A quest has been completed. Saturday was the East Kingdom Queen and Crown’s Bardic Championship, in the Shire of Caer Adamant (Wilmington DE). Her Majesty Margarita ultimately selected me to be the new Queen’s Champion of Bardic for the next year. My friend Grim the Skald, a returning champion, was chosen as Crown’s Bard.
I will be posting my usual post-game analysis in the next few days, and videos of performances from the three rounds. But for now, I want to just let it sink in, and offer gratitude to some of the many people who made this day unforgettable:
1. None of this journey—none of it—could have happened without the love and support of my wife, Jessa. She is the keeper of my heart, and my first and best audience and advisor. The seeds of Saturday’s success were planted a year ago this weekend, as we drove home from last year’s competition, and she offered her thoughts on how I had played it too safe and not leaned into my strongest personal assets as a bard. She has had my back with patience as I devoted 6 straight months to preparing performances for this gauntlet three years straight. She drove down with me, gave me unflagging support, and took videos of my performances, when she had just gotten a cold and was feeling physically miserable. She beamed at me and sent me secret love signs the whole time I stood in court in the champion’s baldric.
2. My Peer team—Peregrine the Illuminator of the East, Toki Skáldagörvir of Æthelmearc, and Szof Tyzes of the Midrealm. I list Peregrine first, in this context, for offering up his wealth of music, composition, and performance knowledge to help me refine my ideas, and hone and polish my performances. He was at my side the day of the competition, asking what support I needed, taking notes, and helping me stay centered. Toki supported me emotionally through the process and reviewed my presence, audience connection, and ability to create and inhabit storytelling characters with a critical yet compassionate eye. And Zsof was there from the start of the year, working with me to transition to these new teachers when we agreed that our work together had progressed as far as it could. Her faith and support have never wavered, and I continue to cherish her friendship.
3. The former champions, Laila and Margretha, each of whom gave me useful advice over the past year, have modeled what it means to be a Bardic champion every time I saw them in court, and have offered their ongoing support in my new role.
4. Grim the Skald, my new partner in crime. Grim was the Eastern bard I met the first Pennsic I came out to be part of this community, back in 2012, who told me the East was the place to be if you were serious about this. He invited me to Winter Nights, where two months later I met Lucien, Toki, Peregrine, and so many of the people I consider close friends and tribe mates to this day. The first EK Bardic Champs I attended was the last time he was selected King’s Bard, and Lucien was Queen’s. The following year I entered for the first time as Lucien’s new student. Grim is a master storyteller, diplomatic but candid, and told me vital truths about how this competition worked when I first came into it. As Toki’s student, I now share a lineage with him, and the prospect of us making shenanigans happen together as a team in the coming year fills me with anticipation.
5. Grim and I were part of a Final Five, the first time in a while the judges couldn’t whittle it down to four finalists. The field is fierce and talented here in the East, and our fellow finalists were formidable: my friend Sólveig Bjarnadóttir, a finalist the second year in a row, bringing her incredible passion and vocal talent to even greater heights; David Anthony, the Foxy Bard, sharpening his medieval Jewish persona on top of his years of Ren Faire experience, and earning himself a Golden Lyre from her Majesty; and Úlfarr Gyldir, baronial bard of Settmour Swamp, who took us all by storm with his storytelling (I particularly loved his Maori tale for the second round), and who I look forward to getting to know better and hearing again.
6. I got by with a lot of help from my friends, who gave me audience feedback in person and over video chats in the months leading up to the competition, helping me get over my nerves: Agnes Marie de Calais, Iselda de Narbonne, Juliana la Badele, Melodia Beaupel, Tegwen ferch Cydifor ap Bleddyd, and Dave Lambert.
7. The SCA Musician community on Facebook who encouraged me to try Nylgut strings for my lute guitar. Authentic feel and sound, and stay in tune beyond belief. Don’t know how I ever got along without these. Thank you!
8. Olivia Baker, who offered a different kit upgrade to me at last year’s competition: period appropriate “points” to attach my breeches to my doublet, so they wouldn’t slip and I didn’t need to use safety pins. They transformed the experience of wearing my best garb. I was able to stride through the day relaxed and confident, because the doublet and breeches were now part of my body, and never pulled my focus. Details matter. (You can see them along my waistline in this photo.)
9. Former Princess Royal Courtney Rose, daughter of Brennan and Caoilfhionn, and (as her mother coined it) my biggest littlest fan. I have striven to be worthy of being her bard since she first offered me praise for a song at the age of four. At the end of my second and third performances, which she made sure to come to hear, she rushed me with a hug in front of the assembled audience. It is an endorsement like no other, and I will always be glad of her.
10. The populace of the East. Their smiles, their cheers, their laughter, have told me more surely than anything else that I was on the right path this past year. Their enthusiasm and support make me feel like a true bard.
11. I was deeply gratified to see his Highness Alberic, the Consort Heir, was present alongside Margarita to watch every single performance from the start of the day, despite the pressures of a crowded event that have made some royals pass on the first round in recent years. I have known Alberic, mostly through his wife Cassair, for years, but this past year I’ve gotten to know him better. He is a thoughtful, considerate man, devoted to service and the kingdom, and I’m looking forward to serving as the champion for our first male Consort.
12. I will end with our magnificent Queen of the East, and the thing that excited me most about the idea of competing to be her champion from the moment she became a royal: Margarita is herself an SCA bard to her roots. She is a seasoned performer, and a passionate lover of bardic creativity. Her performance experience has shown through in her poise, her ability to connect deeply and calibrate her voice in court to go to the back of the sanctuary or just in the ears of an emotional award recipient. She has led this kingdom through a dark chapter, on her own, for basically the entire reign, and been a beacon of hope, energy, and joy. To be Margarita’s champion, to me, is to be a bard’s bard, and to be chosen by someone who is an inspiration. I am eternally grateful for her warmth, her kindness, her sincerity, and her friendship.