Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Stone for the knighting of Durcain MacWard

I was approached by East Kingdom Signet to create an award "scroll" for Durcain MacWard, who was going to be knighted. I set out to create for him a stone to honor the occasion.

I took inspiration for the stone from Runestone U153 from Lissby in Uppland, Sweden. What I created is a pretty close reproduction, but tweaked to fit this particular project.

I wanted to use the cross aspect from the stone, but changed to be a Northern Army star, as Durcain is a Northern Army fighter. I started by sketching a few of the period crosses from stones, then used attributed from them to create a star that evoked that look. The end result being... well, I kind of re-invented the star used by Duchy Von Drachen Klaue on heir shields. Which... works, because Durcain is a member of VDK.

Initial sketches of the crosses, and the star.

Initial sketch for the stone. Inspired by stone U153 from Lissby. Basic, simple PR3 style.

The stone differs from period practice in a couple of ways. First, in the use of the Northern Army Star/VDK Tagma instead of the cross found on the original. Second is the inscription....
Inscription is English, transliterated into Elder Fuþarc. Stones of this period would have been in old norse, in Younger Fuþarc, but I used this method to make it easier for modern people to read, and because it's FAR easier to transliterate English (specifically modern English) into Elder. Younger has fewer letters, and I would have had to improvise replacement letters far more often.

Inscriptions on stones were pretty simple and to the point... they were being carved in stone, after all, by hammer and chisel. I opted to go with a short inscription, as close to period practice as I could.

Inscription reads: "Ioanness and Honig raised this stone for Durcain and made him a knight"

This is how it would have looked in Younger Fuþarc

I laid out the design on the stone itself, then I began carving by hand... hammer and chisel, as was done in period. My tools are modern... I repurpose basic hardware store cold chisels, drawing back the bevels to make functional carving chisels. 

I go over and rough out the entire design first, taking care to get each line... I don't want to miss any and have them erased from the surface of the stone before carving. It's embarrassing to have to go back and carve more if I realize after that I missed some...

Initial roughing out of the design. I start with the outline, then move in and carve the runic text.
"Honig", finished carving.

Roughed out primary design, and runic text.

After roughing out, I go through and clean up all the lines with a combination of point chisel and dremel tool with diamond burrs. Obviously the dremel is a deviance from period practice. I find it very useful on smaller stones like this.... especially when I have to finish a stone on a deadline, and a chisel mistake could mean someone doesn't get their award scroll on time.
After the carving is all done, then it's time to give the stone a bath. I scrub the stone with water and a brush, removing all the bits I have carved away, making sure to get deep into every line. On some stones, I have actually pressure washed them. Removing all the loose parts is important in making sure the paint sticks.
Then... on to painting.

Painting in progress. I start in the middle, and work out.

Painting is another departure from period practice. I use modern paints... mainly acrylics. I have not delved into the world of period paints and pigments, but I am looking to get some made and see the difference. Another rabbit hole....
Runestones definitely were painted in period. Dominant colors were reds, whites, and blacks, but other colors were possible and known. I chose to use Greens, yellows, whites, and blacks, as Durcain's colors are primarily those.


I cut the base of the stone for it to be displayed on a table or mantle inside, instead of being set in the ground.
I am damn happy with how this came out. I was extremely honored to be asked to do the stone for Durcain. I hope he's happy with it in his home.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Uncle Olaf and the Pennsic Stone

It was brought to my attention that despite the way I blather away on Facebook, many of you had no idea about the stone I carved and placed at pennsic this year. So... a quick post to tell the (abbreviated) story.
A few years ago, I had a pipe dream about carving runestones, small ones, to leave around Pennsic.... specifically with the purpose of people taking them home with them. THis grew into the idea of "DUDE, IT WOULD BE SO COOL TO DO A PERMANENT ONE!!!"
I voiced this idea, somewhat wistfully, and lo and behold, a friend put me in contact with a member of the Cooper's staff to discuss it with. They were amenable to the idea, so long as it was out of the way, and wouldn't interfere with day to day operations. So... I sought a stone, and started plotting.
I found the stone I would use at the house of a friend... it was about a foot wide, around six feet long, and probably about 6 inches thick. It was... well, a bit big, frankly. It weighed somewhere between 500 and 600lbs, and I decided to split it into three manageable sections, lengthway. So one stone became three, each six feet by one foot, and around two inches thick. It was one of these stones we packed in the truck to Pennsic.

