The Roles of the Iren Fyrd in the Calontir Army from the point of view of Centurion (Sir) Rolf Eichman. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.
Unto the Citizens of Calontir which at various times, all comprise the Calontir Army
Greetings from Centurion Rolf Eichmann, Primus Pilus,
I’ve been asked what, as a commander of the Calontir Army, are my expectations of the Fyrdman. This is, in fact, a very good question. Since there are a variety of commanders, there is no doubt some variation in the expectations of those commanders… When those differing expectations are interpreted by fifty (or one hundred fifty) Fyrdmen, the personal interpretation of those expectations probably varies widely.
To me, first and foremost, the Fyrdman is the workhorse of the army. The image of the land holding Anglo-Saxon farmer fits very well — not landless, ignorant peasants; but intelligent individuals who know how to maintain a smallholding, people who know how to get things done and don’t mind if they get dirty doing it. The Fyrd comprises the largest number of troops in the army, over 50% of the muster at Estrella. That means that there are more Fyrdmen than Knights, Huscarls, and men at arms put together. They breath the most dust, carry the most gear, drink the most water. And the Fyrdmen do the most dying on the field. Now, do not misunderstand, this is our vacation, so no one individual should over-reach their mental, physical, or mundane (e.g. financial) capabilities. But as has been said for as long as I’ve been in the SCA, the Fyrdmen are the backbone of the Calontir Army.
As the backbone of the army, I expect the Fyrdman to be able to confidently follow simple commands like “Everyone follow me”; or, “You ten guys go over to that hill and stay there until you die”. Now, I will admit, that there is no set of “simple commands” somewhere that someone could read. Therefore, I expect the Fyrdman to be confident enough and willing enough to ask questions like “Us ten guys are going to _Which_ hill? I see two hills, one with a tree, and one with the rock?”
There are indeed some times when questions like “Why are we going to that hill?” are appropriate, along with “Why don’t we go to that flat spot over there instead, whaddya think boss?” The Fyrdman will be able to tell, from his experience in previous battles, when the commander has the time and energy to chit chat about that stuff. Commanders love to debate and rehash what ifs and might have beens, and that is the most effective way for those who want to try their hand at command to learn. But of course there are times for debate, and times for action, and the Fyrdman will use his continually expanding battle experience to discern whether it is a good time for debate.
The Fyrdman knows his brother Fyrdmen well enough that he is comfortable asking the same questions of his brother, if he didn’t hear all the instructions from the commander. He knows that he wants his back to be watched, that he wants to be partnered with someone — he knows his brother, Fyrdmen well enough that, in the absence of other directions, he can create partnerships or teams of three or four in his immediate area of the battle. He knows his neighbors in the battle line from his shire or neighboring areas… or if he doesn’t know them, he gets to know them quickly to facilitate that team building, and to keep an eye out for the newbie, to make sure that the guy who is too new to dare to ask questions, gets plugged into a partnership with a fyrdman.
The Fyrdman understands his fundamental value to the kingdom. As I noted above, the Fyrd are very valuable because are the most numerous troops in our army — and therefore they do the most dying. The Fyrdman understands his value, he is neither the copper as, nor the gold aureus. The Fyrdman is a good silver denarius to be held in a safe place, then spent as necessary. No Fyrdman should be in a hurry to get killed in battle, but when the time comes to fight, they should sell their life willingly and with valor. It is a rare battle, in which a fighter finds himself fighting valiantly, and walking off the field alive at the end. That rare battle comes as a gift to the fighter (any fighter, King, Knight, Fyrdman, newbie). The fighter does not get to choose when he will have a legendary battle. The Fyrdman (and every other fighter worth his salt) knows that in most good battles, he ends the battle lying in the dirt — and he knows that we all appreciate his contribution the more for his dusty tabard at the end of the day.
The Fyrdman can be relied upon to intelligently follow basic instructions, and to ask prudent questions. He can be counted on to create some cohesion with his immediate neighbors in the battle line. He can be counted on to wait steadfastly in confusing battle situations, and to fight valiantly and sell his life dearly when the time comes. The Fyrdman understands that the above traits are what makes the Calontir Army unique throughout the known world. After 18 years of fighting, I am proud and thrilled every time I get to stand with you all in ranks — I still get butterflies before every battle. I’m looking forward to the next one. See you at Estrella!