide paragraph B should go in front of paragraph A, instead of cutting the paragraphs out with scissors and pasting them down in the new order, you make the changes in storage and print the affected pages again."

"Need more copies?  Print them!  Can you imagine a world where a child says, 'Daddy, what's carbon paper?' ?"

"No, I really can't," Bob said.  "You actually think there's a market for home computers?"

"There's so much demand," said Juho, "that the market is already beginning to sell them.  A floppy-disk drive costs $150, floppy disks are $10 each, a 10-megaByte hard disk can set you back $1000; and people are buying them anyway.  The micro computers have 64 kiloBytes of RAM, 2- and 4-megaHertz Intel 8080 CPUs, and cost $1000 without storage or a terminal; and people are buying them anyway.  Offer them Hawley's desktop mainframes, and I don't think it's possible to overestimate the response."

"All right, home computers," said Bob.  "What else?"

"Well, America's awfully empty," said Juho.  "You bury a supercomputer every few miles along the interstates, and a lot of computer power is sitting around, doing nothing for most of the time.  You could probably store every book in the world on that network."

Bob's jaw dropped.  "Christ!  You just revolutionized publishing, obsoleted libraries, and created a new kind of public utility in one fell swoop!"

"Publishing, maybe," said Juho.  "It would eliminate printing paper copies of a book, and transporting and storing them; but if you charged a few cents a copy every time the book was copied from the network, the writer at least would still get the same money he does now.  The libraries could be the public places to get the books, or newsmags, or whatever."

"But what about pictures, and graphs, and anything besides text?" Dave objected.

"Ever notice how newsmags printed photos, before they all switched to offset?" Juho asked.  "They broke them down into dots, and printed the dots in different densities to get shades from totally black to almost white.  If we had a new kind of printer that printed dots, and the dots were small enough, and close enough together, no one could tell the difference."

"How does the printer know where to put the dots?" asked Bob, fascinated.

"The wire services had this cylinder thing that you clamped a photo onto, then a light moved along the cylinder as it spun, and recorded each line.  Then they sent the information over the wire to local newsmags."

"Sounds cumbersome," Bob said dubiously.

"It doesn't matter," Dave said, lowering the visors as the sun came up.  "We won't figure out how to store pictures in a computer on the way to a tourney.  But Juho's right, it can be solved."

"Picture something like a copy machine, but small enough to sit on your desk," Juho said.  "You put a picture on it, and press one button to get a color copy, another to store the picture in your computer.  To get a page for a photo album, you use your word-processing software to arrange the pictures and captions the way you want, then tell it to print.  Out comes your page in full color."

"And I suppose the terminal is in color, too," Bob said.

"Why not?" said Juho.  "Take a color TV, improve the resolution, and voilá! a color terminal."

Amanda Douglas pulled up before House Sternheim.  Forrest, Alison, and Tony were carrying things from the garage to Forrest and Alison's bus.  The Dreiburgen pavilion was already at the tourney site, and no doubt already set up by other members of the Barony, under the direction of Mistress Elanora de Corona, the Seneschal, and her husband, Master Leo.  But Sternheim was shoehorning a few things into the van at the last minute.

"Need any help?" Amanda asked innocently as she climbed out of her car.

"Good morning, sweetheart!" Alison said, embracing her younger sister; then Forrest did the same, and Tony.  Which felt a little awkward; but they were determined to ignore that.

"Boys, if you try to put one more thing in the van, I'll hit you with it!" Alison said.  "It's 6 o'clock, let's go!"

"Time's a-wastin'," Forrest said.  "After you, Tony."

"But no, my dear Alphonse," Tony said.  "After you."

"Please, my dear Gaston.  I insist; after you."

"Where did I put that frying pan?" said Alison.  "Oh, even better; here's a sword!"

"On second thought, let's just go," said Forrest, climbing into the driver's seat.  Tony sketched a salute, and returned to his car.

The sun rising over House Sternheim would find only the roses and the irises to greet it, and Amanda's car parked in front of the garage.

"Before we play our #10 song," said the radio, "let's recap.  #19 was 'Imaginary Lover' by Atlanta Rhythm Section, up eight spots from last week.  #18 was Roberta Flack with 'The Closer I Get to You,' up ten spots for the biggest gain this week."

"Go, Roberta!" said Jenny.  It was 6:20.  The sun was just below the horizon, but the dark blue dawn was getting lighter by degrees.  On the eastern horizon, the stars were gone.

"Jay Ferguson fell from 15 to 17 with 'Thunder Island', and the Bee Gees went from 13 to 16 with 'Stayin' Alive'.  Ian Thomas, on the other hand, rises three spots to #15 with 'Coming Home'.  'Jack and Jill' by Raydio also rose, from 16 to 14.  'Werewolves of London' by Warren Zevon rose six spots to #13; we'll have to see if it continues to rise in next week's countdown."

"Werewolves are bunk," said Isabella.

"Bunk?!" said Aino.  "Where'd you learn 'bunk'?"

"I don't know," Isabella said.  "I just like the sound of it.  Bunk, bunk, bunk."

"Arggh!" said Jenny in a growly voice.  "So you don't believe in us werewolves?  Then I shall feast upon your white neck!  Argggggh!"

"Silly wolf person," Deborah said in a fake Dracula voice, "Necks are for vampires."  Isabella, laughing, was trying to fend off Jenny from biting her neck.  This brought her near the front passenger seat, where Deborah could reach her.  She shrieked when she had teeth on both sides of her throat.

"Stop, stop, I'm ticklish!"

"Eric Clapton slipped two places with 'Lay Down Sally'," said the radio, "but Jefferson Starship is still #11 with 'Count On Me'."

"Girls," said Aino, "if the Crown Princess has to appear at court with marks on her neck, Uncle Juho is going to be majorly hacked off."

"Ooh," said Jenny, as she pulled Isabella out of Deborah's clutches.  "(Down, you Transylvanian terror!)  Why, Duke Juho, whatever have you been doing to that poor girl?" she said in an arch voice.

"And her young enough to be your daughter!" Deborah said, in the same kind of voice.

"I am not!" Isabella protested.  "I'm only eight years younger than he is."

"Only!" said Aino.

"In Spain, women often marry older men," Isabella said.  "My father is ten years older than my mother!"

"And now, our number ten song this week.  Down five spots from last week, here's Kansas with 'Dust In the Wind'."

They listened in silence.  "…And all your money won't another minute buy," mourned the song.  "Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind."

"Is this an American group?" Isabella asked.

"Kansas?" said Aino.  "You bet.  Why?"

"Muy Español, eso canción," Isabella said.  "Very fatalistic.  Very doomed.  Very Spanish."

"Parallel processing," said Juho.  "If a problem can be broken into small enough pieces, your network of computers can solve it almost instantly.  Weather.  Economics.  Chromosome scanning.  SETI.  Drug trials and cancer cures."

"Whoa, cowboy!" Bob said.  "Remember this system is for traffic.  Can't have cars crashing while you look for a cure for AIDS!"

"Assign priorities to processes, and only let lower-ranking processes run when higher-ranking processes let them.  Give traffic an unchangeable priority over everything else," Dave said.

"You know," said Juho, "if the data for everyone's computers were backed up to the network computers, as we were saying earlier, then the personal computers don't need storage at all."

"In a perfect world," said Dave.  "So?"

"So picture something the size of a clipboard, running on rechargeable batteries.  The whole surface is the screen.  No hard disk, no floppy-disk drive, no moving parts, just a computer you carry around with you, connected to the net by radio."

"Huh?" said Bob.  "What about the terminal?  Last I looked a keyboard and CRT took up a bit of space, and weren't light, either."

"Hell, what about bandwidth?" said Dave.

"A terminal," Juho said, "is two things, keyboard and screen.  If all the computers are the same, you don't need an intelligent terminal; the screen is built in, and the computer writes directly to it, instead of passing data and commands to the terminal."

"However you manage the data, a CRT isn't light," Bob insisted.

"So do away with the CRT," Juho said.  "That technology's forty years old.  Find another way to display a picture.  Liquid crystals, maybe, which are even older than the cathode-ray tube, though they've never been developed properly."

"And input?"

"Gotta have a keyboard," Juho admitted, "for serious writing and data entry, at least.  So standardize them, and put a keyboard port on the side, for when you must use one.  But the rest of the time, use a light pen to select virtual keys on the screen.  Or if you can make the screen piezoelectric, you can use your fingers and not worry about losing the light pen."

"Maybe," said Dave.  "But where are you going to get the bandwidth for all that data transmission?"

"You compress the data, and send it in high-speed bursts, divided into packets that you can resend if interference kills one the first time.  Those 4-MHz hobby machines can do that in a reasonable time; one of Hawley's multitronic wonders should be able to do it so fast it's invisible."

"I suppose that could be worked out," Dave said.

"Already done," Juho said.  "If the satellites the Air Force has been putting up for the OSS don't already use all that, and encryption besides, I'll eat my armor.  Right, Colonel?"

"You know better than to ask me things like that," Bob said.

"In fact," continued Juho, "if these computers are as fast and as capable as you say, why stop at backing up files?  No reason voice can't be digitized, compressed, and squirted just like any other data.  Nothing to keep AM, FM, and TV circuitry out of the design, either.  Picture something 9 by 12 inches, with a color screen that's also a touch pad.  There's a built-in microphone, built-in speakers, and a built-in movie camera, all using Hawley's technology for miniaturization on top of the gadgets the spies carry around.  Not only is it a portable computer; it's also your movie camera, portable picture phone, AM/FM radio, and portable TV."

"What, no tape player?" said Dave.

"No moving parts," Juho said.  "But—encoding data with octal or digital digits instead of bits, and then using a good compression algorithm on top of that?  Want to bet a three-minute rock-and-roll song won't be all that big a file, and free of tape hiss or record scratches too?"

"Give it up, Dave," said Bob.  "He's going to put everything in."

"OK, OK," Dave laughed.  "And what shall we call this hypothetical all-in-wonder?"

"Clever," said Juho.  "How about omnicom?"

"Is that com for computer, or com for communications device?" asked Bob.

"Does it matter?" Juho said.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls," said Dave in a nasal carnival barker's voice, waving one arm while he steered with the other.  "It walks!  It talks!  It 'processes words'!  Utilizing Professor Luther Hawley's aMAZing multitronics technology, I give you Juho Huovinen's stupendous OMNICOM!"

"Thankya.  Thankya verra much," said Juho, imitating one of the Presley twins.

"Those two blondes back there, honking at you, are our wives, Dave," Bob said.  "Better get over, that's our exit coming up."

The Sternheim tent was up next to the Dreiburgen pavilion, and all the gear was unloaded and stashed away in the back and sides of the tents.  Tony, still in grubbies, looked at his watch and saw it was almost 7 o'clock.

"Think I'll take a walk to the parking lot," he said to Forrest.

"Give her a hug for me," his brother said, picking over the mail in his lap as he searched for rings to close.

"Great, I'm completely transparent," Tony grumbled.

"Yes, dear.  That's why we love you," Alison said.

The tourney was located on one of the largest open areas of the UC Riverside campus.  It was on the west side of the campus, with the towers of the Math and Physics buildings to the north, and the stadium to the south.  A swelling of the ground, too slight to call a hill, hid the parking lots from sight.

For this tourney, four fighting fields were laid out from north to south.  The kingdom pavilion was in the middle of the east side, and the Dreiburgen pavilion in the place of honor opposite, since it was the hosting barony.  Calafia and Isles were on the north side of the eric, Terra and Failte and Gyldenholt on the south.

"Excuse me, young man," said a white-haired slender gentleman.  His wife, also slender and white-haired, had a golden Pomeranian on a leash.

"Good morning, sir," said Tony.  "Wondering what's going on?"

"Yes," said the man.  "Who are you people?  We walk here every morning."

"We're the Society of the Golden Unicorn, and we're holding a tourney here today and tomorrow," Tony said.  "Please don't let us get in the way of your morning walk.  I'd show you around myself, but I have to meet someone in the parking lot."

"Well, that's right friendly of you, young fellow.  I'm George, and this is Emily."  He stuck out his hand.

Tony shook George's hand, and kissed Emily's, while the little dog yipped at him.  "Wish I could stay," he said.  "See that tent over there, with the red banner with the gold key on it?  The people there will be glad to tell you about us, and what we're doing all weekend."

"Guess we might take a stroll by there," George said.

"Excellent!" Tony said.  "I hope I'll see you later.  But right now, I really have to go.  Goodbye, folks."

As he reached Parking Lot A, unfortunately reserved for students and faculty, Tony found Harold Gibson going the same way.  "Good morning, Master Harold," he said.  "How are you this fine morning?"

"Ave, Magister Antonii," Master Harold replied.  "Valeo.  Et tu?"  Or in English, Hello, Master Anthony.  I'm well.  And you?

"Etiam, gratias," Tony said; Me too, thanks.

"It's a fine morning," said Master Harold.  "I think this is the best part of the day!"

"So I've always thought," Anthony said diplomatically; as a non-drinker, he'd seen far more early mornings than the other.  "And how is your voice today?"

"Fine, fine," Harold said.  "Shall I demonstrate?"

"No!" Tony said hastily.  "At least, not unless you back off a mile or two first."

Harold beamed at the compliment.  "Thank you, Master Anthony."

"You're most welcome," Tony said.  "You know, we have a lot in common."

"Do we?"

"You're heavily into heraldry," Tony said, "and I've designed a few devices for people.  I started the Library of the Sciences, and you've contributed a few papers to it.  We both love the Latin language; you've committed huge amounts of classical poetry to memory, while I've studied medieval histories written in it, and composed poetry of my own."

"And we're the only two people presently living in this kingdom who have both the Laurel and the Pelican," Harold said.

Tony stopped in his tracks.  "The only two?  So rare as that?"

"There have only been two others," Harold said.  "Master Benjamin moved to the Middle, and Mistress Deborah died."

"Poor Ioseph," Tony said.  "Master Harold, it seems to me we should be better friends than we have been."

"Let's make the time to be friends from now on," Harold agreed.

"My hand on it, sir," said Tony, holding it out.

Bob Welch's "Ebony Eyes" was down three spots to number 9 on the North American Top Thirty, while Andrew Gold was up one spot to #8 with "Thank You for Being a Friend."  That took the girls through to 6:30.  "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees was down three to #7, and "Sweet Talkin' Woman" by Electric Light Orchestra was up one to #6.  With commercials, that finished at 6:40.  They were now on the outskirts of the city of Riverside.

Aino, Jenny, and even Deborah sang along enthusiastically with John Travolta on "You're the One I Want" (number 5, up a whopping seven spots since the week before), each thinking of a different guy as she sang.

"When he was shot by a sniper at a San Francisco concert," the radio said, "the world held its breath.  He recovered, but his fellow band members had all gone their separate ways.  That didn't stop him from forming a new band, which is even more popular than his old one."

"Paul McCartney!" said Jenny.

"Well, yeah," said Aino.

"I'm talking about Paul McCartney, of course," said the radio.  "Here's Paul, his wife Linda, Ringo Starr, Denny Laine, and Joe English.  They're called Wings, and this is 'With a Little Luck', up four spots to number four and still rising."

"With a little luck, with a little luck, with a little luck, a little luck, a little luck," the girls sang, and then it was 6:50, and they had to concentrate on finding their way through the streets to the campus of the University of California at Riverside.

So "Goodbye Girl" was mostly ignored (David Gates, number three this week and last week both) as they wrestled with the map, and even Jackson Browne was scanted as they watched the street signs.  "Running On Empty" was number two this week, down one spot.

"Running on, running on empty, running on, running blind," the radio sang.  "There's a sign," Deborah said.  "Turn here."  Someone in the Barony had put up a sign with the SGU's unicorn head on it, and a big arrow.  Aino obediently turned left.

"Running on, running into the sun, but I'm running behind," Jackson Browne sang.  Jenny peered through the windshield.  "Parking Lot C, Parking Lot C… There it is," she said, and pointed.

The radio recapped number 9 down to number 2 while they joined a line of vehicles pulling into Parking Lot C.  "So last week's number 3 is still number 3 this week, last week's number 1 is now number 2, and last week's number 2 is our new number 1.  Here's Yvonne Elliman with 'If I Can't Have You'."

"Don't know why, I'm survivin' every lonely day, when there's got to be, no chance for me," the radio warbled.

"Oh, look at that," Jenny said softly.

Waiting next to the parking lot, on a strip of sidewalk leading into the campus, stood Tony, Harold, and George, grinning and waving.  The girls all waved back, Isabella included.  Aino parked the bus while the radio hit the chorus: "If I can't have you, I don't want nobody, baby, If I can't have you, wo-o-oh."

Then Aino yanked on the parking brake, flung open the driver door, and fell upon Tony hungrily.  He caught her and began raining kisses on her face.  Deborah pounced on Harold; and Jenny gave George no chance to shy away, but put her arms around his neck and kissed him long and deep.

Somewhat embarassed, somewhat lost, Isabella climbed down from the bus.  She had no wish to stand and stare at her friends while they kissed; but she couldn't go on without them, either.  She'd never been here before and didn't know her way around this campus.

"Buenas días, señorita," said a familiar voice behind her.  "Está bien?"

She turned, blushing furiously against her will.  Juho stood in the parking lot behind the bus, having walked over from where he'd been getting stuff from his car.  A plastic cooler sat on the concrete next to his feet.

"Muy bien, señor," she said.  "Gracias."  She smiled, and held out her hand.

Juho smiled too, and raised her hand to his lips.

Chapter 10
Maypoles and Melées

Belle, qui tiens ma vie
Captive dans tes yeux,
Qui m'as l'âme ravie
D'un souris gracieux
Viens tôt me secourir
Ou me faudra mourir.


(Beauty, who holds my life
Captive with thy eyes,
Who hath my soul enraptured
With but a gracious smile,
Come soon and rescue me
Or I will die.)

—"Belle Qui Tiens" (a pavane)
SABELLA thought it was interesting that one tourney could be so different from the next.  No doubt it explained how her friends could go to one after another for years and not grow tired of the experience.

March Crown had been held in a wilderness area far from any town, with no outsiders present, unless the visitors from the SCA could be counted as such.  This weekend's tourney was located on a college campus in the middle of a city, with students and townspeople gawking, and taking pictures, and asking questions.

Coronation was more relaxed than Crown, too.  The unexpected number of fighters had meant a constant pressure to keep things moving in order to have a victor before the end of the event.  The annual Arts Championship was being held this weekend, and a chess tournament, and an archery contest, but there was no overall press of time, however harried some individuals might feel.

Finally there was the difference in her, that she knew more about the SGU now, and was beginning to know the people in it.  Sitting on the Crown Princess' throne, looking at the populace, she saw many of the same faces she'd seen in March.  Some had fought in the lists, some had served as heralds or marshalls, some were simply unforgettable, such as Master Renfrew in his jester's costume.  The Barons and Baronesses of the kingdom were there, and the peerage.  The faces she didn't recognize were people who'd been unable to attend March Crown, and newcomers for whom this was their first tourney, as March had been for her.

For this court there was no Grand March.  Robert had seated Maddy on the Queen's throne, kissed her hand, and sat down himself.  Then Juho had seated Isabella on the throne of the Crown Princess before taking his own place as Crown Prince.  Ridiculous how the touch of his lips on her hand sent a thrill up her arm!  For that sensation alone she would be very reluctant to give up the SGU, when the time came to go back to Iberia.

Then AElfrede AElfredsson, Blue Mountain Herald of the Barony of Dreiburgen, thumped his staff (as thin as he was, and considerably taller) on the block of wood he'd placed by his foot for that purpose.  The unexpected noise silenced the chattering crowd.

"This is the court of Pertti and Marketta, King and Queen of Patria, on the third day before the Kalends of May, in the year 2731 A.U.C.," he cried.  "Pray attend the words of His Majesty."

"Thank you, Lord AElfrede," said Pertti, standing up.  "Welcome, my people, to the last day of our reign.  My lady and I will be very sad to yield the thrones.  The King and Queen are the stewards of the Kingdom, and it is a proud thing to have the keeping of so wonderful a place as Patria, full of such notable and outstanding people."

"At the same time," he said, "it's a lot of work and a heavy responsibility, and we're ready to lay down the burden for a while.  My lady?"

Maddy took Robert's hand and rose.  "Our thanks to the Barony of Dreiburgen for the beautiful site, and all the treats promised for this weekend.  Every tourney is like Christmas—I'm looking forward to opening the presents," she smiled.

Court was not long.  Sir Martin announced that the field would be open for challenges, but reminded the fighters that they'd have to wait until after the may poles were finished, as was kingdom custom at Beltane.  Mistress Greta urged all entrants in the Arts Championship to get their tangible entries to the Arts pavilion at once, and to be alert for announcements for the performing-arts segments of the contest.  Lord Eric told the populace to sign up for the archery contest right after court, and Lord Carl echoed him, speaking of the chess tournament.  With three cheers for Their Majesties, three cheers for Their Highnesses, and three cheers for Their Excellencies the Baron and Baron of Dreiburgen, the populace was dismissed.

A stand, not unlike the stand for a Christmas tree, was set in the center of the field, and a may pole placed in it.  The may pole was eight feet high, with scores of ribbons an inch wide and eight feet long dangling from the base of the ball at its top.  The pole was green, like a tree, and the ball at its top was gold.  Half the ribbons were white, and half were red.

Maddy, as Queen, was the highest-ranking married woman present, so she took the end of one of the red ribbons.  Isabella took a white ribbon and listened as Aino explained what they had to do.  All around the pole, married women took up red ribbons and faced clockwise, while unmarried ladies faced counter-clockwise holding the ends of white ribbons.  Meanwhile a number of male musicians sat on the grass, well out of the way of the dancers, and tuned their instruments.  It was the usual mix, mostly soprano recorders, with a few tenor recorders, a few buzzing krummhorns, Master Renfrew with his racket, and Sir Ulfdan on the serpent.

"Gentlemen," said the elderly knight, his long white hair falling to his shoulders, "one, two, ready, play."  He put his mustached mouth to the serpent's mouthpiece and began.

"Ladies," said the Queen, as the music started, "on the beat.  One, two, ready, go."  She lifted her red ribbon high, so Isabella could pass beneath it with her white one, then Isabella held hers up for the next red dancer.  Over, under, over, under, around and around and around.  The red ribbons and the white ones wove together at the top of the pole, and began working down it, completely covering the green of the pole itself.  The musicians changed from one song to another, while the ladies worked to avoid mistakes and keep the ribbons taut.

For one tune Master Ioseph sang:

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu.
Bulloc sterteth, bucke ferteth,
Murie sing, cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes thu, cuccu,
Ne swik thu naver nu!
then switched to modern English the next time around:
Summer is a-coming in,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
And springeth the wood now.
Sing, cuckoo!

Ewe bleateth after lamb,
Low'th after calf the cow.
Bullock starteth, buck he leapeth,
Merry sing, cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo,
Well singest thou, cuckoo,
Nor cease thou never now!

Finally there was only an inch or two of free ribbon left, and only the bottom foot of the pole still showed green.  Mistress Elanora de Corona wrapped a band of black and gold trim around the bottom of the braided portion, trim so beautiful that it gave Isabella a pang to think of it being spent for such a purpose, rather than a sleeve or purse.  With a few quick hand stitches the Dreiburgen seneschal sewed the trim shut, and the ladies could let go the ends of the ribbons.

Then Mistress Greta, Sir Caroline, Countess Natasha, Baroness Alison, and several other ladies lifted the completed may pole, laughing, and carried it to the south end of the field, where they set it upright.

"What happens to it now?" asked Isabella.

"It stays there until the tourney's over, then it goes home with whoever wins it at the auction," Aino said.

"It's very pretty," Isabella said.  "Maybe I'll bid for it."

Her friends started laughing.  After a moment Deborah said, "It's a fertility symbol, Isabella.  Married ladies who don't have children bid for it."

"But that is superstition!" Isabella said.

"Yes," Jenny said.  "But they believed it in the Middle Ages, at least the peasants in the country did, so that's how we play it.  Historical recreation, remember?"

"Anyway," Aino said, "it's not the thing for an unmarried lady to bid for it.  It'd be like saying you want to get pregnant."

"Is it OK to take a picture of it, at least?"

"Of course," said Deborah.  "I'll go get a camera from the day pavilion."

Meanwhile another may pole had been erected for the men to dance around.  This one was twice as big around as the first one, and the ribbons alternately angry red and bruise purple.  The men laid hold of them without regard for married or unmarried, and the musicians played faster than before.  The weaving was soon done, with a couple of mistakes letting the green pole show through.  Sir Christian tied the weaving with a leather thong, then a dozen men, laughing, hoisted it to their shoulders, ran to the north end of the field, and set it down.  Because it was heavier than the ladies' may pole, and might hurt someone if it fell on them, three stakes were hammered into the ground through holes in the stand.

"And do they auction that as well?" Isabella asked dubiously.

"No, that one gets burned at Purgatorio," Aino said.  "That's the straw man."

"Or part of him, anyway," Jenny giggled.

No sooner had the may poles been finished than Sir Thomas of Colton, a Dreiburgen knight, stepped onto the field in full plate armor, carrying a sword and a shield with his arms, alternate diagonal stripes of yellow and green.  Lord AElfrede cried, "My lords and ladies!  Sir Thomas of Colton claims this field, and challenges all and sundry for its possession!"

Sir Gamlaun stepped over the eric (which was only knee high on this occasion, Dreiburgen being more concerned with keeping children off the field than anything else) in his red and black leather scale armor, carrying a round shield and a large mace.  Before Lord AElfrede could say anything, however, a third fighter entered the field and cried "Hold!"

"What in the world?" Anthony said.  All eyes had turned to the field when the newcomer yelled; SGU members were trained to listen for the cry, as it generally meant that the fighters were about to spill out of the fighting field.  Anthony had seen eight-year-old children freeze in place on hearing a marshall say "Hold!"

"My lord?" said Lord AElfrede.

"My compliments to Sir Gamlaun," said the stranger.  His closed helmet hid his face.  The scarlet surcoat over his mail rippled in the light breeze.  "But this is my fight."

"What is that wrinkled thing on top of his helmet?" said Aino.  "It looks like a giant prune."

"My lord?" said the herald again, as Sir Thomas and Sir Gamlaun stood by.  "Sir Thomas' challenge was to all and sundry."

"Exactly," boomed the other knight, turning his shield so that the Sun-Dry logo painted on it could be seen clearly.  "And I am Sir Allan Sundry."

"You were close, love," Anthony said in a voice choked with laughter.  "It must be a raisin.  I don't think Sun-Dry sells prunes."

"Sir Nutcase rides again!" Jenny said.

After "Sir Allan" beat Sir Thomas and then Sir Gamlaun—for he was, despite his larks, a good fighter—it looked like every knight present was going to take a whack at him, if only for the pun of his name.

Meanwhile the dancing part of the Arts Championship began on the southern-most field, drawing some fighters away from the mayhem.  Juho and Esmeralda joined the dancers, not as competitors, but to show royal support for the Arts, and to encourage others to compete.  Isabella didn't know many of the medieval and renaissance dances the Society practiced, but she had learned the pavane at Calafian dance classes.

On the far field they could hear, over the shawms and hautbois of the musicians, the announcement that Anthony had beaten "Sir Allan."  Juho laughed a little as they proceeded along in the stately dance, side by side, the other dancers in line behind them.

"Yes?" said Isabella.

"In the old days, in a tournament, the loser lost his horse and armor," Juho said, "and had to pay a ransom to get them back.  I was thinking if Anthony took Sir Allan's helmet, we might get a look at his face.  But likely we wouldn't know him anyway."

"But how did he become a knight, if no one knows him?" Isabella asked.

"He came to a lot of tourneys," Juho said, "fought in all of them, got better and started beating knights regularly.  He always behaved courteously, he learned to dance, to sing, to play the vielle, to write poetry, to play chess.  It never occurred to me, when I suggested his name to King Paul, that we didn't know his real name, his address, what he does for a living, and so forth.  I'm not sure it matters even now.  He may be a clown, but he's definitely a true knight."

"You proposed him for knighthood?"

"I did," Juho said, "and I don't regret it.  I do sometimes wish I could buy him a beer after work and ask him what's going through his head.  But he does no harm, and keeps us from being too stuck on ourselves."

"I suppose everyone has a game," Isabella said slowly.

"Indeed," said Juho.  "There's yours, for instance."

"Señor?" said Isabella.

"In all fairness I should warn you," Juho said, "and in gratitude for your helping me, by being queen: while most Americans speak only their native English and perhaps the Latin they learn in school, some Americans have a gift for languages.  While most Americans never leave the States, some Americans love to travel the world.  And most Americans never read newsmags in other languages, or from other countries; but some Americans do."

"I appreciate your fairness," Isabella said, "and your warning.  Perhaps you should speak more plainly."

"Perhaps I will," Juho said.  "But timing is everything, and not just in dancing.  Words spoken too soon may be hard to take back, if they prove mistaken."

"Too late is as bad as too soon," Isabella said softly.

"Timing, señorita," said Juho.  Then the pavane ended, and he bowed over her hand, while she sank in a graceful courtesy.

Then there was no time for thought or wind for conversation, for the music started up again, fast, for the galliard.  This was Isabella's other dance, for the SGU's galliard, she had discovered, was the Iberian court's gallardo, which she had practiced all her life.  Soon she was leaping and kicking and spinning to the music, to the admiration of the other dancers.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!" cried Master Harold.  "MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  SIR CAROLINE TUNNEY CHALLENGES SIR MARTIN THE SOBER, AND WAGERS THAT SHE CAN DEFEAT HIM IN COMBAT.  AND THE FORFEIT SHE PROPOSES IS THIS: THAT IF SHE WINS, HE MUST MARRY HER!"

"WHAT?!!" shrieked Jenny.  "Caroline and Martin?"  Yrjö was laughing so hard he couldn't stand up.  He rolled on his back and kicked his feet on the grass.  Other laughter swelled up around the eric.

"Come to think of it," said Deborah, "I haven't seen Miriam once since she and Martin left the throne.  I guess they broke up."

Martin, his helmet under one arm, glared at Caroline.  "And what do I get if I win?" he shouted.

"Name your forfeit!" Caroline answered.

Martin grinned slowly.  "Why, then, you'll have to marry me," he said.

"Done!" cried Caroline, and waited while Martin put his helmet on.

Caroline, who had always felt like an ugly duckling among all the slender blondes in the SGU, and more at home with "the guys", was mobbed by all the ladies after her victory, and hugged and kissed from all sides.

Martin, meanwhile, received congratulations and commiseration from the men.  Christian put his fingers in the long deep dent in the side of Martin's helmet, and whistled.

"Will you stop that?" Martin pleaded.  "You're making me nervous."

Sir Charles of Kintyre and his brother Neill laughed.  "How are you going to get out of it?" asked Neill, a heartless lecher.

Martin smiled.

"I didn't even know you two were dating," Christian said curiously.

"It's news to me, too," Martin said.

"Yes, my lord," Lord Carl said to the newcomer in the flashy Renaissance costume, "all are welcome to enter the chess tournament, or just have a friendly game for the pleasure of it.  But the Society is a medieval recreation society, and the rules you're speaking of date from the beginning of modern international chess tournaments in 1850.  We play the medieval forms of chess here."

"And what are these so-called medieval forms?" the stranger asked in a loud voice.

Isabella turned swiftly from watching Master Renfrew playing against Juho on a round Byzantine chess board.  "Juan?" she said in amazement.

The stranger looked around.  He was perhaps a couple of inches taller than Isabella, but had the same complexion and the same black hair.  The Spanish costume showed off his muscular but slender arms, and the tights displayed his fine legs.  His nose was more pointed than hers, and the dark eyebrows combined with his mustache and goatee to give him a sharper appearance than her feminine features could muster; but the resemblance was unmistakeable.

"Good morning, my sister," he said in Spanish.  "I've been looking all over for you."

"Juanito!" Isabella cried, and threw herself upon her brother.  While the chess players watched in surprise, the usually-dignified Crown Princess hugged him, and kissed him on both cheeks, and poured a torrent of Galician over his head.  "Why are you here?  Oh it's good to see you!  Where are you staying?  Who is with you?"

"Enough!" he said, still in Spanish.  "Stand back and let me look at you.  Yes, very nice.  I came to see this Society of yours, little sister.  And if you're going to be 'Queen', one of the family should be here, don't you think?"

She blushed.  "It's only a game," she said in English.

"Speaking of games," Juan said, dropping into English also, "will you explain to this fellow that I already know how to play chess?"

"You know one form of chess," Isabella said, "the kind that's played in modern tournaments.  But they play the older kinds here, as Lord Carl was saying."

"Perhaps I can help," Juho said.  "Señor, permit me to introduce myself.  I am Juho Huovinen, known in this our Society of the Golden Unicorn as Duke Sir Juho Suomainen, entirely at your service."

"Ah, yes," said Juan.  "The 'Crown Prince' himself."  He drew himself up.  "And I am—"

"This is my brother, Juan Carlos de León," Isabella said hastily.  "He came to see me crowned, isn't that sweet?"

Both men looked at her for a moment.  "Indeed," said Juho.  "Señor, the chess you're familiar with uses the rules codified by an Englishman in 1850.  Here we play older kinds, like the chess played by your King Alphonso the Wise.  His book of chess discusses not the later chess you learned in your boyhood, but these very kinds we play here."

"So it's Spanish chess you're playing?" Juan said.

"Certainly more Spanish than the English tournament chess of the Nineteenth Century," Juho said.  "If you'll wait until I finish this game of Byzantine chess with Master Renfrew, I'll be happy to play a game with you, straight out of His Majesty's book.  Meanwhile, Lord Carl will be glad to explain the differences between the older games and the newer."

"Indeed I will," said Lord Carl.

"Very well then," said Juan, seating himself at a picnic table with chess boards arranged down the middle.

Amanda walked along Merchant's Row looking at the goods being sold, mostly by SGU members to other SGU members.  There were several booths of arms and armor, from plastic and leather torso pieces that barely met Society standards to the beautiful shining helmets, swords, and axes from Baron Zoltan's forge, that wouldn't have looked out of place in a museum.  Several booths sold books, from a member getting rid of volumes he no longer wanted to a professional bookseller who made a good part of his living going from tournament to tournament.  One jewelry booth sold "medieval-looking" brass and glass found in dime stores and thrift shops, while another sold the jewelry made by a lady in Atenveldt, Celtic knots and animals rendered in cloisonné enamel.  Another booth sold the plain silver circlets that could be worn by any SGU member, as well as Spur, Laurel, and Pelican badges in cloisonné, pewter badges of all the Baronial orders, and actual crowns in silver and gold, made to order for barons and baronesses, counts and countesses, and dukes and duchesses who could afford them.

Other booths sold leather goods—shoes, pouches and purses, scabbards for swords and daggers.  Woodworkers sold wooden shoes (plain, or carved and painted), scabbards (likewise plain, or carved and painted), book covers, wooden boxes, tops and other children's toys.  One booth was doing a brisk business in kites; another sold hand-made candles and soaps; a metal worker sold tent stakes, candle lanterns, and wind chimes.

Amanda stopped before a booth where one of Anthony's Librarians was selling copies of magazines and booklets from all over the SGU's world.  At the back of the booth hung two posters 36 inches square, on parchment-colored paper, drawn and lettered by a duke of the Middle Kingdom.  One was a map of SCA branches, with single towers representing new groups, double towers larger groups, full castles the capitals of SCA kingdoms, while extinct groups were marked by ruined towers.  West was up, so that the San Francisco Bay Area, where the SCA began, was at the top center of the map.  Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska were represented by small inserts in the corners.  Southern California was labeled "Caid", and showed a broken tower for Terra and Failte, a double tower for Angels, and single towers for Calafia, Dreiburgen, and Isles.  Gyldenholt, which had been founded since the split from the SCA, was not shown, because it had never been an SCA group.

Hands covered her eyes, and a voice behind her spoke in one ear.  "Guess who?"

"Edwin," Amanda sighed, and leaned back against him as he wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed the top of her head.  Then he released her as she turned, lifted her arms to put them around his neck, and raised her lips for his kiss.

On the other poster behind them, the one showing the SGU's world, southwest was up, so that Calafia, represented by a castle, was at the top.  Around it, in the area labeled Patria, two towers marked Failte, Gyldenholt, and Dreiburgen, one tower Isles, and one for Terra.  In the extended Mercator-like strip map of the world down one side, SGU groups were marked in Berlin, Turku, Liverpool, Okinawa, Seoul, Mexico City, Caracas, and Rio de Janeiro.

In the afternoon a flag meleé was called.  A meleé was any tournament fight where more than two fighters participated, whether a fight between teams or a free-for-all.  In a flag meleé, victory was achieved by seizing the other team's flag.

"Ladies, gentlemen," said Juho, "Suomainen and Sternheim don't get many chances to fight together as a unit.  If there is no objection, we'd like to make one team."

"We're supposed to fight against our King and our Crown Prince?" Sir Alejandro objected.

"You have our leave to do so," said Pertti, "and we beg you not to spare us.  The war is coming up, and we want the practice."

"I'm sorry," Alejandro said.  "I can't do it.  I swore fealty."

"We'll be wearing team surcoats and carrying team shields," Juho said.  "You won't know us by our arms."

"Still," said Alejandro, "I'll marshall."

"As you wish," said Taawi, bowing.

"How many of you?" said Armin.  "Pertti, Taawi, Juho, Yrjö, Werner, Anthony—six on your team?"

"There will be ten of us," Pertti said.

"Ten?  Where do you get ten?" Caroline asked curiously.

"Perhaps it's best if we don't say," said Juho, "lest others feel as Sir Alejandro does.  There will be ten of us, leave it at that."

"Ten will get mobbed," said Martin, "I don't care how good they are.  Maybe we should form several teams and have a mini-war."

"You're playing right into his hands," Armin retorted.  "Do that, and he'll maneuver you into fighting each other, then he'll pick off the survivors."

Pertti laughed.  "You're too clever for us, Armin.  Why don't you put together a team?  We'll be honored to face whomever you choose."

"All right," said Armin, "I will!"

So Sternheim and Suomainen went to don their armor, while Duke Armin chose his team.  It was a good one, chosen for brains as well as brawn, for stout heart as much as stout arm.  Armin, Christian, Martin, and Grigoriy were its strong core; Caroline, Fergus, and Gamlaun backed them up.  Ulfdan was chosen as much for his gray hairs as for his knight's spurs, age and experience valuable in the press.  That made eight.

Armin's eyes, scanning the hopeful faces, fell upon Eodric the Mad.  Eodric was the unbelted fighter who had lasted longest in the March lists except for Anthony; and how was he to win his spurs, if not in contests like this one?  Eodric came eagerly when Armin pointed.

"Pick me, Your Grace," said the only person on the field wearing a helmet.

Armin frowned at "Sir Allan Sundry".  "Why should I?" he said.  "You offend me, man."

"I think I know who's on their team," said Sir Nutcase, "and if I'm right, their flag-bearer is a non-fighter.  Then ours will be honor-bound not to fight, either.  Who better than me to keep the flag out of reach without striking a blow?"

"Maybe," Armin said.  "Whom do you guess?"

"Suomainen," said Sir "Allan", "means Pertti, Taawi, Juho, and Yrjö, that's four.  Sternheim means Werner and Anthony and Stepan, that's seven.  Baron Zoltan's lady is Sternheim, and Sir Edwin is here and in company with Mistress Amanda; that's nine.  Sir Gamlaun is standing right here, and I haven't seen Sir Eadmund—"

"He had to work this weekend," Gamlaun said.

"Allan" spread his hands.  "I can't think of any other fighters who'd have a particular reason to fight for them, so their flag-bearer is probably a non-fighter."

"Who?" said Armin.

Ten people took the field with unpainted heater shields and tabards divided vertically into blue and white halves.  Four wore mail suits and sugarloaf helms, and of these, three carried swords in their left hands and one in his right: Pertti, Taawi, Juho, and Yrjö, no surprise to anyone.  The tall burly figure in mail and visored helmet was obviously Baron Sir Werner, while the shorter mailed figure in a black helmet without a knight's belt was clearly Anthony.  The tall, thin unbelted fighter in full plate was Stepan, his armor bought from Zoltan, who wore the same kind of armor and his devil's-head helmet.  Both carried pole arms.  The belted knight in the black plate with the black round helmet was Sir Edwin the Dogged, carrying Amanda's favor.

The tenth figure was short like Anthony, and unbelted, wearing a suit of mail and a sugarloaf helm.  He carried no shield, but bore in his gauntleted hands a pole arm with a blue-and-white pennant, the team's flag.

The other team wore its usual armor and surcoats, and carried their own shields.  Armin's band didn't strive for anonymity, but wore red cloths tied around both upper arms.  Isabella saw Duke Armin turn his head and nod to "Sir Allan", who took the mace from his belt and handed it to a marshall, then gripped with both hands the pole axe that had a red cloth streaming from one end.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!" cried Master Harold.  "MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  HERE BATTLE TWO TEAMS!  THE TEAM OF FRATERNITY, BEARING ARGENT AND AZURE," he cried, as the marshalls pointed to Sternheim-Suomainen in their white and blue, "WILL CONTEST THE FIELD WITH LIBERTY, BEARING GULES."

"What, no Equality?" shouted Master Renfrew.

"They shall all be equal in death," responded Master Harold.  "VICTORY," he continued to the watching SGU members, students, and townspeople, "GOES TO WHICHEVER TEAM SEIZES THE OTHER'S FLAG, OR SLAYS EVERYONE ON THE OTHER TEAM."

"MY LORD AND LADIES," he said, as the echoes rolled back from the campus buildings.  No need to moderate the salutes, for once; no other fights were waiting to be announced.

"SALUTE THE CROWN!"  All 20 fighters, all five marshalls, and Master Harold faced the kingdom pavilion on the east side of the field, and variously bowed, saluted with sword, etc.

"SALUTE YOUR OPPONENTS!"  Now the teams faced each other, Fraternity on the north end of the long field, Liberty on the south, and honored each other.

"FOR YOUR HONOR, AND THE HONOR OF YOUR CAUSES, YOU MAY BEGIN," said Master Harold.

As the teams spread out, their plans became evident.  On the north side of the field, the unknown flag-bearer hung back, guarded by Stepan and Zoltan with their long pole weapons.  These had a padded "blade" along one end, and a padded "mace" on the other, so that the guards could strike with either end.

Another three fighters spread out well in front of the standard-bearer and honor guard.  Yrjö, Edwin, and Anthony formed a mobile reserve, ready to fall back in defense or to reinforce their team's front line.  The front line was four dukes: Werner, Pertti, Taawi, and Juho strode forward together.

"Liberty" held their ground and let the fight come to them.  Armin stood in the center, flanked by Christian and Grigoriy on his right, Martin and Caroline on his left.  They were all armed with sword and shield.  Behind them, Ulfdan, Gamlaun, Eodric, and Fergus waited with halberds, positioned so that Ulfdan could strike between Caroline and Martin, Gamlaun between Martin and Armin, Eodric between Armin and Christian, and Fergus between Christian and Grigoriy.  "Allan Sundry" stood by himself at the rear of the formation, pole arm grounded, red pennant flying in the breeze, waiting to see what would happen.

"Fraternity" slowed as they neared their opponents.  By dividing their forces, the dukes had arranged a defense in depth for their own flag, but it left the four of them facing nine foes, or four and a half sword-and-poleaxe teams.

"Come on!" yelled Armin.  "It's only two to one; what Finn worries about such piddling odds?"

"Armin, Armin," said Pertti.  "When did I ever say I took you lightly?  Come on, men," he said.  "Watch the timing."

Timing is the key in combining sword and halberd; timing, and spacing.  If the swordsman and the pikeman practice together and learn their art, no single swordsman has a chance against them.  If the sword and pike strike together, one high and one low, their opponent must fall back, or try to catch one blow on his shield, one with his sword.  The pikeman of the pair is safe behind the reach of his long weapon, and the shield of his partner; while the sword-and-shield man is protected by the pike reaching past him as much as by his own shield.

But it requires training and practice to get it right.  If the pikeman and swordsman strike alternately, instead of together, they're only a little more dangerous than each by himself.  Likewise if the swordsman stands too far forward, he gives up much of the pike's protection, and blocks the pike's sweep; while if he stands too far back, he crowds the pikeman.

So, while none of the fighters on Armin's team could safely be underestimated, their formation wasn't nearly as dangerous as it could have been.  None of the pairs had practiced fighting together with pike and sword, and only Ulfdan and Gamlaun regularly fought with pole arms.  "Fraternity", on the other hand, was fighting individually with sword and shield, just as they always did.

Alison and Amanda von Sternheim, Kristiina and Marketta Suomainen, Jenny and Deborah and Isabella watched tensely as the four dukes engaged Armin's team.  Isabella knew nothing of the considerations involved in the fight, but could see that Juho and the other three were outnumbered.  "Carefully," she breathed.

Yrjö watched the fight develop and frowned.  No decisive blows had landed, but the swords and pike blades flashed in the afternoon sun.  Should he go or should he stay?  He hadn't been called for, and his father and uncles had left the decision up to him.

He looked at Anthony.  "What do you think?" he said, his voice partly muffled by his helmet.  "Join in, or stay out?"

Anthony looked at the fight, then back at Yrjö, and shrugged: no opinion.  Yrjö looked at Edwin.  "Go," said the other knight.

"All right," said Sir Yrjö.  "Angle left, and let's roll them up from Grigoriy's flank."  He led them forward at an unhurried walk.

Duke Grigoriy, with sword and shield, had been giving Duke Pertti trouble, aided and abetted by Sir Fergus' halberd, and sometimes by Count Christian's sword as well.  Suddenly Yrjö, Edwin, and Anthony engaged him.  Almost immediately he took a leg blow.  He sank to one knee, his freedom of movement gone.

Sir Ulfdan saw that "Fraternity's" reserves were no longer screening their flag.  This was the moment for which Armin had put him in charge of the second line.  "Pikemen!" he shouted as loud as he could.  "Column left!  Follow me!"

"Oh, shit," said Stepan, as he saw Ulfdan, Gamlaun, Eodric, and Fergus step back from the line of battle.

"Hey!" said the "Fraternity" flag bearer.

"Sorry," said Stepan.  "But here they come."

The standard bearer looked where he was pointing with his polearm.  The "Liberty" pikemen had trotted around the left end of their line, protected by the swordsmen in front of them.  Swinging wide around Baron Sir Werner, they made a beeline for the "Fraternity" banner.

"Oh shit," echoed the flag man.

Baron Zoltan's grin, inside his helmet, exactly matched the permanent one on the devil's face on the front of his helmet.  "It's only four to two," he said.

"Four to three!" the standard bearer insisted.

Yeah, right, Stepan thought.

Armin's pikemen were in a hurry.  The fight they left behind them was nominally seven to five, but the situation was more dire than the numbers suggested.  While Werner fought Caroline, Juho fought Martin, Taawi fought Armin, and Pertti fought Christian, the fight was more or less even.  But Yrjö, Edwin, and Anthony had fallen on Grigoriy three to one, and pinned him down with a leg wound.  Leaving him there, unable to chase them, they next turned on Christian, who found himself swarmed by the three of them plus Pertti.  Under the press of numbers, Armin's line bowed back and drifted left, leaving Grigoriy behind.

But victory went to the team that captured the other's flag, as long as both teams had people left alive.  Armin was gambling that Ulfdan's pike could seize "Fraternity's" flag while he kept most of their fighters too busy to defend it, or to seize his.

Ulfdan and Gamlaun took on Zoltan, leaving Stepan to the care of Eodric and Fergus.  The polearms jabbed and spun.  The standard bearer, who'd been told in no uncertain terms to run like hell if the battle came near, hung between flight and fight.

"They're going to get our flag!" Yrjö yelled.

"Not if you get theirs first!" Taawi yelled back.  "Oop!  Nice one, Armin," he said, going to one knee.

"You sure?" said Yrjö, blocking Armin's follow-up blow.

"Go!  Hurry!" said Taawi.

"Anthony!  Edwin!  Get him!" said Yrjö, pointing at "Sir Allan" with his sword.

"Zounds!" said "Allan" as they ran towards him.  He ripped the red cloth from the heavy pole arm, tucked the cloth in his belt, dropped the pole, and took off like a rabbit.

On the other end of the field, Stepan and Zoltan had fallen; but they'd fought hard, and taken Ulfdan, Gamlaun, and Eodric with them.  Sir Fergus, breathing hard, held out a gauntleted hand.  "All right, give it up, that's a good lass," he said.

The "Fraternity" flag bearer held the pole arm in a guard position, but didn't speak.

"Sure and it's no use, my lady," Fergus said.  "Sir Allan, as he's calling himself today, figured out who you must be.  Look, I'll just give you a wee tap with the pike so your honor is satisfied, like."

"You want it?" the flag bearer said through gritted teeth.  "Here!"

"Sir Allan", looking over his shoulder to see how close his pursuers were, saw the blow struck.  The mace head on the nether end of the pole arm spun through 180 degrees and caught Fergus on the side of the helm.  As Fergus dropped, "Allan" came to a halt, gaping in shock.  The next minute, Yrjö hit him behind the knees in a tackle, and then Edwin and Anthony dogpiled on.

Yrjö ripped the red cloth from "Allan's" belt and leapt to his feet, holding the captured flag high.  "We got it!  We got it!" he shouted.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!" Master Harold cried.  "VICTORY TO—"

"HOLD!" shouted Armin.  He ripped off his helmet and threw it to the ground.  "HOLD, by damn!"  He pointed at the "Fraternity" flag bearer.  "WHO IS THAT?"

The standard bearer laid it down, then undid her chin strap and pulled off her helmet.  She shook her head.  Long, blonde, sweaty hair streamed out in the breeze.

Aino had never looked lovelier.

"FOUL!" cried Armin.  "A non-fighter carrying your flag, that's one thing.  But that non-fighter struck a blow with a weapon!"

"Now just a—" Taawi started.

"Hold on now—" Pertti began.

"I am a qualified fighter," Aino said clearly.

"Since when?" said Martin, the Knight Marshall of Patria.

"Since last June Crown," said Aino.

"And who signed the certificate?" Martin said.

"Actually," Taawi said, "you did, Martin."

"I did?"

"It was in a stack of them from Calafia," Taawi said.

"You cunning bastard," Martin said, laughing.

"Well, Aino wanted to surprise everyone," Taawi said apologetically.

"She did that, all right," said Sir "Allan".  "Oh, my aching back."

"Oh, my aching head," said Sir Fergus.

"Oh, get up, already," said Aino.

"I'm thinking I need the touch of a beautiful woman's lips to recover, like," said Fergus.  "And since you're the lady who put me in this pitiful state…"

"Or I could just hit you again!" said Aino.

Laughing, Martin said to Armin, "Are you satisfied, Your Grace?"

Armin pointed at Aino's father.  "On your honor as a knight, Taawi, do you swear she is properly trained to fight with pole arms?"

Taawi nodded.  "On my honor, Armin.  Pole arms, sword and shield, axe, mace, and thrusting sword."

"Now there's an image," said Sir Neill of Kintyre.

"Challenge!" said Taawi.

"Challenge!" said Pertti.

"Challenge!" said Anthony.

"Challenge!" said Juho.

"Challenge!" said Yrjö.

"Challenge!" said Caroline.

"What, no challenge from the lady herself?" Sir Neill smiled.

"Oh, I don't think I'm ready to beat up knights yet, just because I sucker-punched one dumb Irishman," Aino said.

"Hey!" said Fergus.

Aino looked down.  "Are you still lying there?"  She drew back her foot, as if she were going to kick him…

"UNGLAUBLICH!" Armin exploded: Unbelievable!  "Now their women are fighting!  Next they'll be breeding, and we'll have Finnish babies biting our ankles!  Unglaublich!"  He threw up his arms, picked up his helmet, and stomped off the field.

"Who is that girl?" Juan Carlos asked his sister.

"She's a good friend of mine, and she doesn't need your kind of trouble," Isabella said.

Juan Carlos looked at her in astonishment.  "What's gotten into you?" he said.  "Since when do you talk to me like that?"

She was a little surprised herself.  "I'm sorry," she said.  "America has affected me more than I realized.  Just the same, I've seen the trail of broken hearts you leave behind.  My friend Aino doesn't need it."

"Ay-no?" said Juan Carlos.  "What kind of name is that, por Dios?"

"It's Finnish," Isabella said.  "Her whole family, both sides, comes from Finland."

"Ah," said Juan.  He looked out on the field.  Aino had one booted foot on Sir Fergus' chest, keeping him pinned.  She shook her head at him: No, you had your chance.  The blonde hair flew.

"I might have guessed," Juan said.  He looked at Isabella.  "So, she is married?"

"No," Isabella admitted.  "But—"

"Engaged, then?"

"Not engaged, exactly," Isabella said.  "That's her boyfriend.  Not the blond one, that's her brother.  The other one."

Juan Carlos looked.  Anthony and Yrjö had come running at Aino's call.  Each grabbed a foot of the hapless Irishman.  Aino waved imperiously: Take him away.  With a whoop, Yrjö and Anthony took off at a run, the protesting Fergus dragging behind them.  Aino picked up her helmet and the pole axe with the blue-and-white banner and sauntered off towards the Suomainen tents.

"Pah," said Juan Carlos, dismissing Anthony.  "So, if she is not married nor even engaged, why shouldn't I try my luck?  Are you her dueña?"

"Go ahead, big brother," Isabella said wearily.  "I know you will anyway."  Something Aino had said about big brothers came back to her, and she laughed.  "In fact, I look forward to seeing her 'kick your butt'."

"Cómo?!" said Juan Carlos.

Chapter 11
One Banquet, With Revelry

Drink to me only with thine eyes
And I will pledge with mine.
Or leave a kiss within the cup
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine:
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much hon'ring thee
As giving it a hope that there
It could not withered be;
But thou thereon did'st only breathe,
And sent'st it back to me,
Since when it grows and smells, I swear
Not of itself, but thee.


—"To Celia" by Ben Jonson, after March 1616 (2369)
ET'S keep this brief," King Pertti said.  "Lady Hanna and her helpers have been cooking all day, and we mustn't keep them waiting."

"Yes," said the Queen.  "Have you wandered by the banquet hall?  I swear I gained five pounds just smelling the cooking!"

"Due to the cost of the food," the Blue Mountain Herald told the populace, "tickets to the banquet cost $10.  If you are in financial difficulty, see Her Majesty or Duchess Kristiina."

"What?" whispered Isabella to Aino, who was standing beside her as her chief lady-in-waiting.

"Noblesse oblige," Aino whispered back.  "Dad and Uncle Bob make good money, and Mom and Aunt Maddy invested their modeling fees.  No one gets turned away from a banquet if our household has anything to say about it."

"Lord Eric," said the King.  "How goes the archery?"

"It could go better," said the kingdom archery master.  "Archers!  Remember you must shoot three qualifying rounds in this contest.  If you shoot four, the worst round will be disregarded; but you must shoot three.  Only a few competitors have completed their shooting!  Come early to the range tomorrow and finish.  The archery range is in the athletic stadium, which is the big round thing over there.  Even a stick jock can't miss it!"

"Hey!  I resemble that remark!" said Sir Martin.

"You sure do," said Caroline.

"Hey!"

"Lord Carl," said Pertti, laughing.  "Do we have a winner yet in the chess tournament?"

"It's not that kind of tournament," Lord Carl said from his place in the crowd.  "The more the contestants play, the more their wins and losses will sort out their rankings, but no one is eliminated, Your Majesty.  I will announce the results tomorrow."

"We leave it in your capable hands, my lord.  Mistress Greta?"

"Today's contests went well," the Mistress of the Arts announced.  "If you haven't seen the lace entries yet, or the illumination entries, be sure to come by the Arts pavilion before they're returned to the entrants.  Many of them are beautiful, and some of them are breath-taking."

"Final results will be announced at tomorrow's closing court," she concluded.  "I think there will be some surprises this year."

"Excellent," said Pertti.  "One last thing from me, and I apologize for its non-medieval nature.  Anyone who has a lot of experience with computer operating system design and maintenance, file systems, disk processes, compiler design, or for that matter electrochemical engineering and plasma containment, please see me or my brothers.  I don't care what your job is or how much you're making, you want to talk to us.  Again, sorry to speak mundanely for a moment."

"Have Your Highnesses any words for the populace?" Lord AElfrede asked, when it was clear the King was done.  Juho shook his head.  Isabella gathered her nerve and stood.

"Juanito, stand up, please.  This is my brother," she told everyone, "Juan Carlos, he is… como dice…"

"An attendant?  A lord in waiting?" suggested Juho.

"Ah, sí, a lord in waiting at the court of His Most Catholic Majesty, the King of Iberia.  Please welcome him as you have me, and show respect for his position; and ladies, watch out for him, he is heartless."

In the surprised stillness, Juan Carlos said clearly in Spanish, as he bowed elegantly to the King and Queen, "Thank you, my sister.  You could not have said anything that would make me more attractive than you just did."

Isabella looked around at all the interested female faces, including Aino's, and saw that he was right.  Wishing she hadn't spoken, she sat down slowly.

One Christmas, Alison, Anthony, and Amanda had commissioned a sword for Werner.  Made by Baron Zoltan, it was a beautiful hand-and-a-half greatsword of bright steel, with the words "Werner von Sternheim, Baron of Dreiburgen" engraved on the blade.  The hilt was wrapped in gold wire set with tiny emeralds, and the disk pommel had his arms in cloisonné on both sides.  It was beautiful, it was a gift of love, and Werner was like a little boy when he saw it.

It was stolen right out of the Sternheim pavilion at an Angels tourney, and was never seen again.

Since then, there were always constables on duty at SGU events.  Some were certified security guards in real life, some were military or retired military or ROTC like Yrjö, some were police or retired police.  There were more on duty at night.  There were more on duty, day or night, when a tourney was held in city parks, college campuses, or other settings where outsiders wandered around the tourney.

After court, most of the SGU members walked east on the path that led to the center of campus.  Turning left past the Fine Arts Building, they came to the ASB Hall where the Dreiburgen Mistress of Arts had labored all day long with a dozen helpers.  Another dozen Dreiburgeners donned white tabards with the baronial blue mountain and white tower, to serve as waiters and waitresses.

The banquet hall was seventy feet wide and two hundred feet long, with double doors to the outside at one end.  The high table for the King and Queen, Crown Prince and Crown Princess, and Baron and Baroness of Dreiburgen, was parallel to the opposite wall.  All the other tables were in rows aligned with the long sides of the hall, leaving an aisle down the middle from the doors to the high table.  The door to the kitchen was in the middle of one long side, on the right as you entered the hall, and not placing tables in front of it created a second, shorter aisle.

People found seats quickly.  The fragrances filling the hall from the adjoining kitchen—savory meats, mulled ciders, baking fruit, fresh bread, and succulent fish—made them eager for the feast to begin.  Households tended to sit together.  But Patrian households were usually small and numerous, rather than a few households with scores or hundreds of members, as was the rule in some kingdoms.  Individuals and couples sat wherever they could, and introduced themselves to their table companions.

Most of the banqueters had at least a wooden bowl, spoon, and cup of their own; some SGU members had ceramic plates and bowls with their arms on them; pewter cups, or silver mazers set with jewels; steel or silver medieval forks, with only two times, like miniature pitchforks.  Wooden and brass plates, bowls, spoons, forks, and goblets sat on a table near the door, along with a bowl that had a few quarters in the bottom by way of suggestion that those who borrowed the equipment for the night should donate towards the kingdom banquet fund.  But no one was manning the table or watching the money bowl.  The generosity of the SGU membership more than covered the occasional disappearance of tableware bought at Goodwill or Pier One Imports.

Feast autocrats in the Society subscribed to a variety of views on banquet food.  On quantity, the members of what might be called the "stuff them till they burst" school presented a few very large courses: whole turkeys for each table, for example.  At the other extreme, the "one of everything" school would make everything in the cookbook, then serve each guest a tiny portion so he'd have room for the next dish, and the next one, and the one after that.

Then there was the matter of what kind of food to serve at a banquet.  Cooks of the "peasant" school served good, plain food—roast ham, baked fish, boiled beets—while cooks of the "noble" school believed everything needed fine gravy, delicate sauces, or sweet glazes.

Members of the "peasant" school tended also to believe in "stuffing them till they pop", while "noble" cooks often liked to show off "one of everything", but this was by no means necessarily so.  Lady Hanna van der See, for one, was a moderate.  She aimed to make the feasters pleasantly full without needing the services either of a wheelbarrow or a vomitorium, with a few courses of partly "noble" and partly "peasant" fare.

The first course was a whole baked turnip for each person.  These were not the tough, stringy bulbs left after a hard winter, but individually selected, fine-grained roots, baked to perfection.  Juho carved Isabella's into thin slices when he saw she had no idea what to do with it.

"Potatoes are South American, and yams are African," he said.  "Turnips and beets are the European root vegetables of the Middle Ages.  Baked, or roasted, or mashed, served with butter or sour cream… go on, try it."

Isabella speared a slice with her fork and nibbled one edge.  "That's very interesting," she said.

"You mean you don't like it," Juho laughed.  "But try this.  Instead of expecting it to be an imitation potato, and faulting it for not tasting like one, put those preconceptions aside.  Take a bite, let it lie on your tongue, and consider it as itself, a new thing."

Isabella did.  "Why… actually, that's… good.  Different, but…"

"No buts!" said Juho.  "Don't apologize for being brave.  Here, try it with a dab of this unsweetened butter."  He took a bit of turnip on his fork and scooped up some of the home-made butter from the table's butter dish, then held it out to her.

As she leaned towards him to take the bite, Isabella felt every eye in the room must be watching them.  But of course everyone was involved in his or her own drama.  Werner and Alison, on her left, were talking quietly with Mistress Eleanora about some upcoming demo.  Pertti and Marketta, on Juho's right, were talking softly about something personal, judging by their smiles and the look in their eyes.  Around the room she could see her friends with their boyfriends, and other couples like Martin and Caroline, Armin and Hilda, Christian and Denise… why would anyone be watching her and Juho?

"So how is it?" Juho asked.

"Oh, um… good," Isabella said, tasting what was in her mouth.  "Actually, very good.  The butter is fine."

"Churned today," said Juho.  "Hey, Bob, could I trouble you for some of that grated cheddar?"

After the first course came the auctioning of the may pole.  Mistress Greta was the auctioneer, with Countess Denise's sister, Lady Adrianna, and Duchess Natasha helping spot the bids.

Every lady bid at first, if only to keep the may pole from being too cheap, and because it was so beautiful, in its stand in the center of the room, where the auctioneer and her assistants looked all around for raised hands.  But as the price rose, and rose, those who had less desire or less money dropped out.

"Fifty dollars!  Fifty dollars from Her Majesty!" cried Mistress Greta, beaming widely.  "Do I hear fifty five?"

Sir Caroline looked in her purse, then looked at Martin.  He was white as a sheet.  But he hadn't asked her to quit… "Fifty five," she said.  Martin closed his eyes, and put his hands over his face.  And still he hadn't said anything!  What was wrong with him?

"Sixty!" cried Maddy.  Aino's and Yrjö's childless aunt was determined to take the may pole home, superstition or not.

"I have sixty!" said Greta.  "Can I get 65?"  Adrianna and Natasha scanned the crowd, but no one else was bidding.  More than one lady was literally sitting on her hands to keep from accidentally entering a bid.

