Ducal drottkvæt for Runa and Arch

So reads the scroll appointing Runa Duchess and Arch Duke:

All ye honor-eager1,
Odin’s wine2 now offer
forest dweller’s3 daughter,
Daring war-dís4 Runa.
Name her highest noble,
Nourisher of wisdom5,
She who bears on brow-front6
Band of brightest sea-flame7.

Arch who wears arm-gravel8,
Arrow-god9 his father–
Black battle-swan10 bearer,
Breaker of soul-boxes11.
Call him and acclaim him
Commander of wave-steed12,
Blood-taster13 his blazon,
of blade-lovers14 ruler.

Young kin are their escort,
Admirable children.
The rare rope-limbed15 Kraken
Rises from her sea-bed
And Leif the long-running16
Lopes doughtily onward.
They stint not, these selfless,
Service freely giving.

Now from this day forward
Famed as Duke and Duchess
Chalice-holders17 cherish
Charter in your honour.
To tree-wyrm18 be trothful–
Tribe-loyalty treasure.
So the sea-light sleeper19
Signs by seal and sigil.

Dag and Anne Marie ordered these words set down at their Coronation on the 24th September A.S. LXVI in honor of Duke Arch and Duchess Runa;

Process Notes

(Kennings are footnoted at bottom.)

When Matildis la Libraire asked me to collaborate again, I said yes right away. Then I learned that the project was a ducal scroll for the then reigning Crown, Runa and Arch. We discussed various ways to adapt the text and art to their personae, a discussion that ranged over a period of weeks as Matildis determined what she wanted to do. She settled on a design in the Mammen style and based upon the Cammin casket. You can read about Matildis’s artistic process here.

Because of the choice of design and because Arch’s persona was a Jorvik Northman, I decided to use the highest-end of the skaldic poetic forms, the drottkvæt. I had only learned to write in this form a few months previously in the reign of Ullr and AnneLyse. Drottkvæt is a demanding form with stringent requirements of accent, alliteration, and syllabic count. In Old Norse, most drottkvæt also use an internal rhyme scheme, but that is almost impossible to accomplish in English because of the differing characteristics of the two languages. So my drottkvæt are unrhymed or “formless,” a recognized period option.

Drottkvæt come in eight-line stanzas. Based on my earlier discussions with Matildis, I planned to write two stanzas. However, when she had her page laid out, she asked me if I could make the text longer. I ended up writing four stanzas: one about Runa, one about Arch, one about their children, and one referring to the process of the Crown conferring the duchy.

The shiny bit of the skaldic art, the way a skald shows off to other skalds, is the kenning–a metaphorical phrase, often very obscure, used to replace a simple word such as “woman” or “gold.” The simpler, more obvious kennings, such as “honor-eager” for “warriors” or “Odin’s son” for Thor, are referred to as heiti (pl). In my previous works, I had managed only a few kennings. In this piece, I wanted to achieve an Old Norse density of figurative language in the verse.

The central imagery was based around the animals associated with each person named on the scroll: the bear for Runa, the raven for Arch, the kraken for Kraken, and the wolf for Leif. In the final stanza, I used kennings to refer to the Crown and, as a figure for the Crown, the Midrealm Dragon. All but those noted are period kennings (see below).

The prose portion of the text is modeled on the Jelling stone raised by Harald Bluetooth.

My thanks to Master Grim the Skald for his teaching and book-sharing. Sine qua non.

1 An original heiti: those eager for honor, i.e., Midrealm populace.
2 poetry
3 the bear’s daughter
4 woman warrior
5 woman
6 woman
7 gold

8 gems
9 Ullr
10 the raven
11 an original compound kenning meaning warrior, “soul-boxes” referring to the skull or ribcage which enclose the mortal soul
12 ship captain
13 raven again
14 warriors

15 “the rope-limbed” is the Kraken; I included the name both for metrical reasons and so the young lady would be sure to know she was acknowledged.
16 wolf
17 a variant on “cup-keeper,” i.e. dragon, and therefore a reference to the new King and Queen
18 dragon again
19 dragon; “sea-light” is gold, and the one who sleeps on a bed of gold is the dragon. “Sea-light” is period; the compound is original.

