Two weeks ago, I had the experience of travelling to my first by-way-of-airplane event. You see, I met a great fencer at Pennsic last year. We have similar styles of movement, and loved practicing with each other. Since the West Kingdom is so far from the official SCA 50-year, they decided they wanted to have their own commemorative 50-year event, and labelled it “Golden Beltane.” (I think something similar is happening/happened in eastern North America.) Maestero Nytshaed became the MiC for rapier at this event, and invited me down. He provided a tent, sleep mat, sleeping bag, a few dishes, and sword, I brought the rest.
Although I was headed down for fencing, Golden Beltane was so much more than just fencing for me. One look at the website, and I found taverns, A&S classes and demos, bardic events by the dozen, equestrian activities, a maypole dance, dance on the battlefield, many merchants, and so much more. The rapier field was set up to be a tavern and village. Nytshaed did an amazing job turning an empty field into a village with seven buildings, narrow streets, and a courtyard. All of this was in addition to his enormous sunshade Rose Tavern, with painted walls and windows and a rose garden, stocked with snacks, water, and Kool Aid, and places to rest your bottom.
My first day was all about getting the lay of the land and dealing with time changes (although that took half the week). We stopped for food and supplies on the way from SFO to the site, and then I got my tent set up, moved in, and helped with the Rose Tavern setup. The site was a ranch in the middle of a beautiful valley framed by sharp hills. Supper was a mix of leftovers, and then I spent time until the sun dropped below the hills just sitting under the shade, marvelling at its green and secluded brilliance.
Friday night was windy and cold. My tent was small (probably a good thing for keeping me warmer), and I had set up my bed along one side, and there was little to no room from the ends of the mattress to the wall. My not-quite-tight-enough tent hit me in the head all night. As soon as it was light on Saturday morning, to the crows of roosters, I got up and staked my tent tighter and wider to the ground, then turned my mattress 45 degrees so it ran diagonally across the tent and rearranged everything. When Nytshaed got up at 7 am, he found me sitting in the rose tavern enjoying the sights. “I thought you weren’t an early riser!” “I’m not. It’s 10 am.”
Saturday, we spent some time setting up, and I also wandered the site. I found the ranch animals, including pigs, goats, horses, and ponies. I vowed to come back with a camera another time so I could take pictures for my daughter. I found the dye tent and got in some excellent practice bouts with Masters Tora and Nytshaed. I spent a lot of time listening to Master Tora instruct various fencers in a number of aspects of his personal style of fighting (Black Tiger), as well as receiving some instruction myself. I see and understand how I can use some of those concepts in my own fencing. A bit later, I visited the dye tent and met Michelle, the owner and operator. All week, she was going to be running dye experiments, and Saturday was fresh indigo leaves. The resulting silk fabric was a fabulous shade of mint green; a must-try!
It quickly became apparent that cooking arrangements using a stove inside the vestibule of Nytshaed’s tent were not going to work, especially with all his rapier duties, so I was lucky that the Barony of Darkwood were willing to share the use of their kitchen tents. They kindly offered pots and cooking utensils, as well as washing up facilities and water. They weren’t all that close to the rapier village and my tent, but the situation worked out well, especially when they were away on the weekdays and I could help keep an eye on their camp. Huzzah for Darkwood! Their friendliness and willingness to help made my week so much easier. I even found a lost barbarian in their camp, and accompanied the Prince and Princess of the Mists (who were camped next door) to a bardic event all thanks to their hospitality.
When it came time to wash dishes, I found that I didn’t have any washcloths, although I had brought my own dish soap. Wandering the camp, I happened upon the pirate camp, where a kind lady gifted me a kitchen towel with a Christmas cactus on it, washed in only baking soda and vinegar, because her daughter has the same kinds of allergies I do. I am eternally grateful to the donor of that towel. It got me through an entire week of dishes without breaking out.
Saturday around suppertime was the coronation court, where I learned that Westies are very fond of saying, “Long live the King and Queen of the West!” “Long live the Prince and Princess of the Mists!” (etc.) and “Hip hip…Huzzah!” I also found it interesting that the King and Queen do not process into court. People gather, people rise when the King and Queen (who are already at the front) begin court, and at the end, people are dismissed from the Royal presence. It was a pleasant inter-kingdom anthropology study.
