Master Peter’s Pelican scroll

Now tender April with her showers sweet
Has chased the dogs of winter in retreat,
And small birds serenade throughout Our lands.
Now we, A’kos and Bella, by our hands
These patents of nobility indite
And do ennoble through our sovereign might
Our subject, hight Peter Grau von Bremen,
Unto our Order of the Pelican.
For e’er with troth the Kingdom he hath served,
And of the Crown this merit well deserved.
His deadly blade borne with humility,
His gentilesse and eke his courtesy
Proclaim a man of true and tried vertu
As he hath done, so all should strive to do.
Among his noble peers now let him stand,
A veritable parfit gentleman.

indite: write; compose
hight: named
eke: also
gentilesse: refinement, nobility
vertu: virtue
veritable: verifiable, provable
parfit: perfect

Process Notes

When Peter Grau von Bremen, Master of Defense, offered me a writing commission for his Pelican scroll, my first thought was, “But then what will I do with the poem I already wrote you?!” An instant’s reflection, however, and I realized that, first, the vigil poem could still be given at the vigil, and second, I really wanted to do it.

I accepted at once. He offered cash payment; we settled on a trade. I have his promise to fight for me in a tourney, something I’ve long wanted to experience in the SCA.

My friend Dame Heather Hall had already signed on to do the calligraphy and illumination, so that was an added benefit; I was excited to collaborate with Heather.

Peter did two things that, all unbeknownst, helped me tremendously. He held his vigil and elevation at two different events, solving my I-have-an-extra-poem problem. Then he announced that he would adopt 14th-century style for his elevation, helping me to choose my poetic model. It wasn’t much of a selection process; I think I screamed “OH BOY CHAUCER!” and threw pens around. The Canterbury Tales begin in April, and Peter was going to be elevated in April–an ideal opportunity.


The scroll in progress

The 18-line General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, like most of the greater work, is in pairs and occasional triplets of rhyming lines. Chaucer’s Middle English verse used an accentual five-stress meter that, historically, isn’t quite yet iambic pentameter. (A gross oversimplification. Let’s move on.) Verse translations of the work into modern English do very often use iambic pentameter, with which I’m comfortable, so that was the obvious choice. I briefly considered writing the whole thing in “real” Middle English, but the determining factor was that people listening when the scroll was read out in court would not be able to understand Middle English. Instead I chose to adopt deliberate archaisms–a period practice. Edmund Spenser, for example, affected medieval vocabulary when writing The Faerie Queene in Elizabethan England. I cribbed words and phrases from Chaucer for flavor. Most importantly, Chaucer’s line “He was a verray, parfit, gentil knight” (GP l. 72) suggested the final line of the scroll verse.

Dame Heather and I worked out the orthography of the scroll together. I changed some spellings to 14th-century forms; she suggested using the character thorn (þ) in place of “th” in most places. I’m most pleased and honored to have my first contribution to a peerage scroll include such wonderful people and beautiful art.


Master Peter Grau von Bremen, OD, OP, and scroll

Photos by Heather Rocchi


Master Peter

In honour of the Pelican vigil of Master Peter Grau von Bremen, MOD


When I was new apprenticed
To a master worldly wise,
One day at court he pointed out
A lord in dashing guise.

Then said he, “Mark that gentleman
All fine in swordsman’s trim—
If you need help, and I’m not by,
You can rely on him.”

Since that day I have oft enjoyed
The good cheer in his word,
Though in his eyes, a shadow paints
Past sorrows hard endur’d.

Upon his lips the laughter
Is a never-failing stream,
While with courtesy and valor
He commands the world’s esteem.

And long I’ve marked the steadfast hand
His duty e’er did tend,
And had the joy and honor
To name him as my friend.

Should I have an apprentice
In a day far-off and dim,
I’ll build my trust upon this rock
And bid her, Be like him.

Process Notes

Sometimes inspiration happens.