A Norse Farewell to a Royal Couple

From Ullssaga, Fragment 6

All the people of that district gathered to see them off. They stood on the shore by the longship. Ullr called the retainers close about them. He said, “It is hard to leave you. Your service has been good, yet your friendship is of greater worth.” AnneLyse stood with him. She gave her hand to each of the retainers in turn and thanked them.

Then they boarded the longship. Birna Bragadottir said,

To our Ask and Embla
Ygg’s ale offers tribute.
Depart now, though dearly
Dragonkin stand grieving.
Radiant ring givers,
Ride in peace the sea-steed.
Renown and names noble
None will forget ever.

The people stood on the shore and watched their ship until it passed the horizon.

Photo credit Lord Tarmach ben Yehuda al-Khazari APF, CDB, CW (Richard Mandel)

Collaborating with the Crown: Angus Gordon’s scroll text

Angus champion at arms     now accept
from Annelyse Drottning     your deeds’ due
and hear her words     from the heart spoken
Finest of friends     I never can forget you
or the service of your sword     selflessly given
Proudly you protected me      proving ever loyal
close as a kinsman     you kept my counsel.
All hear and do honor     to Angus Gordon
Deliver to him     this day the Doe’s Grace

process notes

In my final weeks as Royal Poet, I was delighted to receive a request from Queen AnneLyse. She was creating a scroll for her champion with her own hands, but couldn’t find the right words, and she asked me to create them. She explained the service that Angus had given, and we talked about his persona and the style of the scroll.

The text is in alliterative verse patterned after the Anglo-Saxon style of narrative poetry. As the giving of the award was so personal to the Queen, I made her a first-person speaker.

A Laurel Scroll for Lote Winterborn

Four months after being elevated to the Order of the Laurel, I got to be part of a benevolent conspiracy to elevate Lote Winterborn. Lote (pronounced “Lottie”) had requested that if she ever be raised to the peerage, it was done on the spot and as a surprise. Ullr Konungr and AnneLyse Drottning decided to elevate Lote and were eager to surprise her, so her team, led by Dame Eleanor von Atzinger, worked hard to arrange all the details while still keeping Lote in the dark.

Mistress Bianca offered to create Lote’s scroll and recruited me to compose the text. I had recently completed the Cleftlands baronial lineage in the rime royal stanza, and I decided that form would be fitting for Lote’s scroll as well. The scroll art features miniature paintings of Lote executing the skills described in the text.

We succeeded in pulling off the surprise and a fine time was had by all present.

Here stand three Graces worthy of renown:
A needlewoman whose embroidery
May fitly ornament a Royal gown--
A cook whose dishes rich in piquancy
She serves forth in warm hospitality--
A teacher eager to impart her skill
Whose joyful heart bestows on all goodwill.
Behold, in one fair lady all these gifts
We find, that three nymphs might be proud to claim,
One whose good deeds our Kingdom’s fame uplift
And Lote Winterborn her honoured name.
Thus from Our Throne we gladly do proclaim
For craft and character exemplary
Companion of the Laurel she must be.

So by our hands and seal be it disposed, 
Ullr Konungr and Annelyse Drottning 
Photo and art by Mistress Bianca Rosamund di Firenze (Marlene Broderick)

A Royal Gift: Qasida for the Outlands Crown

So spoke Ullr Konungr to his cousins upon their meeting at Gulf Wars XXX:

We rode from Dragon lands to southern fight
Meeting the armies panoplied in might
Here now with joy the noble stag befriending
In bonds of faith that shall be neverending.

Behold the Sultan Barekr in his glory!
He shall be praised in poetry and story.
His strength surpasses all as his fell blade
Defends the good and leaves the foe dismayed.
Behold the valorous Beatrice! fair Queen
Whose fame commands the Dragon’s high esteem.
She yields to none in beauty or prowess
Or any virtue proper to noblesse.
Two knights united on the Outlands throne
Now doubly guard the realm. Yet little known
To any but their cousins are the cares
Of sovereign and consort. We who share
The burden of the crown may understand
The weight of duty to Your well lov’d land.
Accept of us this word of thanks and praise,
And long and joyous be Your ruling days.

This verse the bear-dame wrote at Our behest
To honor cousins traveled from the west.
Long be the Stag a brother in renown
Of Dragon proud, and Crown at peace with Crown.

