Master Magnus and the Challenge of the Couter

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Written by Toki Redbeard in Drottkvaett.
Sir Johannes sent The Couter of Chivalry from Atenveldt to a tournament in the Middle Kingdom, saying, “Since I am unable to strive with you on your field, I will send to you a knightly piece of armor, that you may give it to the person you deem most worthy.” The Couter was first won by Jehan de Pelham, and passed though deeds of arms. Only the tenan—the holder of the couter— can determine if the venan—or challenger—has adequately stated his case through arms and chivalry. The Couter passed to Lachlann MacNiall, to Tiarna Ulleagg, to Lord Hedinn inn raudi and then to Lucius Cassius Magnus of Stonemarche, a Master of the Laurel. Magnus accepted a challenge from Sir Alfred of Carlyle, Viscount of the Mists, sworn to errantry by King Radnor of the West. A deed of arms was fought on a field near Cooper’s Lake on August 13, A.S XLI.

We saw the silken flutter,
Sunday near our war-camp,
Magnus’ brilliant banner,
breezes did contend with.
Underneath his awning,
honored guests were waiting.
Came they to this contest,
Couter duel to witness.

Both wore iron byrnies.
Battle-boars each wearing.
Green the garb of Magnus.
Grey was Viscount’s surcoat.
Stonemarche stood by watching.
Stately was their splendor.
In witness came West-King.
Wise Ysabeau beside him.

Western hand-rock harmer
held forth from his platform.
Overhead, orb yellow,
ever bright was shining.
Honored Eastern Tenan
offered his tent’s comfort.
Fast stood lord of fighting,
from his mouth, words tumbled:

“Earnest trees of honor,
emprise noble, joined in.
Strive they with sharp strikers,
stark, though sun is shining.
During Couter clamor,
come We not to awning,
eschewing cool of shelter.
Shade We take when they do.”

From Carlyle came Alfred.
His King had sent him errant.
By Queen’s mercy covered.
Clash of swords he offered:
“Couter, I have come for.
Courtesy I promise.
Call of arms I answer.
Honor shall sustain me.”

Magnus brought to meeting
Magdalena shining.
Bright this water bringer,
beautiful inspirer.
Greatly were they gifted,
good birches of war-field.
Finest metal fittings,
Fairest consorts given.

Of brightly winged beauty--
butterfly--knight spoke of.
He recalled when Kylson
caught that patterned flyer,
grasped it in his gauntlet,
gave it to his lady.
Came it quick to legend,
called “Falcon of Bradford”.[1]

Rules were read at starting,
righteous warriors listened.
Each, three bouts would offer,
all with different weapons.
First would yield he feeling
five strikes from the iron
He who slipped to surface,
sudden loss accepted.

I saw two sword-trees fighting,
sun beat down on helmets.
Close stood gentle killers.
quarter never asking,
Wound-snakes deftly handled,
wicked cuts exchanging.
Swiftly swordplay ended;
slipped the Viscount earthward.

Stone-hard struck the adders,
steely points tore byrnies.
Brave though Magnus battled,
brand of West was ruthless.
Gave no ground, the tenan,
great attacks absorbing.
Quick did Viscount close then,
corselet Eastern piercing.

Late day sun near setting,
Sword-trees both were wilting.
Final fight in offing,
fearless men doffed helmets.
Under shaded awning,
iron Magnus rested,
aching now from spear-clash,
urging himself onward.

Eager they for evening,
Odin’s men, both gore-flecked.
Warriors drank water,
waiting for last tumult.
Bringing battler’s water,
bright was Magdalena,
stood with Stonemarche hero,
strength she gave for clamor.

Met they knight of Midrealm;
memory he fought for.
Emric’s elm was taken;
illness he made war ‘gainst.
Men who met his challenge
mustered silver ransom.
Great the riches gathered,
given for skilled rune craft.

Well regard this war-Tyr
weathered, broken hearted.
Standing stony quiet,
steadfast in devotion.
Rhymester’s longship railings
rarely seen to tremble.
Honor now elm’s passing,
edges wield in tribute.

Though both oaks were eager,
edge-storm favored Magnus.
Two quick strikes were tallied,
taking strife to Viscount.
Fierce that feller striking;
Four had soon been counted.
Iron beard then buried,
breaking top of helmet.

Once the fighting finished,
fell to knees the viscount.
Then was begged gold-breaker,
bind no more his servant;
done the errant duty,
deed of arms completed.
Respite gave King Radnor;
richly had knight served him.

Tenan told opponent,
“Take this shining Couter.
Fair, chivalric flower,
fain am I to grant you
steel cop, steeped in history,
stuff of great tradition.
Welcome now, knight Western,
well-received new keeper.”

I was granted honor,
Odin’s drink, of brewing
dwarven bowls now brimmed with
brave one’s well-earned praises.
Axeman, honor guided,
exemplar of Couter.
Oak of Eastern glory,
ever will be tenan.


© Michael Dixon

Footnotes

  1. What was actually spoken was Mistress Dorothea of Caer-Myrddin’s poem, Falcon of Bradford. The description in skaldic verse of Sir Alfred’s reading is inspired most directly by the fifth stanza of the work:

    Now Kylson steps forward and takes it up lightly,
    And shelters it close in the cup of his hands;
    “Well done then, my lover,” the lady says, laughing,
    and lifts up her hand to the gaze of the sky;
    “O who has a falcon as noble as mine is,
    And where is the falconer happy as I?”

    Mistress Dorothea’s poem is SCA folk-history, at it’s finest.
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