So I did this poem for my friend. He is Ragnvaldr Jonnson, and He is the current King of the MidRealm, with His Queen, Arabella.
I first met Ragnvaldr during Their first reign, in the spring of 1999. It was at a melee event called Baron Wars, near Toledo, Ohio. He was King, and I was the Premiere of the Company of the Bronze Ring, a new White-Scarf equivalent MidRealm order for Rapier combat. I got to know Him slightly over the next several months, but we parted as friendly acquaintances.
The next time I encountered Ragnvaldr was when He and Arabella chose me to be Their Rapier Champion for Their second reign, in the winter of 2001-2002. I was welcomed into the “family” that any reign has the capacity to be; held equal in position and responsibility as the King’s and Queen’s Champions. I worked my butt off, driving all over the MidRealm (which in those days included the Northshield) providing Them with all the service I could muster. One lasting memory is of Ragnvaldr and I, late at night in the dark basement of His house, making me a pole-arm to use the in the morning at the event Clancy Day. Another memory I have is of one of Arabella’s Queen’s Guard, Oscad, cutting off his luxurious long hair and giving it to Her.
For that reign, I wrote The Tales of Ragnvaldr, an attempt at writing the tale of His victory in the style of the Canterbury Tales. It was a glorious reign.
But for Ragnvaldr & Arabella’s third reign, I wanted to try to do something really special. Ragnvaldr & Arabella are some of the least boastful people I know. They are always happy to praise others, rarely asking or expecting praise for Themselves. But to me, They deserved praise beyond praise. Twice They had reigned, as some of the most beloved Royalty of the MidRealm, and I wanted to do something that was worthy of Them.
So the Lineage of Ragnvaldr really started then. After the tournament was done, I watched the fights over and over again, thinking that I could write something in style of a Boast, of His overwhelming victory on the lists. But that seemed too petty for such an august occasion (although I am going to write a song from the viewpoints of each of them, and the refrain will be “he hit me, and I died”) so I started thinking about how I didn’t really know much about His early time in the SCA, or Arabella’s, for that matter. I knew that Ragnvaldr had been squired to Forgan, but when I looked at the Lineage Document that traces the lineage of each Knight through his or her Knight back to the beginning of the Kingdom, I saw that Forgan had never been a squire.
When I enquired, Ragnvaldr told me that He thought that Forgan had been mostly taught by Sir Garraghan, who had been one of the Northwoods Knights of the time. I reached out to my good friend Kith von Atzinger, who put me in touch with Sir Garraghan, and he and I spent several hours talking about Forgan, Sir Garraghan himself, his Knight, Sir Elestron, and Elestron’s Knight, Duke Dagan. When I realized that I could (with a little fudging) trace Ragnvaldr’s lineage back to Dagan, I knew I had my framework. Besides, never let the truth get int he way of a good story, right?
So I started the process of turning my discussions with Sir Garraghan into poetry. I quickly realized that I needed more information about Forgan, Ragnvaldr and Arabella, and I turned to Her for that. Over the course of about 90 minutes at a lovely event called St. Cecelia in the Tower, we conversed, and I got most of the rest of the information I needed. Finally, about four days before Coronation, I began writing.
The original version of The Lineage of Ragnvaldr is about a page and a half long, and was completed the Thursday before Coronation. It’s all prose, and it’s completely overloaded with kennings, and it had no Norse Voice at all. I needed help, but I wanted to talk to someone who had no knowledge of Ragnvaldr or Arabella at all. I needed a bard of experience, someone who understood the Norse Voice, who I knew would immediately dedicate themselves to helping me. I knew exactly who to turn to. Aneleda Falconbridge, Court Baroness of the Kingdom of the East.
Here’s the first verse from the original:
Mighty are the MidRealm Ring-Breakers
Battle-children, Dragon-friends, Shield-gnawers, Stout linden trees, wide spread
Standing tall in elf-glory, or feather’s fall, Through Thor’s laughter, and Northern kiss.
They know not bed-shame, nor straw death,
but find the Rainbow Bridge by spear-din and sword-sleep.
Aneleda and I had met briefly at Pennsic, but it was when she came to Known World Cooks and Bards that I realized what our friendship could be. And immediately, she did not fail to help me. She helped me take it down a notch so the kennings weren’t so overwhelming. She helped me rephrase things. And I figured out that I was being too verbose, and so embarked on re-writing the entire piece in traditional Skaldic verse. So now the first verse read thusly:
Battle-born / Gold Ring-Breakers
Mighty MidRealm / Dragon-daring
standing tall / Through fierce Thor-strikes
Know not bed-shame / nor straw death,
in sword-sleep / aimed at Asgard.
But that still wasn’t going to work. I love traditional norse verse as much as the next guy — probably more so — but I wanted to inspire the people of the MidRealm, and that meant I needed to be able to lift them up, higher and higher. The piece needed to build and build. To me, that required prose. I lamented to Aneleda, “this isn’t going to work. I don’t know how to mix them.”
And, of course, she came through for me again. She showed me how to combine the verse and prose, which even has legitimate period precedent, into what may be the best thing I have ever done.
As a bard, I am consumed by process. What makes a piece be inspiring? What elevates emotions and how to I ensure that I can do it again and again? Why does a band release one song that becomes a top-ten hit, and then the next song — from the same album, written in the same time period — flop? These are some of the questions that I consider over and over again. I don’t know if I have any answers. I do know that this piece, when performed at Coronation, worked, and worked very well. At least, that’s what I’ve been told, since I have no actual memory of the telling.
And as a special treat, I have also created an annotated version of the Lineage of Ragnvaldr, here.
I hope you enjoy them.