A Noble Contest at Pennsic

Conde Fernando Rodriguez de Falcon of the Kingdom of Calontir relates a tale from Pennsic War XL involving the Crowns of Calontir and Northshield, a game of Angry Birds Badminton, beer, bacon, and a bottle of Boone's Farm Fuzzy Navel.

His Excellency Count Fernando writes:

Over the centuries, armies have raged across the world fighting over nothing more than small pieces of land. Land has traded hands after complex treaty negotiations. Land has been bought and traded for exorbitant and sometimes negligible amounts. But until last Thursday, at the fortieth Pennsic War, I suspect land had never changed hands due to a game of badminton contested by the champions of two realms.

That's the tale I'm going to share, but first you need the back-story. (Okay, you may not need it, but you're going to get it anyway.)

One of the fun things that happened at  Pennsic was that Northshield appeared to be in the midst of a massive campaign of expansion. Their Majesties Morgan and Lusche had declared that Northshield was claiming every bit of land on which a Northshield foot trod. Further, they were claiming all sorts of items and people by the simple expedient of labeling them with a Northshield badge. Stacks of Post-It™ Notes (each marked with a griffin) distributed to their populace, made this easier, and many a Calontiri found such a note stuck to their coolers, their chairs, their pavilions, and sometimes their persons. Even Mount Eislinn, the large hill overlooking the battlefield, was claimed by a super-sized version of one of theses Post-its (made up of a very large square of fabric with a griffin painted on it.)

On Tuesday evening we were sitting around the Royal Pavilion, singing and minding our own business, when a collection of Northshielders, including Their Stellar Majesties, (Actually it was Vladimir and I, Their Stellar Highnesses, who stopped for a visit)  stopped by for a visit. When they headed out, for some reason they stopped at the edge of our courtyard and stood there talking, and before too long they sat down and were quietly chatting. A significant amount of time passed, and finally His Majesty Anton, perhaps worried about His land given the Northshield expansion we had already witnessed, asked me to go out and inquire about taxes for the use of His courtyard.

Being a good servant of the Crown, I set off to talk to the Royal squatters (*hrmph!*). I approached the group, and carefully explained to them that His Majesty Calontir had sent me over to inquire as to when Calontir could expect the taxes for the use of the land upon which they sat. I explained that of course His Majesty understood the taxes were not quite due, but he was concerned that The Northshield Crown might have difficulty affording the tax while dealing with all Their other was expenses (after all 500,000 custom Post-it Notes could be very expensive). With virtually no pause for thought, They calmly informed me that the land upon which they sat had been claimed by Northshield.

Rather than engage in a complex legal argument (since Lyriel was not yet on site), or engage in combat with forces allied beside us in the battles to come over a ten foot circle of land, I chose to simply inform the squatters that while that might (or might not) be true, I was somehow certain that the tolls to and from road to their enclave would certainly be quite steep. We all laughed, and after making sure they did not need any drinks or chairs, I wandered back to my cider in  Royal Pavilion, quickly forgetting all about the incident.

(Only the Good Count forgot, His Majesty Anton approached His Highness at the Royal Social to enquire about his taxes, so you see, we were provoked.)

But those sneaky Northshielders did not forget! The next afternoon as I returned from the food court, I heard that a contingent of Northshielders had visited our encampment to formalize their claim. There, on the edge of the courtyard, right where the squatters had been sitting, just a few feet from the road, was a ten foot circle of black and gold rope bedecked with a series of black pennons marked with the Northshield compass star. And in the middle of the circle was staked a sign, which read something to this effect:

By order of the Stellar Crown
This land is the property of
the Kingdom of Northshield!

Set just outside the circle were three double Wonder Bars and a bottle of Boone's Farm Fuzzy Navel - which I must assume was payment for the toll to get through the Calontir courtyard to the new Northshield enclave.

To ensure the safety of the rest of our precious Pennsic land, a circle of scutums soon ringed the enclave. A toll road was carefully marked out with red safety flags leading to the main road, and a tollbooth complete with gate and collection table was emplaced. Finally a sign was hung, which read:

By order of the Calon Crown:
TOLL ROAD
Tolls may be paid in:

  • Bacon
  • Cheese curds
  • Bacon
  • Non "S" Beer
  • Bacon

Note: Brett Favre jerseys can no longer be accepted.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, more fun was had with the Northshield enclave. Various tolls were left at the toll table - coins, a can of Bud Light (someone clearly failed to understand what Non "S" Beer was), and even a pig (presumably so we could make our own bacon). And when the Northshield party amoeba came by, various scutums, the toll table, the pig, and even the toll sign found themselves marked with the seemingly ever-present griffin Post-Its.

That brings us up to the Calontir party that took place on Thursday night. Partway through the party, I discovered that His Highness Northshield and a group of His people had made their way into the scutum-ringed enclave. When I enquired about the toll, he casually reached into his pouch and scattered coin on the ground outside their precious ten foot circle. Though coin was not included on the toll list, I realized that cash can always be traded for bacon, so I gathered the coins and added them to the collection on the toll table.