Process notes

This qasida was written at Ullr Konungs behest, to be given as a gift to the Outlands Crown. Mistress Bianca then gave of her art to inscribe them upon a scroll which she ornamented with gold. The king honored our combined arts by presenting them himself, and it is my lasting regret that I was not present to hear.

Art by Mistress Bianca Rosamund di Firenze (Marlene Broderick)

I found myself returning to two habitual practices I teach in my classes: suiting the poetic form to the persona of the subject, and researching the subject’s SCA history. Lesson learned: It is surprisingly hard to collect details about someone you don’t know in a kingdom where you also don’t know anyone that is thousands of miles away. Next time, start hunting earlier!

From the reign of Ullr and AnneLyse: Beacon Ljóðaháttr

A skald traveled to the base of Bifrost, the sentry post of wide-seeing Heimdall. There she asked him, “O great lord, what are the beacons? Why do folk raise them? How do they serve?”
The guardian of the Æsir answered her. He spoke in the form called ljóðaháttr.

Beacons bright    blaze paths
Eyes can aim thereby under dark skies
Folk find     fear lessened
As of yore, so ever onward.

Burning bales     bury doubt
Give good guidance in the going
Make mood     the merrier
As of yore, so ever onward.

Fires make fierce     faithful thanes
Strengthen and steady in stark times
Ward and warn      the watchers
As of yore, so ever onward.

Proud pyres     praised should be
So too our kin who kindle and keep them
Their deeds     drive out darkness
As of yore, so ever onward.

Process notes

I first performed this piece at Better War through Archery in the Barony of Sternfeld, March 26 AS LVI. I wore Norse attire to highlight the cultural context of the piece.

The Royal Augmentation of Arms during the reign of Ullr III and AnneLyse III was a beacon. Their stated purpose for making these awards was to honor those who had been beacons during the pandemic, providing light to guide and cheer members of the Society in a dark time. I thought this was an idea in the highest traditions of the Middle Kingdom, and I wanted to highlight and celebrate both the nobility of the people who merited the award, and the wisdom of the Crown who bestowed it. Their Majesties gave me the opportunity to premier the poem in a court where three Augmentations were being awarded.

During my tenure as Poet Laureate, I was working on learning Norse verse forms of increasing complexity, and ljóðaháttr was next on my list. This form is typically used didactically, when a god or sage is imparting wisdom, as in Hávamál. Therefore I framed my poem as a speech by the god Heimdall, the far-seeing. As Heimdall can see throughout the worlds, he would naturally notice all the bright points of light burning there. The prose introduction, added to give context, also nods to the way Norse texts tend to embed poetry within prose.

Ljóðaháttr typically use a repeated final line in each stanza, comparable to a refrain in English poetry. I wanted to emphasize that the recipients of the award had upheld the traditions of the Midrealm, and that others should work to emulate them. In the first draft of the poem, the final line was “As understood in years of yore,” which I liked because it showed off my knowledge of some of the finer rules of Norse alliteration. However, when I shared the poem in an online workshop at Royal University of the Midrealm, it turned out that my line made people think of the kingdom’s past, but not its future. I rewrote the line to better convey my intended meaning.

Cleftlands Lineage

Hear now the honourable lineage of the Cleftlands!

In days long past this Barony was founded,
Entrusted by Merowald to nobles twain.
By these two its foundations made well-grounded:
Ithriliel and Laurelen Darksbane.
Decades they served, nor did their stars e’er wane,
But with whole hearts they led the Barony
To high repute in the Society.

In giants’ footsteps came to follow then
The gentle Madelaine Bouvier and her lord
Ephraim, wielders of the mighty pen,
And brightly shone her needle and his sword.
With hands outreached to all, they made accord
Among our folk and neighbors, so ‘twas seen
The river’s flame ceased not its burning keen.

Next Milesent and Edward took the fief,
He valiant archer, bearer of the boar
And rose, she crownéd with the scholar’s wreath
And wit. To Dag and Annemarie they swore
Their faith while argent and azure they bore,
And so it passed this couple studious
Did ever serve in fealty duteous.

Then Calum and Constanza did arise.
He with a hand in service ever lifted
Or sword raised to defeat a foeman’s wiles,
She of the bright sun’s joy and learning gifted,
With courage fierce, in battle six times sifted.
These friends performed their duty with such grace
As e’er should remembered in this place.