Sunday morning was the Queen’s personal rapier champion tourney. All were invited to participate, regardless of their kingdom of origin. Prizes were awarded for prowess, and the Queen chose her personal rapier champion from the participants regardless of tourney placing, awarding her a belt favour. The format was random draw, and I managed eight bouts, winning six. The top two fencers for prowess in the tourney each fought eight and won seven, plus completing a tie breaker. The King and Queen surprised me by calling up all out-of-kingdom fencers and awarding us pilgrimmage tokens – some dirt from the backyard where the first event took place, in a small vial. Dragons and I felt well appreciated.
I noted during inspections for the tourney that the only things checked were that the mask was whole and a gorget was worn, the fingertips of the gloves were solid, the sword tip didn’t come off, and the sword wasn’t bent with an s-curve. Everything else, I was told, was my own responsibility, as the only person it would hurt would be me. It made inspections a lot faster.
After the tourney, I fenced in the rapier village, completing quests. Each building contained an item that needed to be transported to another building in the village, and other fencers were out to stop you. I managed to get most of them, except the money to the alehouse and the ale to the tannery. The alehouse itself was a great diversion for a while, as it contained pool noodle-based props that could be thrown at opponents, requiring a response of, “Ugh,” and backing up a step before continuing to fight. I learned from my experiences here why Ealdormere rapier has the death from behind guidelines that we do, after experiencing an extremely sloppy one that left people wondering whether I would actually have been dead.
Later I checked out merchants (the silk was beautiful!), and had an early supper. Contrary to on-site beliefs (we didn’t have internet or cellular access, so it’s understandable we might not have been up-to-date), it rained. The ground-tarp “entry mat” that had been suggested to me quickly became a problem, as water pooled under my tent. I spent an hour taking everything out of my tent, draining off the water, and resetting everything so that I would be better proof against water if it rained again. No more entry mat. Later on, I washed up and got to know my Alaskan tent-neighbours, one of whom was Liam, a fencer and archer.
That night I found the first of many bardic events. This one was sponsored by the queen (as were others) and I was impressed and honoured by the variety and nature of songs, as well as the founding members who performed. A subject would be announced, and then bards would stand up in turn to share music that followed the theme. There were instrumental recorder music, beautiful songs by old and new, and even a new song by Duke Frederick/Flieg, one of the founders of the SCA, commemorating the 50th anniversary. I learned later that Diana Paxson (an author I’ve enjoyed, and another founding member) was at the event, though I never met her personally. At the conclusion of the event, the Prince of the Mists invited me to the tavern with them, but it was too packed in there for me.
Before the event, I had commented to Nytshaed that there was a lack of tournaments on the schedule. He suggested I remedy that, so I did. I repeated a teaching tourney I devised and ran at a crown tourney here in Ealdormere some time back on Monday, devised a tourney based on the game Clue for Wednesday, and ran a mini melee tourney promoted by a member of my local shire on Friday (Team Up and Kill Your Buddy). Nytshaed was quite happy to hand over the reins, and liked the formats. Monday’s tourney was called How’d You Do That? Again! Set up as a round robin, each fencer fought each other fencer twice. The first time, the winner received one point and had to explain to the defeated how they had won. The second fight, if the defeated learned from the experience and won, they received two points. If the first winner won again, they got one additional point. The tourney was well received, and Nytshaed won.
I think I took opportunities again on Monday to visit the animals and dye tent. When I walked back up to the barn, this time I was introduced to some of the animals and also met bunnies, a sheep with her lamb, and kittens. They had recently received a friendly and beautiful horse named Blue, with startlingly blue eyes, a rarity for horses. Also, SCA members were starting to show up with their horses (since an event had been scheduled that morning and no one had attended). This time at the dye tent, indigo vats containing henna, iron, and fructose and lime were being created. I stayed around later in the day and had my first experience mulling pigments as she tried out some lakes she had made from dyes.
Tuesday was a calm day. I attended a class in hair styling and spent more time in the dye tent. I also went to visit the scribes, but they were starting some beginners out on drawing some scrolls and didn’t need interference. I fenced again with Nytshaed, and participated with the “kids at play” with foam sabres in the rapier village. It appears I disappointed a couple of young brothers who felt that girls couldn’t defend themselves.
