The Huskarlr, the Axe, and the Calon Hus

Written by Syr Gaius, Aquilius Britannicus. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 10, 2004

“For I am a warrior of the King’s Huscarls,
a deep biting axe in my hand,
and as long as God grants me breath in my body,
I fight to defend the King’s land.”

-Requiem of a Huscarl by Master Andrixos Seljukroctonis

 

In answer to Halvgrimr’s request, I would share with you my own thoughts and feelings about what it means to be a Huscarl of Calontir.  And whereas others may speak directly to what is ‘technically’ required to become a Huscarl by kingdom law, I would prefer to focus on the spiritus (spirit) of the Calon Hus, the symbolism of our axes, and the ghosts of the legendary Huskarlrs.  I ask only that you consider that no man may speak for an Order, nor the Order for one man.  For though I may see the Huscarl’s spirit, as I know it, mirrored in the eyes of my brothers and sisters, it would be presumptuous to say that my ideas and ideals are embodied by all who wear the crossed axes.  Some will agree, some will differ, but upon the field and off we are all Huscarls—the King’s men, His personal guard, and in times of war, the Axe by which He would cut down all who stand against him.

 

I am fiercely proud of the Order of the Iren Hirth, and I most humbly consider myself fortunate to be called Huskarlr after the great warriors of old.  Men who lived their lives to serve their King, in peace and in war, placing their duty to Him above all else, securing for Him victories, fame, and wealth, and if necessary, willing to die in defense of His person or His cause.  That is the Huskarlr, and their memory is ever present in our minds when we make ready for war or train in times of peace.  To be a Huscarl of Calontir goes beyond the skill at arms that is the hallmark of our Order, and it reaches deep into “the Dream” which drives our Society.  And we, who believe in this Dream, are able to suspend the “now,” for what once was.  We become the King’s men, His personal guard, and to us is given the responsibility of safeguarding His will and His well-being in battle.  I have stood at the side of strong and noble Calon kings who have wielded His Huscarls like a blade, carving by our prowess and our desire to serve, greater glory for Him, our Kingdom, and ourselves.  The sense of duty that we feel towards Him is tangible and unfailing, but like Harold, who spread his Huskarlr’s over the whole of the hilltop at Hastings, the Huscarls of Calontir rarely surround our King in battle, for to do so would compromise the tradition and structure of the Calontir army.  But lift the axe of a Huscarl, stride boldly into battle beside your King and your Axe brothers and sisters, and you will know forever the voice of our ancient namesakes, and you will do everything in your power to uphold the tradition which has been set down before you.

 

And consider well the weight of the Axe that is given you, when you are first named “Huscarl.”  Swing it before you in great arcs, feeling the purpose behind its motion.  The sword and the spear are weapons of great dexterity and flexibility, able to find openings and flaws in an enemy’s armor, which he never knew existed.  Not so the blade of the axe.  The axe seeks to crush the enemy beneath its weight, caring little for the shield or rings of mail that he offers up in feeble protection.  It is the strength and spirit of the wielder that carries the blow through the enemy’s defenses, and drives into flesh and bone the iron will of a King.  In ancient times when helmet and mail could turn aside pointed and edge weapons alike, the weight of the axe was something that could not easily be denied, nor wielded effectively by just any soldier.  The Huskarlr carried the axe into battle as a symbol of his own strength and fierce determination.  Let other men exploit the openings left by their enemies, the Huskarlr would create his own.  We wear the crossed axes proudly upon our chests as the symbol of our Order, and we let them remind us, and all who look upon them, that we carry the Axe not only into battle, but everywhere our King would have His will be done.

 

We are the Huscarl of Calontir, and to say what that means to each of us is no small thing.  To some, it may truly only be a medallion, and the recognition of a greater skill at arms than the majority of others within our kingdom.  But for myself, and I believe for others, it is and will always be, much more than that.   It is a part of the history of Calontir, and the embodiment of Her first great soldiers.  It is the weight of the Axe in our hands, the crush of battle around our King, and the joy of laying low the foeman at His feet.  It is the songs that we sing around the fires of war to remind us of who and what once was—and what is now again.  And it is the memory of a banner that once burned, and the Requiem which honored its final journey ….

Woods Combat Part 2: Training

Written by Sir Kirk fitzDavid. Previously Appearing in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 10, 2004

I.  Introduction

To improve Calontir’s performance in woods fighting, our fighters must train specifically for what they will encounter there.  This means we must practice fighting in the woods regularly, with an eye toward eliminating our problems and improving our advantages.  I will describe a few drills with specific purposes, but I don’t have a drill for every situation.  Instead, I will try to lay out training objectives and the related problems so that you can design your own drills.

