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Photo by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope.

Photo by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope.

The Rapier Muster held in the Shire of Silva Vulcani on February 15, A.S. XLIX, drew a crowd of almost 50 fencers to engage in single combat and melees, but many of the attendees were also eagerly awaiting the announcement of the first person in Æthelmearc to be elevated to the new Order of Defense for prowess in rapier.

They were not disappointed, as King Titus and Queen Anna Leigh, with Their Heirs, Timothy and Gabrielle, looking on, called forth Duchess Dorinda Courtenay and requested that she present herself at the Celebration of the Art of Rapier event in Heronter on Friday, May 1, A.S. 50, there to be inducted as Æthelmearc’s Principal of the new Order for fencing prowess.

Duchess Dorinda said she was incredibly honored to be chosen as Æthelmearc’s Principal Master of Defense. “I hope to help start [the Order] off right, and would welcome advice from anyone with ideas on how to set traditions for the new peerage.”

When asked if she had considered what she would like to see in her vigil and elevation ceremony, Her Grace said, “We need to create a new ceremony that fits Æthelmearc traditions, but I would also like to see a ceremony that follows period fencing traditions, possibly like those of the London School of Defense.” One tradition from period practice that she is considering is a test called “Playing the Prize.” In 16th c. English fighting guilds, students who wished to advance were expected to Play the Prize by fighting a series of test bouts against other senior opponents, often facing 60 bouts or more in an afternoon, in what we might call “holding the field.” If she chooses to Play the Prize, Duchess Dorinda said it would be in addition to a traditional vigil.

Duchess Dorinda with a boysenberry pie made for her by Master Urho Walterrinen. Photo by Lady Fiora d'Artusio.

Duchess Dorinda with a boysenberry pie made in honor of her Writ by Master Urho Waltterinen. Photo by Lady Fiora d’Artusio.

Other items still to be considered include the type of oath a Master of Defense might swear. Regalia and heraldry will be determined by the Board of Directors and the College of Heralds, but Her Grace noted that “Each Kingdom has a unique opportunity to create new traditions.” She also suggested that the Order of Defense was, in part, a creation of the Order of the White Scarf, saying, “We need to honor the traditions and history gifted to us by the White Scarf. At first, there will be very few Masters of Defense. People looking for guidance and teaching from people they respect will still go to the White Scarves for a long time to come.” She hopes the Masters of Defense will work with the White Scarves to maintain good relations between the two orders.

Duchess Dorinda commented that while she, like other members of the fencing community, has been thinking for a while about how the new order should function, she has no firm opinions yet and welcomes advice from the populace. She is excited and honored, and looks forward to hearing from people. Gentles can contact Her Grace at duchessdorinda@hotmail.com.

After court, Æthelmearc’s Rapier Warlord, Don Orlando di Bene del Vinta, ran the fencers through a variety of melee training sessions. He said the day’s goals were to teach people to hear and follow commands, learn to move together, and more generally work on the basic elements of melee fencing.

Initially he divided the fencers into two teams and had them practice close and open formations, advancing together, and engaging their opponents in a line. Don Orlando noted that as they day progressed, participants became more proficient as melee fencers. He pointed out that melee involves a different skillset from tourney fencing.

Later, fencers experimented with techniques for attacking and defending against groups in superior numbers. Initially, Don Orlando had the White Scarves form a small group defending against the rest of the fencers. In later rounds, different groups of fencers had the opportunity to defend against superior numbers. In each case, Don Orlando timed the fights, and as the combatants gained more experience and confidence, the smaller group was defeated in shorter and shorter amounts of time. In the first round, the White Scarves lasted for 27 seconds against roughly two-to-one odds. By their third round, they only lasted 14 seconds.

The final group of melees involved capture the flag battles with unlimited resurrections. The fencers’ goal was control of three “flags,” one at each side’s home base and one midway between the two. Teams received a point for having control of each flag during multiple pre-set time checks by Don Orlando. The purpose of these melees was not only to give combatants experience with the format, but also to help them learn to pace themselves. “In resurrection battles, each fencer needs to manage their personal energy reserves since the battle can last a long time. It’s important to choose carefully when to press and when to be more defensive since they don’t want to burn themselves out,” Don Orlando explained.

Don Orlando indicated that one of the next steps will involve teaching the rapier community more advanced techniques, like how to recognize and exploit opportunities as they arise during a melee. He hopes many fencers can make it to the Melee Madness event in the Barony of Endless Hills at the end of May, or to the Highland River Melees event in the Barony of Highland Foorde, just over the border in Atlantia. Don Orlando said he will be working with the Atlantian rapier marshals to coordinate training of fencers since our kingdoms will be allies at next summer’s Pennsic War.

Don Orlando, Æthelmearc  Rapier Warlord

Don Orlando, Æthelmearc Rapier Warlord. Photo by Arianna.

In addition, the Rapier Warlord said he hopes this Pennsic might include some War Point battles more customized to rapier, as opposed to simply being clones of the heavy battles. One example he gave would be the inclusion of rubber band guns in a rapier battle. He indicated that he and Prince Timothy have already shared these thoughts with the East and Middle Kingdoms.

When asked about the choice of Duchess Dorinda as the Principal of the Order of Defense, Don Orlando enthusiastically replied, “Dorinda is the epitome of what Æthelmearc wants its Order of Defense to look like. She’s not just about prowess, she’s also a well-rounded exemplar of the virtues we espouse. She can marshal a tourney, serve as warlord, or push a broom when the event is over. She’s skilled in the arts, a model of service and comportment  – she’s the whole package. Her Grace will be a great ambassador for Æthelmearc’s Order of Defense.”

~ All videos by Arianna of Wynthrope with assistance from Lady Ceindrech verch Elidir.