It made the trip well... 450 miles or so, without a hitch. Then, we took it off the truck and placed it on the ground... where the bottom 18" or so snapped off. Because of course it did.
There was still enough to make a respectable stone, so I made contact with the Coopers about placing it and started carving. It was done COMPLETELY at Pennsic... design, carving, painting. It's not a true "runestone"... in that there are no runes on it. It's simply a "rune-serpent", inspired by Urnes style beasties. I sketched it on freehand, then carved the design in with chisels. My protege Arnbjorn kept my chisels sharp, and my wife Dalla helped me with the last bit of carving, and on Friday of War Week, I got final approval for placement, just inside my camp, House Wolfhaven at the end of Nagashino Road. My campmate Justin helped me set it into concrete, and it was  finished. It waits to greet us there next year.

The Pennsic Runestone Project, spearheaded by Valdis of Gotland, has not yet come to fruition.... they have not been able to complete funding goals, and it has stalled. You should check out their site here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/53562510901/ and think about supporting the project.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Guest Post: Unbelt Wives

Receiving the tabard...
photo by Tadea Isabette Di Bruno

Here's my first ever guest post. These are all people who were "Unbelt Wives"... those who stood next to us, helped us along, and put up with the craziness on the road to The Fight, and cheered us through victory or comforted us in defeat. Wives, in this case, include spouses, girlfriends, or boyfriends. It is meant to be gender neutral.
A couple asked to remain anonymous, and I have respected that.

Mathilde DeCadenet:
Being an Unbelt wife.
It is joy. It is angst and fear. It is immeasurable Pride. It is pushing and cheering on your love to strive for something for King and Kingdom and self. It is picking them up and calming them down. It is the agony in sending them off to a practice to do their best to fight against friends and brothers for a spot on the team. It is the agony of the wait for the damnable list to finally be published. The held breath in court to hear his name. Then the hard part comes. The day of The Fight. The handing out of the tabards that prove he is part of the team. That tangible proof. The singing of Forsaken All Others. The entire morning is your breath held and hands clenched. Sending him off to fight and standing there with our sons watching their father be part of such an important part of the War. Willing him to fight the best he has ever fought while everyone EVERYONE is watching. This event, such an important part of our Kingdom tradition. And then in less than a minute it’s over and you exhale …and it begins anew.

Tadea Isabetta Di Bruno

Not part of the brotherhood we stand just outside. Our souls burn that of a warrior. Never a fighter
photo by Tadea Isabette Di Bruno
wife, an unbelted one. We cease to breathe from the second the battle starts, the agony wraps around our heart and holds tight grip. Powerless, motionless until the moment we realize which victors will celebrate the day. Win or lose we will be here. We stand at the edges of the field beside those who long for their spot. Wishing to reach out and offer words of encouragement. Instead we stand in silence and watch with you. We know that when your time comes we will cheer for you a little harder. We will remember your longing and heartache, your drive. There shall forever be a part of you with us, and we remember. On the field we see both accomplishment and defeats. Not just those we claim as our own, all of you. You are all part of something bigger. You represent the work, the support, the travel, the hours together and apart that have brought us all here. You represent the game we play and reasons we do this over and over again. We expect so much of our team. Honour, chivalry, mercilessness and a burning desire to leave it all on the field. Show them it was right to place you here. Prove that tabard rests on worthy shoulders. Yet none of those expectations are unfair. It is what each signs up for and we understand that sometimes we must remind you of that. When your elevation is announced after the battle our hearts rejoice. Not that we have ever met, but you are one of them, part of our team. You have risen and are recognized and for that we celebrate as if you are one of our own. We will welcome you next year when you stand by our side as the battle rages on. People start to drift away, they head toward camps where they will relive the day over and again. It is only then we feel the grip around our heart start to loosen. We know that win or lose, there were both that day. Honor is what all walk away carrying. Once it is all said and done and with you we prepare to leave the field, already our thoughts turn. The battle is over and from this moment on we prepare …for next year.