Caroline looked at Martin again.  His eyes were pleading, and sweat stood out on his forehead.  Holding his gaze, she snapped her purse shut and put it away.  He closed his eyes and sagged back in his chair in relief.

"65?  Do I hear 65?" Greta said.  "Going once for 60… going twice… sold!  To Queen Marketta, for sixty dollars!"

Martin went OOF! when Caroline plopped down on his lap.  It put their heads level.  "Why didn't you ask me to stop, if it mattered so much to you?" she said.

"How could I," he said, "if it mattered that much to you?"

"Are you going to spoil me rotten?" she demanded.  "You really have to stand up to me, you know."

He kissed her nose.  How odd to see her in a cream-colored gown with white trim, her Spur medallion on a fine gold chain.  He must have seen her out of armor before?  Had Miriam occupied him so much, or had he just seen what he expected?

"Give me time to find my way," he said.  "This is new to me."

Meanwhile Robert was teasing Maddy.  "That's coming out of your allowance, young lady," he said severely.

"You don't really mind?"

"Whatever Maddy wants," he reminded her.

She sighed, and leaned her head against him.  "I know it's silly, but I have this feeling.  I was first matron on this one, and it went perfectly; we didn't even have to undo a part and do it over.  And it's so pretty."

"Oh, yeah," Pertti said.  "Arrant superstition.  Rank, even."  He wrinkled his nose at her.

"Will you make me two big hooks, so we can hang it over the mantel?" she said.

"Sure.  I'll bet we can find something really special at San Diego Hardware."

"Yes, but, could you make them?  With your own hands?  Maybe carve them from wood?"

He whistled.  "You're really pinning your hopes on this."

"I know," she laughed.  "But will you?"

"Whatever Maddy wants," he repeated, and kissed her.

The second course was roast squab with wild rice.  The young birds had been raised by a local farmer in his cotes, and had reached the right size just in time for Hanna to buy the flock.  The wild rice was from an "organic" food store.

Deborah closed her eyes.  "My mouth thinks it's died and gone to Heaven!" she said.  A passing server beamed, then hurried to pass the compliment to the cooks.

"Now, if only we had wine for it," Harold said.  "What goes with pigeon?"

Deborah cast him a worried glance.  "You're not drinking too much, are you?"

He smiled, and patted her hand.  "Not to worry, love.  Just celebrating Martin and Caroline's engagement a little."

When the squab and rice were about gone, Ioseph of Derry strolled into the center of the room and ran his fingers over his harp.  The harmonious ripple drew everyone's attention.

"Who will help me sing the riddle song?" he asked.  Hands went up around the room.  "Ah, Lord AElfrede?"

Lord AElfrede sang, "I gave my love a cherry without a stone."  Master Renfrew, pointed to next, held up his squab and sang, "I gave my love a chicken without a bone."  Then Anthony sang, looking at Aino, "I gave my love a story that has no end."  And Sir Neill of Kintyre, smiling ironically at being picked (he hadn't raised his hand), nevertheless sang in a good baritone, "I gave my love a baby with no cryin'."

"How can there be a cherry without a stone?" sang Master Ioseph.  "How can there be a chicken without a bone?  How can there be a story that has no end?  How can there be a baby with no cryin'?"

Then they answered him, each in turn, as he played on the harp.  "A cherry in the blossom, it has no stone."  "A chicken in the yolk, it has no bone."  "The story of 'I love her', it has no end."  "A baby when it's sleeping, has no cryin'."

"Yes, a baby when it's sleeping," sang Ioseph, "has no cryin'."  And the harp ran down diminishing glissandos.

Then, before the applause could start, he swung into, "Hey nonny, nonny, nonny!  Hey nonny, nonny no!  Hey nonny, nonny, nonny!  Hey nonny nonny no!" which brought applause of a different kind, and whistles, because the revelers knew what was coming next.  "Sir Fergus!  Sir Charles!  Give me a hand, please!"

While Fergus McFergus and Charles of Kintyre joined him, Ioseph said, "For those who are new to this ritual of public abuse, this is the 'Hey Nonny Song'.  We invite audience participation, and Sir Charles and Sir Fergus will help me spot volunteers.  But your comments must be in the form of rhymed couplets.  For instance, I might sing:"

Harold's thirst is hard to slake,
Hey nonny nonny no!
So we tossed him in a great big lake,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Amidst the laughter, Master Harold retorted, "I'm not as drunk as you think I am, Ioseph!"

"Ah, but can you rhyme that?" Ioseph answered.

Without missing a beat, Harold sang:

I know a turnip from a yam,
Hey nonny nonny no!
And I'm not as think as you drunk I am,
Hey nonny nonny no!

The crowd clapped louder.  Ioseph said, "And that's why we love him.  Ah, here's a sucker—I mean, volunteer."

Geoffrey of Rannoch, blushing, squeaked out:

I know a girl who lives on a hill,
Hey nonny nonny no!
She won't kiss me, but her sister will,
Hey nonny nonny no!

"Ah, the classics," Master Ioseph said fondly:

I know that girl—be glad, my boy,
Hey nonny nonny no!
You wouldn't last long as her latest toy,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!

"Well, that lowered the tone of things nicely," he said wickedly to the crimson cornet.  "Let's see how low we can go—yes?"

"Here's one, Master Ioseph," said Sir Fergus, pointing at Lord Peter.

Lord Peter, seated at one of the tables on the left side of the hall nearest the high table, rose and sang,

Uneasy lies the crownéd head,
Hey nonny nonny no!
A target for great hunks of bread,
Hey nonny nonny no!

and chucked a roll, from the baskets being set out by the servers, straight at King Pertti.  Faster than you could say "food fight!", Queen Marketta fielded the warm bread.  The return pitch bounced off Lord Peter's noggin.

Master Ioseph laughed,

Better go back from whence you came,
Hey nonny nonny no!
I think Miss August has the better aim,
Hey nonny nonny no!

And then things got silly.

Between bites of the fresh green peas in creamy onion sauce that came with the rolls, Isabella said to Juho, "But this is a grand feast and fine entertainment!  Are all your banquets like this?"

"So far," he smiled.  "We all try to participate one hundred per cent, and then a bit more.  Why hold a banquet if the food isn't going to be outstanding?  Why hold a revel if you aren't going to glory in good company?"

"You're seeing us at our best," Baron Werner agreed from Isabella's left.  "I remember when we used to hold contests to encourage people to speak up and act out."

"And now," said the King, "sometimes I want to say what Tina told Yrjö and Aino on one of our family road trips."

"Yes?" said Isabella.

"We're in the middle of nowhere on some hare-brained side trip we're all regretting—"

"The biggest ball of twine in Minnesota?  The Nebraska Rutabaga Museum?  Something like that," Maddy interjected.

"It's hot, we're tired, the car's making strange noises, and the kids, oblivious to it all, are bouncing up and down and pointing out everything we pass.  Suddenly Tina turns on them, and yells, 'All right, now that you've learned to talk, try shutting up!' "

"It worked for almost two minutes," Maddy said.

Master Ioseph sang:

Well we could do this all night long,
Hey nonny nonny no!
But now it's time to move along,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
he sang, gesturing for everyone to join in,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!

And then, with the room holding down the basic melody, he cut loose like a madman:

Hey HEY! nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny HEY HEY no!
HEY hey nonny-nonny nonny nonny,
HEY-ey non-ny non-ni-ny NOOOO!

"Go, man, go!" Sir Neill called, as the room clapped and cheered.  Master Ioseph bowed, then took Sir Charles and Sir Fergus by the hand and all three bowed.  "Thanks for the help, lads," he told them.

"I saved you some peas, Master Ioseph," Mistress Greta said.

"Dear lady," he said as he rejoined her table, "you are kinder than I deserve."

Everyone else, however, was digging into steaks of farm-raised sturgeon.  Two of the fresh-water monster fish, one six feet long, one eight feet, had provided enough meat for everyone, served on a bed of red lettuce, with a bowl of tartar sauce for each table.  (The heads had been unceremoniously thrown into the slop bin, lest they provoke a chorus of "fish heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads."  There were limits, even at an SGU banquet!)

"Your Majesty!" said Master Anthony, standing up.  "We've forgotten the memento mori!"

"So we had, Master Anthony," King Pertti said.  "Will you do the honors?"

"Right gladly—er—so to speak."  He addressed the room.  "At Roman banquets it was customary to remind those present to have a good time, 'for tomorrow we die.'  Often there was an inlay of a skeleton in the tile floor, with the words memento mori, 'in memory of death'.  Master Harold!  Will you assist me?"

"If I can remember the words," Harold said, lurching to his feet.  Deborah, steadying him, looked like she wanted to cry.

"If you can remember the words?" Anthony repeated.  "What, my friend, isn't it long enough for you?"  The room laughed.

"I'm just a little drunk," Harold muttered to Anthony.

"Whew!  So I smell," Anthony muttered back.  "Are you up to this?"

"Hit it," said Harold.  They counted to three, then sang:

Gaudeamus igitur, iuvenes dum sumus,
Gaudeamus igitur, iuvenes dum sumus!
Post iucundam iuventutem,
Post molestam senectutem,
Nos habebit humus.
Nos habebit humus!

"Thank you, Master Anthony, Master Harold," said the King, before they could launch into further verses.  "You may consider us properly chastened."

"A dirty job, Your Majesty," said Master Anthony, as he and Harold bowed.  "But somebody has to do it."

"Purist," laughed Juho as the two Latinists returned to their seats.

"What was that?" Isabella asked.  She didn't know a couple of the words, and the Latins' accent, which pronounced V like an English W, rather than like an English or Italian V as the Church pronunciation did, also confused her.

"Just what he said, a Roman and Italian custom we follow—when someone like Anthony reminds us.  Oh, the words, you mean?  Gaudeamus igitur means 'Therefore let's rejoice'; iuvenes dum sumus, 'while we're young.' "  He pronounced the V's like Church V's for her.  "Post iucundam iuventutem, that's 'after joyful youth,' post molestam senectutem is 'after burdensome old age,' and nos habebit humus—"

"The earth shall have us," Isabella said.  "I got that one."

"It's an old German drinking song," Juho said.

"A drinking song?" Isabella exclaimed.

"Germans are funny people," Juho said.  "So are drinkers," he said, looking over to the table where Harold and Deborah were having a furious discussion, heads close together.

The cream of zucchini soup, with paprika and fresh buttered croissants, had just been served when there was a thunderous knocking on the door.  Sir Gamlaun, the Dreiburgen constable, murmured "Excuse me" to Lady Adrianna, and went to the door.  He had a brief conversation with someone outside in the dark, then walked up the center aisle to the high table and addressed the King.  Every eye was on him as the burly, fair-haired knight said, "Your Majesty, shipwrecked strangers are without, and beg admittance."

"Without what, Sir Gamlaun?" joked the King.

Gamlaun's expression said, not that old chestnut, but out loud he said, "Without food or money, Your Majesty, from the looks of them."

"Then by all means let them in, sir knight, and let's hear their tale."

Sir Gamlaun swung the hall doors wide, and in came a score or so, male and female both, in worn and torn medieval clothing, singing:

We be sailors free,
Pardonnez-moi, je vous en prie,
Lately come forth from the Low Country,
With never a penny of money.

"Your Majesties, Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies, all good ladies and fine gentlemen," said their leader, a black-haired man with a patch over his left eye, and patched knees and elbows.  "We are the crew of the Motley, who unwisely sailed against the advice of those more knowing the weather of the sea, and so came to shipwreck on your Patrian shores."

"In short," Juho murmured to Isabella, "they're jesters, or fools.  The clothing of fools is called motley, and a motley crew is a band of jesters."

"I see," she said.

Most of the fools carried bladders, or flappers; air-filled imitation pig skins, complete with tied-off legs and neck.  These they used for punctuation, with the accent on the punch; or for imitation swords, in skits like the one they shortly performed.

"Now, lad," said the captain expansively, "as my cabin boy one of your most important duties will be to bring me instantly any garments I require.  For instance, if we sail into a harbor and there's a British ship, and I call 'Quick, my admiral's hat!', you must not delay."

"Aye, aye, Captain," said the cabin boy.

Up rushed another crewman.  "Captain!  Mad Ned Kelly, your old enemy, is attacking!"  The players had divided into two groups, all waving bladders; the leader of the second group shouted, "Now I've got you, you scurvy dog!"

"Quick, cabin boy," said the captain, "my red shirt!"

The cabin boy mimed giving him a red shirt, and he pretended to put it on.  Then he picked up a bladder and pointed at the "enemy".  "At them, lads!" he cried.  "Make them rue the day they crossed us!"

The fight was short and sharp, and the captain was at the front of it, blatting away with his pigskin in finest swashbuckling fashion.  "Run away!  Run away!" the "enemy" cried, as they dashed down the length of the hall and out the doors.

The rest gathered near the high table and clapped their captain's back.  "You were great, Captain!"  "Aye, we showed those dogs!"

"Indeed, Captain, that was awesome," said the cabin boy.  "But why did you take the time to change your shirt first?"

"Well, you see, lad, the red shirt hides the blood when I get wounded, so the crew doesn't lose courage," the captain said.  "It's one of the little tricks you learn when you've been a captain as long as I have."

"Oh, I see," said the cabin boy, very impressed.

Just then another crewman rushed up.  "Captain!  Mad Ned Kelly is back, and he's got two other ships to throw in with him, and they're all attacking," he cried, pointing down the hall, where the doorway was filled with hostile figures muttering threats and waving bladders.

The captain lifted his eye patch and stared grimly.  "Cabin boy…" he said slowly.

"Yes, Captain?" the cabin boy said eagerly.

"Bring me my brown pants," said the captain, letting the eye patch snap back into place.

The dessert course was apples that had been cored, sliced, baked with sugar and cinnamon, then served in little bowls.  They were very sweet.  Isabella picked at hers as the mummery continued.

Holding a long, wide wooden paddle instead of a bladder, the chief fool said, "And now I need a volunteer from the audience."

Ketill Ragnar's Son, from the Barony of the Isles, stepped forward.  He was well over six feet tall, huge, muscular, in furs and great metal bracelets, arm bands, torc, and hammer of Thor pendant.  He clanked, and he looked like he could break the fool by breathing on him.

"What do I do?" he rumbled.

The fool looked up at the big Viking; looked at the paddle in his hand; peered around the big Viking on the left, holding his patch over his right eye; peered around him to the right, moving the patch to his left eye; looked at the paddle again; felt his own skinny biceps, then reached out to feel Ketill's; snatched his hand back hastily, and said, "Thanks, you were great.  Let's give him a big hand, folks!"

"But I didn't do anything," Ketill said as he sat down again.  People were cracking up all over the hall.

"Let's try again," said the fool.  "I need a short, skinny volunteer from the audience, please.  Oh yes, you'll do nicely, heh heh," he said as Mathilde of Rannoch, a red-haired girl from Calafia, stepped forward.

"Now this fiendish implement," he said, holding up his paddle, "is called a slapstick, for reasons that will shortly be—"

"Is that why physical comedy is called slapstick?" Mathilde asked innocently.

"Right," he said shortly.  "Now the—"

"So how far back does the slapstick go?" she said.  "Is it period?"

"Uh… Gee.  I don't really know."

"Boy," said another jester, strolling up, "that's a tough one."

"Yeah," said the first fool.

"So what's the answer?" said the newcomer.

"How the… heck should I know?"

"You're supposed to be the brains of this outfit," said the second fool.

"That explains a lot!" shouted Master Renfrew, who for once was wearing a cloth-of-gold outfit with white tights, instead of motley.

"Hey!" cried the leader of the pack, outraged.  "No ad-libs from the audience!"

"Maybe there's a date on the slapstick," said Mathilde, reaching out.  "Let me see."

"Oh, sure, good idea," the fool said as she took the long wooden paddle.  Then he saw how she was holding it, and how she was looking at him.  "No, wait, bad idea—Ow!  Yow!  Gangway!"

"Bet you wish you only had Ketill to deal with now," called Geoffrey of Rannoch, as his sister chased the fool all over the hall, swatting him whenever he slowed down.

"It's believed," Juho said, sipping his mulled cider, "that this troupe of jesters is funded by 'Sir Nutcase', and that he's one of their number."

"They're very funny," said Isabella, sipping her own drink.  "But none of them is masked.  Don't you remember what your mystery knight looked like?"

"Barely," said Juho.  "Even then, he kept his helmet on most of the time, planning ahead, no doubt.  And a band of actors like this, who knows how they're disguised and made up?"

"Even one of the apparent females could be him," Juho continued with another sip.  "Female roles played by male actors is a custom that goes back to the roots of Christian drama."

As they spoke, the jesters were parodying March Crown.  So far they hadn't been too outrageous, but Jenny, stealing glances at Aino's tense face, knew she wasn't the only one wondering how far they'd go for a laugh.

The players were assembled as for court around their leader, who was wearing a Burger King crown, and another player with a tall staff.

"The King calls Inobabobble the Bibble-Babble," the herald cried, slurring the name in best Walt Kelly fashion.  One of the players sighed, and fell down in a faint.  The king and herald looked at him, then at each other.  The king made a little gesture: Go on, do that again.

"His Majesty summons Rowrbazzle the Fibblefabble," cried the herald unintelligibly.  This time a lady fainted.

"Let Zummin on the Jim Jam come forth!" said the herald, and another body fell to the ground.

"Too slow," said the mock-King.  "You lot!" he said, pointing, and four more fell down.  The King regarded his finger for a second, with an expression on his face like I didn't know it was loaded.  Then he pointed again.  "You there!"  Another three bodies fell.

"And the rest of you!" he said, mowing down the crowd.  Looking over at the herald, he said with satisfaction, "Right!  You collect the purses and wallets on the left, I'll get the ones on the right."

"Ooh, knighthood," said the fool, clasping his hands together.  "I wanna be a Finn!"

"Here," said another fool, and handed him a stuffed fish.

"Huh?"

"Hey, think big, be a whole fish!"

While he goggled at that, a female player walked up and slapped his face.  He rocked under the blow, then said, "Ooh, maybe I don't wanna be a Finn!"

Then he jumped for real as a ceramic plate hit the floor at his feet and exploded like a bomb.  Everyone looked around.  Anthony, with great courage, wrestled the follow-up plate from Aino and offered her a big round apple from the fresh fruit the servers had put on all the tables.  She glared, and snatched it from him.

"Please don't murder the fools, Lady Aune," the King called.

"Not if Your Majesty will do the job instead!"

Laughing, Pertti said, "But you might hit me!"  His wife, however, wasn't laughing; neither were Taawi and Kristiina, Aino's parents.

"Duck, Your Maj," said Aino, and hurled the apple.  The fool snatched it out of the air in front of his face, and held it up proudly.  "They're throwing food!  We're a hit!" he said.

Blat!  A female jester hit him alongside the head with a bladder.

"—a hit!"

Blat!  Another female fool hit him on the other side of the head.

"—a hit!"

Wham!  Both women got him at the same time, right in the face.  His feet flew up as he did a pratfall onto his back.

"What is it, sweetheart?" Anthony said in an undertone.  "What's the matter?"

"Hold me," Aino said, burying her face in his chest.  "Never let me go."

"I never will," he said, putting his arms around her.  "What's wrong?"

For a moment she just sheltered in him.  Then she sighed.  "Come on," she said, "let's take a walk outside where we can talk."  They left the revel, his arm around her shoulders.  Her household watched and worried, but didn't interfere.

So Aino and Anthony missed the rest of the comedy, including the jest at the expense of Lord Peter:

"—for the Crown of the West!" said the fool.

Blat!  A bladder punished his error.

"I mean, Caid!"

Blat! went a bladder from the other side.

"The Middle!"

Blat!  Two female fools stood there and took turns hitting him.

"The East!"  Blat!  "The South!"  Blat!  "The North By Northwest!"  Blat-Blat!  "Mars!  Venus!  Krypton!"  Blat!  Blat!  Blat!

Suddenly the hall doors flew open.  "There he is!" cried one of the two men in white coats who stood there.

"Yoicks!" said the fool, and took off running.  But they had nets, and they knew how to use them.  As they dragged him out the door, one of them held a walkie-talkie to his mouth, and the Society members could hear him say, "This is Williams.  Hey, are you sure we were only supposed to bring back one escapee?  There's a whole room full of people in funny costumes here."

"Captain!" cried one of the male fools, and one of the females cried, "Captain, don't leave us!"  Then all the fools ran out the door, shouting "Captain!  Captain, come back!"  Leaving the door open to the night, until Sir Gamlaun got up and closed it.

"Well," said King Pertti, "I guess that's our cue to clear the floor for dancing."

Chapter 12
Coronation

Early one morning, just as the sun was rising,
I heard a maiden singing in the valley below.
Oh, don't deceive me!  Oh, never leave me!
How could you use a poor maiden so?

"Early One Morning" (traditional)
OR a moment, after Isabella opened her eyes, she didn't know where she was.  The cool morning air, the strong smell of wet grass, the early light were strange to her.  She was lying on her back in a sleeping bag, with a rug between the sleeping bag and the grass.  Birds were chirping and cawing.  As she lay blinking, a small brown bird with black stripes and a straight tail hopped in under the edge of the tent.  Isabella turned her head to look at it.  It turned around with one bounce, spread its tiny wings with the second, darted out the front flap and was gone.

"Spread the word," Isabella murmured, looking up at the top of the Suomainen pavilion.  The linen was a very light blue, almost white, with no stripes or other colors, but the seams themselves were interesting, dark against the light shining through the material from outside.  They were double flag-felled for strength; sewn, folded over, sewn, folded over again, sewn a third time.  The top of the pavilion was made of triangles outlined by the seams, with the center pole at the apex of every triangle, and side poles at the other vertices.  The side panels were trapezoids, four-sided but wider at the bottoms than the tops.  They were the same lengths as the side poles; when they were staked out at an angle, there was an air space of an inch or two, even when the front flap was closed.  Relative privacy was achieved by stuffing things up against the base of the tent, or staking the sides straight up and down.  Complete privacy was impossible, because the cloth sides didn't block sound, and candle lanterns projected silhouettes against them.

This must be what it's like the morning of your wedding, Isabella thought.  Just ahead was the big day, ready to break over her head in pomp and ceremony and occasion.  For a few more quiet shining moments she was just herself, single and singular.  When she rose, the day would begin, leading up to the moment when she became Juho's queen, and he became Esmeralda's king.  Whatever happened afterwards, history—or Annals, anyway—would record this day as the beginning of their reign.  Juho and Esmeralda, King and Queen of Patria, April 30, 1978!

Of course, she thought, Sir Thumas' magazine recorded two reigns of Juho and Helena just as permanently.  All of a sudden Isabella wanted Aino to call her a goose, or Jenny to say something funny, or Deborah something wise.  But she had the tent all to herself!  Had everyone else accepted House Sternheim's hospitality, or slept in the van?  Isabella undid the zipper down the side of the Coleman sleeping bag.

Jenny had never been so happy in her life.  In robes and a cape, she washed up in the ladies' room of one of the campus buildings near the tourney site.  The autocrats had put up signs with the SGU arms directing tourney-goers to the facilities, and had arranged for the campus janitors to leave them unlocked for the weekend.  Campus security had been notified that the rooms were in use, and SGU constables checked them frequently.

Jenny toweled her face dry and looked at herself in the mirror.  She didn't look different, but everything felt new.  She sighed, and reached for her toothbrush.

Approaching the household pavilion, she saw Isabella coming out of it.  Jenny waved, a bit reluctantly; she wanted her silent joy to last and last, and not be broken by talking to anyone.  Isabella didn't see her.  The Crown Princess looked around, figured out which way the parking lots were, and strode off.  Now where was she—oh.  Jenny looked at her watch.  Sunday morning mass?  What a good Catholic girl!

Jenny, who'd been a bad Catholic girl last night for the first time ever, couldn't help herself:

Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose,
Will I never see thee wed?
I will marry as thou wishest,
Love, at thy will!

she sang, and went into the tent to get dressed.

"Good morning, Uncle Rodrigo," Isabella called.  The head of her bodyguard detail (he refused to say how many others there now were, or who) bowed slightly and said, "Good morning.  You slept well, I trust?"  He was wearing a good suit with tie, shined shoes, other touches such as cuff links, tie clip, and folded handkerchief showing in the breast pocket, that most Americans had abandoned.

"Like a log," Isabella said.  "I see now why people are so fond of camping out.  I like sleeping in the outdoors!"

Rodrigo regarded her sardonically in her pressed white dress, white pumps, gloves upon her hands, fine white handkerchief pinned in her hair.  He looked around at the towering campus buildings in the middle of a major American city, and shook his head at her notion of roughing it.

"Just as you say," he told her.  "Shall we go?"

Tony, pulling into the parking lot in his car, saw the Crown Princess drive away in mundane clothing, her uncle behind the wheel.  He looked over at Aino, who was lost in a brown study, and said nothing.  He parked the car and turned off the engine.  Then he got out of the car, walked around the front, and opened the passenger door.

Aino looked up with a frown, gathered herself, and got out of the car.  She was wearing the clothes she'd worn yesterday evening at the banquet, now a bit rumpled and musty, and her hair needed the brush that was with the rest of her things in the Suomainen pavilion.  Tony still thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

"Hey," he said softly, and stopped her with a hand on her arm.  "Don't shut me out.  Please?"

"I'm not," she said.

"But it feels like you're pushing me away."

"I'm not—"  Then she stopped, and said, "Well, maybe a little."

"Was I wrong?  Did I rush you when you were off balance?"

"Of course you did," she said; "Good tactics," and came into his arms.  The kiss she gave him took his breath away, and left him unsure whether it was a promise or a goodbye.

"Give me time," she said, her lips barely apart from his.  "I'm shaky, and I need to figure things out.  Just—be there when I need you, and stand back when I need space, which is now.  OK?" she pleaded.

"OK," he said, and stepped back, still holding her hands.  Lifting her right hand to his lips, he kissed it, looking her in the eyes, and said, "Tibi solum."

Etiam tibi, she thought, but squelched it, and said, "I know.  That's all I'm sure of, right now."  She caressed the side of his face.  "Just give me time," she repeated.

"What the hell do you mean, it's gone?" Sir Mary of Fairfield demanded.  "Is this someone's idea of a joke?"  A black curl fell into her eyes; she tossed her head impatiently, and the whole shoulder-length mass of tumbling curls flipped out of the way.  Her dark eyes flashed dangerously.

Where she was flushed, Sir Gamlaun was pale.  Freckles rarely noticed stood out in his face as he faced the kingdom constable squarely.  "It's no joke," he said.  "I carried the may pole back to its place on the eric after it was auctioned off.  That's the last time I, personally, set eyes on it."

"All right," Sir Mary said wearily.  "Start bringing in the constables who were on duty after that time, one by one, and let's figure out when it disappeared; maybe that will tell us who."

"Maybe Caroline took it," Sir Neill of Kintyre said.  His brother Sir Charles, Sir Gamlaun, and Sir Mary all looked at him incredulously.  The four of them were the only ones in Sir Mary's tent except for a small brown-and-black striped bird, hopping around the edges looking for bugs in the wet grass.

"Seriously," he said.  "She and the Queen were the last two bidders, and Caroline didn't drop out until the bidding got high, fifty dollars or so.  Maybe she decided to give herself a five-fingered discount."

"Leaving aside Caroline's honesty and frankness," Sir Charles told his brother, "she was with Martin, at the banquet, until the last dog was dead."

"Yeah," said Gamlaun.  "The only time they weren't dancing up a storm was when they were necking in a corner."

"Maybe Martin helped her," Neill said.

"And maybe I took it and Charles helped me!" Sir Mary exploded.  "Why don't you do something useful, like asking a couple of constables to keep people away from my tent until we're done, to keep the rumors down!"

Sir Neill bowed and left the tent.  "I swear, Denny," Mary said—Dennis Brown was Sir Charles' real name, and "Charles" was originally a joke—"the thought of having him for a brother-in-law…"

"Think about this instead," Charles said.  "Maybe the jesters stole the maypole when they ran out of the banquet hall."

"Well, I like them better for it than Caroline, but ACK!"

The bird had suddenly flown up to Mary and landed on the top of her head.  It sat there, chirping, apparently with no intention of leaving.

"Who's your friend?" laughed Charles.  "Should I be jealous?"

"Get it out!" Mary said, holding perfectly still.  "Quick, before it craps in my hair or gives me bird lice or something!"

"Just swat it," Gamlaun advised.

"Are you crazy?  I'd break every bone in its tiny little body!"

The rug they were standing on had a picture of a unicorn with its legs tucked under it, resting inside a fence.  A big black beetle crawled out from under the edge.  The bird flashed to the ground, nabbed the bug, and zipped out of the tent.

"Yum, breakfast," Charles said with gusto.

"Ee-YUCK!" said Mary.

"The trouble with the jesters," Gamlaun said suddenly, "is that we don't know who any of them are."

"No," Mary said glumly.  Then she brightened.  "But maybe we know someone who can tell us."

"We get to interrogate Sir Nutcase?" said Charles.

"Oh boy!" said Gamlaun.  "Where did I put those thumb screws?"

"Forget thumb screws!" said Charles.  "I'll bet the Sciences would jump at the chance to re-invent the rack."

"Boys, boys!" laughed Mary.  "I had in mind someone else—a 'short, skinny volunteer from the audience'," she told them.

"Good morning, Sir Yrjö.  You're certainly cheerful today," Anthony said.

George broke off his whistled rendition of the madrigal "Fire and Lightning", put down his razor, and rubbed a cloth soaked with hot water over his face.

"Why shouldn't I be?" he said, as he studied his face in the mirror.  The bathroom set aside for the SGU men to use was cold tile and stainless steel.  "Didn't I spend the night with the girl of my dreams?"

"Did you?" said Anthony.  "Lady Katherine?"

"Jenny," George confirmed.

"Well," said Anthony.  "So you two are finally getting together?"

George held up his left hand, fingers spread.  For a minute Anthony didn't get it; then he saw the band of pale skin around George's ring finger.

"You gave Jenny your ROTC ring?"

"For now," said George.  "Until I get her a real engagement ring."

"Well, congratulations!" said Anthony.  "No wonder you were whistling like a manic teakettle."

"Thanks," said George, running a comb through his short hair.  "And what about you and my sister?  I didn't see the two of you after the skits."

"I was moved by the same impulse as you last night," Anthony said.  He put down his toilet bag and faced Aino's brother squarely.  "I also proposed."

"And she said?"

"Give me time, I have to think," Anthony quoted.

"What's to think about?" George grumbled.  "She'll come around.  She'd be crazy not to."

"Thanks," said Anthony, touched.

"Guys?  You in there?  We have a problem," Aino called from the hall outside.

"Problem?" said Anthony, poking his head out of the men's room.

"What kind of problem?" said George, joining him in the door.

Aino had to laugh a little; the expression on her brother's face, wariness and worry mingled, was the same as on Tony's.  But she didn't laugh much.

"Deborah and Harold," she said.

"Gnrnghh," said Master Harold, rolling over on his back and throwing his right arm over his eyes.

Harold's one-man tourney pavilion was barely larger in diameter than his unrolled sleeping bag.  A plastic cooler, the trunk for the pavilion and its poles, the chair that sat in front of the tent during the day but rarely bore his weight, were pushed to the edges of the tent.

Harold lay on top of his sleeping bag in last night's costume, reeking of beer and sweat, his clothes stained from the feast and the dancing.  His herald's staff lay in a corner, and his cape was dumped on the chair.  Snoring slightly, he began to slip back into sleep.

The tent flap was shoved aside, and Anthony entered, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the odors within.  He stepped aside so George could come in as well.  In the small tent, they were almost standing on Harold.  They moved to either side of the supine figure and squatted on their heels.

"GOOD MORNING, MASTER HAROLD!" Anthony shouted.

"GAH!" Harold said, sitting up.  He clutched his head and groaned.

"IT'S A FINE DAY, MASTER HAROLD!" shouted George.

"AAH!" said Harold.  "Please, my lords, not so loud."

"LOUD?  WE'RE NOT BEING LOUD!  DO I SEEM LOUD TO YOU, SIR YRJÖ?" Tony bellowed.  Harold recoiled from him with a whine.

"YOU SOUND NORMAL TO ME," George said, executing the difficult feat of shrugging casually while shouting as loud as he could.  Harold recoiled the other way, clutching his head with both hands.

"All kidding aside," Tony said in a normal voice, "you look like hell, Harold."

"I need a drink," Harold whimpered, reaching towards the plastic jug holding some of Master Renfrew's home-brewed ale.

George grabbed Harold's wrist.  To the older man it felt as if his arm were caught in bands of steel.  "No," George said.  Harold looked at him in astonishment.

"Where's Deborah, Harold?" Tony said.

Harold's head whipped around, then he groaned.  Putting both hands to it (George letting him), he forced out, "Deborah?"

"Mistress Deborah of Glen Garrow?  The girl who loves you?  Where is she, Harold?" Tony asked.

"Oh God," said Harold.

"All right, let's try an easier one," George said.  "What did you do to her, Harold?"

"Oh God," Harold said.  "What did I do?"  He covered his face with his hands.

"What do you remember of last night?" Tony said.

"Nothing!  I don't remember a thing!" Harold cried.  "OWW… please… Is she all right?  What did I do?"

"You drank," Tony said without mercy, "and you pawed her, and you drank, and you dragged her back here, and you drank, and you tried to have sex with her, and you threw up, and you passed out, and she fled."

"Oh God," whispered Harold, pale as the bleached linen of his tent.  "Are you saying I raped her?"

Tony looked at him with a face of stone.

"Oh God," said Harold, and dropped his face into his hands.

George yanked his head up.  "You didn't rape her," he said.  "You were too drunk to be capable of it, and she would have been willing enough.  She loves you, God knows why.  But you slobbered on her and pawed her and passed out, and she left, crying."

"Where is she?" said Harold, starting to get up.  George put a hand in his skinny chest and shoved him onto his back.  Harold gaped up at him.

"She left crying," Tony said.  "Aino was with me, Jenny was with George, everyone else was still at the revel.  She cleaned up in the ladies' room, got her sleeping bag from the Suomainen tent, and slept in Aino's van.  This morning Aino and Jenny held her while she cried."

"Oh God," Harold said again.

"It seems to me," George said, "that some people can handle liquor, and some can't.  Finns and Irishmen, from what I've seen, come in two varieties—non-drinkers, and alcoholics."

"I'm not really Irish," Harold said feebly.  "That's just my persona."

"Congratulations," said George ironically.  "You're very authentic."

"There are two ways you can go from here," Tony said, and Harold turned to face him.  "One, you can go on drinking.  But if you do, stay away from everyone in both households.  Not just Deborah, but all of us.  Or else," he said, holding up his hard left fist.

"And the other way?" Harold whispered.

Tony opened his fist and gripped Harold's shoulder with it.  "You stop drinking," he said.  "Right here.  Right now.  You live up to the man we know you can be, and you never touch hard drink again."

"Do that," George added quietly, "and we'll be like brothers to you.  We'll help you stay sober, and we'll help you make it up to Deborah."  He held up his own fist.  "And we'll also beat the crap out of you if we see you drinking."

"Just like brothers," Tony agreed.  "What do you say, Harold?"

Harold looked from one clean-living, hard-muscled non-drinker to the other.  They didn't know what they were asking of him.  On the other hand, he well knew what they were offering.

"You don't know what it's like," he said.

"No," said Tony.  "I don't.  I don't know what it's like to stick a needle in my eye, either.  Don't want to know, come to that."

Harold shook his head.  "Help me?" he begged.

"All right!" said Tony, standing up and reaching a hand down to Harold.  "Let's get you cleaned up.  You reek of beer and sweat, you threw up on yourself, and I think," he said, wrinkling his nose, "you pissed yourself, too."

"And then I need to apologize to Deborah," Harold said.

"We'll see what Aino and Jenny have to say about that," George said.  "First we need to get you cleaned up before court."

"Court!" Harold said, and groaned.  "I'm too sick for court."

"You're not sick, you're hung over," said Tony, steadying Harold's wavering steps by holding his shoulders.  "And it damn well serves you right," he added.

Juho and Esmeralda knelt before the thrones in their new costumes, the eyes of hundreds upon them, pillows under their knees, the crowns of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess on their heads.  The crowd was silent and respectful, but a half-dozen little brown birds hopped in the grass, on the kingdom pavilion, even on the back of the king's throne.  King Pertti stood before Juho, Master Harold on one side with the book of kingdom ceremonies, Queen Marketta on the other.  Sir Martin, tall and dapper and bearded, handed His Majesty the sword of the kingdom, a gleaming silver Kirby sword with the kingdom arms in enamel on the pommel.  Pertti held the sword level before him.  Juho put both hands on the blade, and swore the coronation oath:

Here do I swear, by mouth and hands,
Fealty and protection to the Kingdom of Patria.
To uphold the laws of the kingdom;
To speak and to be silent;
To do and to let be;
To strike and to spare;
To punish and to reward.
In need or in plenty,
In peace or in war,
In living or in dying,
Until I depart from my throne,
Or death take me,
Or the world end.

"So say I, Juho Suomainen," Juho said clearly and resolutely.  Then Pertti returned the sword to Martin's care, and removed the coronet from Juho's head.  For a moment the blond hair stirred in the morning breeze, while Pertti handed the coronet to Lord Peter.  Then Pertti took the royal crown from his own head and placed it on Juho's, saying, "Upon thy head I set the Kingdom.  May it always grace a worthy head."

Then Marketta stepped forward, and held the sword so that Esmeralda could swear the same oath, and receive the Queen's crown.  Then Juho and Esmeralda stood, and turned, and faced the populace, crowned and holding hands as for a pavane; and the kingdom herald cried, "BEHOLD JUHO AND ESMERALDA, RIGHTFUL KING AND QUEEN OF PATRIA!  THREE CHEERS FOR THEIR MAJESTIES!"

"Vivant!  Vivant!  Vivant!" the people shouted, none louder than Pertti and Marketta, looking strange to Isabella without the crowns she was accustomed to seeing them wear in costume; the crowns now burdening Juho's head, and hers.  Suddenly she realized that she had sworn her oath in Catalan, automatically translating the courtly phrases to the language of her heart.  She looked over at Juho.  He turned his head and smiled at her, and she forgot about it.

One reign makes you a Count or Countess, two a Duke or Duchess.  Pertti had put back on his ducal coronet, and so had Marketta; no such ceremony was needed this time.  Indeed, it was the first coronation, since the original reign of Armin and Hilda, that the previous King and Queen hadn't been made Count and Countess, or Duke and Duchess.  Put it another way, Pertti and Marketta were the first to be King and Queen three times.

Master Harold said, "Your Majesties, is it your wish that the Kingdom officers should continue in their positions?"

"It is," said Juho, who had discussed the question since March with Isabella, with Pertti and Marketta, and with the officers themselves.  "Let them come forward."

So the officers of Patria knelt before the thrones: the Seneschal, Laura von Sternheim, who was also Baroness of Terra; Count Sir Martin the Sober, the Knight Marshall; Lady Adrianna the Sage, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; Sir Mary of Fairfield, the Constable; Mistress Greta Hildegarde for the Arts; Master Anthony von Sternheim for the Sciences; and Mistress Amanda von Sternheim for the Lists.  Master Harold Godfrey turned the book of ceremony over to the Blue Mountain Herald and joined the other kingdom officers.

"Do you," read Lord AElfrede, "the great officers of the Kingdom, swear allegiance to Juho and Esmeralda, undoubted King and Queen of Patria, for your offices and your subordinates?  To act and to let be, to speak and to be silent, to punish and to reward, in such matters as concern the kingdom and your offices?  Until you depart from your posts, or death take you, or the world end?"

"I do," or "I so swear," they variously said.  Juho replied, "We thank you for your oaths.  And we for our parts pledge true faith and fealty in return, so long as you retain your posts, and we our thrones; or death take us; or the world end."

Then King Juho held out his hands to Master Harold, who was nearest, and Harold put his hands, folded together as if for prayer, between the King's.  The King raised him from kneeling to standing, then released Harold's hands.  The kingdom herald bowed, and stepped back.

Then as Juho turned to Sir Martin, Queen Esmeralda, who didn't know that it wasn't customary for her to do so, also stepped forward, and held out her hands to Master Anthony, as Juho had done.  Scarcely hesitating—was not the Queen the equal of the King?—Anthony placed his hands in hers, and she raised him to his feet.  And some stared, and some muttered among themselves.  But Marketta and Kristiina and Alison beamed, and the moment passed unchallenged into custom.  The King said "Thank you, my ladies, my lords."  The officers of the Kingdom bowed again, and melted into the crowd.

"LET THE BARONS AND BARONESSES OF THE KINGDOM COME FORWARD," Master Harold called, "WHO WOULD RENEW THEIR FEALTY TO THE CROWNS OF PATRIA."

All the barons and baronesses came before King Juho and Queen Esmeralda, each clad in his or her baronial robes, divided down the middle with the personal arms on the onlooker's left and the arms of the barony on the right, if he or she were the founding baron or baroness; but the other way around, if he or she were not.  Baron Mezentius of Calafia propelled himself forward in his wheel chair, his lady wife grace itself beside him, until Baron Werner von Sternheim of Dreiburgen joined them, and began pushing Mezentius' chair, while Baroness Alison greeted Baroness Rowena.  Count Sir Christian and Countess Denise, Baron and Baroness of Failte, came forward, Lady Caitlin the Regent of the Isles, Baron Zoltan and Baroness Laura of Terra.  Last came Armin and Hilda of Gyldenholt, Baron Armin tenderly supporting his lady as she hobbled on her cane.

The barons and baronesses bowed, but didn't kneel.  Alone of the people of Patria, they had the right to stand in the presence of the King and Queen seated upon their thrones.  "That's because the baronies founded the kingdom," Deborah had explained to Isabella, "not the other way around.  Gyldenholt is the only barony founded after the start of the kingdom."

"Your Excellencies," said Master Harold, "do you swear allegiance to Juho and Esmeralda, undoubted King and Queen of Patria, in your own names, and on behalf of your people?  To do and to let be, to speak and to be silent, to punish and to reward, in such matters as concern the kingdom and your lands?  Until you depart from your thrones, or death take you, or the world end?"

"I do," they said, or "I so swear," each in his or her own fashion; Armin, for one, in German.

"And we for our part accept with joy the fealty of the barons, who are the foundation of the kingdom.  To you we swear in return true faith and fealty, until we depart from our thrones, or death take us, or the world end."

Then Juho embraced Baron Werner, who was nearest to him, and they pounded each other on the back.  Esmeralda embraced Lady Caitlin a great deal more sedately.  Last of all Juho and Armin embraced, and Hilda surprised Isabella by giving her a peck on the cheek and saying, "God be with you, child."

Then the knights of the kingdom swore fealty, and the laurels, and the pelicans, that being the order in which the noble orders were created.  The masters and mistresses of the spur were the most numerous, not least because victory in combat was a concrete thing, and kings were knights and felt qualified to judge knighthood.  But besides that, many squires had been made knights in the last two years, so that knights actually outnumbered unbelted fighters in the lists, a most unusual phenomenon.

"There will be a grand march in one hour," said Master Harold; it was noon.  "As Her Majesty is new to the Society, all armigers are invited to participate.  His Majesty asks that each person present himself only once, at which time the herald will announce all his armigerous awards."

"Decode, please," Isabella whispered to Aino, who was standing beside the throne, acting as chief lady in waiting.

"An armiger is someone who has an Award of Arms or higher," said Aino.  "An armigerous award is one that confers an Award or Grant or Patent of Arms, if you don't have one already."

"All right, but what does 'present himself only once' mean?" asked Esmeralda.

"Suppose someone got an Award of Arms, then the Order of the Royal Sun, then he got knighted, then he got the Laurel, then he was King once and became a Count, then he was King again and was made a Duke.  Each of those is a separate award with its own date and its own place in the Order of Precedence.  He could show up in the march… uh… six times, once for each award.  His Majesty is asking people not to do that."

"I see," said Isabella.

The rest of court was presentations.  Everyone in the kingdom, it seemed, wanted to give the new king and queen something, either individually, or as a group.  There were songs and poems celebrating a reign just begun, food, musical performances, food, books, food, writing paper, food, home-made soap, food, home-brewed ale for a king and queen who didn't drink, food, sealing wax, and of course food.  The crowd slipped away to eat and get their cards from Master Gerald for the grand march, and then came back to watch the shower of gifts.

Isabella was bewildered by all the gifts, but Aino set her straight.  "Just smile graciously, let Uncle Juho do the talking, and pass it back here where we can set it out of the way.  You hungry?"

"Starved," Esmeralda said.

"Here," said Aino, passing forward a wooden plate with fried chicken, peas, and rice, and a wooden spoon.  "We have apple juice, water, and soda back here, what do you want to drink?"

"I can't eat during court!" Esmeralda said.

"Yes, you can," Aino answered.  "No one wants to see you go hungry, and the people who gave you the food and gear will be delighted to see you using them."

So Isabella ate lunch sitting on the throne, wiped her hands with a napkin Jenny passed forward, and accepted a goblet of water from Deborah.  As she finished, Juho asked, "Is that it?"

Startled, she looked up.  Juho was addressing Harold, who affirmed that the parade of presentations was complete.  It was one o'clock.  On the field before the throne, a line of people stretched back out of sight, while musicians with all manner of instruments sat or stood to one side, ready to play processionals.

"The grand march is ready to begin, Your Majesties," said Master Harold.

"Five minutes," said Juho.  "I need the use of the jakes, and others of the household may as well."  This Esmeralda took to mean her, and it was good advice.

The order of precedence of the Kingdom of Patria read:

Their Royal Majesties the King and Queen
Their Royal Highnesses the Crown Prince and Crown Princess
Their Graces the Dukes and Duchesses
Their Graces the Counts and Countesses
Their Excellencies the Barons and Baronesses
The Masters and Mistresses of the Noble Orders
Their Honors who have Grants of Arms
The Lords and Ladies with Awards of Arms

Five dukes and five duchesses had the Kingdom of Patria in April of 2731.  Juho was on the throne, Pertti and Taawi and the rest of the household in the kingdom pavilion with him.  That left—

"DUKE SIR GRIGORIY ILYICH AZIZOV AND DUCHESS NATASHA FEODOROVNA AZIZOV!" Master Harold cried.  Very tall, blond, clean-shaven, handsome but prematurely balding, Grigoriy bowed to the new king and queen.  His lady wife, red-haired and devastatingly beautiful, even for a realm known for its beauties, curtseyed beside him.  Grigoriy and Natasha had been King and Queen of the West before the SGU split from the SCA, so their one reign so far as King and Queen of Patria had made them Patria's first duke and duchess.

"DUKE SIR WERNER VON STERNHEIM, FOUNDING BARON OF DREIBURGEN, MASTER OF THE PELICAN!" Harold cried.  "DUCHESS ALISON VON STERNHEIM, FOUNDING BARONESS OF DREIBURGEN, MISTRESS OF THE LAUREL!  AMANDA VON STERNHEIM, MISTRESS OF THE PELICAN, ORDER OF THE ROYAL SUN!  SIR EDWIN THE DOGGED, ORDER OF THE DOLPHIN!  ANTHONY VON STERNHEIM, MASTER OF THE LAUREL, MASTER OF THE PELICAN, ORDER OF THE LEAF OF MERIT!  SIR EADMUND OF RUNEDEN!  LORD ROBERT GODWIN!  AND LORD STEPAN TOTENTANZ!"  House Sternheim marched at Werner and Alison's place in the Order of Precedence, and the armigers of the household were announced by name.

"OH.  MY.  GOD." said Aino, just as Harold cried, "DUCHESS HELENA DES TOURS!

Juho's soon-to-be-ex wife was revealed when House Sternheim bowed and split, some joining the crowd on one side of the path to the thrones, some the other.  The tall blonde stood for a moment looking Juho in the eye, then sank in a graceful curtsey, to all appearances unaware of the commotion she was causing.

Isabella could only gape in shock.  The man escorting Duchess Helena was not announced, because he had no titles or honors in the SGU.  Only someone who knew him as well as she did could have seen how embarassed Rodrigo Seturino was to be displayed in public as Hazel's escort.

"COUNT SIR ARMIN VON BERGEN, BARON OF GYLDENHOLT, ORDER OF THE ROYAL SUN!  COUNTESS HILDA VON BERGEN, BARONESS OF GYLDENHOLT, MISTRESS OF THE LAUREL!" Harold cried, as the grand march continued.


Chapter 13
Chess and Live Chess

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino
That o'er the green cornfields did pass.
In spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding a ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
These pretty country folks would lie,
In spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding a ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

"It Was A Lover And His Lass", by Thomas Morley
VEN with Master Gerald's cards, even with people clumping into households as Sternheim had done, even with the heralds keeping the marchers closed up and moving, the full Grand March took until 2:15.  The musicians, who had moved constantly from one to another of the suite of processionals written by Master Raoul, shook sore hands or applied balm to sore lips, depending on their chosen instruments.  Isabella discreetly rubbed a tired fundament and waited for circulation to return to her legs.  The cushions on the royal thrones needed to be a sight thicker!

A game of live chess was in progress inside the eric.  White ropes laid on the grass divided the field into the 64 squares of a chess board, and armored fighters were the pieces, each wearing a tabard over his armor with the letter K for King, Q for Queen, B for Bishop, N for Knight, R for Rook, or P for Pawn.  One side had black tabards with white letters; the white pieces had white tabards with black letters.

The players were non-fighters.  Duchess Natasha and Countess Hilda sat on either side of a little tourney table with a chess board on it, with two marshalls keeping the onlookers, Society and mundane alike, from pressing too closely.  As Esmeralda watched, Countess Hilda pushed a white pawn.  The red-haired Calafian herald, Mathilde of Rannoch, called out "G3 to G4!  White queen's knight's pawn advances one square!"  Thaddeus Apollonicus, a Gyldenholt knight chosen to be a pawn in this game, strode into the empty square before him, and grinned at Sir Christopher of Hull, the Calafian black pawn he now threatened.

Duchess Natasha moved a knight in response.  "F6 to G4!" Mathilde announced.  "Black queen's knight attacks white queen's knight's pawn!"  Sir Uilleam ap Eoin squeezed between Sir Christopher and Sir Hugh the Lowly, and stepped into Sir Thaddeus' square.  Douglas the Short and Eodric the Mad came forward to marshall.

"Are you ready, sirs?" Douglas asked.  Both chess pieces banged their swords on their shields by way of assent.  "Then lay on!" cried Douglas.  In not too long a time, Sir Thaddeus sprawled at Sir Uilleam's feet.  Then he got up, bowed, and walked off the field, pausing only to hang his pawn's tabard over the eric cord before joining the spectators.  At the chess table, Hilda removed her pawn from the board and considered her next move.

Since the attacks in live chess are resolved by combat, the fighting ability of the pieces becomes important.  A pawn can take a rook in chess—in live chess, the rook might turn the pawn into hamburger.  Hilda's logical move was to take Natasha's knight with her queen's rook's pawn.  She looked at the field, not the board.  Her queen's rook's pawn was Cho Hye-Eun.  Could the slender unbelted Korean girl beat Sir Uilleam ap Eoin?

Hilda moved her queen one space to the right and forward.  If Natasha's knight took the queen, he would fork Hilda's king and queen's rook—if he could take the queen.

"E1 to F2!  White queen moves one space right and forward!" Mathilde announced.  Sir Borngaum Dogeater moved as directed, and waited to see whether Sir Uilleam would be sent against him.

The actual chess tournament had matched Juho against Juan Carlos.

"Your Majesty," said Juan Carlos, rising and bowing as Juho sat.  "You do me honor."

"Please," Juho replied in Spanish, waving for Isabella's brother to be seated.  "Let's not be too ridiculous, given the circumstances."

"Ridiculous?" said Juan Carlos.  "I play by the rules.  You are the King, aren't you?"

"I am the King of Patria," Juho agreed.  "And you are who you are.  There is a fine line between respect and mockery, even for someone so famous at observing the rules."

"My sister has been telling tales, I see," said Juan Carlos.  "I thought she wished to remain incognita."

"She's said nothing," Juho answered.  "But I am widely travelled and widely read, and your face has naturally been published even more than your sister's."

"I see.  Do you want white or black, Your Majesty?" Juan Carlos said.

The rook is the most mobile piece in medieval chess.  Though it can't move diagonally, it can move as far as it likes orthogonally: forward, back, left, or right.  It's the only piece whose range is limited only by the edge of the board; the queen can only move one space diagonally, and the bishop exactly two.

Natasha refused Hilda's bait.  She moved her knight back to its original space.  Hilda moved her queen's rook one space to the left.

"H1 to G1!  White's queen's rook one square left!" cried Mathilde of Rannoch.

Count Armin marched one square to his left and did a right face.  Sir "Allan Sundry," the unprotected pawn now in danger of attack, cried "Eek!" and looked around wildly.

Armin frowned inside his helmet.  "What are you doing as a pawn, 'Sir Allan'?" he bellowed.

"S-s-searching high and low for somewhere to hide," the clown knight quavered, quoting a song from Camelot.  Count Armin snorted, amused despite himself.

"This is a very slow game compared to—what did you call the modern chess?" Juan Carlos asked, still in Spanish.

" 'Chess of the Mad Queen' is what the Spanish chess writers called it," Juho said in the same language.  "Because the Queen loses her mind and runs any way she wishes, and as far as she wishes."

"Or because she leaves the King's protection, and runs around on her own without him?" Juan Carlos suggested.

"Oh, indeed," Juho said.  "A very dangerous thing to do—in the Middle Ages.  Check," he added, moving a bishop.

"Check?" said Juan Carlos, frowning.  "But my rook is in your way."

"In Mad Queen," said Juho.  "But in medieval chess the bishop moves exactly two spaces diagonally, and it jumps over anything in the way, just like a knight."

"My God, I forgot that!" Juan Carlos said.

"You have to be flexible if you're going to play all the kinds of chess besides Mad Queen," Juho said.  "The rules that are good at one time, or in one place, may not be the rules elsewhere."

"I had a tutor like you once," Juan Carlos said, beginning to smile.  "Everything he said turned out to be a lesson.  I really hated that, at first."

"But you remembered the lessons?" Juho asked.

"Every one," said Juan Carlos, smiling in reminiscence.  "So!  Remind me, before we go further, how the pieces move."

There are several times as many form of live chess as there are of board chess, because the rules for playing the game itself are multiplied by the rules for resolving combat.  So you have all the hundreds of kinds of chess with different boards, different pieces, and different rules for movement—and then, for each of these, you have a choice of how to handle the combat between the pieces.

The simplest form of "live chess" involves no combat at all, and throws no nasty surprises in the players' faces.  Each participant has charge of a single piece, which can be waist-high, or taller than a person, or a dog or sheep with a tabard, being led on a leash.  This form was very popular in post-War Europe, especially among those too young or too old for active sports like futbol, shintaigh, or raceball.

In some English and European schools, live chess matches brought together opponents who fenced, or boxed, or wrestled.  These were mostly games of Mad Queen, modern chess with the combat resolved with modern sports.

The SGU had all the period forms of chess available to it, and a great variety of ways for resolving the fights.  Children might play four-handed chaturanga, so that all the children could have a piece, and fight with boffers, hardly more deadly than the jesters' bladders.  Teens might lay out a round Byzantine board for the novelty of it, and use "Indian wrestling" or "Welsh wrestling" to settle which piece stayed on the board.  But usually the SGU played shatranj—the basic, mainstream two-player chess of medieval Christianity and Islam—and fought with wounds retained from one combat to the next.  Thus when "Sir Allan" took Count Armin's left leg before dying, the good count had to fight on one knee from then on.  Fortunately, his curses were in German.

"No one in our family has even been divorced, or married someone who's been divorced," Juan Carlos said, sweeping a rook across the board.  "Check."

"I don't believe it's ever happened in mine, either," said Juho mildly.  "But this is the 28th century—or the 20th, if you prefer."  He moved a knight.  "Check."

"Ah, the discovered rook!  And if I move mine to block it… you take it, and I'm in check again."

"No, checkmate," Juho said.

Juan Carlos studied the board, then tipped over his king to acknowledge defeat.

The King and Queen sat on their thrones, attended by Duke Taawi, Duchess Kristiina, Duke Pertti, and Duchess Marketta.  Three constables—Sir Mary, Sir Charles, and Sir Gamlaun—stood before them.  No one else was in the tent, and other constables kept anyone from coming within earshot, politely but firmly.

"No one saw a thing," Sir Mary concluded.  "Sir Gamlaun is the last person known to have seen the may pole, and Sir Charles the first to notice it was missing.  That's a good ten hours in which anything could have happened, while my constables tramped around the eric, watched the parking lots and the rest rooms, and saw nothing.  If you want my resignation as kingdom constable," she said bitterly, "you may have it."

"Not at all," Juho said.  "We may have lost a may pole, and I'm sorry for Maddy, who had her heart set on it.  But no one's lost a sword, a coronet, jewelry, money, in longer than I can remember.  And who'd imagine someone would steal such a thing?"

"Someone suggested Sir Caroline might have taken it," Sir Mary said neutrally.

"Nonsense!" said Maddy.  "If she'd wanted it that badly, she'd have kept bidding.  She hadn't reached her limit yet."

"Caroline's honest," Taawi agreed.  "On the field, in a game, in an auction, she's a good loser as well as a gracious winner."

"We thought it more likely some of the jesters had swiped it," Mary said.  "I thought if we had a talk with Mathilde of Rannoch, we might be able to learn who some of them were."

"Yes, that bit with the slapstick was clever, wasn't it?" said Tina.  "But it could've been Mathilde's wit, rather than pre-arrangement, that let her turn the tables so neatly."

"It wasn't the jesters," Juho said.

"Your Majesty?" said Sir Mary.

"It was Duchess Helena," the King said.  "I'm as sure as if I'd seen her take it.  Hazel's never liked either of my sisters.  She'd have been glad of the chance to spite them."

"The grand march!" Pertti said, snapping his fingers.  "That's why she was in it, after saying she wouldn't come to any more tourneys!  She was making sure we knew she was here, so we'd know she'd taken the may pole."

"She probably had the help of that fellow who escorted her in the march," Sir Gamlaun said.

"My uncle," Isabella said distantly.

"I'm sorry, Your Majesty, I didn't know," said Sir Gamlaun.

"No, you're right," Isabella said.  "He probably did help her steal the may pole."

"But why would he do that?" Sir Mary asked.

"Be sure," said the Queen, "that I shall ask him!"

Holding the bow in her left hand, Aino drew the string back to her cheek.  The center of the nose and chin was generally considered a surer nocking point, but Aino didn't like the feeling that she was squashing her nose, or the way it made her eyes cross.  The curve of her thumb matched the underside of her cheekbone well enough.

She let her breath out, then didn't take in the next one.  In the moment that her chest, arms, and legs ceased to move, she relaxed her fingers.  Unmoving, she watched the shot streak home in the gold.  Then and only then she drew breath, when no movement could perturb the arrow as it left her bow, and plucked the next shaft out of the ground in front of her.

"Well shot!"

Setting the nock of the arrow on her bowstring, Aino looked over her shoulder.  She had no idea how alluring she was at that moment: as unselfconscious as Diana, as blonde as Venus.

A dozen round archery targets stood in a row down the center of the grassy area in the middle of the track, and the six archers presently shooting rounds were firing at them from the outside edge of the straightaway.  Constables stood at the entrances to the arena to make sure no one wandered in behind the targets and recreated the old cartoon:  Runner lies in the dirt, a javelin sticking out of his back.  Officials with yard sticks are measuring the distance.  Another official says to the medics, "Now hold on a minute, fellows!  This might be a record!"

"Thank you," Aino said.  "You're Isabella's brother, right?  Sorry, I don't remember your name."

"We Spanish have too many names," he said, and made an elegant leg.  "Juan Carlos de León, entirely at your service, señorita."

"Well met, my lord.  I am Lady Aune Päättäwäinen, of House Suomainen."

"Indeed," said Juan Carlos.  "You see in me an admirer.  I was captivated by your way with a pole axe, and with a plate as well."

Aino's smile went out like a snuffed candle.  "I'm not proud of throwing that plate," she said coldly.

"But why not?  Because you were angry?  That fellow deserved worse, and Spanish men are not afraid of a little temper.  Kiss me if you will, pummel me if you can, just do not ever bore me."

"I'll bear that in mind," Aino said, smiling a little.

"Lady Aune?  Waiting on you," Lord Eric called.  The other archers had finished their rounds, and were waiting for the all-clear before going after their arrows.

"Just a minute!" Aino called.  "Stand back, my lord," she said to Juan Carlos.  "I must finish this shot now."

Once again she took her position.  Left foot pointing at the target, right foot not quite at right angles, left arm straight out but not hyperextended, she pulled the string back to her cheek, the arrow coming naturally with it, not pinched by the fingers.  A moment of stillness, then suddenly the bowstring thrummed along the bow guard on her left arm.  She remained motionless until the thunk! of the arrow, which her brother had once joked was the death-cry of the wild archery target, a fierce three-legged beast.  She smiled at the memory, saw where the arrow had hit—two fingers closer to dead center than the previous one!—and frankly grinned.  "All done, my lord!" she called to the range master.

"My lords and ladies, bows down, please," called Lord Eric.  "No further shots until I give the word.  You may retrieve your arrows now."

"Are you attending school in the States, like your sister?" Aino asked Juan Carlos as they walked to the target.

"Ah no, my lovely one, I am a few years older than she is.  My study is my father's business."

"Business?" Aino smiled.  "Isabella said you were an attendant at the court of the King of Spain?  Oh leave that, please," she said quickly.  "Arrows bend so easily if you don't pull them straight out, and it's not so easy to straighten them again."

"I leave them to you then," he said, smiling and spreading his hands wide.  "Yes, I am a real attendant at the court of a real king of a real country.  That is my honor and my privilege."

"So you just dropped by to see what your sister was up to?" Aino said.  She laughed.  "That's exactly how my uncle Juho discovered the Society—and now he's King, for the third time."

"Indeed?" murmured Juan Carlos.  "And when he met your aunt, did he say—?" and he whispered something to her.

Aino shrieked, scattering bow and arrows.  Red as fire, she turned on her heel, and punched Juan Carlos in the face as hard as she could.  He landed on his butt in the grass, and put a hand up to his cheek, while she shook her right hand and said, "Ow ow ow."

Lord Eric came running up, marshall's staff in hand.  "My lady, are you all right?" the range master said.

She was too upset to answer him.  "If you ever speak to me like that again," she said to Juan Carlos, clenching her fist, "Ow… I'll stick my knife in you, by God I will!"

Juan Carlos held his cheek and eye, which were swelling and turning blue, and smiled.  "You like having men at your feet, don't you, querida?  I can see this will be a stormy courtship."

"You're asking for a kick in the teeth!" she shouted.

Juan Carlos sat there, holding his face, and shrugged.  It was even graceful.  "Kick me or kiss me, bellísima, only never bore me."

"Lady Aune," said Lord Eric, "Why don't you have the medics put ice on that hand?  I'll bring your equipment to House Suomainen when we're done here."

"Thank you, Lord Eric," Aino said with a warm smile, and left without another glance at Isabella's brother.

