And So It Has Come To This…….
I have been the Baron of Darkwood for about four and a half years. In all honesty I am counting the couple of months between finding out and stepping up since all my energy was being devoted in that direction. That and it’s easier to say four and a half years than to say four years and three months. Just flows better.
Regardless I’ve been at this for a little while now. Not as long as some. Longer than others.
I’ve been in the SCA for about twenty-five years now. Again, not as long as some, but longer than others, and certainly long enough to know a thing or two, or at the very least have an opinion or two. Which is really just a way of saying “hey, these are my credentials but you listen to me at your own risk.”
When I had been playing in the SCA for somewhere around five years or so I had learned enough to get a pretty good feeling for the structure of the organization. Ranks and titles and awards. I had a pretty good idea how it all fit together. I knew the territories around me reasonably well and how the geography of the regular world mapped onto the geography or our medieval kingdom.
And in that process I learned about the nature of The Barony. We have several within this kingdom. I learned where they were and what area the encompassed. I learned how most of them selected their Baron and Baroness.
And I really thought the title of Baron was cool.
The first time I really looked at the possibility of becoming a Baron I was just too damn young. I knew that I didn’t have the years and the resources behind me to make it a reasonable thing to consider. But I flirted with the idea nonetheless. It was an area where no barony existed but there was a sufficiently large population base that they were considering the possibility of becoming a barony.
For those of you who know me, you may think you know where and when I’m speaking of but I can tell you in all honesty that this was many years before that time and many miles north of where I am now. I’ll leave you to guess.
There were a lot of reasons why that wasn’t going to be a good idea overall. To many things in my life were simply too unstable and really, in retrospect, I didn’t have anywhere near the kind of recognition or traction it would have taken to put my hat in the ring for a location that was already a barony let alone the force of character and strength it would have taken to try and weld the group together into a barony.
Nope, that time wasn’t going to work and that’s a good thing.
A few years later I moved into my current home Barony with my eventually to be wife. Took us a while to get there but we did. However for the first several years of our SCA participation after moving here we didn’t spend much time playing with the barony. We never felt particularly welcomed and we weren’t particularly impressed by what we saw at the time.
Many can tell you that for a number of years our barony was split by a variety of political and social schisms that took their toll on the population. My wife and I have always had an extreme allergy to politics so we contented ourselves with continuing to play on the Principality and Kingdom levels as we already had been.
So, about ‘that time.’ Well, that happened a while back when the idea was proposed that the local area I was in had sufficient population but also sufficient wound with regards to how it was outcast from the rest of the Barony it was part of, that it considered the possibility of becoming its own Barony. There was a surprising amount of support for this idea both inside and outside the group in question, but the drivers behind the idea had little understanding of how things work in this Kingdom and so began proposing ideas on how to structure this ‘new barony’ which quickly became unpopular and the idea died before it ever gained enough traction.
In hindsight I realized that the idea wasn’t a bad one on its face but the direction was ill conceived and so it was never really going to make it. More years passed.
Eventually we did start playing with the barony more and we were witness to the process which led to our predecessors. They had a fresh take on the direction the barony needed to go. They were a great deal more welcoming to us. They were of interest to our future.
In the interest of fairness I must state that my wife and I both may have been a bit harsh on the barony as well prior to this. Welcoming or not, we were very guarded and may have been prickly enough to keep people away from us as well. I mention this because I can recall distinctly a conversation taking place where we said to ourselves “Selves, these are new people. Perhaps we should venture forth and see what changes they will bring to the barony and shed our prickly exteriors and take a chance upon them.”
Or, you know, something like that.
In any case we do sort of mark this time as when we stepped up our participation locally, and for whatever reason found ourselves much more comfortable and welcome among the population as a whole. We became extremely active. We did a lot of stuff and helped a lot of people and generally just decided that we could participate with barony generally a lot more than we had.
More years go by and eventually our predecessors put the word out that they were looking for successors. One couple made their intentions known early on. A couple of other couples started to consider the same. We began to consider it as well.
My wife and I had long discussions over the whole process. How much time it would take. How much of a commitment it would be. How much of our focus and bandwidth would have to be devoted to the whole process and what we would need to do to take care of the details.
There was a lot.