Mistress Aneleda Falconbridge
I Fight for You
Originally posted on February 4, 2013 at http://mbouchard.com/aneleda/i-fight-for-you
The Queen’s Meadhall in Carolingia was where this song was first publicly performed. It was written after a conversation with Aneleda’s noble cousin and friend Gryffyn Dunham, who was on the unbelted team at the time, about what inspires us do do what we do on the field (and elsewhere.) Since I had no song that really fit that theme, I wrote this one.

This song is featured on the CD “I Am of the North” available for purchase online at:  http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/aneledafalconbridge/

I Fight for You 
photo by Tadea Isabette Di Bruno
I fight for you,
my one, my love, my own
You who give more strength to me
than I would know alone.
While my arms are bound in linen
and my legs are wrapped in steel
nothing brings me to my knees
as the way you make me feel.
I fight for you.

Many are the days and nights
when I have left you behind;
deep within a warrior’s trance
seemed to push you from my mind.
But know that you are all to me
no matter what I show
for I don the armor to protect
what I hold safely below.

I fight for you...etc.

The miles, they leave me lonesome
for the warrior’s road is long.
I miss your laughter ‘round the fire
And your voice raised soft in song.
As I look up to the star’s light
that I know above you shine,
I pray that my thoughts carry
to the love I know is mine.
photo by Tadea Isabette Di Bruno

I fight for you...etc.

Each buckle and each lacing
Marks the rituals of war,
Knowing solidly and firmly
that for you I would do more.
With my life I will protect you
and would keep you from all harm,
each time I step upon the field
I wear that knowledge as a charm.

I fight for you...etc.

When I have the time I watch you
‘neath the shadow of my helm.
But I do not do it often
lest my feelings overwhelm.
With all the honor in my being
I take every day for you
I swear that your belief in me
I shall never make you rue.

I fight for you...etc.

Being an unbelt wife is blood, sweat, and sacrifice. Squeezing every minute out of the day to
spend time with your fighter when they're home, keeping the family stable when they're not.
Wringing every dollar out of the budget, for travel, equipment, and kit­ my car can run rough, as
long as my fighter can get to events. A replacement demi or a set of vambraces takes
precedence over new work clothes. Every vacation is an event. It's worry, over the broken
bones, the contusions, the concussions that come with fighting at this level. Its jealousy, over the
camaraderie with others you dont know, whose company your mate so often seeks. It's dealing
with the manic highs when things go well, the dark, withdrawn bleakness after a bad practice or a
bad fight. It's a subsuming of ego­ we stand behind, to support our fighters when they come back,
having left it all on the field. To tend stress, and injury, contend with bravado and self­doubt. We
bolster them, while carefully staying out of the limelight. But mostly it's pride, at seeing our
fighters beat back everything thrown at them, on the field and off, to achieve their dreams. To join
their Brothers on the field, as one unit, one weapon, one force. Pride in their work, their sacrifice,
their stubborness, pushing past every barrier, over every obstacle, through every foe. For us, as
for them, this team, this battle, is the all­consuming goal­ because we, too, are of the North.

I was really hesitant to say anything, because couldn’t see what good could come from casting the Unbelt Battle in an negative light, but at your insistence I'll share a few thoughts.

