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When I was a kid — probably in second or third grade — we had a “games day” at my elementary school. Everybody brought a board game or two and the entire school sort of migrated from classroom to classroom on a rota and played whatever game seemed interesting out of the dozens of them in any given room, for the thirty minutes or whatever allotted before the bell rang and we had to switch rooms. In a burst of the kind of self-importance that only a nine-year-old boy can manage, I had brought the chess set my father had given me earlier that year, set it up, then set off in the rotation with my classmates, confident that great feats of mental prowess were occurring behind me. When the bell rang at the end of the day and I was rotated back into my classroom, I found two eighth grade boys leaning over my chessboard, concentrating totally on the intellectual challenge… of an engrossing game of checkers, played using only the pawns.

I was outraged. How dare they use my chess set for such pedestrian pursuits!? I complained to a teacher, frustrated to the point of tears. Her reply has stuck with me for better than a quarter of a century: “If they aren’t hurting anything and they’re having fun then let them play the game they want to play and you go find the game you want to play.”

Sometimes I feel like that in the SCA.

And every time I catch myself thinking “How dare they play the game like that!?” I remember Mrs. Mason the third grade teacher and her calm, gentle advice. And then I take a deep breath, let them play the game they want to play… and then I go and find the game I want to play.

I did a bit of that at the Passo Honroso this weekend — finding the game I want to play, that is. The Passo (referred to almost universally as the “Passo Honso” due to a typo on the event schedule and the fact that the mis-phrasing falls rather trippingly off the tongue) was originally scheduled for about three in the afternoon on the Sunday of the long weekend but got pushed back to the evening hours because of the brutal heat, punishing UV index and above all the humidity of the event. During the afternoon we set up our “bridge” of hay bales along the western edge of the fighting field next to the edge of the forest, and by the time the Passo started the “viewing gallery” was in the deep shade beside the trees and the shadows were just edging onto the bridge. I firmly believe, despite the four-hour gap between the end of the “war fighting” for the day and the start of our pas d’armes, that the delay until the cooler evening temperatures greatly increased our attendance numbers… and probably prevented heat-exhaustion injuries.

The start of the Passo Honroso
The first three tenans on the bridge from left to right: Lord Dietrich von Sachsen, Baron Berend van der Eych, and myself.

We had, by my admittedly distracted count, perhaps two dozen fighters turn out for the Passo. Bouts were fought by formal challenge, some singly, some in groups of two or three, and everyone got into the spirit of the event. The “Ladies’ Gallery” was graced by the Queen of Ealdormere who, with great dignity and patience tolerated the heat and humidity (cooler evening temperatures does not, alas, translate to air conditioning) and led the gallery in choosing one of the chivalric virtues and then judging which fighter best exemplified it after sixty-eight bouts.

We had originally intended to fight one hundred bouts, but the sun was going down and the fighters had battled themselves into exhaustion, so the King of Ealdormere declared honour satisfied about two-thirds of the way through before it got dark or anyone got seriously hurt (a slight cut on a forehead and a mild concussion were our only injuries of the evening.) It amuses me greatly that the original Passo Honroso, hosted by Don Suero de Quiñones in 1434, was also ended by the decree of his King two-thirds of the way through because of the number and severity of the combatant’s injuries, but unlike the original Passo, our King was an enthusiastic participant in the emprise and, I believe, fought the largest total number of bouts on the bridge.

As a quick aside, I have the means of double-checking that assertion since Lord Dietrich’s significant other, Lady Emer, not only kept count of the number of bouts fought but went above and beyond by keeping a record of who fought each bout and who won or lost. I hadn’t asked her to do that, but she took the task upon herself and did a splendid job. For which my Lady and I presented her, publicly and with gratitude, a ring from the hand of my Lady; we follow the old Septentrian custom of ring-giving when we see something inspirational done at an SCA event.

Courtesy of Kyle Andrews
Dietrich & Laurenze. Photo Courtesy of Kyle Andrews Photography.

In terms of my personal prowess this weekend, I’ve had several people (including the King of Ealdormere) compliment me saying I fought very well. They were being kind: I didn’t fight all that well, actually. In my defense I’d spent an afternoon in the hot sun dragging hay bales around a field… and that the day after “sailing” a plywood frame packed full of fully-armoured fighters around the field during the “boat battles.”

But while my prowess might not have been the best, I’m pleased to say that I was very forward in my participation. I think I fought six bouts, which worked out to an appreciable fraction of the total number of bouts fought. Due to exhaustion and distraction at the Passo I’m a little blurry on the exact number (but thanks to Lady Emer I can double-check!) but I was able to keep fighting despite the heat and my own fatigue. I managed to fight both of the other original tenans; my friend Baron Richard Larmer; two lefties, one of whom was the King; and I was part of a three-on-three fight where I killed my man and was then struck down by his teammates. My primary lesson from the fighting is that I need more practice fighting lefties… and that I’m going to have to work pretty hard before I’ll be able to match Baron Larmer with longswords.