But I remember at one point the conversation having turned to all the jobs my wife had held over the years in the SCA. She has always been running something. Offices at various levels. Autocratting an event. Cooking a feast. Having multiple jobs at the same time even. Occasionally I held a job or two as well, but for the most part it was always her. In fact so much so that for some time we were commenting to each other that it didn’t matter what I did, she would still get the credit for it even if she wasn’t ever there simply because everyone assumed it was always her.
That actually became a turning point. I expressed how much I had always wanted to do this job of landed Baron. And I remember her saying “you have always supported me in every job I’ve done, even putting your own interests on hold. It’s long overdue that I did the same thing for you.”
So we threw our hats into the ring. I remember the conversation we had with our predecessors when we let them know that we were interested. I felt like I was going to be tackled. “We were hoping you would come in. We think you are excellent candidates.” Or, you know, words like that.
At the time one of our big concerns was that my wife was currently the Kingdom Seneschal. We knew timing wise that if we were chosen she would still be in that office for at least several months before her successor was ready. But we agreed that there would be a division of labor where she would continue to be Kingdom Seneschal while I handled the barony completely and in the end that worked out fine.
When it was finally time to start the process there were only two sets of candidates. So it was going to be up to a choice between ourselves and a pair who had a long history with the Barony, much longer than ours.
As we spent the next few months answering questions from the populace of the barony and generally just putting ourselves on display we did, sadly, begin to hear reports that our competition was trash talking us to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. This was disappointing for us really. We thought we had a decent relationship with them. We expressed our dismay but we did not try and put a stop to it. This was what they wanted to do as part of their ‘campaign’ for the position.
And when asked our opinions of our competition I remember that we made a concerted effort to stick to the facts we could point to directly and to not give in to any kind of second hand gossip or “he said, she said” finger pointing. We knew it would not serve anyone, least of all us. In fact we were somewhat disappointed to hear any of it at all since in several cases the ‘news’ of trash talking was brought to us in a way that suggested that certain people wanted us to get into the mudslinging and that hurt more than being trash talked in the first place.
When the day came for the populace to make its choice there was plenty of pomp and circumstance. We went through the process. I remember how it felt for my wife and I to be standing in the center of the room and trying to make sure that we could address our answers to everyone. Good theater training paid off there.
One thing that happened, but I was unaware was a test at all was that two small children decided that running around in the hall around us while we were conducting our business would be great fun. Later, well after we were selected, we found out from the parents of said children that it was a test to see how we would respond to being interrupted by kids. My wife scooped one child up and played with the other while I smiled and continued to answer the question at hand.
We passed that test.
I remember that we genuinely enjoyed the process of answering all the questions that were put to us. It gave us a chance to talk, to tell people more than answers but to give perspective and what we thought we would like to do going forward. We had a vision and we were eager to share it.
Of all the questions that were asked only two remain in my memory.
The first remains because I found it so incongruously funny. I am a rapier fighter and for many years the rapier community has been outside the mainstream of the Kingdom due in large part to the prejudices of just a few people. This is okay in so far as the community survives and even thrives as popular opinion has been swayed by the steadfast behavior of those of us who continue to practice it.
During the questioning I was asked that because my preference for fighting is as a rapier fighter as opposed to heavy fighting if I would ‘marginalize’ (yes, that’s the word that was used)… if I would ‘marginalize’ the heavy fighters.
Given decades of marginalization of the rapier fighters *by* the heavy fighting community I was struck by how funny that was.
The second question that stuck with me was ‘what would we do if we didn’t become baron and baroness?’ That question stuck with me not because it was asked but because it tied directly in to what ended up happening in the end.
It seemed such an odd question because it certainly wasn’t going to be a situation of us picking up our toys and going home or something like that. I recall saying that we would probably be disappointed for ten minutes or so and then we’d simply keep on doing what we wanted to do anyway. Whether we won the vote of the populace or not wasn’t going to impact the fact that we were part of Darkwood now, and so much a part of Darkwood that the possibility existed that we could potentially become the baron and baroness. Darkwood was our home and we were bound to do something to continue to contribute even if it wasn’t as baron and baroness.
When the questions were over we left the room and the populace asked all their questions of our competitors. I know that they too were subjected to the ‘small playing child test’ and did not fare as well as we did according to the mother of the children. I know that our competitors did not present as coherent a vision for the future of the barony, perhaps no real vision at all, but I know little else because such proceedings were secret from us and even to this day no one has really said much of how it all went.
After all was done, that evening court was held and the results were announced. We had been selected. And here is where things were driven home with regards to that second question.
