The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) returned to Curry County last week for its annual get-together to recreate the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe.
Among the skills tested are those of battle.
Tensions ran high as members clutched weapons of their own design close to their breast plates. Participants stood ready to pounce on their opponent on opposite ends of a bridge.
Rows of hay bales are stacked to simulate the bridge. The two armies — the An-Tir (members from Oregon, Washington and parts of Canada) and West Kingdom (Northern California, Nevada, Alaska and parts of Asia) — number about 300.
Good natured insults are hurled-back and forth across the bridge. Onlookers make side bets on the outcome. Then the signal to engage arrives, and with it, a rousing chorus of excitement echoes in the air followed quickly by the deafening din of sword upon shield.
“Fight well; die well,” is the roar heard from the audience.
SCA members number around 30,000 worldwide in 20 kingdoms, according to its website.
Members dress in clothing of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. When the groups meet at various locations, they hold tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dances and workshops.
At this weekend’s event in Ophir, Fara Otterbeck, a marketing director in Napa Valley, California, who dressed in purple robes, her head covered. Her persona is that of Auriella De Monfort, a 12th century German nun who convinced her countrymen to fight in the Crusades.
Otterbeck looks out across the battlefield to explain what was transpiring when the battles were called to a halt.
“There is a temporary time out — it looks like one participant’s homemade armor couldn’t take the punishment, while another is being taken off the field from what appears to be a sprained ankle.”
She takes opportunity of the quick intermission while the armies take a knee to fill me in.
Because of the ferociousness displayed during the war games, referees on the field wield long flags to make sure everyone is safe and rules of engagement are being observed.
“Due to the physical nature of what we do during battles, we utilize weapons that have rubber tips and padded blades,” Otterbeck said. “The last thing we want is for anybody to get hurt. As a result we have a very limited number of injuries. The ones we do end up with are typically the same kinds as what an athlete might encounter.”
Steve Tempset of Clearlake, California, was watching the action from the sidelines. He and his troop have been coming “to the wars,” as he calls them, for 35 years.
He said that when he wore a younger man’s clothes he was out on that field but has left it to the younger guys now.
“(The Ophir) war is one of the best I’ve seen. (Warriors) don’t hold back, we hit each other pretty hard, and no one complains.”
Elsewhere, there are samples of browned bread on a stick dipped in bowls of cheese porridge, and a charbroiled hog simmering above a wood-fired grill.
All the food and recipes are specific to the time period. A blacksmith pounds away at a sword molding the hot metal into shape with a hammer on an anvil.
Classes on how to fashion royal-court headpieces were held while a fencing demonstration took place.
“SCA members are always looking to add an air of authenticity to everything they do,” Otterbeck said.
Otterbeck and others travel to eight or nine annual events around the country. The largest one involving 12,000 will assemble in Pennsylvania.
For more information, visit www.sca.org.