At Candlemas, I was thrilled to see my friend Peter Grau von Bremen, Master of Defense,  placed on vigil for the Order of the Pelican. After dinner with my Laurel, during which we talked over how pleased we were and how well-merited we found the award, I drove home alone. Words started forming, and by the time I had traveled from Lexington to Louisville, I had a stanza and a half.

I texted my husband before reaching home to let him know as tactfully as possible that art was happening and I would need to come in and write down the lines in my head before I greeted him. He was as forbearing with this behavior as a poet’s spouse could well be. I got the lines on paper, kissed him, and dropped. The rest of the poem took shape within a couple of days.

The English ballad form is so useful and flexible for lyric expression that it has survived six centuries past the Middle English language in which it emerged. In this case, the nearest analog is John Donne’s “The Undertaking,” which has similar simplicity of thought, tells a brief, hinted-at story, and takes a few minor liberties with meter. I used the more common ABCB rhyme scheme rather than Donne’s ABAB because I had specific thoughts I wished to express. When thoughts and phrases are flowing easily, a more flexible rhyme scheme helps keep my language from getting in its own way.

As always with a vigil poem, I wanted the verse to speak to the recipient, to be easy to hear and true to my impulse as their friend. The opening is based on a real incident the day I met Peter.

In this case I wrote an eight-stanza first draft, got some feedback, and eventually edited out the middle third of the poem and wrote a new version in six stanzas. The old next-to-last stanza, with the simplest possible summation of the role of a peer, became the ending.

By the way, did anyone notice that New Testament allusion?

A Court Barony Scroll Text

A few months ago, I got an exciting and flattering assignment. My friend Alis de Squirtl was invited to do calligraphy on the court barony scroll for the departing Baron and Baroness of Brendoken. She asked me to “do the wordsmithing”–to provide an original text.

In my search for period models, I took Baroness Cerridwen’s Germanic persona as a starting point. I had a notion to use a proclamation by one of the late Holy Roman Emperors, but the first few such texts I found in my research were dreadfully wordy, and frankly, boring. They were also jam-packed with religious references, which would have had to be edited out for SCA use.

Eventually the search led me to the translation of a proclamation in which the Grand Duchy of Lithuania granted Magdeburg Law to the city of Brest. (Magdeburg Law is a fascinating rabbit hole—it was widely adopted across central and eastern Europe, generally at the instigation of the leading citizens.) This document was much more short and sweet and included some graceful turns of phrase. I adapted it to my needs—mostly by cutting— and consulted with Alis, who found it suitable for her use.

The scroll:

Court Barony scroll

The text:

May this be forever remembered. We, A’kos, by right of arms king of the Middle Kingdom and Bella our Queen make it known by the present document to all whom it may concern both now and hereafter: Desirous of rewarding the faithful and valiant service of our vassals John the Ox and Cerridwen verch Iorwedd so that all may know their nobility, we appoint them as Baron and Baroness of Our Court for all time to come, according to the custom of the land. Moreover, we declare and forever maintain our gratitude to them for their loyal duty.
[Done this day etc]

Seionaid Inghean Ghriogair
Alis de Squirtl

Presentation photo above by Richard Mandel

Tanka for Akira-dono

Kind of an interesting story to this one. But first, the result:


Blue cranes rise in flight
On a golden sunrise sky,
Their silent rapture
Seen only by the boatman
Whose hand keeps the course steady.

The Story Behind the Piece, or, How I Fell in Love with an Idea and Made it All Go Horribly Wrong

Akira was put on vigil for the Order of the Pelican. I was delighted. His wife, Mistress Katarina Peregrine, had been elevated a couple of years back, and for her I had written The Dragon and the Peregrine. I felt called upon to produce something for Akira, although I didn’t know him as well as I did her.

Katarina liked the idea, so I interviewed her about Akira’s service and his persona, Japanese. She mentioned his service as exchequer and on financial committees at various levels–the sort of unglamorous, essential work that lets us have an SCA–as well as his love of archery. She also mentioned his personal heraldry. The word “quiet” came up again and again in discussing his service. It was a phone call, and I understood her to describe three gold cranes in flight on a blue field in the shape of a hexagon.

