Written for inclusion in Morcar’s Book June 5, 1996. The story of the first medieval “event” I attended in 1991 under the persona of Comyn MacFergus of Clan Tuatha de Bhriain aka “Little Yvan”.
I had noticed that the leaves were already turning when I first arrived at the Fall Thyng assembly. I did not know at the time that this would be Norseland’s last gathering at this place. Passing through the encampment, I wrapped myself a little tighter into my woolen cloak against the chill that came with nightfall. These people were kind and generous, yet very proud of bearing. Their clothing was, though decorated with weaves of trim that would have seemed strange to the women back home, essentially the same as that of my own clan. The music, accompanied though it was by rythyms that were foriegn to me, echoed over the hills and into the valley below and in time worked its way past all pretense and tingled the nerves at the base of my spine. Morcar was the undisputed master of this music and it went wherever he bid.
The success of my initial introduction to Morcar was made slightly more complicated by a strange vision I had upon meeting him, but it couldn’t be helped. We had been admitted to Morcar’s yurt. A smallish, circular tent on the hill proper. Outside hung the bone white skull of what must have been a huge hound in life. Beads and knuckle bones and wooden disks with the markings these men called “Runes” had been strung together with care into necklaces and hung carefully about its toothy grin. Whether it was a ward or just a warning I cannot say for at the time, my knowledge of runes was remedial at best. I was the second of our party to enter the dimly lit shelter, and for the briefest of instants, as Morcar turned to greet me, it was not he but Fjolner who stood before me, smiled and offered me a horn. In shock, I recoiled until the vision had passed. Morcar was a little confused to say the least. He suggested that if he was actaully that hideous, he could find a sack to put over his head, explaining that he didn’t want to upset anyone’s stomach.
Upon the advice of a companion, I had assumed a Norse travelling name that was easier for the Norsemen to pronounce than the Celtic equivalent. Unfortunately, the name I had chosen was also worn by a more impressive figure – and I quickly became “little” Yvan. Morcar knew me then only by that name, and I must admit I feel a little uncomfortable living with the memory of that deception. A Celt should bear his name and the name of his father proudly and with honor.
I had travelled many leagues, on what a Christian might have called a pilgrimage, to stand where one Norseman claimed that they had burned Fjolner and his worldly possesions in his own longship. Now it seemed as if Fjolner himself was hovering somewhere nearby. The shock of my earlier experience had for the most part worn off, but I was sure now that the one they called Morcar had known Fjolner well, known his private council, been bonded to him somehow in the kind of brotherhood that outsiders can never fully understand.
If I said earlier that my introduction to Morcar was complicated, I mean only our formal one. I did not know his name when, just after we had arrived and finished lashing our tents to nearby trees, he strolled up, fingering furiously on his whistle the strains of songs from my native Eire. Our whole company joined in rousing choruses of the familiar tunes which came as sweet comfort after our long journey, but he was gone again as suddenly as he had appeared.
The next night, I had my first experience with what these men called a “Norseland Fire”. I now equate every fire I witness, be it in the brush or in a dwelling, with the size of that fire. For example, when a local grainary sadly went up in smoke several months ago, it was easily a one and a half Norseland fire. It has certainly become the standard by which all other fires are measured.
Later that night, Morcar gathered all the men of the encampment together to meet in secret, away from the women’s prying eyes. We stood quietly in the valley, just at the edge of the training field next to a larger yurt. I noted the banners of all the households that were represented there, arranged all around the hill. I remember that my eyes fell upon a sword, thrust into the ground near one banner depicting a longship. Perched atop it was a helm. For a second it seemed to move, as if an invisible wearer had turned his head to the side for a better look at me. I squinted, trying desperately to detect any further motions, but if there had actually been any movement, it had ceased. I thought not much about it, as my head was swimming in mead, but I remember it now. Strange…
The purpose of the gathering was to learn from Morcar the Norseland Warrior’s Reply. A lusty response to a song the women of the village had composed to praise their husbands and warriors. Eagerly my companions and I entered the yurt while smoke from its central hearth wafted lazily around inside, struggling unsuccessfully to exit at the small opening at the top. When everyone was settled, Morcar began the tedious business of teaching all of us the words. When we had memorized them as best as our soggy minds could manage, we marched up to where the embers of the great Norseland fire still glowed, and promptly made fools of ourselves to the delight of the womenfolk.
Five years have passed since that night, yet countless times since then, male voices have been raised in an impromptu chorus of the Warrior’s Reply, and I would not be surprised if many of the men who were there that night remember most of the words to this day.
One final meditation: As I passed through the market at Pennsic last, I noticed two small children who were amusing themselves (and the women watching them) in an area near the road. As it happened, my lady slowed to inspect some fabrics, or I would have been out of earshot of these young children in a matter of seconds. As fabric is about as fascinating to me as rotting vegetables, I turned to watch the children.
They were not looking in my direction, and they were too young to know me in any case, but suddenly one blond youth, of about 8 summers looked toward me, if not directly at me and burst into song. He was soon joined by another, younger dark haired child. Sure enough, it was the Warrior’s Reply. “Norsemen, norsemen. We’re lucky we’re not divorced men. We fight, we drink we’re an army of slobs and yet you love us still…”
Once again the echo of Morcar’s skaldic power had found its way across rivers and hills to tingle the nerves at the base of my spine.