Since most of our training will take place in the local groups or at small events, with different terrain and changing numbers of fighters, try to come up with drills to take full advantage of what you have.  Drills should train you to fight better in the woods, but they need not involve trying to win a melee, or even, for that matter, fighting at all.  Games can teach as much as fighting.  Remember what works and what you had fun doing, and discard what doesn’t work.  In a few months, Calontir as a whole will have built up a useful batch of drills, and we can then use them to teach regularly.

 

II.  Moving in the Woods and on Trails

A.  Getting Prepared

Woods are a vast obstacle course when you are trying to move through them.  You must go around trees, over logs, up and down hills, and through clinging bushes.  To avoid distractions and delay, your equipment should be in top shape.  Make sure your leg armor works, you can breath, see and hear in your helm, and you can twist and turn easily in your body armor.  You will have to lift your legs up to step over things, and be able to turn in place as well as look around you.  Because sound doesn’t travel well in woods, your armor should be padded or muffled so you can hear things around you.  Fix armor that will snag bushes and hold you up.  Choose your weapons with care.  Do you really need that spear, or will you have too much trouble dragging it along?  Will your enemy use the trees to keep you from targeting on him?

 

  B.  Moving in the Woods

         i.  Objectives:  When you practice moving in the woods, you should be improving your speed, conserving your energy, and becoming sure-footed, maneuverable, and quiet.  At the same time, you have to keep in mind the vegetation, terrain, and safety.  Speed is paramount in a woods fight, since you can use it to attack or retreat at will, move to hit flanks, and react to enemy actions.  Conserving energy while moving stretches endurance, while saving breath for that burst of speed or fighting.  Sure-footedness keeps you from tripping or falling, maneuverability lets you use your speed well, and being quiet lets you hear orders or the enemy without being heard yourself.  Learning to use the vegetation and hills will let you pick the best path to move quickly, conserving energy by not snagging bushes or moving up and down hills too much, and keeping from tripping and injuring yourself.

ii.  Techniques and Drills:  The best way to learn to move in the woods is simply to do it and gain the experience.  Pick out a point to go to, the farther away the better, and strike off towards it.  Go as quickly as possible, but pay careful attention to where you step.  Do this in armor (without helm or weapons) to get used to the weight, snags, binding leather, and noise.  Use your hands to pull or push on trees, climb over logs, or move bushes.  Jog for short stretches in clearings.  Besides improving your speed, endurance, and sure-footedness, you’ll find out what really makes noise or hangs up on your armor.  If you do this before battle, you will also familiarize yourself with the battlefield.  If you take weapons and shields, hold the shields in tight to your body to reduce snagging.  Let long weapons drag behind you, holding spears or polearms by the head.  They will follow you along without hanging up.

After you’re familiar with moving about, competition drills will further improve your skills.  Tag in armor builds speed and forces you to use trees to move and dodge.  Armored foot racing improves speed and endurance.  Other simple games, such as follow the leader, can help endurance and ease of movement.  Hunts combine armored movement with combat, and bring all the movement skills into play.

 

C.  Moving on Trails

         i.  Objectives and Relavent Factors:  The primary advantages to moving on trails are that you can move fast to a known spot without getting tangled up or tripping.  The disadvantages are that your force starts spread out and will probably get spread even further, you are set up to get ambushed, and the trail may not go where you really need to go.  Drills, therefore, need to emphasize fast movement (while avoiding spreading or bunching) and awareness of surroundings (to spot traps).  You also should be able to leave the trail in an orderly formation.

ii.  Drills:  Anybody should be able to move quickly down a trail.  The challenge is in getting a group to do it together.  To properly encourage them, tie them together in a line, with a few feet of rope between each.  They will, of course, be wearing their armor.  After several groups get the hang of it, try timed races along a (safe) stretch of path.  The experience should be interesting as well as useful.  Another drill race, which is designed to increase fighter’s observing skills, is to send a group of fighters down a path looking for colored flags.  The one with the most flags wins.  The flags should be located 10-20 feet off the path, but visible from it.  To get a flag the fighter must leave the path, pluck the flag, then re-enter the path from the point he left it.  Fighters should be wearing their helms, so they get used to looking around while in gear.

