I was extremely excited when Kolfinna Valravn asked me to write the text for Valgard av Mors’ Laurel scroll, and even more excited when I found out she was basing it on the Franks Casket (full details here!). I knew that Mors is an amazing smith (making the Franks Casket, with its depiction of Wayland the Smith, even more appropriate), but she had a few additional suggestions: skulls are good, and make it metal. In addition, the space we had was quite tiny, which I love – I love space constraints that require me to write something perfect for the individual in as few words as possible. Since we were in my happy home of Anglian artifacts, I of course had to write alliterative verse; since I had been reading more alliterative verse in the last few months, I had a much better sense of where I could bend the constraints of the form in the process. Once I latched on to an opening phrase and a few specific images, the poem sprung almost fully-formed, only needing some minor editing and adjusting to make sure the flow was as perfect as possible.
When Aurri le Borgne asked if I wanted to collaborate on an Opal scroll for Ilhuicacihuatl de Xochimilco, I lept at the chance! Ilhuicacihuatl is an incredibly giving person in both time and energy, an amazing teacher (I’ve learned so much from her classes), and a force to be reckoned with in New World studies in the SCA. In short: she’s awesome, and I wanted to be part of creating a scroll for her!
And then Aurri clarified that she wanted me to do both wordsmithing and calligraphy, and I went… okay. I was still considering myself a baby calligrapher, and I knew that whatever was out there was going to be far outside my wheelhouse, but it was worth it! (Also I don’t think I can call myself a baby calligrapher after this piece anymore!).
After convincing myself I couldn’t learn Nahuatl in less than a month and therefore an original language composition was out of the question (for now), I dived into research, looking for both a calligraphic hand and appropriate text. I quickly discovered Bernardino de Sahagún, a sixteenth-century friar and Nahuatl nerd who recorded both cultural and literary information regarding the Aztec people in a Western alphabet (score!). In the time I had, I couldn’t find both a literary text in translation and digitized manuscript, but I found two related pieces: The Florentine Codex, digitized by the Library of Congress and in Bernardino’s own hand, and Ballads of the Lords of New Spain: The Codex Romances de los Señores de la Nueva España, which was probably recorded by Bernardino, exists in one 17th-century manuscript, but available transcribed and translated by John Bierhorst and available for free online. Aurri had found a similar manuscript from Bernardino for the illumination, so we were good to go!
First: wordsmithing. Nahuatl poetry is new to me, and so at this point the most historically accurate I could get would be by cobbling together bits of the translated Ballads and massaging them into something that works for an SCA scroll. I read through the entirety of the Ballads (which aren’t particularly long), and I was struck by both the beauty and cultural resonance of the pieces. Despite knowing very little about the culture, I could still see the significance of multiple items and images (such as gold, jade, and flowers — flowers abounded!); I was moved by how the poetry wedded joy in beauty and sadness at its transience. Because I’m a language nerd, I still had to do a little linguistic digging, so I used the online Nahuatl Dictionary to look up Ilhuicacihuatl de Xochimilco’s name. I giggled at how perfect the name was for her and decided to work it into the scroll text.
The final text uses lines from poems I, II, IX, X, XVIII, and XXXIII in the Ballads:
Friends, let us go sing in Marinus, in Atlantia, on the second Day of Love. Eckehard and Jane have come to string jewels, to adorn with flowers. They value as gold the good service of a heavenly woman from flower fields; her heart and works are jade. Let there be broad plumes and opals: let Ilhuicacihuatl de Xochimilco be inducted into the Order of the Opal. May all know her name, may her flowers not wither. Let’s drink—let’s eat—cacao flowers: our hearts are glad with flowers this February 26, A.S. LVI.
Because I knew Ilhuicacihuatl was making chocolates for the event where this would be received, I had to include “let’s drink—let’s eat—cacao flowers” directly from Poem IX. Also, since the translation by Bierhorst rendered the poetry in a visually prosaic form, I retained that for the scroll text.
