THE FIRST NIGHT - Halfdan Was There.
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
THE TREBUCHET - A Siege Engine Knocks My Life 163 Degrees Sideways
THE SHIRE - Making Garb, Travel Plans and a Home in the SCA
...So there I was, all garbed up for my first SCA event. Hal, everybody's favorite Viking, had promised me a ride, so the only things missing were an affordable tent, my feast-gear which I would obtain at Merchant’s Row on Saturday morning, and my Robin Hood.
The unexpected death of Hal Jensen halted all this frolicking in an instant.
I did go to Castle Fever, but I rode with James. Our drive to Wisconsin was pleasant yet somber, and I kept looking out the window, wondering how leadfooty Halfdan would have been, what we would have been talking about as woodlands gave way to pastoral countryside and changed back to woods...
~From THE SHIRE
When James pulled into our campsite that first night, my heart twittered, then raced. I had no idea what to expect, what the people would be like, if I would fit in. It sure looked amazing. Tiki torches flanked the entrance, and someone had strung a series of lamps between the trees to light up a long table under a sunshade. There was a fire pit behind it, and beyond--the magic. These weren’t tents or campers like I’d seen all through my youth.
These were pavilions.
We’d passed a variety of them on the way in. Sturdy canvas, mostly white, with tall, tapered roofs edged with fancy-cut trim. “Dagged edges,” James called it. Some pavilions were square; some were round; a few were broad and rectangular. Here and there, striped A-frame tents poked up, their crossed beams topped with knotwork carved like the heads of wild creatures. Upon learning that these were Viking-style, I wondered if that’s what Hal had camped in.
In our immediate campsite, there were only three period pavilions, and they were all dark except one. Since we didn’t know if anyone was asleep, we spoke in hushed tones as we ducked beneath the lanterns and entered the cooking and dining area. It was already set up with camp chairs, some modern and others made of wood and canvas.
“Good eve in the camp,” James called in a low voice. “’Tis Maghnuis, newly arrived.”
Oh yeah, I thought. Maghnuis. His SCA persona name. I'll have to get used to that.
From inside the pavilion, there was some rustling as another familiar voice called back in an equally hushed voice, “Well met, Maghnuis. Fair drive?”
“Very fair, with such fair company.” My guide tossed me a wink. “Our newest gentle has arrived for her first event.”
I grinned back. Gentle. That was Scadian for “person.” What else was he going to call me? Not my mundane name, not now that we were past the gate. I hadn’t chosen a persona name yet. James had promised to take me to the Herald’s Pavilion in the morning so I could look through all the books and decide.
After some more rustling, Michael emerged from his pavilion to officially welcome us. He was our Seneschal, the leader of our shire. James--or rather, now that we’d crossed into faeryland, Maghnuis--was our Pursuivant, our herald. Hal had been our first authorized fighter and had been on track to becoming our Marshal, the one in charge of our fighter practices, as well as our Archery Marshal.
That thought drove yet another small dagger into my ribcage. Every other thing on that trip did, and I wasn't alone. Once we finished setting up camp, we set to work appeasing our stabbing heart-pains as well as we could. Some of the other familiar faces had appeared while we put up our tent and got garbed up. The guys had started a fire, so even though the sounds of larger parties went on all around us and the dance drums called to me like deep-voiced sirens across the chilly night, I did not go out exploring. The Shire of the Inner Sea spent that night in camp, paying tribute to our fallen friend.
James--dammit--Maghnuis brought out a beautiful round, silver flask engraved with Celtic knotwork surrounding the Tree of the Life. Within it contained what I would come to know as his favorite elixir, Jameson Irish whiskey. With this and several other rotating flasks, we toasted and told our tales of Hal in the way we hadn’t done at the funeral. There had been a little poetry read that night from the large packet that had been compiled, copied, and distributed to all the Shire members, but the funeral had been the time to commemorate Halden Jensen.
Upon this first night of Castle Fever, we mourned and paid homage to Halfdan “Leadfoot” of the Shire of the Inner Sea.**
That is who Hal was to our shire.
He was only a year older than I was--twenty-three when he passed. Throughout his short life, he was there for so many, and he remained with me at every SCA event I ever attended. He remains with me even today, when the woods are still. He's there in my honorable salutation before a sparring match or at the end of a sword dance, and he lingers with me outside a friend's house after dropping them off, watching until they're safely inside with the light on. Halfdan is there in every piece of garb I've ever made and in every dance costume I wore around the fire. He is there when I lay out fabric on the floor and he is there at the ironing board with his broad, brilliant grin. He's there anytime I watch First Knight, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Men in Tights, and Braveheart.