 

II.  Combat in the Woods and on Trails

 

A.  Combat in the Woods

         i.  Objectives and Relevant Factors:  To succeed consistently in woods combat, fighters need to use the terrain to its best advantage.  Trees for shields, logs for skirmish lines, hills to hit from above, bushes for concealment, entaglement, or channeling enemy movement– use your imagination.  All these obstacles tend to break up the forces, so individual fights often break out.  The unit that can act as team therefore has a great advantage.  To fight as a team, each fighter should have a role such as point man, leader, or rear guard.  You can then devise specific drills for the team, such as attacking a unit, defending a point, screening, bugging out, etc.  To get the most out of the drills, each fighter should of course understand the objective.

ii.  Drills:  Woods combat drills can be devised for almost any number of fighters, but to teach teamwork and woods skills they should usually be for small groups of fighters.  To teach the use of trees and bushes, single sword hunts and single sword vs sword and shield  duels can be useful and fun.  Small group melees, with uneven sides (say 5-on-3), teach the smaller group to work together and the larger group to use its size for quick kills.  The small group in this type of melee should probably be defending a fixed point (to prevent chases), and success should be judged on how long they can hold out.  Rotating leaders will give everyone experience in command.  Another team drill is having several teams hunt each other down.  To make it more interesting, each team can have a different mission, such as killing a specific individual, surviving intact, gathering flags, or some other goal.

For larger groups, team barrier fights within a restricted area can simulate a meeting engagement in the woods.  The gauntlet drill in the woods also requires a fair number of people, but is an excellent tool to teach moving while under attack and keeping the objective in mind.  Another drill is to have part of one group act as a rear guard under attack, while the rest of the group must get away.  Killing from behind will give the rear guard the incentive to not get surrounded.

 

B.  Combat on Trails

         i.  Objectives and Relevant Factors:  If you are in a force moving on a trail, your objective should be to move as quickly as possible to your objective.  To do this, you may have to fight off ambushes, break through roadblocks, or have part of your force screen your sides or rear, then disengage with minimal losses.  Conversely, if you are facing a larger enemy column on a trail, you may want to ambush it, delay it by setting a roadblock, wipe out it piece by piece by chewing up its tail as it moves, or harassing it so much they must stop to chase you away.  Also, if you are using a trail, when you arrive at your target you must be able to deploy and attack quickly and in good order.

ii.  Trail Fighting Drill:  A single trail fighting drill can serve to train fighters on many objectives.  The forces are split into two teams, one much larger than the other (at least 3-2, and probably 2-1).  The large team will be moving on the trail, to a known point, and the smaller team will set up in the woods ahead of it.  Each team will have a specific mission, unknown to the other team.  Possible missions for the large team include moving out to the known point as quickly as possible while suffering minimal losses, hunting down and wiping out the smaller team after it is spotted, and protecting a specific item or person while moving.  The small team can chose from ambushing the head or tail of the unit and killing as many as possible, killing a specific person or stealing an item at any cost, delay by setting up and defending a roadblock, or screening the large force for as long as possible with few losses.  The large unit moves out down the trail when the smaller is ready, and events take their natural course.  Between melees, the fighters try to figure out what when wrong and who fulfilled their mission better.

 

III. Large Unit Drills

A.  Objectives: 

Training large groups of fighters (20 or more) brings special problems, along with all the challenges of teaching smaller groups.  Controlling and coordinating a large group’s movements and combat, and reorganizing it after a fight are particular problems.  The usual large Calontir masses are spread out and bogged down by woods, and can’t move easily except on trails.  By sub- dividing your large group into smaller, more manageable groups with their own leaders, you can control them better and more easily bring all your troops into play at once.  All fighters should be able to move in coordinated groups, quickly deploy for attack, reinforce nearby groups which fall under attack, and automatically move to surround and wipe out any small blocking force.

 

   B.  Drills: 

Something as simple as moving in parallel columns through the woods needs to be taught first, since most other drills will evolve from it.  Moving through the woods in three or four groups, all moving parallel and keeping up with each other, requires some practice to perfect.  Moving with the center group on a trail and the outside groups in the woods is harder, since the outside groups will have to work harder to keep up.  Deploying for attack will usually mean the outside groups will fan to the outside, while the center group(s) will move to link up each outside group.  All the while, everyone must take care to avoiding bunching up, and the fighters must arrange themselves to support each other (spears with shieldmen, etc).  When reinforcing outside groups under attack, groups should stick together, and not only head for the point of attack but move to extend your line and if possible wrap around the enemy flank.  Similarly, when your parallel columns run into a small group blocking the way, the outside groups should automatically head around the enemy flanks to catch them from behind while the center group attacks or screens.  After attacks the survivors need to quickly reform into their groups, and the leader may have to reorganize the subunits to compensate for casualties.  Large groups should also be drilled for many other situations, such as deploying for attack to the right or left, left or right wheel turns, one group breaking off to screen, etc.

 

IV. Leadership Training

       Objectives:

Just as each fighter needs to be trained to use the woods to his advantage, leaders need to learn how to spot and use the opportunities that the woods provide.  The best teacher is experience, and leadings squads in small unit melees is an excellent place to start learning.  A good leader will keep in mind the objective of the melee, terrain, the condition, skill, and weapons of his fighters, and the quality of the enemy.  Large unit commanders will also have to keep track of where his subunits are, and how to keep in touch with them.

