Walking the Feudal Talk:
the personal side to a momentous event

by Hector of the Black Height

At Pennsic XXVII, one of the lasting images burned into the memories of many of us is the sight of a thousand Eastern fighters, formed into a column, marching off the field prior to the start of the final scheduled battle of the War. Why the Crown of the East saw fit to lead its fighters and archers from the field has been discussed and will continue to be discussed for years to come. I do not wish to examine the motives of the mighty; I am more interested in how this decision affected individuals.

A few minutes before the Eastern column formed up, I had been standing among a few hundred Eastern fighters as I tried to find two particular, wonderful spearmen from the Barony of Bakhail. Those Easterners were happy, having fun and from what I could see were ready to take the field again. I left the Eastern lines to rejoin Ealdormere's forces, and shortly thereafter I guess their Baron told his people to pick up their kit and fall into the great column. Off a thousand fighters marched. This must have been dreadfully hard for all concerned. Walking off the field, walking away from a fight, walking away and leaving a thousand other fighters behind, must have seemed wrong to many in the column. Later, I believe several Eastern Peers chose to swear fealty to the Crown of the East, apparently as a public sign of support for the Crown of the East and its decision to take its army from the field. If it was hard to walk off the field, think how hard it must have been for some squires, apprentices and protégés to listen while their Peers said "I support Your Majesties and your decision," if they didn't.

And that's what SCA fealty is about.

For the most part SCAdian fealty is pretty easy stuff to give and take. You say some words and thereafter not much is asked of you. Suddenly at Pennsic, feudal bonds were tested, in many cases perhaps for the first time. It was no fun for anybody to walk away from a fight. The East and its allies did. Whatever else I may think about what happened, I respect and admire the discipline and loyalty that allowed a thousand fighters to walk away from us. Suddenly the words that had been said by hundreds of Eastern fighters were called on. The bonds were tested; no more talking the talk, it was time to walk the walk. And they walked.

Fealty is a promise to obey. Sometimes obedience can hurt; sometimes one's oath to obey goes against one's best interests or conscience. The question has to be asked; which is more important, your word or your own will and desires? The ultimate result of this sort of test is the retention or return of squires', apprentices' and protégés belts.

A decision about whether or not to keep a belt is hard to make. It must be made carefully, especially in this case, because in this case the decision is being triggered by an isolated incident. A working relationship between a Peer and a dependant should not be severed over one disagreement, if at all possible. If the incident is extremely stressful or entirely contrary to either party's concepts of honour and right within the great game we play, then something's got to give. However, it would be a dreadful pity to sever a bond and stress (or end) a friendship over one day's events.

Feudal bonds are bonds between people. People sometimes err. People don't always communicate clearly. People may make decisions based on incomplete or faulty data. There is only one way to work through a problem based on -- or exacerbated by -- a feudal bond. That is for the parties concerned to sit down and talk. People solve people problems, one on one. I am not condoning any decision made on August 15th. I am saying that people on any side of an argument or a decision can be wrong, and they also can admit it afterwards. It may be hard for a dependant to ask a Peer to admit being wrong; for a lot of people, his or her Peer is a personal hero. Still, the people part of the SCA is real, and perfect heroes are not part of any real game. Heroes screw up. They go off in the wrong direction. They fart and spill ketchup on their good garb. I believe strongly that a hero is an ordinary person who, when put in the right place at the right time, does the right thing. Maybe on August 15th some heroes did the right thing and others did the wrong thing. That's a subject for many discussions over drinks of choice in quiet places. The most important discussions along those lines will be between the people who made the decisions and their dependants who are trying to live with the decisions made.

It's easy to say that feudal bonds and the conflicts they can cause don't matter that much. The East will have a new King two months after the day. Ealdormere will be a new Kingdom before the next Pennsic War. It's not like these issues will have lasting effects on local game-play. Tournaments will still be run, people will still work on A&S projects and so on. However, the end of Pennsic XXVII forced many to look again at the ethics they espouse and the loyalties they support. In a culture where the lingua franca is honour, ethics and loyalty are essential issues. The echoes of that great parade of Eastern warriors will ring for many years in the Kingdoms that fought, or didn't fight, the final battle of Pennsic XXVII.

Copyright A. McLean 1998. All rights reserved.