Next, the calligraphy! I was really lucky that I had an exemplar from one person, right? Right? WRONG. Y’all, Bernardino couldn’t write an “a” the same way twice in The Florentine Codex. He also couldn’t write the same size twice. Or keep his slant consistent. That said, all of this was a boon to me: I struggle with slanting scripts, and this late-period hand was entirely new to me (and learned in less than a week), so any inconsistencies in my version actually make it more accurate! Ha! An additional benefit was that his handwriting was not too different from earlier batarde scripts, which I had practiced in the past, so all-in-all it was not too difficult a task to handle. My final version was still a little rounder than the original, but I’m still pleased with how it came out.
For the ductus, I tried to use mostly letter-forms from the Nahuatl part of the manuscript; however, I had to fill it out with letters from the Spanish part, as there are multiple letters used in English and Spanish that did not appear in the Nahuatl text. Even with that, there were some letters that are fairly common in English that I couldn’t find in the manuscript (especially K and W), so I had to hypothesize my own letter forms for that based on the original.
To make sure that I got the calligraphy right on the first try, I did a test piece on Bristol using the same nib and ink (I don’t remember the nib size, but the ink was Noodler’s Eel Black). This piece was fairly successful, with only a couple errors but good spacing, so I taped over the errors and simply traced it for the final product.
I think it came out all right!
Esa inghean Donnchaidh was one of the first people I met in the SCA, and the memory of our meeting is engraved on my heart. We very quickly found out that we shared many interests (including dance, Scotland, the 14th century, and “early period” Britain). She’s also a fantastic researcher, doing masters-level (or higher!) research in her free time on women’s health and menstruation (you can check out her blog here and her website here). As a newcomer, she made me feel seen, welcome, and safe.
So when her Laurel, Beatriz Aluares de la Oya of the Spanish Seamstress, asked if I could find the time to write the words for Esa’s Golden Dolphin scroll in a tight turnaround, I thought I would rather gnaw off my own arm than say no.
Since the exemplar was from the Aurora Consurgens manuscript, specifically of “Bleeding Woman in Zodiac” / “Zodiac Menstrual Cycle,” I knew it was time for some iambic pentameter again! That said, the Aurora Consurgens manuscript is from the 15th century, slightly earlier than other recent scrolls I’ve written for, so I decided to use rhyme royal, a seven-line stanza in iambic pentameter with an ABABBCC rhyming scheme. Bonus: Geoffrey Chaucer first used this in the 14th century!
The poem itself has many nods and winks to Esa’s work, deeds, and path in the SCA. I am not going to explain them here, as they are for her pleasure to enjoy and discover.
The final scroll was calligraphed and illuminated by Baroness Ingegerd Kastanrazi.
O Venus, shining morning star, your light
Cannot be curtly dimmed by sun or moon.
Your curving path inscribes a divine flight,
A warming sight, a wondrous heavenly boon,
That reddens, flickers, blazes. Your face festoons
The midnight sky with glowing mystery,
Luminous bleeding generosity.
This wand’ring star has brilliant earthly twin
Whose arduous work illuminates the shade.
With labors long in stony broch and glen,
Heavy tasks she welcomed, refined, and weighed,
Service, wisdom, and truth bound and displayed.
The wise women know worth in blood and bone:
Esa inghean Donnchaidh their beloved own.
For love of Esa are these words proclaimed,
From Stierbach’s gates throughout the kingdom decreed.
Justice done by gentle Eckehard and Jane
Who thus award, as sages have agreed,
A lady who aids in spirit, word, and deed.
Th’ Order of the Golden Dolphin awaits
Esa, newest member, to celebrate.
Done November 20th, A.S. LVI, at Holiday Faire.
When Kolfinna Valravn asked me to write the scroll text for Mestra Esperanza Susanna Flecha’s Laurel, I jumped at the opportunity; I’ve admired Esperanza as both an individual and an artist virtually since I joined the SCA, and I was honored to be asked to write words to honor her and her art.
