Forsaking All Others – a song for the Unbelted Champions of Pennsic XL

Forsaking All Others, a song dedicated to the Unbelted Champions of the East Kingdom

This song is featured on the CD “I Am of the North” available for purchase online at:**

I fight for my lady, my captain, my king
I fight for my queen, my warlord and brothers.
I fight for the honor of all I hold dear
For we war as one, forsaking all others
For we war as one, forsaking all others.

I have counted the days till we take the field.
Burned in the heat of each season’s bright sun
I have watched us grow lean o’er the miles we have traveled,
and we each shall grow leaner ‘ere we are done
and we each shall grow leaner ‘ere we are done.

I have left my compassion and kindness behind
Held in the hands of the ones we hold dear
But I have kept my fury, and my bloodlust for glory
And all I will see now are whites wide with fear
And all I will see now are whites wide with fear

I fight for my lady, my captain, my king
I fight for my queen, my warlord and brothers.
I fight for the honor of all I hold dear
For we war as one, forsaking all others
For we war as one, forsaking all others.

I have looked to my left and looked to my right
Every man here is a one to behold
I may not share your blood, but would shed my blood for you,
our loyalty better than any king’s gold
our loyalty better than any king’s gold.

We were once strangers who gathered as brothers
To drink from this cup filled with violence and love.
We will take back this battle – it will not escape us
and nothing will stop us on earth or above
and nothing will stop us on earth or above.

I fight for my lady, my captain, my king
I fight for my queen, my warlord and brothers.
I fight for the honor of all I hold dear
For we war as one, forsaking all others
For we war as one, forsaking all others.

(This song moves from “I” to “We” to “You” pretty fluidly, kind of depending on who it’s being sung with, or for or near.  It has been, just this Pennsic, sung to the Unbelted team with “you” as the focus, and to groups of fighters later as “I/we.” It will probably change every single time, but that’s war, love and life for you.)

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The story of this song, and of is singing.

During the War of the Roses, I was asked if I would write a song for the Eastern Unbelted Champions team, who had been struggling for several years to find their identity and victory. A request from Angus Pembridge, both our generous host at Roses and a member of the team, it was no small order, but I agreed that I would do my best and try. I struggled for weeks to have it ready before the Pennsic War. During the time that I worked on this song, I met and became friends with many of the fighters on the Unbelted team. I spent an evening at the Great Northeastern War talking with this year’s captain, Cedric, about his experiences on the team for many years; I asked others of their stories; I got snippets of motivational speeches told to me by Angus. After what seemed an eternity, the song was inspired by a casual conversation following GNE. A simple recording and the lyrics were sent to Angus, who sent them to the Unbelted list, under the heading “A gift from the King’s Bard” — the message within stated simply, “A song for us from Aneleda.” (You can hear it below if you wish.)

The next day Captain Cedric sent me a request to sing it before the battle at Pennsic. I was very surprised, but deeply honored, and agreed.

The night before that battle, I was filled with pacing and prowling. (Not unlike many member of that team, from what I understand.) I did not sleep well. I was anxious, because of all things at this war, the idea of singing this piece to these men was – in a way – the most nerve-wracking part of the entire war for me.

When the day came, I went to the tent, where Cedric spotted me. He looked at me and asked me if now would be good, to which I replied that I was at his service. He called out in commanding tones to the team to gather, and they came without hesitation.  A heartbeat later, the Chivalry were called to their team nearby. Cedric addressed the team, and bade them kneel to hear Lady Aneleda.

Alaxandr MacLochloinn photo, the Eastern Unbelted Champions Team
The Eastern Unbelted Champions team, gathered. I can close my eyes and see this image as though it were only a moment ago. Photo by Alaxandr MacLochloinn.

They knelt in obedience to their Captain’s command, though some looked with respectful skepticism at me, this songstess weirdly placed in the middle of such warriors. Others stared forward, steely and focused. Some looked at me, and I tried to meet their gaze.