Although Hal's SCA persona was Viking, the last movie I watched before his abrupt demise was Braveheart. We went to the opening of it in the theater with a bunch of The Shire, so any time I hear that soundtrack I think of him. Then First Knight came out during my mourning days. When I got ahold of it on VHS, I watched the first half obsessively for costuming ideas. I could never do so without being transported back to that garb party under Hal's generous wing.
He was the bravest of hearts and the kindest of souls. I had no doubt he would have been Inner Sea's first Knight.
I'm out of words now that can do him justice. There is only one way to fully speak my heart:
R.I.P. Halden Jensen
Halfdan Leadfoot of the Shire of the Inner Sea
May 9, 1995
Looking back now on everything that has happened between that day and this one, I wonder who I would have become in the SCA--in my life--if Hal had been around to show me the ropes.
Although I adored the men of our Shire who stepped up in his place, the ones I was closest to were older. People have always called me an “old soul," yet I was still a very young twenty-two. I made friends with some of the other college girls, too, but Hal and I had shared a special connection. To be his friend was a unique kind of honor you don’t find every day. He offered it to me the way he had offered it to so many, with all of his gargantuan heart.
It didn’t matter to him that I was pretty and charming--and engaged. So many guys my age gave me all sorts of attention, only to drop me in the dust the moment they found out I had a fiancé. Not Hal. He had offered his friendship to the person I was, not to who he wished I would be for his purposes. Read: available to date. Or at least screw. Neither did he do that surreptitious thing of pretending to be satisfied with friendship while giving me the, "What he doesn't know won't hurt him," crap the moment he got me alone.
None of my Shire brothers did that, which was a glorious relief after all the prowling and avoidance maneuvers on campus and on weekends out dancing at the nightclubs, even sometimes at the Greek restaurant where I performed.
Hal and I had spoken of Kyle frequently, and the big Viking had looked forward to meeting him. As our imminent Fighting Marshal, he’d looked forward to trying to corrupt--excuse me, to entice my beloved into armor, once he’d learned that Kyle had studied Shotokan since he was a kid. I had looked forward to backing Hal up in hopes of that corruption.
On the Saturday morning of Castle Fever, when I finally got to witness everything he and the others had described about the heavy weapons field of combat, that desire quadrupled. It was only outmatched by my desire for all those fighters to finish what Hal had begun at the trebuchet demo: to corrupt me into armor and to teach me how to make my own.
With a desire that burned just as hotly as that which I had developed for belly dancing, I ached to become that thing he had promised I could be: a Shield-Maiden of Northshield. Sure, it sounded like great gobs of fun, but my desire ran so much more deeply than that.
Because the fact remained. I may have been engaged, but in reality, I was profoundly alone and constantly felt it. I was still that thing I had never wanted to be: a fucking damsel who flinched and froze every time she found herself in distress. I yearned to ensure that nobody could ever creep their nasty, unwelcome fingers on me again. I burned to ensure that nobody else would ever wrap their huge hands around my throat and slam me into anything.
Not without regretting it.
My blackbelt fiancé had always said that studying martial arts would do me a world of good. Unfortunately, I still had over a year and a cross-country move before I could learn it from him.
When the SCA dropped into my lap, it didn't only offer the kind of belonging and kinship I had been searching for all my life. It gave me the chance to finally pick up my studies in belly dance again. Most crucial of all, it brought me the opportunity to learn how to protect myself when I didn't have a vigilant, gallant knight at my side, so my entire being ran racing toward it with everything I had.
When Kyle had lived in Minnesota, he had checked out the dojos in our area. None had received his positive review, for they lacked the deep foundation of dignity, compassion, honor--all those things of which Hal had constantly spoken, and the things I saw demonstrated in his every action. That mindset had made the difference in why our resident Viking had chosen medieval combat over any other form of fighting, and it was why I had wanted to learn it from him.
It's what I had NEEDED to learn from him.
Alas. With his death, and with those two thousand miles between me and Kyle stretching longer with every day that passed, I was going to have to find my own way. Good thing there was an entire Society of fighters, men-at-arms, shield-maidens, squires, and knights out there, and I was about meet a bunch more of them the next morning.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: A Winter Solstice Interlude: 20 YEARS AGO TODAY - The First Anniversary PTSD Thing
--OR: I wrote more about Kyle HERE.
--OR: You can read more about my relationship with Death HERE.
**Since we've all been scattered to the wind, if any of these inspiring words belong to you and you don't want them shared here, please let me know and I'll take them down. If you are one of the renowned non-Inner Sea people who penned amazing poems for this packet and you DO want me to share your poem, I absolutely will.