"This is the court of Juho and Esmeralda, King and Queen of Patria, on the day before the Kalends of May, two thousand, seven hundred thirty-one years since the founding of the City!" Master Conrad cried.  The light brown hair, bowl-cut the same length all the way around, was a wig.  Master Conrad was an ROTC cadet like Yrjö, and his real hair was crew cut.

"Welcome," said Juho.  "Please be seated and make yourselves comfortable.  I want to thank again all the people who gave us gifts this morning, especially the poems.  My lady?"

"What he said," Esmeralda said regally, and fluttered her fingers to indicate Juho.  The crowd laughed, and she smiled warmly.

"Ask Lord Carl to attend us," the King said.

"Lord Carl of Ravnscroft, His Majesty requests your presence!" Master Conrad said obediently.

Lord Carl, from the Barony of the Isles, was a most ordinary-looking fellow; medium height, medium build, dark brown hair, gray eyes, a small brown mustache and a fringe of brown beard along the jawline.  Inspired by a copy of Gollon's Chess Variations and a couple of books on chess pieces down the centuries, he had founded the Guild of the Elephant and had led it for four years now, having chess tourneys as often as possible, and spending all his time teaching people medieval forms of the game.  It was rumored that he had no Patent of Arms because the Throne couldn't decide whether to make him a Laurel or a Pelican.  In a black houpelande with red lining and red-and-white accessories, he stepped out of the crowd and bowed to the king and queen.  The red leather bag in his left hand clinked.

"At Your Majesty's command," Lord Carl said.

"How stands the Guild, my lord?" said Juho.

"We have several changes of status," said Lord Carl.  "If Your Majesty will permit me?"

"By all means," said the King.

So Cho Hye-Eun was called before court, and Lord Carl pulled from his clanking bag a pewter medal with a heraldic rook, which was actually the Arabic chess piece called a bishop by the Christians, but an elephant by the rest of the world.  By this token the slender Korean girl from Gyldenholt was made a Chessmaster, as was Eodric the Mad from Terra, Geoffrey of Rannoch from Calafia, and Sir Mark the Apostate from Dreiburgen.  And King Juho conferred upon them awards of arms, and instructed his heralds to record the awards and help the recipients devise suitable and unique arms; except of course for Sir Mark, who was already a peer of the realm.

"We also have two new Grand Masters," Lord Carl told the King.

"Trot them out, then," said Juho.

So Baron Zoltan of Terra was given the golden medallion denoting a Grand Master of the Order of the Elephant, bowing his bald head and guiding the golden chain carefully over his baron's crown.

"Normally," said His Majesty, "I would reward this achievement with a Grant of Arms, but…"  Barons received grants of arms at their investitures, so Zoltan already had one.

"I appreciate the thought," Zoltan said, grinning fiercely.

"Lord Carl?  You said there was another?" Juho asked.

"Yes, Your Majesty.  Ah… you, actually, Your Majesty."

"Oh," Juho said in surprise.

So Juho got one of the gold medallions as well.  Lord Carl gave the badge to Esmeralda, who placed it around the King's neck, careful of his crown, and they both sat again.

"As for the actual tournament, it was Shatranj," said Lord Carl, "with each victory worth 50 points, each tie 25, and each loss 10.  Grand Master Anthony von Sternheim amassed the most points by winning ten games out of ten, despite his many distractions, and the difficulty of finding players who think they can beat him."

"Mumble, grumble, gripe," said Anthony, joining Carl before the crowd.  "Maybe we should play in disguise from now on."

"Oh, don't be a sore winner," said Carl.  "Here."

Anthony looked at the yellow book and started laughing.  As he kept laughing, Lord Carl said to the crowd, "I'm running out of ideas for things to give Master Anthony when he wins chess tournaments.  His apartment must be full of chess boards, chess pieces, books on the history of chess, and so on.  So I got this in case he won again.  It's a little book entitled 'Chess For Dummies'."

"I'll get you for this," Anthony said, wiping his eyes and grinning.  No one heard him over the laughter of the crowd, but Lord Carl grinned back.

Second place went to Sir Ulfdan Ullrsson, who received a chess board of green and brown marble, and third place to Master Renfrew, who received a set of ebony and ivory chess pieces, carved in the medieval Arab shapes by Master Nathan.

"That's all," said Lord Carl.

"Not quite," said Juho, and rose.  Holding out his hand to Esmeralda, he helped her rise as well.  "My lord herald," said the King.

"Pray, kneel, my lord," said Master Conrad to Lord Carl.  As the mystified guild master did so, the herald turned to a little-used page of the book of ceremonies, and read, "It is the privilege of the Crown to reward duty and service.  When that service exceeds that recognized by an award of arms, it may please the King to issue a Grant of Arms.  When bestowed upon a Baron, he is addressed as 'Your Excellency'.  When bestowed upon one who is not a Baron, he is addressed as 'Your Honor'.  The Grant of Arms is a sign of great favor in royal eyes."

"There is no oath for you to swear," the King said, "for you are joining no order.  There is no crown to wear, for you aren't becoming a Baron.  Will you nonetheless accept the thanks of the kingdom?"

"Your Majesty," Lord Carl said, choking slightly, "I will."

"Then rise, Your Honor," said King Juho, taking both his hands, and pulling him to his feet.  Esmeralda kissed him on the cheek, as she had seen Marketta do, and the chess nerd turned crimson.

"We had a good turnout," said Lord Eric the Stout, when the herald had called for the royal archer.  Lord Eric was a veteran of the War, and had been practically a walking skeleton when he arrived in America.  Thirty years of good diet had more than remedied that, though they had done little to ease the pain of bullet wounds, or the memory of his burned-out Georgian village and his slaughtered family.  Now he lived on his pension in Gyldenholt, read books, wrote letters to surviving friends, and taught members of the Society how to sink arrows in archery targets, instead of Russian throats.

"A lot of non-fighters shot well enough to qualify as war archers," Lord Eric said, "and I've signed warrants for them in my capacity as deputy to the Knight Marshall.  Provided they can all make war-legal arrows in time, that's so many more bowmen in this year's war against Atenveldt."

"I always said, an arrow in the face can ruin your whole day," remarked Sir Christian from his chair at the front of the crowd.

Lord Eric bowed in agreement, and continued, "A number of knights qualified as war archers, too.  Besides being a martial skill, it gives the kingdom flexibility in war.  Sometimes, having a dozen archers is more critical than another dozen knights in the line."

"Very good, my lord," said King Juho.  "And the contest?"

"We were allowing contestants to shoot four rounds, and only scoring the best three," Lord Eric said.  "Sir Julia of Bath shot three perfect rounds, every arrow in the gold, and so wins the gold arrow."  He held it out to the Calafian knight as she stepped out of the crowd.  Sir Julia was featured in many SGU photos.  A ballerina in real life, she was elegant, greyhound-slim, taller than almost everyone else at 6 feet 9 inches, with high cheekbones and straight black hair, presently braided, hanging down to her upper thighs.  She smiled at Lord Eric, bowed to the thrones, and held the gold-painted wooden arrow up for the crowd to see.

"Second place goes to Sir Ulfdan Ullrsson, who discarded a round with one miss, leaving three that were perfect."  Sir Ulfdan came out of the crowd, bowed to Juho and Esmeralda, took the silver arrow from Lord Eric, and shook his hand.  Then he kissed Sir Julia's hand, making dimples appear on her face.  He was old enough to be her father, and only came up to her chin, but she tucked her arm in his as they stood there.

"Third place goes to a lady who shot a perfect round, then a round with a missed shot, then another perfect round.  Unfortunately, one shot in her fourth round also missed the gold.  Would Lady Aune Päättäwäinen come forward?"

So Aino got the third-place token, a wooden arrow painted white.  "Three cheers for the archers!" cried Master Conrad, and the crowd wished them "Vivant!" three times.

"Such a marvelous contest we had this year," Mistress Greta beamed.  "I hope you all had a chance to see the entries displayed in the Arts pavilion.  Of course we photograph everything, but that's not the same as seeing them for yourself."

"Dancing this year was mixed dances en suite, that is, instead of having each dancer do a dance of his or her own choice, to music of his or her choice, everyone danced to our music, which switched between pavane, galliard, and bransle.  This was to encourage people to learn and practice more than one dance."

"First place in dance went to Master Renfrew," Mistress Greta said.  "Are you here, dear?"

The crowd laughed as it parted for Master Renfrew.  He came walking on his hands, clad in jester's motley of red and gold lozenges, his bauble in his teeth.  As he reached the open area before the thrones, he brought his legs slowly forward over his head and placed his foot firmly on the ground.  For an instant, as he stood there with both palms and both feet on the ground, he projected Help! I'm stuck! so clearly with his expression, that someone actually said "Oops" in the crowd.  Yet with no real pause, and no apparent strain, he raised his torso up and his hands off the ground, bent forward and bowed to the King and Queen, and then stood upright.  The jester's bauble he took from his mouth wore the same three-pointed hat on its tiny head as he did.  He shook it, and the tiny bells on each point jingled.

"Keep showing off on your hands, and keep winning dance contests, and we'll make you do both at once!" Sir Neill of Kintyre called.

Master Renfrew cocked his head.  "Is that a challenge, sir knight?  What do I get if I pull it off?"

"Boys, boys!" laughed Mistress Greta.  "Let me announce the winners of one contest before you start another!  Second place," she said, "goes to Sir Ulfdan Ullrsson, and third place to Sir Alejandro di Padua."

"The ribbons were made by the Children's Guild of Calafia," Mistress Greta said as she gave each man his.  "The roses and the ribbons are woven of a single length of ribbon, then sewn with a few stitches in the center.  The letters, for example 'Dancing', are painted.  Red roses are first place, yellow roses second, and white roses are third."

As Renfrew, Ulfdan, and Alejandro pinned the ribbon-roses on their tunics, Greta said, "We also had an honorable mention.  Although she wasn't entered in the contest, Her Majesty amazed us all in the galliard.  She had moves we'd never seen before, and boundless energy."

Esmeralda blushed.  "The gallardo is popular at court in my country.  I have danced it since I was a child," she said.

"Well, I hope you'll teach it to the rest of us," Mistress Greta said, smiling.

"First place in embroidery went to Mistress Deborah of Glen Garrow, who entered a wonderful depiction of a herald in full cry," she continued.  As Deborah pinned on the red rose of first place, she looked at Harold.  He was watching her, eyes sad.  "Second place goes to Sir Ulfdan, who decorated the case of his serpent with a floral pattern; and third place to Countess Denise, whose new costume has embroidery along the neck, wrists, and hem."

"Singing was especially hard to judge.  There was such a variety of songs, and so many good singers!  But first place goes to Lady Katherine the Modest for her performance of Master Ioseph's 'Rose'.  Second place," she went on, as she gave Jenny a red rose, "goes to Sir Ulfdan for 'Hrolf Kraki's Saga', and third place to Lady Cho Hye-Eun for a lovely piece in her language which she tells us is titled 'The Emperor's Lament'."

"Will one of the singers perform for the court?" King Juho asked.

The singers conferred briefly, then Sir Ulfdan said, "If it please Your Majesty, we all know Master Ioseph's song, so the three of us will sing that."

"Thank you," said the King.

So Jenny, Ulfdan, and Cho Hye-Eun sang together, his voice a full octave lower than the ladies':

Sir John he has a sickly wife.
He loves his Anne more dear than life.
There is no witness to their grief
But her sister, named Rose.

Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose,
Will I never see thee wed?
I will marry at thy wish,
Lord, at thy will.


The lady dies at an early date.
He buries her in great estate.
He has no one to ease his fate
But the servants and Rose.  (Chorus)

He spends a year in mourning black;
His friends all whisper at his back.
His foes step softly, lest he attack:
He has no comfort but Rose.  (Chorus)

His life resumes its former pace.
He has new lines upon his face,
But in the court takes up his place,
With his new ward, named Rose.  (Chorus)

The ladies seek him for their lord.
The men pursue his pretty ward.
But his gaze on them is like a sword,
While gently smiles Rose.  (Chorus)

His feelings take him by surprise.
His anger opens up his eyes
And causes him to realize
That what he wants is Rose.  (Chorus)

He goes to her and bends his knee.
"I have been blind, but now I see.
O will you deign to marry me,
My sweet lady Rose?"  (Chorus)

"Of course I will, you silly man.
It was my sister's dearest plan.
My love for you is deep and grand,
I'm your own lady Rose."

Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose,
Will I never see thee wed?
I will marry as thou willest,
Love, at thy will.

For lace-making the roses went to Lady Caitlin, the Regent of the Isles; to Mathilde of Rannoch; and to Sir Caroline.  "I never knew you made lace," Martin said to her.  She shrugged.  "Mail, lace, what's the difference?" she said.

The roses for brewing went to Master Renfrew, Sir Ulfdan, and Alicia du Valle; for calligraphy, to Master Anthony, Sir Ulfdan, and Sir Fergus; for illumination, to Baroness Alison von Sternheim, Sir Ulfdan, and Lady Caitlin.

"Poetry was another set of hard choices," Mistress Greta said.  "Finally we settled on first place for 'Peers of the Realm' by Master Anthony and Master Harold, 'On Seeing Avalon' by Sir Ulfdan, and 'Helena At Dusk' by Mistress Jeanette of Aquitaine.  But oh, there were so many good entries, it was very difficult!"

"Master Anthony?" said Juho.  "You and Master Harold wrote a poem together?"

"In a manner of speaking, Your Majesty," said Anthony, bowing.  "Harold wrote a poem, and it inspired me to write a longer one that included his, about the noble orders in our Society.  But his is still the best part of it, in my opinion."

"Indeed?" said the King.  "Master Harold?  Would you recite it for us?"  So Harold did:

Noble bird, you are a fraud:
Your mortal sacrifice an artifact
Emblazoned in the bestiaries,
And blazoned in a hundred arms.

A silly honking fish-eating bird,
Ludicrous with a bulging pouch,
Is all you are, and unequipped
To pierce your breast with that blunt beak.

Your odd proportions, when you are perched
Upon some rock or rotting pile,
Are transformed to sculpture of an alien school,
Semaphoring messages unreadable by man.

And if, when you lift and spread your wings,
And skim the waves with perfect sureness,
You seem a miracle of good design,
That's false too: blind function shaped you.

Yet from this unpromising feathered clay
Folklore has minted a shining coin,
To buy our devotion with legendary example
That we redeem with real works.

My friend Boncueur kept the Registry
With pen and paper and no computer:
He got his Pelican from the Board of Directors,
Signed by the Crowns of all four Kingdoms.

Others since have served as officers,
Founded Libraries, published magazines,
Created guilds, brought forth Baronies:
Too many peers and deeds to name!

And so the fable becomes fact
When we heed what should be, not what is;
And so our lives are turned to gold
Through needful tasks devoutly done.

"Fraud, indeed," murmured Neill of Kintyre, as Harold bowed, and the crowd applauded.

"Neill!" hissed his brother, as he clapped.  "Shut up!"

The prizes for baking went to Mistress Helena Marguerite, Duchess Alison, and Duchess Kristiina; for costuming, specifically shoes this year, to Sir Ulfdan, Mistress Elanora de Corona, and Master Renfrew.

"We couldn't award prizes in drama," Mistress Greta said, "because we didn't have enough entries.  I hope you all saw the two we did have.  Sign of the Serpent performed Master Nikolai's 'Taddeusz and the Magic Fish', and the Mermaid Players presented Master Gerhard's 'Culture Comes To Normandy'."

"Not 'The Queen's Tail'?" Neill said to his brother, out of the corner of his mouth.

Charles jumped.  "Jesus, Neill!  What's got into you?"

"Hey, little brother, it's just me.  Same as I've always been."

"Yeah, well, people are getting tired of the same old you," Sir Charles said.  "You'd better give that some serious thought."

"Normally," said Mistress Greta, while the two brother knights muttered in the crowd, "Someone wins enough first places to become the Champion of the Arts.  That's what Mistress Deborah of Kerry did two years ago, for one."

"But sometimes the first places all go to different people, and someone who wins most of the second places becomes Champion, as Master Renfrew did last year."

"You can probably guess what comes next," she said, waving at the nineteen winners, who were still standing up front with her.  Only five of them had more than one rose pinned on.

"Your Majesties," said Mistress Greta, "Sir Ulfdan Ullrsson is the new Champion of the Arts."  She put her hand on Sir Ulfdan's shoulder.  The one first-place rose and the seven second-place roses he'd won had been rearranged into a kind of collar by Sir Julia, who beamed from the crowd where she held his archery and chess prizes.

"Thank you, Mistress Greta, for all your hard work," Juho said, as he rose and gave Esmeralda a hand to do the same.  "And please convey the same to all your deputies and assistants also."  Mistress Greta curseyed, smiling proudly.

"Well, Ulfdan," Juho said, "this is your day."

"I've been most fortunate," said the grey-haired knight, as he sank gracefully to both knees before the King and Queen.

"My lady, would you do the honors?" Juho said to Esmeralda.  So Isabella took the circlet of a dozen blue roses, complete with green leaves and stems, and crowned Sir Ulfdan with it, and kissed his cheek.  Then the King raised him with his own hand, and clapped him on the back with the other, and said, "My lord herald, if you please."

"Three cheers for Sir Ulfdan Ullrsson, by his skill and talent Champion of the Arts!" cried Master Conrad; and "Three cheers for all the winners of the Arts Championship!" and finally "Three cheers for Mistress Greta and the College of the Arts!"

When the crowd had roared its Vivat! for Sir Ulfdan, and Vivant! for the groups Conrad named, and Mistress Greta and the contest winners had departed from the area before the thrones, Master Conrad said, "Master Anthony von Sternheim has an announcement."

Anthony returned to court and bowed to the King and Queen.  As he did so, the various awards he had earned swung out from his chest, and swung back into place with a thump and a jingle.  Normally he wore only his Laurel, or even a decorative pendant of no significance to the SGU order of precedence: an Achaemenid lion, for instance, or a Byzantine cross.  But for court he was wearing his silver Laurel medallion and his cloisonné Pelican; the pewter Bay Laurel leaf of his West Kingdom Leaf of Merit; his Golden Trident medallion from Calafia; and his ceramic Order of the Towers from Dreiburgen.  The noise they made as he moved, each of them on its own little chain, made it clear why such badges were called "jinglies."  His first-place roses for poetry and calligraphy, being made of ribbon, made no sound.

"By Your Majesties' leave," he said, as he bowed.  With their nods, he turned to face the populace.

"Now that the Arts Championship is over, it's time for the Sciences Championship," he said.  "The categories have been printed in the Messenger, I won't repeat them here."  The Solar Messenger was Patria's newsletter, listing upcoming events with maps, directions, etc.  "I'll just remind you that Purgatorio is only four months away."  He turned, bowed to the thrones again, and returned to the crowd.

"Master Ioseph has a presentation," the herald announced.

"Excellent," said Juho.  "Let the King's bard come forward."

Holding his harp in both hands, Ioseph bowed to Juho and Esmeralda.  "Observing the semi-finalists at March Crown," he said, "and thinking back over many tourney seasons, it struck me how often the finalists and semi-finalists are Your Majesty's kin; or Duke Grigoriy, who is Russian; or Duke Werner or Count Armin, both German.  And this led to the following ditty, if Your Majesty would permit?"

"By all means," said Juho.  So Ioseph sang:

Oh the southern lands breed friendly folk,
Who treat you as if you were kin;
But for martial prowess and deeds of arms
Give me a German or Finn;
A German, a Russian, or a Finn.

For the Finns do like their privacy,
And lots of room to breathe.
They'll walk right up to a Viking chief
And tell him plain to leave.

Of those who learned the lesson quick
And hastened on their way,
Some settled in the eastern lands
And learned from Greeks to pray.

But when the Russians travel west
Their tempers tend to fray,
For those damn Finns are still right there,
And standing in their way!

So the Russians readily fight the Finns,
On far too many a day,
And the Finns will fight the Swedes and Danes
Come any small reason that may.

The Germans trade with all of them,
But if the time is right,
With Finn or Viking or Russian they
Are happy to have a fight.

So pray God help the southener
Who enters in the fray,
For else the fool has little chance
To see another day!

At painting, or dancing, or cookery,
The French or Italians will win.
But for feats of arms or martial might
Give me the northern kin;
A Russian, a German, or a Finn!

"Thank you, Master Ioseph," Juho said, while the crowd applauded.  "When someone with an English or French persona is trying his damnedest to beat me to a pulp, I'll know exactly who inspired him."

"I live to serve," Ioseph said, bowing.

"My lord herald," Juho laughed, "I think we're done."

"Thus ends the court of Juho and Esmeralda, King and Queen of Patria!" cried Master Conrad.  "Three cheers for Their Majesties!" and then "Three cheers for Werner and Alison, Baron and Baroness of Dreiburgen!" and finally "You have Their Majesties' leave to depart!"

Hundreds of little dramas began, concluded, or advanced by one act whenever the SGU gathered, and when they dispersed.  Harold Godfrey, watched from a little distance by Yrjö and Aino, said to Deborah, "I grovel at your feet, my lady."  He was speaking figuratively; he stood a head taller than she.

"I don't want you to grovel," Deborah said.  "I want you standing tall, and proud, and making the hills shake.  But you have to stay sober to do it."

"I will," he whispered.

She pulled his head down and kissed him.  "Call me," she said.

"Give you a hand, Ed?" Master Anthony said to Master Renfrew.

"Sure, Tony.  Thanks," said Master Renfrew.  He knew damned well that Tony had stuff of his own to pack up, plus House Sternheim gear, plus Barony of Dreiburgen things.  But he waited with his load of tent poles while Tony picked up the big duffel bag with the tent inside, and they headed for the parking lots.

"Look!" said Master Renfrew.

The Queen was bending over on the path before them, throwing pieces of bread to the tiny brown birds that had graced the weekend (or infested it, depending on your point of view).  The tiny beggars were swarming over the crumbs, bouncing more than flying, sometimes squawking at each other over a given tidbit.

"Esmeralda de León," said Master Anthony.  "Vert, three Martlets Or?"

"Or, three Martlets Vert," Master Renfield countered.

"Or, three whatever-those-are Proper," Anthony suggested.

"Vert, a whatever-it-is Proper perched upon a Crown Or," Master Renfrew said judiciously.

"Neither of us live in Calafia," Tony said.  "You want to call Mathilde, or shall I?"

"Go ahead," Ed said generously.

Having thus designed four possible heraldic arms for Isabella, based on her SGU name and her patronage of the little birds, as well as settling who got the credit for the ideas, Anthony and Renfrew walked on until they reached Renfrew's car, a racing-green British Triumph.  As they stowed their loads in the boot, Anthony said, "Master Harold was in a bad way this morning."

"I'm not surprised," Renfrew said, "given the quantities of alcohol he was inhaling last night."

"The thing is," Anthony said, "this morning he had a jug of your ale in his tent."

"And?" said Renfrew.

"His friends would like you not to sell or give him any more," Anthony said.

"I should resent that," Renfrew said.  "As a matter of principle I can't abide people sneaking around behind someone's back, arranging his life for his own good."

"But," he said, holding up a hand to keep Anthony from interrupting, "I can hardly object when I'd already decided the same thing.  Harold's had no mead, ale, or cider from me since the lake episode."

"So where did this morning's jug come from?" Anthony asked.

"Couldn't tell you," Renfrew said.  "Hoarded from last year, begged or borrowed or bought from someone else?  You can't expect everyone to do without alcohol just because Harold has a problem."

"No, true enough," Anthony nodded.  "But he'll get no more from you?"

"My word on it," Renfrew said.

"Go on ahead," Duke Pertti said to his lady.  "I'll be with you in a minute."

Geese were flying by, honking, heading for their night spots on the banks or the islands of some local river or slough.  Master Ioseph sat on one of the concrete and wood benches the university had placed along the path, watching the geese and humming.

"There's that tune again," Pertti said.  "Is the song finished?"  Dropping onto the bench beside Ioseph, he put a hand on the older man's shoulder to keep him from rising.

"Yes and no, Your Grace," Ioseph said.

"Bob, Joseph, please," Robert said.  "Yes and no?"

"The song I was writing to this tune, about newcomers to the SGU versus people who've been members for years, that died.  It failed.  But the tune, slowed down a bit and transposed to a minor key, inspired another song, and that one's done."

"Will you sing it?" Pertti asked.

Ioseph shook his head.  "Not this one," he said.  "This one I'll never sing but once, and it will be the last song I ever sing."

"Ah," said Pertti.  They watched the geese honking by in the golden late-afternoon sky.

"I want you to remember," Pertti said to the grey-haired widower, "that you have friends here, who love you and would be sorry if anything happened to you."

"I know it well," Ioseph said softly.

"And when I say that," Pertti continued, "I don't mean that Master Ioseph, Mistress Deborah's husband, has friends.  I mean that you, yourself, have friends.  We value you for yourself, and we worry about you."

"Thank you, Bob," Ioseph said.

"You're welcome, Joseph," Robert Suominen said, rising to his feet again.

"We worry about you," he repeated, placing his hand on the older man's head.  "Please… don't do anything rash.  Anything abrupt.  If you need to talk, call us.  Collect.  In the middle of the night.  Whatever and whenever you need."

"Thank you," Ioseph said again.

Pertti, still holding Ioseph's head, studied him for a minute; then nodded, patted his cheek; turned, and walked away.

"So where's your new girlfriend?" Isabella said to Rodrigo.  Juan Carlos snickered.

"She already went home," Rodrigo said, also in Catalan.

"Good," said Isabella.  "I didn't want to ride all the way back to San Diego in her company."

"Did you want to ride back with us, then?" Rodrigo said, surprised.

"No, I wanted to go with the household," Isabella said.  "But I think we need to talk, don't you?"

Rodrigo bowed.  "Whatever you wish, of course."

"Poor Uncle Rodrigo," Isabella said, once they were on the freeway.  "Stuck here watching me when you could have been spending two hours alone with Hazel.  Such sacrifices you make."

Rodrigo shuddered.  "Don't joke," he said.  "Two hours listening to that woman rant about her husband, the Society, or anyone or anything that displeases her!  It's like taking a bath in acid."

"So why endure it?" Isabella asked.

Rodrigo sighed.  "Originally," he said, "I only wanted to see whether she posed a threat to you.  Vindictive wives, especially if they imagine they're being cheated on or cast aside, can easily be fatal."

"Now that sounds like the voice of experience!" Juan said.

"And she is so very beautiful, I imagined I would be combining duty and pleasure," Rodrigo said.  "Beautiful like a venomous serpent, as it turned out."

"I hope she is good in bed, at least?" Juan asked.

"Well… as to that…"

"Spare me!" said Isabella.  "Explain to me, instead, what possessed you to steal the may pole for her!  Or was it with her?"

"But I did not," Rodrigo protested.  "And neither did she, we were together last night.  Of course," he said thoughtfully, "someone else could have stolen it for her."

"Outmaneuvered, old fox?" Isabella said sardonically.  "Can you at least try to get it back?"

"Get it back?" Rodrigo said doubtfully.  "Surely by now it's chopped up, burned up, or thrown away?"

"Oh, I doubt it," Juan Carlos said.  "I knew a woman like her once, and she kept trophies.  I'd bet your Hazel does, too."

"She's not my Hazel, thank God," Rodrigo said.  "Anyway, you don't know she has it."

"Juho is certain of it, from her manner in the Grand March, and he knows her," Isabella said.

"If that one thinks so, I wouldn't bet against it," Juan Carlos agreed.  "He is very sharp.  He all but said that he knows who I am, and Isabella too."

"I'm certain he knows," Isabella said, "but he's very discreet.  He won't say it where anyone could overhear, not even in a language other than English."

"But this increases the risk to both Your Highnesses," Rodrigo exclaimed.  "I must ask for a larger protective detail."

"As you wish," Isabella said indifferently.  "Personally I think that knowledge of my royal blood would make me safer if the SGU knew about it.  Anyway, Juho won't tell."

"Too bad," Juan Carlos said.  "Think of the possibilities!  I could seduce his ex-wife to find out about the may pole, him to persuade him to silence…"

"And his niece just because she's there?  Didn't I tell you she'd kick your butt?" Isabella said.

Juan Carlos touched his black eye and swollen cheek carefully.  "My butt would have been better padded," he said.

"If your father knew you like men as much as women, he'd probably pass you by and settle the succession on your sister," Rodrigo said to Juan Carlos.  "Then she'd be the Empress of Iberia some day, and you'd just be the Prince her brother."

"You mean you've been hiding it from my royal father?" said Juan.  "That's a shocking dereliction of duty!  Tell him at once!"

"Oh fine," groaned Isabella.  "Take away what little freedom I have, just because my brother's a beast!"

Chapter 14
An Execution in Atenveldt

Our king went forth to Normandy,
With grace and might of chivalry.
There God for him wrought marv'lously,
Wherefore Englonde may call and cry:

Deo gratias!

Deo gratias, Anglia,
Redde pro victoria!


—"The Agincourt Carol"
AY, 1978 (2731 to the Latins) was a hell of a month.  The fifth moon-base module held pressure for 24 hours without fault, and U.N. personnel began moving in.  Meanwhile the sixth module fired its engines and began the journey from its construction orbit around the Earth; the seventh neared completion; and work began on the eighth.  Japanese geneticists announced the DNA sequence of E. coli, the first time the entire genetic code of an organism had been read.  President Kennedy announced that the Shah of Iran and the Emir of Iraq, meeting with him at Camp David, had agreed to end the war between their nations.  Perhaps the biggest news was the announcement that Wings' next album would include John Lennon and George Harrison in the lineup, making it, in effect, the first Beatles album since Paul had been shot.

Meanwhile, in Lake Havasu, Arizona, startled tourists discovered there was a war going on.  A party of Patrians provided the necessary grounds with a skit right out of Firesign Theater:

"THE NOBLE KINGDOM OF PATRIA CLAIMS THIS FAIR AND BOUNTEOUS LAND FOR ITS OWN!" Master Harold proclaimed.  He was wearing the full tabard of the Crowned Sun Principal Herald, with the five golden crowned suns on blue on the front and back both.  In the blistering Arizona sun, wearing it left him flushed with heat, but it didn't affect his voice.

"But, Sir!" said Count Sir Martin, the kingdom marshall, to his King.  "It's a stinking desert!"

King Juho appeared to consider this.  "True," he said.  "Master Harold, it's a stinking desert."

Harold Godfrey bowed, then addressed the scorpions, horned toads, and bemused tourists.  "THE NOBLE KINGDOM OF PATRIA CLAIMS THIS STINKING DESERT FOR ITS OWN!"

"The hell you say!" said Duke Sir Jehan Ironwood, King of Atenveldt, striding forward with his own retinue of knights.  Disdaining the use of heralds, and perhaps not blessed with one of Harold's vocal capacity, he spoke directly.

"This is our stinking desert, and no stinking Patrians are going to take it from us!"

"Is that right, Baron Zoltan?" King Juho asked.  "Is it his stinking desert?"

"It's my stinking desert, and I'll thank you both to remember it," said His Excellency the Baron of Terra.  "Although, since I swore fealty to you, I suppose that makes it your stinking desert as well," he said grudgingly.

"Well then," said King Juho to King Jehan, "I guess this means war."

"I didn't come all the way from Albuquerque for a spelling bee," said His Majesty of Atenveldt, smiling broadly.

A hard trip they made of it, hours and hours, all the way to the Arizona border and beyond.  It was hot on the last weekend before June, May 27 through May 29; the only consolation, at least it wasn't August!  The old hands took more than one car and traveled in packs in case of breakdowns, laden with water; smaller households went in convoys with others from the same barony.

Lake Havasu sits between Riverside and Phoenix, between Blythe and Las Vegas, and offers water sports and boat rides in the scathing heat caused by 300-plus sunny days a year.  Location alone would make it attractive to medievalists looking for a place to fight: it's 95 miles from Blythe, 200 from Phoenix, 315 from Tucson, a whopping 545 from Albuquerque; but also 260 from Riverside, 320 from Los Angeles, and 340 from San Diego.  Las Vegas, the nearest big city where neither the SCA nor the SGU had a group yet, was 160 miles distant.

Besides location, Lake Havasu had London Bridge.  At first the medievalists had thought this was the original stone bridge, built around 1176 (1929 in the Roman calendar), an important landmark in English history.  They discovered, however, that a newer bridge had been built in 1831 (2584), and the medieval bridge torn down.  It was "old London Bridge" that had been bought, disassembled, and shipped to America in the 1960's, but "old" is relative; it was the 19th-century bridge that Lake Havasu got, while an even newer bridge now spanned the Thames.

No matter.  Lake Havasu was still the best place for Patria and Atenveldt to hold a war, not requiring the Atenveldters to go the extra distance to Blythe, nor the Patrians to keep going to Flagstaff.  Tourists strolling the non-medieval Bridge could look over its sides and see the Patrian camp, the Aten camp, and the merchants' fair, though the war itself would rage beyond their view.

King Juho was sitting in the kingdom pavilion with Count Martin, Count Armin, Duke Werner and Duke Grigoriy, all the pavilion sides rolled up to let in whatever breeze might stir.  Lord Paul ap Cynan, Aten Principal Herald, entered and bowed.  His tabard bore the arms of the Kingdom of Atenveldt, a blue field with a gold sun, a gold crown floating above it, a gold laurel wreath surrounding the sun and the crown.  Got you outnumbered 5 to 1, Martin thought, comparing Patria's arms to Atenveldt's, and Master Harold outranks you, too.  He smiled.

When the initial greetings had been exchanged, Lord Paul said, "My master bids me say, with all respect, that he will not meet in the Patrian pavilion.  For it would make it appear that Patria were playing the host, and this land yours, before ever a blow were struck."

"Touchy," Grigoriy remarked; while Armin said, "I'll be damned if I'm going to stand in the open sun for no better reason than that!"

"Peace, my lords," King Juho said.  "Tell His Aten Majesty that we care nothing for imputations and appearances.  If he will receive us, we will meet with him in his pavilion."

"Your Majesty?" said the astounded herald.

"You have our leave to depart," Juho told him.

" 'Our leave to depart', that was perfect," said Armin.

"Thank you," said the King.

"Merchant" in the SGU just meant someone who sold things at events.  It was rarely the person's main role, and almost never how he or she made his living.  Most SGU merchants were knights who made more armor than they could use themselves, and sold the surplus; costumers who decided to clear out the closetsful of material and trim too good to throw away, but unused for many years; bookworms who found twenty copies of something in a bargain sale, kept one for themselves, and resold the rest.  Sales were made when the merchant wasn't busy fighting, dancing, flirting; or else several merchants took turns manning one display of all their goods.

If a merchant did make his living selling his wares, he probably couldn't do so by limiting his customer base to the SGU.  Baron Zoltan sold weapons and armor to acting companies, weapons collectors, the SGU, the SCA, Markland, the Augustan Society, Renaissance Faire goers, etc.  The collectors, at least, didn't bring them back banged up from hacking things and want them fixed up for free.

Some of the Aten merchants took their role seriously, and they were seriously organized.  Atenveldt, in 2731, stretched from Arizona to Florida, and the Transveldtian League was active throughout the kingdom.

Originally anyone at all could be a member merchant, or "factor", of the League.  By 2731 the League had found its purpose, and the dilettantes were squeezed out.  To be a factor now, you had to sell a minimum volume each year; answer promptly communications from other factors; maintain a minimum balance at all times in a verifiable checking account; and respond helpfully to requests for assistance from other factors or the guild officers.  If a factor failed in any of this, he would lose his membership in the League; and readmission wasn't automatic, even if the deficiency were made up.

Tranveldtian League factors alerted each other to business opportunities, bought goods from each other and for each other, shipped goods to each other, extended hospitality to visiting factors from other places, watched each others' goods at fairs and wars, and made money hand over fist.

In short, they were a force to be reckoned with, and scary as hell.

Juho, Grigoriy, Werner, Armin, and Martin were following the Aten herald out of the Patrian camp when Queen Esmeralda joined them, accompanied by Lady Aune as chief lady-in-waiting.  Isabella's long black hair flowed out from under the royal crown and down her back.  The white dress she wore, held up a little in one slim hand to keep its hem out of the dust, had a panel on its front with the arms she'd submitted to the heralds since Beltane: a gold background, on it a western house wren in its natural colors, standing on one leg and holding an emerald in the other.  Aino's dress displayed her own arms on one half of its front, and House Suomainen's device on the other half.  She also wore a wide-brimmed straw hat against the sun.

"My lady?" King Juho said.

"I'm afraid someone forgot to tell me we'd be meeting in the Aten camp," Queen Esmeralda said apologetically.  "Lady Aune saw the herald going back and forth, and realized what was happening."  She saw the expressions on their faces.  "Unless we're not welcome?" she said doubtfully.

"Always," said Juho, taking her hand and kissing it.  Her smile was his reward.  With him holding her hand formally, as if for a pavane, and Duke Werner escorting Aino—"Hush!" said Werner to Grigoriy.  "If Natasha saw you holding the hand of a pretty blonde, she'd skin you alive.  I'm doing you a favor here."  And he winked at Aino.—they entered the Aten camp.

In the Atenveldt royal pavilion they found all the Iron Dukes of that kingdom waiting for them; not just King Jehan but his brothers, Duke Alain and Duke Reynaud, and his cousins, Duke Fulk and Duke Baldwin.  The men of Ironwood were big men, six feet six inches on average, heavy with muscle, and hard as the name of their house.  Though their given names were Norman, their curly black hair, full curly black beards, and big noses showed their real ancestry; the people behind the personas were Armenian, Fulk a War veteran, the others born since.

Queen Antuanetta was present also, pleased to be included, and well knowing why she'd been invited.  She smiled as the Patrians entered.  Isabella and Aino smiled back as chairs were produced and the ladies seated.

The men remained standing.  "Welcome to Atenveldt," King Jehan said by way of challenge.

Juho refused the gambit.  "Or welcome to Patria," he said.  "Isn't that what we're here to decide?"

Who knows what might have been said next, had Isabella not said instead, "Gentlemen?"

They turned to her in astonishment, mixed with outrage on the part of the Atenveldters, wariness on the part of the Patrians.

"Do you suppose you might find chairs for yourselves?"  She moved her head as if her neck had a crick in it.  "I'm sure we would all be much more comfortable."

"Comfortable," Martin said, and started to laugh.  Pretty soon everyone had joined him, even the iron men.  Then chairs were found, and they got down to the business of war.

The driving times meant that most of the fighting would occur on Sunday the 28th.  A big chunk of Saturday was eaten up getting to the War and setting up; an equally big part of Monday would be lost in packing up and going home.  At 60 miles an hour average driving speed, Calafians needed 5 hours and 40 minutes travel time not including gas stops, food stops, rest-room stops, etc.  House Suomainen had left Bob's place at 6 a.m. and still hadn't arrived until 2 in the afternoon.  It was 4 hours 20 minutes minimum driving time from Phoenix, where most of House Ironwood lived; 5 hours 15 minutes from Tucson, where Duke Fulk resided; and nine hours from Albuquerque, where King Jehan was stationed in his real-life identity as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.

Some people were just too poor to come to the war; they couldn't afford the gas, renting a car, or some other expense.  Some non-fighters just couldn't see taking that much time and doing all that driving for an event with so little to offer them.  And the travel time barred anyone from attending who had to be anywhere else on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.

"So how many people do we bring to the field?" King Juho asked his Knight Marshall.

"Sir," said Martin, "I would rather let our foes find that out the hard way."

"Come now," Juho said, "this is knightly combat.  Are we noblemen, or are we Mongols?"

"That's right," said Duke Alain Ironwood, "you don't have Mongols in Patria, do you?"  He looked at Reynaud.  Wheels were all-but-audibly turning in their heads.

"Since you insist, Your Majesty," Martin said, ignoring the byplay, "we have about forty fighters signed up.  That number could increase; I don't think everyone's here yet, nor signed up."

"What about archers?" Grigoriy asked.  "I beg your pardon, Your Majesty."

"Archers?!" said Fulk.  "I thought this was going to be knightly combat!"

"Sir Martin?" Juho said.

"Not counting people signed up to fight on the line (some of whom are very good archers, as you know), we have about 20 or 24 archers," Martin said.

"Thank you," said Juho.  "And Atenveldt?" he asked Jehan.

"Ah…" said Jehan, exchanging glances with Fulk and Reynaud.  "Our numbers are still fluid, too, but I make it… 30 fighters," he said reluctantly.  "No archers."

"Only 30 fighters?" said Armin.  "But Phoenix, the heart of your kingdom, is closer than Dreiburgen!  And much closer than Failte, Gyldenholt, or Calafia!"  He glared at the iron men.

King Jehan glared right back.  "We lost half the populace when the SCA and the SGU split," he said through gritted teeth.  "If the SCA were holding a war here, we'd have at least twice these numbers."

Isabella kicked Aino's ankle, lightly.  "You're humming," she said.

"Oh, sorry," Aino whispered.  Without realizing it, at the discovery that Atenveldt had brought no archers to the war, she'd begun The Agincourt Carol, which celebrates the victory of England over France.  And though the song doesn't mention it, the victory was often attributed to the English bowmen.

"The Mongols are all archers," Duke Alain said, "and without horses, no match for knights.  If we tell them we want to buy their bows instead of their swords, we should have almost as many archers.  We weren't counting them for the fighters, right, Fulk?"

"Almost as many fighters!  Almost as many archers!  Damn it, we're the senior kingdom here," King Jehan complained.

"Just! Think!" said George, punctuating his words with blows of the mallet on the wrought-iron tent stake.  "I! Could! Be! In! Adiantum! Right! Now!  Whew," he said, sitting back on his heels.  "Getting rained on," he said wistfully.

"We really appreciate it," Jenny said, handing him a brass goblet of water.  Slivers of ice floated in it.

"Whoo!" George said, after a sip.  "Shock to the system!  Better save the ice until we're done, love," he smiled.

"Hey, I'll take ice," Anthony said plaintively.  Jenny laughed, and handed him another goblet.

"All well and good," said Harold, peering at the stake he'd been hitting, while Deborah held the tent rope taut.  "But I'm getting nowhere.  Is this dirt, or concrete?"

"It's called desert cement," Anthony said.  "When the soil just sits there under the sun all day, every day, and no worms turn it, and no animals dig in it, and no water falls on it, it fires almost like clay in a kiln."

"Have you seen the recycle bins?" Jenny said.  "A whole lot of people brought these cheap aluminum tent stakes, and they all bent.  I'll bet the merchants selling the wrought-iron ones are making a mint."

"Wrought iron isn't bending, but it isn't going in, either," said George.

"Well, do something," Tina said from inside the tent, where she was holding up the center pole.  "I'm broiling in here!"

"OK, Mom," George said.  "I'll get the big hammers, the steel ones, out of the car.  These wooden mallets just aren't up to the job."

"Your Majesty," said the Aten Principal Herald, "there are more gentlemen to see you."

King Jehan turned the full force of his glare upon the hapless Welshman.  "And on top of everything else," he snarled, "I have a herald who interrupts me when I'm ranting!  Who is it?" he said.

"I believe it's the King of Caid, Sire," the herald said.

Jehan switched his glare to Juho.  "I thought this was a war between Atenveldt and Patria," he said.

Juho spread his hands peacefully.  "I'm as surprised as you are," he said.  "Why don't you invite King Robert in, and we'll see what he wants?"

"If it is King Robert," Duke Werner said doubtfully.  "I can never remember when Caid crowns and coronations are."

But it was indeed King Robert who entered when the herald conveyed the Aten king's invitation, along with four other Caidean knights.  The Patrians and Atenveldters stood in welcome, except for the ladies, who exercised their privilege to remain seated.  The Caideans looked at all the crowned heads uncertainly, and the Aten herald waited for his king to speak, instead of taking the initiative as a more experienced herald would have done.

So Juho addressed his host, saying, "Your Majesty, may I present His Majesty, Count Sir Robert the Determined, King of Caid?  King Robert, this is His Majesty Duke Sir Jehan Ironwood of Atenveldt."

"Thank you," King Jehan said, and held out his hand to King Robert.  "Welcome to Atenveldt, King Robert."

"Thank you, King Jehan.  I hope you don't mind us crashing your war.  Of course," he grinned, "if you do, that just means the first battle will be you fighting to kick us out!"

"Ah, Caidean wit," said Jehan.  "Welcome again—even though it means I'm more outnumbered than ever."

"How's that?" said Robert, then frowned in surprise when the Atenveldt king explained.

"But why do you assume we're here to fight with Patria, instead of against them?  I had thought to make it a three-way war, if enough of our people showed.  As it is, it sounds like you and I should team up."

"Splendid!" said Jehan.  "How many are you?"

"About twenty," Robert said.  "Ten knights for the battle line, and ten unbelted fighters who can either join in there or serve as archers."

"Perfect!" said Juho.  "Your knights will bring Atenveldt's numbers up to ours, and your archers, added to his Mongols, will match our bowmen."

The other two kings looked at him, surprised.  King Robert of Caid said, "You don't mind us ganging up on you?"

Juho only smiled; and Esmeralda laughed out loud.  Count Armin said, "We came for a fight.  There's no glory in beating an outnumbered foe."

"Excuse me," said a voice behind him.  "I'm looking for Master Anthony von Sternheim."

Anthony tied off the last tent rope, and looked up.  And up.  And up.  The tallest man he'd ever seen stood there, thin as a rail, with oversized hands and feet.  He was completely bald on top, with long brown wavy hair falling to his shoulders; clean-shaven, but with a long mustache, almost a Fu Manchu, falling down either side of his mouth.  Bushy eyebrows shadowed clear grey eyes.  His plain yeoman's costume in green and white bore no arms, but the Order of the Spur, the Order of the Pelican, and the Order of the Light of Atenveldt hung about his neck.  A sword rested on one hip, a large knife, an alto recorder, and a leather pouch on the other.

"I'm Anthony," he said, holding out his hand, "and you must be Sir Thumas.  I'd know you by your riddle:"

"Hang a flag upon him,
Let the birds nest in him,
Raise the roof to let him enter,
Hand him the sail if the mast breaks."

Sir Thumas shook Anthony's hand, looking embarassed.  "My first wife wrote that," he said.  "I've never been able to decide if she was angry at the time."

Master Anthony laughed.  "Now in Patria," he said, "we'd take one look at you and sing:"

"Sir Thumas better stop growing soon,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Or he'll bash his head against the moon,
Hey nonny nonny no!"

Sir Thumas grinned.  "I heard you were a musical bunch."  He looked at the banner hung at the entrance of the tent.  "Sable, scaly Or," he said.  "Is this House Suomainen's pavilion?"

"It is," Anthony said.  "Want to come with me while I go join the others bringing stuff from the cars?  You and I must have a million things to talk about!"

"It's just good to meet you finally," Sir Thumas said, as the two publishers headed for the parking lots.  "Is Greta here, too?"

So now there was a Patrian camp, an Atenveldt camp, and a Caid camp, each with its own royal pavilion in the center, and borders patrolled by constables scowling fiercely as they watched for enemy spies.  It was rumored that a prize would be awarded to the constable who scowled the most ferociously, and they were all determined to win it.

The fourth encampment was the merchants' fair.  The pavilion of the Transveldtian League served as its center, manned by guild members who answered questions about the League and invited likely merchants from Patria and Caid to fill out applications.

The heralds met in House Sternheim, one of the few pavilions big enough to hold them all, at Duchess Alison's invitation.  Master Harold, Master Gerald, Mathilde and Geoffrey of Rannoch from Calafia, Mistress Alison and Lord AElfrede from Dreiburgen, Lord Peter from Failte, Master Conrad from Gyldenholt, Baroness Laura from Terra, made nine Patrian heralds in the tent.  Eight from Atenveldt joined them there, including Lord Paul, and Mistress Saheli, Baroness of Tir Ysgithr and Precedence Pursuivant.  "Try saying that three times fast," the short, round, cheerful lady with the Hindu persona had grinned.  Three heralds from Caid were also present, bringing the total to 20.

"I don't see any practical way to do it," Master Gerald was saying.  "At a minimum we'd have to comb all three kingdoms' orders of precedence for every person here, write each person's card by hand, sort them by date of principal award, and then number them before they got out of order again.  I brought a current set of Patrian cards with me, but we'd still have to write out the others—and is it worth it?"

"We're on the verge of giving up grand marches," Lord Paul said.  "Between the time it takes Her Excellency to type up a new Order of Precedence after each occasion on which awards are given, and the time it takes to sort people out at the event…  We've been having the populace stand there and the royalty march in, sort of a reverse grand march."

"I'd like to get a system like Master Gerald's," Baroness Saheli said.  "How much would it cost?"

"It's not something you can buy," Gerald said.  "My own computer—I wish!  I'm a graduate student, and the data and programs reside in my student account at USC.  If you have someone in your Barony who has time on a university, military, or business computer, I can talk with him and find out whether our two systems are compatible.  If they are, we can exchange tapes with data and programs."

"I'll find out," Mistress Saheli vowed.

The three kingdom pavilions being more or less the same size, a coin was tossed to see where court would be held.  Thus Master Harold cried, once in each camp, that court would be at 5, in the pavilion of His Majesty of Caid; see any herald for directions.  Atenveldters and Caideans, unused to heralds who were masters of projection, picked up their jaws and checked whether their brains were leaking out their ears.

"Wow!" said the Aten Principal Herald.  "That's the loudest announcement I ever heard!  I'll bet the sale of Q-tips falls to zero during tourney season in Patria."

"Do you suppose we could get him to teach us how he does that?" Baroness Saheli suggested.

"This is the court of Jehan and Antuanetta, King and Queen of Atenveldt; of Juho and Esmeralda, King and Queen of Patria; and of Robert, King of Caid!" cried Konratt von Mainz, Crescent Principal Herald of the Kingdom of Caid.  "You have Their Majesties' permission to sit and make yourselves comfortable."  The herald forwent the date announcement deliberately, because the SCA, the SGU, and the non-Latin real world used three calendars between them.  Thus the year was Anno Societatis XIII for the SCA, 2731 for the SGU and real-world Latins, and 1978 for Christians and non-Latins.  The day was likewise either May 27, a. d. 5 Kal. Iun., or the feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, who converted the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

After some words of welcome from each of the five kings and queens, Duke Fulk, the Aten Knight Marshall, was called to announce tomorrow's battles.

"The first battle will be a meeting engagement," the veteran said.  "Patria's flag will be a mile northwest of here; Atenveldt's a mile to the southeast.  The Patrians will start at their flag at dawn; the Atenveldters, Caideans, and Mongols at the Aten flag, also at dawn.  The first army to capture the other's flag, or to exterminate the other, is the victor.  Heralds from each side will accompany the other's army, as observers."

"If time permits, there will be two castle defenses beyond the merchant's fair, one with Patria defending, one with Atenveldt defending.  Individual challenges will be permitted between each of these events, but the battles have priority over challenges."

Count Sir Martin spoke next.  "There will be archers at every battle, therefore," he said, raising his voice over the Aten groans, "your armor must be up to archery-battlefield standards.  Anyone whom Duke Fulk and I have not already inspected and approved, see us here after court.  Remember, the openings in your helmet must be smaller than the head of a war arrow, which is one inch in diameter."

"Likewise," he said, "any archer whose gear has not already been approved by Sir Ulfdan and Duke Alain must meet them after court.  Your arrows must be sufficiently padded and at least one inch across, and your bows must pull no more than sixty pounds."

"Some marshalls will be watching the fall of arrows," he said.  "These marshalls will have whistles.  If they feel you're ignoring arrows, they'll use their whistles to call your attention to the fact.  If the whistles don't work, they'll use their staffs instead."

"Finally, attacking archers is allowed.  All archers must wear helmets against enemy fire.  Any archers who are qualified fighters and wish to defend themselves if attacked must wear full armor and be inspected and approved.  Otherwise, if enemy swordsmen get within swords' reach of you, you are dead."  He bowed, and returned to the crowd.

"The Khan has an announcement," said Lord Konratt.

Isabella, like most of the Patrians present, hadn't seen a Mongol before.  The Khan of the Aten Horde was short, skinny, and bowlegged, as if from a lifetime of riding horses.  Black hair, greasy with butter going rancid, hung to his shoulders.  A thin mustache marked his sneering mouth.

In the Arizona heat he wore the fur hat, quilted blouse, and loose pants of his people, all black fur, black felt, and brown leather.  A curved sword, a yataghan, hung at his belt, and the toes of his boots curved up as well.  He was as compleat a Mongol as a Scottsdale car salesman could be.

He did not bow, but looked at the Patrians and Caideans with contempt.  "Dese de ones you want us shoot, Aten king?" he asked.  "Dey look no different from you' people."

He strolled around the court, looking over the populace.  "De Mongols are among you, soft city dwellers!" he said.  "Keep you' hands on you' purses and lock up you' women and you' horses, den pray you' funny gods we don't take dem anyway!"

"Very pretty," he said, as he came to Tina, Maddy, and Aino.  All three blonde women raised their chins and looked down their noses at him.  He chuckled, and walked on.

"Very pretty," he said, looking at Sir Mary's tumbling black hair and flashing dark eyes.  But tall Sir Julia, with her long straight hair, stopped him dead.  "Oh my yes," he breathed, and reached out a hand.  Then he froze, and looked down.

Sir Julia pressed with the knife she held to the Mongol's private parts.  He yelped like a dog, and backed up a step.  "You weren't going to touch me, were you?" she said, and smiled.

The Khan backed out of knife range, threw back his head, and laughed.  "De Mongols are among you, babies of de West!  Sleep in shifts!"  Then he turned, still without bowing to the thrones, and returned to the crowd, leaving the smell of rancid butter, stale sweat, and badly cured leather behind him.

"Take him seriously, people of Caid and Patria," said King Jehan.  "With the Mongols, one warning is the most you get."  He looked at the other kings.  "Is that it?"

Before court could end, however, there was a commotion in the crowd.  Isabella thought the Mongols had stirred trouble.  But a couple of men she didn't know, wearing constables' sashes, came out of the crowd, crying, "Justice, Your Majesties!  We need a court for this wretch!"  They threw a figure in the puffed and slashed costume of a German landsknecht down before the astounded royalty.  He climbed to his feet and glared about him.  His garments were purple, slashed to show yellow underclothes.  A yellow-and-purple codpiece the size of a canteloupe bulged between his legs, and he wore a patch over his left eye.

"Justice, indeed!" he cried.  "Here I am, doing my lawful work, and I am accosted by these officious ruffians!"  He shook a finger at them.  "God will get you for this!"

"What is the meaning of this?" King Jehan said.  Of course all three started to answer at once.  "Stop!" he said, and pointed at the accused.  "Who are you?"

The mercenary drew himself up.  "I," he said proudly, "am a Swiss knight, Sir Edelweiss de Motley, recruiting soldiers for my free company."

Isabella heard a choking sound.  She looked at Juho, who was struggling with some powerful emotion.  Seeing her look around, he leaned over and whispered, "De Motley, get it?  Remember that eyepatch?  Sir Nutcase came to the war!"

Meanwhile the "constables" were informing King Jehan of "Sir Edelweiss's" crimes.  "He's been bothering people all day," said the stout one, "asking them if they wanted to hire his company, and suggesting unpleasant things that could happen to them if they didn't."

"Well, they could," whined the prisoner.  "You never know when some rampaging army will come along."

"You rogue!" said a fat burgher, stepping out of the crowd.  "I guess I know what it means when a villain comes into my shop and says, 'Nice place you have here, be a shame if something were to… happen to it'!"

"A-heh," said the landsknecht, weakly.

"Then there's the lads this fellow has been plying with ale, saying they'll get rich and famous if they join his company," said the tall, thin constable of the pair.

"And laid!" said a badly-dressed young man with a steel skull cap a size too small, stepping out of the crowd with two more right behind him.  "I can wait for fame and fortune, but where's them women you said would fall at our feet once we signed up?"  "Yeah!"  "Darn right!" said the others.

"Jacko?  Jacko, is that you in that get-up?  Where you been, son?" said the grey-haired woman who stepped from the crowd on the other side.  Another behind her cried, "Billy?  Billy, take that fool thing off your head and get over here!"  Meanwhile the landsknecht started to fade into the crowd, but the stout constable snagged him by the throat.  "Erk," said the prisoner.

The Caideans and Atenveldters were dumbfounded.  "Silence!" roared King Jehan.  "By God, what is this circus in my court?"

Juho stood.  The hubbub ceased as all eyes turned to the blond Patrian king.  "Ooh, he's pretty," said one of the jester ladies acting as a mom.

Juho ignored the comment.  "King Jehan, King Robert, I beg your pardon," he said.  "I believe these are some of my subjects, and if I may be permitted, I know just how to deal with this matter."

"Beat him, Your Majesty!"  "Yes, beat the wretch!" the moms and burghers called.

"No, no!" the constables cried.  "The rack!  The thumb screws!  The Spanish boot!"

"Ridiculous," Juho said shortly.  "He's obviously a knight.  A gentleman.  You can't treat a man of good birth that way."  He grinned.  "But you can execute him!  My lady," he said to his astounded Queen, "you've never seen an old-time Calafian execution.  It will be my pleasure to show you one."

"But… don't I get a trial?" the landsknecht whimpered.  "Your Majesty," he added, as Juho turned to face him.

"Oh, yes, that's part of the deal," Juho assured him.  "First you get a scrupulously fair trial, and then—we chop off your head!"  He beamed.

"Mommy," said the wretch.

Picking the prosecutor and the defense attorney went quickly, unhindered by any pretense of legal expertise.  Most of the Patrians were as fascinated, dumbfounded, or thunderstruck as the Caideans and Atenveldters.  The old-time Calafians ran away with the show, and to blazes with whatever the jesters had planned.

"I have $6.50 for the post of prosecutor!  $6.50 from Duke Werner!  Going once… going—$7!  $7 from Duke Grigoriy!  $7, who'll give me $7.50?" asked Anthony von Sternheim, who'd volunteered to auction the posts.  "$7, $7, $7…"

"$10!" said Baron Zoltan.

"Let's see your money," demanded Anthony.

"Money?" said Zoltan, holding up pen and checkbook.

"No checks," decreed King Juho from the throne.

Duke Pertti ended up the prosecutor with a bid of a whopping $32.50 ("Damned rich Finns," grumbled Grigoriy, who'd dropped out at $30), Duke Werner bought the defense, and the judge's role was awarded to Baron Mezentius, "because of his vast experience in the part"; a bulging, clinking purse was seen to pass from Mezentius to Juho, and returned empty.

Of course the prosecutor had to build his case, which allowed Pertti to solicit money from the merchants, moms, etc. with which to bribe the judge, so that the case came to trial immediately, the verdict was assured, and so forth.  A lot of foil-covered chocolate coins changed hands, replaced by Calafian marks (brass slugs with Mezentius' head on one side and the arms of Calafia on the other) and Patrian crowns, when they saw how quickly their ill-gotten chocolate gains melted in the afternoon heat.

Duke Werner profited too, squeezing the hapless landsknecht for every penny he'd made recruiting.  "Can't concentrate on your defense," he said dolefully, "with money troubles on my mind…"  Clink!  "Thank you.  Now, worse comes to worst, we'll need to tip the axe man to make sure his axe is nice and sharp…"  Clink-clink!  "Thank you."

"Your Honor, this miserable wretch is accused of extortion of shopkeepers, recruiting without a license, solicitation with the aim of corrupting minors—"  "Hey!  I never talked to any miners!  It's dark in them tunnels!" the prisoner said.  "Shaddap, you," Master Anthony told him.

"The bailiff is instructed to strike the prisoner if he interrupts," Mezentius said.

"Oh boy!" said Anthony, and bashed the landsknecht with his velvet-covered foam boffer of office.  Sir Nutcase fell out of his chair as if he'd been hit with an enormous club.

"Ow ow ow ow my ribs!  Ow ow ow," Aino said next to Esmeralda.  "Oh God I need to pee but I don't want to miss anything!"

"I think there's already a line for the potties anyway," the Queen said.

"Continue with the charges," the Baron said.

"Yes, Your Honor," Duke Pertti said, bowing.  "He's also accused of mopery, dopery, driving his chariot 20 miles an hour in a five-mile-per-hour zone—"

"I don't even have a chariot!" said the prisoner.

"Shaddap," said Anthony, "that one's traditional!"  BASH!

"—burning before pillaging—" Pertti intoned.

"NOW JUST ONE TURNIP-PICKING MINUTE!" shouted the landsknecht.  "I've been a professional soldier for thirty years!  I would never, ever, burn without pillaging first!  That's just a damned lie!"

"Your point is well taken," Mezentius said judiciously.  "Prosecutor, strike that charge."

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Bailiff," said Mezentius, "strike the prisoner for interrupting."

"EEK!"  BASH!

The Iron Dukes of Atenveldt leaned their heads on their hands and let their jaws hang open in stupefication.  King Robert of Caid covered his eyes in despair—but his shoulders were shaking in a most suspicious manner.  The clicking of cameras was a constant background noise, in the hands of Society members and mundane tourists both.

Duke Werner, as defense counsel, was eloquent, nay, impassioned in his arguments.  "So even though it will forever besmirch her reputation, my witness, Miss Fifi LaVoom, will prove that the accused could not have murdered Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick—because he was with her that night!"  He struck a pose and waited for applause.

"Nicely argued," said Baron Mezentius.

"Oh my yes," agreed King Juho.

"Thank you, Your Honor, Your Majesty," beamed Werner.

"But that's the wrong case," Mezentius said.

"What?" said Werner.  "Isn't this Tuesday?"  He began rummaging through his belt pouch.

"Bailiff," Mezentius said, "strike the defense attorney for wasting the court's time."

"Oh boy!" said Anthony, and advanced on his older brother, boffer raised.

"Wait, wait," said Werner, and handed the other Baron another clinking bag.  Mezentius opened it and counted the contents, his lips moving silently.

He looked up.  "Never mind, bailiff," he said as he made the pouch disappear.

"Awww!" said Anthony.  He pouted, then turned around and hit the prisoner.  BASH!

"This is a side of Master Anthony I haven't seen before," Isabella said to Aino.

"Me neither," Aino breathed, unable to tear her eyes away from the "court".

"Upon considering all the evidence, and the fine cases made by both learned counsels—" Mezentius began.

"Damned ambulance chaser," the prisoner muttered, then cringed when the bailiff raised his "club".

"—I find myself unable to decide," the Baron declared.  "Thus we will let the populace decide the prisoner's fate, live," he gestured thumbs up, "or die," thumbs down.

"Actually, that's backwards from Roman custom," Anthony said.  "Hollywood reversed them because some director thought thumbs-down was more dramatic."

"Prosecutor, hit the bailiff for being a purist," instructed the judge.

"But I'm right!" Anthony insisted.

"Prosecutor, hit him once for being a purist, and once for being right," King Juho called.

So Pertti beat Anthony with the boffer, Anthony howling piteously, and the cameras went clickety-click.  Then the populace voted, and of course the prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to die.  Two black-garbed, hooded men with real axes on their shoulders stepped out of the crowd.  "Sentence to be carried out immediately," Baron Mezentius told them.

"That's a relief," Juho said in an undertone to Isabella.  "I was half afraid we'd hijacked the jesters' skit in a way they weren't prepared for.  But these fellows show that this is what they had in mind all along."

The priest who joined the executioners and their trembling charge was dressed all in brown robes, with bare feet in leather sandals, a priestly tonsure, and a big wooden rosary for a belt.  "Your Majesty will permit me to hear the prisoner's confession and absolve him of his sins first?" he asked.