Courtesy of Kyle Andrews Photography
Me fighting Richard Larmer, about half a second before he lands a blow on my hip that I felt in my fillings. Photo Courtesy of Kyle Andrews Photography.

In the two days since the Passo I’ve received a lot of feedback, some of it through the small book I had commissioned for the event — a handmade, leather-bound volume that a friend of mine, Mistress Tarian, made and which I asked each participant to sign and write their thoughts as a permanent record of the day — and much of it through various conversations. I’m still processing a great deal of it, but some of the comments stuck in my mind and stand out in my memory:

One novice fighter from out of Kingdom professed himself honoured to be “allowed” to participate (and sign the book) even though he wasn’t an Ealdormerean — I replied that all were welcome to join in the passage of arms and that it was we who were honoured that someone who had traveled so far would deign to cross swords with us; I could see his eyes light up when he realized that I was quite being earnest when I said that.

A soon-to-be-Peer in our Kingdom, Eirik Andersen, whose photography has been an invaluable addition to our Kingdom’s culture and history, thanked me for moving the time of the challenge to the “Golden Hour” of the evening. I confessed to him that the lighting hadn’t occurred to me, I’d been worried about the heat. He assured me that he’d gotten some beautiful photos, and I hope to post a link to that album soon. (Quick edit – Eirik forwarded me a couple of photos he took and I’ve added them to this blog post; he was right about the Golden Hour light.)

The Wife™ commented to me on the drive home the next night (we cheated a bit and drove the 25 minutes home so that we could shower and sleep in an air-conditioned room) that the Passo had been different from any tournament she’d ever seen in that during an ordinary tournament the early fights often feel only like a means to the end of reaching the finals, but that during the Passo it felt like every single fight was unique, exciting and mattered for its own sake.

Many fighters — and by many I would say more than half of the field — approached me and used the word “special” to describe the Passo. Perhaps half of those were enthusiastic at seeing “this kind of event” during Trillium War (an event which tends towards large melees and a pragmatic, get-the-most-points approach to armoured combat.) Most of them want to see something similar next year… although a couple of people said they’d like to see it only every few years so that it would stay special.

A Duchess friend of mine told me that it was refreshing to see that so many people had enjoyed the pas d’armes and that it hadn’t come off as self-aggrandizing. I’d been worried about that too, but apparently everyone felt I’d struck the right tone; that Fulk had set up a deed of arms but it wasn’t all — or even a little — about him. (This is despite our Herald playfully referring to the book I has hoping people would sign as “A reading from the Book of Fulk.”)

The day after the Passo I was speaking to a lady whom I had just met, and halfway the conversation she stopped (as we all have at one time or another) and said to me “I’m sorry, I don’t know your SCA same.” I replied, “It’s Fulk.” She blinked and said “Oh! Are you the Fulk from the Pas d’Armes?” (My reply was less than graceful, I started at her dumbfounded and then mumbled “Uhhhh… I guess so?”)

I have only two regrets about the Passo: the first is that several fighters, including some of the gentlemen from our Canton, simply couldn’t attend due to the timing and/or being exhausted or suffering from mild heatstroke because the weather.

My second regret is that my sword-brother, for health reasons, had to leave site and miss the Passo entirely — and that despite him planning on being one of the three starting tenans on the bridge with me. To be clear, I don’t regret that he had to place his personal health foremost: he was clearly in pain and distress when he came to me to let me know the bad news, as well as being bitterly disappointed that he was going to miss it; I merely regret the misfortune of his illness and hope that he doesn’t reproach himself too harshly for something that was in no way his fault. I asked his squire brother, Baron Berend, to take his place as a starting tenan on the bridge.

But from that misfortune came what was, for me, the most moving part of our emprise. Although my sword-brother, Lord Colyne Stewart, had to leave site due to illness his wife, Lady Thorfinna Gráfeldr, is also a fighter and returned to the event in enough time to armour up and join the Passo in honour of her husband so that he could still be a part of the proceedings, even if only in spirit.

It turns out that the Queen and the ladies of the gallery had chosen the virtue of Humility as their guide to judge the most worthy fighter in the Passo… and because of that they chose Lady Thorfinna as the combatant who most deserved to receive the token; a blue ribbon woven by the hand of my Lady Wife.

It was a magical and powerful moment, and one which really did set the seal on the Passo Honroso as a splendid — and special — deed of arms.