 

V.  Conclusion

For Calontir to improve its woods battle performance in the future, we need to develop a training program which will improve the skills of individuals, small groups, large groups, and leaders.  I hope that local groups will experiment with drills and let others (especially me or other members of the War College) know what works best.  I would like to develop a “how-to” book of woods drills incorporating instructions for drills for as many situations as possible.  By making our training as widespread, standardized, and as complete as possible we can  then put together a large and feared woods fighting force.

I am in debt to Lord Kalos and Viscount Sir Ternon for their suggestions, and to Sir Robert and Baron Charles for their encouragement.

What is a Huscarl of Calontir?

Written by Sir Halvgrim Aðálraðarson. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 10, 2004

(Note: Though there are Archery Huscarls (The Boga-Hirth), I have not had much interaction with members of the Order and have also heard less of their opinions on what they think a Huscarl is. This article mainly refers to the fighting order as that is where my experience and point of reference comes from. In no way is the lack of information on Boga-Hirth meant as a slight, I just don’t have any basis to go on what their opinions might be. I was able to get the opinions of one their members and one of the members of the Boga Fyrd,but alas even though I do use some of their words in the below article both of their  words apply to both orders and not just the Boga orders. Any Boga-Hirth (or anyone else for that matter) that feels compelled to submit an addendum to this article is more that welcome to do so!  –Halvgrimr)

Wow, that may seem like and easy question to answer but so far in my limited experience as a Huscarl I haven’t been able to pin down a precise answer.

When I wrote What is a Fyrdman of Calontir? I had been a Fyrdman for some time and thought I had an idea of how to answer that question, so I tried but its worth mentioning that even since then some of my views have changed on that subject;)

Anyway, I have less experience as a Huscarl but I will try to answer the question to the best of my knowledge. This time around I will be using more points made by others than the last time thought. Over the months that I have been a Huscarl I have tried to listen very carefully to the message when this subject is brought up. From various emails and personal conversations I hope to convey the things that I gained from those interactions.

Lets get the easy stuff out of the way first. When asked this question most folks fall back to Kingdom Law. Kingdom law states:

II-201      THE HIRTH OF CALONTIR

There shall exist within the Kingdom of Calontir a system by which recognition is given to fighters and archers through titles that reflect their skill as fighters or archers, and as representatives of Calontir. The higher rank is that of Huscarl of the Hirth of Calontir. The Hirth shall be composed of two equal but separate branches:  the fighters, called the Iren-Hirth, and the archers, called the Boga-Hirth. An individual may qualify and be granted membership by the Crown in both branches of the Hirth.

Elevation to the Hirth rests with the Sovereign, after consultation with such members of the appropriate branch of the Hirth as the Sovereign shall  desire. Any such elevation shall be proclaimed by the Crown to the populace at an official Court of the Kingdom of Calontir or upon the field of honor.

Elevation to the Hirth shall confer upon the recipient a Grant of Arms and shall entitle such individual to all rights, privileges, and ensigns, attendant thereto. HUSCARLS may be styled and announced in the Calontir Order of Precedence as such. The Hirth shall be ranked equally in the Order of Precedence with the Orders of the Cross of Calontir, the Silver Hammer, and the Calon Lily.  Membership in the Hirth shall assure the recipient, according to seniority, of a position in the Calontir Order of Precedence before those Grants of Arms not given with any Order, but after the Kingdom Great Officers 

The Hirth may adopt, by approval of the Crown and by mutual consent, such rules for its internal governance as the Hirth may find useful, such bylaws not being in conflict with the Laws and Traditions of Calontir.

IREN-HIRTH:  Elevation to the Iren-Hirth may be conferred upon those individuals meeting certain minimum requirements; including authorization in all weapon systems with expertise in at least two.  The fighter must also have demonstrated support for the Calontir army during inter kingdom-level conflicts. Other qualifications considered shall include leadership, activity level and teaching.  Said individual must also always display unquestionable honor both on and off the field.

Huscarls of the Iren-Hirth may bear the badge of the Iren-Hirth, emblazoned: Per chevron embattled sable and argent, two battle-axes in saltire argent and a Cross of Calatrava purpure.

BOGA-HIRTH: Elevation to the Boga-Hirth may be conferred upon those individuals meeting certain minimum requirements; including authorization in all weapon systems with expertise in at least two.  The archer must also have demonstrated support for the Calontir army during inter kingdom-level conflicts.  Other qualifications considered shall include leadership, activity level and teaching.  Said individual must also always display unquestionable honor both on and off the field.