The exemplar that Kolfinna chose was by Caravaggio, which meant I would be looking at late period poetry (I had to write poetry for Esperanza. Had to.). I had already been writing a significant amount of late period poetry recently, especially iambic pentameter. I knew I was pretty locked in with iambic pentameter, but I wanted to change it up slightly, so I decided to go with the Spenserian stanza. This was created by Edmund Spenser in the late 1500s specifically for The Faerie Queene. It provided a good length for scroll text: nine lines per stanza would provide plenty of space in two stanzas, without overtaxing the scribe with verbiage. The form itself is still iambic but more complicated than a sonnet: the first eight lines are pentameter with the ninth being hexameter, and the rhyming scheme is a fun interlaced ABABBCBCC. Having taught this poem multiple times before, I felt comfortable with the form despite not being too experienced in it.
For the final (jaw-dropping) scroll, see Kolfinna’s website.
Before proceeding further, hear these words:
The kingdom sings the praise of flowing quills
That smoothly flourishing, depict th’ interred,
Find in darkness and death delightful thrills.
Though dressed in fluffy plumes and gentle frills
No contradictions found in her bright cheer;
‘Tis black and white, the extent of her skill,
With swooping ornaments rightly revered.
Esperanza Susanna Flecha’s worth is clear.
The beauty of her art cannot be writ
With tines and tips in minims fat and lean.
Suitable rhymes and swirling strokes must flit
With brushstrokes painting proper peerage scene.
The will of Eckehard, King, and Jane our Queen,
Marked in pen and ink with gentility,
Is ornamenting her with leaves of green,
Gilding her with fame by royal decree.
All shall know that Esperanza a Laurel be!
Done by Our Hand on November 20th, A.S. LVI, at Holiday Faire in Our beloved Barony of Stierbach.
I was honored to be asked to write the scroll text for Aemelia Rosa’s Pelican! Kolfinna Valravn did a beautiful job with the scroll, and it was super fun discussing our collab and making sure it fit the recipient. We agreed that the scroll text should be written like prose in a block (which is fully period and also let me write more words, ha!), but it was in fact a Petrarchan sonnet with some prose for the end matter:
Attend, Atlantia, to thy Queen and King
To hear of duty and dedication true
Steadfast service in many colors and hues
From Aemilia Rosa eternal springs.
No scribe or poet can number everything:
Though uncountable hours and great works ensued,
Sweet sacrifice and struggles were not eschewed.
She does not recoil from sharp arrows and slings.
Now in this sweet Barony of Hills so Bright
Eckehard and Jane make known Our will as the Crown:
What now must she become but a vulning Peer?
A gentle Pelican with wide wings of white,
When Fiery Trials and Royal Archers abound.
May all rejoice from what is presented here!
Thus also do We award her the sole and exclusive right to bear arms, to wit: Vert, a domestic cat’s head cabossed ermine maintaining in its mouth an artist’s paintbrush fesswise argent, a bordure ermine. Done by Our hands this day, October 2, A.S. LVI. In witness thereof, I Triton Herald set my hand by these letters Patent.
When Korrin Valravn asked me to write the text for Lucy of Wigan’s Coral Branch (AoA-level arts award), I lept at the chance, as Lucy is a dear friend.
Korrin had already selected the exemplar (a copy of Dante’s Inferno, MS Vat. lat. 4776, fol. 13r; Canto 4, ll. 64-87). This is a version of the Inferno with intensive planned glossing by Jacopo della Lana that had come up in conversation with Lucy when talking about glossing on legal texts. Glossing my own poem would be weird for a scroll, though, so Korrin brilliantly suggested I write a story to take the place of the glossing. To preserve the structure of the glossing and the layout of the exemplar, I decided that the story would incorporate lines of the poem.
The poem itself is hendecasyllabic meter (eleven syllables per meter) in terza rima (a rhyme scheme of ABA, BCB, CDC, etc.), which is the same structure as the Inferno. The prose interpolates lines of the poem in place of each glossed line in the original. Each section is approximately the same length as its respective gloss, which I achieved by taking a rough count of words in the exemplar and editing myself heavily. While the three animals in the poem (leopard, lion, and wolf) are pulled from the first canto of the Inferno, I twisted them towards Aesop’s Fables while also pulling heavily from forest episodes in chivalric romances. I also included an oblique reference to Dungeons and Dragons, as Lucy and I play together.
