Here there be dragons

Jen Kocher

If you accidentally walk into a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) event without knowing where you are, you might be a bit startled by the clashing of swords, bops to skull caps and  the medieval costumes in general. Perhaps you look around very confused, wondering if you are either dreaming or have accidentally stepped into a time warp.

That’s exactly the point, according to local member Travis Blankenbaker, who explains that the entire purpose of SCA is to re-create the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. 

If you feel lost in time, then that’s a good thing. But don’t confuse them with actors, Travis is quick to point out, noting the differences between Renaissance fairs where characters are performing for an audience and SCA events where people have adopted specific personas in order to re-enact history. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, attend events, which  feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes, workshops and more. Depending on the nature and size of the event, the props can get pretty elaborate. At some of the major events, for example, there might actually be a castle prop with all the accompanying accoutrements, including drawbridge, castle walls and horses. 

Before we go any further, however,  you need to first understand how SCA works. 

According to their website, the Society for Creative Anachronism is an international organization with over 30,000 members, which is broken down into 20 kingdoms in their “Known World.” Within each kingdom, there are shires, or  geographical territories, to which the members belong. For example, Travis and his crew belong to the Kingdom of the Outlands, which is comprised of members from New Mexico, most of Colorado, parts of Nebraska, eastern Wyoming and El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas.

Within this Kingdom, there are 29 shires (or territories), each with its own name and crest. Travis’ crew belongs to the Shire of Plattefordham in the Casper region, which currently consists of about 25 members. The shires attend each other’s events and consider themselves family, despite their regional differences. 

Although there is friendly rivalries both between kingdoms and certain shires, it’s all meant in good spirit. Because, as Travis plainly points out, they’re here to have fun. 

Much like those in medieval times, SCA kingdoms have a monarchy and royal court and are reigned over by a king and queen, who, beyond having a figurative role at events, also do quite a bit of administrative work for the kingdom behind the scenes. The king earns his position in heavy battle by beating his opponents. There are other steps to get to this point, and, essentially, becoming royalty takes years.

Under the discretion of the royalty (who typically reign for six months), members can be  knighted, made barons or baronesses (both with fictional land holdings or not), coronets or other titled positions, based on their accomplishments within the group, whether this be their prowess in battles, individual fights or their contributions at events or other forms of community service that further the group’s cause, such as giving historical presentations in libraries and schools. In short, SCA members take their membership seriously and are passionate about their role in recreating history.

They also love to share their interest with non-members and wholeheartedly invite strangers to attend events, such as the Shire of Platteforham’s “Here There be Dragons”event at South Rec last Saturday.

The first thing you notice at an SCA event is the variation of personas and historical periods, which span the continents, from 13th-century Vikings to 17th-century English noblemen. 

For the novice historian, you may find yourself asking members in tartan plaid skirts and  chest armor plates, “Where are you from and what’s your century?”

Luckily, the dozens of SCA members at the Dragons last weekend did not mind answering questions. And in case you’re wondering, unlike real-life, couples can live on different continents in different centuries.

Take Travis (better known as Balthazar Knopf) and his ‘mi lady’  Eleanor, who in real life is Fay Hall. At SCA events, members embrace their particular personas, which they’ve researched and are based on realistic figures, though they are allowed to use actual names. 

 Balthazar comes from 16th- century England and at events often sets up a full-period blacksmith shop in which he designs all kinds of amazingly intricate gauntlets (or steel plate mail gloves used in battle) and other pieces of armour. He is also a skilled fighter. Eleanor, on the other hand, hails from 1500 Ireland and wears a green tartan plaid dress with a linen undercoat, which today, in the sweltering 90-plus degree weather, is a smart choice.

Balthazar has his welding shop in a portable trailer but isn’t going to set up today, though he does open it up temporarily to fix his lady’s belt buckle.

“Thank you, my lord,” Eleanor says, smiling as Balthazar hands her her fixed buckle to which she immediately  clasps around her waist,

Today south rec has been re purposed into a medieval kingdom. The camping grounds are full of white canvas tents with pointed pavilions where men in chain mail armour and women in all colors and styles of floor-length gowns stand in circles chatting while children in smocks and tights chase each other, looking as if they just stepped out of Robin Hood’s woods.

How does one choose a particular persona? A lot of the women choose based on clothing, Eleanor explains. Some woman are drawn to elaborate gowns while others like simplicity. Women who want to wear pants typically go for Persia. 

Also, according to Travis, a person, such as in his case, might be drawn to a certain period of history or sometimes it’s based on their own lineage. One 15th-century English marshal who goes by the name of Thomas Marstan has chosen his persona based on his own family’s history, which traces back to the English monarchy. 

Marstan is in charge of today’s archery shoot  where about a dozen adults and children line up  to take shots at a half-dozen targets about 25 feet away. The targets are white cotton squares in varying sizes with different figures painted on them, ranging from a hydra, bear,  cyclops and a Roman solider.

The scoring is simple. Each shooter gets five shots per target and earn 10 points if they hit the head and one point for a hit anywhere else on the body. One shooter, an 11th-century Mongolian in  leather skull cap wields his cedar arrow in his replica 11th-century bow (once in persona members attempt to authenticate everything about their role, including dress and weapons) and nails the hydra in the head: 10 points.

A small boy swimming in a tan tunic and gray pants that trail dust as he approaches the shooting line, knocks off an arrow that lands just short of the bear. He tries again.

Off to the right in the center of the tents, there is a battle going on in the heavy fighting ring between Sir Maverick (a knight with years in the ring under his belt) and his wife, who despite her smaller size, turns out to be a formidable opponent. The rattan swords clash and Sir Maverick gets in a shot at his wife’s leg as she goes down on one knee, signifying she has lost a limb. Once down, he lands a whop on the top of her helmet and she’s out as the next fighter enters the ring. 

The fighting (there are many types of duels based on the type of weapon and style of fighting) are based on actual techniques that the members have researched and continue to practice. All fighting is carefully monitored by a designated marshal to ensure nobody gets out of control and/or injured, though this isn’t a problem, according to Travis. Since chivalry is a big part of the code, the fights entail a great deal of respect for one’s opponent. 

And though Travis is vehement about the group’s intention to act out history as opposed to putting on a show, to the layman it’s a lot like watching a show. The moves are sophisticated and one immediately finds herself lost in the artistry. The melee (or group fighting) is equally mesmerizing. On the hillside, five fighters hoist  a variety of shaped shields with varying crests (depending on one’s century and origin) and an arsenal of weapons from hatchets to three different types of swords while yelling taunting challenges to the group at the bottom. Foreheads sweat under steel helmets while they face off in anticipation. Once the marshal gives the word, the two groups head for one another, some employing the fancy footwork of a boxer, just before shields and weapons explode in a clash. Swords smack helmets and chest plates as slowly fighters drop to their knees or fall. Then they get back into position and do it all again. 

“They go until they get tired,” Zvir the Russian marshal says, noting that in this heat that makes them pretty crazy.

Zvir’s wife, meanwhile, is at home in her kitchen, helping to get the feast ready for the evening. The feast is a big part of the event and several participants are already speculating on how good it will be. After the Queen holds court to assign various titles and pass out designated awards, the group will eat.

For now, however, there’s still a day of activities and battles to be won as these passionate time travelers carve out their own unique niche in history.


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