Huscarls of the Boga-Hirth may bear the badge of the Boga-Hirth, emblazoned:  Per chevron embattled sable and argent, two longbows in saltire argent and a Cross of Calatrava purpure.

Ok, that’s what Kingdom law says about what it takes to become a Huscarl but that doesn’t really answer the question at hand though, at least IMO.

A Huscarl is so much more that a set of prerequisites (as are members of any others order), what we are seeking is above a list of prereq’s I think.

Perhaps we could look to the origins of the Order to see if that helps. Since most of that was covered in Master Brummbar von Schwarzberg I won’t go into much of it but I highly recommend it to those that have never read it.

Unfortunately, as I stated in my previous article about the Fyrd, though Master Brummbar’s words are wise, many (including Brummbar himself) are quick to point out, the ideals set forth in the beginning of the orders are from a time long ago. Calontir has grown and changed since then, the Order has evolved since then too so looking to the Origins of the Order might not be a productive route.

Alrighty then, now that we got the law and our origins out of the way, lets look at some of the more common stereo types that Huscarls get labeled with:

  • Pipe Swinging Monkeys
  • Thugs
  • Machine’s/Implements of Mother F’ing destruction
  • The guys I’d want with me at a real bar fight
  • others that I am sure I am missing

(I have personally have always hated that damn bar fight thing but I understand the comparison. I’d like to think that we are more than a bunch of Thugs that swing a big stick but to some that is what we are.)
>I think Kaz summed all of these up when he sent me this:

“I believe that there should be a comradeship among Huscarls, that is bred of a common vision of being a ‘F’ing mo-sheen of dee-strukshun’ in loyal service to the Crown. I believe that there is a certain attitude that a Huscarl is not only permitted to cop, but should be expected to have. A Huscarl should stride the land in size 22 boots with the attitude of dangerous greatness – and it should not necessarily be expected to see high culture or civility in them (though they should be expected to possess chivalry, most definitely). These, after all, are not the graceful masters of the deadly dance, they are more like the Bradley armored vehicle of the medieval army – style to hell, but gets the job done every time without need for concern.”

While this belief is great an expresses how many of us feel, there surely has to be more and while I am more than willing to accept any of the above monikers I am also wanting to dig deeper for a connection to our Historical counterparts. Some may not need to do so but I have a desire to do so and I know others do too.

So can we look to the Huscarls historical counterparts (Housecarls or just Coerls in some cases) for some help in figuring out “What a Huscarl of Calontir” is?

Perhaps.

Lets look at Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of Huscarl (or the closest thing to it):

housecarl

also spelled huscarl , Old Norse húskarl (“house man”) , Danish and Norwegian hird (“household,” or “household member”) member of the personal or household troops or bodyguard of Scandinavian kings and chieftains in the Viking and medieval periods.

Well we are often called the Kings Men but rarely (if ever) have I heard the Order called the Kings Bodyguard1so that doesn’t seem to help our efforts in a search for this answer much.

As with the Historical Fyrd, the historical Huscarls evolved as time passed, so I guess the biggest hurdle to overcome is to determine whether we are talking about the Old Norse meaning of the word or the meaning as applied to how it was used by the English Military thanks to Cnut, who introduced them to England.

My idea of what a Huscarl is embodies a little of both (with a dash of a few extra things throw in there;)

In Old Norse a housecarl was thought to have been both loyal servants/household members attached to a predominant house of the time or members of the local dróttins comitatus (warband.)

It is from its Old English meaning that we gets the vision of the grizzled seasoned veteran serving his liege lord. These were the Kings Men and with their weapons and skill they along with the ‘Gestir’ (the ‘Royal Police’) enforced his will/law during times of peace.  They were the ones who carried unpopular edicts or messages to (or collected taxes from) the population. I suppose somewhere between an FBI agent and an IRS inspector. They could over-rule the local Jarl in the King’s name, and woe betide anyone who went against them, as they would have to explain their actions to the King. They were supposed to be courteous and protective towards loyal subjects but ruthless towards his enemies.

In war their function was as bodyguards, but given the Norse tradition of leading from the front, they, and the King, would be first into action and last to leave it. At Maldon, Brytnoth’s Hearth-troop die rather than leave his body, an incident extolled in the great poem. At Hastings some of the fiercest fighting apparently took place after Harold’s death and again, centered on the remains of his Huscarls fighting to defend their Lords body. (BTW some have suggested that Harold’s decision to deploy his Huscarls along the whole front line was a serious tactical mistake that deprived his army of it’s most dangerous and aggressive body of troops.) These are the professional soldiers that we so easily identify with today and as said before it is Cnut that we owe thanks to this visage.