Hear, how midway in the journey of our lives,1
great merit and worth were discovered that we,
King Anton and Queen Luned, must recognize.
In Atlantia’s northern lands, fair and free,
dwells Lucy of Wigan in Roxbury Mill,
where with modesty she makes marvelously
her diverse delights with dedicated skill.
To list them all is a task most punishing
she creates with fiber and food — and more still!
Knitting and naalbinding, weaving and sewing —
sparing time for a dance, for Lucy loves balls —2
then to the garden, as greens need gathering.
Oft from her kitchen tempting fragrances call:
desirable dishes waft deliciousness,
while smooth libations sate all friends in her halls
Her subtlest arts remain; these are priceless:
We exclaim her judgment, mirth, and courtesy,
but the greatest of all her gifts is kindness.
Now induct her into that high company
of the Coral Branch! It is justly called for,3
and done by our hand and our Royal Decree,
For Lucy we laud, adulate, and adore,
in Anno Societatis Fifty-Five
on April the Tenth at Valencia Court.
Hear, how midway in the journey of our lives,
of that time when Lucy of Wigan was seized with a need to adventure, setting forth from the safety of her manor.
In Atlantia’s northern lands, fair and free,
Lucy set forth down the straight way into dark woods, until she came upon a leopard trapped in vines. Parched and near dead, it begged her to share her cordial, but Lucy knew a sip would not sustain the leopard — so she cut it free. It thanked her for her kindness, and she went onward. Soon she came to a lion weeping under a willow-tree. Once a prisoner, it had paid for its freedom with its mane. She could not bear its distress, so she sat—
Knitting and naalbinding, weaving and sewing—
with her diverse skills creating a new mane for the lion. Fastening the mane around the lion’s neck, she assured it of its handsomeness, with or without a mane. She left him gladly preening into a pond. As night grew closer, she came upon a starving wolf lying in the path. It whimpered pitifully, and Lucy was reminded of her own stomach rumbling when
Oft from her kitchen tempting fragrances call,
enticing her to taste the fine fare before it was finished. Kneeling, she offered a meat pie to the hungry wolf, who gladly took it. Soon it fell asleep, and she went onward. At last, she found herself in a grove where starlight reflected from every surface, for each leaf was of silver, bronze, and gold, and each branch of amber, diamond, and coral.
“Her subtlest arts remain; these are priceless,”
a sweet voice sang out; a luminescent figure stood in the middle of the grove. “You entered a forest, thick-crowded with troubles.4 Though you could have passed without a trace, you stopped for each creature that needed you, helping as you could.
For Lucy we laud, adulate, and adore;
A poet among poets would not have words to describe all you have done for those you have helped. You have done many works, with fiber, food, and flower.” The forest glowed gently around the figure, who plucked a twig of coral from a nearby tree. She extended it to Lucy, who knew then that the moon had come down to test and reward her. “But moreover, you were kind.”
1 Hear, how midway in the journey of our lives: This line is taken almost exactly from the first line of the Inferno, which begins (depending on the translation) with “Midway upon the journey of our life.”
2 Lucy loves balls: This is a joke that started at the first Pennsic Lucy went to, where she was very excited about the number of dances in the evening. We’ve all rather leaned into it.
3 of the Coral Branch! It is justly called for: This line and the following verse had to be changed, as to get me to attend Court for my Pearl, Korrin told me that Lucy was receiving her Coral Branch a week before she actually did. I had written the poem to include the date and the previous event, so I had to revise a few of the lines. Luckily, they were fairly straightforward to revise, and actually improved the final verse!
4 a forest, thick-crowded with troubles: This line is an adaptation from Canto 4, l. 64 of the Inferno (a line from the exemplar), which is sometimes translated as “a forest…thick-crowded with ghosts.”