I've seen almost entirely bad and very little good come out of the competition. I've watched many of my friends get so filled with stress and performance anxiety over it that they get physically ill. I'm sure they'd say it was worth it. The loss and sense of low self-worth that comes from trying their best and falling short, either in the competition itself or in wanting to achieve the dream and not making the cut. In the discouragement of being on the team one year--or worse many years--and not the next. The deep social ramifications that those perceived failures have for those individuals.
Two things strike me as strange about the cult of the Unbelts. Unlike mainstream sports, there is no season of games, no playoffs to get psyched about, there is only the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl, or whatever the end game is in other sports. There are plenty of practices, but only one game at the end of all the preparation. Also unlike other sports, the Big Game is not hours long with many opportunities to prove oneself, but it is short and brutal. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on the team members and candidates. At the end of a full year of preparation and anxiety, a fighter might only be in the game for 10 seconds. One mistake, and they're done. And then they have a full year to agonize about those 10 seconds and what they could have done differently. As I write this, I realize that the life of a sniper is a better analogy than any modern sports team. They work with a unit, have countless hours of preparation, but it all comes down to split seconds of decision making to determine whether their preparation was adequate. The second thing that strikes me as odd, if you try to use the modern sports analogy, is that there is no long-term recognition. There is no plaque on the wall or silver cup engraved with team members' names. There is no Super Bowl ring to commemorate which year they were Champions. There is nothing beyond the memories of individuals. There are people working to change that now. Again, more apt for the sniper analogy--they know how many kills they have. They know the score, and so do their close associates. There's no ticker tape parade for being, as Olaf said, a killer.

So in conclusion, I'm glad I wrote this. Because now I get it. I've been thinking about the Unbelts as the big game and it just never made sense to me. But if I think about them like snipers, then I get the thrill of selection, the anticipation, the pressure, and how the stress can be a good thing.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Unbelted Champions: Uncle Olaf's perspective

Four years ago, I knelt at the feet of Queen Avelina Keyes to receive the tabard of an unbelted champion of the East for the first time. This was the only time I have worn the tabard, the only time I have taken to the field as part of the team.
This was also Avelina's first time on the throne.

In a short matter of days, I will once again be called up to take the tabard of a champion. I find it fitting that it will once again come from the hands of Her Majesty Avelina, a woman who has inspired me as a Queen, a Peer, and simply as a wonderful person. It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve her in this capacity again.

It is hard to explain what it is to be called as an unbelted champion in the East, especially to people outside the fighter culture of the Kingdom. It is an honor and a responsibility. You will have to fight The Fight… yes, that should be capitalized… in front of a crowd composed of both of the primary Kingdoms, as well as the rest of the Known World who have come out to watch.
To some (myself included), I have yet to fight The Fight. The one year I fielded as part of the team, it was not against our annual enemy, the Midrealm, but alongside them, fighting the allies of the Known World. That… was a different fight. It was intense and fast and brutal… but it wasn’t The Fight. In that, I have yet to be tested.
There will be those who criticize The Fight as brutal spectacle, even in a sport based on physical violence. They say the calibration is higher, that more people will shrug shots because there is seemingly more at stake. Maybe they’re right. I’d like to think that they are not. We are plainly told in preparing for the fight to strike with speed and ferocity, and to throw blows that will not be questioned as light. We are also told to accept blows, and to not bring shame to our brothers by being questioned.

Someone, one year, described us as “the monsters they keep in the closet, to be let out when needed”. I found that apt. We are all, every one of us, killers. That’s what we bring to the table in this Fight… the ability (and desire) to bring overwhelming violence at point of contact, and a deep seated love of the melee. We oftentimes do not seem to fit in with polite company… we’re the rough and tumble ones who are too loud and coarse. Some of us learn to refine that. Some do not.

There are those who call the team a product of politics and posturing… that only those who are connected and kiss the right asses, only those who are connected with the right Houses and the right knights will get on. It is sometimes true that politics take a hand, I cannot deny. Knights will lobby for their squires, and that may be rightly so. Their squires are their charges, and helping them seek avenues for recognition is part of that job. Have there been times that affected the makeup of the team? Sure. Is it required to be connected? Is it all a political game? No. There are enough of us who are not connected to show that.

For me, it’s humbling. The unbelts were always something a bit larger than life for me. I loved going to Northern Region and fighting against them… the rabble against the (to me) best of the best. It was like setting up against the varsity squad… they might be a bit better, but here was your chance to show them what you had, make them take notice of you so maybe next year you’d have a better shot. Seeing them in their tabards at War, hearing the stories of The Fight… all part of the legend.

I knew that making the team generally required making a lot of commitments for travel, having to hit certain events, to be seen by certain people. I steadfastly refused, for the most part. I felt that if I was worthy, I was worthy, and that was that. I get now that there was more to it than that… seeing how you work together as a team is a big part of it, not just as an individual fighter. The team is not a company of heroes. The opposite, really… there shouldn’t be heroes. There should be those ready to make sacrifices for the team, for The Fight. You may not be the one to get the kills… your job may be to refuse a flank, to kite off some fighters to break up their advance, or to protect the polearms as they do the killing. It. Is. A. Team.