"Of course, Father," King Juho agreed.

So first they took him to a tent nearby where the priest could hear his confession privately.  The executioners stood outside and waited.

Duke Fulk was shaking his head in disbelief at the whole spectacle.  "You Calafians are crazy!" he said.

"Wait," said Duke Grigoriy.  "It gets better."

A wooden block was brought out, its upper surface scarred with a hundred axe strokes.  First one executioner, then the other, swung his long-handled axe into the block, then tested its edge with a thumb.

"Those are real axes!" Esmeralda said.  Other voices were raised in alarm and protest.

"It's all right," Juho said.  "We used to do this all the time."

The victim came out of the tent, accompanied by the priest, both silent.  The executioners made the convicted man kneel, his torso bent over, his neck resting on the block.  "Hold real still, and it'll be over with before you know it," one said, not unkindly.  He stepped back, raised the axe in both hands, and swung.  There was a wood-chopping sound.  The head rolled, and ladies screamed.  Blood spurted from the severed neck.

"How do they do that?" Aino said weakly.

"It's a real axe," Juho said.  "The victim's pot belly is a balloon full of food coloring.  Run the tube from it all the way up into the fake head, and wherever the axe cuts the neck and the tube, that's where the red stuff comes out."

"Eeeeeeeeek!  Blood!" said the other executioner, the one who hadn't swung the axe, and fainted.

"Yes!" said Anthony:

"The bright steel flashed, the axe went thud,
Hey nonny nonny no!
The axeman fainted at the sight of blood,
Hey nonny nonny no!"

"An oldie but a goodie," Duke Taawi said, as the body was dragged into the tent and the fainted executioner wannabe had water dumped on him.

"It's too real!" King Jehan said.  "People are really upset.  Do something!"

King Juho sighed.  "Master Harold, if you please," he said.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!" Harold cried full bore.  "MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!"  While he did so, Juho spoke to the nearest other herald, Lord Konratt.  The Caidean herald nodded, then ran to the jesters' tent while Harold said, "PRAY ATTEND THE WORDS OF HIS MAJESTY, DUKE SIR JUHO SUOMAINEN, KING OF PATRIA!"

"Good people," said Juho, "what you have seen was a play.  Yes, the axes were real.  But no one was hurt!  One person went into the tent with the priest, but a shorter person came out, whose head was nowhere near the blade.  Let the actors return!" he called.

All the jesters came back to court, but only two were watched; the gaudy landsknecht, and his identical twin, carrying his head under one arm.  They bowed to the assembled royalty.

"Would the deceased please disrobe?" said King Juho.

The landsknecht who had "died" handed his head to his unharmed twin, who struck an "Alas poor Yorick" pose with it.  Meanwhile the arms of the victim went limp, and his tunic opened down the middle.  Two more arms came out of the front, reached up, found an invisible zipper by touch, and pulled it down.  Underneath the tunic was a wire framework still holding the chopped-off base of the fake head, and a much shorter person.  The other landsknecht put the head back on its stump, and all could see that there was a good foot between the shorter jester's head and the aiming point of the axe.

"I trust everyone can see that no fools were harmed in producing this play," Juho said dryly.  "Master Harold, I think cheers for the players are in order."

"THREE CHEERS FOR THE FOOLS!" Harold cried, and "THREE CHEERS FOR THEIR MAJESTIES OF ATENVELDT!"  "THREE CHEERS FOR THEIR MAJESTIES OF PATRIA!"  "THREE CHEERS FOR HIS MAJESTY OF CAID!"  "Vivant!  Vivant!  Vivant!" rang out three times, and "Vivat!  Vivat!  Vivat!" for King Robert.

"ALL OF THEIR MAJESTIES GIVE YOU LEAVE TO DEPART!" Master Harold said.

Chapter 15
The Mongol Plot

There dukes and earls, lords and barons,
Were taken and slain, and that well soon.
And some were led into London
With joy, and mirth, and great renown.

Deo gratias!

Deo gratias, Anglia,
Redde pro victoria!


—"The Agincourt Carol"
USTER was at dawn, so most people made an early night of it.  A few were of the "Sleep?  The night before a battle?!" persuasion, but an official visit from a constable was the most that was needed to convince them to party quietly, or remove themselves from the medievalist encampment altogether.

A few hardy souls with a taste for solitude spent the night at the muster point, lying in their sleeping bags next to their weapons and armor, watching the unblinking stars slowly wheel through the ice-water sky.  Kachinas walked through their dreams, and coyotes paused to catch their scent.

But most slept in their accustomed tourney beds, waking at 4 or 4:30 to wash up, don their armor, and walk a mile to the Patrian flag, perhaps munching some breakfast as they went.  Most of the heralds went the other way, to serve as observers with the Aten-Caidean-Mongol army.  And some were neither fighters, nor marshalls, nor archers, nor heralds; they stayed to guard the camp, and to talk about the SGU to any interested non-members.

"Now now now!" shouted Duke Pertti, captain of the muster.  "I want every man and woman in armor and holding his helmet and sitting on his butt!  Right here!  Ten minutes ago!  Move!"

"Our only hope," King Juho said, shaking his head, "is that the other side is as disorganized as we are.  Still, best not to count on it.  Gentlemen," he said, addressing the senior knights, "I want a defensive left, a strong center, an offensive right, and a reserve.  I want a command of archers with each of the front-line units.  Sir Martin?"

"That's 12 fighters with each section, and ten archers with each line section, given our final numbers," Martin said.

"Make that 11 fighters each," Juho said.  "I want you, Taawi, and Pertti with me.  Armin, will you command the left, please?  Grigoriy, if you'll take the right?  I'd like Christian to command the center, and Werner the reserves.  Pick whom you will, but do it quickly!"

"That right is looking mighty weak," Juho said, as the captains picked their units.

"Well, you're the King, but if it were up to me?" Taawi said.

"Yes?  Please, go ahead."

"You've got three strong knights in the reserves, which might not fight at all.  Switch Werner, Eadmund, and Magnus for three of the lesser fighters on the right."

"We need a reserve that will fight," Juho said.

"They'll fight," Taawi said.  "Everyone here is eager to fight.  But the line units will be fighting all day."

"Whom would you put in charge of the reserves?" the King asked.

Taawi looked at the assembled groups.  "Sir Magnus' brother Ketill, or Baron Zoltan.  Ketill is the better fighter, but Zoltan's the better leader."

"You've known Werner longer than I have," Juho said to Pertti.  "Would you ask him whether he'd be willing to give up command of the reserve, and strengthen the right?  Tell him to take his ex-squire and the big Viking with him, and turn command over to Zoltan, if it please him.  Let Grigoriy choose three to send back to the reserve."

So that's what they did, the three Dreiburgeners glad to be on the line, and Zoltan glad to command the reserve, where all his people were but Eodric.

For so the units ended up, as they headed out; the Baron of Gyldenholt commanded the left, and most of his people were with him; the Baron of Failte led the center, which was heavy with Failtens; and Duke Grigoriy lead a right heavy with Calafians and Dreiburgeners.

There were some interesting exceptions.  Duke Grigoriy had expressly asked Eodric the Mad of Terra, and Sir Fergus Mac Fergus of the Isles, to join him on the right; and Count Christian had chosen Sir Uilleam (Calafia), Sir Ulfdan (Gyldenholt), and Sir Mary (Isles) to join his Failtens in the center.  Count Armin had asked Sir Yrjö to join him first, Calafian and Finn though he was; and Sir Gamlaun, Duke Werner's original squire, a very strong fighter.

"Gules, semé of caltrops Argent," Count Armin rumbled, describing in heraldic language the red shield scattered with fiendish horse-laming devices.  The blazon was correct, but the arms were unfamiliar.

Unfamiliar too the light-skinned face, heavily freckled, clean-shaven, with short red hair and light blue eyes.  The stranger looked at Armin and said, "Pick me, please, Your Grace."

Armin laughed.  "You!" he said, pointing.  "And who are you today?"

"I am not renowned like Your Grace," said Sir Nutcase, whose voice Armin had recognized.  "I am Sir Adam Dumarest, entirely at your service.  If you will choose me for the left, I promise you will not regret it."

"I know you're a good fighter," Armin said, looking for signs that the face he was seeing was in make up.  "But who are you?"

"Your Grace?  I don't understand the question," Sir Adam said.

"Herald!" called Count Armin.  Up came another strange face over the green cape with the crossed gold trumpets; an Aten herald, accompanying the Patrian army as an observer.

"Whose arms?" Armin demanded, pointing at the shield.  Frowning in apparent deep bafflement, Sir Adam remained silent.  The herald took one look, opened an ordinary (a book which listed heraldic devices by what was in them), turned to CALTROP.  "Gules, semy of caltrops Argent," he said.  "Adam Dumarest, Your Grace.  Is there a problem?"

"What Barony?" Armin said, ignoring the question.

"I'm sorry, Your Grace.  It's an SCA registration, before the SGU, before southern California was its own kingdom in either Society.  It just says 'West'."

"Never mind.  Thank you," Armin said, and the puzzled herald went away.

"I'm from Calafia, Your Grace," Sir Adam said.

"Are you?  Then you won't mind being partnered with another.  Sir Yrjö!"

"Sir!"

Armin explained the situation.  "I don't know if we're dealing with a multiple personality here, or if this is the most subtle joke of all.  Will you keep an eye on him for me?"

"You're accepting him, then?" Yrjö said.

"He is a good fighter," Armin said, "and I'd rather have him where I can watch him than off on the right or the middle doing God-knows-what."

"All right, then," said Yrjö.

"Sir Adam!" Armin said, raising his voice.  "Join me on the left, if you will."

Sir Adam's face lit.  "Thank you, Your Grace!" he said.  "You won't be sorry!"

"I'm sorry already," Armin rumbled.  "Don't let me have any reason to be sorrier."  He looked at Yrjö.  "Either of you."

"So, Sir Adam," Yrjö asked as Armin walked off.  "Where are you from?"

"I'm from Failte, Sir Yrjö," Adam replied.

Meanwhile the King of Atenveldt was having problems of his own.

"By God, there's such a thing as too much authenticity!" King Jehan said, glaring at the Khan.  "Where are my Mongols?"

"Dey not you' Mongols, Aten King," the Khan said.  "Dey only my Mongols w'en dey feel like it."

There were exactly two Mongols in sight: the Khan, swatting at the flies buzzing around the fresh butter he'd used to slick down his hair, without washing out the old butter first; and another, stinking of piss and beer, who sat drunkenly on the ground staring at nothing, sticking the pipe of a gourd into the corner of his mouth at regular intervals and sucking down more ale.

At least, Jehan hoped it was ale.

"Listen, verminous offspring of a frog and a goat," he said to the Mongol, "I'm paying for fifteen Mongols to march with me and use their bows against the enemy.  Where are they?"

The Khan shrugged, swaying, and the King realized he wasn't wholly sober, either.  "Maybeso dey be here bye an' bye.  Maybeso dey back in camp wit' you' women."  He rocked his hips back and forth.  "Hey, I know!  We go straight to camp, get Mongols dere or on de way dere."

"God give me strength!" Jehan shouted.

"His reasons are moronic, but it's not a bad idea anyway," Duke Fulk said to his cousin.  "We don't know the Caideans well enough to try anything fancy, and they're a third of our strength."

Jehan pinched the bridge of his nose.  "What do our numbers look like without the Mongols?" he asked.

"Count Richard and his squire showed up," Alain said, "and two more Caidean knights and two more of their men-at-arms dribbled in.  I think we have rough parity in fighters, but without the Mongols they have twice as many bowmen as we do, more or less."

"We have to do some recruiting at the archery ranges," Reynaud said.  "They're archery-mad in the West, too."

"Never mind the West next year," Jehan said.  "Next year I think we should have a Mongol hunt."

"Good idea, Aten King!" the Khan said enthusiastically.  "We make a big circle and ride inward, killing everyt'ing.  We kill and kill and kill, den we eat and eat and eat!"  He beamed.

"Not what I meant by a Mongol hunt," Jehan said, and turned his back on the reeking barbarian.  "All right, straight at them, and hope to find our other Mongols on the way.  Spread the Caideans around and trust them, or keep them in a bunch and watch them?"

"I trust them well enough," Baldwin said.  "But they'll fight better with people they know, and so will we."

"I agree," Alain said.

"So do I," Jehan said.  "Cousin," he said to Fulk, "will you ask King Robert to honor us by taking the center with his Caideans, and to dispose of the archers as he thinks best?  Then I want you and Baldwin on the right.  Reynaud, Alain, as you love me, command the left."

"Where will you be, cousin?" Baldwin said.

Jehan showed his teeth.  "Beating Mongols with a stick!  When you don't hear barbarians howling, look for me in the center."

"I beg your pardon," Isabella said to the smelly Mongol standing in front of her, and started to step around him.

The Mongol stepped to the side, too, so he was still in her way.  He grinned widely, exposing her to missing teeth, blackened stumps of teeth, and horrible breath.  "You Queen of Patria, yes?" he asked.

Isabella blinked at the stench and wondered at the wreck of his mouth, given universal health and dental care in the U.S. and Canada.  It was almost as though he were a real Mongol.  Roleplaying, she reminded herself.

"I'm the Queen of Patria," she said.  "What can I do for you?"

She looked around.  On all sides of them were the tents of the Patrian camp, mostly empty with the marshalls, heralds, fighters, and archers gone off to war.  A constable might come along at any moment, but right now no one was in sight.  Then again, with many of the Society members over at the merchants' tables, or talking with tourists at the edges of the encampment, help could be a while showing up.

Her eyes snapped back to the Mongol when he drew a long curved knife from his belt.  The jewel on its scabbard, and the shining steel of the blade, were the only bright things about his scruffy costume of fur, felt, and leather.  "You come wit' me," he said.

Isabella realized that in a group as large as the SGU, some members would turn out to be liars, thieves, murderers, child molesters, rapists…  Never go with them, she'd been taught.  Keeping her voice steady over the rapid beating of her heart, she said, "What do you want?"

The Mongol's grin seemed without malice.  "We kidnap you, duchesses, countesses, tell you' men, war is over," he said.  "Wit' sword maybe win, wit' bow maybe win, but knife always win."

"But that's cheating!" Isabella said.  "The King of Atenveldt wouldn't accept a victory won that way—would he?"

"Maybeso yes, maybeso no," the Mongol shrugged.  "If no, we have Aten queen, too."  He gestured with the knife.  "Move now—ERK!"

"That's a kidney," Rodrigo said in the Mongol's ear, "and this," he said, jabbing hard again with the barrel, "is a pistol.  Drop the knife."

"I think when we tell this story," Isabella said, stooping to pick up the knife, "we'll say that you had a knife, too, señor."

"That only works if this scum isn't around to say we're lying," said Rodrigo.  The ersatz Mongol, his hands raised above his head, went pale.

The whole point of the two armies starting two miles apart was to maneuver.  If they were going to charge straight at each other, they might as well have set up their battle in sight of each other, convenient to their camps.

Even if the armies engaged straight on, the joining of battle had to be carefully managed.  In a meeting engagement, if the confusion of battle were such that one side met the other in dribs and drabs, each small bit could be slain before the next came along.  Such "defeat in detail", as it was called, allowed a force to eliminate an equal or larger force with little loss to itself.

The path from the encampment to the muster point had been marked with stakes initially.  Since then the path had become almost a road with all the Patrians, and most of the Aten heralds, marking it with their feet.  Now the Patrian army marched away at right angles to the path until it, and Ketill standing in it, were out of sight.  Then, guided by the sun (compasses weren't period), they marched southeast parallel to the path, but out of sight, trying to make as little dust and noise as they could.  Members of the reserve served as flankers, advance scouts, and watchers in the rear, just in case.

If the Atenveldters and Caideans left their muster point the same time the Patrians left theirs; if the mixed army proceeded at the same speed as Juho's unified force; and if the foe didn't pause when it reached the camp; then, by marching away from the path, along the path, and back to the path, the Patrian army would be behind the other one.  If, in addition, the Aten-Caid-Mongol force didn't hear them coming or see their dust, and didn't have scouts on its rear, the Patrians could strike a good blow before the enemy knew they were there; perhaps even overtake them from the rear and swallow a few outnumbered gobbles of fighters with minimal losses.

Those were some big ifs, and it probably wouldn't work.  But as long as the Patrians watched their own flanks and rear, and made sure the other guys didn't surprise them while they were trying to be sneaky, the worst that could happen was a straight-up face-to-face battle on nearly even terms.  As long as the Patrians didn't return to the path before the Atenveldters got there, turn back towards their muster point and get surprised by the other army being still at their rear, the Patrian fighters were confident of the outcome.

They marched through the early morning, trying to make as little noise as possible, trying to kick up as little dust as possible, staying alert for signs of the enemy.

"Dis House Soo-um… Soo-oh… Dis de king house?" the Mongol asked at the pavilion door.

Tina and Maddy looked at the smelly creature.  The two sisters had slept in and had a leisurely breakfast and a long chat, with their husbands, brother, and Tina's son and daughter off at dawn.  Now Maddy turned a little green, tried to breathe through her mouth, and said, "Oh dear," very faintly.  Tina wasn't affected so strongly, but did wish they were with Deborah and Jenny at the merchants' booths, or talking to tourists.

"This is House Suomainen," Tina said, while Maddy put a handkerchief over her nose.  "How can we help you?"

"Hoooo-boy," said the "Mongol", dropping out of character for a moment.  The two women in the tent were the same age as his mother, but his mom wasn't a drop-dead-gorgeous ex-model.  He took a deep breath (he'd worn the artificial horse-sweat-and-piss smell too often to notice it), and took a long curved knife out of its scabbard.  "You come wit' me… pliss," he said, in a Mongol growl.

"Well, since you said 'please'," Tina smiled, and walked up to the dazzled boy.  "Come with you where, big guy?" she said; the faux Mongol was only average height, but Tina was 5 feet 4 inches.  She seemed not to see the knife; he whipped it aside before she walked into it and cut herself.

"Oh God, I'm going to be ill," Maddy said.  She grabbed a bowl with fruit in it, and dumped the fruit out on the carpet.

"We take all de duchesses, countesses, queens to Aten queen," the Mongol said to Tina, ignoring Maddy.  Then Maddy threw up into the bowl, and his head jerked around.  As it did, Tina grabbed his balls.  He froze.

"Since this is role-playing," Tina said, "we're going to pretend I used my sister's act to kick you in the balls, take your knife, and cut your throat.  Are you cool with that, or do I have to do real damage?"  She squeezed gently.

"I'm cool, I'm cool," he said.  "Please…"

"Good," she said, releasing him.  "Stay put, you're dead.  Maddy?"

"I'm all right," Maddy said weakly.  "I just need some water to rinse my mouth."

"You were really sick?" said Tina.  "Are you OK?"

"I'm fine, but God!  The stench of him!  Can we get him out of here before the whole tent reeks?"

"Roll up a couple of panels and sit next to them," Tina said.  "We need to find out what's going on."

"I don't believe it!" said Juho.  "They're supposed to be well past the camp by now.  All that sneaking around, just to find them back here?"

"It does seem a terrible waste of good sack time," Pertti agreed.

The Patrians had sent a scout ahead as they neared the track, to discover as best he could, without being killed, caught, or even seen if possible, whether the enemy had passed the encampment, maybe even how long ago.  Stepan Totentanz had won the short straw, and with it the glory of skulking over the desert towards the encampment, there to find…

"Their whole army?" said Juho.  "But what are they doing here?"

"Talking, Your Majesty," said Lord Stepan.

"My Mongols!" the Khan howled.  He jumped up and down in fury, leaving the ground with both feet on each leap.  "W'at you do wit' my Mongols!"

It was still shy of nine in the morning, and the low sun shone full in the faces of the heads on the pikes.  Inspired perhaps by the "execution" of the day before, the non-fighters and merchants had made up thirteen dummy Mongol heads, and posted them on the southern side of the camp.  "Chopped-off" necks were crimson with "blood", and various expressions were displayed by the "dead"; anger, hate, fear, shock, even disdain.  It had been almost as much fun as Halloween pumpkins, and a lot more of an artistic challenge.

The Khan stomped over and kicked one of the headless bodies at the foot of the pikes.  "Ow," it said.

"Get up!" the Khan said.  "You get up right now!"

The body pulled aside the black hood which made it seem headless, with one hand.  "Can't," he said.  "They killed me."

Meanwhile the King and his kin confronted the Factor-General of the Transveldtian League and four of his lieutenants.  All the merchants were in mail, with plate neck guards, elbows, gauntlets, and knees.  Though they wore no helmets at present and carried no weapons of either rattan or steel, the armor was a statement, just as the gaping Mongol heads were.

"Your Majesty," the Factor-General said, bowing very slightly; his lieutenants, a bit more.

"Master Nathan, greetings," said King Jehan through his teeth.  "What is the meaning of this display?" he said, waving at the heads.  "Those Mongols were supposed to serve me today as archers!"

"They had other ideas," said the merchant guildmaster.  He shoved his glasses back up his nose.  Blond, with full silky locks falling to his shoulders, he had always reminded the King of a cocker spaniel, or perhaps a Labrador retriever.  All humor left his mind as Master Nathan explained the Mongol plan: seize the Patrian women, and extort victory.  And if the King of Atenveldt should object, they'd have the Aten women, too.

Most serious of all, they'd performed their abductions with real knives, not tourney knives; a dangerous violation of the Society's safety rules.

"Disgraced!" said Jehan.  "Will anyone believe this wasn't our idea?"

"Oh, I think so," said Fulk.  "The Mongols wouldn't have tried to seize Antuanetta, too, if you'd been in it with them."

"Betrayed, just the same," Jehan said, looking at the row of heads.  "That was half our archers, and we barely had parity before."

"We'll just have to suck it in, and make back with the sword what we lose to the arrow," Reynaud said.

"That Mongol bastard is going to pay for every death!" Jehan said.  "Bring him here so I can start beating him."

But the Khan had disappeared.

"Are you all right?" Juho asked Isabella.

"I'm fine, truly," she reassured him.  "Uncle Rodrigo scared the life out of the poor boy playing Mongol, but even if he hadn't, the merchants made short work of them.  I thought they were going to chop off their heads for real!"

Juho laughed.  "Maybe in the first angry moment; after that… well, I left Martin reminding the 'headless bodies' to get out of the sun before it got too hot, and they were trying to decide whether their bodies would vanish because 'the crazy city folk' took them off and buried them, or whether they got thrown to the dogs, instead."

She laughed.  "The whole army is here?"

"We're just letting the Atenveldters and Caideans get a little further ahead of us and relax their guard a bit," he said, and explained their plan.  "Most of the army's having a rest under the eyes of Armin, Grigoriy, and the others.  I'm afraid that Pertti and Taawi pulled rank to check up on Maddy and Tina, and I did too to see how you were."

She colored.  "I am fine, señor," she said.

"Don't do that," Juho said.

"Don't—?"

"Back off, and call me señor.  My name is Juho."

"Juho," she said softly.  "That means John?"

"In thy mouth," he said in Spanish, "it means whatever thou willest."  And he leaned forward a little…

She jerked back: too soon!

"All right," he said, as if she'd spoken aloud; stepped back, bowed deeply, and left.

"Idiota!" she said, striking her head with the heel of her hand.  "Why did you do that?"

"Perhaps because you know that for a Princess of the Royal Blood to marry a divorced foreign commoner is very difficult, but for the future Queen it's impossible?"

She looked around.  Rodrigo was not in the tent.  It was her own conscience, speaking with his voice.

"Sí, potser," she said, watching the striding mailed figure sadly; Yes, maybe, in Catalan.

PONK!  Having cleared Jehan's helmet by inches, the arrow hit the ground and bounced up again on its padded tip.  The water-balloon of red food coloring burst and wasted itself on the stony dirt.

"Heads up!" people shouted, and shields went up over heads, like a Roman testudo.

The second flight hit as the shields went up.  Most of the arrows hit shields or dirt, but one hit a Caidean knight in the back of the head.  He staggered, and put an armored glove to the back of his helmet.  It came back covered with red.  "Damn," he said, and pitched onto his face.

The third volley was mostly wasted, but another few fighters fell, even with the mixed army turned around and their shields up.  A few people always took a look at just the wrong moment, or held their shields too high or too low.

Reluctantly, Jehan tapped Robert on the shoulder.  "What!" the Caid king said.

"Back of your right shoulder," King Jehan said.

"What?  I'm hit?  Damn, I didn't even feel it!  Any chance it's a splash from someone else?" Robert said.

Jehan shook his head.  "I'm afraid it's a square hit," he said.

"Damn," King Robert said.  He looked at the sword in his right hand.  Then he held it between his left arm and his body while he worked his right hand out of the wrist strap, grabbed the sword by the blade, and hurled it behind the Caid center, where it was less likely to be stepped on and broken.  "So much for striking a blow myself," he said.

"Cease volley fire!" Lord Eric called.  "Fire at will!" he said, and waited for it.  Someone always said—

"Which one's Will?" came the inevitable response, and the archers all grinned or groaned, depending on their temperaments and how often they'd heard it before.

But they kept shooting.  Patria had brought a lot of arrows to the War, and the archers had carried as many as they could, and would do so again for every battle.  With the arrows not coming in volleys, there was no predictable time to raise a shield; the enemy could only hope for a miss, or try to pick out by eye the ones heading for him.  You could see an arrow coming from a 60-pound bow, in plunging fire, over this kind of distance, and you could get your shield up in time—if your judgment were good, your reflexes fast, and you were very, very lucky.

Of course, that worked both ways.  " 'Ware fire!" Eric shouted, as he saw arms go up and bows bend behind the Aten line.  There were far fewer than there should have been, thanks to the Mongol massacre.  Lord Eric saw that one arrow was coming almost directly towards him.  He watched it for a second, then moved six feet to the right and forgot about it.

"What a… mess," King Juho said.

Pertti grinned.  "Clusterfuck" was the word he would've used, but Juho was younger, and civilian.  "Comes of being a mixed group, and then being surprised from behind.  You try turning around under enemy fire."

"I thank you, no," Juho said.  He looked around.  "Estimates?"

"Looks like three sections, about a dozen Caideans in the center with as many archers in support, two Aten wings the same size or a man or two larger, with no support," Taawi said.

"Agreed," Martin said.

"Casualties?" said the King.

"I make it five or six dead in their center, four or five on each wing, mostly in the initial volley when they weren't covering themselves.  Might be a couple of archers down, too," Pertti said.

"Probably some wounded who can't fight, or only have one good arm, staying with their army," Taawi added.

"Three heralds!" called King Juho.  Up came six; three of the Patrian heralds who'd been assigned to carry messages for the King, and three Aten herald-observers.

"Duke Armin," Juho said, pointing to Mathilde of Rannoch.  "Stand fast, make them come to you, have the archers cut them down as long as the arrows hold out."

"Got it!" she said, turned, and ran for the left, an older Aten herald behind her, her baldric and his cape flapping in the wind of their going.

"Duke Grigoriy," Juho said, pointing to Mathilde's brother, "same message.  Do I need to repeat it?"

"Wait for them and shoot 'em down," Geoffrey of Rannoch said.

"Good; go," Juho said, and Geoffrey and an Aten girl-herald went.

"Master Gerald," Juho said, "tell Count Christian to stand fast, or even back up a little if he thinks he can suck them in.  But I want his archers to concentrate on the enemy archers.  Understand?  Take them out!"

"And then?" said Taawi, when the heralds had gone, and the three Finns and Count Martin watched the battle shaping.

Juho, usually so calm and gentle, grinned fiercely.  "Once the metal is on the anvil and red hot, we'll take our master smith and his reserves and pound it into the shape we want!"

Aino relaxed her fingers, and waited until the arrow reached the highest point of its trajectory before breaking her stance.  There couldn't be many enemy archers left; the return fire was slight, and was spread over the Patrian archers and fighters alike.

Too short, she saw.  She'd aimed too high, and her arrow was coming down in the Caid-Atenveldt center, instead of the Caidean archers further back.  She grinned.  It would be funny if she hit somebody important!

"OOF!" she said as someone punched her in the chest.  She looked down.  A splash of red dripped from her mail just above the heart.  The arrow itself had bounced away, probably broken under someone's foot by now.

"Damn," she said, quietly but most sincerely.  She tied a black strip of cloth around her arm to mark herself killed, unstrung her bow, and picked up her remaining arrows.

Anthony struck left with his sword, and used the force of the bounce off his foe's helmet as he struck right without pause.  Both his opponent and Werner's, who'd thought he was fighting only one Sternheimer, fell down.  The two brothers stepped into the opening, stood back to back, and began making it wider.  Duke Grigoriy and Duke Baldwin were slogging it out to the left of Anthony's position, and Duke Fulk had already fallen to Werner's sword.  Sir Magnus Ragnar's Son was trading blows with a Hun as big as he was; the Hun was growling, but Magnus was laughing.

An Aten knight in a beautiful suit of full plate armor stepped up to the gap between Anthony's and Werner's backs, meaning to strike at them from the side as they were engaged on either hand.  But Sir Eadmund of Runeden stepped out between them and took on the opportunist.

"You guys are nothing!" he said.  "Nothing!  I've fought with Finns!"

"And I've fought with Lithuanians," said one of the dead bodies underfoot, to another.  "What's the big deal about Finns?"

"The Finns in Patria are like their version of House Ironwood," said the other Atenveldter.

"Sternheim!" Anthony yelled.  "Sternheim!" Eadmund and Werner echoed him.  Then Werner yelled "Dreiburgen!" as he slew his opponent, and Anthony, Eadmund, and Magnus followed suit.  "Patria!" Grigoriy said, as Baldwin hit the dirt, and every Patrian in ear shot repeated it.

"Somebody has their tails up," the Atenveldter underfoot said to his buddy.

"Yeah," said the other victim of Anthony's one-two blow.  "Come on, let's crawl off to one side where we won't get stepped on so much."

Jehan was unhappy.  First the Mongols, then the losses to the surprise attack by the Patrian archers, then his own archers had been wiped out.  Now he could see the Aten and Caid fighters melting away as the Patrians hacked them down.

He opened his mouth to ask King Robert of Caid how their situation looked to him, and WHAM! something struck him on top of the helm.  Red food dye dripped down the front of Jehan's helmet, and he cursed in Armenian.

The arrow fell at Jehan's feet.  He picked it up.  It was black with yellow padding and feathers, except for a white section near the feathers with three red hearts on it.  Jehan stuck it in his belt, and tied a black band around each arm, to show he was dead.

"So who commands now?" King Robert said.

"Don't ask me, I'm dead," said Jehan.  "If you want the job, I guess it's yours.  Good luck!"

Sir Yrjö and Sir Adam fought side by side.  Yrjö would shout "Suomainen!" or "Calafia!" or "Patria!"; Sir Adam let his sword speak for him.

Count Armin and Duke Reynaud were having a long epic battle of their own; Yrjö and Adam had appointed themselves its keepers.  Whenever anyone tried to join the duel, one of them would head him off.  Yrjö cried, "I'm a Finn!  Prepare to die!" to one interloper as he intercepted him, while Adam took on another.  After a little while Yrjö's opponent was down on one knee.  Adam struck him down from the side, then the two of them took out Adam's foe.

"Thanks," said Adam.

"Likewise," Yrjö replied.  He raised his voice.  "Your Grace?" he called to Count Armin.  "Want any help?"

"Hell no!" said the Baron of Gyldenholt.

"Guess we should just keep on doing what we're doing," Adam laughed.  "Hey!  Where do you think you're going?"  He attacked the nearer of two Aten knights headed for the ducal conflict.  Yrjö yelled, "I'm a Finn!  Time to die!" and jumped the other.

As those two were defeated, Duke Alain came to the aid of his brother.  Seeing two knights waiting for him, he slowed.  Yrjö brought his sword and shield to the ready.  Before he could speak, Adam stepped forward and shouted, "He's a Finn!  Prepare to die!" and attacked the amazed Aten duke.

"But… but…" Yrjö said, and started laughing.

Chapter 16
The Fort, the Feud, and the Filking

He set a siege, the sooth for to say,
To Harfleur town with royal array.
That town he won, and made a fray
That Fraunce shall rue til Doomes Day.

Deo gratias!

Deo gratias, Anglia,
Redde pro victoria!


—"The Agincourt Carol"
HE present war was not the first at Lake Havasu, nor the second or third for that matter.  The Kingdom of the West had first battled Atenveldt here in 1973; the Western army had been half southerners from Calafia, Angels, and Dreiburgen, and half northerners who'd traveled from the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento, and Fresno.  The next year the new Kingdom of Patria had taken up the challenge, and the SCA stayed away.  By an unspoken agreement, in the odd years the SCA kingdoms of the West and Caid fought the SCA kingdom of Atenveldt, while the even years saw the SGU kingdom of Atenveldt invaded by the SGU kingdom of Patria.

The Chamber of Commerce of Lake Havasu City encouraged the colorful display, as it did anything that drew tourists.  When the SGU built a castle, the city fathers offered to store it between wars.

"Storming the castle" was a standard scenario in medievalist wars.  The castle was represented by a stretch of wall, usually made of piled hay bales.  Various Patrians and Atenveldters donated the money to build a wall of wood (but painted to look like grey stone) made of sections five feet wide and ten feet high.  First the scaffolding of metal pipes was screwed together, then the six wooden sections were raised into place and bolted to the scaffolding.  A couple of hours' work the first day, before the court and execution, produced a "castle wall" thirty feet long and ten feet high.  The defenders had "stairs" on the inside, built into the scaffolding, with wooden treads bolted on; and planks along the top of the wall to stand and fight on, also bolted fast.  The attackers got to carry ladders to the wall and climb them.

Since Atenveldt had lost the battle in the open, King Jehan got to choose whether to defend the castle or attack it.  He chose defense, on the principle that it takes odds of four to one or better to prevail against a fortified position.  The Atenveldt army went "into" the castle, manned the wall, and waited for Juho's attack.

"Hold it!" said Sir Yrjö sharply.  The half-dozen heralds standing around blinked at him like owls; except for Harold, who began to flush.

"My lord?" frowned the senior Aten herald of the group, a tall man with reddish-brown hair white at the sides, a red and white mustache, and a forked red beard with a white tuft on the front of his chin.  "Is there a problem?"  The Order of the Light of Atenveldt, that kingdom's service award, hung around his neck on a chain.  Another chain bore the Order of the Lamp, the service award of the Barony of Tir Ysgithr.  The Order of the Scorpion, from the Barony of al-Barron, showed that he'd lived and served there as well.

"Not if that's a non-alcoholic drink you were offering Master Harold," Yrjö said.

"It's wine," said Lord Sylvester.  "May I ask what business it is of yours, Sir—?"  Yrjö wasn't in an armorial surcoat, but his Spur medallion marked him as a knight.

"I was telling them I couldn't accept it," Master Harold said, trying not to sound resentful.

"It's true, he was," the Aten herald said.  His brows came together.  "And again, what is it to you?"

"Well done," Yrjö said, embracing Harold.  "I'm proud of you; and Deborah will be, too."

With one hand resting on Harold's shoulder, he spoke to the other heralds.  "I am Sir Yrjö Suomainen, my lords.  Master Harold is esteemed by my house, and his lady is part of my household.  That's why I spoke up."

"Spoke up about what, Sir Yrjö?" Lord Sylvester said.

"I shouldn't drink," Master Harold said.  "I like it too much, and I never know when to stop.  Sir Yrjö and Master Anthony von Sternheim, in particular, are helping me keep my word not to drink any more."

"So you really do have a drinking problem, if I understand you?" Lord Sylvester said.

"I really do," Harold said.

"Is that so hard to comprehend, my lord?" said Yrjö.

"No, no.  But we were told that Master Harold didn't really have a problem, it was just a pretense to get sympathy.  He said if we persisted, the good herald would take our drinks in the end, and be grateful," said the Atenveldter.

"WHAT?!" said Harold.  "What kind of low-down—"

"—WHO said this?" Sir Yrjö demanded.

The wall had been set up so that arrows could fly past it with no danger to the tourists.  The Caid and Mongol archers tried to kill the Patrians carrying ladders to the wall, and protect the fighters waiting to push the ladders down; the hay not needed to make the wall was spread deep to soften the fall from a ladder or the wall.

But there were only 27 defending archers, and a lot more with the attackers.  Besides the 30 Patrians who'd come to fight as archers, many knights and unbelted fighters were also skilled with the bow.  For every arrow that flew down from the wall, five or six flew up.  Before too long the defenders had no archers left, and no one dared stand up to push the ladders over.

King Juho and his brothers-in-law, Sir Martin, Baron Zoltan, and the reserves had seen no action in the open battle.  Zoltan had taken the reserves, once the King was sure he wouldn't need them, and led them around the line to fall on the Aten-Caid line from its rear.  But by the time they got there, the fight had been over.  So Zoltan demanded they be allowed to go up the ladders first.  Far from arguing with him, the King and his party joined him.

Count Christian watched the three ladders go forward at a walk, five men to each ladder.  They didn't need to run while the archers swept the wall with arrows, and in the Arizona noon it wouldn't have been wise to run in armor.  The rest of the army waited, some in three lines ready to climb behind the initial groups, some with ladders of their own in case one or more of the first ladders were thrown down.  Marshalls watched the battle from both sides of the wall, and stood before the eric that kept the tourists at a safe distance, making sure they respected the red cord.

"So, Sir Adam," Christian said to the man behind him.  "Count Armin says you did good work on his behalf today."

"He is most gracious," said Sir Adam.  "Sir Yrjö and I merely prowled the edges of his fight with Duke Reynaud.  If we had a lot of fights, it's because he set them up.  He and Reynaud were the magnets that drew everyone to them."

"Well, he had nothing but good things to say about both of you," Christian said.  "Would you tell me something?  I've been wondering where you hail from."

"I'm from Dreiburgen, Your Excellency," Sir Adam said.

Sir Neill of Kintyre was a dashing figure of knighthood, and well he knew it.  Tall (but not too tall), well-muscled but not stocky, he was also blessed with a spark of wit and a handsome face that recalled Errol Flynn and Clark Gable; he cultivated a thin mustache to increase the similarity.  With his build and his face and his wit he broke hearts right and left.  Deep down Neill didn't believe other men were real, and women even less than men.

Right now, though fully armored, he had his helmet in his hands while he talked to a pretty Atenveldt marshall.  She was a few years younger than he, and had only been in the Society a few years; he was doing his best to dazzle her with his experience, and his stories of the SCA/SGU breakup, kings he'd known, fights he'd had, and wars he'd been in.  His shield and sword lay at his feet as he talked and she listened breathlessly.  She seemed to be a dumb blonde, but that was all right with Neill.  His present girlfriend (decidedly not dumb, though blonde and beautiful) would be furious if she learned he'd taken this girl to bed and sucked on her big tits, as he hoped to do tonight.  But Neill wouldn't be the one to tell her.

"What's that?" the girl said, turning her head.

Neill listened.  Faintly he heard, "Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae."

He smiled.  "Sounds like our Kingdom Herald is drunk again," he said.

"And ours too?" she asked.  For the line was echoed by another voice, not nearly as loud; and then they could heard Harold saying, "No, use your diaphragm.  The diaphragm pushes the air.  Not the throat!  Use the diaphragm.  Push the air out."

"I stand corrected," Neill said easily.  "That's Master Harold teaching voice projection."

"That's what he does," Sir Yrjö said.  He was holding a goblet of wine in one hand.

Sir Neill started.  "Sir Yrjö, Master Anthony.  I didn't hear you come up," he said.  "Good day to you."

Yrjö looked at Anthony.  "Good day?"

Anthony looked Neill up and down, looked at Yrjö and said, "Could be better."

Neill flushed with quick anger.  "If you have something to say to me, my lords, speak plainly."

"Maybe I'd better go," the blonde said.

"Please stay, Lady Amelia," Sir Yrjö said.  "You can be a witness."  He looked at Neill.  "I hear you're fond of wine, Sir Neill.  So I brought you some."  He threw the contents of the cup into Neill's face.

"SHIT!  Shit shit shit!" Neill said, wiping the wine out of his eyes with the handkerchief he snatched from his belt pouch.  The blonde drew back, offended by his language and appalled at the violence.  Forgetting her, Neill rushed at Yrjö with clenched fists.

Anthony stepped forward and stiff-armed him left-handed, then struck him across the face with the leather gloves he'd been holding in his right.

"FUCK!" Neill shouted.  "You will meet me on the field for this, both of you!"

"That's the plan," Yrjö said, while Anthony nodded sharply.

Once the ladders were up against the wall and the climbers near the top, the archers had to stop shooting, lest they hit their own men.  With their big padded tips that changed shape slightly every time they hit, tourney arrows couldn't be too accurate.

Pertti, Taawi, and Juho were first off the ladders, with Martin, Zoltan, and Ketill right behind.  If martial prowess and eagerness to fight were all that mattered, they surely would have carried the wall.  But the Finns were met by the Iron Dukes, and by King Robert of Caid.  Against odds of two to one, they couldn't hold, nor prevent other Atenveldters and Caideans from pushing the ladders over.  The soft hay proved its worth.  Taawi died gloriously at the hands of Robert and Fulk; Juho and Pertti were more or less shoved to their "deaths."  Then the Patrian archers swept the victors off the wall, and the ladders went forward again.

It was pretty futile, with no cannon to break the walls, no sappers to undermine them with digging, no traitors to open the gate, no time for starvation or disease to weaken the defenders.  After a couple of hours, when every attacker had jumped off the wall or had been pushed off at least once, and every defender had been shot at least once, they called it quits, and declared Atenveldt victorious in the siege.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Duke Taawi asked his son.  "Wine in the face, forsooth!  Is that your idea of funny?"

Pertti, Taawi, Juho, Marketta, and Kristiina were seated in Suomainen's pavilion, and Werner and Alison also, by request.  Yrjö and Anthony stood before them, on the carpet figuratively as well as literally.  The other members of the two households had been asked not to attend, not even Esmeralda.  Juho had wanted her there, but in the end it was felt she was just a little young and just a little new to the household and the SGU to be "sitting in judgment," however informally, over Yrjö and Anthony.

"What was I supposed to do?" Yrjö flared.  "Just let him get away with trying to get Harold drunk?  Despicable, mean—and cowardly, too, tricking the Atenveldters into giving him the drink, instead of openly doing it himself."

"You could have come to us," Pertti said, speaking as head of household.  "Harold was saying no, and you told the Aten heralds what was what.  Why the urgency?  What need to make a scene?"

"Make a scene?" said Yrjö.  "Is it Victorian England we're re-enacting, or the Middle Ages?  I saw an offense, I went openly to the offender, I called him on it.  Making a scene?  Oh, no!"

"The wine in the face was theatrical," Anthony said, "but we didn't choose that form of provocation for theater's sake.  That was the very cup of wine Harold was being offered by the other heralds.  And if there's blame for tossing it," he added, "it was my idea."

"True," said Yrjö.  "I was just going to punch his sneering face in."

Werner whistled.  "Good thing you went with the wine, then."

"Did we do wrong then?" Yrjö demanded.  "Is that what you're telling me?  All those words about honor, nobility, chivalry, they meant nothing?  Is 'Don't make a scene' our real rule?"

"Real offenses can be too serious for the tourney field," Werner said.  "Real offenses may need real solutions."

"Exactly right," Taawi said.  "Listen, son, and you too, Anthony.  I'm tired of Neill's mouth, and his sneer, and the way he treats women, too.  But hitting him over the head with a tourney sword won't change those things, unless you kill him for real.  And I don't think he deserves that, do you?"

"Besides," said Kristiina, "he's a knight of our kingdom.  We see him every event, and he fights in every tourney.  He might be King some day.  Unless he quits the Society, or we do, we have to get along with him."

Anthony looked thoughtful, but Yrjö said, "I don't want to 'get along' with him, if he's going to ruin my friends!"

"And what about the rest of House Kintyre, hothead?" Taawi said.  "Do you want a feud with all of them?"

"Well, no," Yrjö admitted.  "But what would you bet that Sir Charles and Sir Mary are almost as sick of Neill as I am?"

"Well, thanks to you two, I'm going to have to find out, ain't I?" Pertti said, pinching the bridge of his nose.

After the Atenveldters and Caideans got off the wall, the catapults were brought out.  What with one thing and another, there were only two this year.  Calafia's onager had kicked itself to pieces in final testing, and Dreiburgen's scorpion had gone up in flames when the Master of Sciences had a house fire due to old wiring.  And Baron Zoltan was told his cannon was not allowed—"not even if it shoots rattan cannon balls!"

Similar mishaps had reduced Atenveldt's entries.  Some years there were three or four catapults from each side, but this year there were only two.

From the Province of the Sun (Phoenix) the Armorers' Guild had brought the timbers for a trebuchet.  While some bolted them together, others went looking for the biggest rock that would fit in the leather sling at one end of the throwing arm.  A trebuchet works like a child jumping on one end of a see-saw, or throwing food with a spoon by pressing on the bowl.  When the counterweight (the big rock) is hoisted up on the shorter arm, its fall swings the longer arm, hurling things placed in the ammunition basket.  The armorers had fun splashing the unoffending ground with balloons full of paint.  Insert your own joke about "the painted desert" here—the Solar Engineers (as the trebuchet team called themselves) made them all.

Lady Gwendoline, Mistress of Sciences for Failte, was assisted by Sir Caroline and Joan the Valiant in assembling their ballista.  Like a scorpion, a ballista is a giant crossbow.  But whereas a scorpion is an anti-personnel weapon, hurling bolts with its steel bow, a ballista is designed for bigger targets.  It doesn't have a bow stave at its front, for a bow that big wouldn't bend.  Instead it has two separate arms, each propelled forward by its own coil of twisted rope, with the bow cable stretched between the arms.  In Failte, the ballista had thrown broomsticks hundreds of yards to bury themselves in hay-bale targets.

But cord stretches.  If the ballista had been kept strung, the rope of its "springs" would have lost all their strength.  Lady Gwendoline's crew had to wind up the springs on site, which several hefty gentlemen were glad to do, hoping to impress the ladies.

Unfortunately, they were a lot more enthusiastic than careful.  The ropes got tangled, so that what should have been a neat skein twisting and untwisting readily became a lumpy mess.  The ropes became so tangled they'd have to be cut, and there wasn't enough spare rope to replace both of them.  Making the best of it, the Failtens put a broomstick in the engine and pulled the release.  The booms moved jerkily, fighting each other, and ground to a halt just as the broomstick reached the end of the guide.  It cleared the front of the ballista, and fell onto the ground with a tiny thud, and rolled slightly.

Gwendoline picked it up and threw it as far as she could.  "DAMN!" she shouted, shocking everyone else to silence.  Then she stomped off to her tent.

"I protest this kangaroo court!" Sir Neill said, glaring.

"This is not a court," Duke Pertti said.  "This is a meeting of House Suomainen, House Sternheim, and House Kintyre.  There is no authority here but the authority of the heads of the households.  There is no power here to convict anyone, or sentence anyone."

"So I'm free to go," Neill sneered.  He looked around.  The Kintyre pavilion was packed full with members of all three houses.  Pertti and Marketta, Taawi and Kristiina, Juho and Esmeralda were there.  Werner, Alison, Amanda, and Laura von Sternheim looked back at him, but Stepan Totentanz was at the second wall defense instead.  Yrjö was there with Jenny, Harold with Deborah, Anthony and Aino.  Neill's brother Charles was there, as head of House Kintyre, and Charles' lady, Sir Mary, who looked at Neill with distaste.  Neill stood, though there was a chair for him; everyone else was sitting in chairs, on trunks, or on the rug floor of the tent.

"Don't go, Neill," Sir Charles said.  "Let's settle this thing."

"Thanks, little brother," Sir Neill said.  "I should have known you wouldn't stand up for me.  In your own tent they hold their trial!"

"It's not a trial," Charles said.  "And we're meeting here because we thought you'd feel more at home than in Suomainen's place, or Sternheim's."

Neill threw up his hands.  "You say whatever they tell you to say!  It's no use talking to you!"

"Talk to me, then," Duchess Alison said.  "Is it true that you tried to get the Aten heralds to give alcohol to Master Harold?"

"What do they say?" said Neill.  "No, never mind.  Yes, it's true.  So what?"

"So what?!" said Sir Mary, with disbelief.

"But why?" said Master Harold.  "What did I ever do to you?"

"To me?  Personally?"  Sir Neill shrugged.  "Is it so hard to imagine that people are tired of your pride, and your swagger, and your bluster?  I thought I might take you down a peg or two with my prank."

"Prank?!" said Sir Mary.

"Of all the—!  You—!" Deborah said at the same time.

"So this was a prank?" Sir Yrjö said.  "Just a little practical joke, right?  And if that fell through, what prank would you try next?  Aconite?  Botulin?  Maybe a little joke involving a knife in the kidneys?"

Neill regarded him with narrow eyes and patent dislike.  "No, Finn, I thought I'd save that one for you."

"What, you have a problem with Finns now?" said Yrjö.

"Oh, don't think I'm the only one.  You imagine Armin doesn't hate your guts?  There are lots of us who are tired of listening to Finns making pronouncements from the throne, or prancing around like God's gift to society—when a real Finn, in the Middle Ages, is a northern barbarian, a jumped-up Lapp with pretensions of civilization!"

"My God," said Amanda in the stunned silence.  "You are so full of hate, and it just spills over onto everything, doesn't it?"

"We're wandering," Juho said.  "Here are the facts, as I understand them.  Sir Neill tried to get some Aten heralds to get Master Harold drunk; Master Harold refused; Sir Yrjö and Master Anthony learned of it, and offered Sir Neill provocation; and he challenged them.  Is this correct?"  He looked around.  Yrjö, Anthony, and Harold nodded.  Neill's mouth was set in a sneer, and he said nothing.

"Neill?" said Sir Charles.  "Is His Majesty's summation correct, or not?"

"Oh, it's correct, if a little sparse," Neill said.  "Of course, if the King's involved, so much for this not being a trial."  He folded his arms.  He was still standing.

"I wasn't speaking as King," Juho said.  "And we're not here to condemn anyone, even if we could.  We're here to keep any feuds from starting."

"Right," said Duke Werner.

"Sir Neill," said Duke Pertti.  "Will you apologize to Master Harold for your prank?"

"Some prank!" Sir Mary said.

Neill looked at Harold where he sat on a trunk, Deborah beside him, holding his hand.  "Yes, all right.  Master Harold, I apologize.  It was a low trick, beneath me."

"Master Harold?" said Pertti.

"I accept your apology, Sir Neill," Harold said numbly, still wondering what he'd done to offend the other.  Deborah squeezed his hand.

"Nephew," Pertti said to Yrjö, "will you apologize to Sir Neill?"

"See, I have a problem with that," Yrjö said.  "I still think that cup of wine in the face was perfect justice."

"And if we always had perfect justice," Duchess Kristiina said, "wouldn't the human race be long extinct?"

"Mom…" Yrjö said.

"If Harold accepts his apology, how can you withhold yours?" Tina said.

Yrjö sighed.  "Sir Neill, I apologize for throwing the wine in your face.  But I can't, in all honesty, say it was wrong."

"Then to Hell with you, boy," Neill said.

"That's up to God," Pertti said.  "Can we leave it at that, gentlemen?  Yrjö?  Neill?  Good," he said as they both nodded.  "Then if Master Anthony will apologize too…"

"I will not!" Anthony said clearly.

While the three households were having their meeting, Patrian fighters and archers occupied the wall and made ready to defend it against the enemy.  Once again the archers made all the difference.  Patria had so many bowmen, compared to the foe, that they could stand on the wall and fire away at the Caidean and Mongol archers.  Some of the defenders did get shot, but so did all the attackers' archers.  Then the Atenveldt and Caid fighters had to carry ladders while holding their shields over their heads against the arrow-storm.  Some were hit even so, and the path to the wall should have been littered with the dead and wounded.  But SGU dead and wounded removed themselves, except when there was a contest to strip the bodies.

Those who reached the wall got to climb ladders holding on with one hand, holding their shields over their heads with the other, trying not to trip over weapons thrust through their belts, and hoping anyone who fell off the ladder missed them on the way down.

If they made it to the top, they couldn't even strike back at their tormentors.  The archers would scramble down the ladders on the inside, and Grigoriy and Armin and Christian and Martin (to name but a few) would fall upon the climbers like hungry diners with a slow waiter.

At closing court the war was declared a draw, since Patria had won the field battle and the second wall battle, but lost the catapult contest and the first wall fight.  Some thought privately that Patria won a lot more than it lost.  They considered that Atenveldt merely beat off Patria's attack, while Patria wiped out its besiegers; and didn't think the catapult contest should count as much as the field battle.  But they held their peace.  Everyone had fun; what else mattered?

"Oyez!  Oyez!  Sir Neill of Kintyre challenges Anthony von Sternheim over a pair of gloves," Lord Sylvester cried, "and Anthony challenges Sir Neill over a goblet of wine!"

"Huh?" said Sir Caroline, squinting at the field; the sun was hanging low in the sky.  "What kind of a challenge is that?"

"Maybe if Neill wins he gets a pair of gloves from Anthony, but if Anthony wins he gets a goblet of wine?"  Martin was standing behind Caroline, his arms clasped around her.  He was a full head taller, and could have rested his chin on her hair—if he wanted an elbow in the ribs.

"But Anthony doesn't drink," Baron Christian objected.  "Besides—look at who's marshalling."

Caroline whistled.  "The King and Duke Pertti and Duke Taawi and Duke Werner and Sir Charles and Sir Mary.  Six marshalls for one pair of fighters?"

"I wonder what's up?" Martin said.

"I wonder if we'll ever find out," Christian answered.

"Gentlemen," said the King, "is there no way this quarrel can be resolved?  Sir Neill, will you not admit your fault?"

"Damn!" said Neill.  "Excuse me, Your Majesty.  I already did.  I apologized to Master Harold, and he accepted it.  What more can I do?  Cut off a finger?"

"Master Anthony," said King Juho.  "He has admitted it was a low trick.  He's apologized.  Must you insist on this fight?"

"He tried to hurt my friend," Anthony said.  "It was not just a trick, but a deliberate attack on Harold's weakness.  Chivalry is protecting the weak, not taking advantage of them or abusing them.  Harold is a good man, and still thinks he must have done something to offend Sir Neill.  Well, I say he did nothing wrong.  The wrong is Neill's, and he must answer for it!"

Juho shook his head.  "I can see there is no reasoning with you; you're enraged.  Very well; now listen, both of you."

He took a step closer to them both.  No one had heard what was said so far but the marshalls, the senior fighters of all three households.  What he said now not even they could hear.

"I shouldn't need to say this," Juho told them, "but this is a grudge fight, so I will.  Whatever your feelings, you will both fight cleanly and honorably, according to our rules and just as if you were fighting your own brothers.  Understand me—if I see a blow to the neck, hands, ankles, knees, elbows, or groin—if it even looks like one of you isn't counting a good blow—I will stop the fight, and the offender will be barred from fighting during my reign, except for June Crown.  Do you still insist on fighting?"

When Neill shrugged and Anthony nodded, Juho sighed.  He stepped back and raised his voice.  "All right, Lord Sylvester, the fighters are ready."  He looked at the other marshalls, and shook his head in answer to their questioning looks.

When Lord Sylvester said, "On your honor, begin!" Sir Neill, a fighter of the old school, assumed his best form.  He turned his body so his left side faced Anthony, with his heater shield on his left arm, its top just below his eyes.  His right arm was held low behind him, so that it, and the sword in his right hand, were hidden from Anthony's sight.  In this classic pose, he waited for Anthony's rush.

But Anthony did not rush; he was in a towering rage, barely controlled.  A sword in either hand, he stalked forward.  Anthony usually fought with a shield on his right arm and a sword or axe in his left hand.  But he was actually ambidextrous.  When he fought with two weapons, either weapon could block or strike, according to the needs of the instant.

Isabella and Aino saw another side of Anthony that was new to them.  To Isabella the mailed figure in the black helmet seemed to have grown in height and girth, and to radiate something that wasn't seen, but felt, like black heat.  He seemed to move at two different speeds at the same time.  Each step was ponderous and planted firmly, yet took no time as Anthony stalked his foe.

Aino, wide-eyed, was taken back to her grandfather's stories about feuds and fights in the old country.  Anthony was no Finn, but watching the fight she kept thinking of the man who went upriver and killed another man whose wood chips floated downstream, because it intruded on his privacy; or the feud of thirty years, with dozens of deaths by Finnish knife, over a careless jest at a wedding.

Neill should have had no trouble with Anthony.  He was a knight, and Anthony wasn't; he was calm, and Anthony was enraged.  But Anthony had recently achieved a new plateau in his fighting abilities, as he'd demonstrated at March Crown.  Martin, watching Sir Neill back up before Anthony, turned to Amanda von Sternheim.  "If you don't mind telling me, Amanda, whom did Anthony fight in March?"

Amanda reached into the basket at her feet, and pulled out her lists ledger.  "I don't mind, it's public information.  In Round 1, he beat Sir Mario; in Round 2, he hammered 'Sir Nutcase' in his pig-latin persona; in 3, he gave Sir Marvin his second defeat of the day; in Round 4, he eliminated Sir Manfred; in Round 5, he lost to Sir Caroline; and in Round 6, he lost to Sir Fergus."

Martin whistled.  "Not bad.  Especially for an unbelted fighter!"

Amanda wasn't done.  "Sir Neill beat Lars Piersson, an unbelted fighter from Terra; then Sir Kevin; then Sir Thaddeus; then he lost to Duke Grigoriy in the fourth round, and to Duke Werner in the fifth."

"So Anthony actually did better than Neill in March!"

"Well," said Amanda, "he certainly did no worse."

Neill was having real trouble with Anthony.  The aura around the unbelted fighter made him squint, as if he were staring into the sun, and the odd illusion of fast and slow time kept throwing off his timing.  He kept thinking he had lots of time to block a blow, then he'd have to heave up his shield or actually duck at the last instant.  He knew he was fighting like Anthony was a knight and he was a newcomer, and it was starting to piss him off.  His own blows Anthony just walked through, always just out of reach or just too close; half the time he didn't even block them… which left both swords free to strike.

"He's copying your style," King Jehan said to Count Richard, who commonly fought with two swords.

"The Hell he is!" Count Richard said.  "I want to copy his.  I'm a right-handed guy who fights Florentine; mostly I block with my left sword and hit with my right.  But this guy is equally at home blocking with either one, or striking with either one, or both.  I've got to meet this Sir Neill!"

"Sir Neill's the other one.  The one with two swords is the unbelted fighter."

"You've got to be kidding!" Count Richard said.

Fighting lefties was bad enough, Sir Neill thought, but this was like fighting two men, one left-handed and one right-handed, who were a perfect team.  He swung at Anthony's head.  The left-hand sword blocked it, while the right-hand sword wrapped around his body, hitting the back of his left leg so hard that the plate armor dented.  Bouncing off the back of the leg, it swung around and knocked Neill's sword further back, while the left sword swung down and around and dented Neill's right leg armor, again on the back.  Still moving, both swords arced around.  Before Neill could strike a blow, or sink to his knees, Anthony's left-hand sword bounced up and came down hard on top of Neill's helmet.  Simultaneously the right-hand sword bounced off Neill's sword, swung back and around and hit him on the left side of his helmet.  Twice killed, Neill fell forward and lay still, Anthony watching to see if he'd move, not realizing yet that he'd won.

"Damn," said Sir Caroline.  "Someone's really in the zone!"

"Oyez!  Oyez!  Anthony von Sternheim is victorious!" Lord Sylvester cried.

The battles were over, the fights were done.  In the treeless desert, on the stony ground, the Aten folk piled wood, and had real fires to light their night-time revelry.  Tomorrow the long trip home would begin, but for now the lovers kissed in the dark, wine and mead and dark ale flowed, jokes were told, and songs were sung.

Two Aten knights were doing an Elvis and Jesse Presley act, complete with rolling hips and curled lips, singing:

You ain't nothin' but a stick jock,
Dyin' all the time!
You ain't nothin' but a stick jock,
Dyin' all the time!
You ain't never won a tourney
And you ain't no friend of mine!

The Patrians learned that Atenveldt had a musical repertoire just as big as theirs, but in filk songs, defined as close parodies of mundane songs, rather than period songs or original songs with original tunes.  The Presleyesque assault was followed by:

A grazing mace, how fell the sound,
That killed a wretch like me!

and:

This land is my land, this land is my land,
From Arizona to the Florida swamp land,
From the Gulf Stream waters to the Middle Marches,
This land was made for me alone!

and then:

Oh I've been swinging on the shield wall,
All the live-long day!
I've been swinging on the shield wall,
Just to pass the time away.
Can't you hear the heralds calling,
Rise up and come back to the fray?
Can't you hear the losers saying,
Tomorrow's another day.

Gabriel, won't you blow,
Gabriel, won't you blow,
Gabriel, won't you blow your horn?
Gabriel, won't you blow,
Gabriel, won't you blow,
Gabriel, won't you blow your horn?

Reynaud had a duel with Armin,
Reynaud had a duel today,
Reynaud had a duel with Armin,
Had themselves a mighty fine fray!

followed by:

Hrothgar!  Big, bad, Hrothgar!
The 142nd-fastest sword in the West!

And on, and on, and on.  Even Master Ioseph was helpless before a folk who sang "The Whistling Gypsy" (written in 1950 A.D.) at medieval tourneys.  Instead he adapted to his audience by singing "Sir Bertram," "Denny Murphy," and other songs about things in the SGU and the SCA.

The real stars, as far as the locals were concerned, were Sir Adam, Lady Mathilde, and Master Renfrew, who introduced them to the "Hey Nonny Song."  Sir Magnus got in a zinger on Ketill:

My brother has a lot to learn,
Hey nonny nonny no!
First you pillage, then you burn,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Finally, late at night—very late at night—early in the morning, in fact, Adam and Renfrew stood on either side of Mathilde, each with an arm around her waist, her arms around theirs, and belted out:

Well we can keep this up all day,
Hey nonny nonny no!
No matter what you do or say,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Far from arguing the point, everyone around joined in the chorus:

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Then Mathilde sang:

Well we can keep this up all week,
Hey nonny nonny no!
We've got a mighty vicious streak,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
sang everyone with her,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Sir Adam upped the stakes with:

Well we can keep this up all month,
Hey nonny nonny no!
(Spoken) You know?  Nothing, absolutely nothing!  Rhymes with month. (Shrugs)
Hey nonny nonny no!

Laughing, they sang the chorus.  Then Master Renfrew had his say:

Well we can keep this up all year,
Hey nonny nonny no!
But we'll go away for a little beer,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Taking one of the mugs held forth, he hoisted it in a toast, and then they sang one last chorus:

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!


A dozen people sat around a fire: Sir Edwin sitting on a log, with Amanda von Sternheim sitting on a blanket on the ground in front of him with his cape around them both; King Robert of Caid on the other end of the same log.  King Juho and Queen Esmeralda sat decorously next to each other on the opposite log, and Aune Päättäwäinen next to them, turning from time to time to look over at the next fire, where Master Anthony, Mistress Greta, and Sir Thumas were deep in shop talk.  Baron Zoltan and Baroness Laura, Sir Ulfdan and Sir Julia, King Jehan of Atenveldt and Queen Antuanetta were there as well.