I know that our competitors were there in the hall to hear the announcement. A few minutes later my apprentice who was Baroness of another barony to the north at the time made an announcement in court and as she progressed out she threw candy chocolate coins to the audience, a show of ‘largess’ common to our game. Without paying much attention she threw chocolate coins in the direction of the table where our competitors had been seated. The coins landed with a resounding thud compared to everywhere else because during those few previous minutes they had packed up their things and left.
A few months later they moved entirely out of the barony. We know in part at least that this was due to a work situation. His job was many hours commute to the south and we knew that a part of their plan was to move closer to there regardless. It was all to be a matter of timing; staying if they had won and having no reason to stay if they had not.
But we could not help but feel saddened by their quiet departure from the hall that evening. We would not have done so. We would have stayed to celebrate their good fortune and we were saddened that they did not feel the same way toward us.
Since that time we served the barony. We represented it in many ways. I fought wearing its colors. I spoke not just to the barony in court but for the barony in Principality and Kingdom courts. I solved many a problem and created a few along the way with my big mouth.
My wife stood by me as baroness and inspired the populace to try new things, to think differently about how things had always been done. Sometimes she ‘moved the food bowl’ just to move it and get people out of their ruts. And she always supported me as best she could in my dream of being a landed baron.
There were times when we thought no one really was paying attention. There were times when we felt that no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t avoid having to step in and fix things we shouldn’t have had to fix. We fought with our officers and then rewarded them for fighting back and standing up to us.
And we always made sure to ask “are you having fun?” Because in the end, if it wasn’t fun then why were we doing it at all?
But this past weekend has shown me that people were paying attention all along. That they cared enough to work as hard as they could and that they would do everything they could, whatever they could before they would trouble us for help because they wanted it just as right as we did. We were reminded that people who fight for what they believe in are the most deserving of our respect.
And never once was anyone not having the fun they deserved to have.
Over and over again, for weeks now, but especially this past weekend we have been approached publically and privately with words of encouragement and praise for the Darkwood that has been for the past four and half years. Many people came to us to tell us that we will be missed as baron and baroness even as they are excited to see what or successors will do. Hearing those words, knowing that we have had such a positive impact is the greatest thing for us. It is the greatest thing for me, to know that through it all I have served the barony well.
It is all I ever wanted. And to see everyone stand and applaud us was the single most amazing thing I have ever experienced during this time.
We are proud of what we accomplished even though we know we didn’t accomplish everything we wanted to. Does anyone ever really accomplish everything they set out do when it comes to this game? I don’t think so. Although my wife is proud to say that we accomplished the goal of making sure at least one person in every court received an award that made them cry. You know, in a good way.
We are proud of what the barony has become under us. And we are excited what it will become under our successors.
There is one question that everyone has asked which still needs an answer.
“Are you ready to be done?”
Time and time again, in a variety of ways, I have been asked this question. Sometimes it’s been clearly asked as “have you had enough?” Sometimes it’s been asked as “will you miss it?” Sometimes it’s been asked as “you’re not leaving us are you?”
“Are you ready to be done?”
No. I am not.
I could continue to be The Baron of Darkwood for many years to come. But I won’t do that. When we stepped up it was with a definite plan. A timeline which we knew that we would stick to no matter how we felt about it. We made that decision because at the time we thought it would be wise to not burn ourselves out or to run the risk of wearing out our welcome with the populace.
But now, in hindsight, I have found that there is a wiser reason for doing so.
In the short time since our successors were chosen I have already begun to see changes taking place, a clear direction they wish to go in. And they have presented ideas which I have seen and thought to myself “why didn’t I think of that?”
There was a revelation. I have been in this position long enough that I have begun to develop blind spots. Avoiding the blind spots is what makes the barony grow. Taking advantage of new opportunities is what makes people grow and enjoy the barony.
So it’s time to step down. To let the barony progress in new hands.
“Are you ready to be done?”
No. I am not. But it’s time. It’s the right time. I’ll miss it.
And yes, in the future, if the conditions are right, we would consider throwing our hats into the ring once again.
In the meantime, if the barony needs us, we’ll be right here. We aren’t going anywhere. Darkwood is our home. We will not abandon it. We will always fight for it, care for it, protect it, stand up for it and represent it to the best of our abilities.
Because we’re Darkwood and it’s what we do.