Now, I was not quite sure if we were responsible for their hospitality, seeing as the Northshielders were not really guests in our camp - but standing in a circle of their own land. But just in case, and seeing as we are nothing if not hospitable,  I went to the bar to fetch drinks for His party. Of course, I knew the perfect drink. They had showed us just the day before what they valued, so I hurried back with a bottle of Boone's Farm Fuzzy Navel. After a bit of conversation, I left them enjoying the drink in their somewhat crowded circle in the midst of the party.

Over the course of the evening, a sort of badminton was being played as a part of the entertainment. But this was not just any badminton - it was Calontir, Angry Bird, Badminton. Countess Magda (sometimes known as "Countess Manners" after informing us quite clearly that it was "badminton, not badmitton") had felted wool shuttlecocks in the shape of Angry Birds (if you are not familiar with Angry Birds just Google it), while Ishmala, Rebecca, and Hildebrandt (assisted by a collection of perhaps somewhat less-than-helpful assistants), created rackets that would put Wilson to shame (or is that the other way around?). With OAFish rules inspired in part by the hoity-toity nature of the game (pinkies must always be held extended on both the racket and drink hand), and in part by hockey (who knew you could get sent to the penalty box in badminton), much fun had been had in games with up to four challengers on a side.

Then, late in the evening I was called back to the badminton court. His Highness Northshield had come forth from his enclave and was demanding a special match to determine the Known World Badminton Champions. Behind him stood two men (Lord Hammond and Graven both from Mare Am), and judging by the late period garb of the closest I thought he must be a ringer. Based on his stance, and the casual way he held his racket, I could almost smell the years of badminton experience oozing off of him. Was this one of the infamous Northshield Badminton Babies, forced to play badminton sixteen hours a day from the time he was two years old? This would be a challenge!

Then His Highness Vladimir upped the ante.  This would not just be a battle for a title. He wished to wager on the game. The stakes he offered? Ownership of the ten-foot circle of land they had already claimed. Well, I thought to myself, they already claimed it, what do I have to lose? Then I realized that just perhaps, His Majesty, who had already left site, might not be so willing to concede their initial claim to the land. Thinking quickly, I decided that since I was the one who first come up with the toll, I could reasonable offer His Highness a relaxation of those tolls. As our part of the bet, I offered two years with no tolls, but His Highness was a hard bargainer. It had to be retroactive - to include the tolls they had already paid that war. After pointing out that his party had already drunk the Boone's Farm Fuzzy Navel, I agreed, and prepared to seek out a pair of badminton champions for our side.

But before I could find the sort of refined men who might serve as serious badminton challengers for the men Northshield had come with, a pair of Huscarls stepped forward and grabbed the rackets. As Magnus and Jack gave the rackets a few practice swings, more reminiscent of sword blows on a battlefield than delicate lawn party games, I shuddered and wondered if His Majesty would make me pay for the lost tolls out of my own pocket.

But, then I recalled that this was not "normal" badminton. This was Angry Bird badminton, played with rackets and shuttlecocks that, to put it mildly, did not always fly true. What's more, it was OAFish badminton. Perhaps a pair of somewhat intoxicated Huscarls might not be the worst choice. After all, Kingdom Law makes it clear that Huscarls are to be authorized with "all weapons." Didn't badminton rackets count?

The rules for this game were simple. Each champion was to begin with a mug (or crystal goblet in the case of the Northshield ringer) filled with beer. Each time a point was scored against their side both members would take a drink. If anyone sloshed any of their drink out of their mug, they would also have to take a penalty drink. The Badminton Champions of the Known World would be the ones with any beer left in their mugs.

As each realm's champions took to the field, I watched Magnus and Jack half stagger to their places, and I worried again. Then His Highness did something that I was sure was against Hoyle's rules. He looked at his men with a decidedly serious eye, and informed them that if they lost, they would be joining the Tuchux come morning. Surely, such a threat/inspiration surely could not be legal, but Countess Manners could not be found in time to check. So, it was time to dig deep into the OAF bucket. I stepped onto the field in front of the Northshield champions, held up my mug and said, "To the Kingdom of Northshield," and drank deeply. After a moment the Northshield Champions realized they should join me in the toast. A quick toast to Their Stellar Majesties, followed by one to Her Highness Northshield, and another to His Highness, put the Northshield champions down by four drinks. But by now His Highness had caught on, and looking at Magnus and Jack said, "You won't drink to me?" I'd like to say our champions drank grudgingly at this point, but who are we kidding? Two Huscarls had just been forced to watch two other guys get to drink four times, as they stood there thirsty. I think their manly drinks made up for the four careful toasts of the Northshield champions.