"Thank goodness," Queen Antuanetta yawned, as the "Hey Nonny Song" closed.  "I thought they really would go on all year."

"Oh come now, Your Majesty," Sir Julia laughed.  "It could have been all 256 verses of 'Imperium Compound'."

"Lord!" Antuanetta shuddered, and crossed herself, contemplating the evening thrown away on the anti-SCA-Board-of-Directors song.

"You westeners are all crazy," King Jehan drawled.

"Hey!  Who are you calling a Westener?" Zoltan said.  They all laughed.

"So, Sir Edwin, will we see you at June Crown?" King Juho asked.

"Wild horses," Edwin said, planting a kiss on the top of Amanda's head.  She sighed.

"What about you, Robert?" Juho smiled.  "Have we convinced you we're fun to play with?"

"I was convinced in March," King Robert said.  "But your Crown Tourney's the 17th and 18th, right?  June 17th is Caid Coronation.  I can't skip out on the crowning of my successor.  But I'll probably come to your August Coronation, and I'll be free to fight at your October Crown.  Expect me then."

"We'll look forward to it," Juho said.

Chapter 17
Lady's Day

There were three ravens sat on a tree,
Down, a down hey down-a-down!
There were three ravens on a tree,
With a down!
There were three ravens on a tree,
They were as black as black might be,
With a down, derry derry derry down down!


—"Three Ravens" (traditional)
ANTA Barbara in June was completely unlike Atenveldt in May.  Both places were thick with summer tourists, but Lake Havasu was a big lake in the middle of the desert, with no industry but the water sports and the sun.  Santa Barbara is a real town, with universities, industries, a beachfront on the Pacific Ocean, modest mountains nearby, an actual water table, living trees, deer and coyotes and rabbits and other wild animals.

June Crown was in a large park near the beach.  North and south and east of the park the city ran, nothing more than five stories, because the area had frequent earthquakes.  From the west, cool breezes smelling of the ocean promised visits from girls in bikinis, carrying cameras.  Schools were in summer session, not just San Diego State but all the colleges and universities in California.

Remembering the crush at March Crown, the marshalls had laid out not six but eight fields for the fighting.  Fields 1-4 ran from northwest to southeast, with the kingdom pavilion in the middle of that side, facing 2 and 3.  Fields 5-8 ran parallel to 1-4, with the Isles pavilion on that side, opposite the King's, since the Barony of the Isles was the hosting group.

King Juho called each of the peerages to him in turn, and Esmeralda attended the meetings as well.  It wasn't customary for the Queen to do so, and Isabella recognized that she didn't know enough about the people, and the requirements for the orders, to contribute to the discussions.  But any peerages given would have her name on the scrolls as well as Juho's, which made it her duty to attend, by her father's training.  The Mistresses of the Laurel and the Mistresses of the Pelican were delighted to see her there; and if any knights were not (they were the group most likely to object), Mistresses of the Spur such as Sir Caroline, Sir Mary, and Sir Julia were quick to make her welcome.

Perhaps because they were in Isles, and he lived there, Lord Carl of Ravnscroft was mentioned at the Pelicans' meeting.  "Same old problem," Baron Christian said.  "He does nothing but teach chess and run the chess guild.  Peers are supposed to have a general knowledge of dance, poetry, singing, musical instruments, and so forth.  Has anyone heard him sing?  Seen him dance?  All he ever does is chess."

"You're right," Master Harold said.  "He's certainly done the work for a Pelican, and I think it's an open secret that the Laurels have considered him for his teaching.  But he lacks everything else."

"Which is why," Master Anthony said, "Harold and I have made him our special project.  We're going to wake him up to what else the Society does besides chess, and see that he learns some of those things himself.  Then we'll see."

Anthony's name came up at the knights' meeting.  "He needs to learn to control his temper," Sir Neill of Kintyre said flatly, as if that ended the discussion.

"Does he now?" said Sir Fergus Mac Fergus.  He looked Neill up and down.  "I never heard that a knight had to be perfect, or a meek little pacifist who never got mad when his friends were attacked.  I thought the standards for knighthood were prowess, and chivalry."

"Gentlemen," King Juho warned.

"As for prowess," said Sir Christian, "I think there can be no question, if he can sustain the level of skill he displayed at March Crown, and in the war.  Could we have a show of hands?  Would everyone here who's lost a fight to him raise his or her hand?"

It was quite a few hands.  The number raised for the opposite question, who had won a fight against him in tourney or challenge recently, was smaller.

"There's still the question of chivalry," Neill said.

"Oh, for God's sake," Caroline said, disgusted.

Sir Charles put a hand on his brother's arm, and said, "Chivalry isn't modern gentlemanliness, Neill, it's protecting the weak, treating ladies with courtesy, and keeping your vows of fealty.  Personally, I feel that if Anthony's chivalry and general knowledge of medieval things satisfies the Laurels and the Pelicans, then the Knights need not worry about them.  That leaves only the question of prowess."

"You say yes, then?" Juho asked.

"Your Majesty, I do," Sir Charles agreed.

"It's too soon," Sir Werner von Sternheim said.

"You surprise me!" said Sir Pertti.  "You say no?" he asked Anthony's brother.

"I don't say no," said Werner, "I say not yet.  For one thing, he just got his Pelican in March.  If you turn right around and make him a Knight, what will he have left to strive for?"

"He could always try to become King," Sir Caroline said.

"He could start training a squire," Sir Martin said.

"Anthony quit striving?" Sir Eadmund said.  "You think he'd stop running the Library, printing Scientiae, writing poetry, just because he became a knight?"

"Enough already," Sir Pertti said.  "Brother," he said to the King his brother-in-law, "I made him a Pelican in March because I wanted to make sure he got that before he was made a knight; because he's been deserving of the Pelican for some time, but knighthood only the last year or so, by the measure of prowess."

"Well," said Juho, "it sounds like most would say yes, but I'm not asking for hands.  If his own brother says it's too soon, I think we'll wait.  Let him savor being a double peer, which is rare enough, before we make him all three.  Has anyone in this Kingdom ever been Laurel and Pelican and Knight?"

No one knew.  "I'll ask Master Harold," the King said.  "In the meantime, watch him closely, and the others we discussed today.  If you haven't fought them, challenge them and size them up for yourself.  And though I know I don't need to, I'll remind you that peerage meetings are secret; don't discuss this with anyone but another knight, making sure no one hears who isn't of our order.  Anyone else?  No?  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your counsel."

The Grand March was "peers and royalty," which kept the number of groups down to less than a hundred, since many peers were married to another, or were in the same household, and marched together.  Many of the faces were new to Isabella; many Isles folk were students too poor or too busy with their studies to attend events in Calafia and Dreiburgen, let alone Arizona.  And many were new to everyone; Isles had been recruiting steadily, and its hard work was beginning to pay off.

The herald who ran the initial court was a good example of this.  Suldang Gashung was a worn-looking, short-haired woman in her thirties, vaguely oriental in the cast of her features, her voice roughened by cigarettes before the Green Cold made the survivors give them up, in real life a petty officer in the Navy.  She'd been a member of the Society for just under two years; her first event had been Twelfth Night of 1977 (2730 in Roman years). Like Sir Gamlaun and Sir Borngaum, her SGU persona was Utgarian. But unlike them, she actually spoke the language of the country located between Romania, Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine.

"This is the court of Juho and Esmeralda, King and Queen of Patria, and Baron and Baroness of the Isles; being the 15th day before the Kalends of July, 2731 A.U.C.," Suldang said.

No peerages were recognized at this court, but a number of awards of arms were given, and a few people received the Order of the Royal Sun, the kingdom service order, which conveyed an award of arms if the recipient didn't have one already.  Mathilde of Rannoch was one of these, for her work as the acting herald of Calafia since the death of Mistress Deborah, Master Ioseph's beloved wife.

Most of the awardees at this court were female, and some of the wits were calling the tourney "Lady's Day" even before the final business of the court.

"Their Majesties call the Barons and Baronesses of the Kingdom to attend them," Suldang rasped.  Mezentius and Rowena, Werner and Alison, Armin and Hilda, Zoltan and Laura, Christian and Denise came forward, bowed to the thrones, and remained standing, Mezentius in his chair, Hilda leaning heavily on her cane.  As King Juho and Queen Esmeralda stood, the herald called, "Let Lady Caitlin ni Carraig come before the throne."

Lady Caitlin, the Regent of the Isles, came forward and curtseyed.  She was a very slender graceful lady, barely 5 feet 5 inches tall, with pale white skin and grey eyes.  Her straight brown hair was parted in the middle and bound with a plain silver circlet, falling from there to her waist.  Her gown displayed her arms, three blue rampant unicorns on a gold field; superimposed on that was a shield with the arms of the Isles, a background of wavy bars alternately white and blue, with a red tower in the foreground.

"The baronies created the kingdom," Juho said, "and the kingdom upholds the baronies.  Since Walter and Heloise gave up their thrones, moving to the East Kingdom, the King and Queen of Patria have also been the Baron and Baroness of the Isles.  The day-to-day rule of that land has fallen to the Regent appointed by King Werner and Queen Alison."

"Lady Caitlin," he said, "it is the considered opinion of the Barons and Baronesses of our land, of the Kings and Queens whom you've served, and of the people of the Barony of the Isles, that you've been a good Regent.  Thank you for a job well done."

Pale, pale was Caitlin, and trembling like a deer.  "Your Majesty is most welcome," she said.

"Will you accept the Crown and Throne of the Isles, ruling as your own the land you have served so well?"

"If it please Your Majesty," Lady Caitlin said, "I will."

So Caitlin kneeled, placed her worshipful hands in the King's, and vowed:

"Here do I swear, by mouth and hands,
Fealty and protection to the Barony of the Isles:
To uphold the laws of the Kingdom and the Barony:
On behalf of its people, to speak and to be silent;
To do, and to let be;
To strike and to spare;
To punish, and to reward.
In need or in plenty,
In peace or in war,
In living or in dying;
Until I depart from my throne,
Or death take me,
Or the world end."

Then Juho placed the crown of the Baroness of the Isles on her head; the heavier, larger crown of the Baron remained in its box, too big for her.  She stood, and Esmeralda slipped over her head her baronial tabard, made by the ladies of the Isles, with the arms of the barony in the dexter half, and the new baroness' arms in the sinister, since she was not the founding baroness.  The peers of the Isles came forward and swore fealty to their new liege lady, then the officers of the barony did the same, and then court was over.

"I have nothing to say to you," Aino said, looking down her nose.

"Please," said Juan Carlos, "won't you let me apologize?  You are my sister's friend, and I'd like to make amends.  After that, if you don't want to speak to me, well," he shrugged.

"I suppose you may," Aino said distantly.  She put down the pile of things she'd been carrying and folded her arms.

Juan Carlos knelt on one knee.  "Lady Aune, I apologize.  I mistook your openness and friendliness, and took liberties I should not have done.  Do not hate me, I beg you!  Forgive me, and let us begin again."

"Very pretty," said Aino.  "I accept your apology."  She picked up her things again.

"Oh, let me help with that," Juan Carlos said, and picked up a basket of bread before she could.

"All right," Aino said, "but don't slow me down.  As soon as I get this stuff back to the household pavilion, I have to get into armor for the fighting."

"You're fighting in the Lists?" Juan said, astonished.

"I am," Aino said, continuing to walk.  "Is that so hard to believe?"

"I feel very sorry for your opponents," Juan Carlos said.

Despite herself, Aino laughed.

"Why aren't you in armor?" Count Armin asked Duke Pertti.  Armin was in his black plate, carrying his helmet and sword in one hand, his shield in the other.  Pertti wore a red gown with his arms of a black rampant lion on the front, augmented with a band across the top of the arms of House Suomainen.  His ducal crown shone on his head, and he carried nothing but a marshall's staff.

"I'm not fighting in the lists this time," Pertti said.

"Not fighting!" Armin said, amazed.

"Not in the Lists," Pertti repeated.  "If you'd like a challenge later on, that would be fun."

"I don't understand," Armin said, refusing to be diverted.  "Why aren't you in the Lists?  I can't remember a tourney where you weren't, unless you were King."

Pertti nodded.  "But we're starting a new project at work.  Very big, very important.  I won't have the time to spare for the duties of King for at least a year; and neither will Taawi or Juho, who are in it too.  Juho's going to be stretched to the limit finishing his current reign."

"You mean there are no Finns in the Lists today?" Armin said in astonishment.

Pertti laughed.  "I wouldn't go that far," he said.

Sir Yrjö gazed at the figure beside him in the knight's line and laughed.  The black plate was normal enough, but the footgear was diver's flippers, and a realistic-looking air hose ran from the front of the helmet to a tank in the middle of the back.  Instead of air, however, the tank seemed to hold water; it made sloshing sounds when the other moved.  His tabard bore arms like Yrjö's household, only instead of yellow lunettes on black, they were white lunettes on blue.  His shield had a black background with three golden sea-lions: not eared seals, but heraldic beasts, each with the top half of a rampant lion joined to a merman's tail.

"Sir Adam Dumarest, I presume," Yrjö said.

"No, my lord," said the other.  His helmet incorporated a speaking tube, making his voice reverberate and sound as if it were coming from far away, or underwater.  "I am Sir Tav(urble!) Suoma(bubble)(blup!), at your service."  He bowed.

"Nice sound effects!" Yrjö laughed.  "But can you say it the same way twice?"

"Certainly," Sir Nutcase assured him.  "(urble!) and (bubble) and (blup!) are standard sounds in my people's language."

"And what language is that?" Yrjö said.

"I'm Atlantean," Sir Nutcase said.  "As for my name, in your surface-dweller tongue you may call me David the Finny."

"Christ!" said Yrjö, laughing.  "Hey, Dad!" he called.  "Come get a load of this!"

Duke Sir Taawi Suomainen, which in English means "David the Finn," came strolling over.

Even with Juho, Pertti, and Taawi not fighting, ninety fighters assembled on the field at Master Harold's call.  64 of them were knights, 26 were not.  More remarkably, almost a quarter of them were female.  Sir Caroline Tunney, Sir Julia of Bath, Sir Mary of Fairfield, Cho Hye Eun, Hillary the Undeserving, Joan the Valiant, and Patricia d'Alsace had fought at March Crown.  But for Annette the Adventurous, Aune Päättäwäinen, Carlotta de Barcelona, Kassandra of Chios, Marietta the Laughing, Marina Insularum, and Suldang Gashung, these were the first Crown Lists they'd entered.

For the first round the custom was that unbelted fighters challenged knights, and then if there were knights remaining, they could challenge each other.  With eight fields, Juho and Amanda and Martin gambled there was time enough to bow to custom.  Joan the Valiant challenged Sir Caroline, whose example had inspired her to take up fighting, and Marina Insularum challenged Sir Mary for the same reason.  Aiming high, Maximoto challenged Count Sir Armin, against whom he had no chance whatsoever.  Alvin the Monk, whose shield was three chipmunk heads on a blue field, challenged Sir Luke the Steady.

"Finally!" Aino said when her time came.  "I was afraid someone else would get him!  You!" she said, pointing.

"Me (urble! blup!) my lady?"

"You, you insult to my household.  You know, of course, that if you lose, your armor is forfeit?"

"Ah, well (bubble).  I bought it with gold from a sunken ship.  Easy come (blup!), easy go."

"All of your armor.  Breathing tank too."

"But (blup! urble!) I would die!"

Aino smiled sweetly, showing all her teeth.  "Better not lose, then, 'David the Finny'!"

"Good morning, Your Majesty," said a familiar voice behind Isabella.

"Good morning, Mistress Greta," she said.  She gave up looking for the calligraphy book she'd been after, and turned around.  "And good morning to you as well, Uncle Rodrigo," she added.

"Have you eaten lunch, dear?" Mistress Greta asked.  She waved at the covered basket Rodrigo was carrying.  "We have chicken, and rolls, and butter, and a little wine, if you'd care to join us."

"It sounds lovely," Esmeralda said.  "But I ate already," she lied.  "Please go ahead without me."

"All right, Your Majesty," the Mistress of the Arts said, and curtseyed.  Rodrigo bowed as well, and then they went on to Greta's tent, on the eric near the Calafian pavilion.

Mistress Greta was a sweet lady, Isabella thought, watching her chief of bodyguards smile and laugh, and Spaniards like Rodrigo were less obsessed with youth and skinniness than Americans.  Isabella smiled, and went to find some lunch that didn't intrude on Greta's and Rodrigo's privacy.

90 fighters meant 45 fights in rounds 1 and 2.  Fields 1-5 had six fights each, fields 6-8 had five fights.  The marshalls, heralds, and lists pages kept hopping, the fighters stayed in armor, and Mistress Amanda worked harder than ever.  Her two new assistants ran the lists, but she double-checked everything.  When Sir Edwin killed Benjamin the Frank, she wasn't even looking; she was correcting a mistake that marked Michael of York beating Sir Eadmund of Runeden, rather than the actual, reverse outcome.

Round 1 ended at 1:00.  Four of the 45 winners weren't knights.  Anthony von Sternheim beat Sir Edward the Quick, known to his friends as "Fast Eddie"; Eodric the Mad beat Sir Hector the Bemused.  Stepan Totentanz surprised everyone, including himself, by killing Sir Marvin of Carnot.  Cho Hye Eun, fighting far better than she ever had before, took victory from Sir Borngaum Dogeater after a long, grueling fight.

"Maddy, are you ill?" Tina said.  "At the war I thought it was just the Mongols, but you get queasy all the time now."

Marketta looked at her sister and smiled.  "Not all the time," she said.  "Usually it's in the morning."

"In the—you're pregnant?"

"The rabbit died," Maddy said.  "I just found out yesterday for sure.  You're going to be an aunt, Tina.  At long last, you're going to be an aunt."

Tina wrapped her arms around her sister and hugged her tight.  "Oh, that's wonderful!  Oh, Maddy!  Do you hope it's a girl, or a boy?"

"I don't know yet," Maddy said, hugging her sister back.  "I'm still trying to believe I'm really pregnant."

"How far along are you, do you know?"

"About six weeks, the doctor thinks," Maddy said.  She laughed.  "If he's right, the baby was conceived around Beltane."

"The may pole!" Tina said.  "What does Bob say about that?"

"Rank superstition, my love, rank," Maddy said, imitating her husband's voice.  "He's right, of course."

"Oh, who cares?" Tina said.  "I wish we could get that may pole back.  Imagine showing it to the baby, when it's old enough to understand!"

"Imagine," said Maddy softly.

After a ten-minute break, Round 2 began.  Since the tourney was double-elimination, all 90 fighters were still in the lists, 45 with no losses, 45 with one.

By 2:10, 25 fighters had taken their second loss and were eliminated, leaving 65 in the Lists.  25 of the 65 had won both fights so far, 40 had one loss and one win.

Duke Grigoriy and Duke Werner, Counts Armin and Christian and Martin were undefeated.  Sir Caroline, Julia, and Mary had won both fights; Yrjö, Edwin, "David the Finny", and Charles and Neill of Kintyre hadn't lost either of theirs.  Unbelted fighters Anthony, Eodric, Hye-Eun, and Stepan had a perfect streak going.

Aino lost her fight to "Sir David" in the first round, but defeated new Isles fighter Carlotta de Barcelona in the second round.

Juho watched Amanda training her new assistants.  Dorothy of Rye was from Failte, a clerk-typist who worked for the city of Orange; Svetlana iz Suzdal was a teacher's aide at the University of San Diego.  With Amanda living in Riverside, that would mean a kingdom-level mistress of the lists available anywhere in Patria, once Amanda had them up to speed.

In order to give her helpers her full attention while running the Crown Lists, Amanda had given up certain practices she normally would have followed.  In March, and at most crown tourneys, she'd assigned fights to avoid having fighters of the same barony or household fight each other.  With the King's permission, fights for this tourney were being assigned at random, except for first-round challenges, and not letting the same two people fight more than once.  Some interesting pairings were resulting.

Isabella watched Juho watching the activity at the Lists table.  How serious he was, and how conscientious about his duties.  A breeze from the ocean blew along the eric, ruffling the flags on the tent lines, and a blond hair on the side of Juho's head.  Isabella clasped one hand with the other, to keep from smoothing the hair back into place.

He turned his head at the motion, and smiled at her.  Isabella smiled back politely, while her heart bumped in her chest.  She'd been to a couple more household dinners now, and regarded all of Pertti's household as her foster family in America.  Oh, I am lost, so lost, she thought, and spent a few minutes daydreaming of introducing Juho to her father.

Round 3 began at 2:25.  65 fighters meant 32 fights, four per field, and a bye.  Joan the Valiant got the bye.

Nine of the fighters were women.  The shuffle matched Sir Caroline against Cho Hye-Eun, giving the pretty Korean her first loss.  Sir Julia took her first loss from Duke Sir Werner in a beautiful fight, marked by extreme grace on her part, extreme chivalry on his.  Though they were both in earnest, it looked like a dance to those privileged to watch it.

By contrast, the fight between Sir Mary and Sir Neill was ugly.  Sir Mary didn't like her fiance's brother, and he held her in contempt.  The marshalls stopped the fight once, and Duke Pertti spoke to them both, too softly to be heard off the field.  Shortly after, Sir Mary caught Sir Neill on the right side of the helmet with a backhand blow from her sword.  This time it was counted.  They left the field in silence, without congratulations or discussion.

Neill's brother Charles also lost his first fight, to unbelted fighter Eodric the Mad, and Anthony beat doughty Sir Uilleam ap Eoin.  Stepan Totentanz beat the big Viking knight, Sir Magnus Ragnar's Son.  Sir Magnus' brother, Ketill Ragnar's Son, removed Aune Päättäwäinen from the Lists, leaving her brother, Sir Yrjö, the only member of House Suomainen still fighting.

Altogether 20 fighters were eliminated, leaving 45 in the lists, 13 of them undefeated.  This was a much more normal tournament than March Crown had been.  At the end of the third round, fully half the participants had been weeded out, 90 fighters reduced to 45.

"I lost," Aino said in a small voice as she took off her helmet.  She wiped her eyes, that brimmed with tears.  Jenny and Deborah and Isabella made soothing noises, hugged her, and patted her cheeks.

Anthony laughed.  So did Yrjö.

Aino turned on them a face of fury.  "What are you laughing at?" she cried.

Sir Yrjö, still laughing, shook his head and walked away.  Anthony said, smiling, "You goose.  Do you have any idea how many tourneys I fought in, for how long, before I made it to the third round?"

Aino gaped at him.  "You mean… I did well?"

"For your first tourney?"  Anthony grinned.  "You did very well.  Darling, 25 people lost both their fights today, and didn't get as far as you did.  You lost to Sir Nutcase, and to Ketill, both strong fighters.  I'm proud of you!"

Aino began to smile.  "You're not just saying that?"

Anthony took both her hands.  "When have I ever said anything I didn't mean?" he said, and kissed her.

The fourth round began at 3:20.  The ten minutes between each round and the next were partly so the fighters could rest, and partly so Amanda could check her assistants' work before giving the cards to the heralds.

45 fighters made 22 fights and another bye, which went to Cho Hye-Eun.  Six fields had three fights each, the other two had only two fights.  Sixteen fighters took their second loss.

Remarkable matches kept being tossed up by the random shuffle.  Martin and Caroline were assigned to fight each other, and once again she beat him, giving him his first loss of the day.  In other long fights between old friends, Grigoriy gave Christian his first defeat, Werner did the same to Ulfdan, Armin to Yrjö.  "Sir David" beat Sir Mary, Anthony took the redoubtable Sir Marvin out of the lists, Sir Edwin beat Stepan Totentanz.  Sir Patrick of Goleta, an Isles knight, eliminated another, Sir Fergus Mac Fergus.  Joan took Marina out of the running, Ketill eliminated Zoltan, Patricia removed Suldang.

By 4:05 the 45 fighters who began the round had been reduced to 29.  Only seven people were still undefeated; Duke Grigoriy, Duke Werner, Count Armin, Sir Caroline, "Sir David", Anthony von Sternheim, and Eodric the Mad.

Six of the 29 were women.

"How odd," murmured Duchess Alison as she looked over the lists board.  She'd come over with water for her sister and her sister's helpers, and to admire the board in an actual tourney setting.  Made by the wood workers of Dreiburgen, it was a revival of an old custom, from the times when Southern California had been part of the SCA Kingdom of the West and there had been a lot fewer fighters at tourneys.  While Amanda looked over the pairings for the next round, and made sure no one fought the same foe twice in one tourney, Dorothy of Rye had updated the board, using the information from her own brand-new lists ledger.

For this tourney the fighters had been told to bring little wooden shield shapes, two inches tall with a hole at the top center, painted with each one's arms.  Blank shields, and the services of heraldic artists armed with quick-drying paint, had been available to the lazy or the forgetful, for a price.  Fighters who hadn't picked devices yet were represented by white shields with black numbers on them.

Consulting her ledger, the assistant mistress of the lists from Failte removed the shields of those who'd been eliminated in Round 4, and put them in a stack, to be picked up by their owners.  Then she moved the shields of the remaining fighters up to the top of the board.  Last of all, she removed the white square with the number "4" on it and put the "5" square on that peg.  Anyone looking at the board could now see that the next round was Round 5, and who was left in the fighting, without interrupting Amanda.  And if there was a mistake, this was another way for the fighters to spot it.

"What's odd?" Juho asked, taking her hand and kissing it.  The short blonde Baroness smiled up at the King, handsome in a blue robe that complemented his blond hair, beard, and mustache.  His brothers-in-law were two of her husband's oldest friends, and Alison and Juho had joined the SCA at almost the same time.

"The 'significant others' of these fighters," she said, waving at the shields as they swung lightly on their pegs in the slight breeze.  A ladybug was crawling on Werner's shield; she blew on it, and it spread its wings and flew off.

"Yes?" said Juho.  He didn't know what she meant.

"I know whom they're fighting for, mostly," Alison said.  "Some of them are fighting for each other: Ulfdan and Julia, Charles and Mary, Martin and Caroline.  Some of them are fighting for their wives; some for their girlfriends; a few for boyfriends.  By law, every one of them must be fighting for someone."

"You're right," Juho said.  "So?"

Baroness Alison tapped a shield that was divided down the middle, red on the left, white on the right.  The two bird wings joined together in a hawk's lure were colored white on the red half of the shield, and red on the white half.  "Who's Sir Neill fighting for?" Alison said.

Juho looked at the shield.  "I don't know either," the King said.  "All contestants swear, when they sign up for the Lists, that they have someone willing to serve with them on the throne.  But they don't have to say who."

Round 5 began at 4:15.  June days are longer than March days; there was never a thought not to continue.  Nor was there the pressure there'd been in March; 29 fighters was only a third of the 90 who'd begun the lists.  29 fighters and eight fields meant one fight each on 5 and 8, the fields farthest from the kingdom pavilion, and two fights on each of the other six.  The bye, the third one so far, went to Ketill Ragnar's Son.

It was a noteworthy round.  Everyone who lost had one loss already, so all fourteen losers were eliminated from the lists, bringing the number of fighters from 29 down to 15, one contender for every six who'd started at noon.

Lecherous Sir Neill lost his second fight to a woman, Sir Caroline this time.  Duke Grigoriy beat Werner's former squire, Sir Eadmund of Runeden, and Armin eliminated Werner's first squire, Sir Gamlaun.  Werner himself took out Sir Patrick of Goleta, while Anthony defeated the conscientious Sir Alejandro.  Count Martin beat Sir Charles, but Sir Mary undid Stepan, so House Kintyre was still represented in the Lists.  Tall Sir Julia defeated short Cho Hye Eun, Joan lost to Sir Yrjö, Patricia to Sir Edwin.

Count Christian and Sir Uilleam ap Eoin fought, a battle like two weathered grey granite mountains smashing together, both in force and in sound; but it was Uilleam who crumbled.  Sir Ulfdan Ullrsson beat Sir Ole Olsen, who was much like a younger version of himself.  "Sir David" beat Sir Frederick, and Eodric beat Sir Rufeo.

At 4:55 there were seven survivors with no losses: Duke Grigoriy, Duke Werner, Count Armin, Sir Caroline, Sir "David", Anthony, and Eodric.  The other eight had one loss each: Count Christian, Count Martin, Sir Edwin, Sir Julia, Sir Mary, Sir Ulfdan, Sir Yrjö, and Ketill.

Three of the fifteen were women.  "Lady's Day, indeed," Duchess Kristiina said to her sister.  "Wouldn't it be something if the finalists were Caroline and Mary?"

"Mom!" Aino protested.

"Yes, dear?"

"Jenny and I are hoping the finals will be Yrjö and Anthony!"

"It could be," said Tina.  "Oh, but think if it's two women!"

Juho called a halt to the fighting; there were only 15 fighters left, and they still had all Sunday.  Presently Lady Alicia du Valle was welcoming the populace to the court of Their Majesties Juho and Esmeralda, King and Queen of Patria.  It was a relaxed court, held as much for the benefit of the tourists and the recruiting efforts of the barony as for any real need of another court.  A couple of peers who hadn't been to an event since March swore fealty to the King and Queen, and people gave presents to Juho and Esmeralda, but even more to the new Baroness.  Baroness Caitlin summoned Suldang Gashung, and made her a member of the Order of the Tower, hanging around her neck the baronial service order's medallion, a white disk with a blue border, with a red castle tower on it.

"His Majesty requests the presence of the Royal Bard," Lady Alicia called.

Master Ioseph bowed to King Juho, Queen Esmeralda, and Baroness Caitlin.  "What may I do for Your Majesty?" he asked.  All in green he was, a forest green robe, a darker green pouch upon a brown belt, a dark green liripipe upon his head.  Dark green too were his shoon, protected from the damp ground by wooden pattens.

"Have you a new song for us today?" asked the King.  "It seemed to me I heard you plucking new notes from your harp, earlier."

Master Ioseph bowed again.  "Such close attention flatters me, Your Majesty.  I do have a new song, but it's perhaps long for court."

"We're in no hurry," Juho said.  "If you sing it here, everyone can hear it; if later, at some fire, people at other fires will miss it."

"Please sing," Isabella said.

"You honor me," Ioseph said.  "This, then, is my own version of Western Wind.  The original comes from the time of Henry VIII," he said, and sang:

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
Christ! That my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

"We've sung that as part of a round at banquets, and you've probably heard the Limeliters' version, which expands that one verse into a full-fledged song."

"But I was reading how King Sigurd of Norway sailed to the Holy Land with many ships; how he made a brag, after the manner of his people, to take Sidon and Tyre; how he made good his brag; how he left his ships with King Baldwin of Jerusalem, and returned home overland."

"And somehow, in the course of reading that, I remembered something Duke Pertti told me, that Vikings often took a Finn along, believing Finns were weather wizards, and good luck for a ship.  What if one of King Sigurd's ships were named Western Wind?  And what if one of her crew were a Finn?"  He lifted his voice, and sang:

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!


A knight stares over the battlement,
His thoughts many miles away.
A wind whips the lake waters into foam,
And Finnish skies are gray
As he dreams of a younger day.

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!


Sigurd took up the cross and swore
He'd sail to Jerusalem.
Eighty ships he filled with Norse,
With Danes and stout Saxon men,
And just for luck, one Finn.

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!


Outre-Mer is a very strange place
At the end of the Middle Sea:
The sun can kill, the camels are mean,
The fruits are a mystery.
But the Finn found his destiny.

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!


Secret meetings beneath the moon,
The doves murmur in their sleep.
Saracen lips were soft and warm,
And Saracen kisses deep.
The memories make him weep.

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!


Then fell Sidon to siege and sack;
The swords drank deep in Tyre.
But when he sought her father's house,
To fight for his dear desire,
He found only ruin and fire!

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!


Home through Russia the Norsemen go,
They left their ships for the King.
Sigurd asked him along for luck,
King Baldwin begged him sing.
But he's sick of everything.

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!


He sees her face in the shining Moon,
He spies her grace in the swan.
His dreams are filled with her perfume,
He feels the lips that are gone.
He dreads and welcomes the dawn!

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain.
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!


Soon after court the sun set, and the SGU members fixed and ate their dinners, not a few going in cars to local restaurants and amazing people there with their costumes; this was known as "freaking the mundanes."  At the tourney site they talked, they sang, they drank, they made love, at last (at very long last, for some of them) they slept.

But the King and Queen and all the Barons and Baronesses were feasted by the Barony of the Isles, in honor of their lady, the new Baroness.  The best cooks of the Isles had made the dishes, the singers and musicians of the Isles entertained their royal and excellent guests, and others served as waiters.  It wasn't as grand nor as long as the banquet at May Coronation, but the food and entertainment were good, and the occasion a happy one.

The Lyrid and Aquilid meteor showers fell all night, and at 3 a.m. the comet Ikeya-Hikaru rose, flying tail-first through space away from the sun.  But most were asleep by then, and the great glowing tail hung over a still camp unlit by earthly fires.

Chapter 18
Winning the Hard Way

Out in yonder greene field,
Down, a down hey down-a-down!
Out in yonder greene field,
With a down!
Out in yonder greene field,
A knight lies slain under his shield,
With a down, derry derry derry down down!

"Three Ravens" (traditional)
O court was held Sunday morning.  People woke up, ate a leisurely breakfast, talked, flirted, shopped on Merchants' Row, played chess and backgammon and tafl and pachisi.  Kites floated in the June sky, flown by six-year-olds and eighty-six-year-olds.

"Excuse me, Master Anthony," Duke Pertti said.

"Good morning, Your Grace," Anthony said.  "What can I do for you?"

"It occurs to me—and correct me if I'm wrong—that you and I have never crossed swords.  Want to take a field and correct that?"

"What, never?" Anthony said, surprised.  "You know, I think you're right.  Isn't that odd?"

"I can be armed in ten minutes," Pertti said.

"I'll meet you on the field.  Whoever gets there first can find the herald and the marshalls.  And thank you for the honor, Your Grace."

"Not at all," said Pertti.  "This should be fun!"

As soon as Pertti had left, Aino poked her head out of Anthony's tent.  "They must be thinking about knighting you!" she said.  "I'll bet you'll get a lot of challenges!"

"Sure looks that way," Anthony said.  "Want to help me with my armor?"

The challenge was watched as if it were the finals of the Lists.  Duke Werner and Duke Taawi were the marshalls, and quite a few knights stood at the eric.  Aino grinned at this evidence that the knights had been discussing her lover.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!" Master Harold thundered.  "MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  ANTHONY VON STERNHEIM CHALLENGES DUKE SIR PERTTI SUOMAINEN, BECAUSE HIS GRACE HAS A SINISTER REPUTATION!"

Pertti held the sword in his left hand in front of his helmet for a moment to salute his opponent, while the onlookers laughed or groaned at the pun; sinister, in Latin, means the left hand.

"THE GOOD DUKE REPLIES," Master Harold continued, "THAT ANTHONY IS TWICE AS BAD AS HE IS.  FOR THOUGH SIR PERTTI IS SINISTER, ANTHONY IS AMBISINISTER!"

Dexter, in Latin, is the right hand; and someone who uses both hands equally well is called ambidextrous, implying that he has two good right hands.  Anthony, whose shield was rigged to be used with either hand, and whose arms were symmetrical left and right, banged the sword in his left hand on his shield in defiance.

"MY LORDS!  SALUTE THE CROWN!" said Harold.  Both fighters saluted Juho and Esmeralda, who smiled and nodded.

"SALUTE YOUR LADIES!"  Pertti saluted Marketta, sitting in a chair in front of the Suomainen pavilion, talking to Kristiina.  Anthony saluted Aino, standing with Jenny and Deborah next to Esmeralda.

"SALUTE YOUR OPPONENT, I PRAY YOU!"  The fighters did so, then assumed their positions.  Anthony's was aggressive; body almost fully turned to face Pertti, shield close to the body and held upright just below the eye slits in his flat-topped black helm, sword cocked in his left hand just behind his head.  Pertti took a classic position, displaying high form: body at right angles to a line pointing to Anthony, shield nearly at full arm's length before him, left arm straight up with the sword horizontal over his sugarloaf helm, pointing at his foe.

"ON YOUR HONOR, AND FOR THE RIGHT," Harold said to the two men fighting lefthanded, "YOU MAY BEGIN!"

Most fights are between two right-handed fighters.  Each man holds his sword in his right hand and his shield in his left.  To strike his foe, he must get around the other fighter's shield.  Meanwhile, he uses his own shield to block blows aimed at him.

When a right-handed fighter rights a lefty, he finds himself wide open.  Both swords are on the same side; both shields are on the other side.  The left-handed fighter is used to this, because he usually faces right-handed foes.  The right-handed fighter is taken aback, because he, too, usually faces right-handed opponents.

So Anthony usually fought left-handed, because neither right-handed nor left-handed fighters were used to fighting left-handed opponents.  His brother was an exception, because Anthony and Werner faced each other at Dreiburgen fighting practices all the time.

Unfortunately, Pertti and Taawi and Juho fought each other all the time, too.  None of them were fazed by right-handed or left-handed opponents.  Anthony realized, as he slipped a sword blow by an inch and sprang back, that he was in big trouble.

Pertti was a good 20 years older than Anthony—which made him barely over 40 in a society that played sports instead of watching professionals play them on TV, in an Air Force that had retained, rather than discarded, the fitness requirements of the Army it split from.  More experienced than Anthony, trained in combat arts, taller and stronger, Pertti was also fast as an enraged rattlesnake.

It had been a long time since Anthony had felt like a new fighter.  He lay on his back in the grass and tried to figure out where the killing blow had come from, while Harold cried, "VICTORY TO DUKE SIR PERTTI SUOMAINEN!"

"Well fought, son," Duke Pertti said, gripping Anthony's left hand with his own, and pulling him to his feet.

Well, if you say so, Anthony thought.  "Thank you, Your Grace," he answered out loud.

At 11:00 the King asked Master Harold to summon the remaining fighters to the field.  "My lords and ladies," he said, "congratulations on making it to the sixth round.  Fifteen fighters makes seven fights and a bye.  Ketill already had one, and I doubt Master Anthony wants it, so it goes to Eodric."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Anthony and Eodric said in chorus, and everyone laughed.  Fifteen fighters stood before the King and Queen; eight heralds, Master Harold plus one herald for each of the seven fields that would be used this round; and 14 marshalls, two per field.

What a diverse group the fighters were, Juho thought, even with so few remaining.  You could divide them by age, by nationality, by their personas' nationalities, veteran or non-veteran…  Grigoriy and Werner were dukes; Armin, Christian, and Martin were counts; the rest were knights, except for Anthony, Eodric, and Ketill.  Twelve were men, three were women.  Grigoriy, Julia, and Yrjö lived in Calafia; Werner and Anthony in Dreiburgen; Caroline, Martin, and Christian in Failte; Armin and Ulfdan in Gyldenholt; Mary and Ketill in the Isles; Eodric in Terra.  Sir Edwin was from the Barony of the Angels, though they might have to count him a Failten, if he joined the SGU as he looked to do; or a Dreiburgener, if he moved to be near Amanda.  Sir Adam, or Sir "David the Finny" as he called himself today, had claimed in the war to be from every barony except Gyldenholt; which could indicate Gyldenholt was his actual residence, or just a healthy respect for Armin's temper.  And there was another category: Werner, Armin, and Christian were barons.

"Your Majesty?" said Master Harold.

"Yes, thank you," said Juho.  "Go ahead."

So Eodric the Mad, who'd won five fights out of five, accepted a challenge from Sir Neill, which they fought on the eighth field, no longer needed by the Crown Lists.  Meanwhile the seven fights of Round 6 took place, and every one of them was memorable.

Duke Sir Werner von Sternheim, Baron of Dreiburgen, fought Count Sir Armin von Bergen, Baron of Gyldenholt.  Both were big men, strong fighters who dealt heavy blows.  Both walked onto the field with no losses; but when they left it, Armin had suffered his first defeat of the tourney.

Count Sir Martin the Sober fought Sir Edwin the Dogged.  They hadn't fought each other in March, or ever for that matter.  Both fighters had one previous loss.  Edwin chopped Martin's left leg out from under him; but when he pressed his advantage too hard, Martin collected his head.  So Edwin was eliminated from the lists.

Ketill Ragnar's Son fought Sir Yrjö Suomainen.  Each had one loss.  Ketill was big and strong, Yrjö was strong and quick.  But Ketill proved quick enough.  He had beaten Aino earlier, and now he removed her brother from the lists.

Duke Sir Grigoriy, undefeated so far, fought Sir Mary of Fairfield, who had lost once.  The outcome was never in doubt, yet the battle was fast and hard fought; Sir Mary was a strong fighter.  But Grigoriy was one of the best in the kingdom, and he saluted her body as she sprawled on the ground.

The fight between Count Sir Christian and Sir Julia was similar, but a little less one-sided.  The tall Baron of Failte and the tall ballerina each had one loss already.  But it was the lady who took her final defeat of the weekend.

"Sir David", still undefeated, showed his skill even with the stupid footgear and "breathing tank".  But Sir Caroline wasn't about to let her perfect streak be ruined by an "Atlantean".  "Sir David" took a hard blow from Caroline's mace full in the "breathing mask", clutched his throat as if he were suffocating, and did a truly ghastly imitation of a fish flopping in the bottom of a boat.

Anthony von Sternheim, undefeated, was paired with Sir Ulfdan Ullrsson, who had one loss, at the hands of Anthony's brother, Duke Werner.  Fighting left-handed as usual, Anthony struck Ulfdan's right leg.  But as he did, Ulfdan got Anthony's sword arm.  Both blows were hard enough.  Ulfdan sank to one knee, while Anthony gave his shield to a marshall to put out of the way at the edge of the field.  As the marshall did so, Anthony tucked his left hand in the back of his belt, picked up his sword in his right hand, and told the marshalls he was ready.

Anthony had no shield, but Ulfdan had no mobility.  The Sternheim fighter tried to control the fight, stepping into range, striking, and then stepping out, or striding around his pinned opponent.  Ulfdan covered himself and waited for Anthony to make a mistake.

Anthony saw an opening.  Sir Ulfdan's head was exposed for a blow from a left-hander.  Anthony wasn't fighting left-handed at the moment, but he went for it anyway.  Instead of striking directly, which would have come in from his right and landed on Ulfdan's shield, Anthony swung his sword back and around and then forward from the left, grunting a little with the effort to make the blow as fast as possible.

A split second after he launched his blow, Ulfdan launched his own.  It too was a reverse right-handed roundhouse.  Because he'd expected Anthony's blow—indeed, had invited it—his blow was faster.  It landed, full force, on the outside of Anthony's shoulder.

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint.  The only things holding the ball at the end of the femur in its shallow cup of shoulder bone are the muscles that attach all around.  Sufficient force can jolt the femur out of its socket, tearing ligaments all through the shoulder.  In dry medical terms, this is called a dislocation.

Anthony's arm was as high up and as high back as it would go, and under tension as the arm rotated and the wrist flexed to deliver the edge of the tourney sword to the side of Ulfdan's head.  When Ulfdan's sword struck, Anthony's arm had nowhere to go but up, as the force of Anthony's muscles was boosted by the force of Ulfdan's blow.  The femur leapt up out of its socket, hung for a moment on the bony edge of it, then snapped back into place with a ghastly click as Ulfdan's sword bounced off.

The pain was so great that Anthony didn't feel most of it; he whited out.  One moment he was intent on bringing his sword around to Ulfdan's helmet, the next there was a silent explosion, as if a flashbulb had gone off in his head.  The moment after that, he found himself standing wide-legged, slightly hunched over, holding his right arm with his left, his sword lying on the ground at his feet.  Someone was making little grunting noises of pain.  He realized it was him, and stopped.  Fire ran through his right shoulder.

Aino saw Ulfdan's blow land.  Anthony shrieked; not a shriek as in a play, but like a cat being hit by a car; just as high-pitched and agonized, and cut off just as suddenly.  His arm spasmed, his hand flew open, and his sword went flying at the end of its wrist strap.  For an instant he started to fall.  Then he regained consciousness and caught himself.  The sword bounced on the ground as he grabbed at his right shoulder, and the wrist strap slipped off his right hand as his left hand found and gripped his right arm.

Aino started running as soon as Anthony shrieked.  Forgetting her own safety, the rules of the lists, the other fights going on, she picked up her skirts and ran directly to her lover.  "Aino!  No!" her mother cried, but Aino wasn't listening.

"MASTER HAROLD!" shouted Isabella.  "CRY HOLD!"

Harold, blessedly, did not pause to ask why or where.

"HOLD!"

he cried,
"HOLD!"

"ALL FIELDS,"

"HOLD!"
in the loudest voice anyone there had ever heard.  Children crouched, covering their ears; adults yawned to pop their ear drums, and shook their heads.  Flocks of birds erupted out of every tree, and flew around in squawking confusion.

Though there were marshalls and a herald right there on the field, and though Ulfdan got his feet under him and came forward to help, Aino reached Anthony first, and caught him with her arm around his waist.  His brother was there an instant later, undoing Anthony's chin strap and removing his helmet, and the padded coif under that.  The face revealed was ghostly pale, and covered with a sheen of cold sweat.

"What happened?" Anthony said.

"You screamed," Aino said, eyes brimming with unshed tears.

"Screamed?" said Anthony, who had no memory of the animal noise of agony that his body had uttered.

"I hurt you," said Sir Ulfdan.  "Really hurt you.  I'm so sorry, Master Anthony."

Anthony nodded tightly.  "The chances we take, Sir Ulfdan.  I concede, of course."

"Can you move your arm at all?" Baron Werner said.  Like many senior marshalls, Anthony's older brother was trained and certified in first aid, CPR, etc.  In the SCA such people were called "chiurgeons," pronounced "ky-UR-jun" or "chy-UR-jun" or even "shy-UR-jun".  The SGU called them "medics", from the Latin word "medicus", one who practices medicine.

"Uh…"

"Careful!" Aino said fiercely.

"I can move it," Anthony said gingerly, "but it hurts like Hell.  Of course, it hurts like Hell when I don't, too."

"Sounds like it was dislocated," Werner said, "but we'd better get you to a doctor and have it x-rayed.  Come on."

"But how are we going to get my armor off for an x-ray?" Anthony said as he, Aino, and Werner left the field.  A suit of mail is like a t-shirt, all one piece with no seams or fastenings; it's taken off by having one's squire pull it off over one's head, or if you have no squire, leaning over to touch your toes and shaking your torso until it slides off.  Either way the first step is to raise your hands above your head.

"I think I can work it up over your head and down your arms," Werner said, "if you sit still with your hands on your knees.  If not, I'll undo rings up the middle of the back, and fix the mail later."

"And I'll help!" Aino said.

Anthony was still supporting his right arm with his left, but he turned his head to kiss Aino's temple.  "Thanks, love," he said.  "I have a feeling I won't be fighting again soon, anyway."

Anthony's maiming cast a shadow over the Lists.  The other fights concluded by 11:30, then Juho declared a break for lunch, and to let the shaken fighters recover their composure.  People drank a little ale, had a little bit to eat, and told stories of past injuries; broken arms, cracked fingers, bashed knees.  An early Calafian fighter who seemed to get hurt every time he stepped onto the field was remembered, and a fighter from Three Mountains who was hit so hard in the throat (in the days before neck armor was required) that the Knight Marshall of the West feared he'd have to perform a field tracheotomy to keep the hapless young man breathing.

Ulfdan felt bad about hurting Anthony, and kept saying how sorry he was for as long as anyone would listen.  No one's kind assurance that they understood it was an accident seemed to help.  Finally Sir Neill snapped, "Get over it, old man!  We know it was an accident.  Shut up, already!"

Sir Ulfdan's face cleared in relief.  "You're right.  Thank you, Sir Neill."

"I told you the same thing!" Sir Julia said.

"But you would anyway, wouldn't you?" said Sir Ulfdan.  "Sir Neill wouldn't lie to make me feel better."

"So glad to be of service," Neill said sardonically.

Werner was ready to drop out of the lists to take Anthony to the hospital, but his brother vetoed it.  "Like Hell," Anthony said.  "Stay in there and win.  Yrjö and Aino will take me, while you concentrate on making Alison Queen again."  So Werner settled for working the mail off Anthony, careful not to hurt him.  By the time his friends had driven Anthony to the nearest hospital, filled out the forms, and had seen him taken away for the x-ray, Master Harold was calling the remaining ten fighters back to the field.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  THESE ARE THE FIGHTS FOR THE SEVENTH ROUND.  ALL FIGHTERS, PRAY ATTEND!  ON FIELD 1, SIR CAROLINE TUNNEY AND EODRIC THE MAD.  ON FIELD 2, DUKE SIR GRIGORIY AND KETILL RAGNAR'S SON.  DUKE SIR WERNER VON STERNHEIM, COUNT SIR MARTIN THE SOBER, ARM AND REPORT TO FIELD 3!  COUNT SIR ARMIN, COUNT SIR CHRISTIAN, PRAY REPAIR TO FIELD 4.  SIR ULFDAN ULLRSSON, SIR 'DAVID THE FINNY', FIELD 5 IS YOURS.  ALL FIGHTERS, ARM YOURSELVES AND TAKE THE FIELDS ASSIGNED YOU!"

Round 7 took 30 minutes to fight.  By the time the x-ray technicians were done with Anthony, the sea gulls wheeling over the park by the beach had witnessed Eodric take his first loss, while Martin, Christian, Ulfdan, and Ketill had their second.  Six survivors prepared for the next round.  Caroline, Grigoriy, and Werner were still undefeated; Armin, "David", and Eodric had one loss each.

"Too bad," Sir Neill said to Sir Martin.  "I guess this tourney won't make you a duke."

"I did my best," Martin said.  "Thanks for your sympathy."

"I wonder, though," said Neill.  "You and Caroline were fighting for each other, right?  If she wins, will that make you a countess?  Or would you be a duchess?"

There was an appalled silence.  Even Neill's brother could only shake his head while he waited to see what Martin would do.

After a moment, Martin said, "I'm tempted to just beat the crap out of you here and now, and to Hell with sword and shield.  But if you've any honor at all, you'll suit up and join me on the field."  He turned his back, and walked off to get his helmet and weapons.

"Well," said Sir Neill, laughing.  "I really hit a nerve that time."

Baron Christian looked at him like a robin who's seen an unfamiliar bug.  "Better not keep him waiting," he said.  "The sooner you face the music, the less ugly the tune will be."

So four fields were in play after 1:10, though only three were for the Crown.  Count Armin and Sir Caroline fought on Field 1, Duke Grigoriy and Eodric on 2, Duke Werner and Sir "David" on 3, while Count Martin and Sir Neill fought their challenge on 4.  The fight between Eodric and Duke Grigoriy was most uneven, and soon over; the others dragged on.  But eventually Neill was defeated, and Count Armin and Sir "David" beaten and eliminated from the lists.

At 1:45, Duke Sir Grigoriy, Duke Sir Werner, and Sir Caroline were the finalists.  All three were still undefeated.

"Yes," said Aino, squeezing Anthony's left hand with her right.  The waiting room was empty on a Sunday afternoon.  Yrjö had excused himself to hunt a men's room, so no one was there but the two of them.

Anthony, leaning back in the waiting-room chair and half-asleep with the weariness that follows pain, squeezed her hand back.  He opened his eyes, turned his head, and smiled at her.  "Yes, what?" he said.

"Yes," said Aino.  "Yes, I'll marry you.  Yes!"

"My darling," said Anthony, not moving.  "But I don't want you to marry me just because you feel sorry that I got hurt."

"No," said Aino, "of course not.  But when you got hurt, oh God, the sound you made.  All I could do was run to you.  It made me know you're more important to me than anything else.  Or anyone else."

"Well then," Anthony said, "now you know how I feel about you."  He put his uninjured left arm around her shoulders, pulled her close, and kissed her long and tenderly.

"My darling," Aino said, cupping his face in her left hand, still holding his left hand with her right.  "My darling," she said again, lost in the discovery.

"Here now!" said her brother, entering the room.  "Can't I leave you two alone for even a minute?"

Anthony's green eyes never left Aino's.  "Yrjö, old friend, old buddy, old pal," he said, "go away."

The knights of the kingdom entered the eric to watch the finals.  All the interior ropes had been removed, making one huge field, with a second living eric of observing knights.  It was customary to forgive any previous losses in the finals; but these three finalists had none to forgive.

Armin and Zoltan were the official marshalls, though none of the knights watching would hesitate to cry hold if he or she thought it necessary.  Armin nodded to Master Harold that the fighters were ready.  Harold raised his staff high and cried, "MY LORDS AND LADIES!  MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  DUKE SIR GRIGORIY ILYICH AZIZOV AND SIR CAROLINE TUNNEY HERE DO BATTLE FOR THE CROWN OF PATRIA!"  He stood tall and let the marshalls point to each fighter as he named him or her.

"YOUR GRACE, MY LADY, PRAY SALUTE THE CROWN!"  Duke Grigoriy and Sir Caroline banged the swords in their right hands against their shields in salute to King Juho, standing inside the eric with Taawi and Pertti beside him, and to Esmeralda, standing just outside the eric in the company of Jenny and Deborah.  The marshalls and Harold bowed as well.

"SALUTE THE PERSON WHOSE FAVOR YOU BEAR!"  Grigoriy turned and saluted Natasha, standing tall and beautiful and proud in front of the Calafian pavilion next to Baron Mezentius and Baroness Rowena.  Caroline saluted Martin, standing with Baron Christian inside the eric.

"SALUTE YOU EACH THE OTHER!"  Grigoriy and Caroline again crashed swords to shield, facing each other this time, then assumed ready positions.

"ON YOUR HONOR, BEGIN!" Harold cried.

The next ten minutes were very enlightening.  Sir Caroline was not outclassed by Duke Grigoriy; they fought as equals.  Just as Anthony had reached a new level of fighting ability, and was ready to be knighted, Caroline now went toe to toe with dukes.  At last she delivered a loud, ringing blow to the side of Grigoriy's helmet.  His lunge forward turned into a folding collapse, and he fell at her feet.

The ladies cheered!  All around the field, ladies young and old wept and shouted and called "Caroline!  Caroline!  Caroline!"  Master Harold announced the victor, but no one heard him.

They drowned him out.

But that was only the first fight of the final round.  After ten minutes of rest, Caroline, as victor of the fight, got to face the other finalist, Duke Werner.  For a good fifteen minutes she slugged it out with another duke.  Then Werner landed a good hard whack to the top of her helmet.  She weaved for a moment, then fell over backwards.  There was a groan from the ladies—except for Alison and Amanda, who were jumping up and down in front of the Dreiburgen pavilion.

After another ten-minute break, the two dukes fought each other.  The tall blond Calafian and the tall brown-haired ex-Calafian rained blows on each other without respite for fifteen solid minutes.  Grigoriy got Werner's leg, so the Dreiburgen baron had to continue the fight on his knees.  Then Werner got Grigoriy's leg, and they were both on their knees.  Grigoriy had one loss, so losing to Werner would have eliminated him.  But he hooked Werner's shield with his own, and flung it wide, while striking as hard as he could with his mace.  Werner fell over on his right side, and lay still.

Anthony, Yrjö, and Aino returned from the hospital, Anthony with his right arm in a sling, a diagnosis of dislocation, and a series of appointments for examination and therapy.  It was 3:00.  They quickly learned that the final round was in progress, and that three hard fights had eliminated no one.  Three finalists who'd been undefeated now had one loss each.  Anthony and Aino decided to save their own news for later.

Each of the three had now fought both the others, so they just started over.  Caroline and Grigoriy fought again, each with one loss now.  It took twenty minutes, in which the issue could have been decided at any moment; neither was holding anything back.  Finally, in his weariness, the tall Duke made a beginner's mistake.  He leaned forward, intent on his shorter opponent.  When his helmet passed his shield, Caroline nailed him full in the face.  Like a puppet whose strings have been cut, Grigoriy folded up.  His head and torso went back, his knees bent and his legs collapsed.  He ended on his back, face up to the salty breeze, shield and sword flung wide, one leg bent, one leg straight.  Caroline saluted the stylish death, then waved her sword high.  The chant of "Caroline!  Caroline!  Caroline!" was surf pounding on the shore.

Then Werner and Caroline fought again, and once again both finalists had one previous loss.  Werner's had come from Grigoriy, while Caroline's had come from Werner.  All he had to do was repeat that, and the tournament was his.

But it was Lady's Day still; they were in Santa Barbara, named for a female saint; and Caroline was in high form and backing down for no one.  They fought with maces, which on the one hand favored Werner's longer reach; but on the other, Caroline was a much more compact target, better covered by her shield than he was by his.

As in March, no one could honestly say they saw the final blow.  Both finalists struck at the same time, and both blows were heard around that vast field.  But it was Caroline who stepped back, still guarding herself and ready to strike again, and Werner who fell forward and lay still.

"Caroline!  Caroline!  Caroline!" the ladies shouted.  Sir Caroline Tunney, knight of Failte, saluted the King and Queen, then extended her hand to help the Baron of Dreiburgen to his feet.

The question of a woman winning the Crown had been settled long ago, when the SCA realized it couldn't keep women from fighting and retain its tax-exempt non-profit status.  If women could fight, then sooner or later one would win a crown tourney.  The King and Queen were officially equal, no matter which of them had done the fighting; it followed that ex-Kings and ex-Queens were equal, whether they had ruled once (count and countess) or twice or more (duke and duchess).  A woman had never won a crown tourney in Patria before, but the titles, usages, and ceremonies were ready.

So court was called, and Caroline and Martin were escorted to the King and Queen by Baron Sir Christian and Sir Mary.  Sir Caroline was installed as "Crown Princess in her own right," and Martin as "Crown Prince Consort."  When their reign ended, Caroline would be a Countess, and Martin, who was already a Count, would become a Duke.

"I'm sure I speak for all the Barons," Christian said, "when I say how proud I am of my people this weekend.  Not just Failte, but every Barony, was well represented by gallant knights and unbelted fighters, setting shining examples of chivalry and prowess."

"Hear, hear!" said Baron Werner, raising the cup in his hand.

"Where, where?" said Sir "David".

"There! There!" Master Renfrew said, pointing off towards the ocean.

Baron Christian laughed.  "August Coronation is in Failte this year, so it's wonderfully fitting that a Failten should be crowned there.  My heart is full of pride."  He bowed, and stepped back into the crowd.

"The Crown Princess has an announcement," Master Harold said.

Caroline stood, and Martin with her.  "I am equally sure that I speak for all the fighters when I thank Baron Christian for his kind words," she said.  "As you know," Caroline continued, "Martin and I are engaged.  We have decided to be crowned twice at Purgatorio; once as Queen and Consort, and once as man and wife."

"A royal wedding!" Aino said to Isabella.  "We haven't had one of those in years!"

"That's wonderful," King Juho said.  "Now we really have something to look forward to.  Congratulations, Martin.  You're a very lucky man."

"Don't I know it," Martin said, holding Caroline's hand.

"Are we done then?" the King asked his herald.  "Master Ioseph!  Will you make the occasion complete?"

Ioseph stepped from the crowd and bowed.  "I feared I would have to say no," he said.  "I couldn't find the right words, and better to wait than force a rhyme.  But Her Highness' news makes it work."  Facing the crowd, he proclaimed:

Sea gulls, over the salt waves crying,
Spy the battle far below:
Sea gulls echo the shrieks of the dying,
Start away from the crash of the blow.

Breakers, on the white sands smashing,
Mimic the sword work on the land:
Maces crushing, swift swords slashing,
Shields cracking on every hand.

Shore breeze, eager to set kites flying,
Spreads the stench of death instead,
Caresses the bodies in tangles lying,
Tousles the hair on the severed head.

Shield maidens, on white horses riding,
Come for the spirits of the brave,
But one of their own, on the field striding,
Defies the summons of the grave.

Caroline, in sunlight standing,
Wakens every heart to pride,
By her example our best demanding,
A June Crown Princess, but an August bride.

"Oh!  Thank you," said the Crown Princess.

"You are most welcome, brave lady," Ioseph said.

"THREE CHEERS FOR JUHO AND ESMERALDA, KING AND QUEEN OF PATRIA!" Master Harold called.

"VIVANT!  VIVANT!  VIVANT!" the people cried.

"THREE CHEERS FOR CAROLINE AND MARTIN, CROWN PRINCESS AND CROWN PRINCE CONSORT!"

"VIVANT!  VIVANT!  VIVANT!"

"THREE CHEERS FOR CAITLIN, BARONESS OF THE ISLES!"

"VIVAT!  VIVAT!  VIVAT!"

"YOU HAVE THEIR MAJESTIES' LEAVE TO DEPART!" Master Harold said.

Chapter 19
Conventions

If a lot means a little and a little means a lot,
What do you call this thing we've got?
We laugh and we giggle, we dance a lot,
The smiles are warm and the kisses are hot.
We hug each other and it feels so right,
We're out together every night.
The signs are clear and the word is out:
They say that we're in love.
Yes, I think this must be love!

"This Must Be Love", The Straights, 1978
ESTERCON XXXI, the 31st annual West Coast Science Fiction Convention, was in San Francisco this year, and WorldCon 36 was in Phoenix.  Some SCA and SGU members would be found at each of those events, but no one from Calafia, this year.  That left the San Diego Golden State Comic-Con, July 22 and 23, at the El Cortez Grand Hotel in downtown San Diego.

In 1978, Comic-Con had not yet become the biggest convention in the world, but it was heading that way.  The splendid old hotel was packed to bursting, with some events located in other hotels nearby.  The comic-book industry was in New York, but the prospect of a business-related, hence tax-deductible weekend in San Diego drew more writers, pencillers, inkers, letterers, editors, and publishers every year.  All three of the big companies—DC, Timely, and Marvel—were well represented, but pros from Disney, Gold Key, Charleston, Harvey, and Warner Brothers were there, too.

"I can't believe how big it's gotten!" Anthony said as he and Aino left the hucksters' room, where dealers were selling comic books, original art for both comic books and comic strips, cartoon cels, movies posters and other memorabilia, baseball cards, and lots more.  The lovers were in matching red and white costumes, and Anthony's right arm was still in a sling for one more week.

"Any luck?" Lord Robert Godwin called.  He and Lord Stepan Totentanz were standing on either side of the door in suits of mail, with big tourney halberds.  Forrest and Tony Lowe—Duke Sir Werner and Master Anthony—had been two of the founders of Comic-Con back in 1969.  The Barony of Calafia had started at San Diego State later that same year, and Forrest had been one of the foundings members of that.  As a result, the security guards at Comic-Con were SGU volunteers in armor, under the command of SGU constables.

"All kinds of luck," Aino said, and held up the Nostalgia Press Complete Prince Valiant, Volume 1.  Beside her, Anthony turned the cover of Showcase 17 toward them, so they could see Adam Strange and Alanna on the cover of the old comic book, inside its protective plastic bag and backing board.

They moved on, arguing about which movies to see.  Most of 1978's movies would be shown at some point during the convention, plus lots of old movies like The Blob, The Thing, and Dracula Meets the Wolfman.  1978 movies already released (Grease, Maverick, Pretty Baby) would be shown by arrangement with the studios; movies just about to be released (Robin Hood, Goin' South, Coma, Uncle Scrooge) would be shown as special previews; others, not so far along, would be represented by trailers (The Deer Hunter, Mission: Impossible, Superboy in the 30th Century, Every Which Way But Loose).  The only one they settled on was last year's Captain America, based on the Timely comic; Aino wanted to see again the Captain's big battle scene with the Russian monster.