No matter what visage of Huscarl (either ON or OE) the common over-riding quality seems to have been loyalty. Without land to defend of their own (until retirement) or other landowners with whom to plot, their personal loyalty to their King seems to have been higher than that often expressed by knights during the ‘high’ medieval period (more on this later also). Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature also has many examples of the love expressed by a Lords household troops for their Lord, and though this sort of comradely love is difficult to express in today’s cynical, materialistic world I believe we in Calontir do well at recreating this atmosphere.

On a whimsical note, some people have even suggested that the Huscarls were organized in a similar manner as the Jomsvikings. Personally I hope not, and for several reasons the main one being that even thought in every random mention of them I hear they were the ‘bad asses’ of their time, a simple search thru the sagas reveals that in every battle they were part of the side they supported LOST! I assume that’s karmic retribution for their their reputation for changing sides half way thru a battle! Add these things to their treatment of women as non-equals and you see that nothing is gained by comparing the Order to them!

The acts of the Jomsvikings  were so far removed from the normal concept of the days they were written about that some have suggested that the whole Jomsviking story is one of fiction, written by later period authors to illustrate the unavoidable disgrace and failure that will attend those who go ‘pirate’ and do not swear allegiance to God’s anointed representative – the King.

OK, back on topic, we have determine that the Historical Huscarls were known for their loyalty, I think this aspect is also a key factor in the Huscarls of Calontir also so we do gain from comparing the two.

I personally see the Order as a combination of the two (ON and OE) (but with a few extras to boot, more on that later.)  Normally by the time that you have become a Huscarl of Calontir you have shown without a doubt that you are both loyal to Calontir (and her ideals), an member of “The Tribe” (our household) and are a seasoned veteran of war. So I guess we are getting closer to an answer but I think we are still needing more to round this picture out.

So in the interest of comparisons I have heard and been part of several conversation which compared Huscarls with Knights.

As both were in various ways Kings Men they inevitable carried out some of same duties and responsibilities.

When asked what he thought a Huscarl was,  Lord Eric St. Ledger replied:

“Not being a huscarl, I cannot say what it is, or should be, to be one. I can say what you appear to be to others (at least some others). The Hus, at least to some of us, are sort of like elder brothers. To fail in the eyes of your king or to be found wanting in any matter is a fate unwanted and largely dreaded by every true gentleman or noble. It is like failing your father. To some extent, the Huscarls carry with them the king’s physical presence. They are our comrades in arms, but more. The Huscarls are a projection of the king’s visage, closer to the crown than we are, like an elder brother is often seen to be somewhat closer to your father than yourself. He is trusted more, he has been at the father’s side longer, and therefore you feel that in his approval also rests the parent’s sanction to some extent. Like wise, his disappointment in you carries with it more unpleasant sensations.”

When posed the same question,  Lord Gwalchmai “Saeth” Saethydd replied:

“A huscarl IMHO is someone who puts their kings honour and glory before own, a person who will selflessly serve their king and kingdom. A teacher, someone who will take Joe Newbie to the side and say hey, your doing a great job, but, you might wanna try this or that. A leader, someone who will take control of the situation should his/her king fall and lead troops to victory for the glory of Calontir. A Huscarl should be cocky enough to know they are good, but humble enough not to say so. IMHO a Huscarl should act as though they are a member of the Chivalry, even though they are not…..yet.”

I have heard many others make similar statements but the best comparison I have yet to hear is that of His Grace Valens. The following was his input from a discussion on the Huscarl list:

“I view the difference between huscarls and the chivalry in light of the ages they represent.  The huscarls are a 10th century group who’s greatest virtues were loyalty, and skill at arms.  Chivalry, at least the SCA’s romantic construct for that group is much more aimed toward a 13th or 14th century ideal.  Different times focused on very different virtues.  No doubt a 10th century huscarl would have been laughed at by the knights of 300 years later.  I haven’t found anywhere that implies that noble birth was a requirement or even a general quality of the huscarls serving the Saxon kings.  Three centuries later your parentage was one of the overriding requirements for knighthood.

I think the two different orders represent the different qualities of the different ages.”

In that same thread Gaius posted what I found to be a profound statement, I will remember it always and so that others may also I would share part of that thread with you now:


“And this is why, when the Norman noble makes his claim on Harold’s throne, your fingers grasp tight the axe and kite, and your will bends iron chain and human souls around our good King’s feet.  You are a Huscarl.  Your spirit, axe and blood stand between your King and His foe.  Your thoughts are your own, but your actions are His.  Your virtues are your King’s virtues, and your vices His vices, for you are His arm, His will, and His men.  When the world looks upon you, it is His reflection that stares back at them through reputation and deed.  You defend and further that by the weight of your axe.