Then the great game was on.  Serve and volley - the small wool bird flew through the air. Amazingly Jack and Magnus held their own. Perhaps it was Jack's late period garb, or experience as a tailor to the hoity-toity, that made his racket seem to have a life of its own. With pinky extended he sent the angry bird across the Falcon Tabard net time and again. Meanwhile, Magnus, with all the finesse of a fireman driving his axe through a door (yet with pinky extended) leapt to cover his own side of the court. Drive and smash, hack and parry.  Wait. Strike that - wrong story.  Drive and smash, volley and return - the bird flew from racket to racket, across the net of fate driven by the power of the fireman-turned-Huscarl. Amazingly the points started to rack up in favor of the two Huscarls, and the mugs of the Northern foe... wait, wrong story again - and the mugs of the Northern champions drew down to the halfway point.

Then disaster struck. The Northshield champion did something tricky with his racket and the bird shot over the net in a spiraling twist. Magnus saw the bird heading for the side of the field. With the same sort of judgment that allows a man to know exactly where a greatsword is about to smash into his body, he realized the bird was going to land just inside the edge of the field. I could almost hear the monologue within his head, "This shall not be. This is my King's court and no foreign bird will land here while I have breath in my body to defend it." Then he dove for the edge of the field.

Imagine this in slow motion: Magnus horizontal to the ground, racket reaching out from one pinkie extended hand, while the beer mug in his other hand (which also had its pinkie extended) begins to tip. In what seems to take many minutes we watch Magnus slowly descend to the earth with a slowly reverberating, shattering crash. In painfully slow motion he reaches for the bird, but we'll never know if he reached it in time, for all eyes are glued to the beer mug in his other hand as it tips ever closer to the horizontal, the precious fluid beginning to pour towards the ground. Disaster. The hopes of a Kingdom are pouring out of Magnus' mug. As his body slowly rebounds from the earth, we all know it's over. No man could save the beer. Calontir would lose the field in shame and humiliation - not even having lost by drinking their beer - but by spilling it.

But this was not just a man - this was a Huscarl. Some might tell you that Magnus did the impossible in that minute, inspired by the Crown and Kingdom for which he stood as champion. In later years I'm sure the story will have him yelling, "For Isabeau and Morgan," as he flew through the air. But I was there, and I saw the look on his face. A look that said only one thing, "My beeeer!" Fast as lightning he dropped the racket, and with his pinky still extended, his hand interrupted the flow of beer. Cupping three fingers, his hand shot back up the column of falling beer, shoving the precious liquid back into the mug and capping it as he finally came to rest on the ground. The Crowd went wild!

Utter disaster had been avoided, but the beer Magnus had lost hurt his team sore. Worse, he still had a penalty drink to take. Seeing as all that action movie stuff is hard work, Magnus needed a deep pull from his mug, and Jack was not just going to stand around and watch his brother drink alone - that's just anti-social. When Jack and Magnus had finished drinking, and the remaining beer balanced out between the two mugs, less than a half mug remained. The lead was lost, and the tide had turned.

Northshield took control of the court. Nothing our brave Huscarls did seemed to work. Jack's racket seemed slowed, and Magnus had only the power of a Man at Arms (and a small one at that). The leaping and pirouetting Northshielders were everywhere as they scored point upon point upon our champions. The Calontiri's beer diminished till they had only the tiniest of sips left. For a moment, I thought it might be time to call for a round of Cruiscin Lan, which would force both sides to drain their beers and result in a tie. Then I saw the look in Jack and Magnus' eyes. It was a look that said, "We can do this. We can crawl from the depths of humiliation, serve our Crown and Kingdom, and draw a victory from the jaws of defeat." Or perhaps it was just a look that said, "Lets crush them quick so I can fill my mug and get back to drinking like a man." Either way, something seemed to change in them.

Serve, return, volley, smash - a point to Calontir and the Northshield mugs drew closer to empty. Serve, return, volley, spike - and they too were down to within one sip. A quick check by the refs and it was clear - it was game point! I wish I could tell you the final serve resulted in an epic struggle in which courage, strength determination, and true grit brought forth the champions, but this was not the case. Northshield served, and Jack's racket dropped the angry bird at their feet.

Victory to Calontir! All hail Master Jack and Baron Magnus, Badminton Champions of the Known World. Huscarls who "fought" to defend the King's land.

Never let it be said that a pair of semi-drunken Huscarls do not belong among the hoity-toity.

As for Northshield?

His Highness was last seen leaving camp with the rope that had once marked the Northshield enclave, saying to his retainers, "I better go find some more land, before His Majesty wakes up and learns I lost his land on a bad bet."

And His badminton champions? I'm not so sure, but I sure thought one of the Tuchux I walked past the next day looked awful familiar.

Fernando

PS.

This is a true story. Well, it's mostly true.  At least the parts I did not have to make up because I forgot the details. But, besides that - it's all true.