Dartmouth Dante Project. Dartmouth College. https://dante.dartmouth.edu/
Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. The World of Dante. http://www.worldofdante.org/inferno1.html
I was honored to write the scroll text for Baroness Catalina Riquel de Luna and Baron Jean Maurice le Marinier’s court barony scrolls, presented at Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival 2021. Korrin Valravn planned two beautiful maps for them, inspired by Dutch map from the 1570s. To match, I wrote two sonnets inspired by Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, a Dutch poet from the 16th/17th centuries. His sonnets followed the rhyme pattern ABBA ABBA CCD CCD, and mine did the same. I was particularly pleased that I was able to include all the required information (dates, event, and heraldic blazon) within the poems themselves.
For Baroness Catalina
On March the Sixth, A.S. Fifty-Five, we hear
of service, strength, and grace at the edge of the sea
that guided barony, people, and crown most diligently:
the siren who sings of the rainbow over water.
Her righteous voice shimmers in salty air
for many years, serving Marinus surely.
Now is respite, reprieve, and relief from duty,
but Anton and Luned, King and Queen, declare:
“Catalina Riquel de Luna, your monarchs choose
you as Baroness of Our Court. Now use
and display with pride and privilege a coronet baronial.
Grant also arms: ‘Or, four pallets gules,
on a chief vert, three melusines argent.’ Thus ruled
at Atlantian Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival.”
For Baron Jean Maurice
Hear from Queen Luned and Anton the King
of watery dangers, beauties, and beasts so bountiful
and a sailor and warden steadfast, brave, and faithful.
An excellent ship the Mariner was trusted with guiding.
Now finished, deserved shore-leave is softly calling
and he descends from ardent duty without proper label.
Loathe are we to have him leave Our table,
and thus his fervent service We must be rewarding.
On the Sixth of March, A.S. Fifty-Five, decree
Jean Maurice le Marinier “Baron,” and guarantee
the privilege to use and display a coronet baronial
and grant him arms: “Purpure, a seahorse contourny
Between three fleurs-de-lys Or.” Thus we agree
at Atlantian Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival.
Wrote a poem! Did my first calligraphy! Threw in some illumination from the Book of Kells!
I was sick so the poem wasn’t as dramatic as I wanted it to be and the whole thing was late!
To Cuan, king of considerable worth:
Your bard begs you a brief moment
of time, attention, tolerance, and reprieve.
A report of a birthday reached my ears–
so a chronicle I conceive for the King of Atlantia,
a poem of his prowess, praising his might
with words of wisdom to warn and advise,
extolling the integrity of one .viii. times a king.
But unbidden, an illness attacked my form,
muddled my mind and mystified my pen.
Now my reason returns, revived and hale,
But the moment is missed! Mournfully thus
I weakly write a wish, with all goodwill
of a belated birthday from your King’s Bard.
I was honored to collaborate with Lady Clara Brauer and Lady Kaaren Valravn on Thea de Nes (“Aunt Nessie”)’s Pearl scroll. Clara did the majority of the illumination and all of the calligraphy, Kaaren painted the portrait and the cherubs, and I wrote the text. You can find more pictures on Kaaren’s site.
Endless delight is found in pearls: precious prizes, their gentle beauty is formed through great toil. Know that We, Cuan and Signy, King and Queen of Atlantia, have found such a pearl in Thea de Nes. Crafting wonders from fiber, pen, paint, and bead, she shares them freely; her generosity warms Our hearts and soothes Our spirits. Thus do We induct Thea de Nes into Our Order of the Pearl. Done this 8th day of February, A.S. LIV, at Bright Hills Baronial Birthday in the Barony of Bright Hills.
On February 16, Kaaren Valravn took part in the first Atlantian Iron Scribe competition. She needed some scroll text, so once she had her name, Ollam Lanea and I riffed on each other to write a text that would fit into the constrains of Kaaren’s design:
Text: Fires dwell in opals and light Our way! Such fire burns in Muriel MacArtur, so We, Michael & Seonaid, King and Queen of Atlantia, must induct her into our Order of the Opal. Given 3 March A.S.XLIX