The Fyrd protect the Land, the Chivalry protect our Kingdom, the Huscarls, however, protect a  man…. who is our King.  As long as there are people to till the earth, there will be Fyrdman to defend it.  As long as there remains even the idea of a kingdom, their must be Chivalry to defend it.  But should our King ever fall in battle, his last breath given up to the wind, then at that moment, there can be no more Huscarls, for they must all have fallen around Him.

This, to me, is the essence of what it is to be a Huscarl.  To set your feet squarely in the historic idea of it.  Understanding the difference between a Huscarl and a member of the Chivalry, begins by understanding the difference between duty to a man, who is a king, and duty to an entire kingdom, which happens to be ruled by a man.  Within our structure, these lines often blur, but were this life and death, our job descriptions would be significantly different, I believe, than what we assume now.”

Another close non-Calontir friend with an interest in historical perspectives suggested that the word of an 11th century Huscarl could be worth more than that of a 14th century knight since the Huscarl has only his word to give or defend. Whereas the knight has more interests to protect and might do so anyway he could. (I can imagine some in the SCA would have a problem with that but this is not meant to offend anyone just to offer an opinion.)

While these are great observations and could be close to the truth, in our quest to determine “What is a Huscarl of Calontir”, it doesn’t help. We have two separate orders for a reason. For a Hus to proclaim that he is the same as a Knight would be at best …unwise;)

I think it is fair to say that both the Hus and the Order of the Chiv share alot of the same important attributes. It has been suggested that these attributes include honor, leadership, mentoring, skill, and knowledge.  In a perfect world, they would all be at equal levels, but this is by far a perfect world.  It should be noted that mentoring, although is important, is not necessary considered important to some people.

Although the attributes mentioned above are shared attributes between the orders, obviously there is a differing  level of skill in each of the attribute between the orders (ie, a knight has higher levels of each than say a Hus) but this isn’t always the case. I think that this is what makes the journey from Hus to Knight a natural progression. Note that I do firmly believe that it is a progression but not everyone completes the journey. This is natural IMO as not everyone wants or is able to do so.

We all know that the orders share similar traits but we also know that they are different. So we are still no closer to a good answer that we were.

What next?

Where do we go from here?

I can’t say, I can tell you what I believe but as sure as it will be hot in Hades tomorrow, someone will have a different opinion. I guess that’s one of the cool things about our quest for an answer, as far as I can tell there is not a right or wrong answer to this question!

Anyway, it is sometimes said that Calontir’s most devoted/loyal subjects bleed purple. I think that for a Huscarl nothing less is expectable.<. Aside from the prereq’s to be a Huscarl I firmly believe that the Huscarls are the Defenders (the last line of defense if you will) of Calontir and her ways.

I believe we are the ones that are responsible for the future of Calontir’s Army (if not Calontir herself). We are the ones that will determine what will become of our current customs and practices, we are the ones held accountable for what The Falcon Army will become in the future. Some may say “NO!, those things are the responsibility of the Chiv” and maybe they are right but if so it should at least begin in this Order, the more deep seeded the better IMO.

I believe to be made a Huscarl of Calontir is one of the most fulfilling things there can be for fighters in Calontir, I know it was for me. Sure its gotta be great to be Knighted but I have on more than one occasion heard it said “I don’t care if I ever get knighted, I am a Huscarl and thats enough for me, its all I have ever wanted.” Whether the Chiv approve of this is another question, but I know its said. Hearing your name called when the order is assembled is an uplifting experience, one that so far in my 30 years of existence has only topped by three things (those being getting marred, holding my daughter for the first time and hearing her tell me she loved me for the first time, but I digress;)

So, here we are at the end of our journey thru trying to figure out “What is a Huscarl of Calontir.” I would thank you for joining me on this journey but I must apologize for the fact that we are really no closer to an answer that when we started.

Maybe we weren’t meant to find one solid, exclusive answer.

Maybe as with alot of other things in life, there is no answer, just the journey……….OK that was corny, even for me!;)

But just consider that there really is no answer, alot of things with the SCA were written loosely so that many different people can interpret the writings to suit different situations. My ideas of a Huscarl may correspond with the guy to my right but be considered radical by the fellow on my left.

So to go back and rephrase my earlier corny statement, I guess that in truth, there is no answer to this question, only varying opinions.

1) Actually after consulting Master Craig’s The Chronicles of Calontir”, Volume I, Foundations, page 11, paragraph 2 I found a reference to this:

“The Hird would be the guard of the warlord (and later prince) and the Fyrd would be the militia.”

A New Way to get Maimed: The Huscarl Axe

Written by Ld Hrothgar the Smith. Previously appearing in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 10, 2004

 

To make the Axe:

 

I used a piece of rattan about 4.5 feet long (remember, I started out using this as a bardiche and still use it as such, just with the axe head instead of a bardiche head) and put thrusting tips on both ends.