I knew exactly two Japanese forms: the haiku and the tanka. A little research showed that while haiku developed from the tanka post-SCA period, the tanka itself fit the period. I was excited to learn that it played a similar role in Japanese literature to the sonnet in English literature. I also learned that the traditional tanka was written as a single unified sentence.

The idea of gold, the gold of the coins handled by an exchequer and the gold of pure worthiness. appealed to me. I also had hopes of working in the gold of the archery bulls-eye, as in the expression “hit in the gold,” but it turned out not to fit in a single 31-syllable sentence. Sometimes you can’t have everything.

So then I wrote this poem:

Above a small boat,
Three golden cranes rise in flight
Only seen by one,
The steersman whose knowing hand
Keeps the vessel’s course steady.

And I quite liked it. The organization as the boat; the Pelican as the steersman; the moment of hushed beauty seen by a man doing a responsible job by himself. I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to get in anything explicit saying it was quiet, and also that I hadn’t stated for the reader, though it was clear to me, that this moment took place very early in the morning. (By the way, if anyone knows what time of day cranes are usually active, please message me. My search skills were not up to finding that detail.)

Then two days before the event, Katarina posted an image of Akira’s heraldry. I had gotten it wrong. The field was GOLD. The cranes were BLUE.

At this point, I posted a (faulty) haiku on Facebook:

New info arrives.
I start my poem over.
Thank Muse for no rhymes.

And then I started revising. Ripped apart and put back together the other way round, four of its five lines completely rewritten, the tanka became the one at the top of this post. I saved the image and the one-sentence grammar. The language is more compressed, and I got rid of the dull “one” which added nothing to the image. I like that “silent” and “sunrise” are now spelled out. and the role of the steersman is now as subtle and barely perceptible as Akira’s work in real life.

I hope I don’t make this kind of mistake too often. But I’m grateful I learned about it in time to fix it.

Dmitrii Zhirov: Elevation sonnnet

My breath Awaken, Muse! I fain would sing
Of one whose merit far outstrips his fame,
Whose faithful service to our Queen and King
Resounds in court. Yet heretofore his name,
Unlike the subjects’ names he doth pronounce
With the dread power of the Dragon Throne,
Hath stranger been to Honor’s high accounts,
A voice that shouts all merits but its own.
My friend! who woke a commoner at dawn,
By dusk a nobleman you shall be made.
A privilege I deem it to look on
In joy as you receive the accolade.
Forgive that of your tale I make so free—
‘Tis time and past a voice should speak for thee.



Shakespearean sonnet written as a gift upon the occasion of Dmitrii’s elevation to the Order of the Pelican. Master Dmitrii is a long-standing (in every sense) court herald widely known for his vocal excellence.


My home abides unto this day.
Its shady streets where children play
In summer sun or autumn frost,
Its stormy winds and treetops tossed
Seem not the same, but far away.

Now all these lands rise in affray
And fathers ‘gainst their sons inveigh,
And pen and sword in conflict crossed
My home abides.

O Kindly Vesta, grant, I pray,
The land I love be never lost.
Preserve us at whatever cost,
That I to my life’s end may say
My home abides.

Process Notes

I created this rondeau in response to a challenge at Midrealm Bardic Madness. With the exception of the refrain, the entire poem was written during the event.

From the Notebook: A Call to Arms

Come! for the armies assemble,
Wagon wheels cut the green sward.
Faces flush red and hands tremble.
Foot soldiers follow our lord,
And the Kingdom demands every sword.
The drums are beating to war.
Midrealm, to arms! — But what for?

What is the good that you fight for?
Why should a decent man arm?
Why raise your blade against strangers afar
Who never have done you no harm?
Now the general sounds the alarm–
Will war bring you fortune and glory?
Or anonymous death be your story?