Gianna next, who dances in her mirth
In lists or ballroom, careful steward she,
And Crispin of both base and noble birth,
But rightful guardian of the barony,
Both bearing sable in their constancy
From all their travels here they did return
Respect of all the populace to earn.

Today Aurelia and Pietro stand
To serve in turn upon the Crown’s command.

Offered April 9 A.S. LXVI

This verse is licensed to the Barony of the Cleftlands and its members, to be performed, reproduced, excerpted, or continued. These permissions are extended to the Barony of the Cleftlands and its members only.


The form is rime royal, also spelled rhyme royal, a 14th-century English form, used to align with the 14th-century theme of the event at which the investiture of Baron Pietro and Baroness Aurelia took place.

To my Muses

Clio, Thalia, Euterpe,
Hither come and sing in me
Clear my eyes that I may see
Clio, Thalia, Euterpe.

Clio with thy book and scroll
Of your learning make me free
Write me on your scholar’s roll
Wreathéd muse of history.

Clio, Thalia, Euterpe,
Hither come and sing in me.

Thalia, masked, with ivy crowned
Enter here with mischief airy
In the theatre’s sacred bound
Grace the act till all make merry.

Clio, Thalia, Euterpe,
Hither come and sing in me.

Euterpe, thy tuneful art
Grant me that my hearers be
Spellbound by both ear and heart
And enchanted lastingly.

Clio, Thalia, Euterpe,
Endow me with your virtues three
Ever singing, be with me
Clio, Thalia, Euterpe.

Process notes

This poem took more than four years to finish. The idea and refrain came to me in late summer of 2016 and then sat stubbornly in my brain, refusing to do anything. Then early in 2022, suddenly flow happened and I finished the poem with ease and enjoyment. (Always save your notes.)

The three Muses addressed are Clio, Muse of History, whose iconography includes a scroll or book, Thalia, Muse of Comedy, who wears a laughing mask, and Euterpe, who is identified in different periods either as the Muse of music or of lyric poetry. I practice both those arts, so she seemed to fit. Euterpe is traditionally shown playing or carrying a flute.

The form is a modified trochaic tetrameter. Most of the lines lack the final unaccented syllable. In this, I follow my model, “Queen and Huntress, chaste and fair,” by Ben Jonson, a hymn to the Goddess Diana. Like Jonson’s, my poem is an explicit invocation. It follows the long tradition of poetic invocations going back to the classical period and continuing in English poetry through Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, and Wordsworth to the present day.

The image is a 17th-century allegorical painting by Eustache Le Sueur of my three muses bearing their trademark props,.

A present from the 14th century

I just received a most thoughtful gift from my friend Ezra Ha-Yona, poet and calligrapher.

He has turned the poem I wrote recently for the Kentucky tornado benefit into a calligraphed page. It’s beautiful!

He writes: “”The style is a compromise between our two personas: your culture” (Elizabethan) “and my century” (the 14th). “The basis for the layout is a 14th century English psalter found in the Walters Museum online manuscript collection.”

The page. Ezra’s work is square; I am bad at photographing flat things.

Thank you, Rav Ezra!

Hope on a winter night

On December 10, 2021, a tornado cut a record-breaking 165-mile path across western Kentucky. It was one of several tornadoes in a catastrophic storm that killed at least 56 people.

On December 27, Hilla Stormbringer organized an online concert on the theme of hope and light, to benefit those affected by the tornadoes. Although not an SCA event, it featured SCA members. I asked for the honor of opening the show, and for the occasion I composed this untitled piece.

Gather ‘round the fire tonight
Pass the cup from hand to hand
Be welcome to the sheltering hall
‘Tis holiday–come one, come all

Dance a measure here tonight
With graceful leap and clasping hand
Let steps and smiles and music twine
In pleasures sweeter than late wine.

Hear a story here tonight
The deeds of heroes’ mighty hands
Let their courage make you bold
To stand against the winter’s cold

Love a brother here tonight
Give old enemies your hand
Let the wars and discord cease
Leave your child a world at peace

Light a thousand fires tonight
Pass the flame from hand to hand
Open wide the noble doors
Let each heart take hope from yours