The art show was gorgeous, as always, and bigger than ever.  Aino and Anthony looked at the paintings of dragons and wizards, robots and spaceships, ringed planets and nebulae, some for sale, others not.  Someone they'd never heard of, either as an artist or an SGU member, had done some magnificent paintings of Christian and Denise on the thrones, Werner and Pertti fighting with maces, Master Harold making an announcement, and Master Ioseph with his head bent over his harp.  "Wow," said Aino.  "Too bad they're not for sale."

Along the back wall of the art-show room were sculptures and other three-dimensional art.  One of the exhibitors had made cardboard sets of the Legion of Super-Heroes clubhouse, and a Legion star cruiser, both in 1/6 scale, and populated them with customized Barbie dolls of various hair and skin colors, wearing Legion uniforms.  Since they were all female dolls, it was really a Legion of Super-Heroines: Saturn Girl, Cosmic Girl, Lightning Lass, Supergirl, Colossal Girl, Matter-Eater Lass, and so forth.  Aino exclaimed over the Chameleon Girl figure, with its orange skin, bald head, and antennae, while Anthony eyed the female Brainiac 5, with her green skin and blonde hair.

"My lords and ladies," said the PA system, "the Society of the Golden Unicorn invites you to a demonstration of medieval swordplay, dancing, and divers arts, in the courtyard behind the main lobby."  Master Harold pronounced "divers" as "diverse", as was proper in "forsoothly" talk.

"We'd better get moving," Anthony said.  "With so many pulling guard duty, they'll need every fighter and marshall they can get."

"Next year you can fight at Comic-Con again," Aino said.  "This year you're going to let that shoulder heal.  Right?"

"Yes, ma'am," Anthony said.

On Thursday, July 20, two days before Comic-Con, Colonel Robert Suominen and his brother-in-law, Juho Huovinen, took a MATS jet from Lindbergh Field, San Diego, to Kansas City International Airport.  The plane was outfitted much like a small civilian airliner, but instead of a stewardess they had an Air Force staff sergeant, courteous but male.  On the other hand, they also had the plane to themselves.  After dropping Juho off at Kansas City for the SGU board meeting, the flight would continue to Washington, D.C., where the Colonel would be meeting with the commanding general of the Air Force, and maybe with the Joint Chiefs; and with the Secretary of Transportation, and possibly the President.

The master sergeant's name tag read IOHANNUS.  "Dicisne Latine, Magister Iohanne?" Juho asked; Do you speak Latin, Mister Iohannus?

The master sergeant grinned and spread his hands.  "Iohanno nomine, quomodo non?" he said: With a name like Iohannus, how could I not?  "We kids were raised speaking Latin at home," he added, "so we grew up bilingual in Latin and English."

"I'll give you gents privacy," he said.  "If you need me, press this button and I'll come a-runnin'.  Meanwhile, if you want radio, we've got a dozen channels right here: two classical channels, two jazz, a show tunes channel, a country channel, two folk channels, Armed Forces Network, Armed Forces Network News, and two rock channels."  He pushed a button.  The radio sang:

Bright-eyed lady, hold on tight!
I think we're in for quite a ride.
There's bumps in store and tears to shed,
But we'll just have to see it through.
Bumps are the price for the years ahead,
And I want to spend them all with you.
So let the storm winds howl and blow,
I'm never gonna let you go!

"Thanks, Sergeant, but leave it off," Bob said.  "We've got a lot of talking to do between here and K.C."

"Yes, Sir," the sergeant said, cutting off the music in mid-note and leaving them to their own devices.  They got right to work.

"So omnicom has stuck for the handheld devices we can't actually make yet," Juho was saying a couple hundred miles later.  "We're going right ahead with design anyway—operating system, user interfaces, network protocols, compilers and assemblers—and when you can build the highway modules, the netcoms we're calling them, we'll be ready to take off from there."

"Dave says they're trying out different forms of 'multitronics', including some that are purely chemical," Bob said.  "I don't understand how you can make a computer out of DNA, myself."

"Oh, it's simple enough in concept," Juho said.  "Think of the DNA helix as storage.  At every position you have one of the four amino acids, and the bases on the opposite strand are complementary, giving built-in error checking.  We can copy the cell's own methods for zipping and unzipping the strands, adding, subtracting, and changing the bases…  No, the problem with DNA is the limitation to base four.  We should be able to do much better than that."

"Then there's the problem that it would operate at chemical, rather than electronic speeds," Bob said.

"Exactly," Juho said.  "I don't mind the mess so much—we can probably attach the strands to a dry substrate.  But even if we come up with our own neo-DNA that uses more than four bases, it's still going to be a chemical process."

"So you favor—what?  The light model?" Bob said.

"Oh yeah!" Juho said dreamily.  "If we can develop tunable micro-lasers small enough and cool enough, we can use light pipes instead of wiring.  Then give me a substrate that will store the wavelength of the last pulse that hit it, and duplicate it on demand…"

When Boeing won the spaceplane contract, it threw its model numbers to the winds.  Most of the planes at the International Terminal at LAX were 737's or wide-bodied 747's, painted with the names and colors of the airlines that owned them.  The line of shuttle buses, led by the one carrying Isabella and her bodyguards, went right past all those.  Far out on the tarmac, parked by itself, stood the plain white 777, with one oversized jet engine on each side, and rocket tubes for propulsion outside the atmosphere.  Its tail was marked only with the U.N. flag and a registry number.  Spaceplanes had the kinetic potential to be city-killers in the wrong hands; only the U.N. was allowed to own them.  A U.N. private with an automatic rifle waited beside the 777, and a major with an automatic pistol.  Both were in dress uniform, including the distinctive sky-blue berets.

The dozen airport buses stopped 30 feet from the spaceplane, but the drivers didn't open the doors.  Only the first bus did so, and Rodrigo Seturino climbed down.  Approaching the two U.N. soldiers, he stopped and saluted the U.N. flag on the spaceplane's tail, then saluted the major.  The major returned the salute, then accepted the credentials Rodrigo offered him.

"Only one rifleman, Major?" Rodrigo asked.

"Only one plane—" the major said, raising his eyebrows at Rodrigo's papers, "—Colonel."  He looked up.  "And where did you do your fighting, Sir, if I may ask?"

"Manchuria, Major.  And you?"

"Latvia, Sir, training and equipping anti-Russian partisans."

Rodrigo nodded.  "Pretty much what I did, only mine were anti-Chinese."

Once Isabella and her escort were alone in first class, and the doors locked, the other passengers were allowed to board.  The U.N. soldiers withdrew to the side of the strip and politely refused to answer any questions.  The cabin speakers carried an L.A. rock station while they waited:

Now this is not some fairy tale,
I'm telling you straight sometimes we'll wail.
But if you feel the way I do,
You'll take my hand and come along.
Well, roses are red, and violets are blue,
But we will write our daily song
With joy and sorrow, fire and rain,
Thunder and lightning all over again!

If a lot means a little and a little means a lot,
What do you call this thing we've got?
We take long walks in a gentle rain,
Then a roaring fire dries us off again.
We snuggle by the burning wood,
We cuddle and it feels so good.
The signs are clear and the word is out:
They say that we're in love.
Yes, I think this must be love!

"Ladies and gentlemen, señoras y señores, welcome aboard," the speakers said, cutting off the music.  "We should get our clearance from the tower shortly.  It will take us three hours to get to Madrid.  For anyone keeping score, going from L.A. to Madrid in a conventional jet takes thirteen hours, so you're saving ten hours."

"Madrid's time is eight hours later than Los Angeles.  We'll arrive around 3 p.m. L.A. time, but the time at our destination will be 11 p.m.  We'll inform you of the exact time when we've parked on the other end."

At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903 (2656), the Wright brothers' Flyer flew 120 feet in 12 seconds, with one person on board.  Almost 75 years later, the spaceplane lined itself up with the runway, and began racing down it.  When its wheels left the ground, it was travelling almost three hundred miles an hour.

Airplanes were pulled through the air by propellers until the end of the 1930s.  These planes lifted gradually into the air, fighting hard for every vertical foot.  The spaceplane's engines flung it into the air at a sharp angle from the start.  It climbed, and climbed, and kept on climbing.

During the War the German jets that pounded the huge Russian Army formations spent much of their time at high altitude, safe from anti-aircraft fire, swooping down upon their targets from high overhead.  Their pilots wore suits of rubber and plastic to protect them from the cold and acceleration, and breathed oxygen from bottles.  In the pressurized cabin of the spaceplane, only the darkening sky told the passengers what heights they were ascending.

"Ladies and gentlemen, señoras y señores, the cabin attendants will now check to make sure your seat belts are fastened.  When they have, we'll be igniting the rockets."  The captain didn't mention that the jet engines had already been shut down for lack of air.  Nearly weightless, the experienced attendants floated on their feet down the aisles checking restraints.

There was little noise when the rockets lit.  The sound-proofing between them and the cabin was good, and there was effectively no air outside to conduct the noise that way.  The passengers were made comfortable by the acceleration pressing them lightly into their seats.

"This is a suborbital flight," the captain said, "but the edge of space is generally reckoned to be at 328,000 feet, about 62 miles high.  Our peak altitude, this flight, will be about 90 miles.  Congratulations to everyone who just became a space traveler!"

Isabella heard a strange whining sound, very faintly, and the stars moved up across the windows on the left side of the cabin, and down on the right.

"We're rolling the ship, and as soon as we have, we'll open the overhead viewports," announced the captain.  The spaceplane, almost halfway through its flight, flew upside down with respect to the ground.  With the shields over the overhead ports retracted, the whole ceiling became one big window.

The western Atlantic hung above them as they reclined in their seats.  It was just past 1 p.m. by the L.A. time of their watches, but just past 5 p.m. in the time zone they were flying through.  The east coast of North America lay behind them, and the brassy sun slid down the black sky even further back than that.  The blue Earth filled their eyes, wrapped in white swirls of clouds.  Far ahead they imagined they saw the smudges of Europe and Africa.

"When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy hands, the Moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained," Rodrigo quoted softly, in Church Latin, "What is Man, that Thou art mindful of him?  The son of man, that Thou visitest him?"

My God my God my God, Isabella's mind tolled, while tears of rapture ran down her cheeks.  Underneath that, the small voice of her heart said, wistfully, I wish Juho were here to see this with me.

"Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor," said Rodrigo.

Juho stood in the center of the Kansas City Hilton's lobby and looked up.  And up.  And up.  Forty stories of rooms sloped inward in a high eight-sided pyramid, with the rooms of the fortieth floor arranged around an octagonal skylight, and all the inside empty.

Because each floor was smaller than the one below, the elevators couldn't connect the whole structure in a satisfying way.  Instead the elevator shafts for floors 1-10 plunged from four of the eight outside corners of the tenth floor to the inside corners of the first floor, and down to the four parking levels.  On the other four corners, elevator shafts ran from the outside of the 20th floor to the inside of the 10th.  Then the first set of corners were occupied again by shafts linking floors 20-30, and the second set were reused for the elevators from 30-40.  The prized rooms were those on the outside of the hotel, whose windows looked out over the twin cities on either side of the Missouri River; and those on the inside, which looked out over the huge atrium.  Shops circled the inside of the first four floors, making an internal shopping mall connected by escalators, and potted plants of all sizes up to full-grown trees stood everywhere.

On Friday morning the mall was comparatively empty.  Some school kids on summer vacation hung around, sipping sodas or eating ice cream, playing tag or making use of the mall's ice-skating rink.  Most, however, would be found in the city's parks, playing baseball, or swimming in the city's pools, or fishing in the river.  Adults were mostly at work.

Juho turned from looking over the hotel.  He was dressed informally: sneakers, blue jeans, and a t-shirt featuring a Marvel Comics character.  On the front it showed the character stomping towards the observer, along with the words "Here Comes the Incredible Hulk!"  On the back of the t-shirt were the words "There Goes the Incredible Hulk!" and a picture of the character stomping away.  A rope in one hand led to a toy wooden bunny on wheels.

He asked at the hotel desk and was directed to registration for the SGU convention.  Attendance at the actual board meeting was free to every SGU member, but a lot more was going on than "just" the board meeting.  Juho wrote a check for $20 for the weekend—same as he'd have paid for Comic-Con, he noted—got his program book, and looked through it.

One of the main items of business each year was approving, or "chartering", new groups.  Almost a dozen were seeking charters this year, Juho saw, including one in San Francisco, which was (used to be?) the SCA Province of St. Andrew; another in Pacifica, which had also been claimed by St. Andrew; and a third in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco on the other side of the Golden Gate.  Having SGU groups springing up in the heart of the Kingdom of the West wouldn't sit well with the SCA.  But as far as Juho was concerned, all that mattered was that the new groups met the SGU's standards and got along with each other.  If they did, they'd be strong support for each other and could even be the nucleus of an SGU kingdom between Patria and An Tir.  Too bad there already was a "Kingdom of the Middle," he thought with a grin.

The groups in Texas—more of them than he'd remembered—were petitioning to be made a principality.  If that were approved, they'd hold tourneys to select and crown a "Prince of Ansteorra" three times a year; if and when they became a kingdom, these would become Crown and Coronation Tourneys like Patria's.  Juho scratched his head.  He wasn't sure he approved of an area becoming a principality before any of its people had won the crown of the parent kingdom.  Had any Texans been King of Atenveldt?  Annals would tell him.

And what about Atenveldt east of Texas?  Would that remain part of Atenveldt anyway, become part of the new principality, or become another new principality?

Well, no doubt these questions would be addressed in the groups' presentation.  He shrugged and turned the page.  Several foreign groups were also seeking approval: Johannesburg, Union of South Africa; Melbourne, Commonwealth of Australia; Helsinki, Republic of Finland (a second group in Finland!); and Barcelona, in the Kingdom of Barcelona, in the Empire of Iberia.

Six time zones east of Kansas City, Isabella spread her full skirts wide and sank in a deep curtsey.  "Señor," she said respectfully.

His Most Catholic Majesty Juan Carlos Ferdinand Alphonso Santiago, King of Castile and León, King of Barcelona and Aragon, King of Portugal, By the Grace of God Defender of the Faith, Prince of Navarre, Captain-General of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Baron of Grenada, and heir to many other titles as well, looked over his daughter as she knelt on the marble floor.  The Palacio Real, chief of the many palaces of the King, had countless rooms, from chambers barely big enough for a desk or bed, to grand ball rooms where hundreds could dance.  The chamber they now occupied was big enough for six or eight people sitting in the large stuffed chairs found throughout the building; or twice as many, standing on their own two feet.

By American standards there was way too much furniture crammed into this, and every other room of the Palace—overstuffed chairs, long narrow tables of dark wood, foot stools—Moorish rugs in the center of every floor, and runners down the halls.  Dust motes danced in the beams of light from the tall, narrow, south-facing windows.

"Very pretty," said King Juan Carlos X.  "Come give your father a kiss, infanta."

Maria Theresa Luisa Isabella Juanita Corona rose from her curtsey, then froze as his words registered.  "Infanta, papá?" she said.

The King smiled almost sadly, recalling a similar moment with his own father.  "You must get used to the title, esmeraldita."

"How can I be infanta?" she asked.  "Did my brother die while I was flying back from America?"  She waved a hand down her clothes.  "Should I be in black, for mourning?"

"Your brother isn't dead," King Juan said, "but neither is he suitable to be the heir.  As long as he was discreet, I could ignore his… predelictions.  At least he favored both sexes with his attentions; this helped cover scandals, and made it possible he would have an heir of his own."

"So what has changed, papá?"

"It would seem that my son and the son of the Duke of La Paz have been having an affair for some years now," King Juan said.  "They consider themselves 'all but married', I'm told.  And though I doubt my son would ever be wholly faithful to any spouse, of either sex, he says that Enrique is the love of his life, to whom he will always return, and more important to him than any crown."

"Good God," Isabella said.  "Poor papa.  Such a scene that must have been!"

"So you see," the King said, "that leaves only my beautiful, brilliant, sensible daughter to inherit the throne."

"Ay mi," said Isabella, shaking her head.  "Boys will be boys, I suppose."

"You used to say 'Boys are stupid!' " her father said, "when you were little."

"Isn't it the same thing?" Isabella said, laughing a little.  "The thing is," she said soberly, "there are boys, Father, and there are men."

"I assumed, when I heard of you, that you were an American," Hieronymus Helvetius said.  "But then you spoke Finnish to me."

The hospitality room for the would-be Barony of the Floating Mountain was about half full.  Attendance was heavier on Friday evening than it had been during the day, but only a fraction of what it would be on Saturday and Sunday.

Juho put down the hand-carved chess knight he'd been examining.  It was part of a universal set.  Into the abstract shapes the Islamic world recognized, mandated by the Koran's strictures against representational art, the artist had carved figures recognizable by Europeans.  Such sets had been used where the Christian and Moslem worlds met—the Middle East, Sicily, and the Iberian peninsula.

"I'm American," Juho said.  "But my father was born in Finland, though he's lived here since he was five or six years old.  We take family trips to the old country every few years, and I'm the one in the family who learned Finnish best."

"I mean no offense," the Helsinki native said.  "It's just that, in my own limited experience, a person doesn't pick a persona that reflects his actual ancestry.  I don't think there's an SGU member in Finland with a Finnish persona."

"Generally speaking, you're right," Juho agreed.  "We have our white-boy samurais, and our Mexican Poles, and our black Irishmen, just like everyone else.  But my sisters married two brothers who also happened to be Finnish-Americans, and it never occurred to any of us not to have Finnish personas."

"And it's a ducal household?" Hieronymus asked.

"This is my third reign," Juho said.  "Pertti's also been king three times, and Taawi twice."

"A bit slow, is he?" Hieronymus joked.

"Just slow enough," Juho said.  "A tiny bit faster and he'd be standing here telling you it was his third reign, and I'd been king twice.  His son Yrjö just got knighted, and his daughter Aino just fought in her first lists."

"Aino?" asked Hieronymus.  Aino was a name made up by the author who compiled various Finnish legends and folk stories into the Kalevala; it wasn't a period Finnish name.  Hieronymus assumed Juho knew that, and he was right.

"Her Society name is Aune Päättäwäinen," Juho said.

"Päättäwäinen?" the would-be Baron said.  "Sounds like she can be difficult."  Päättäväinen is Finnish for determined or decisive.

"She can be," Juho said fondly.  "Mostly she's a darling.  My niece, my sisters, they're all darlings."

"It seems that your household, and your Barony, have it together.  I'd like to visit you sometime and pick up some pointers," Hieronymus said.

"You'd be welcome.  Not much difference between Helsinki and San Diego in August.  I can promise you no icebergs in our ocean in winter," Juho said, pointing to the Helsinki group's banner: a blue field, with a white border and a white iceberg in the middle.

"My child, it's impossible," the Bishop said.  "This man may be a Catholic, but he's a foreigner, and a married man who's going through a divorce.  A Princess of Iberia can't marry someone like that, much less the Queen to be."

"People keep telling me it's impossible, but I haven't heard any good reasons why not," Isabella said bluntly.  "As far as I'm concerned, the only way it would be impossible would be if he never asked me to marry him, and then refused me when I asked him."

"You must love him deeply," the Bishop said after he got his speech back.  The hair and the eyebrows were white, the dark eyes faded, but he shot her a keen look just the same.

"I do," Isabella affirmed.

"And when did this happen, my child?"

"I can't tell you," she said.  "Isn't that strange?  He was a handsome, interesting man from the moment I met him.  But somewhere in there… somewhere along the way he became my love, and I started thinking of him as my future."

"And does he feel the same about you?"

"He does," she said.  "I know he does.  But he hasn't spoken of it…  I think he's waiting until his divorce is final.  Also, he knows who I am; he may think, as you do, that I can't marry him."

"If he thinks that, he's correct."

"Careful," she said.  "That thinking cost the English a King, this very century.  He abdicated, so he could marry an American woman who was divorced.  And a few centuries before that, the Church lost all of England because Henry VIII couldn't get a divorce for himself."

"So you would abdicate?" said the Bishop.

"I'm drawing no lines in the dirt," Isabella said.  "He hasn't asked me!  Just remember, this is 1978, not 1678."

"It would set a bad example for the whole nation," the Bishop said.

"Would it?" she answered.  "If we were happy, and loved each other, and were faithful to each other, this is a bad example?  If I ruled well, raised my children well, and they grew into noble princes and princesses—this is a bad example?"

"What God has joined, let no man sunder," the Bishop quoted to her.

"Why not, if it needs sundering?  Just for the sake of suffering?  How very Spanish that is!"

"And how very American you sound," the Bishop said sadly.  "How many years did you say you've lived there, child?"

When Juho left his hotel room on Saturday morning, he was in full costume—his coronation robes a deep red setting for his blond hair, mustache, and beard, the royal crown of Patria on his head, his sword in its scabbard on his sword belt, his waist belt hung with pouch, knife, and soprano recorder.  The golden prick spurs of his knighthood flashed on the backs of his leather boots as he walked, and around his neck hung the Order of the Spur and the Order of the Golden Trident, Calafia's service award.

People in the lobby turned and stared.  He wasn't the only SGU member there, even so early, but he was surely the best dressed.  Serenely unconcerned, he smiled at everyone, answered politely when spoken to, and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  Fortified with bacon and eggs, orange juice, toast, and hash browns, he sailed out again an hour later and started his busy day.

He conscientiously visited the hospitality suite of every group seeking a charter, looking through the photo albums each one had brought, examining the crafts they displayed, and talking to the members who were there.  They were eager to make a good impression on him.  He carried the proxies of every absent Patrian who hadn't mailed in his vote, or given it to someone else; and in most cases, he was free to vote them as he thought best.  All in all, he represented a little over a hundred votes.

He attended several panels: one on corporation law for non-profit organizations, one on training and standards for constables, one on the role of computers in the work of the Society.  The last topic necessarily harped on gaining access to the mainframes of the day, incompatibilities between all the different proprietary operating systems, and the great expense of even a homebrew, user-built micro-computer.  Knowing how much computers were about to change, and how quickly, how cheap they would become, and how ubiquitous, Juho nevertheless held his tongue as his Secret clearance required him to do.  But he took voluminous notes, and made sure he got everyone's names, addresses, and phone numbers.

Next he went to the special preview showing of The Adventures of Robin Hood, which would be coming out in the regular theaters in September.  He enjoyed it immensely.  Richard Greene was too old to reprise the title role; many of the other actors from the old black-and-white TV show were dead; the writers, producers, directors were all different.  And yet, somehow, the new people produced a movie that was very much like a longer, color version of the old show, with modern special effects as needed, and the greater depth of plot possible in two hours instead of thirty minutes.  Juho left the theater with the theme song running through his head:

He called the greatest archers to a tavern by the green.
They vowed to help the people of the King.
They handled every trouble on the English country scene,
And still found plenty of time to sing:

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men.
Feared by the bad, loved by the good,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood!

He helped out at the noon demo held by the local group.  Since he had a room right at the hotel, he changed from robes to armor, then took the elevator down to the lobby where the demo was.  The Barony of the Forgotten Sea (Kansas and Missouri had been under water 85 million years ago) was a young group, and hosting the SGU board meeting and convention was by far the largest task they'd ever undertaken.  They had a lot of help for the demo; there was a pair of knights from An Tir, specifically the Barony of Lionsgate (Vancouver, British Columbia).  Several knights were present from other places in the Middle: North Woods (East Lansing, Michigan), Rivenstar (West Lafayette, Indiana), and Carraig Ban (DeKalb, Illinois).  Atenveldt was represented by a fighter from the Barony of Iron Mountain (Birmingham, Alabama), and one from Axemoor (New Orleans, Louisiana).  Two Eastern knights joined in, a Count from Carolingia (Boston, Massachusetts), and a Duke from Bhakail (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

It became almost a mini-tourney.  The "finals" were between Juho and Duke Oswald the Fletcher, who was famous for having declared war on the East while King of the Middle, then moving to the East, winning a crown tourney, and finding himself leading the Eastern forces in the war he'd started.  His fame did him no good when Juho planted an axe between his eyes, then got him again with a shot to the ribs when he didn't cover himself as he fell.

"Hold, hold, I'm dead already!  Christ!" he complained.

"Sorry, milord," Juho said, reaching out to help him up.  "No one called hold.  It's an ancient Calafian custom, from the first year our group existed: 'three times on the way down, and once when they bounce'."

"You must have gone through freon cans like water," the other duke said, picking himself up.

"They didn't last long," Juho agreed, remembering, as the other did, the days when helmets were cut out of used freon cans, or propane tanks for gas stoves.

The quality of the heralds appalled him.  While they undoubtedly knew their heraldry, and the ceremonies of their own kingdoms, hardly any of them could be heard any distance, or if they faced the other way.  Juho shook his head when he couldn't make out a single word of one herald's announcement, and resolved to find a way to export Master Harold's abilities to the rest of the SGU.

The demo also included dancing.  Juho found himself partnered for the processional pavane with one of the ladies from Stargate (Houston, Texas), a red-haired, vivacious woman who seemed very taken with him.  Juho was polite, but kept wishing a quiet, dark-haired Iberian lady he knew were there to see the convention with him.

"But he's a commoner!" the King shouted at his daughter.  "He's not even nobility, much less royalty!  America got started by rebelling against the English King, and Finland's never had a King at all, except when it was annexed to Sweden!"

"And still he is a man," Isabella said quietly, "as good a man as any I've met, no matter how high their birth.  Are we not human, then?  Can we only marry other kings and queens?  And unless they also refuse to marry commoners, what difference would it make?"

"The Kings of Iberia are the highest royalty in Europe," her father reminded her.  "Our line is unbroken back through the Kings of León and Castille, the Kings of Barcelona, and the Kings of Portugal.  Would you be the one to throw that away?"

"I'm proud of my ancestors," Isabella agreed.  "I'm proud of the way they reclaimed the country from Moslem rulers, proud of the way they fought Napoleon, proud of the part we played in the War, even though all of Europe stood between us and the Russians."

"But I'm proudest of them when they used their heads and showed they were sensible: when they united the country by marriage, instead of conquering Portugal and Catalonia.  When they abolished the Inquisition, and let the Jews and Moslems remain, for a price.  When they let New Castille and New León and Brasil buy their freedom, instead of trying to keep them at gun point.  When they helped the Mexicans fight off the French, even."

"They did their duty," King Juan said.  "Yours is to be Queen, with a noble consort.  And let me hear none of this talk of abdication you gave the Bishop!"

"I'll do my duty," Isabella told him.  "But compromise with me, Father.  You want me to rule the turbulent people of the wealthiest kingdom in Europe—maybe the world, unless the Maharajah or the Shah is richer.  Very well, I accept the burden.  But give me what I want, papá!"

"Which is what, exactly?"

"Happiness," Isabella said.  "Or a chance at it, at least.  Give me permission to say yes if he asks me.  If he does not, you may parade me before as many kings and princes as you wish."

When he said nothing, she added, "Please, Father.  Is it so much to ask?"

"I don't see her," Aino said.  "Do you see her, Dad?"

"They're probably waiting until all the other passengers have come in," Tina said.

It was Friday, August 25, and Isabella had been gone a month.  The whole family had turned out to welcome her home: Bob and Maddy, Dave and Tina, Juho, Yrjö, Aino and Jenny and Deborah.  The airport speakers played music between announcements:

Now I won't lead you on and I won't tell you lies,
But I'll take it hard if you say goodbye.
You're the prettiest lady that I've ever seen,
And every day I want you more.
Your lips are soft and your eyes are green,
And I love the way your keen wits soar.
You're too smart to think we'll always be glad,
But if you say no, we'll always be sad!

If a lot means a little and a little means a lot,
What do you call this thing we've got?
You saw me and just walked on by,
But I saw the twinkle in your eye.
I caught you up and I turned you round,
Your kisses made my poor heart pound.
The signs are clear and the word is out:
They say that we're in love.
Yes, I think this must be love!

"That song is everywhere these last few weeks," Deborah said, as she scanned the faces of the people coming in from the buses that had gone out to meet the spaceplane.

"Who are The Straights, anyway?" Jenny wondered.

"Doesn't matter," Aino said.  "Probably they'll be one-hit wonders and never make it big again."

"Seems to be the pattern," Deborah agreed.  "Oh, there she is.  Isabella!  Over here!"

She might as well not have spoken, let alone waved.  Isabella, for the moment, only had eyes for Juho.  She walked right up to him, and lifted her face for his kiss.

There in the terminal, in front of his family, her bodyguards, and a mob of strangers, he kissed her for the first time.  She put her arms around his head, and it went on and on.

Aino felt as though her heart strings had been plucked, sending a note right through her, to see them like that.  But she thought of Anthony, and the image of his face let her close her eyes, sigh, and then open them and smile.  Tina put her hand on her daughter's shoulder, and kissed her on the cheek.

"I have so much to tell you!" Isabella said to Juho, still in his arms, his hands on her waist.

"And you will," he said, smiling.  "But I think we just said everything important," he added in Spanish.

Chapter 20
The Burning Man

I will take my life into my hands,
And I will use it.
I will win the worship in their eyes,
And I will lose it.
I will have the things that I desire
And my passion flows like rivers through the sky.
And after all the loves of my life,
After all the loves of my life,
I'll be thinking of you
And wondering why…

"MacArthur Park", Jimmy Webb
UGUST 1978 saw the United Nations Directorate of Space approve the proposal by Hilton, the hotel company, and Marriott, the airplane-food company, to build three commercial space stations in geosynchronous orbit.  These orbital Hiltons would offer views and experiences new to mankind, first to the very rich, later to those of more modest means.  A larger class of spaceplanes would be needed to carry the materials into orbit, and then enough guests to make the hotels profitable.  These spaceliners would also be scheduled so that they could start from anywhere in the world, refuel in orbit, and then descend to anywhere, instead of being constrained by the minimum economic distance and maximum range of the current spaceplanes.  The Hiltons would also provide a platform for low-gravity science, and building them would develop the construction techniques for manned expeditions beyond the Moon.

In other news, Imperial Indian scientists released the complete genome of the roundworm C. elegans, and Canadian oceanographers announced the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic.  The great telescope on the dark side of the Moon, called the Hubble Telescope after astronomer Edwin Hubble, took its first photos.  The King of Iberia announced that his daughter, rather than his son, would be his heir.

Sir Neill of Kintyre, in his mundane identity of Bob Brown, sat in his Orange County apartment.  It was a hot day in early August, and even the fan in the open window didn't help much.  In shorts and t-shirt and nothing else, he sat on a plain wooden chair and leafed through the New York Times newsmag.

Suddenly he stiffened and glared at the page.  Sitting up straight, he tried to crumple the newsmag into a ball.  The glossy pages were too stiff to wad up easily.  In the end he gripped it by one corner of the cover and flung it against the wall.

"Shit!" he snarled.  No, that wasn't satisfying enough.  "Fuck!" he shouted.

There was an exclamation from the next room.  Hazel Ottman, who'd been Hazel Huovinen before reverting to her maiden name, came padding out of the bedroom in bare feet.  She wasn't wearing anything in the heat.  Ordinarily, she'd have looked delectable in the doorway.  But right now her breasts were swollen and (as he'd discovered the hard way) tender.  Instinctively her hands held the slight bulge of her three-month pregnancy as she asked crossly, "What now?  Damn it, I'd just gotten to sleep!"

"Page four," Neill said, pointing, and watched her walk across the room.  Sometimes he thought he loved her as no one else he'd ever met; sometimes he thought he hated her.  Hating himself, he sat in the chair and stewed, rather than jumping up and getting the newsmag for her.  She bent over with a grunt, picked it up, glared at him, and turned to page four.

When she saw the picture of Isabella, and took in the headline about the Iberian king's daughter, her scream of rage made the loose ends of ribbon flutter on the may pole leaning in the corner.

"Engaged?  Oh, that's wonderful, Aino!  Congratulations!" Isabella said.  "He loves you so much, I know you'll be very happy."

"Thanks," Aino said awkwardly, fixing her eyes on the road.  "Thank you… uh…  How do we address you?"

Isabella didn't pretend to misunderstand.  "Just the same as you always have.  Please!  Even if I am the infanta now, you're Americans, not Iberians.  Go on as we have done."

"We'll try," Aino said.  There was an awkward little silence, then Deborah said, "It's too bad you missed the Leodamas Tourney."

"Oh yes," said Isabella.  "That was on the 5th?  What does the name mean?"

"Right, three weeks ago," Jenny said.  "It's an annual Calafian tourney in honor of Leodamas of Thebes, one of the original members of the Barony.  He was a retired Air Force officer who became the baronial seneschal after Mezentius was made Baron.  All the old-time Calafians speak reverently of him."

"He died?" Isabella asked.

"Yes," said Aino, "and Dad says even the way he died was typical of him.  He stopped in the heat of summer to change a tire for a stranded motorist, and had a heart attack.  He wasn't a young man."

"May he rest in peace," Isabella said.  "So they have a tournament in his memory every year?"

"Every year," Deborah said, "and they take a vote of the people of the Barony, asking who in the last year most helped everyone work together, and be at peace with each other."

"The Baron and Baroness aren't eligible, or they'd get it year after year," said Jenny.

"Right," said Deborah.  "Lots of years no one is selected; the standards are very high.  Anyway, if someone is elected by a large majority, and the Baron agrees with the choice, he or she is admitted to the Order of Leodamas, and for a year has the privilege of wearing the ornaments of the post, a full-circle blue cape and a collar of lion heads."

"The collar is solid silver," Aino said.  "Baron Zoltan made it, and it's gorgeous."

"So who won this year?" Isabella asked.

"They haven't said yet," Deborah said.  "If no one was selected, they say so right away.  But if someone was nominated by the vote, the Baron thinks about it, and announces it at Calafia Anniversary Tourney, which is November 4 this year."

"They take it very seriously," Aino said.  "The Barony's nine years old, they've had this award maybe seven years, and they've only given it out—what?  Three times?  Four?"

"Something like that," Deborah said.  "I don't think there's a member of the Order in Calafia at present.  Eilonwy's the Baroness in Seoul, Diana and her husband moved away and started Gyldenholt, and Mistress Deborah died last year."

"So, was the tourney fun?" Isabella asked after a moment.

"Oh yeah!" said Aino.  "We see a lot of old-timers at Leodamas and Anniversary Tourney who don't bother to turn out any other time.  It's a shame you missed meeting them.  Some of them are real characters!"

"Like Duke Werner," Jenny said.  "A couple of years ago Baron Sir David was here for Anniversary Tourney—"

"He's the Baron of the German group now, but he was an original Calafian, and he and Werner roomed together when they both went to State," Deborah told Isabella.

"Yeah," Jenny said.  "Anyway, Baron David and Baron Werner were talking over old times, and it turns out that Duke Werner wasn't even a fighter his first year in the Society!  He had this wizard costume with long sleeves and a pointed hat, and would make these big puffs of purple smoke as part of his act."

"So if Werner and Alison were here for the Leodamas Tourney, I suppose Anthony was too?" Isabella said slyly.  "I hope you two pulled Aino's leg about mooning over him?"

"Gronk," Jenny agreed.

"Oh, and you missed Master Ioseph's poem!" Aino said hastily; the car kept going straight down the road, but she put the conversation through a sharp turn.

"Poem?" Isabella said, allowing herself to be diverted.  "About Leodamas?  I thought Master Ioseph met Mistress Deborah in Ireland, and then came with her when she moved back to San Diego.  He didn't know Leodamas, did he?"

"No, he didn't," Aino said.  "But Ioseph and Uncle Bob are close friends, who sit and talk for hours, sometimes.  Master Ioseph listened to what Uncle Bob said about Leodamas, and then wrote a poem from Uncle Bob's point of view—that is to say, he wrote, and recited at court, the poem Uncle Bob might have written, if he had Ioseph's skills."

"Wow," said Isabella.  "Did Pertti like it?"

"There were tears on his cheeks," Aino said.

"Here you go," Deborah said, handing Isabella the Calafian newsletter.  "The Serpent's Tongue just came in the mail, and they got the poem in despite the deadline."

Isabella read:

He smiled a lot.  I remember
Sun lines and laugh lines wrinkled together
Below white hair; and kindly eyes.
He spoke to young or old as equals.

Oil on water, we often said,
But oil works by being heavy,
Smothering waves beneath its weight.
That wasn't how he brought us together.

He did not depress us, but uplifted.
He made us large, our quarrels small.
We rose above them and agreed—
Or disagreed, but without hate.

Every year we commemorate him,
And if another has served us so,
We usher him or her into
A blessed company, the makers of peace.

Call me not a malcontent
If I wish he were a living model.
No icon can replace my friend:
I honor the legend, but miss the man.


When the song "MacArthur Park" hit #2 on the Billboard chart in 1968, the SCA was only a year old, and it would be another year before groups started in Los Angeles and San Diego.  In those days MacArthur Park was only a small neighborhood park where people held picnics, children played, and old men played chess, as in the song.  If there had been an organization in Southern California then capable of holding a medieval tournament attended by hundreds of people, they couldn't have squeezed it into the original park.

But in the years since, the booming economy had overwhelmed the area.  Trade between the U.S. and the Koreas, funneled through L.A. ports, had transformed the quiet Chinese and Korean neighborhoods around the park.  Just a few miles east of downtown Los Angeles, the area became the biggest Koreatown in the U.S.  Skyscrapers began going up, and MacArthur Park was expanded into something worthy of Seoul itself.  It could now hold a medieval tournament the size of this year's Purgatorio Coronation.  Even as cars converged from all over Southern California, the constables prepared the site.

"So why do they call it Purgatorio?" Isabella asked.

"Because an August tourney in Southern California is hotter than Hell, so it must be Purgatory," laughed Jenny.  "Who said that originally?  Was it Master Renfrew?"

"It's in his style," Deborah said.  "But I think it was Sir Neill of Kintyre."

"Sir Neill?  You're kidding!" said Aino.

"He used to be more funny and less sour than he's become lately," Deborah said.

"They say that if you attend enough Purgatorios, you'll go straight to Heaven when you die," Aino jested, as she parked the van.

A lot of locals came down to the Park as they did every weekend, only to be amazed when they found the SGU there.  The event had been approved by the Park and Recreation Department, posted in the Park itself, and mentioned on radio and in the newsmags; but lots of people got surprised, just the same.

Because of the neighborhood, a lot of the mundanes were either "black" Americans, in their weekend-best suits and dresses, or Koreans and Korean-Americans in casual versions of that country's costume.  Sir Arthur the Black, Deborah, and Cho Hye-Eun were both busy talking to groups of befuddled non-SGU folks, while Isabella herself, because of her Iberian complexion, was approached with questions far more often than she had been at any other event.  On the bonus side of the ledger, everyone was too busy telling 8-year-old boys Don't touch anything! to act weird about her new status in real life.

"Master Gerald!" King Juho said.  "How flexible is your system?"

"What does Your Majesty require?"

"If I say the Grand March is awards of arms only, can you do it?"

"We have the information," Master Gerald said, "but some people with higher awards—heck, at least one Duke I can think of!—never got a 'mere' award of arms."

"Then I guess they won't be marching," Juho said cheerfully, "unless some armigerous person admits them to his or her entourage."

"Is there some purpose to this," Isabella said repressively, "or are you just… como dice…"

"Yanking their chains?" Juho suggested.  "Messing with their minds?"  He laughed.  "Actually, I thought it was time to spotlight the newer and younger folks."

"As Your Majesty wishes," Master Gerald said, bowed, and left.

"You two sound just like Uncle Bob and Aunt Maddy!" Aino said, as the heralds called people to assemble for the Grand March.

"Like an old married couple, she means," Juho said to Isabella in Spanish, smiling.

"I understood what she meant," Isabella said softly.

"Argghhh!" said Aino.  "You're going to make me learn Spanish, aren't you?"

After the Grand March, Lord Peter the Whimsical, Red Hand Herald of the Barony of Failte, declared, "This is the court of Juho and Esmeralda, King and Queen of Patria, and of Caroline and Martin, Crown Princess and Crown Prince Consort.  Today is the seventh day before the Kalends of September in the 2,731st year of the City of Rome."

"This is the last day of my reign," King Juho told the people of Patria, and the half-mystified, half-awed mundanes.  "I'll be sorry to see it end.  When I stand here, you are my people, the populace of my kingdom.  When I look upon you—the gallant Knights, the learnéd Laurels, the industrious Pelicans, the earnest aspirants to these noble orders—my heart is like to burst with pride.  Thank you, my people."  He sat.

Esmeralda stood up, smiling.  "You may have heard," she said, "of a recent change in my… expectations, if I have the right word.  I hope it won't matter for many, many years.  My father is a young man, and I am fond of him."

"In the meantime, would Master Harold attend me?"

"Your Majesty?" said a puzzled Harold Godfrey.

"Please rise, Master Harold," Isabella said.  "This letter," she said, as she handed him a thick 9 x 12 envelope, "comes from my father and the León King of Arms, his servant.  Like all official documents of the Court, it is in Spanish and in Church Latin.  They were going to add an official English version, but I told them you could read the Latin, at least."

"I thank Your Majesty for your confidence in me," Master Harold said curiously, turning the fat envelope over and over.  It was white, with elaborate writing in Spanish, Catalan, and Portuguese on the front, and a heavy wax seal over the flap, stamped with the arms of Iberia: Quarterly of 6, Castile, León, Barcelona, Portugal, Navarre, and Granada.

Isabella laughed.  "Read it over, Master Harold, and please come see me before the weekend is over."

Caroline and Martin stood, and Martin, holding her hand, said, "Everyone is invited to our wedding tomorrow.  It will take place in the center of the eric at 10 a.m., followed by a reception at our pavilion afterwards."

"Please come," Caroline said.  "We want all of our friends to be there."

Baron Christian stood up and said, beaming, "This is the Barony of Failte, which means welcome in Irish.  Welcome a thousand times, our old friends from the other baronies of the Kingdom of Patria.  Welcome a thousand times a thousand times, all the new faces I see in the crowd.  The tent on my left, with the banner of a gold key on a red background, will be staffed all weekend with people who will be happy to answer your questions and make you feel at home."

"The kingdom constable has an announcement," Lord Peter said.

Sir Mary, in mail, but without her padded coif so her black curls tumbled over her shoulders, bowed to the thrones, then addressed the populace.  "As if it weren't hot enough, at Purgatorio we have the burning man.  Anything you want to get rid of—guilt, anger, bad dreams, envy—write it on a piece of paper, and you may sacrifice it to the flames.  Please write it on one piece of paper; last year someone tossed in a bushel basket of old love letters, and a wind came up and scattered them."

"Hunka hunka burnin' love," someone in the crowd said.  Master Renfrew blushed.  "It seemed like a good idea at the time," he muttered.

"One piece of paper," Sir Mary said.  "And though it's not medieval, a couple of us will stand by with fire extinguishers, just in case.  Please don't see us—unless we yell for you to get out of the way."

"The master of the sciences has business before the court," announced Lord Peter, as Sir Mary bowed to the thrones again and returned to the crowd.

Master Anthony, his arm out of the sling, addressed the populace.  "Bring your entries to the Sciences pavilion as soon after the burning of the wicker man as you can.  I, or one of my deputies, will be there all weekend, except during the wedding.  Those who wish to take the examination, or who are scheduled to defend a thesis before our learned doctors, please don't wait until the last minute."  With a bow, he was done.

"Is that it?" the King asked Lord Peter.

"There is one last-minute item, with Your Majesty's permission?"

"Very well," said Juho.

Lord Peter waved, and the crowd parted for a half-dozen figures in full armor, including helmets, and in a few cases where the helmet didn't conceal the faces, they wore domino masks.  All but one carried boffers: "swords" of foam rubber covered with bright red cloth.  The arms on their shields were familiar, but differenced in various ways.

"Your Majesties," said the spokesman, in plate with the visor open on his silver helm, "the revival of the executioner's art at the recent war reminded some of us of other customs of our Society which have fallen into disuse—"

"Just a moment," the King said.  "Who addresses us?  Who are you?"

"Your Majesty?" said the spokesman.  He turned his shield so the front was facing King Juho.  It showed a badger in its actual colors on a white field with a green border; and over all that, a big X of red duct tape.  "As you can clearly see, I am not Sir Charles of Kintyre.  Here with me is my brother, not Sir Neill of Kintyre, our friend, not Sir Adam Dumarest, and other loyal subjects of the throne."  Sir Neill's arms had a big red circle on them, crossed by a diagonal red stripe, while Sir Adam's arms were upside down.

"If Her Majesty will please rise, we would like to introduce her to another custom she hasn't seen yet," not-Sir-Charles continued.

"If I see a clove orange, you're all dead men," King Juho warned, as Queen Esmeralda stood up slowly.

"Certainly not, Your Majesty!" the armored knight exclaimed.  "That would be crude!"  Then he bent over, grabbed Esmeralda around the waist, and stood up again with her over his shoulder, shocked speechless.  The grin below the mask was huge.  "See you later," he said, turned, and ran off.  The other abductors, menacing the court and onlookers with their boffers, backed away behind him.

Aino was the first to recover.  "Hey!" she said, darting from behind the Queen's throne.  "Hey!  I'm her lady in waiting!  WHOOP!"  Not-Sir-Neill turned around, grabbed her, and rejoined the retreating figures, with Aino over one armored shoulder.

"Herald!  Call my knights!" shouted King Juho.

"ALL KNIGHTS!  ALL KNIGHTS, ARM AND REPORT TO THE KING!  COURT IS ADJOURNED!" cried Lord Peter, doing Master Harold proud.

At the western side of the renovated park was a lake where one could rent paddle boats.  The abductors retreated there to limit the directions from which they could be attacked, knowing they'd be outnumbered.  There they raised the flag of Not-Failte, a red hand raised in a STOP gesture above the words "Buzz Off," made their captives comfortable, and waited.

"Are you sure you should be doing this?" not-Martin said to not-Caroline for the hundredth time.

"Yes, I'm sure," not-Caroline answered.  "Let me have a last bit of fun while I can still squeeze into my mail.  "Don't worry, you'll be waiting on me hand and foot soon enough."

"It really is an old custom," Aino assured Isabella as they sat on the cloak that had been spread out for them, while the marshalls kept the goggling locals at a distance.

"It got to be tiresome," she continued.  "It seemed like every time you turned around, someone wanted to carry you away.  But a Calafian tourney didn't feel complete without Rowena being abducted, and Werner and Alison met when he grabbed her from the crowd at Comic-Con; she wasn't even in the Society yet."

"I suppose it's romantic," the Queen said.  "Look, here come our men to rescue us!"

"What?!" Aino said, looking at the approaching fighters.  "Damn!  Anthony's not supposed to be fighting yet!"

"He's not?" Isabella said.

"Oh!" Aino fumed.  "If he gets through this unhurt, I'm going to kill him myself!"

"Ah, true love," said Isabella, smiling.

"Are you sure you should be doing this?" Duke Werner asked his brother.

"Don't try to stop me," Anthony snarled.  He lifted his shield a few times, grimaced, and put it aside.  He picked up an axe instead, to complement the sword in his left hand.

"I shouldn't even have let you bring your arms and armor," Werner persisted.  "If you can't carry a shield with that shoulder, what are you doing fighting?"

"Leave him alone!" Juho said.  The snarl on Anthony's face was reflected on his.  "Come on, Master Anthony, let's make some jokers wish they'd let abductions stay forgotten."

"It's always the quiet ones," Taawi said as he watched Juho and Anthony stalk away.

Werner sighed.  "Juho's fallen pretty hard, hasn't he?"

"You just noticed?" Pertti said.

"The battle cry is Hakka päälle," Juho said.

"I can't pronounce that!" Duke Grigoriy protested.  "And what's it mean, anyway?"

"It means Cut them down!" Anthony said.  "It was the Finnish battle cry, back when the King of Sweden used them as his shock troops."

"You speak Finnish, Master Anthony?" King Juho asked.

"No," said Anthony.  "But I'm not… damned ignorant, either.  Pardon my language."

"All right, that's enough," Pertti said.  "Let's have some moderation here.  Juho, Anthony, rein it in.  If you can't control yourselves, you should stay out of this fight."

Werner put one arm around Juho's shoulders, one around Anthony's, careful not to squeeze Anthony's right shoulder.  "It's a game, guys.  A game.  Remember?"

Anthony nodded tightly.  "You're right.  You're right.  I'm sorry, Greg."

Grigoriy nodded.  "How about the rest of us just say 'Mince-meat! Mince-meat! Mince-meat!' in a menacing way, and leave 'Hacka pella' to those who can pronounce it?"

"Good enough," said Juho.

"Whom am I addressing?" Master Harold asked.

"I am not Baron Christian Julian, and these are not the knights of Failte," Sir Christian replied.  He carried a white shield with the words NOT ME in black.

"Well, my lord whoever-you-are," Harold said, "King Juho of Patria calls on you to surrender and die."

"You mean surrender or die," the Baron said, chuckling.

"No, I mean surrender and die," Harold said.  "The King is feeling a bit peeved for some reason."

"Gee," said Not-Sir-Frederick-the-Red from the ranks of the abductors.  He was carrying a solid green shield.  "Was it something we said?"

"His Majesty has declared abduction illegal, with a penalty of drawing and quartering.  But if you give up right now, he'll leave out the quartering."

"Say, that's mighty friendly of him," drawled Not-Sir-Christian.  "Personally, though, I can use all the quarters I can get."

"Heck, I'll take whole dollars!" said Not-Sir-Manfred, holding the Not-Failte banner.

The actual fight didn't take long.  Though Failte had more than its share of fighters, they were still outnumbered three to one by the rest of the kingdom.  The chief concerns were making sure that no one drowned in the lake, and protecting the abducted ladies from the fight.  There were just enough marshalls to do it.  If Anthony had been using his head, there would have been one more.

Instead he was fighting Joan the Valiant, who in March would've been no match for him.  Now, though, his right arm was slower and weaker.  In exasperation, he reached out with the axe in his right hand to pull her shield aside, while cocking the sword in his left to strike in the opening.  But he was too slow.  She yanked her shield back sharply, and he cried out; it felt like his arm was being pulled off.  The next instant she smashed her sword into the side of his helmet, and then his ribs when he didn't fall down.  Then he did fall down, and she went looking for another opponent.

"Are you all right?" Baroness Alison said.  Wearing a marshall's sash and carrying a black-and-gold marshall's staff, she looked down at her brother-in-law and asked, "Any permanent damage?"

"Why didn't you call hold?" Anthony said, rolling over onto his back.

"Call hold?  Tony, this is the dumbest thing I've ever seen you do.  Get the Hell off the field."

"But…"

"Now!" Alison said.

Juho went through the opposition like a fox through a flock of hens, heading directly for Isabella.  Pertti and Taawi fell in on his left and right and watched his back.  The abductors melted away in front of them, killed almost before they knew they were under attack.

"Are you all right?" Juho asked Esmeralda, as he gave her his hand to rise from the cape on the ground.  Left and right and behind them, Armin and Grigoriy and Werner led the mopping up.

"Of course she's all right!" Aino said.  "Where's Anthony?"

Isabella smiled, and laid her hand along the curve of Juho's helmet.  "My hero," she said.

The burning man was almost an anticlimax after the excitement of the abduction.  The autocrats of Purgatorio were responsible for constructing the wicker man and bringing him to the tourney.  They had outdone themselves.  Some years the "man" was just a big pile of hay bales with a hole slanting down to stick the men's may pole into.  This year he was an elaborate construction of basketweaving, with recognizable folded legs, a body with distinct arms, shoulders, neck and head, a face with a mustache and an expression that seemed lustful one moment, sad the next.  The red-and-purple may pole went into a socket where the legs joined the body, supported by both hands, and stuck up just short of the chin.

Lots and lots of pictures were taken.  Juho and Christian, King and Baron, lit the wicker man with torches.  People lined up to toss slips of paper into the flames.  Some said what they were getting rid of; most did not.  The constables with fire extinguishers watched carefully.

The ladies who weren't sacrificing anything stood at a distance, witnessing.  If the women's may pole hadn't been stolen, Maddy or Isabella or both of them would've been holding it.  As it was, Maddy, looking around, noticed that Caroline was standing the same way she was, and resting her hands on her stomach when she wasn't thinking.

"Caroline," Maddy said softly.  "Are you—?"

"Since Beltane," Caroline nodded.  She took a good look at Maddy.  "You too?"

"Uh huh," Maddy smiled.  "How's Martin taking it?"

"Scared to death," Caroline confided.  "Actually—so am I."

"I would be, too," said Maddy, "if I didn't have Bob, and Tina, and all my household.  Listen… if you need anything… someone to talk to… or anything…"

"Thanks," said Caroline.  "That's so sweet."

"Really," Maddy said.  "I don't think you have family here?"

Caroline started laughing.  "What?" said Maddy.

"I bid for the may pole," Caroline said, "and I'm pregnant.  You won the may pole, and you're pregnant.  I hope whoever stole it isn't a woman, or she may be pregnant, too!"

"If it's that potent, maybe he's pregnant," Maddy said.

As Caroline and Maddy laughed, the hands of the wicker man burned away, and the men's may pole crashed down, also burning.  "Awwwww, pooor baby," the women chorused.  A couple of male constables pushed the pole into the increasingly shapeless bonfire, and stamped out sparks scattered by the fall.

The rest of the day passed quietly.  There was a lot going on, but it wasn't as spectacular as an abduction or a straw man on fire.  SGU members talked to interested mundanes.  Kites flew, part of the Sciences championship.  People played chess and other games; a hnefltafl tournament was also part of the championship.  Mistresses Helena and Jeanette had black-and-white copies of a stained-glass window for children to color, a tug-of-war contest for children old enough to fall down without crying, and a boffer tourney for kids a little older still.  There were challenges inside the eric, and a couple of melées.  People shopped on merchant's row, buying lace and beads, leather boots and belt pouches, carved wooden boxes and wooden shoes, fans and straw hats against the heat.  A new issue of Scientiae was out, and selling well.  Sir Ulfdan's hound, older in dog years than Ulfdan was in human terms, lay before his master's tent and thumped his tail gratefully whenever anyone scratched his ears.  Lady Adrianna's ferret nestled in her arms and touched noses with anyone who offered it a treat.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!  MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!" Master Harold cried from the center of the eric.  "HIS MAJESTY DECLARES ABDUCTION ILLEGAL FOR THE REST OF HIS REIGN!"  There was laughter.  Baron Christian ostentatiously checked his watch to see how many hours "the rest of Juho's reign" would be.

"FURTHERMORE," said Harold, "THE FOLLOWING PERSONS ARE PROSCRIBED AND OUTLAWED, AND MAY BE SLAIN OUT OF HAND WHENEVER AND WHEREVER THEY ARE FOUND!"  He shook out a rolled-up scroll.  It fell to his feet, bounced, and unrolled a couple more feet.  "NOT SIR CHARLES OF KINTYRE!" Harold read.  "NOT SIR NEILL OF KINTYRE!  NOT SIR ADAM DUMAREST!  NOT… "

"I'm glad that you've regained your sense of humor," Isabella told Juho, as the list of not-persons went on and on.  They were sitting in two of the x-frame chairs in front of the Suomainen pavilion, entirely alone for the moment.  Aino had taken one look at Juho's face and left, announcing her intention of finding Anthony and beating him up some more.

"Shame on me for ever having lost it," Juho said.  "I missed you at the SGU convention, señorita.  I wanted to share it with you."

"Oh, no," Isabella said.  "If I can't call you señor, then you can't call me señorita.  Use my name!"

"But which name, now that your secret is out?" Juho asked.  "Maria Theresa?  Theresa Luisa?  Which should I call you by?"

"Within the family, it was always Isabella," she said, "except my father calls me esmeraldita, as I told you."

"Perhaps I shouldn't speak to you at all," Juho said, "now that you're the heir, and completely out of reach."

"You mean, because you're a foreigner?  Because you're divorced (or is that still pending)?  Because you're an American Catholic, which a Spaniard or an Italian would say was hardly a Catholic at all?  Because you're a commoner?  Those reasons?" Isabella said.

"All those, and more," Juho said.  "Why do you think I haven't said anything these past months?"

"Haven't said anything!" Isabella answered.  "Every time you kissed my hand, that wasn't saying anything?  Every time you looked at me with those eyes, that wasn't saying anything?  Every time you touched me, and melted my bones?  Oh no, my friend, it's far too late not to say anything."

"Say I have," said Juho.  "What use to speak the words, when your answer must be no?"

Isabella looked down at her hands.  "They said I must say no," she said.  "My father, the Bishop, all the wise old heads told me that."  She looked up and speared him with her eyes.  "I said no to their no," she told him.  "I said, I will do this thing you ask me—this enormous, impossible thing.  But in return you must leave me free to say no, or yes, as I decide."

"So you're saying…" Juho said slowly.

"I'm saying nothing," Isabella told him.  "It is you who must speak.  Timing is everything, you said.  The time is now.  Habla ahora, o habla nunca."  Which means, Speak now, or speak never.

"Fair enough," said Juho.  "Fair enough."

He stood up from the chair, walked around in front of her, and sank down on both knees, with his hands folded before him.  "Maria Theresa Luisa Isabella Juanita Corona, my Esmeralda, will you be truly mine?  My lady?  My love?  My wife?  Por favor, señorita?"

She smiled with purest joy, and it was as if the sun hadn't risen until that moment.  She took his hands between her own.

"Sí, señor, I will," she said, and kissed him.

"About time, too," Maddy said with satisfaction.  She and Tina had watched the whole thing from inside the kingdom pavilion; close enough to see, far enough to be ignored, too far to hear the actual words.

"Yes," Tina agreed.  "But now I have to see how Aino's taking it."

"Actually, you don't," Maddy said, pointing with her chin.  "Look."

Across the field, in the door of the Sciences pavilion, Aino was weeping into Anthony's tunic.  Anthony's right arm was back in the sling, but his left arm folded her close.

"You haven't lost him," Anthony said urgently.  "He still loves you just as he always did."

"Oh," said Aino, muffled by cloth.  "You know."

"I know," Anthony said.  "It was no great mystery, for someone who loves you as I do.  Forrest and Alison always say I'm completely transparent.  Well, guess what, glass girl."

Aino chuckled, and drew back a little, still within his arm, to look him in the face.  "You are so reasonable," she said softly.

Anthony laughed outright.  "Am not," he said.  "Intensely rational, yes; reasonable, no.  A reasonable man would've settled for Amanda, instead of reaching after you.  A reasonable man would've accepted Sir Neill's apology.  A reasonable man wouldn't have charged to your rescue with a bum shoulder."

"Don't remind me," Aino said, frowning.

"Do you know why, my darling, my dear, my love, Juho will always love you?  Why Taawi and Pertti will always love you?  Why everyone who knows you will always love you, and the more they know you, the more they'll love you?"

Wide-eyed, Aino shook her head.

"You are love," Anthony said.  "It flows from you, then it flows back to you.  Mist rises from the ocean and makes clouds; the clouds rain on the mountains; the rain flows downhill in rivers, and the rivers return to the ocean.  You are the ocean, love is the water, and we who receive your rain must send back our rivers."

"My!" said Aino.  "What a big pedestal you have me on!"

"You can't put the ocean on a pedestal," Anthony said.  "Splash!"  He smiled.  "Feeling better?"

"You know," she said, "I think I am."  And she kissed him.

Because Caroline and Martin were being married in the morning, they were crowned at closing court on Saturday.  That kept the two spectacles separate.

Lady Mathilde of Rannoch was the herald; it was her first solo kingdom court.  She was pale, and she trembled throughout; but her voice shook only a couple of times, and she made no mistakes.  Baron Sir Armin, much to his surprise, was asked by the King to act as marshall for the coronation, holding the great sword of state when it wasn't being used, handing it over when it was needed.

So Juho took the crown from his own head and placed it on Caroline's, and Esmeralda crowned Martin Prince Consort.  Then the new royalty faced the populace, and Mathilde cried, in the loudest voice she had managed to date, "Behold Caroline, Queen by right of arms!  Behold Martin, Prince Consort!  THREE CHEERS FOR THEIR MAJESTIES!"  The vivants rang in the brassy sky.

Before Juho and Esmeralda were allowed to leave the kingdom pavilion, Caroline bid Esmeralda kneel.  Then Mathilde read from the book of ceremonies:

"The rank of Count is reserved for a man who has been King or Prince Consort once, while a woman who has been Queen, whether consort or in her own right, is entitled to the rank of Countess."

"Becoming a Count or Countess conveys a Patent of Arms, and Counts and Countesses take precedence over everyone but Dukes and Duchesses, and the reigning monarchs.  They may add a crown to their arms, after consultation with the heralds, and may wear a crown of their own, having yielded the crown of the Kingdom."

"My lady Esmeralda," Queen Caroline said, "having served as Queen of this our realm of Patria, and having passed the crown of the consort to Prince Martin, you have earned the title of Countess in the Society of the Golden Unicorn.  Do you accept this rank and title, with the attendant privileges and responsibilities?"

"I do," Isabella said, "Your Majesty."

Caroline smiled.  "First time anyone's called me that," she said.  "You get the bean."

"The… bean?" Isabella said, thinking she'd heard wrong.

"The first coin struck in a reign," Caroline said, "is called the bean."  She reached into her belt pouch, and handed Isabella a bright, shiny, newly-minted SGU coin.  "Here."

Isabella looked at it.  On one side was Caroline's head, in profile, crowned, encircled by the words CAROLINA REGINA PATRIAE 2731 A.U.C.  She turned it over.  Martin's face stared out, also crowned, within the words MARTINUS PRINCEPS PATRIAE 1978 A.D.

"Thank you," Isabella said, tucking it away in her pouch.  "I will treasure it."  She looked at Juho, standing beside Caroline and Martin with his ducal crown.  "Did we have coins?" she asked him.  When he nodded, she said, "I'd like one of those, too, please."  He nodded again, smiling.

"Who has the crown?" Queen Caroline asked.

"I do," said Duke Pertti, coming forward.  He smiled at Isabella.  "It's a gift from the household," he said, and handed it to the Queen.  It wasn't solid metal, but a weave of gold wire.  A gold fillet was its base; above it, wires interwove to form alternate curves and spikes.  The bottom of each tall spike was welded to the fillet, and in the center of each spike and curve was a round green stone.  The crowd went ooh and ahh.

"It's beautiful," Isabella whispered.  Pertti beamed.

"This crown is the token of your service to the Kingdom of Patria.  May you wear it with pride," Caroline said, setting it on Isabella's head.  "Rise, Your Grace," she continued, taking Isabella's hands between her own and pulling her to her feet.

"Three cheers for Countess Esmeralda!" cried Lady Mathilde.  "Vivat!  Vivat!  Vivat!" roared the crowd—May she live!—as Isabella accepted the hugs of the counts and countesses (some of whom were also dukes and duchesses).

Chapter 21
A Royal Wedding

There will be another song for me,
For I will sing it.
There will be another dream for me,
Someone will bring it.
I will drink the wine while it is warm
And never let you catch me looking at the sun.
And after all the loves of my life,
After all the loves of my life,
You'll still be the one.

"MacArthur Park", Jimmy Webb
VERY table at the banquet and revel had at least one Failten, acting as a host to those from other baronies, seeing to their needs, filling their glasses, in some cases telling jokes and leading the conversation.