Someone must speak for the silent.
Your honor should drive you to seek
Battle opposing the violent
On behalf of the helpless and meek.
The noble must shelter the weak.
A burdensome weight is a throne,
But the chivalrous care for their own.

There is no honor to strike a man down.
The glory is not in the kill,
But to venture your blood for your kin and your Crown
And to stand beside others who will.
Each one’s strength in the service of all,
The bond that will not be denied–
Midrealmers! here is your pride.

Process Notes

The Rhyme (or rime) royal stanza was introduced into English by Chaucer (late 14th century) and still in use in the time of Henry VIII (early 16th century). It was employed for both lyric and narrative verse.

Rime royal more typically used pentameter or similar five-stress lines. My shorter lines are modeled partly on ballad stanza and partly on the works of John Skelton, whose verse used a variety of line lengths and was frequently didactic or admonitory in tone. I have employed slant rhymes in places in order to maintain a natural word order and diction.

From the Notebook: A Thanks to Thor’s Mountain

Make merry, friends, and rest you from your labor—
I call you friends, though newly met we be,
For Midrealm is Meridies’ good neighbor.
A moment, I beg, lend your ears to me.

From distant North, my master I did follow
O’er many rivers, though each wooded reach
To Thor’s Mountain, the haunt of hawk and swallow,
Where gladly I would learn, and gladly teach.

What marvels here appeared before my eyes
When first I ventured to these learned hills!
A populace full rich in scholars wise
And gifted artisans of many skills.

From heart warmed by your cordiality,
I thank you for your hospitality.

Process Notes

This sonnet was written at the end of the Barony of Thor’s Mountain’s event Black Gryphon in February, 2018, at which my Laurel and I were invited to teach. We received a more than generous welcome and had a marvelous time.

I experimented here with “weak” endings–an eleventh, unaccented syllable–in lines 1, 3, 5, and 7. I think they give the meter a more informal, bouncy tone. The long rhyming words in the final couple, though they actually have strong ending, continue that quick, energetic pattern.

I originally introduced the extra line spacing, which is not customary in sonnets, so that the poem would be easier for the recipients to read online. I keep them because I find this particular sonnet more songlike than most I write, and the spacing on the page recalls three verses and a chorus.

From the Notebook: Verse on a Dish

Process notes

I was asked to compose this for a big late-period immersion event in the East Kingdom last year. It was painted on a plate that was given as a prize.

The fun of it, for me, was making the verse appropriate to where it appeared–and short enough to fit!– and playing with the homophones. It came out as something between an epigram and a wall poster.

Here at board we gladly meet
And serving maids our portions mete
Give thanks now if you think it meet
For bread and cheese, good ale and meat


From the Notebook: The Boots of Nikolai

I bought the boots one morning
So my feet would not be bare.
By accident I happened on
A prize humble, yet rare.

They’ve carried me o’er mountains,
Through dust and snow and mud.
They’ve held me up on battlefields
Where grass was slick with blood.

One time a foe attempted
To break them with his tread,
And many charges later,
They trod on him instead.

I’ve followed kings upon these boots,
And served a princess too,
And they upheld me when I went
My own dear wife to woo.

So good day to you, merchant,
I do not need your wares.
My ancient boots will bear me
To the end of all my cares.

Process Notes

Like The Crippled Knight, this little verse, composed in April, 2017, was inspired by real events that happened to a real person in the SCA. Instead of being an effort to encapsulate a 25-year career, though, it was built solely on an anecdote Count Nikolai of the Midrealm chanced to recount. I chose to retain him as the speaker of the poem, as the story is his.

I found traditional ballad form a perfect fit for the tale of the boots, with its moments of humor, grimness, and romance.  The brevity and familiarity of the form are a fine example of qualities that make period art accessible to a modern-born audience.  English  Renaissance poets were the first to adopt the ballad from folk art to fine art, a practice which has persisted into modern times.