On Wednesday, I visited the animals and dye tent. In the afternoon, I ran my Whodunnit in the Rapier Village tourney. The game worked like this: Maestro Nytshaed had been found dead, and the fencers had to find out who did it, how, and where. There were seven rooms from which to choose, seven suspects (including Nytshaed himself), and seven possible weapons forms. To make a guess, a fencer had to take the suspect fencer to the suspect room and fight them using the suspect format (the suspect could use whatever weapons form they liked). If the guesser won the bout, they could come back to the tavern for a clue – either the room, suspect, or weapons form they had guessed, based on random draw from a deck of cards. They then used this information to mark off possibilities on their checklist. When a fencer was certain of the room, suspect, and form, they could lodge an official accusation with me privately. Fighting the bout and winning would win them the tournament. Each round, each fencer was allowed one guess, so that numbers of guesses would stay fair. They fought as many bouts as challenges they received, plus their own guesses. Fighting oneself was limited to once every ten rounds, and required much theatrics in the room used. After 18 rounds, we had a winner! The culprit? Galen in the Tannery with Sword and Parry Device. Because the tourney required an operator who knew the answer, I didn’t get to fence that day. I *did* get asked if I would be willing to run the Whodunnit tourney again, but I had too many other plans to fit that in before Saturday.
What I did get to do, that made me very excited, was learn to spin. I sat down in the fiber tent with Mistress Collette and learned to spin until nearly dark. Turns out I’m not bad. She suggested completing one spool of the merino and at least a small amount of a smoother, coarser wool before moving on to other fibers.
Thursday, I again received some morning fencing instruction, put some wool in madder, and then headed off to the ranch buildings. I got pictures of the remaining animals (including kittens who like to climb into and onto skirts), got a short phone call in to home at the owner’s house, and then decided to rent a horse for a few hours. Due to my minimal horse riding, I was given Lucky, the geriatric, gaseous horse who looked as if her was constantly stoned, with watery, red eyes. Lucky didn’t like to leave the barn area, he didn’t like to take paths that led to uphill or downhill slopes, and I was given a crop right off the bat, which is a bit telling. I was told not to listen to his complaints and objections, and that he was lazy.
Off we went, towards the cows. Lucky seemed a bit wary of cows as well. When we found straight, flat trail, we tried trotting, but that only ever lasted a maximum of ten seconds before he started to slow down again. With short stops for bathroom breaks and much arguing about which path we were going to take (Lucky rebelled against going where I wanted to go by trying to avoid actually walking on the trail). We returned to the barn and asked where to find a new trail. I was told he wouldn’t handle the hills very well, that I probably could have been given a better horse, and sent around the oak knoll to the archery range. I was told it should be about a 1/2 hour ride. 1/2 hour later, we had just made it onto the path, beside the knoll, and Lucky was very unhappy about having had to leave the barn again. We managed to go for a while, and then we found a very shallow slope. Lucky was hesitant, but I urged him up, and at the top he stopped. We agreed that I would let him rest for a minute, and then he started walking again on his own when he had caught his breath. We made it to the archery range, where he picked up a snack, and then started back. This time Lucky didn’t mind walking, and even trotting (again for ten seconds). When we had to turn around and wait for a truck to pass, he was not impressed to have to turn away from home, nor to stand still. When we got back, I left Lucky in good hands and didn’t miss him much. Poor Lucky. Due to Lucky’s obstinance, I missed the first half of the one class Meuric had asked me to attend. I managed to snag a handout and some names and search terms, though, so it was all good.
That night, I attended the second film night in the tavern. In it, silent videos of the first few SCA events and weddings were shown, as well as Pennsic VI. Commentaries came by way of Duke Henry, another founding member, and I sat with Duke Flieg/Frederick. Another woman I didn’t know helped to add commentary from what she remembered. I was interested to learn that the first event was done in fencing masks, with no armour and only swords made of hardwoods or hammered aluminum pipe were used (the pipe got bent and people had to stop to fix it if they accidentally hit with a flat side). 1/2″ plywood swords were also used, but they broke when they hit hard things, like shields or heads. Fencing also took place at the first event, as well as wrestling and archery. A Maypole dance was an important part, since the event was held on May 1, and as the original clothing mandate was “from a real or fantasy time period or culture that used swords” garb varied tremendously. The first tournament crowned the victor’s consort the “Queen of Love and Beauty,” a concept that had been reenacted on the first Sunday at Golden Beltane. It wasn’t until the third event that a king was crowned.