Christian and Denise, Baron and Baroness of Failte, paused at the Suomainen table and greeted Duke Pertti and Duchess Marketta, Duke Taawi and Duchess Kristiina, Duke Juho and Countess Esmeralda, Mistress Deborah and Master Harold, Sir Yrjö and Lady Katherine, Lady Aune and Master Anthony, Sir Adam and Lady Mathilde, Duke Robert and Lady Hye-Eun.

"There's supposed to be a Failten to keep an eye on you lot—I mean, play host to you distinguished guests," the Baron said.  Baroness Denise smiled and poked him in theribs with a sharp forefinger.

"Maybe there is," Pertti said.  "Taawi, look under that salt boat.  Juho, is there a Failten in your goblet?"

"But I thought Sir Adam was a Failten," Aino said.  "He's been telling us lots of old Failten stories."

"Has he?" Christian said.  "And yet I don't recall seeing him at Failte Anniversary Tourney, or any of our fighting practices."

"Well, what about me, then?" Duke Robert said.

"You certainly live in what we'd call Failte," Baron Christian nodded, "but the SCA calls it the Barony of the Angels.  And you haven't been active in our group, either."

"Speaking of who was where, Your Excellency," Juho said, "where were you when we were fighting the abductors today?"

"I was right beside you," Christian said smoothly.  "Did you not see me?"

"Correct," Juho said.  "I did not see you."

"That's all right, Your Grace," Sir Adam assured him, "I didn't see him too."

"So did I," called Sir Neill from a nearby table.

Juho shook his head.  Esmeralda said to Aino, "He didn't see him too?  Is it just that English is not my native tongue, or—?"

"No," said Aino, crossing her eyes.  "They're making my head hurt the same as yours."

"Speaking of heads," Duke Robert said to Cho Hye-Eun, "did you hear the one about the Calafian, the Madronan, and the Shastan?"

"No," she said quietly; the slender Korean beauty was very soft-spoken.

"Well," said Duke Robert, addressing the whole table, "it seems there was a war, and a knight from Calafia, a knight from Madrone, and a knight from Shasta were captured by the enemy.  Now the enemy had a guillotine, not period of course, but the local armorers' guild must have gotten carried away.  So carried away were they with their new toy, in fact, that they didn't even try to ransom their captives.  They sentenced them to death by guillotine then and there."  Some of his listeners had heard this joke before, but they didn't interrupt.

"So the Calafian knight," continued the Duke, "took one look at the home-made guillotine and cried, 'Stop!  You cannot kill me!  I am a most devout and Christian knight, and God Himself will not let me die under the flashing blade of your foul engine!'  And he spat on the ground, and dared them to do their worst."

"Yeah right, said his captors, bent him over, and locked his head into place.  Then they yanked the lever that freed the blade!"

"Yes?" said Lady Hye-Eun.

"Nothing happened!" said Duke Robert, shrugging.  "The blade did not fall!  Upset and not a little awed, the enemy argued among themselves, and finally told the Calafian, 'Your God has saved you.  Get out of here, before we change our minds.'  And the Calafian took off, praising God as he went."

"Well, the bad guys were unhappy with him getting away, but they still had two captives left, and they were going to make the most of them.  'All right, miserable An Tirian,' they said to the knight from Madrone, 'lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice.  He may have escaped us, but you're doomed.  Any last words before we chop off your head?' they asked him."

"The Madronan hardly heard them; he was staring at the guillotine.  As they grabbed him, he cried, 'You can't kill me with that thing!  God and Saint Bunstable will protect me!'  And he shook off their hands and placed himself in the guillotine without their help."

"Give us a break, they said, Saint Bunstable indeed!  They yanked the lever again, and again the blade didn't fall!  'Praise God and Bunstable his martyred saint!' cried the Madronan in a great voice."

"Damn damn damn, said the enemy, get out of here, and he went.  Then in great fury they turned to the knight from Shasta, and said, miserable dog, not even God would care for such as you!  We're going to have our fun if it kills you!"

"The Shastan, who'd been looking at the guillotine, smiled at them in a friendly way and said, 'You know, guys, that thing would work a lot better if you oiled it.' "

"Oh God," Aino said, shaking her head, "That's a Shastan, all right."

"The first time I heard that joke," Duke Pertti said, "the enemy were Russians, and their captives were American, German, and Polish officers."

As the table was laughing at the Scadian joke, Master Ioseph was summoned by the Queen.  He bowed before the high table, where Caroline and Martin had been rejoined by Christian and Denise, and said, "What is Your Majesties' pleasure?"

"How about a round?" Martin suggested.  "It seems like a long time since we've had one."

"Good idea," Caroline said.  "Master Ioseph, if you would?"

Ioseph bowed again, then faced the room.  "Let's see if we can sing a round with four different songs," he said.  "Everyone on this side of the room, from here to the door, you can sing Western Wind:"

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain,
O that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

He led them through it a couple of times.  "Good," he said.  "Now everyone on this side, from here to the high table, can sing Rose:"

Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose,
Will I never see thee wed?
I will marry at thy wish,
Lord, at thy will.

"Excellent!" he said, when that part of the room had gone through it a couple of times.  "Now on the other side of the room, from the high table down to here, you can all sing:"

Above the plain of golden green,
A young boy's head is plainly seen.
But no, 'tis not his lifted head,
'Tis Iftin's castle spire instead.

"Got it?  Good!  And everyone on this side from here to the door, I want you to sing:"

I sold my flax, I sold my wheel,
To buy my love a sword of steel,
That it in battle he might wield:
Johnny's gone for a soldier.

"All right.  Can we do it?  What?"  He cupped his ear with his left hand.  "I said, Can we do it?"

"Yes!" said some, "Maybe!" said others, and a few contrary souls said "No!"

"Well," laughed Ioseph, "We shall see."  He started playing "Western Wind" on his harp, speaking over the melody.  "You've heard these songs before.  All you have to do is start singing your own song when I point to your group.  Keeping singing, no matter what happens, until I tell you to stop.  Ready, go!" he said, pointing to the first group.

Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
they sang; then the second group joined in:
The small rain down can rain,
Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose,
and the third:
O that my love were in my arms,
Will I never see thee wed?
Above the plain of golden green,
and the fourth:
And I in my bed again!
I will marry at thy wish,
A young boy's head is plainly seen.
I sold my flax, I sold my wheel,
Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
Lord, at thy will.
But no, 'tis not his lifted head,
To buy my love a sword of steel,
The small rain down can rain,
Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose,
'Tis Iftin's castle spire instead.
That it in battle he might wield:
O that my love were in my arms,
Will I never see thee wed?
Above the plain of golden green,
Johnny's gone for a soldier.

"Oh, this is going far too well," Ioseph said mischievously.  He lifted his voice and sang:

A huya huya huyaya,
Swiftly flowing river!
A huya huya huyaya,
Swiftly flowing river!

"Oh dear dear dear," he said, as the fragile unison shattered like glass.

"Dirty pool, Master Ioseph!" Sir Fergus called.

Ioseph smiled.  "Let's try again, shall we?  This time we'll start in Fergus' corner.  Ready, go!"

Above the plain of golden green,
A young boy's head is plainly seen.
I sold my flax, I sold my wheel,
But no, 'tis not his lifted head,
To buy my love a sword of steel,
Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
'Tis Iftin's castle spire instead.
That it in battle he might wield,
The small rain down can rain.
Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose,
Above the plain of golden green,
Johnny's gone for a soldier.
O that my love were in my arms,
Will I never see thee wed?

Then Ioseph sang:

My paddle's keen and bright,
Flashing with silver!
Follow the wild goose flight,
Dip, dip, and swing!

and the round dissolved into laughing chaos.  A couple of dinner rolls bounced off the bard, thrown from different corners of the hall.

"Oh well, better luck next time," Ioseph said:

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!

"All right," he said as they cheered, "you know how this works: rhymed couplets about subjects near and dear to our hearts.  For instance:

A herald's work is never done,
Hey nonny nonny no!
But Harold makes it look like fun,
Hey nonny nonny no!

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!

"Do I get to reply?" Harold demanded.

"Always, my friend," Master Ioseph said.  So Harold sang:

Ioseph started well, but just his luck,
Hey nonny nonny no!
His hey-nonny switch got good and stuck,
Hey nonny nonny no!

"You mean, like:"

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny nonny,

sang Ioseph, then slapped himself on the head, and finished, "Hey nonny nonny no?"

Everyone laughed.  Then several people stood up.  Sir Thomas of Colton sang:

Poor Lord Peter just can't win,
Hey nonny nonny no!
'For the Crown of the West,' he said, 'begin!'
Hey nonny nonny no!

Lord Peter covered his face and groaned.

"What?" said Master Ioseph, "no reply?"  He pointed to someone who was all but jumping up and down.  Lady Adrianna the Sage, who's been the other herald at that point in March, faced Lord Peter and sang:

Forgive us, Peter, our unholy glee,
Hey nonny nonny no!
If it hadn't been you, it would've been me!
Hey nonny nonny no!

Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!
Hey nonny nonny nonny,
Hey nonny nonny no!

"Bravely said!" Ioseph laughed:

Diogenes has searched an age,
Hey nonny nonny no!
And now he finds a lady Sage,
Hey nonny nonny no!

"Master Ioseph!" Duke Pertti said, standing up with his goblet in his hand.

"Yes, Your Grace?" said Ioseph.

"To good friends and better foes!" Pertti said, holding the goblet high:

A noble man has noble foes,
Hey nonny nonny no!
And Armin keeps us on our toes!
Hey nonny nonny no!

Then drained the goblet, while the room sang the chorus.

Armin was completely speechless.

Day Two of Purgatorio (known to the locals as "What?  Are you guys still here?") began with the wedding.

"My lords and ladies!  My lords and ladies!  Pray gather for the wedding of Caroline, Queen of Patria, and Martin, Prince Consort!"

"My word!" said the priest, all in vestments in the middle of the eric.  "That was loud!"

"You think that's loud," Lord Peter said, beaming at the praise, "you should hear the man who trained me!"

As the populace streamed onto the field, the ushers, distinguished by marshall's baldrics, arranged them in two blocks, with an aisle down the middle leading to the kingdom pavilion, where Caroline waited with her escort.  Martin stood by the priest with Baron Christian and Sir Charles.

At some signal Isabella didn't see, Sir Ulfdan began playing his serpent, joined within a measure by four recorder players—one soprano, one alto, one tenor, and one bass—and a deep drum.  As Caroline appeared at the front of the kingdom pavilion, Master Ioseph began to sing:

I left my heart with the evening star,
But my eyes have been caught and can't go so far,
My shadow must follow wherever you are.

"Inerrant," Aino said softly.  "I love this song."

Where thy will decrees, there perforce am I,
Though a season, a year, or an age pass by
On the quest of a kiss, or but for a sigh.

"Muy romántica," Isabella said.

"Ioseph wrote it for Taawi and Kristiina," Juho said softly, "a long time ago.  It's a song for two lovers, when the man thought he loved one lady, and then discovered true love with someone else.  Like Taawi and Kristiina (I'll tell you that story later), or Anthony and Aino."

Or you and me, Isabella thought, leaning back against him in the circle of his arms.

A moment is a long, long time for lovers!
In a moment your whole life can flash on by
While waiting for your darling's answer—
Or stop forever, in bliss.

Caroline marched up the aisle in step with the song.  Baroness Denise accompanied her, and Sir Mary.  Sir Mary's eyes were dreamy, thinking of the day when she and Sir Charles would wed.

My lips to thy hand, and away I stride!
On the wings of my joy will I gladly ride
All thy dragons to slay, and then back to thy side.

"So strange," Isabella whispered.  "I think I know every face here.  And yet, only five, five and a half months ago, I knew no one but Aino, Jenny, and Deborah.  Imagine if I had not come to March Crown," she marveled, and smiled as his arms tightened.

If a wound I take, this thy tears shall heal.
If my leg I break, I can to thee kneel.
If my arms grow weak, thou wilt make them steel.

Anthony, with his right arm in its sling, smiled and kissed Aino on the cheek.  She turned to him and captured his mouth with her own.

Ioseph's voice soared, and the serpent soared with him, like a woodwind trumpet.  The big drum boomed, and the recorders darted and leapt like swallows.

A lifetime is a short, short time for lovers!
At the end of my days it will seem an hour
Since first I heard her breathless welcome,
And felt that shock hit our souls.

Did those lines have a special poignancy for Ioseph, now that his lady wife was gone?  She'd been alive when he wrote them.  Several ladies wiped tears from the corners of their eyes, Tina and Maddy among them.

I found my love in the morning star.
I'll yearn no more nor gaze from afar,
But make my home where thy bright eyes are.

—the song promised, as the bride and her attendants reached the front.  Caroline took Martin's hand.  Three pairs of lovers smiled; married, being married, not yet married.

Early in the morning, or late at evening,
I'll find my pole star
In thee!

BOOM BOOMA BOOM BOOMA BOOM BOOM BOOM! went the drum, and the music ceased.

"Dearly beloved," said the priest.

People strolled and chatted, and learned of Duchess Marketta's pregnancy, and the Queen's.  The Queen and the Prince Consort met with the Knights, the Laurels, and the Pelicans.  The children played tug-of-war again, had a three-legged race, and a relay race with jester's baubles donated by Master Renfrew.  Challenges were fought on the field, but Master Anthony turned his back on them and went on running the Sciences contests.  Sir Paolo's falcon gobbled dead mice from his hands and turned its head this way and that, perhaps hearing live ones in the grass.  Couples ate lunch together, or just sat and talked, the harvest of what had been so many single people in the spring.

The sun had passed noon when Master Harold said, "Your Grace?  May I speak with you?"

"Of course, Master Harold," Isabella said.  She sat just inside the front of the Suomainen pavilion for the shade, in one of the household's x-frame chairs.  The sides of the tent were mostly rolled up for the breeze, but the perimeter was well marked with tent lines hung with little fluttering warning banners, and gear pushed back where the sides had been during the night—sleeping bags, cloaks not needed in the heat, coolers for food and drink, stray bits of armor.

"Please, have a seat," Isabella said, waving at the other chairs at the front of the pavilion.

"It's this letter," Harold said, sitting in the nearest chair and gesturing with the document in question.  "It's—I haven't a word for it.  I've never heard of such a thing!"

"Haven't you?" said Isabella.  "Think of it as a scholarship.  Or an apprenticeship."

"Apprenticeship," said Harold.  "Your English is just amazing."

"I had the best teachers in the world," Isabella said loftily.  Then she smiled at him with twinkling eyes.  "Then I looked up the words I thought I'd need."

Harold laughed.  "So I'm to learn Spanish," he said, "and then I get to live in Madrid and study Spanish heraldry, and then I serve in America as a Spanish herald.  And I get paid for it!"

"That's the offer," Isabella said.  "It doesn't pay much—about $30,000 American a year, plus travel expenses and various allowances—"

"Are you kidding?" said Harold.  "That's a lot of money!  An interesting job, foreign travel, money enough to get married and still be well off—God!  But why me?  And why does your father think he needs a herald in America?"

"All the Americas," Isabella said.  "You'll need to learn Catalan and Portuguese, too.  But that shouldn't be hard for a man with your mind.  Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, they're all just funny Latin."

Harold waved that aside.  "Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, French, Provençal, Italian, Ladina, Rumanian, even Utgarian—and of all of them, from what I've seen, Spanish is the easiest to learn.  But what would my job be?"

"Did you know that Spain and Portugal, back in the Age of Exploration, once laid claim to the entire non-Christian world?" Isabella asked.

Harold looked uncertain.  "That's a bit later than most of the history I've been interested in, but didn't one of the Popes give it to them?"

"Sí," nodded Isabella.  "By the Treaty of Tordesillas, approved by Pope Julius II, they split the earth in two.  Every non-Christian land in one half went to Spain, every non-Christian land in the other half to Portugal.  In the New World, Portugal got Brasíl, and Spain got everything else.  Of course other countries ignored the treaty, even Catholic countries like France."

"But even though Iberia, after the royal union, had to recognize nations like the United States and Canada, and even though the Crown let its Spanish and Portuguese colonies buy their independence, there was one authority we did not give up."  She looked at him expectantly.

"Armory," said Harold.  "I knew that, in theory at least, a resident of former Iberian possessions like California can petition the Crown for arms.  But there are a lot of requirements, and it costs a lot of money."

"It costs the Crown a lot of money, too," said Isabella.  "Arms aren't given to just anyone.  The grantee should have notable achievements and be of high character, and it's difficult to investigate that from Spain.  If an American with a good character were to become an Iberian herald, however?"

"So I'd be a private detective?"

"No, although you could hire private detectives as part of the expenses of your office.  Your job would be to oversee applications from beginning to end, not just deciding whether an applicant were worthy but helping to prepare the application, suggesting arms conforming to the usages of Iberian heraldry, perhaps conveying the finished parchment, with its seals."

"Very much what an SGU herald does, in fact," Harold said.

"And just who is most likely to apply for arms?" said Isabella.  "Certainly there are letters all the time from people with no idea of heraldry, and businessmen who think commercial success makes them hidalgo.  But compare one of them with Lord Eric, who fought in the War, lost his family, and saw his whole village destroyed.  Who is the more deserving of a grant of arms, do you think?  Him, or some actor who stayed safe at home making movies, and wants to be President?"

"And the Iberian Crown will make money," Harold said.

"The Crown would make money either way," said Isabella.  "With your help, it will make money while recognizing those who increase its honor."

"Make no mistake, we've always been clever about money," she went on.  "We taxed the Jews and the Moslems to let them stay, which made us money, and having Jewish and Moorish subjects made us a better nation, too.  Certainly it led to stopping the Inquisition before it could kill the golden goose; and the Inquisition, unchecked, could have become a horror far worse than any heresy.  And that example led to independence payments, which made us the richest kingdom in Europe, and kept us from spilling the blood of generations across the Atlantic."

"Iberia has been lucky in its kings," said Harold.

"You have no idea," Isabella said.  "No idea at all.  When I think of some of the crazy people, and bloodthirsty people, and religious maniacs who could have been King, or Queen, without the Catalan and Portuguese lineages to draw upon—!"

"So," she said, smiling at him, "you are interested?"

Harold stood, and bowed.  "Your Grace, I am your servant."

"Indeed," she said, "I hope you shall be."

A Santa Ana newsmag reporter had been interviewing Baron Christian about Failte.  Christian had snagged Werner as the Dreiburgen baron walked by, to help illustrate some point he was making.  Baroness Hilda of Gyldenholt had stopped to say hello and rest for a bit, and chimed in with a story.  Before long, all the barons and baronesses were there, holding forth in an impromptu panel on How To Be a Baron Or Baroness, and the reporter was getting enough material for a book.

"My husband was away, fighting the Russians," Hilda said, "and the Russian artillery decided to shell our town.  Our two girls were killed outright, and I was trapped in the rubble for days.  At least the enemy were out of poison gas by then."

"And your sons?" the reporter said gently, as the big tape reels spun in the machine at their feet.

"Ludwig was an Army captain," Hilda said.  "A sniper got him at the Battle of Berlin.  Dietrich was in the Air Force.  One day his flight went out, but his plane didn't come back."

"I'm so sorry," said the reporter.  "And your injuries, Baron Mezentius?  Were they also from the War?"

"I was too young for that war," Mezentius said.  "No, I'm in a wheelchair because I fell off a sixty-foot cliff."  Though pleasant enough, his expression didn't invite further questions on that subject.

"Your Grace?  May I speak with you?" Sir Neill of Kintyre said.

"Certainly," Duke Robert said.  He was sitting in a folding camp chair under the shade of a tree, sipping cold water from a pewter goblet.  His hair was matted with sweat.  His shield, his sword, his padded coif, and his helmet all lay in the grass next to the chair.

"Pull up a patch of grass," Duke Robert said.

"I was wondering," Sir Neill said, still standing, "if my lady and I might be welcome in the SCA."

His Grace put down the goblet to prevent himself from choking on any more surprises.  "Your lady?" he said.  "I don't think I've seen you in the company of a lady, Sir Neill.  Do you mean the blonde who picked you up after fighting practice last week?"

"Yes," said Neill, taken aback.  "I didn't see you there, Your Grace."

"I had other places I had to be that afternoon," Robert said.  "But Angels isn't that big a barony, and Sir Geoffrey was eloquent in his praise, brief as the glimpse was that he got."

"Sir Geoffrey had better watch himself!" Neill said.

"Ah," said Duke Robert, and let the moment stretch.

"Why would you want to switch back to the SCA?" he asked, after a minute.  "Here you have your brother, your friends, your place in the Barony of Failte.  Why would you give that up?"

"My mouth, and my temper," said Neill.  "I'll be frank; my wits see things at an angle, not always the most pleasant angle, and my mouth spits them out before I can think whether I should say them.  Then everyone gets angry at me, and I get angry right back, and I'm fighting another challenge."

"Wouldn't it be easier just to apologize?" Duke Robert asked.

"It should be," Neill admitted, "and I'm working on it.  The trouble is, here in Patria I've used up everyone's patience.  My future sister-in-law can hardly stand the sight of me, for instance.  And when I say something, no one even asks me what I mean; they remember all the other times, and assume the absolute worst."

"So you want a new start," Robert said.  "That's understandable.  I have to tell you though, I'm not sure the SCA would be your refuge for very long.  The BoD doesn't hack off very many people at any one time, but they get to everyone sooner or later; and anyone fed up with the Board of Directors can go play with the SGU.  I'm not sure there will even be an SCA in five years; and then what?"

"Five years would be plenty," Sir Neill said.  "By then these people will be out of the habit of expecting the worst from me at every turn, and they'll have forgotten some of the things I've said.  And I'll have learned to control my tongue and my temper, to make a better impression."

"It sounds like a workable plan," Duke Robert said, "and I don't think you're flattering me when you suggest that a word from me to the right ears will make all the difference.  Before I say that word, however, I'd like to see a gesture of good faith on your part."

"What kind of gesture?" Neill said warily.

"Give back the may pole," His Grace replied.

Neill was too shocked to pretend innocence.  "How did you know that we— I mean, that I—"

"I'm sorry," said Robert, "was it supposed to be a mystery?"

"I certainly hope so!" said Neill.  "Did someone tell you, then?"

"In a way," Duke Robert said.  "I have a stranger's lack of preconceptions of who would or wouldn't do something, yet I listen when the people who know everyone talk.  I wasn't even wondering who took the may pole.  But Duke Juho is sure Duchess Helena took it, and showed her defiance in the Grand March.  I see no reason to doubt his judgment."

"Then there's you.  You're a constable, and you were on duty that night.  You have a reputation as a skirt-chaser, but I haven't seen you with anyone.  That suggests you're attached to someone who isn't coming to SGU events, like Duchess Helena.  Add that Duchess Helena is blonde and beautiful, and that you were picked up at fighting practice by someone of that description, and…"  He shrugged.

"I see that suggesting Caroline took it was futile," Neill said.

"I hadn't heard that," Duke Robert said, "but, yes, that would be like holding up a sign saying, Me!  I did it!—except, as you say, people here expect you to say things like that."

"So," Neill pleaded, "will you help me?"

"If you'll return the may pole," the Duke said, "and mend your behavior from now on, we can consider it a prank."

"God knows I never wanted the damn thing," Neill said.

Chapter 22
The Courtly Dragon

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave
On the ground around your knees;
The birds, like tender babies in your hands;
And the old men playing checkers by the trees.

"MacArthur Park", Jimmy Webb
HE grand march before Caroline and Martin's first court was by household and barony.  This let a large barony like Calafia march as several households, each with its own household banner, while the general populace of the barony assembled under the baronial banner.  Households like Sternheim, with members in more than one barony, could even choose to march together after all the baronies, although Sternheim itself did not.

Calafia went first, and its households marched in the order in which they were founded, Duke Grigoriy's Longship Company first, House Sternheim next, Mistress Jeanette's and Mistress Helena's Ladyhouse next, and so forth.  Baron Mezentius and Baroness Rowena had always refused to form a household for the sake of baronial unity, regarding the whole barony as their house.  They were almost the only peers marching with the general populace.  Sir Adam Dumarest was also there, with Lady Mathilde of Rannoch, the baronial herald, on his arm.

Terra was the next barony, and one of the smallest, due to its remote location and small mundane population.  They did not divide by household, but marched all together.  The only peers in the group were Baron Zoltan, Baroness Laura, and Sir Adam.

Failte was a big barony, with a lot of knights and other peers, and a lot of households with three or four people in them, marching in order of precedence of the highest-ranking member.  Baron Christian and Baroness Denise marched at the head of the populace, and Sir Adam carried the baronial banner for them.

Isles was another small barony (though not as small as Terra), but gifted and growing.  Baroness Caitlin marched at the head of her people, and Sir Patrick of Goleta carried the baronial banner.  Behind them, Sir Fergus and Sir Adam strolled along, joking.

Dreiburgen was a large barony, and its households marched more or less in order by seniority, except the order never seemed to be quite the same.  House Sternheim always went first, led by Baron Werner and Baroness Alison.  Among the populace, talking with Sir Thomas of Colton, was Sir Adam Dumarest.

Gyldenholt, newest of Patria's baronies, marched last, but never least.  Armin's barony tended to have a few larger households, though Armin and Hilda themselves were of no household, but the barony as a whole.

People started laughing when they realized that, of all the baronies, only Gyldenholt marched without Sir Adam.  Armin seemed torn, whether to be glad the clown knight wasn't there, or hurt at being left out.  Between Sir Adam's defection and Duke Pertti's toast, Armin was having a very confusing weekend.

Caroline and Martin, because they were the new monarchs, and because they were newly wed, received even more gifts at this court than they had yesterday.  Much of it was food, both times.  This bounty had been set out on tables the day before for the populace to enjoy; there was far too much for two people to eat at once, and much of it wouldn't keep in the summer heat.  Today Caroline or Martin or both would take a bite, express their appreciation, then pass it to the crowd or have it put out on a table, depending on exactly what it was.

Master Renfrew the Scribbler was appointed court jester for the reign, and promptly plopped down on the grass between and a little in front of the thrones.  There he behaved pretty much as he always did at courts, except now he had official sanction and everyone could see who was making the wisecracks.

"The College of the Sciences was founded by someone with too much time on his hands," Master Anthony said, getting a startled laugh from the crowd.  He was wearing an early medieval long tunic, black with blue embroidered bands around the neck, sleeves, and bottom hem.  The shirt and pants beneath it were tan.  The wooden shoes on his feet had Sciences calipers carved into their tops, but weren't painted, just varnished to protect their natural wood color.  The belt around his waist, holding his pouch, knife, and recorder, was black leather; the buckle was the badge of the Library of the Sciences, cloisonné on brass.  Around his neck hung only his Laurel and Pelican.  The sling for his right arm was white cotton; in his left hand was a clipboard.

"Seriously," he said, "Sir William was a knight and an armorer, and one day he decided, if there's a college of the arts, then we need a college of the sciences.  Of course, this leads to arguments: what's an art, and what's a science?"

"So what's what?" Aino asked.

Aino, serving as Anthony's other hand, was wearing a green dress over a white slip, with white trim at the sleeves and hem.  A necklace of green imitation stones, wooden shoes painted green, and a black belt with pouch, knife, and recorder, completed her outfit.  The belt buckle was a leaping stag on a square background, all in pewter.  Her hair was parted in the middle and fell past her shoulders.  She held a leather bag with both hands, which clinked when it moved.

"It's pointless to worry about it," Anthony said.  "If Mistress Greta includes brewing in the Arts Championship, as she did this year, she judges the entries by the quality of the ale or mead.  The Sciences are more concerned with how it's made, and whether it's period technique.  Of course, we'll still sample the quality of the brew—for purely scientific purposes."

"Of course," Aino said primly.

(The next issue of Scientiae would carry a cartoon showing Anthony, in his sling, holding a goblet up in his left hand and peering at it owlishly.  Aino would be depicted leaning her elbow on his good shoulder for support while waving a cup in her off hand.  The word balloons would read:)

(Anthony:  "Y'know, this'ish a very scientifical brew.")

(Aino:  "Shientific.")

(Anthony:  " 'Swhat I said, schientifical.")

(Aino:  "I think thish wun's even more schientific.")

(Anthony:  "Rilly?  Lemme shee!")

(The funniest part of the joke was that Anthony didn't drink at all, and Aino only a tiny bit of wine from time to time.)

"Speaking of turf," Master Renfrew said, "you two are getting dangerously close to mine."

"Surely you jest!" said Master Anthony.

Renfrew opened his mouth, then shut it.  No, I'm not jesting?  Then get back in the crowd, you fraud!  Yes, I'm jesting?  Oh, then you don't mind after all!

"Surely you jest when you say that he jests!" Aino said.

"Surely you jest when you say that I jest when I say that he jests," Anthony replied.

"No, surely you jest when you say that I jest when I say that you jest when you say that he jests," Aino said.

Anthony looked at her for a moment, then said, with great dignity, "Moving right along…"

"Ha!" said Aino, wet her forefinger with her tongue, and made a vertical stroke in the air:  One.

"Unlike the Arts," Anthony said, smiling, "the Sciences doesn't have a Championship earned by winning contests.  We do have contests, but we have only one winner, usually, because we don't get as many entrants.  Hopefully that will change, but for now…"

"In this year's category of kites, we had to reject a number of entries that were store-bought, or extremely modern, or both.  While the contest was to see who could best fly a kite, the kite itself had to be made by the contestant and documented as being period.  This was in the published rules!"

"Fortunately, we had several valid entries, one of which really stood out.  Dark Ages sources show a kind of dragon kite flown as a standard by various war leaders.  Sometimes it's on a pole and appears to be a banner, but other times it's shown flying overhead.  Our winner made such a kite, and then flew it with considerable skill.  Would my lord… er… Draconipede come forward?"

What was apparently a crew of five lumbered out of the crowd, dressed in a costume like a Chinese parade dragon.  It was one costume, made of colored lightweight cloth, with ten pairs of legs, one pair of arms, and a pointed tail on the end.  It was mostly blue, with white stripes along the sides, and white triangle fins along the spine.  The person in the front segment had a huge dragon head that ran from his actual belt to above his actual head, and the head was as wide across as it was tall.  It had big googly eyes, lots of big sharp teeth, two short horns above the eyes, one at each corner of the grinning mouth, and one on the chin.

Juho, looking around as best he could now that he wasn't on the throne, said, "I don't see Sir Adam, do you?"

"No," said Isabella, "nor Mathilde of Rannoch, nor her brother Geoffrey.  I wonder who the other two are?"

Meanwhile the first segment halted before the thrones and bowed, the huge head inclined downward, the right arm tucked in front and under the horned chin, the left hand out and to the side.  The second segment stumbled to a halt, barely managing not to run into the first.  The third segment did bump into the second, and got kicked.  The fourth segment wandered to one side, sniffing at people, and the last one kept stopping at things—a flower, a bug—and then would get jerked forward by the others.  When the whole dragon stopped, the last segment sat down and crossed its legs.

"Awww," said Renfrew, "it's just a little dragon!"

"Well, congratulations… er… my lord?" said Anthony, unsure of the dragon's gender.  The huge head nodded.

"Congratulations," Master Anthony continued.  "Here is your scroll," he said, holding out his left hand.  Aino put the rolled-up scroll in it, tied with red ribbon, and he held it out.  The dragon took it in his own right hand, and nodded thanks.

"And here is your medal," said Anthony, holding up the bronze disk, stamped with the Sciences calipers, on its bronze chain.  The chain was far too short to fit behind the huge head.

"I got it," Aino said.  She stepped forward, took the medal, and hung the chain over the horn on the chin.  Then she kissed the dragon on the cheek, careful of the mouth horns.

"I hope you aren't planning on kissing all the winners," Master Anthony said dubiously.

"He's just so cute," Aino said.

The dragon held the medal up to see it, and sighed.  Its shoulders slumped, and it hung its head a little.

"What's the matter, my lord?" Anthony said.  The dragon gestured, and he handed over the clipboard.  Draconipede turned over the top sheet, listing the contest winners, with difficulty; took the pen in his fist, and wrote in large, sprawling, childlike block letters.  Meanwhile the next-to-last body segment got bored, and also sat down.  The third segment, unable to move much, started tugging against its two anchors, until the second segment kicked it again.

Draconipede gave the clipboard back to the Master of the Sciences.  "WAS HOPING MONEY," Anthony read out loud.  He looked up.  "Money for what, if I may ask?"

The front segment of the dragon clutched its knees together and put its hands modestly over where they joined, right below the head.  The second section did the same, except it had no arms.  The third section crossed one leg over the other, then uncrossed them, then crossed them again, knowing it was supposed to be doing something with its legs, but not sure what.  The two youngest segments just sat there on the grass.

"Clothing, my lord?  Oh.  And I don't suppose anything Gold Key has will fit," Anthony said, at a loss for once.

"Anyone got a spare tent for a poor naked dragon?" caroled Master Renfrew.

"Quiet, clown," Queen Caroline said.  "My lord herald," she said to Master Harold, "paper and pen, please."  She wrote for a minute, then handed them back.  "Is that clear?" she asked.

"Perfectly," said Harold, reading it.  "If you and the Prince will sign it?  Thank you.  Then with your permission?"  Caroline nodded.

"KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS," cried Master Harold.  The two end segments of Draconipede leapt to their feet in alarm at the sudden noise and tried to run away, but the other three stood fast.

"WE, CAROLINE, BY RIGHT OF ARMS QUEEN OF PATRIA, AND MARTIN, PRINCE AND CONSORT, MINDFUL OF THE NEEDS OF OUR SUBJECTS, IN PARTICULAR THE ABJECT NAKEDNESS OF THE BEING KNOWN AS DRACONIPEDE;"

"AND WISHING TO EXERCISE THE NOBLE VIRTUE OF CHARITY, AND TO ENCOURAGE IT AMONG OUR PEOPLE;"

"DO HEREBY DECREE THAT ANYONE WHO SHALL CONFER WITH THE SAID DRACONIPEDE, AND DEVISES FOR HIM CLOTHING THAT IS PROPER IN STYLE AND MATERIAL TO OUR SOCIETY, AND PLEASING TO HIM,"

"SHALL BE, UPON PRESENTING TO THE CROWN HIMSELF, OUR SUBJECT DRACONIPEDE IN HIS NEW CLOTHING, AND THIS PROCLAMATION, BOTH RECOMPENSED FOR HIS LABOR AND REWARDED FOR HIS CHARITY."

"BY OUR HANDS THIS SIXTH DAY BEFORE THE KALENDS OF SEPTEMBER, IN THE YEAR 2731 SINCE THE FOUNDING OF THE CITY, IN OUR BARONY OF FAILTE."

"Do you understand?" Queen Caroline said to the dragon.  "Go to a costumer, he'll make you a costume to your liking, and the Crown will pay him."

Draconipede was ecstatic.  The front segment kept bowing over and over, while the other four kept jumping up and down with glee, not in time with each other; Master Renfrew crossed his eyes, clapped one hand over his mouth, and mimed seasickness.  Harold handed the proclamation to Anthony, who handed it to Draconipede, who took it carefully in his hands.

"You may go, little dragon," the Queen said.  "And if you see any of my peers, tell them I want them here at Court."

Draconipede nodded hugely, bowed a final time (careful of the paper he was holding), and began turning around to leave.  The rearmost segment was still jumping up and down, and got jerked off its feet when the dragon got up to speed.  It picked itself up and started running, bouncing off the segment in front of it before falling into the dragon's travel rhythm.  The crowd parted to let him through.

"Where does he get these ideas?" Isabella marveled to Juho.  "And the money he spends on costumes and armor?"

"I have no idea," Juho said.

"You know," Master Renfrew said loudly, "that's something I never thought I'd see."

"A dragon?" Aino said, surprised.  "Don't you remember Lord Dragon the Green?"

"No, my lady," said the jester, "not a dragon.  I never thought I'd see a Patrian who couldn't sing!"

With difficulty, Master Anthony resumed.  The hnefltafl contest was won by Lord Carl, much to everyone's surprise.  Though devoted to chess, he was probably the worst chess player in the Kingdom.  Hnefltafl, it seemed, was another matter entirely.

The toys contest was won by Sir Ulfdan, who'd carved a big round top out of hard wood, inserted a rod in the top and a steel cap on the bottom, and brought it to perfect balance by careful shaving.  While Aino got a big wooden plate and set it on a level piece of ground, Sir Ulfdan placed the top's rod through the holes in the two arms of the launcher handle.  Then he pushed a cord through the hole in the rod, and wound it carefully until only an inch or two, with a knot on the end, remained.  Holding the handle in his left hand and the string in his right, he pulled sharply and all at once, like starting a boat engine.  As the far end of the string pulled out of the rod, the top, spinning so fast it hummed, dropped out of the launcher and landed on the wooden plate, where it stood in one place and spun furiously.  So perfect was the balance that it didn't wobble at all.  The crowd went Ooh!

"Ooh," said Aino.  "I'll bet the dragon would love to see that!  Too bad he's not here."

"Wow," Anthony said, "he's good!  Costume, remember?  And speaking of which," he said, as she pouted and stuck out her tongue at him, "Sir Adam's here, Your Majesties."

"So I see," said the Queen.  "Good afternoon, Sir Adam.  Welcome to court."

Sir Adam blushed.  "I thank Your Majesty.  I would have been here sooner, but," he shrugged, "nature called."

"Non-period expression," Anthony muttered to Aino.  "In the Middle Ages he should just say he had to piss, instead of talking like a Victorian."

"You're being a purist again," Aino said.

"Damn right," said Anthony.  "And what do you mean, again?  I'm a purist still!"

Meanwhile Prince Martin said to Sir Adam, "Too bad.  You missed seeing the dragon."

"That's what you think," Sir Adam said.  "I'd just come out of the men's room, and found Lady Mathilde petting this huge thing.  It saw my Spur medallion, and began pointing in the direction of court.  Then when I didn't move fast enough, it got behind me and started pushing!"

"Don't be mad," Mathilde of Rannoch said.  "He was cute!"

"If I may continue," Master Anthony said, interrupting the chorus of agreement, "the contest for a new tourney-weapon design was won by Sir Marvin of Carnot.  Previous attempts to make a three-headed morning star were either ineffective because the balls were too small; or if they were larger, tended to be almost as deadly as the real thing.  And in either case, they tended to come apart after more than a little use.  Sir Marvin's design, so far at least, overcomes these problems.  Details will appear in Scientiae.  Congratulations, Sir Marvin," he said, handing him the winner's medallion Aino passed over.  Sir Marvin was a tall but slim man, with a slightly receding hairline, laid-back and genial when not fighting.  He'd been a pipe smoker back when people could smoke, and sometimes carried an empty one to occupy his hands.

"Thank you, Master Anthony," Sir Marvin said.  "You'll help me convince the marshalls it's safe?"

"We'll see how it bears up under use," Anthony replied.  "I know His Majesty's eager to get his hands on it."

"The siege weapon contest was won by Lady Gwendoline of Alexandria, who wound the coils herself to avoid a repeat of the War.  She's been taking revenge on hay bales all weekend."

"So," the red-haired Failten Mistress of the Sciences said, accepting the medallion Anthony held out, "I scared you into giving me this, did I?"

"You betcha," Anthony said.

"Good!" said Lady Gwendoline fiercely.  There was a loud THUNK!  She looked down.  Sir Ulfdan's top had finally spun down, rolled over, and halted against the rim of the wooden plate.  He bent down and picked it up, while Aino collected the plate before it got stepped on.

The spear-throwing contest was won by Sir Arthur the Black.  Some of the other contestants could heave the spear farther, but Sir Arthur could hit the archery target three times out of three at a greater distance than anyone else, so he got the scroll and the medallion.

The prize for building a musical instrument went to Sir Nathan the Shoemaker, whose shawm was judged as fine an instrument as the harp made by Sir Patrick of Goleta, and a more difficult thing to make properly.

"The final contest," Anthony said, "was for a research paper, suitable for publication in Scientiae, author's choice of subject.  We got four really good ones.  After careful thought, much re-reading, many sleepless nights and a certain amount of eeny-meeny-minie-moe, Lady Therese d'Orleans gets the medal for 'The Latin Ablative Case As the Ancestor of Romance-Language Nouns'."

"The ablative?" Master Harold said.  "Not the dative?"

"Read the paper," Anthony said.  "It's going in the next issue if I have to bump something!"

So Sir François' pretty, reed-thin, black-haired wife got a scroll and a medallion.  The contest winners received three cheers, bowed to the thrones, and returned to the crowd.

"Besides the contests," Anthony continued, "each year we offer a written examination, to be taken at Purgatorio.  This is a long test, and a hard one.  It requires a broad knowledge of the history of science.  To pass it, you must know not only science and math, you must also know how much of it they knew in the Middle Ages.  Passing it with a grade of 98% or better wins the totally unaccredited degree of Master or Mistress of the Sciences, certain to be confused with the office of Master or Mistress of the Sciences.  But what else are we to call it?  Let me know if you think of anything better."

"Anyway," he said, "with 150 questions this year, you could miss three and still pass.  I'm sorry to say that one of the five people who attempted the examination didn't pass.  I hope he'll try again next year."

"But for now, would Lady Gwendoline of Alexandria, Lord Avram of Mercia, Lord Vladimir iz Kiev, and Marina Insularum come forward?"  To each one, with Aino's help, he gave the scroll attesting the achievement, a Sciences medallion with a crown over the calipers, and the marked test he or she had taken.

"And for Your Majesties," he said, "copies of the test, so you can appreciate what these four have accomplished."

Caroline and Martin looked over their copies with growing amazement.  "Good Lord!" Caroline muttered.  "Someone got most of these right?"

"Four someones?" Martin agreed.

Lady Gwendoline had been flipping through her test.  She'd missed two, and wanted to see which ones.  She stiffened.  "Hey!" she said.  "This one's right!"

Master Anthony sighed.  He didn't even need to ask which one she meant.  "I knew you'd say that," he said.  "Gwen, ley lines were invented by a modern person playing games with a map."

"That doesn't mean the ancients didn't know about them," Gwendoline said stubbornly.  There were groans from the crowd.

"Look, you passed anyway," Anthony said.  "Don't be a sore winner."

"That's the second time I've heard that," Isabella said to Juho.  "Don't be a sore winner.  What does it mean?"

"Oh, its meaning is plain enough," Juho said.  "As for its origin, in one of the very first issues of Tournaments Illuminated, back when the SCA was a small Bay-Area group and everybody knew everybody else, there was a cartoon.  In the first picture of the cartoon (it didn't have panels) was a tree, and sticking out of the foliage was an arm, a leg, maybe a sword.  The word balloon said, 'Edwin Berserk, you're a sore loser!' "

"The other part of the cartoon was the same picture, only this time the fighter in the tree was saying, 'Dammit, you're a sore winner, too!' "

"Passed or not," Lady Gwendoline was saying, "that's a right answer."

"Look," said Anthony, "if you really think so, defend it as your thesis next year."

"I will, too!" she said.

"If I may interrupt," Caroline said.

"Of course, Your Majesty," Master Anthony said.

"Did I understand correctly?  Someone passed this examination and doesn't have an award of arms?" the Queen asked.

"That's correct, Your Majesty," Anthony said, placing his good hand on Marina's shoulder.  "She had a perfect score, too."

So the herald opened the book of ceremonies, and Marina Insularum, who'd been in the SGU barely two years (which made her achievement all the more impressive), received an award of arms.  Then the four got three cheers and returned to the crowd.  Lord Avram showed the scroll and medal to his wife, Lord Stepan Totentanz and Lord Robert Godwin looked at Lord Vladimir's, and Lady Gwendoline shared hers with her husband.  The new Lady Marina took her scroll, medal, and the note for her Award of Arms to Suldang Gashung, who congratulated her, hugged her, and kissed her.

"Finally—" Anthony began.

"Yay!" said Master Renfrew.  Prince Martin kicked him—but not very hard.

"Finally, we have our own Doctor of the Sciences degree, every bit as unaccredited as the Master's, every bit as untainted by worldly considerations, every bit as—"

"Bogus," said Renfrew.

"Do you hear a frog?" Aino asked Anthony.

"Bogus, OK," said Anthony, "but at least we don't award one to somebody just because he donates a large sum of money.  No large sum of money," he said, holding out his hand, "can purchase our honor."  He waited.  Nothing happened.

"I must be doing something wrong," Anthony said to Aino.  "Every year I say that, and no one hands me a large sum of money to test me."

"A sad lack of empiricism," Aino agreed, while the crowd laughed.

"Anyway," Anthony said, "those who pass the Master's examination may then try for a Doctorate next year, or any year after that.  A candidate decides what position he wishes to advance, and lets us know by Beltane.  That gives us a few months to round up three Learned Doctors who will hear his thesis, and then rip it to shreds.  Afterwards, if the panel judges that the candidate defended his position well, he may be awarded a Doctorate."

"Hoo boy," said Martin.

"And you thought fighting for the Crown was hard," Renfrew said.  Caroline kicked him.  "Excuse me, Your Majesty," he said, scooting around to change his position, "could you kick me here from now on?  That spot's getting a bit sore."  Caroline kicked him again.  "Ye-owch!  Thank you, Your Majesty."

"You know," Aino said, "if you quit this court jester gig, you could avoid being kicked."

Renfrew said, "What?  And give up show business?"  But it echoed, because Duke Pertti, Baron Zoltan, and Sir Neill all said the same thing at the same time.  Everybody laughed.

"Anyway," Anthony said, "the examination for a Doctorate is an exercise in rhetoric and logic, not scientific truth.  The proposition need not be true, but it must be defended rigorously.  This year we had only one candidate, sadly.  Colin the Learned proposed that 'To Sinister Is Just To Sinister,' that dexter is front whether the armiger is right- or left-handed, that arms shown facing sinister are really intended to be backwards."

"What?!!" said Master Harold.  "But—flags!  Vanes!  Armorial clothing!  The Garter stalls!"

"Regardless of the truth or falsity of the proposition, my lord Colin defended it extremely well," Anthony said.  "Therefore, if he will come forward?  My lord, well done.  Here is your scroll and your medallion."  The medallion of a Doctor of the Sciences bore the suggestive image of the Sciences calipers below a laurel wreath.

Then Queen Caroline and Prince Martin admitted Colin to the kingdom's Order of the Royal Sun, which also conferred an award of arms if the recipient didn't already have one, as Colin did not.  It was also, often, the first step towards a Laurel or Pelican.

And when Lord Colin rose, the two medallions around his neck, and the herald had called for three cheers, Master Anthony bowed to the thrones and said, "Thank you for your patience, Your Majesties.  Now I am done."

Next Caroline called the Pelicans to attend her, and elevated Lady Hanna van der See to their order for her hard work organizing and running events, including the feast at May Coronation and last year's Dreiburgen anniversary tourney.

The Laurels were called next, prompting Master Renfrew to scoot around on his rear to join the others as they came up, and make a little joke about "being beside himself."

"Ah well," said Master Anthony, kneeling with Renfrew and the other Laurels, "they can't all be gems."

"You don't appreciate my pearls, you swine," Renfrew said.

"Sometimes you think you're handing out jewels, only to discover you're passing stones," Master Harold agreed.

"Hey… guys," said the Queen, and drew her forefinger across her throat.

"I think Your Majesty means 'My lords, I pray you will cease so that court might continue'," Harold said.

"No, this is Caroline," Renfrew reminded him.  "I think she means SKXX," he said, drawing his finger across his own throat to accompany the sound effect.

Anthony said nothing, but fingered his throat as if he felt the touch of cold steel there, with a thoughtful expression.  Seizing the momentary lull, the herald, Baroness Laura of Terra, cried, "Her Majesty calls Lady Aloise le Blanc!"

Stupefied, Master Renfrew watched as his long-time lover was admitted to the Order of the Laurel for her lace-making skills.  "But… how the heck… I never heard a discussion of Chris," he whispered to Harold and Anthony.

"We just never discussed it when you were around," Anthony said.  "That way we got to surprise both of you."  Then he rose with the other Laurels, and hugged the short pretty blonde who was the newest member of their order.

She didn't remain that for long; the Laurels knelt again, and Baroness Laura called, "Let Sir Adam Dumarest come before the Crown!"

"But…" said Adam, "What…" said Adam, and then Lady Mathilde gave him a shove, and he stumbled out of the crowd, and said, "Your Majesty, there must be some mistake!"

"Some jesters parade around in traditional motley," Queen Caroline said; Master Renfrew shook his bauble so that the bells on it jingled.  "Some theater types hold plays for the delight of the populace, in a set time and place."

"Then we have this character who never fights in the Lists under his own name, who inflicts pirates and dragons on us without warning, and who's recruited and trained a whole troupe of zanies to help him!"

"So why are we encouraging him, again?" Prince Martin asked piteously.

Caroline smiled.  "The mastery of an art is the mark of a Laurel.  Teaching it to others is the irrefutable confirmation.  You may not think you deserve the Laurel, Sir Adam, but the other Laurels do."

"Take it like a man, 'Sir Allan'," Renfrew said.

"Eah-yay, ace-bray up-way," said Anthony.

"You're trying to make me respectable!" the clown knight accused the Queen.

"Nonsense," said Caroline.  "I never attempt the impossible.  The difficult and the unlikely, yes; but not the impossible."

"Oh, well then," said Adam, kneeling and putting his hands together.

So Caroline and Martin recognized one Pelican and two Laurels, besides giving some awards of arms.  No one was called forward to join the knights; the chivalry agreed with the monarchs that a man could not be knighted who was presently unable to fight, and whose future as a fighter was uncertain.  The other candidates discussed were deemed less ready for knighthood.  Better late than too soon was the word of this day, and of every day.

Chapter 23
October Drown

All we wanted was a little fun,
Swordplay under the smiling sun,
But the heavens opened and the rain did come,
Noah save us all!

We bear the Sun upon our flag,
You'll sunscreen find in every bag.
But now the wind and the rain play tag:
Noah save us all!

The tent poles sink in the soggy ground,
The fallen fighters are like to drown.
The water is rising all around:
Noah save us all!

All we need is a little ark,
We'll use it like a county park.
Fighters on deck to the heralds will hark,
If Noah will save us all.

"Noah Save Us All", Anthony von Sternheim
AWN came on Saturday, the 14th of October, but at the Crown Tourney site, a rural park outside Norco, dark clouds refused to give up the Sun.  The constables kept their jackets on as they worked, and kept looking up, hoping to see light.

"I think it's going to rain," said the park ranger, as he handed Sir Gamlaun his clipboard.  Sir Gamlaun passed it on to Sir Mary, the kingdom constable, with lifted eyebrows.

"I know it is," Mary said as she signed.  "I can smell it."  She swept the mop of dark curls out of her face with one hand as she gave him back the site forms with the other.

"But you're going ahead with your thing anyway?" he asked.

"Oh yeah," Mary said.  "This is our last big tourney of the year; after this we have to wait until March before we fight again."

"Come back at ten or eleven, and this place will be covered with tents," said Sir Charles of Kintyre.  "That roped-off area is where the fighting will be."

"I think I will," said the ranger.  "In fact, you may see a few of us during the day."

"We're here tomorrow, too," said Mary.  "Come by whenever you can."

As the dazzled ranger drove away, Charles said softly, "Wouldn't it be something if no one showed?"

Mary snorted.  "I'll settle for the weather keeping the number of people in the Lists down to a hundred."

"But think about it," Charles said.  "I claim the field, no one shows up, and POOF!  I'm King and you're Queen."

"Fat chance," Mary said sweetly.  "At the very least, you'd have to fight me."

"And me," said Charles' brother Neill.  "And Gamlaun.  And every other constable here."

"I can dream, can't I?" said Charles.  "ACK!  I just got a big old raindrop right in the eye!"

"Oh yeah, here it comes," said Mary.

The three reigns of the Patrian year were not the same length.  The first reign ran from Twelfth Night Coronation Festival to May Coronation.  Patrian Twelfth Night was the second Saturday after the 5th of January, and May Coronation was the weekend closest to Beltane, May 1.  So the monarchs crowned at Twelfth Night—Pertti and Marketta, this year—reigned from the middle of January through the end of April, 3½ months.

The second reign ran from Beltane to Purgatorio, the beginning of May to the last weekend in August.  Thus Juho's and Isabella's reign had been 4 months.

The couple crowned at Purgatorio reigned from then to Twelfth Night, basically September through December and half of January.  So Caroline and Martin had the 4½-month reign.

The reigns were also unequal in their demands on the royal couple.  The first reign, from Twelfth Night to May, had only one kingdom event in it—March Crown, where the next king was chosen.  There were no baronial anniversary tourneys, and no wars.  Special events like the Feast of the Laurel and Valentine's Day revels were often arranged, but only March Crown was certain.

The middle reign was the busiest.  The couple who sat on the thrones from May to September saw a war with Atenveldt every other year, and were always welcome at Egillstourney, in Oregon, if no war occupied them.  The SGU Board Meeting happened in that reign, and June Crown to choose their successors.  There was Leodamas Tourney in Calafia, and the Anniversary Tourney of the Barony of Terra.

The only kingdom event occurring during the third reign was October Crown.  But anniversary tourneys kept conscientious royalty hopping between Purgatorio and Twelfth Night: Isles Anniversary, Failte Anniversary, Gyldenholt, Dreiburgen, and Calafia.

The final difference in the three reigns was the weather.  The only outdoor event in the first reign was March Crown, which usually enjoyed good weather.  Sometimes the sky was grey; every once in a while there'd be a little rain.  But most years March Crown went without a hitch.

The second reign was almost invariably clear and dry.  It was summer in southern California, and one warm sunny day followed the next, seemingly without end.

The first month or so of the third reign went the same way.  October through February, however, was Southern California's "rainy season".  This was reflected in the name of its crown tourney.  Coronation events had names—Twelfth Night, Beltane, Purgatorio.  But March Crown was just March Crown, and June Crown was just June Crown.  October Crown, on the other hand, had another name:

October Drown.

The rain pattered lightly but unceasingly as the SGU arrived.  There was no leisurely unpacking, no lengthy hellos.  Everyone grabbed his tent, picked a spot, and put it up to provide a roof against the drizzle.  Then plastic tarps went down on the wet grass inside the tents, then rugs over the tarps, and then, finally, sleeping bags, coolers, furniture, clothing, and everything else went straight from car to tent.  The experienced Patrian packed the car that way.  It didn't matter so much for any other event, but for October Crown it was crucial.

"I don't like the look of those clouds," Duke Taawi said to his lady.  "Did we bring all the tents?  I want to double them up."

"Dad," Aino protested, "I had plans for one of those!"

"Oh?" said Taawi.  "And did your plans include a cup of water suddenly soaking through the tent and hitting the bare back of whoever's on top?  Or waking up with pneumonia because you slept in a puddle all night?"

"We could double the pavilions with the liners alone, and keep all our tents single," Kristiina said.  "We might need them for refuge for others less prepared."

"No we can't.  We don't have enough liners for that, and I don't want to look at plastic all weekend anyway," Taawi said.  "Besides, Kitten," he said to Aino, "for all you know Anthony's already made his own plans."

"Too much talk, not enough setting up," Pertti said.

Isabella had been wanting to ask what they were talking about, but now she learned by doing.  With the whole household pitching in, the day pavilion went up in a hurry; they had enough people to hold the center pole and the side poles at the same time.  While they did so, the liner—another tent, but made of lightweight plastic—was draped over the first.  Then Bob and Maddy's tent was put over the liner, and the balls screwed down over the bolts sticking out of the tent poles.  Lastly, not one, but two sets of tent lines were fastened around the base of the tent-pole finials, and hammered into the ground.  Then the loops at the bottom of both tents and the liner were staked down too.

The result was a three-layer tent, with the middle layer water-proof plastic.  It would've been impossibly hot in summer, but it was warm and snug in the rain.

Then Suomainen did it all over again with Taawi and Kristiina's tent, the other tent liner, and the tent which had been Juho and Helena's.  Two triple-layer eight-sided tents, each sixteen feet across, then began receiving tarps, rugs, and tourney gear.  Waterproof things like coolers and ice chests went around the edges, sleeping bags and capes went on top of them, light-weight items were hung on chains fastened from one side pole to another.

Once the tents were up and the cars unpacked, everyone went to Aino's van or the park buildings to change.  The permanent concrete rest rooms, and the open-sided "pavilion" with concrete floor and wooden roof, had been prime factors in choosing this park for October Crown.  Dispensing with tent poles, members of the hosting Barony of Gyldenholt hung the kingdom tent from bolts in the pavilion's ceiling, so that it was suspended and all the inside clear.  The loops on the bottom of the tent sides were fastened to bolts around the edge of the concrete floor, to keep the sides from flapping in the wind.  Thick rugs were spread over the floor, to insulate feet against the concrete's cold, and cushion its hardness.  The thrones were set against the back inside walls, instead of in the entrance, so that as many people as possible could crowd in during court.

And the rain kept coming down…

Master Harold stood in the center of the eric.  Like most people who'd seen October Crown before, he wore thick socks inside wooden shoes; a costume of heavy cotton and wool, with several layers; and a good thick blue cape, with his herald's cape over that.  The blue cape's hood was pulled over his head so that only his face showed, and a straw hat with a wide brim sat over that to keep the rain off his face.  Nonetheless the hand gripping his herald's staff was red with cold.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!  MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  THERE WILL BE NO GRAND MARCH BEFORE COURT!  COURT WILL BE HELD IN ONE HOUR!  IF YOU HAVE BUSINESS AT COURT, SEE ME!"  He gave a little bow after the announcement, then sneezed suddenly.  Pulling a handkerchief from the belt pouch under his capes, he left the field.

And the rain kept falling…

Not everyone could afford enough tents to double them as Suomainen had.  Not everyone had the ingenuity to create the tent liners.  A lot of people threw plastic tarps over the tops of their pavilions, and if you objected to the sight, well, why are you standing out in the rain looking at it?  Others brought waterproof mundane camping tents to October Crown.

Duke Robert pitched his usual tent, but substituted a framework of plastic pipes for the tent poles he used at other times, so that he needed no center pole.  Then he pitched a mundane tent, that had its own external frame, inside his pavilion.  So his pavilion looked as good as always from the outside, but his gear was protected inside the non-medieval tent that was concealed by the pavilion.

Like all the fighters, Robert would be comfortably warm as long as he stayed dry.  The padding under his armor, that got so hot and sweaty the rest of the year, was good insulation against the cold.  Wearing his armor and padding, with a heavy cape and hood over it, he let the already-sodden tent flap fall shut behind him and looked around the eric.  The marshalls were laying out cords to divide the fighting area into eight fields, he saw.  He walked over.

"Good morning, my lords," he said.  "Could you use another pair of hands?"

"Good morning, Your Grace," Baron Christian said.  "That would be great.  Maybe if you—"

"I'd be glad to have Duke Robert's help with the stakes," Sir Neill said.

"Good.  I can warm up for hitting heads by hitting stakes," Robert said.  "Lead on, sir knight."

"So you're fighting today?" Neill said, as he held the tall metal poles for Robert to strike.  The lighter ropes that divided one field from another would run through the tops of these.

"Oh, indeed," said His Grace.  "And you?"

"One last time," grimaced Neill, "I'll try for the crown of Patria.  If I don't get it this time, I'll see if my luck is better in the SCA."

"I thought your lady made it plain she wouldn't be queen again?" Robert said, picking up the next pole.

Neill measured out the right length of cord, threaded it through the pole and tied a knot, then held it for Robert to strike.  Rain danced on the hands that held the pole.

"She's said she'll be queen for me," he said at last, "though she doesn't expect me to win.  She'd really be a lot happier playing where she isn't Juho's ex-wife, even though she won't be a duchess in the SCA, just the wife of a knight."

"Wife?" Robert asked.  "Knight?"

"Yes, we got married September 7, after her divorce became final.  And, yes, James knighted me, before the SGU was started."

"Well, congratulations," Robert said, "and good luck to us both."

"Thank you," Neill said.

"What about the may pole?" said Robert.

Neill smiled.

"Darn this rain," Aino said, as she peered into the side doors of her van.  "It's like a cave in here."

"Nothing left in the front," Jenny called.

"Nothing behind the seats, either," said Deborah from the back doors.

"Well, there's something in here, but I can't make out what it is," Aino said.  "We used all the tent poles, didn't we?"

"Probably a marshall's staff or a pole weapon," Jenny said, peering over the back of the front seats.

"I don't think so," Aino said, as she climbed in the side doors.  "But I don't—"  She froze.

"You don't what?" said Deborah.  "Aino?  Aino, can we close these doors before everything gets all wet," she asked as she came around the side, "or—"

Aino, kneeling in the van, held the may pole in both hands across her knees.  Tears ran down her face, leaking into the corners of her grin.

The rain pattered on the roof of the van, but no one heard it.

The merchants who normally spread their goods on cloaks or tables in the open air were sharing a like-it-or-jam-it, yes-it's-plastic roof of blue tarp held up by several tent poles down the middle, and more around the edge.  Wooden shoes were selling like hot soup.

Maddy's wooden shoes went splash! every time she took a step.  Splish, splash, splish, splash, she went to the kingdom pavilion to see Caroline for the first time in weeks.  Her costume and warm cape bulged over her pregnancy.

"Good morning, Your Majesty," she sang, seeing Caroline huddled on the throne in her own cape.  For a moment no one else was around.  "I have fresh bread and hot soup," Maddy said.  "How's the mommy-to-be?"

"No mommies here," Caroline said bravely, and opened her cloak.  Despite all the layers of clothing, it was apparent that she wasn't pregnant any more.

"What happened?" Maddy cried, coming to a stop.

Caroline shrugged.  "I miscarried," she said.

"But…  Did you fall down?"

"No," Caroline said.  "The doctor calls it spontaneous abortion.  I just don't get to have a baby this time," she said, as tears started rolling down her face.  "Oh damn, here I go again," she said, wiping her cheeks with her hands.

"Oh Caroline," said Maddy, putting down the tray of bread and soup.  "Oh, I'm so sorry.  Why didn't you call me?" she said, going to the other woman and taking her hands.

"What could you have done?" Caroline said, looking up blindly.

"I could've done this," Maddy said, kissing her on the cheek.  "And this," she said, putting her arms around the seated woman.  Caroline broke down and began crying in earnest, while Maddy held her, and the raindrops danced on the wooden roof.

Court was very short.  Queen Caroline thanked everyone who'd phoned, visited, or sent notes or flowers, and assured everyone she was well.  Prince Martin reminded everyone to stay warm and dry, and to drink hot liquids and eat hot food.  "Thanks, Mom," the court jester said, and got a kick on both sides, one from each royal foot.

And still the rain kept falling…

"ALL FIGHTERS!  ALL—"  Master Harold stopped and coughed into his hand.  "ALL FIGHTERS, TO THE FIELD!"

"Are you all right, Master Harold?" Prince Martin asked.

"It's all this rain," Harold said apologetically.  "I thank Your Majesty for your concern.  ALL FIGHTERS WHO ARE IN THE LISTS," he roared, "REPORT TO THE FIELD!"

"Here they come," said Caroline.

"What a mob," Martin agreed.

Despite the rain, and even with Pertti, Taawi, Juho, Caroline, Martin, and Anthony not fighting, ninety-six fighters assembled at Harold's call.  It was the largest turnout Patria had ever had for a Crown Lists.  Sixteen of the 96 were female, which was two more, and an even higher percentage of the fighters, than June Crown.  39 of the fighters were unknighted, the highest proportion yet this year, the natural consequence of a steady addition of newly-qualified fighters.  In fact, nine of the people assembled before Caroline and Martin had never fought in a Crown Tourney before.