 

You CAN use this system without the top thruster, but I’m an advocate of having them, you never know when that thruster will save your butt. 😉

 

To make the axe head, *I* went to “play-it-again-sports” (a local used sports store) and picked up an old boogie board. I used this because it’s tough foam and will last a while. I cut the axe head shape out of that, making a sort of “U” shape in the BACK EDGE, this will be where the rattan sits and allows you to get a cleaner bond. A few pieces of foam on the back edge (That is, opposite the blade, where the axe head in real life would “wrap around” the shaft) and strapping tape to hold it all on… viola!

 

Now, if you don’t have access to some nice tough, stiff, foam… use camp pad foam (closed cell) and cut enough shapes out to make it the legal thickness (in other words, if it’s half inch foam, you need 5 pieces to make an inch and a quarter width) and spray glue them together, make the “U” channel in the backedge and strapping tape it up.

 


To Fight With the Axe

I recently (yesterday) rebuilt my bardiche. Before, I had the classic hole-through-the-blade-for-my-hand look. Now it’s more like an axe so my hand will rest under the blade. I wanted to rebuild it because the blade that was on it was far too soft to use it effectively as an axe (though the new blade is smaller so using it to block thrusts just got harder).  but it can really help keep those mutants off you if you use the butt spike effectively…

Most of my work with the axe in my off hand is to block, it makes a very nice long (but skinny) shield. When someone goes deep to throw a wrap around you, stick the axe out about a 45 degree angle from your body (into their forearm/elbow/upper arm) and you’ll effectively throw their shot off. Much like two-stick, you’ll have to be careful of thrusts… these are harder to block. 🙂

The most common attack I use (being right handed, I have the axe in my left hand) is to move it around their shield and buttspike to the belly/chest/swordside leg/swordarm. If you can get them to open up some you can just toss a straight on buttspike in there. BUT! Check this move out…

  1. Hold your arm out in front of you like you have an axe gripped under the head, with your elbow bent, make a fist with your thumb on top, straight out from the elbow.
  2. Now, leaving your elbow tucked in (mostly), rotate your left fist (and forearm) OUT 45 degreee, and turn your fist fingers up.
  3. Now, a fast thrust (towards your pinky) and imagine where that buttspike went. 😉 Into your opponent, AROUND their shield. 

(ok, I’m having trouble describing this… does anyone not get that?)

This is a nice surprise… but don’t do it so often that they expect it because they’ll blow your arm OFF if you aren’t careful.

 Also, about the time they forget that you’ve got your hand just below an axe head, a nice punch to the side of the face, or armpit is a fine wake up call…

Be CAREFUL when punching with a weapon like this… gauntlet’ing someone in the face is a bad deal and will get the marshals on your back most likely. That said, it’s really fun to watch the surprise on your opponents face when, in a clutch, you suddenly punch them with the axe bit. Face or body (with appropriate levels of force) are both good… whatever you can reach. (Heck, even the arm… deprive him of that sword;))

I also, occasionally, use the bit of the axe to sweep my opponents shield out of the way (down is good). Grab the corner of the shield with the bit, pull it down, and throw a shot with your sword at the same time, sailing it right over their shield (or, grab the shield, pull it down.. let them yank it back up, as your underhanded thrust to the ribs sails under the, now, way too high shield!)

Against center grip round, use the buttspike at it’s natural range, pin their shield to their chest, step in, throw the wrap. While they are thinking of moving the shield over to block the wrap, you’ve pinned it to them so they can’t.

Now, I get into bad habits sometimes… I’ll get to where I’m throwing the same opening shots (buttspike as you move into range, followed by close up swordwork while I block with the axe). Don’t fall prey to this… just because you’re in sword range doesn’t mean you can’t buttspike them, just get them high in the leg or low on the body instead of center-of-mass, it’s still a kill if you gig them in the belly from two feet away.  Throw combos, 1-2-3 sword blows, but don’t forget the axe, toss in a buttspike or a punch with the blade… throw a fake with the buttspike (out to the left with the “around their shield motion”) and while they are moving that shield over to block, hit em with the sword in your other hand.

Two years ago (roughly) [CN: Circa 1998] when I started, it was an ALMOST dead system. Few people fought it, now.. it’s popular again [CN: Circa 2000-2002].  Lots of them went to sword and spear… because they get range on ME that way. Oh yeah, if you’re fighting someone with a bardiche/spear/off-hand axe and they have a longer off-hand weapon… use your offhand weapon to sweep theirs outside (or past you inside is better even) and then charge in, don’t be afraid to get in close.. unless they have a bladed weapon they can’t punch you, and you can punch them.  If they have a bladed weapon, watch for that punch!