Over time, Diana Paxson (Diana Listmaker) brought a lot a members to the SCA from her fencing class, so many of the first fighters were fencers. Fencing masks were used for 1-2 years until they decided that three-weapon masks should be used to withstand the homemade swords, and it wasn’t until around the third year before other forms of helmet were used (gas cannisters), and rattan started to become accepted and used. Wrestling became less frequent due to a feeling that it wasn’t “chivalrous enough,” since they hadn’t yet heard of some of the masters teaching grappling techniques, like we know today. The name “Society for Creative Anachronism” was invented on the spur of the moment to accomodate needing a group name to book a park for the 2nd or 3rd event.
By Pennsic VI, chinstraps on helmets were required, but style and effectiveness varied, and it wasn’t uncommon to see helmets and other pieces of armour flying off of people during a battle. I was excited to learn that Finnvarr de Taahe was King of Midrealm for Pennsic VI, Duke Frederick was happy to meet someone who was connected with de Taahe (however indirectly), as Duke Sir Finnvarr is my husband’s knight’s knight, and I was honoured to have met him.
That night, I went to my tent, got in, closed the tent, and THEN the drums started. Too tired – I went to bed.
I was excited on Friday to get more fencing practice in with Nytshaed, then I headed to the dye tent for fabric printing using homemade-soy-milk-impregnated fabric and pigments mixed with “printing gum.” Lunchtime brought the vintage SCA tourney, where only fighters old enough to be alive when the SCA started were allowed to participate. Many of the fighters involved were founding members, and I was excited to be able to see them still fighting. I took lots of pictures of both the fighters and the spectators. I hope that people who were around in the early days will recognize some familiar faces. (Click to enlarge)
Late Friday afternoon, I ran my last tournament – Team Up and Kill Your Buddy. I was thoroughly honoured to see the Queen attend the entire tourney, as well as the Prince of Cynagua coming halfway through and staying until the end, and a knight, who stayed to help marshal. It seems there was some massive negativity towards fencers about ten years ago in the West, so royalty and the people of the West took a stand to change that. Negative comments about fencers are met with scorn from many members of the populace, and royalty works hard to make sure fencers are included. Attending this tourney was one of those efforts. I enjoyed this one. In my last fight, I was teamed up with Nytshaed. He said something along the lines of, “You’re going to have to kill me!” We walked out onto the field, and one opponent died rather quickly. We then went after the second opponent. Seeing an opening, I put my dagger near Nytshaed’s neck. Within 1/2 second of each other, I stabbed our opponent and sliced his neck, before he even realized that she was dead. When he questioned my killing him, our opponent emphatically stated that she was dead. The winner of the tourney? Nytshaed, with five points. Tied for second were me and Jordan, with four. Since Nytshaed had provided the prizes and didn’t want them back, I gave the chest of goodies to Jordan. We then lined up to introduce ourselves to Her Majesty. The Queen of the West gave each fencer a favour of rose petals and each of the three top fencers a token. Nytshaed received a bracelet, Jordan received an embroidered handkerchief, and I received a necklace. I was honoured that she showed such interest in and support of our activities.
Around supper time, I happened to be in the town square, where the cooks had been practicing their craft all week. I managed to snag a piece of brined and smoked quail (“Tastes like quail bacon!” “Quail that will make you hungry.”), some cherries, and some prosciutto. The goat cheese made with milk from the two nanny goats in attendance was also there, but I couldn’t eat that. Black face goat kicked whenever her little one tried to drink her milk (leading to the poor little girl trying to suckle my finger), so I’m sure the cheese got more milk than the baby did.