When I put on the tabard Sunday the 7th, I will be putting on more than a brightly colored swath of fabric. I will be putting on the trust of my teammates, and agreeing to do my best to bring honor and glory to them, and all who have worn it before me, and will after.

We will all be stepping on that field to fight The Fight not just for ourselves, but for the East. When we strike, it will be with the fury of every Eastern blade. This is what our enemies, our brothers in red and white deserve and expect, and what they will also be bringing to the field. The. Fight.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Winterstead in Peril: An Uncle Olaf adventure

My legs ached and my lungs burned as I pounded along the track. My maille was heavy, my shield was bumping against my back, axe swinging in one hand. Winterstead, my home, was ahead and I was going to be too late.
We had caught the raiding Svear before they could do any damage. A boy fishing had spotted them beating against the wind up the coast and raised the alarm, so we were ready for them. We came out of the woods as soon as their feet hit the shingle, and it was all over but the dying. They outnumbered us, but they were half armoured and unready, and we cut through them like a scythe through grass. Their chief was the last alive, making a stand in maille and crested helmet like the lord of war he was. My first axe stroke took the shield from his hand, my second opened his chest. He died coughing blood and scrabbling to pull the torn remnants of his maille from the cut. I did him the kindness of putting his sword in his hand, though the anger I felt at that moment was great. Gods curse these men… wasn’t it hard enough holding this land against the Saxons who wanted it back? Wolf should not prey on wolf…
We divided up the spoils, Magni taking a small crew to row the ship to the river where it could be run in till we could give it a going over and crew it. Then I realized the time that had passed… and realized the danger. I had to get back to Winterstead, before it was too late.
Sweat was pouring down my back now, despite the chill coming on as the sun sank. I itched in half a dozen spots I couldn’t hope to reach, and I daren’t stop to take my maille off. My men puffed along gamely, and their perseverance helped keep me going. There was the big yew at the edge of the meadow, and the hawthorn hedge. Not far now…
I saw the smoke as I crested the knoll, and knew I was cutting it close. But things looked peaceful, and I slowed as I entered the yard, chickens scattering and dogs running to meet us. The evening fires had been lit… but I was still in time!
My thralls were to me immediately, helping strip my armour and sluicing me down with water, cutting most of the gore and grime. I ducked through the door, and as my eyes adjusted, saw my wife duck out from our sleeping cupboard. She was radiant, cheeks smiling from beneath her simple hood, keys swinging at her belt.
“Quickly, husband”, she said. “You very nearly caused our doom…”
“ADADA!!! EEEEAHHDA!!!” my son added, perched on Dalla’s hip.
It was bedtime at Winterstead… and my little Bjarki, our sweet Winterborn child, was not going to go to sleep without his faðir wrapping him in his favorite blanket and rocking him to sleep.
Some things were too important to miss.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Wolfhaven Hirð at Pennsic

This year, I went to Pennsic with the highest number of my hirð armoured up and fighting ever. It's not a high number... there were five of us all together... but I was pretty pleased.
I was also pretty pleased that we were a solid enough force that Tribune Tiberius used us as a small unit within Third Division, and my guys did me proud.

The hirð before our first battle this Pennsic.
One of my prouder moments came in the woods. I was on a ridge line watching for a push. I told Alasdair to get the rest of the unit up there (we were with some of Sir Stephen's crew at the time as well). While he was away, there was a push on our King's position in the gully below, and I dropped down to assist if I could. A few minutes later, during a hold, I looked up and saw my guys looking down from the ridgeline, trying to figure out how to get here from there.

The "Lay On" was called, and as we started to push out of the gully, I looked up to see them come flying down the embankment like mountain goats, heading for me. They gathered themselves at the bottom, and started stacking bodies on their way to reenforce me. The push ended up being an all out drive knocking the allies back several hundred yards. But my folk heading down the hill to rescue me... that sight will stay in my heart forever.