"We welcome Duke Robert the Determined, lately King of Caid, to the lists," Queen Caroline said.  "I believe this is your first time fighting in an SGU tourney, Your Grace?"

Robert nodded.  "In a Crown Tourney, yes," he said.  "But I fought in this year's war under SGU rules, and had my armor and weapons inspected then.  Sir Edwin and Sir Neill have kindly brought me up to speed on the differences between SCA and SGU fighting."

"Very good," said Her Majesty.  "Good luck to you, Your Grace."

In the minutes that followed, the unbelted fighters challenged knights for the first round, then the knights left over challenged each other.  Aino walked up to Duke Robert and said, "Will you fight me, sir?"

"Have I given you offense, Lady Aune?" he said.

"None at all," she said.  "I just want to learn from the best."

"I'm honored," he said.  He looked at the arms on her shield, and the household arms on her surcoat.  "Tell me, my lady, do you know any archer who uses black and yellow war arrows, with a white patch near the fletching marked with three red hearts?"

"Why, that's mine," Aino said.  "Where did you see it?"

While Aino ran off shrieking to tell Anthony that she'd killed the King of Atenveldt, and Duke Robert strolled smiling to the Lists tent to make sure that Amanda and her assistants knew whom he was fighting in the first round, Baron Zoltan was gaping at the tallest fighter he'd ever seen.  Rain gleamed on the Baron's bald head and forehead as he looked up.  Rain fell too on the eight-foot fighter in the gleaming silvery plate, elaborately curved, intricately chased, and baroquely fluted.  But the rain didn't seem to stick to the shining armor.  It ran off the tall cylindrical helmet, the long thin arms, the stiltlike legs, leaving no trace behind.

"Damn!" said Zoltan.  "If we get lightning, I know who's gonna get hit first!"

"Olen Ithiriel Dondorien i Mithrandiriel," said the very tall, very thin plate-armored figure.

"How's that?" said Zoltan.

"Dicisne Latine, domine?" the other responded.

"Ah," said Zoltan.  "Master Harold!  A little help here, please?"

"How may I serve Your Excellency—oh my God, what is it?" Harold said.

"It doesn't seem to speak English," Zoltan said, "but I think it said something in Latin."

"Ah ha," said Harold.  After a few moments of Latin back and forth, Harold turned to Baron Zoltan and said, "He says his name is Sir Ithiriel of Dondorien and Mithrandiriel, he's the son of the Queen of the elvish realm beyond the West, and he's here to add our kingdom to his Queen-Mother's possessions."

"Well, whatever," Baron Zoltan said.  "Make sure he understands he's fighting me in the first round."  He looked the figure up and down.  "Damn, I hope that elvish armor is as sturdy as it is pretty."  He clapped the "elf" knight on one shoulder, and walked away chuckling.

96 fighters meant 48 fights, six fights on each of the eight fields.  It took an hour—an hour of slipping on the wet grass, watching the fighting from the doorways of tents, grabbing any fighters available for marshalls, while the rain kept pattering down.  Before long the fighters were making splashes when they fell down.

"ALL FIGHTERS!  ALL FIGHTERS, PRAY—"  Harold stopped, racked by coughs.  "ALL FIGHTERS!  WHEN YOU ARE KILLED, DO NOT FALL DOWN!  WHEN YOU ARE KILLED, BOW!  BOW, AND STAY DRY!  HER MAJESTY COMMANDS IT!"  He walked off the field, coughing again.

"You're shaking like a leaf!" Deborah exclaimed, rushing up to him.  "Come with me, we'll get some of Mistress Hanna's hot soup into you, and dry you off."

"That sounds wonderful," Harold said hoarsely, "but I'm on duty."

"Not any more," Queen Caroline said.  "Master Conrad!"

Master Conrad von Wittenburg, Gold Crescent Herald of the Barony of Gyldenholt, bowed low.  "Your Majesty," he said, "command me!"

"Round up the other baronial heralds and divide Master Harold's duties among you.  This is Gyldenholt, so you're in charge.  I'm putting Master Harold on the sick list; we'll save what's left of his voice for really important announcements."

"At Your Majesty's command!" Master Conrad said.

"And if any other heralds come down sick, or get very cold and wet, take care of them," Caroline said.

"Yes, Your Majesty!  By your leave," Master Conrad said, and walked off to the center of the eric to shout, "All heralds!  All heralds, to me!  All heralds, report to the field now!"

"But…" said Harold feebly, "they need me."

"If they need you, they'll call," Caroline said practically.

"You trained them," Deborah said softly.  "You taught them to project, you taught them presence, you taught them how to make announcements and be heard.  Trust that you trained them right."

"Ah," said Harold, his brow clearing.  "When you put it like that," he croaked.

"Go with your lady and let her take care of you," Caroline said, thumping Harold on the shoulder.  "But stay alert!  I may need my best herald any minute!"

"That was well done, love," Martin said, as Harold and Deborah bowed and walked off together.  "Think you'll be calling on him this tourney?"

"Possibly if Hell freezes over," the Queen said.  "Or gets flooded out," she added, casting an eye at the water coming down from the grey sky.

By 1:00 the first round was over.  48 fighters had won, 48 had lost.  Since the tourney was double elimination, no one was out yet.  45 of the winners were knights.  The other three were Eodric the Mad, Ketill Ragnar's Son, and Cho Hye Eun.  Lady Hye-Eun was carrying Duke Robert's favor, and vice versa.

There was a fifteen-minute break for the fighters to wolf down hot soup, drink hot mulled cider, or use the jakes, while Amanda and her two assistants compared ledgers.  She was having each of them prepare cards and track results as if the whole tourney depended on her alone, while she did the same.  For the first round all three ledgers matched, and Amanda was pleased.

"Did you see 'Sir Ithiriel's' armor?" Isabella said to Juho.  Juho, Taawi, and Pertti were marshalling full time, since they weren't fighting, and their ladies were working to keep them as dry and warm as possible in the ongoing drizzle.

"Very pretty," Juho said, wrapping his hands gratefully around the hot bowl of soup.  "I was more impressed by his speech, however."

"I heard that he was speaking only in Latin," Isabella said.

"Yes, once he discovered none of us 'mortals' spoke Elvish," Juho laughed.  "But what Latin?  Anthony was one of the marshalls for 'Sir Ithiriel's' fight with Baron Zoltan, and he swears he's going to follow the fellow around and take notes."

"It seems," Juho said, taking a sip of soup, "that he's invented a Latin dialect, 'Elvish Latin' if you will.  You know how Church Latin and New Latin differ?  Well, he's made up his own set of pronunciation rules, different from both of those, with 'loan words' from Elvish that he uses sometimes."

"So elaborate," Isabella marveled, "all for a joke that what?  Half a dozen people would appreciate?"

"Hey, he's a Laurel now," Juho laughed.  "That raises the bar."

Round 2 began at 1:15.  Again there were 96 fighters, 48 fights, 6 fights per field.  The difference was that half of them had already lost one fight.

The heralds did their best to make up for Master Harold's susceptibility to rain and wind.  None of them were quite as loud as he was, but Baroness Alison came closest, with Lord Peter and Master Conrad right behind.

The rain wasn't falling hard, but it wasn't stopping.  The sun was missing the whole tourney.  Puddles formed in low spots, and marshalls warned fighters on their fields about hidden holes, and patches of gluey mud.

By 2:10 the 96 fighters had been reduced to 60.  36 fighters had lost both their fights, most notably Baron Zoltan (who'd lost to "Sir Ithiriel" and Sir Patrick of Goleta) and Aino (Duke Robert and Sir Marvin of Carnot).  34 knights had no losses, and two unbelted fighters, Eodric and Hye-Eun.  23 knights had one loss out of two fights, and one unbelted fighter; Ketill had been beaten by Sir Mary.

After another fifteen-minute break, Round 3 began at 2:25.  60 fighters faced each other in 30 pairs, three or four fights on each field.

Weapons began failing because of rain.  Any weapon held together entirely by duct tape, chiefly some axe and mace designs, began to unravel.  Any weapon with foam rubber or other absorbent materials, rather than hard rubber, became sodden and useless.  Swords made of new rattan and not sealed with varnish began soaking up water like long straws.  Older swords sucked water up into the fractures that ran from the striking point to the tip, and in the pulverized areas along the striking edge.  The crack of sword against shield or armor was being dampened to a sodden thump.

At 3:00 there was panic in the Lists tent, because Amanda and her two deputies came up with three different results.  But cross-checking the cards against each other, and in one case asking the fighters who had won, showed that Amanda's results were correct.  60 fighters had been reduced to 37, not 34 or 31.  28 knights had won all three of their fights, as had Eodric.  Ketill had beaten Sir Manfred, but Hye-Eun had lost to Sir Julia, giving each of them one loss and two wins.

The fourth round, beginning at 3:20, had 18 fights (two or three to a field), and the first bye, which Ketill Ragnar's Son got.

"Shouldn't that have gone to Cho Hye Eun?" Martin said.

"Why?" Caroline snapped.  "Because she's a 'gurl'?"

"Uh… yeah?" Martin said.

"One of Amanda's helpers made the mistake of asking her if she wanted the bye," Caroline told him.  "Know what she said?"

"Lady Cho?" said Martin.  "Oh, something like, 'Oh no, please, thank you so much but I just couldn't'—"

"She snarled at her," Caroline said with satisfaction.

After a moment, Martin closed his mouth.  "I do like a girl with spunk!" he said.

"Right," Caroline snorted.  "That's why I had to propose to you."

"Hey, no one ever accused me of being smart," Martin protested.

"Just smart enough to say yes," Caroline said, and kissed her husband.

Hye Eun ended up fighting Duke Werner, known throughout the kingdom as a kind, gentle, and highly chivalrous gentleman.  He kindly and chivalrously pounded her to a paste; this was her second and final loss.

Likewise it was no surprise when Count Armin beat Sir Edward the Quick, but when his favorite sword hit Fast Eddie's helm with a squelching sound and a spray of water, it snapped in two.  The tip bounced off across the field, and the marshalls cried hold.

"I'm sorry, sir knight," the good count said.  "We won't count that, of course.  Will you permit me to send for a replacement sword?"

"No need," Fast Eddie croaked hoarsely, doing his best impression of Beetle Bailey after a beating from Sarge.  "We'll count it.  Now if only I can get my legs to work…"

"Are you all right?"

"This rain," said Sir Edward, sitting up.  "It's like our weapons are weighted.  I've never been hit so hard."

Most of the fights had equally predictable outcomes.  No one was surprised when Duke Grigoriy beat Sir Frederick, or Sir Julia beat Sir Duncan—and wasn't that a Mutt and Jeff act, the tall lady versus the short lord—

Eodric beat Sir Uilleam.

Sir Uilleam ap Eoin, steadfast and redoubtable, who twice had been in the final round, once against Werner, once against Christian, hit the mud with a tremendous splash and lay at Eodric's feet like one truly dead, and everyone who saw it shook their heads in amazement.

30 survivors remained at 3:45.  18 of them had no losses: Duke Grigoriy, Duke Robert, Duke Werner, Count Armin, Count Christian, Sir Borngaum, Sir Charles, Sir Eadmund, Sir Edwin, Sir Fergus, Sir Gamlaun, Sir "Ithiriel", Sir Julia, Sir Mary, Sir Neill, Sir Ulfdan, Sir Yrjö, and Eodric.

"It's getting awful dark," said Martin.

"It's only 4:00!" Caroline said.  "We can't stop after only four rounds!"

"Does a dying fighter make a splash if no one can see it?" Martin said.

"30 fighters, 15 fights, two fights per field at most," said Caroline.  "How long can that take?"

"In daylight, or in this damned drizzle?"

Thirty minutes later, five knights had been eliminated, and so had Ketill.  24 fighters remained, all of them knights except Eodric.  Nine of the survivors had won all their fights: Duke Robert, Duke Werner, Count Armin, Count Christian, Sir Charles, Sir Edwin, Sir Gamlaun, Sir Yrjö, and Eodric.

And there they stopped for the day.  Five rounds had shaved 96 hopefuls down to 24; it was enough.  With the rain still falling lightly, and the grey sky turning black as the October sunset drew near, the heralds announced the end of the day's fighting.  The soup kettles were scraped empty, the last bread given out, and the constables found places for the night for those who hadn't been adequately prepared, but wished to remain.  Many slept in their cars, running the batteries down for heat, then feeding coins to the park rechargers to plug their cars in for the night.

Aino and Anthony retired to her van for privacy, and Deborah and Harold spent the night in his tent, which was small, but dry enough.  Bob and Maddy, Dave and Tina, Juho, Isabella, Yrjö, and Jenny spread out their sleeping bags in one of the Suomainen triple-layer, double-staked tents, and let the constables fit whatever eight to twelve people they wished into the other.  The two married couples zipped their bags together, the others lay next to each other but separate, holding hands a little, whispering a little in the dark.  It was cozy, and nice, to sleep thus surrounded by your family, and leave the passion for another time, but never the love.

"What did they do in the Middle Ages when it rained like this at a tournament?" Isabella wondered.  "Did they cancel the tourney, or just wait for the rain to stop?"

"Either of those," Juho said.  "Mostly a little rain wasn't a problem.  They lived under more miserable conditions than we're used to, and shrugged off bad weather, like our friends in An Tir."

"Also," Tina said, "remember that they had castles.  Tournaments were held at someone's castle, and the nobility spent the nights under real roofs, not in tents."

"And I suppose the common folk couldn't afford to travel to a tournament," Isabella said.

"Right," said Juho.  "The commoners at a tourney were those who lived in walking distance.  They spent the night under the roofs of their own huts, not in tents they couldn't afford anyway."

All night long the rain kept drizzling down.

Chapter 24
The Perfect Tourney

Not in anger or hope of glory,
Not in quest of throne and crown,
Not for lust of lovely lady,
Knighthood's belt, or great reknown:
These are the moments that bring us back,
When injuries have made us rest,
These the memories that urge us suffer
Endless sweat to be our best:
Sweet as a galliard's final chord
A well-struck blow with axe or sword.

"Shining Like Crystal", Taawi Suomainen
NTHONY threw a hand up in front of his eyes and squinted.  "Oh my God!" he said.  "That thing in the sky!  What is it?  It hurts my eyes!"

"I believe that's what they call 'The Sun'," Aino said.

"Oh, so that's what it is.  Is it supposed to be all orange like that?"

"Hey, you two," Tina said, as she passed on her way back from the jakes, "make him welcome, or he might decide to go away again."

"Eep!" said Aino, embarassed to have her mother see her coming out of her van after spending the night there with Tony.  She hid her face against his chest.  His arms tightened around her.

"Speaking of going away, Your Grace," he ventured.  Tina laughed, and continued on her way, singing, "Oh don't deceive me, oh never leave me, how could you use a poor maiden so?"

The sun remained, giving light if not much heat, aided by a rising wind that hustled the clouds along.  At nine o'clock a sudden hard gust hit the encampment, blowing over several people who lost their footing on the wet grass and mud.  At the same time, the Isles pavilion, which happened to be full on to the gust, blew over.  Wet cloth holds the wind better than dry cloth; the water trapped in the fabric lets no air through.  The tent billowed like a sail for a moment, then all the tent stakes on the upwind side pulled right out of the soupy ground, in a perfect demonstration of why the Suomainen tents were triple-staked.  The center pole fell on Sir Fergus, knocking him sprawling in the mud, while the wet fabric dragged its muddy hem over sleeping bags, rugs, clothing, and the other people in the tent.

At the same time a modern two-person tent with a lightweight external frame of plastic pipe, empty because the people who owned it were in the restrooms, started rolling over and over like a nylon tumbleweed.  After a moment a pack of children and a couple of dogs started chasing it.

As ten o'clock approached, the wind died down, and the clouds began to gather again.  Master Harold stepped onto the field and called, "MY LORDS AND LADIES!  MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  HER MAJESTY SUMMONS ALL FIGHTERS IN THE LISTS, ALL MARSHALLS, ALL HERALDS!  FIGHTERS, MARSHALLS, HERALDS FOR THE CROWN LISTS, TO THIS FIELD!"

"Remember, Master Harold," Caroline said as she and Martin joined him, "take care of yourself and let the other heralds fill in as needed."

"I will, Your Majesty," Harold said.  "And didn't they do a fine job yesterday?"

"They did," Martin said.  "They're a credit to you."

A whole book could be written about any round of any crown tourney.  The course of each fight, the arms each fighter bore on his shield, the arms and armor each used, who the fighters were, where they came from, how they joined the Society, their lovers, their friends, their particular interests…  The tourney was the center of the Society, and everything connected to it.

This round was even more interesting than most. All the fighters remaining were strong fighters, men and women set apart by skill.  Count Armin and Sir Edwin met, both undefeated, and Amanda's lord took his first loss of the tourney.  Similarly Count Christian gave Sir Gamlaun his first defeat, and Sir Charles died the first time at Sir Yrjö's hands.

Duke Werner, so far undefeated, dealt the second and final blow to the hopes of Sir Uilleam.  Duke Robert did the same to Sir Ulfdan, and unknighted Eodric eliminated Sir Magnus.

Duke Grigoriy, who'd lost once, fought Sir "Ithiriel", who had the same status.  It was a hard fight for the tall Calafian; he wasn't used to fighting someone taller than he was.  But a blow to one hip put the elongated elf on his knees, and then a blow to the dazzling shiny helmet left only mortals in the lists.

But of course an elf can't just die like ordinary people.  Clutching his chest with both hands, the elf knight began an impassioned speech in his "native language".  It went on and on, accompanied by presumably-appropriate gestures and postures of woe.

"What a ham," Lady Mathilde said disdainfully.

"Dad?" said Sir Yrjö.  "That sort of sounds like Finnish."

"That's because it sort of is," Duke Taawi said.  "The Elvish language that Tolkien invented uses a more-or-less made-up vocabulary, but the grammar he lifted straight from Finnish, endings and all.  That's why it sounds familiar."

Round 6 took 20 minutes, and Sir "Ithiriel" used every one of them; it was a good thing they had eight fields, and only twelve fights.  While the long-drawn-out elf was enacting his long-drawn-out death, Sir Eadmund and Sir Frederick fought, each with one previous loss, and Sir Frederick was eliminated.  Sir Rufeo was also eliminated, by Sir Neill; Sir Julia finished the job the tent pole had started on Sir Fergus; Sir Mary beat Sir Alejandro; and Sir Patrick fell to the ferocious Sir Borngaum.

At 10:20, fifteen fighters remained in the lists.  Duke Robert, Duke Werner, Count Armin, Count Christian, Sir Yrjö, and Eodric were still undefeated.

Raindrops began to sprinkle everything as the seventh round began at 10:30.  15 fighters meant seven fights and a bye, which went to Sir Mary.  It was a tribute to Eodric that no one suggested it should go to him as the only non-knight left; the Lists simply rolled dice as if all the fighters were equal.

So Mary didn't fight, but watched Charles eliminate Amanda's Edwin from the lists.  Charles' brother Neill was also eliminated, by Sir Eadmund of Runeden.  The others driven from the lists were Sir Gamlaun (by Duke Grigoriy), and Sir Julia, by Sir Borngaum.

Duke Werner took his first loss from Count Armin, Duke Robert his first death from Count Christian, and Sir Yrjö was the first person to beat Eodric this weekend.

As the round ended, the rain began to drizzle in earnest.

Mistress Hannah's soup kitchen was up and running again, serving split-pea or barley soup, your choice, instead of yesterday's chicken.  Mistress Jeanette and Mistress Helena were entertaining the children with stories and games in Suomainen's spare pavilion.  Recorder players and other musicians gathered in the Calafian pavilion at the invitation of Baron Mezentius.  Heralds talked to people about arms they wanted to register, in the Dreiburgen pavilion.  Baron Zoltan talked arms and armor, and took orders for future work.  Esmeralda and Juho talked with a newsmag reporter from El Monte about their engagement and how she felt about being the heir.  Pertti and Marketta, Taawi and Kristiina circulated slowly around the tourney, greeting friends, and offering aid and comfort to those who needed either.  Aino, Anthony, and Jenny cheered on Werner and Yrjö, both still in the lists.  Deborah and Harold stood before his tent, holding hands, and talked.

Round 8 started at 10:55.  11 fighters meant only five fights, fought simultaneously on the five fields with the fewest gluey potholes and pools of water.  Sir Eadmund of Runeden got the third bye of the tourney.

Sir Mary took on Sir Borngaum, her steely precision against his howling ferocity, and beat him, which was his second and final loss.  Meanwhile Duke Grigoriy did the same to her intended, Sir Charles.  Eodric was finally eliminated by Duke Robert; Eodric was disappointed, but he'd fought a very good tourney.  Duke Werner beat Count Christian, and Count Armin beat Sir Yrjö; it was Christian's first loss, and Yrjö's as well.

At 11:10 eight fighters remained in the lists.  Only Count Armin was still undefeated.  Duke Grigoriy, Duke Robert, Duke Werner, Count Christian, Sir Eadmund, Sir Mary, and Sir Yrjö had one loss each.

About a minute after the round ended, the heavens broke open, and the rain quit fooling around.  It had been drizzling all weekend; now it poured.  For eight solid minutes the water came down as if the tourney site were under a giant faucet.  Visibility went to zero, tents fell, and frightened children screamed.

Then it stopped, and stunned Society members, who'd never seen such a downpour in Southern California before, surveyed the wreckage.  After a few moment with Their Majesties, Master Harold splashed out onto the eric and cried, "ALL CONSTABLES!  ALL CONSTABLES, REPORT TO YOUR BARONS, AND GIVE WHAT AID THEY COMMAND!  ALL KNIGHTS!  ALL KNIGHTS, ASSIST THE CONSTABLES—HER MAJESTY COMMANDS IT!  THE LISTS ARE SUSPENDED FOR ONE HOUR!"

Everyone pitched in and helped each other.  In half an hour order began to emerge from chaos; in an hour it was as though nothing had happened, except that everything and everyone were wet.  At that point, their duty done, perhaps a third of the tourney-goers decided they'd had enough, and left.  Sir Neill was one of these, after saying goodbye to his brother, and wishing Duke Robert good fortune.

At 12:30 Master Conrad restarted the lists, Master Harold having completely lost his voice.  "My lords and ladies, pray attend!  My lords and ladies!  These are the fights of the ninth round:  Duke Sir Robert the Determined, Duke Sir Werner von Sternheim, pray arm and report to Field 2!  Duke Sir Grigoriy Ilyich Azizov, Count Sir Armin von Bergen, you have Field 3!  Count Sir Christian Julian and Sir Eadmund of Runeden may take Field 6!  Sir Mary of Fairfield, Sir Yrjö Suomainen, you are awaited on 7!"

All four fights were fought hard and went long.  Werner and Robert were well matched, and so were Mary and Yrjö.  As for Armin, if anyone had thought Grigoriy was far superior to him, he opened their eyes.  Sir Eadmund also fought far better against Count Sir Christian than anyone would have predicted.  Fifteen minutes of the good fight left four survivors out of eight.

At 12:55, after another ten-minute break, Lady Mathilde of Rannoch had her turn.  "My lords and ladies!  My lords and ladies!  Duke Sir Robert the Determined will battle Count Sir Armin von Bergen on Field 1!  Count Sir Christian Julian will battle Sir Yrjö Suomainen on Field 2!  My lords, pray arm and report!  Heralds and marshalls, to your fields!"

The semi-finals, then, on two large fields made by removing the ropes that had divided them into eight, were fought between Count Armin and the SCA duke on one hand, and Count Christian and Aino's brother on the other.  All four won great honor just by being there.  It took thirty solid minutes of no-quarter fighting to see who would advance to the finals.

"ALL KNIGHTS, ATTEND HER MAJESTY!" Baroness Alison called.  "THE QUEEN INVITES ALL HER KNIGHTS TO WITNESS THE FINALS FROM THE FIELD!"  Then for the last time that year, all the knights still at the tourney entered the eric en masse.  Knights from Calafia, including the Finns; knights from Dreiburgen, not least Duke Werner, who gave his lady wife a hug in passing; knights from Isles; knights from Failte, with fingers crossed; knights from Gyldenholt, similarly hopeful.

"MY LORDS AND LADIES!" Mistress Alison cried.  "MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  COUNT SIR ARMIN VON BERGEN, BARON OF GYLDENHOLT, HERE DOES BATTLE WITH COUNT SIR CHRISTIAN JULIAN, FOUNDING BARON OF FAILTE!"  Both former kings, both barons, both knights stood on the muddy field.  The field was wet, the tents were wet, the spectators were wet; but the rain had ceased after the downpour, and a light wind had been slowly pushing the clouds away.  Now the sun broke through, for the first time since the morning, and dazzled everyone.

"Argghh," Anthony said faintly.  Aino giggled, and poked him in the ribs.

"YOUR GRACES, SALUTE THE CROWN!" Alison called, and Christian and Armin saluted Caroline and Martin.

"YOUR EXCELLENCIES, SALUTE YOUR LADIES!" cried Alison next.  Armin wheeled about and saluted Hilda, for once standing without her cane in her pride of him, in front of the Gyldenholt pavilion.  Since Gyldenholt was hosting the tourney, their pavilion was across the eric from the kingdom pavilion.  Christian turned half left and saluted Denise, who waved back gaily.

"WORTHY KNIGHTS, SALUTE YOUR OPPONENTS!" called Alison.

Christian banged the sword in his right hand against the face of his shield, saluting Armin.  Armin saluted back the same way.  Then they took up their stances, shields slightly outward from straight up and down, slightly to the left, top just below the eyes; swords above their heads, pointing each at the other.

"ON YOUR HONOR, BEGIN!" shouted Alison, as she stepped out of the eric.

Christian was a good-old-boy from Texas, in all the best meanings of the phrase, and none of the bad ones: honest, practical, good with his hands on a job, good with his fists in a fight, tall, lean, good-humored, a good friend and a bad enemy.  He had gathered the reins of leadership in the then brand-new group in Orange County just because no cowboy could stand by while a good horse ran wild and ruined itself; and he had held them ever since.  Past his first prime, going grey, he was no one to ignore or disdain.  Like the lead wolf in a pack, he was more than a match for any young cub with delusions of prowess.  He'd won one crown tourney, and had been in the finals several times before.  He'd lost only one fight this weekend, to Duke Werner.

Armin was ten years older than Christian, a professional soldier of the Army of Germany, which had invented the modern professional army.  Now a retired general, he'd begun the War as a Lieutenant, and had killed with pistol and bayonet and bare hands more times than he liked to think about.  Born of a minor noble family, he had ancestors who had fought in real tournaments, who had killed and been killed in real battles with sword and shield.  If Christian was a wolf, Armin was a bear.  He hadn't lost a single fight all weekend.

For fifteen minutes they struck blows of controlled ferocity barely checked by adept shield work.  Then came one of those moments, so common when fighters are so well matched and know each other so well, when both struck at once.  Then Christian fell, and Armin did not.

"FIRST VICTORY TO COUNT SIR ARMIN VON BERGEN!" cried Alison, while the finalists took off their helmets and laid down for a rest.  Household and friends brought them water and cold cloths to wipe their faces, while the two o'clock sun shone down.  All the water puddles had mist rising from them, and the tents were beginning to dry.

"So," Esmeralda said, swinging her fan idly.  "Is it March Crown all over again?  One with no losses, one with one?  Armin wins, then Christian wins twice and takes the crown?"

"It could be," Juho said.  They sat in two of the household's x-frame chairs in front of the Suomainen pavilions.  If the sun stayed out, the tents would have to be opened up soon.

"It could be," Juho repeated.  "There are only a few possibilities for a two-man final, after all.  Another is, Armin wins, then Christian wins, then Armin wins it all."

"Or?" Esmeralda said.

"We call it a perfect tourney if the victor goes through the lists and is never defeated even once.  Taawi would've had a perfect tourney in March, if he'd won our second fight."

"This is—what?  Common?  Rare?"

"Very rare," Juho said.  "I think—I'm not sure, but I think the last time I saw it was when Grigoriy won the crown of the West."

"The crown of the—you mean, before the SGU was founded?" Esmeralda said.

"Yes, I think that was it," Juho answered.

At 2:15 the finalists put their helmets back on, the knights (like Juho) who'd left the eric returned to it, and Mistress Alison called, "MY LORDS AND LADIES, GENTLES ALL!  COUNT SIR ARMIN VON BERGEN AND COUNT SIR CHRISTIAN JULIAN ONCE AGAIN BATTLE FOR THE CROWN OF PATRIA!"

"Why does she always announce Armin first?" Esmeralda asked.  "They're both knights, both barons, and both counts, aren't they?"

"Yes," Deborah said.  She and Harold, Aino and Anthony, and Jenny had joined Isabella in front of the household tents, some in chairs, some on a floor rug spread over the wet grass.  Yrjö was in the eric with the other knights, standing next to Duke Robert, the other semi-finalist.

"MY LORDS, AGAIN I PRAY YOU, SALUTE THE CROWNS!" Alison cried.

"Christian was Baron before Armin, and I think Christian was knighted earlier?" Deborah said, looking at Harold.

"Yes," he said in a rasping whisper.

"Oh, don't talk, rest your voice!" Jenny said, while Alison called, "MY LORDS, ONCE AGAIN, SALUTE THE LADIES WHO INSPIRE YOU!"

"On the other hand," Deborah said, "Armin was Count first—he and Hilda were the first King and Queen of Patria.  And he's older, if that matters.  And he hasn't lost a fight this weekend."

"MY LORDS!" cried Alison.  "SALUTE YOU EACH THE OTHER!"

"Alphabetical order," said Anthony lazily, his head resting in Aino's lap.

"What?!" said Aino in amazement.

"A comes before C, Armin comes before Christian," Anthony explained.  "Alphabetical order," he concluded smugly.

"Like that matters to a herald!" Aino said.  "You—you—librarian, you!"

"Librarian?!!" said Anthony.  "Oh, you wound me!  You wound me deeply!"  He felt around his chest with both hands.  "No… Wait… You don't," he said, and smiled up at her.

"ON YOUR HONOR, BEGIN!" cried Baroness Alison.

For thirty minutes the two men fought.  Christian with his long arms took out Armin's left leg, bringing him to his knees.  Then, as he stepped around the wounded bear, looking for an opening, Armin caught him just below the butt with a long reach to Christian's right leg.  Both on their knees, almost shield to shield, they threw blows at each other like two heavyweight prize fighters too weary to maneuver.

Armin covered himself with his shield and leaned back.  Watching Christian, he threw his sword to one side and drew the mace from the back of his belt.  Water splashed under one knee as he resumed his position, and he grimaced in annoyance.

When Armin drew back, Christian did too, discarded his own sword, and took out the flail dangling from his belt by the nylon-rope "chain" connecting the handle half to the striking half.  No one called hold.  The marshalls could have, but each fighter had been made aware of both of the other fighter's weapons before they began, and both fighters were watchful and knew what the other was doing.  In those circumstances, and with such experienced fighters, the marshalls preferred not to interfere or distract them, short of actual danger.

Now the fighters, panting with exertion, were pressing their shields together and striking with the mace and flail.  The flail had the longer reach, and could wrap around the edge of a shield.  But longer reach was not necessarily an advantage when the fighters were face to face, knee to knee; and the flail had to land just right to be effective.  Armin's mace was like an armored fist at the end of a foot and a half of extra arm.

Flail moving right met mace moving left.  The rope, frayed from dangling at Christian's belt through this and many other tourneys, gave way abruptly, though it had been inspected and passed before the Lists.  Both marshalls and half a dozen of the watching knights shouted "Hold!" as the freed flail head flew to Armin's left, hit the ground, and did several cartwheels before stopping at Duke Robert's feet.

"Damn," said Christian.  "I liked that flail."  He looked at Armin.  "You have disarmed me, sir.  Of your chivalry, may I call for another weapon, or will you take your victory?"

Armin didn't answer him directly.  "Sir Charles!" he bellowed.  "Bring your Baron a mace!"

"Thank you," Christian said softly, as Charles sprang to obey.  Armin nodded curtly.

The finalists rested while a mace was fetched, and its strap fastened around Christian's wrist.  "Are you ready, my lords?" asked Sir Patrick.

"One moment," Christian said.  He saluted Armin with the mace.  "To you, sir," he said.

Armin saluted back.  "Fight hard!" he said.

Christian laughed.  "Oh, that's what I've been doing wrong!"  He looked up at Sir Patrick and Sir Magnus.  "Ready," he said.

"THEN LAY ON!" said the marshalls.

At 2:45 Armin hit Christian full in the face bars with a mace blow like a ball from a cannon.  The overhead blow in progess with the replacement mace never landed.  Christian went limp, fell against Armin's shield, then slid down it to the sopping grass like bread dough thrown against a wall.

"SECOND AND FINAL VICTORY TO COUNT SIR ARMIN VON BERGEN, BARON OF GYLDENHOLT, IN THE CROWN LISTS OF THE KINGDOM OF PATRIA!" shouted Baroness Alison, savoring the moment.

The fighters gathered around and mobbed Christian and Armin both.  Pertti clapped Armin on an armored shoulder and said, "A perfect tourney, Armin!  You didn't lose once!  Congratulations!"

Armin, his grey hair plastered down with sweat, squinted in the sunlight reflecting off water all around.  He tucked his helmet under his left arm, and stuck his right index finger in Pertti's face.  "You!" he said.  "It should've been you I was fighting!"

Pertti laughed.  "No, thank you," he said.  "I'm perfectly happy to let Christian take your blows.  I know how hard you hit!"

Armin laughed, too, handed his helmet to Yrjö, and crushed Yrjö's uncle in an enormous bear hug.  "You're a good man, Pertti Suomainen!  A good man."

Pertti hugged him back.  "So are you, Armin," he said, patting the older man's back.

Duke Robert looked on with a little smile.  "Enemies, my left foot," he said to himself.

"Your left foot has enemies, Your Grace?" said an amazed voice behind him.  "What about your right foot?"

"Ah, Sir Adam," Robert said.  "Before I forget, let me congratulate you on your act this weekend."

"Act, Your Grace?" Adam said, looking puzzled.

"The elf," Duke Robert said.  "Tell me, how did you fight so well in that armor?  I can almost see fighting on stilts, but what about those long arms?"

"There must be some mistake, Your Grace," said Sir Adam.  "I only got here a few hours ago."

"Of course you did," said Duke Robert.

So court was held in the afternoon sunlight, the last court of the last kingdom tourney of the year.  Armin and Hilda were escorted to court by all their fellow barons and baronesses, most specifically including Christian, who was nearly as happy for Armin's victory as he would have been for his own.  And everyone took joy that Hilda, whom they feared had not many tourney seasons left, would be Queen again, and then a Duchess at long last.

The court was not long.  Night was coming on, and the clouds were gathering again.  The populace was reminded about Dreiburgen Anniversary tourney next weekend, and Calafia Anniversary Tourney two weeks after that.

"Alas, Your Majesty," said Master Ioseph, "I'm afraid I have nothing.  This is a wonderful occasion—my congratulations to the Crown Prince and Crown Princess!—but I fear the spark of inspiration has been drowned."

"I guess we're spoiled," Queen Caroline said.  "What other court has a poem or song at every occasion?  We can hardly blame you for being 'under the weather'."

"Never have so many Patrians had so little music," said Ioseph, bowing.  "Were it not for Baron Mezentius' hospitality, I fear we'd have had none at all.  But I will have at least one new song at Twelfth Night."

"Excellent," said Caroline.

So with three cheers for the Queen and the Prince Consort, three cheers for the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, and three cheers for the Baron and Baroness of Gyldenholt—"And all the Barons and Baronesses of our kingdom!" Martin shouted—the populace had royal leave to depart.

And did, before it started raining again.

Chapter 25
All of Our Days

I have a yong suster
Fer biyonde the see;
Manye be the druries
That she sente me.

"I Have A Yong Suster",
Middle English form of the Riddle Song
OUSE Suomainen went to Dreiburgen Anniversary Tourney on Saturday, the 21st of October.  The Queen and Prince Consort weren't there, but the Crown Prince and Crown Princess were set up opposite the baronial pavilion, in the place of honor.  The other major axis points were occupied by House Sternheim and House Suomainen.

The ground shook and rolled for a minute during opening court.  Master Renfrew, who'd lived in Dreiburgen before moving to Failte to be with Aloise, said to her, "Whoa!  What was in that ale?  And do we have more?"

But an earthquake in California is no big deal, unless it does major damage or kills lots of people.  After court, the lists were held for Baronial Champion.  21 fighters entered, and the finalists were Crown Prince Armin, Duke Werner the Baron of Dreiburgen, and Duke Pertti Suomainen.  First Werner fought Pertti, and Pertti won; then Pertti fought Armin, and Armin won; then Armin fought Werner, and Werner won.  Then Pertti said, "You know, guys, this is getting to be a lot like work!"

"You have a better idea?" Werner said.

So Baroness Alison was requested to come to the field, listened, and agreed.  Lord AElfrede AElfredsson, Blue Mountain Herald, cried, "My lords and ladies!  By gracious leave of Their Excellencies, the Baron and Baroness of Dreiburgen, the post of Champion shall be shared by His Excellency, by His Grace Duke Pertti Suomainen, and by His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Armin von Bergen!"

"WHAT?!!" shouted Taawi.  "We didn't fight all those rounds so you slackers could negotiate a settlement!  Juho!  Yrjö!  Are you with me?"

"Damn straight!" said Yrjö, as he and his uncle started putting their armor back on.

"Oh no you don't, Anthony von Sternheim!" Aino scolded.  "I saw that look!  Don't you even think about fighting before March!"

"Then you put it on!" Anthony said.

"What?"

"Hurry!  Take it away!  Besides, one of us should get in on this."

So Duke Taawi, Duke Juho, Sir Yrjö, Sir Adam, and Aune stepped out on the field and challenged Duke Pertti, Duke Werner, and Crown Prince Armin.  Pertti looked them over, and drawled, "Sure you don't want three or four more?"

"Ha!" said Aino.  "If Anthony could fight he'd finish you all by himself!"  Anthony covered his face and groaned.

It was a glorious fight.

Calafia Anniversary Tourney was two weeks later, on Saturday, November 4th.  The tourney site was a park at the south end of the huge UCSD campus.  Everybody in the Barony was there, plus "retired" Calafians who only came to this event (and maybe Leodamas Tourney) each year, plus former Calafians like Werner and Alison, and Anthony, and Laura.  Dreiburgen in general was well represented, and Gyldenholt too, recognizing that people from Calafia had started both baronies.

Isabella met Sir David du Lac, the original Calafian who had then joined the Army, started the SGU group in Germany, and was now their Baron.  Werner's old college room mate introduced her to his wife, Baroness Gillian, and their little boy, who already knew how to bow and kiss a lady's hand.

She also met Eilonwy, the Baroness of the SGU group in Seoul, Korea.  The quiet brown-haired beauty had been followed around by half the men in Calafia, and a number of Northern (i.e., Bay Area) knights who made the trip to San Diego just to see her.  Then she'd graduated from college, moved to Korea to teach, and started the group there.

Master Gerald the Studious was pleased to introduce Isabella to his parents, the Baron and Baroness of Adiantum, mundanely known as Eugene, Oregon.  They weren't ex-Calafians, but were close friends of Sternheim and Suomainen.  Baron Ulfhedinn, a Master of the Laurel, made many of the wrought-iron tent stakes used in the SGU on his forge, as well as many other pieces of fine ironwork; he was a farrier in real life.  He had corresponded with Anthony when they were both starting in the College of the Sciences, and their uncountable shared interests had led to a close personal friendship.  Baroness Reginleif, his wife, had met House Suomainen on one of the couple's trips to Southern California, and bonded with Maddy and Tina.  Her Laurel was for fine jewelry.

There were challenges and melées at Calafia Anniversary, but they seemed almost afterthoughts.  Most were too busy catching up with old friends, showing each other photographs, flirting, playing recorders and other instruments in impromptu jam sessions that went on and on, kissing, singing, dancing, playing tug of war, flying kites, running races…

Mezentius talked to reporters from every newsmag in San Diego, and pointed them at other victims as well.  Cameras clicked constantly.  Master Harold took some other heralds a few blocks away and taught projection; he could still be heard faintly.  Baron Ulfhedinn taught Mezentius' son Thomas how to play tafl.  Mistress Jeanette, Mistress Greta, and Baroness Eilonwy sat and talked old times, while the strip of needle lace in Greta's lap grew longer and longer.

At closing court it was announced that Duke Sir Taawi had won the lists and was the Baronial Champion until next year's Anniversary Tourney.  "Oh, was there fighting?" Master Anthony said.  "Ow," he complained; Aino had stepped on one foot, and Alison on the other.

The baronial officers were called forward, and some resigned and turned over their offices to the replacements they'd trained.  Then all the officers renewed their fealty to the Baron and Baroness.  Lady Mathilde of Rannoch was no longer an acting Herald, Mistress Deborah's replacement, but the official Trident Herald of the Barony of Calafia.

Mistress Greta was admitted to the Order of Leodamas, having been nominated by vote of the populace at the Leodamas Tourney, and approved by the Baron and Baroness.  Baroness Eilonwy, the only other member of the Order who was present, helped Greta don the blue full-circle cape.  Then Greta knelt so that Baron Mezentius could slip the collar of silver lion heads over her head, where Zoltan's silverwork could rest on the blue cape, displayed to full advantage.

It was a wonderful day.

Christmas itself was not an SGU event, nor was New Year.  House Suomainen got together on December 25 at Bob and Maddy's place and had a family Christmas complete with presents, going to Mass, and coming home hungry (from fasting for Communion) to stuff their faces.

But Isabella went home for Christmas, riding the spaceplane to Berlin and then a regular jet from Berlin to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia.  Rodrigo kissed Greta "goodbye for now" and headed Isabella's security detachment; and Juho accompanied her as well, smiling softly, to meet her parents.

Two weeks they spent in the third capital of Iberia (with Madríd and Lisboa), departing San Diego on Friday, December 22, and returning on Sunday, January 7, 1979 (2732 by the Roman calendar).  Juho met the King, and they liked each other; by the end of the two weeks they respected each other as well.  He also met the Queen, various Counts, Dukes, Barons, Bishops, Archbishops, and courtiers of every rank and ilk.

The official residence of the King and his family when in Barcelona was the Palau Reial Maior, which had been the Roman governor's residence, then the home of the Visigoth Ataulfo, and then the home of the Kings of Catalonia.  Now it was a Gothic building with one tower.  The royal flag of Iberia hung on Saint Martin's Tower when the King was there: Quarterly of 6, Castile, León, Barcelona, Portugal, Navarre, and Granada.

Though they made the mandatory excursion to Gaudi's Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, begun in 1882 and still not finished, Juho and Isabella went to Mass in the Cathedral of Barcelona, begun in 1298 and finished in 1890.  They also visited Santa Maria del Mar, in the fisherman's quarter, the Barceloneta, and admired the church's fine rose window.

During the days they took a car to Vallvidrera, a village overlooking the city from the Collserola Hills in the West, then visited Montserrat, further west still.  Like San Diego, Barcelona was a collection of neighborhoods—the Eixample or city center, the Barri Gòtic or old town center, Gràcia, Les Corts, Sant Gervasi, and others.  Many of them had been small towns outside old Barcelona; Sarrià was an example of this.

By motorscooter or sometimes on foot they explored the tourist sights.  Juho had seen the Museu Picasso the one other time he'd been in Barcelona, long before; and the civic zoo, while not inferior to San Diego's, didn't eclipse it either.  But it was fun to see these things together; or to sit in a posada, an inn, and enjoy bellota, acorn-fed Iberian pig, or kokotxas de bacalao, cod jaw.

They danced at a Christmas ball at the Palau Episcopal, with each other when possible, with others when social laws demanded.  Juho exchanged a bow with Juan Carlos and his boyfriend, who seemed to be enjoying their disgrace.  The New Year was celebrated at the Palau de la Virreina with a feast, followed by a reception at the Palau de la Generalitat, where the civil servants and bureaucrats laired.

Finally Isabella hugged and kissed her mother, Juho bowed and shook hands with her father, and they left Barcelona.  They had two choices how to get back, both tempting.  One was to wait a day longer, catch a west-bound spaceplane from Barcelona to San Francisco, then a regular jet to San Diego.  The other was to leave right away, and take three spaceplane trips east: Barcelona to Madras, India; Madras to Guam; Guam to Los Angeles, then a short hop by jet to San Diego.  To climb three times to the edge of space would almost be worth having to pay three spaceplane fares.  But in the end they looked at each other, sighed, and waited a day like the sensible people they were.

Twelfth Night was the medieval New Year, the Feast of the Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season, January 6.  In the old SCA Kingdom of the West, the date for the Twelfth Night Coronation Festival was, by Kingdom law, the first Saturday after January 5.  Thus the West celebrated Twelfth Night between January 6 and January 12.

An Tir, Caid, and Patria, which had all been part of the West, set their own Twelfth Nights to the second Saturday after January 5th.  This moved them further from the Christian feast on which Twelfth Night was based, but allowed people to attend both the Northern (Bay Area) and the local event.  Unfortunately, it meant that people in Southern California couldn't attend both Caid's and Patria's Twelfth Night; nor could people from either Caid or Patria go to An Tir Twelfth Night.  There was talk about moving Patrian Twelfth Night back to the first Saturday, since the West remained hostile.  In 1979, Patria's Twelfth Night was January 13, in Calafia, at the student center at San Diego State.

Court was in Montezuma Hall.  It was the place where Isabella came to study, or to read, most often after Love Library.  When the library was closed, and her dorm room seemed like a cage (or a cell), she would walk up the wide steps of the student center, past the information booth and the bulletin boards, and sit in the heavily-upholstered chairs.  The huge mural showing the rape of the New World by Spanish conquistadors didn't shame her, but fascinated her with its blend of European and Mesoamerican art.  Like Picasso's Guernica from the Spanish Civil War, or the Russian and Chinese posters from the World War, it spoke of beastly horror in a way that was strangely beautiful.  Isabella would sit, and look at it, and feel her soul shifting in her.

This afternoon the overstuffed furniture was stashed away somewhere else, leaving an empty floor with the royal thrones at one end.  It didn't stay empty long.  People bowed as the Queen and Prince Consort entered and seated themselves.

"This is the court of Caroline and Martin, Queen and Prince Consort of Patria, and of Armin and Hilda, Crown Prince and Crown Princess; on the Ides of January in the year 2732 since the Founding of Rome!" Master Harold declared, in his indoor voice.

After a few words from Caroline and Martin, Armin and Hilda were crowned King and Queen of Patria, and the people cheered them.  Their first business was to make Caroline a Countess, and Martin a Duke, to more cheers.  The dukes and duchesses swore fealty to the new monarchs, the counts and countesses, and the barons and baronesses.  But when the knights came forward, King Armin stopped the proceedings.

"Hold," he said.  "There is one among you whose loyalties are unknown.  Sir Adam Dumarest!  Before I can accept your fealty, tell me truly: Where are you from?"

"I haven't spoken untruly, Your Majesty," Sir Adam said.  "But what does from mean?  If I was born in one place, grew up in another, went to High School in a third, am I not 'from' all three places?  If a man goes to college in one city, lives in another, and works five days a week in a third, which one is he 'from'?  And if he plans to move somewhere else, because a lady who lives there has stolen his heart, will he then be 'from' there?"

Armin nodded, slowly.  "I see your point.  But a man must have some place that matters most to him, some place he calls home, no matter how he rationalizes and quibbles."

"Must he?" said Adam.  "Are you sure?  If he was born to a wandering life, if every year or so, the whole time he was a child, his parents moved again?  Can't you conceive of a person like that?  The refugee camps must have been full of them, just after the War."

"The War was a long time ago," Armin said, "and you're a grown man.  Where are you from, sir knight?"

Adam sighed.  "Patria," he said.  "I was born in Patria, grew up in Patria, schooled in Patria, work in Patria, live in Patria.  Patria is the banner I follow, Patria is where my heart is."  He gave the King a level look.  "I am your man, Your Majesty."

Armin pondered.  "I am answered," he said.  "Indeed, I am well answered.  Take this, Sir Adam, with my thanks."

Sir Adam looked at the brass coin.  On one side was Armin's profile, encircled by the words "Arminius Rex Patriae 2732 A.U.C."  On the reverse was Hilda's face and "Hilda Regina Patriae 1979 A.D."

Adam closed his hand on the bean.  "Thank you, Your Majesty.  I will treasure this," he said sincerely.

After the knights swore fealty, and the Laurels, Pelicans, and kingdom officers, it was time for gifts and presentations from the populace.

"House Suomainen has gifts for Their Majesties," announced Lady Mathilde of Rannoch, the Trident Herald; Master Harold had asked her to handle court after the official business was over.

Up to the thrones proceeded Duke Pertti and Duchess Marketta; Duke Taawi and Duchess Kristiina; Duke Juho and Countess Esmeralda; Sir Yrjö and Lady Katherine; Master Anthony and Lady Aune; Master Harold and Mistress Deborah.  All wore costumes with their personal arms on one side and the Suomainen arms on the other, except for Master Anthony, who displayed his own arms with those of House Sternheim.  They bowed in unison.

"Your Majesties," said Pertti.  "Knowing that this day would come, as surely as the sun will rise at dawn, my household has labored over a gift for the two of you.  It was no easy matter to choose the right token of our esteem.  You were sure to be showered with gifts by the adoring populace, and as our regard for you is not ordinary, we wished our gift to be unique."

"Thank you, Your Grace," the King replied.  "Your words are a gift themselves."

Pertti bowed, smiling.  "Master Harold, if you please?"

Then Harold came forward, knelt before the King, and offered a book, bound in leather, with the Finnish motif called "the arms of St. Mark" embossed on the front.

Armin took the gift, opened it, looked at the title page, flipped through it briefly.  The room was completely silent.  He laid it tenderly in Hilda's lap, and cleared his throat.

"Truly this is a royal gift," he said.  "I pray you, tell the Kingdom what you have given us."

Harold stood, bowed, and faced the populace.  "House Suomainen gives to King Armin and Queen Hilda a copy of The Kalevala, the Finnish national epic.  The text is in German, translated from Finnish by a member of the House.  The book is lettered by hand, illustrated by hand, bound into a book and protected by a wood and leather cover, embossed with a Finnish motif—all by members of the household."

"May you long enjoy it," Pertti said.  "It would be pointless to say who was the translator, who the calligrapher, who the book binder, and so forth.  Suffice it to say, it is from all of us."

"And I thank you—we thank you all most deeply," Armin said, glancing at Hilda, who smiled and nodded.

Maddy and Tina came forward then, and Maddy said, "There is one thing more.  The cameras of the SGU never rest, and they miss nothing.  My sister and I want to give you this as well."

Smiling, Armin took the photo album and flipped it open.  His amazement grew as he turned the pages.  There was every quarrel, every confrontation that had ever been between him and Suomainen.  From the past year alone there was him glaring at Pertti at Yrjö's knighting, and the melée between his team and Sternheim-Suomainen.  He began to laugh.  His stupefied expression when Pertti toasted him as a noble foe was captured perfectly, as was their embrace after his victory in the Lists.

Armin rose from the throne and addressed the populace.  "A record!" he shouted, holding up the album.  "A record of a man's foolish pride, of his fear of being found wanting, of his envy of another man's large and happy family!"

"Gracious ladies," he said, kissing Marketta's hand, then Kristiina's, "thank you for holding a mirror up to me.  Sir Pertti," he said, holding out his hand, "let us be friends."

"With all my heart, Sir Armin," Pertti said, as he shook the King's hand.

While the populace continued to heap gifts upon the new King and Queen, many who'd already done so, or could not or would not, were in the student lounge on the same floor as Montezuma Hall, looking over goods for sale by the merchants.  Several meeting rooms on the lower level, on either side of the bowling alley beneath Montezuma Hall, had been claimed by musicians to practice playing for the dancing that would come after the banquet, or by dance masters teaching the dances.  In costumes from ancient times to the early Renaissance, SGU members drifted up and down the two sets of stairs that linked the upper and lower floors of the student center, strolled around the atrium at the bottom of the stairs, or walked down the wide stairs at the front to walk hand in hand on the long lawn.

The banquet was held in the cafeteria.  King Armin and Queen Hilda sat at the high table, and Baron Mezentius and Baroness Rowena.  Their Excellencies' children sat at a small table nearby, looked after by Mistress Helena and Mistress Jeanette.  The lighting was turned down by just enough that the candles lit at every table restored full brightness all around them, but left the space between tables just the tiniest bit dark.

Master Ioseph of Kerry strode into the space before the high table and bowed.  The bard was dressed all in white and silver.  White was his houpelande, the long hem falling almost to the floor, the angel sleeves hanging about his wrists, the fabric covered with embroidered pomegranates the same color, each the size of a hand.  The lining of the garment was light gray, and the liripipe on his head was the same color, only a little darker than his hair.  His under-robes were a darker gray, and his belt and slippers were black.  For color he had the rich brown of his harp, the enamel Laurel medallion that swung when he bowed, and the light blue of his eyes.

He was greeted by a light clapping of applause.  Queen Hilda smiled to see him, along with everyone else, and King Armin nodded and said, "Welcome, Master Ioseph."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Ioseph said.  For a moment he said nothing more, but his fingers began to stroke a tune from his harp.  It was a wistful tune, in a minor key.  People grew very silent so as not to miss a note.  Duke Pertti, who had heard it twice before, sat straight up.  "Oh no," he muttered.  Duchess Marketta, now in her seventh month of pregnancy, looked at her husband with inquiring brows.

After one verse without words, Master Ioseph began to sing:

I wake in the morning when the geese go by,
The lost geese, the wild geese.
It isn't Fall, but the geese go by,
And my heart longs to fly home.

For the glens and the dells of Ireland call
Their gone lads, their flown lads.
It's night in my heart when I'm far from home,
But night in my home would be day.

I walk in the day and my love is here,
My true love, my always love.
It's noon by the sun, yet my love is here;
She'd be with me there, as well.

I came to be with her wherever she would,
For she was my life and my joy.
Wherever she was, was home to me;
Now I'll take her home in my heart.

Look for me where the hills are green,
As only those hills can be green.
Listen for me where the silkies sing,
And the pookas dance on the sea.

He stopped singing then, though his fingers kept coaxing the strings.  Most of the men in the hall were merely puzzled; but many of the women had tears in their eyes.  Mistress Greta had fallen weeping on Rodrigo Seturino's chest, who held her and patted her back awkwardly, his face confused.

The harp was silent.  Ioseph looked around the room, and said, "My love to you all."  Then he bowed deeply to the high table, turned, and strode from the room.

For a moment Pertti sat, indecisive, while the babble of voices rose around him; then he stood up.  Taawi and Juho and the others at the table looked at him, and Taawi would have risen, but Pertti gestured for them to remain as they were; hurried to the door, and through it.

Ioseph was already to the front of the Student Center, past the big square atrium on his left and the closed and locked study lounges on his right.  But he had to slow, in the floor-length robe, to take the steps down to street level, and so Pertti caught up with him.  "Joseph," he called softly.

"Robert," Joseph said, and smiled warmly, if also wearily.  "I hoped to avoid this."

"You're worn through and through," Bob said.  "I'm sorry.  But knowing what that song meant, I couldn't bear to let you go without a last farewell.  God be with you, my friend!  May He guard you, and guide you, and lift your feet over every obstacle.  Or if He will not, may my love do so."  And he hugged his old friend.

"Ah, Robert," said Joseph, hugging him back, then releasing him and taking a step back.  They both stood at the top of the wide, shallow stairs.  In front of them was a scattering of tables for students to eat lunch; to their right the broad lawn, with the Book Store at its far end, and Love Library with lit windows.

"If love could heal me, I would stay," Joseph said.  "But it's love that wounds me.  Almost a year since my glad girl died, and every day I'm hurt again, in these places she brought me to, by these friends she introduced me to, playing this game she showed me.  I must go."

"I know," Bob said.  "Someday Maddy will die, and I will suffer the same agonies; or I will die, and my own darling will hurt instead.  True lovers can only hope to die together, since they can't live forever."

"It's not the years that age us, but our losses," Joseph agreed.  "I was only a boy when my Deborah died, but now I'm an old, old man."

"May you find peace, and your youth again," Bob said.  "May you return then, and bring us joy."  He kissed the older man on the cheek.

"Be at peace, and find joy in each other.  I said, My love to you all, and I meant it," Joseph said.  He kissed Pertti on the forehead.  "And now I must go, or I'll miss the spaceplane home."

Duke Pertti watched until Master Ioseph got into his little Irish car and drove away, the electric motor utterly silent in the Southern California evening.  Then he returned to the revel.  His lady wife's unspoken query he didn't answer; unless the way he held her face in his hands, and kissed her, deeply and passionately, were an answer.  The tears that leaked from her closed eyes argued that it was.

Most eyes were not on Duke Pertti and Duchess Marketta, but on the procession approaching the high table.  Master Harold Godfrey and Mistress Deborah of Glen Garrow led it, followed by Master Anthony von Sternheim and Lady Aune Pätääwäinen, Sir Yrjö Suomainen and Lady Katherine the Modest, Sir Adam Dumarest and Lady Mathilde of Rannoch.  All had musical instruments: Harold a tenor krummhorn, Adam a deep-voiced hautbois, the rest soprano recorders.  Anthony was dressed as a common peasant; Aune wore gauzy green tights and leotard, with silvery sprinkles all over her body, and tiny gauze wings in the small of her back.  The other three pairs were in Twelfth-Night finery, elaborate High Medieval costumes.

These four lords and four ladies bowed before King Armin and Queen Hilda, Baron Mezentius and Baroness Rowena.  "If it please Your Majesty," Master Harold said, "we would perform a song."

"Thank you, please do," said the King, looking at Sir Adam warily.

Harold laughed.  "Master Anthony and I wrote this song together," he said.  "It's called 'All Of Our Days'."

"Sim sammy satter, jen jimmy jatter,"
Heads close together, the women all say.

—sang Aino, Jenny, Deborah, and Mathilde, while Anthony, Yrjö, Harold, and Adam accompanied them on their musical instruments.

"Noon nilly natter, hearts are what matter,
If you would love us all of our days."

Aino sank gracefully to her knees and pretended to be playing with something on the ground.  Anthony walked around the other players with wide steps, playing his recorder.  While the others also played their instruments, Harold sang:

Tom was a good lad, never a sad lad,
Always a smile and a kind word.
Starlight and moonbeam, lost in a daydream,
Walked in the wood and spied a fair maid.

Thunderstruck, Anthony looked at Aino from behind a mimed tree.  Not looking at him, she sang:

"Shim silly shammer, glim gilly glamour,
No use to stammer," sang the elf maid.
"Dim duncey durking, I see thee lurking,
Numb ninnyhammer cannot catch me!"

Harold sang:

Tom was a bold lad, never a shy lad,
Kissed all the girls in the country.
Sprang in the clearing, seized her white shoulders,
Got only air and maid mockery.

Matching action to narration, Anthony leapt out from behind his imaginary tale and caught Aino by the shoulders.  But she slipped free and ran a few steps.  He made a huge two-armed grab at nothing and looked around wildly, not seeing Aino a couple of feet away, crossing her eyes and making faces at him.  Then, cupping her hands on either side of her mouth, as though calling a long way, Aino sang:

"Flim flinty flammer, man-minted manners,
Glib grubby grabber gaineth not me!
Mind, muddy mooner, some shimmer sooner,
Hum heady humor if you would be."

Having delivered her taunt, Aino took the recorder from her belt and began to play, while Harold sang:

Tom was a daft lad, lovelorn and laughed at,
Seized by a vision of fairy beauty.
Children would follow, shouting and jeering
Words they imagined elf maids would say:

Anthony walked with bent head, holding it in both hands.  While Aino and Deborah played recorder, Yrjö and Jenny, Adam and Mathilde capered behind Anthony, and sang in high, childlike voices:

"Fim filly fotion, drown in the ocean,
I'll lift not a finger, you for to save.
Fum feeble frother, don't be a bother,
Brief candle-outer, get to your grave."

Then they resumed playing their instruments, as Anthony pretended to build a cage, and Harold sang:

Tom was a craftman, always an apt man,
Built up a trap of wire and lace.
Cowslips and rose hips, daisies and tulips,
Lured lady elf love into that place.

As Aino bent to pick a flower, Anthony slammed an equally imaginary door behind her.  She sank to the ground and threw a dainty arm over her brow, singing:

"Now never nothing," whispered the lassy,
"My silly earthling," wasting away.
"Daffodils uprooted fade in a moment,
Elf in a cage but briefly you'll see."

Harold sang:

Tom was a sweet lad, never a cruel lad,
Tore up the cage and helped her to stand.
Into the wood he carried his lady,
Turned for a moment and then she was gone.

—while Anthony and Aino acted out the verse.  Anthony turned his back, and Aino darted up and behind an imaginary tree.  Harold's voice fell low on the word "gone" as Anthony looked around frantically.  But Aino sang the word high, and joyous:

"Gone! giddy gleamer far from the schemer,
Now that I'm free you'll never see me!
Sad silly sulker, drab scratch-the-dirter,
Hope all you want, I've nothing for thee."

Softly Harold sang:

Tom was a grim lad, heart all-a-dim lad,
Still left her flowers a year and a day,
Sugar and taffy, honey and comfrey,
Ribbons and bangles in that same glade.

Anthony put something on the ground, knelt there a moment, walked around the musicians; put something on the ground, knelt for a moment, walked around the musicians; while Aino unseen danced a dreamy pantomime of time passing, eyes lidded, arms upraised and weaving.

"Shh sooey sisper," he heard the wind whisper,
"Shabble the shibble, shibber shub she."

—sang Harold as the others kept on.  The wind, less human than an elf, was even less intelligible.

Mice ate the candy, ants took the honey,
Birds with the ribbons built a nest in the tree.

—mourned Harold.  Anthony rose, walked a bit, and opened a door.

Tom was a home lad, always-alone lad,
Opened his door and what did he see?
Cowslips and rose hips, daisies and tulips,
Fine daffodils and finer lady.

Anthony stood amazed, still holding the imaginary door.  Aino, hands on her hips, sang to him:

"Sim salla sindows, eyes are the windows,
Deeds are the proof and heart is the key!
Pick up your jaw and tell me this instant:"

—she sang, walking up to him and placing her hands on his shoulders—

"Faithful and patient man, will you love me?"

Then Aino, Jenny, Deborah, and Mathilde gathered together, while Anthony, Yrjö, Harold, and Adam formed another group.  Harold sang:

Tom is a gay man, wed-to-his-may man,
Elf-lass besotted all his days through.
Shrugs at the question shy boys will stammer,
Eve of their weddings, if he does rue.

Shrugging, Anthony threw out his arms and sang to Yrjö:

"Wim willy wistry, read in your hist'ry,
Woman's a myst'ry, from the first day.
Your pretty sweetheart, my lady loveling,
If they do differ who is to say?"

All the ladies sang:

"Fim fammy flatter, jim jenny jather,"
Heads close together, the women all say.
"Soon silly slather, hearts are what matter,
Now we will love you all of our days."

Then each man approached his lady, and she took both his hands, and they all sang:

Fear not nor falter, true hearts won't alter,
Now I will love you all of our days.

Then, still holding hands, they bowed to the high table, and the applause began.

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