The fruitcake of the Laurels of AEthelmearc

Once upon a time, when the kingdom of AEthelmearc was young,1 a mixed multitude of peers and non-peers sat around a camp at Pennsic entertaining each other. And one of the Laurels did observe that the Chivalry have their ancestral chain of fealty, and the Pelicans their ancestral medallion, both of which are passed from inductee to inductee as new people are added to those orders, but the poor Laurels had no such tradition. And someone else did observe that the Laurels could create a new tradition, and in so doing also find a way to mitigate the impression of the order as "stuffy". And then a clever Laurel (who may choose to self-identify) suggested that, rather than a medallion or a wreath or some other such conventional item of reusable regalia, we should have...a fruitcake.

Think about it, this Laurel said! They had cakes containing fruit in the renaissance (Digby small cakes), which are tasty, but the canonical modern fruitcake2 is often a thing you give away, perhaps several times in sequence over a period of years, but never actually consume, it being rock-hard and coated in sugar to the point of seeming shellacked, and would you eat something containing those bright green cherries anyway? The Laurels could have an ancestral relic, one that would pass from member to member (perhaps like the matham of fandom -- a thing you receive and immediately seek to divest yourself of), in the form of an ancestral fruitcake.

The company present was delighted by this idea and promptly had another round of ale.

Time passed, and one of those present received a writ of summons for the Laurel, and another (who was not yet a member of this order) researched cakes of fruit in the renaissance and set out to produce the cake and its reliquary box besides. And this was introduced as the Ancestral Fruitcake of the Laurels and presented to the new inductee in court.

Others thought this was great fun, and that it did have the effect of making the Laurels seem less stuffy and more down-to-earth, and before long another candidate received a writ of summons and asked that the fruitcake be included in the ceremony. And others followed, and the fruitcake became part of AEthelmearc tradition. Along the way the fruitcake was actually shellacked to prevent unfortunate surprises, and a custom arose of new inductees adding some sort of token to the reliquary alongside the cake, over time accumulating quite the entourage to accompany the relic. That first fruitcake-receiving inductee wrote a poem that, for a time, was extended by a verse for each new member, though I do not recall how long that tradition continued. The fruitcake, cared for by so many Laurels over time, was said to have acquired mythic properties, though legends conflicted about the nature of these powers and whether they came from eating a small piece or not eating. The creator of the fruitcake was later inducted into the order and received the cake.

This ceremonial element is silly, which some inductees do not prefer, and other inductees create ceremonies specific to a particular time and place into which the ancestral fruitcake does not fit. It has always been up to each inductee to decide whether the fruitcake would appear in the ceremony -- most have, some have not. There is something entertaining about hearing the herald ask the assembly: "Is there a medallion? Is there a cloak? Is there a wreath? Is there a fruitcake?", especially when it is a newer herald who has not read the script in advance. But it is not for everyone, and the custodians of the fruitcake do not impose where the relic is not invited.

In recent times the ancestral fruitcake of the Laurels of AEthelmearc has come under attack and faces banishment from public view. And it is long past time for its story to be told, which I have endeavored to do from my own observation and memory, having been present for that initial discussion and at many of the ceremonies thereafter.

1 I think this happened in 2002.

2 In which category the delightful cakes made by my friend MinoanMiss do not fall, let me be clear.