During the bridge battles, Tiberius had Wolfhaven lead the series of pulse charges to knock the allies back to the end of our bridge. The Queen called us over by name to give us her favor. All in all... we had a pretty great time, and guys, in case I didn't tell you... I am proud of you all.

Entire hirð (those who could attend) including archer.

making an axe


The axe design I currently use is based around the axe heads produced by By My Hand Designs. They have a variety of designs, from simple axes like the one I use here, to Maciejowski bible choppers. 
 Step one is the haft. Figure out what length is right for you. My primary axe I use for singles is between 4 and 5 feet long, my war axe is just over 6' long. Use thicker rattan... 1.5" minimum. You will need thicker so that you can shave the sides flat. Axe requres you to have MUCH better edge control, and a round stave can result in it rolling in your hands. You will also need to make a flat spot where the axe head will be glued to the rattan with the adhesive.
For adhesive, I use E6000. It is a very strong adhesive brought to us by the same folks who make the GOOP family of adhesives. It holds fast, and cures relatively quickly (about 24 hours). It lasts well in high and low temperatures, and is somewhat flexible. I have literally had a weapon head rip before the adhesive gave way, and then used the adhesive to repair the rip. It is available at many craft or hardware stores, and through Amazon.
If you are going to use a rattan clacker on the edge of your axe, you must first curve the rattan to match the curve of the axe.
Actually, no... you must first check with your Kingdom Earl Marshal to make sure it's legal where you are. Sir Stephen approved it here in the East, and I used it at Pennsic with no issue. I have made a second one with a leather striking edge... mainly to provide protection for the edge of the head itself.
So... there are a couple of ways to curve the rattan. It is easiest with a long piece... simply curve it between two stationary points... heavy spikes, posts, or the like. Emphasis on the large... this will generate A LOT of torque. Bend past the point you think you will need... it will snap back. For smaller pieces, you can try bending it around a tree or stump with a HEAVY duty ratchet strap. This is NOT the optimal method... but can work.
Next, glue the head to the haft, and the rattan (or leather) to the face of the axe. You can do these steps separately if your rattan is not perfectly fitted to the face. Once it's glued, secure it snugly with a few strips of strapping tape. Now WALK THE F^CK AWAY! Seriously. You will be tempted to touch it, poke it, fiddle with and test it. Walk away for 24 hours. After that... we can continue. You have been warned.
Cat is there because... well, it's his house, innit?
I use another piece of the By My Hand architectural foam to the poll (back side) of my axe. I heartily recommend this... it is nice to have that backswing, and you can't strike with the back unless it's padded somehow. This will make it meet the letter of the law. Attatch with just a drop of glue... this won't have much stress on it... and tape it down.
Next, I add a strip of nylon webbing from the tip of the haft, over the head, and down to the haft right below the head. Tape down one end, then add tape as you go around the head. This helps keep the head from getting torn off if you get hooked on something, or it get's torqued when you strike. This doesn't mean you should take your axe out and get in a tug of war match with a dreadnought class shieldman. You shouldn't. It's an axe... it's meant to hit people.
Next, tape the head around the poll and haft with strapping tape. Get QUALITY tape. It makes a difference... higher number of threads in the tape equals more strength.
Then... tape it some more. No really. This is part of how I make my axe heads so strong. I have been fighting with axes for a decent number of years, and making them just as long... trust me on this.
Next, tape your axe with duct tape. Use many strips of tape, overlapping each. Don't try and spiral wrap it around like a sword or pole... use shorter strips, and have patience. Make sure they lay cleanly and are smoothed down. This is not just for esthetics, it is the last step in assuring a strong axe. Add edge tape, and cover over the strapping tape above and below the head.

The last step before taking your axe out and dealing wholesale violence with it is, in my opinion, the most important. Put on your gear, and have somebody who knows how to throw a shot hit you with it. If you are not willing to get hit by a weapon you have made... you should not be swinging it at another human.
After this, go forth and fight your axe. I do recommend that before you do, you lay hands on an actual version of the weapon you're using. I tried out a steel Dane axe, and it changed how I fought mine completely.
But that... is another blog post. :)