My heart rose in my throat to be suddenly surrounded by these strong, determined and fierce men. I was utterly humbled and for a moment, light-headed, I feared that I would not have the breath to sing. I moved to a place where I could see them all, at the edge of the group, with Cedric to my left, and Julien to my right. I cannot remember who else was where – I saw them only as brothers gathered into an army, not as the individual men for whom I had developed an affection, and called friend.

I spoke to them, telling them of this piece, of its origins, of what I had seen in them over the miles and months, of how I had come to deeply respect their wildness, their fierceness, their vibrant joie du combat. And then I sang to them their song of brotherhood, Forsaking All Others.

I pitched the song poorly in my anxiety, but somehow it seemed to work out appropriately – its beauty turned to roughness, it’s melody sacrificed for heart and stinging eyes. It hurt to sing, seated perfectly within the absolute worst part of my vocal range break. I cannot remember who I looked at. I remember glinting silver knees and elbows and the dusty boots, the sweat-stained arming caps, the serious expressions, the heads suddenly bowed…and I did not dare look at them each by each, but I am told that many shed tears to hear their own story told in such a manner. All I know is that they were intensely quiet, and it felt like an enormous spring was being wound.

My own eyes were fighting tears when I finished. I wanted to bless each of them, to be safe – to be victorious. I did not need to. They took the field like a force of nature, a flood, a torrent, a wind of purple and gold flame in new tabards blazoned in gold and purple, azure tygers rampant. And they were azure tygers rampant. They took that field in under a minute: in forty-seven seconds thirty-five men of the Midrealm were down, dead on the ground, and many, many of ours remained. It was a beautiful, joyous slaughter. My heart swelled so much I felt it would burst from my chest in streams of purple and gold.

The rest of the week, I had the honor of joining those good men, and other men and women of the East and its allies, on the field. Every time I saw one of the Unbelted Champions in their tabards near me on the field, I felt a deeper kinship with the Eastern Army. By the end of the week, having sung this song on the field and by the fire, having trudged up the long hill to the woods, standing in the field, on the bridge, in the valley – I finally felt that maybe I actually understood something of what I myself had written.

We once were strangers who gathered as brothers,
To drink from this cup filled with violence and love...

During the war, several members of that team of excellent men came to me with words which were gracious and kind. They spoke of inspiration, of voicing thoughts they had been unable to express. I can only thank each of them for being my inspiration, which they are, and will remain.

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Performance update – Pennsic XI

I had the unique, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity to sing this piece for a joint Midrealm and Eastern Unbelted Teams as they combined to be one allied team at Pennsic XI. I had been invited to a “mixer” to find that I was one of very, very few non-combatants. I was asked to sing this to both teams, and I did. But my brave, rough lads surprised me by singing along – which made me utterly stop – totally thrown and in such a….sentiment – that I just Stopped. Cold after the next to last chorus. I continued, and it seemed that the piece had affected the Midrealm team nearly as much as ours. I was given the grand compliment from one gentleman from the Mid, “My lady, if this is what they heard last year before they took the field, there is no way we could have won.”

I have seldom received more moving praise.

The next time I performed this was immediately before the Champions battle (well, “immediate” that day wound up being nearly 2 hours of before the battle, due to SCA time and long duels). Queen Avelina had been waiting to bestow tabards and favors, and asked me to entertain with a song. This was closest in my heart – the day of the Unbelted Battle of course – so it came to mind strongly. It was ill-pitched, and I realize now that it just will NOT be pretty. It is not what this song wants. It wants heart, and soul, and strength and devil-may-care if it’s filled with growling. This time I was prepared when the Unbelted Champions sang the choruses. I also knew, though he did not, that it would be the last time Cedric of Amorica would hear this song as an Unbelt, which added to the emotion for me, as did being able to move among my brothers as I sang.

** Any member of the Eastern Unbelted Champions, past or present, who wishes for a copy of this song need only contact me and I will gladly provide it to you. <3