On Friday night, I attended more bardic events. In the town square I found an in-persona Italian salon where songs and stories were traded. Out at the royal pavillion, another bardic event took place, again sponsored by Her Majesty. I really think the West is doing bardic right, for the people and the crown, by the people, innovating and growing. This time, every bard put their name and the name of their performance into a hat, and performances were drawn one by one. I’m told the 42 performances by 21 bards extended into the week hours of the morning. The Queen did halt performances briefly to watch and applaud the night shoot that happened against a backdrop of dark hills and sky. I arrived to the story of a Greek god on a galloping horse, complete with actions, heard some beautiful and funny songs, including one about fencing, and even experienced the awe of a Japanese ghost story. I am afraid that I cannot tell the precise story, but the tale was told by a Japanese Laurel, and involved a bard. This bard heard noises, and went out to the shore to see ghost lights bobbing in the air. They asked for a story, and he obliged, telling them a different part of the story every night. People eventually followed him and learned what he was doing, cautioning him that if he continued to finish the story it would lead to his downfall. Just then, in the list field (Eric) facing the royal pavillion, something appeared. The storyteller said, “Oh my! Oh my God. I had nothing to do with this. You need to look behind you.” We turned to see a group marching slowly across the field, round Japanese lanterns bobbing and a slow drum beat accompanying them, in the dark. I don’t even remember the rest of the story – the lights were that moving. The performer herself seemed shaken as she came back from the front after her story, but a friend commented to her, “Sometimes the magic just works.”
My last Saturday was a day of getting in as much fencing as possible, saying goodbyes, and tidying up for my early departure. Intrigued by the description, I attended the Blood of Heroes event. This game involved two posts, one at each end, and a circle in the center of the field. Each team had five members. The Quick was the only person who could touch the dog’s skull (large kong toy), and fought with a dagger alone. Tho team members were allowed to use sword and stick, one could use sword and buckler, and one could use sword and dagger. The two quicks stood in the circle, with one foot on their team’s side. The remaining team members were allowed to stand anywhere on their side of the circle. At “Go!” the two quicks fought over the dog skull. Once the dog skull was out of the circle, either because it was kicked or because it was carried, the rest of the players were allowed to start. They guarded the quick and pushed forward to help the quick reach the post on their opponents’ side to place the dog skull atop the post. When killed or legged, fencers took a knee and counted to five “one thousands” before they could rise again. Once they rose, they had to immediately afterward yell, “Up!” so that everyone was aware that they were back in the action. No fighting could occur until that sequence had been followed – count, rise, and shout “Up!” If the quick had the dog skull by their feet, they first had to rise and shout “Up!” before they could reach down to grab it and continue. Fencers could be pinned in place by an opposing fencer holding a sword’s tip to them and repeating over and over, “You are pinned.” with eye contact. If eye contact was broken, sword contact could also be broken, and the pinned fencer could rise, provided their five count was over. Players pinning other players could not defend themselves, and thus pinned fencers could be released by killing the pinner. The match ended when the dog skull was on the stake, head pointed towards the center of the field. Active marshals could enact instant death by marshal stick on anyone who didn’t follow the rules. This was a fun game, and I hope Ealdormere will enjoy it, too.
I skipped out on the melees to try to attend the repeat maypole dance, but it didn’t happen, so I had lunch and helped to marshal the melees. Afterward, I got some additional instruction from Master Tora, unarguably the best fencer in the West Kingdom. Man, that guy is fast! I sat and talked with Nytshaed for a while, and I said goodbye as fencers departed. Later that evening, I said goodbye to the newly-arrived Darkwood members, and gave them carrots. I also picked up my madder-dyed wool and printed fabric from the dye tent, made a donation, and said goodbye. I gave my carrot greens to the goats, who were very grateful, despite the mint, radishes, carrots, parsnips, and other herbs on the ground by their feet. I tried to make sure my greens didn’t all end up in the greedy mothers’ tummies. At that point, there was nothing left to do but start packing.
I awoke Sunday morning at 2:35 am, packed up my remaining things, got dressed, grabbed some food, and headed out. Nytshaed, despite having gone to bed at midnight and having to come back to site and pack up the rapier village by 3 pm, was very gracious in driving me to the airport 2 1/2 hours away.
I really couldn’t have done my trip without Nytshaed, and I’m so very grateful for the opportunity he gave me. I learned so much about the SCA, about various arts, about fencing, and even about members of my own kingdom, and I have some greetings and statements to deliver when next I see some of them at local events. I hope that I can continue to learn from the people I met, both over the internet and through inter-kingdom events. Thank you again to the King and Queen of the West, the Prince and Princess of the Mists, the Prince of Cynagua, Michelle the dyer, the unnamed spinner, the Barony of Darkwood, and pirate lady, the various fencers who made my week great, and most of all, Maestro Nytshaed. I hope to make use of all of the lessons I learned for a long time to come.