Her Grace writes:
In the far northeast corner of our Kingdom lies the distant island shire of Ar n-Eilean-ne, which celebrated the 20th year of its founding last weekend. Since I was Queen of the East 20 years ago, how could I resist the temptation to help them celebrate this momentous occasion?
And celebrate we did.... more on that anon. Cenwulf and I were not the only travellers from away - we were joined by Mistress Gwenhwyfar and Sir Gareth, Baroness Lyanna and Master Gruffyd, and Baron Conrad. Sounds like the makings of a good party, eh? Indeed it was!
To help the party along, we had literally cases of wonderful homebrewed mead, courtesy of Master Donal and his apprentice Tierna Diarmait. And the food never lacked - we had a traveller's-welcome beef stew on Friday night, then a fine feast including succulent roast pork by Donal on Saturday evening, and then on Sunday yet another bounteous feast, this one Japanese-themed, by Lord Takamori, including fennel-braised salmon and teriyaki chicken. Did I mention that they also fed us breakfast and lunch all weekend? Nobody went hungry!
The hospitality and generosity of the folk of Ar n-Eilean-ne is legendary, but too often their talents are overlooked - they are skilled, but very modest. For example, I noticed two hand-forged blades on a fluffy white sheepskin. Figuring the skin was there as a background for the blades, I overlooked it. But in fact, the skin itself had been harvested from a local sheep and tanned by one of the talented locals, Benjamin Forrester - a very fine job, and a rarely practiced craft.
In case you are wondering, there are indeed fighters on that distant isle - a secret arm of the Boreal Army, rarely seen in other parts of the Kingdom. Though the weather was uncooperative on Saturday, a brilliantly sunny Sunday offered plenty of opportunity for fighting, fencing and archery, and in adding new weapons forms to their qual cards.
Three key moments made the weekend glow for me....
- First - the music on Saturday night. Conrad with his guitar is enough to bring any party to life, but we were surrounded by talent that night. Diarmait, who has already been recognized as a companion of the Order of the Troubador, has a vast knowledge of traditional songs and a powerful voice to carry them. Also guesting at the feast that night were the Sea Wolves, a Viking-Age living history society, and they added many great songs and sagas of the Norsemen. Others added their bits, and the music went on til dawn. Somewhere in there was the traditional "screeching in" - a local initiation rite for those who were in Newfoundland for their first visit..... I won't spoil the fun for the next visitors by giving it away but wow, it was hysterical!
- Second - the mirror-lake on Sunday night. Imagine a perfectly clear, cold, and windless night at the top of the world. Imagine stars like you've never seen them before - the Milky Way so thick it looked like you could reach up and pull it towards you. Now imagine walking, by lantern-light, down a stony path to a lake, and reflected in that perfectly still lake is every star you can see overhead. It was simply breathtaking....
- And third, the stories on Sunday night. Some of the musicians had left us, so the evening turned to stories and tales. The shire seneschal, Tierna Tynan, has a gift for spinning a yarn - with an economy of words, a simple gesture, a well-timed pause.... we were laughing so hard we nearly died. I have *never* enjoyed a tale as much as those I heard on Sunday night. I am still sore from laughing!
Anyway - To all the people of Ar n-Eilean-ne: Congratulations. You're doing it right. You understand the values and principles of the SCA in some ways better than we do here on the mainland. You make travellers welcome, you give your heart and soul, you are thirsty for knowledge and humble about your many achievements. I love you guys! And a special thanks to Lady Anne who knew how to tend a tipsy Duchess :) And Takamori, a fine host, who fetched us at the airport and made sure we had everything we needed to enjoy the weekend properly. And to Maebh the Imp who made me smile more than once over the weekend.... And Tjolnir, champion Tafl-player, you've got so many talents I don't know where to begin to write your praise-song!
To the rest of you - if you ever get a chance... it's really worth the trip!