By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Lord Mikolaj Alexis Vasilko looks as if he's going to vomit. He's fallen to his knees after getting hit in the crotch with a rattan sword, and his face turns several shades of red before he finally collapses in a heap on the grass field.
A small crowd gathers to help Lord Vasilko, a.k.a. John Pliska, take off his armor, but for the most part the other medieval battles going on around them continue.
It's Wednesday night in Encanto Park, and fighter practice for the Society for Creative Anachronism is in full swing, so to speak. About 300 people are busy re-creating the Middle Ages in a frenetic weekly carnival that will end suddenly when the park's lights go off at ten o'clock.
Wearing authentic-looking armor and wielding wooden versions of swords and fiber-glass pikes and spears, the fighters are strewn across the battlefield in groups of two.
Surrounding the swordsmen is a motley collection of booksellers, jewelry vendors, snake handlers, jugglers and a royalty "holding court" in a chaotic scene watched by a few dozen (mostly confused) onlookers.
The resemblance to Camelot may be a little strained, but this is only practice, a weeknight event in preparation for the more elaborate "wars" and Renaissance fairs that SCA members participate in throughout the year. It's in these weeknight stagings of warfare that the medieval equivalent of the military grunt learns his craft, a process that many members devote years, even decades, of their lives to.
Don Perine (Viscount Sir Erick Von Straud) shows the others gathered around Pliska what happened to him. "He walked into it," he explains. "He just opened up and led with his left leg." Perine, whose white belt identifies him as a knight, reenacts the accident, slowly driving his rattan weapon into his own crotch as an illustration. It evokes winces all around.
His "sword" is about three feet long and an inch in diameter, and it's wrapped in electrical tape that's been chewed from colliding with metal armor. He repeats the lesson for the benefit of his "squires," two less experienced fighters who pay close attention.
A Bank of America employee during the day, Perine is, at 23, one of the younger "belted" fighters on the field. He's been fighting since he was 15, and the two squires who attend him treat him with a deference bordering on awe.
Disabling Pliska, another knight's squire, seems to put Perine in a bad mood. There's no honor, apparently, in causing bodily harm, especially to someone in a lower station.
They just want to "kill" each other, not cause injury.
Even the humblest warrior is covered in heavy protective gear: steel leg armor, leather body padding, an occasional breastplate for the torso, a metal collar around the neck, elbow and forearm pads, hockey gloves, the all-important helmet, and, of course, a cup. Pliska's didn't seem to help.
Fighters are on their honor to announce themselves "killed" when a sufficiently heavy blow strikes them on the helmet or torso. How hard is "sufficiently hard" is a matter of some dispute. So fighters, who are almost all male, lean into their hits with as much muscle as they can. The sound of wood crashing into armor echoes across the park.
Some of the squires and knights gather and set up like two football teams facing each other across a line of scrimmage. A signal is given and the two sides approach each other slowly, their pole arms outstretched to repel any sudden attack from the other side.
Pressed together tightly to prevent a breach, the "blues" gingerly poke at the "reds." The sparring intensifies until the two armies crowd in and finally burst into a violent free-for-all. The entire thing lasts about a minute. Children rush out to slain warriors with bottles of water. A few minutes later, another war is declared.
"I like the gratuitous wailing," comments Adam Rising, an onlooker. "I think they must get hit by a lot of friendly fire," he says as the war heats up again.
"What are they doing?" they ask in Spanish. When it's explained that the European Middle Ages are being re-created, Rodriguez frowns and asks: "Where are the horses?"
Now in its 30th year of existence, the Society for Creative Anachronism is an elaborate subculture that exacts an extraordinary amount of dedication.
The rewards, say its adherents, are more than worth it. Players create personae and immerse themselves in a living romance. A lucky few may even become king or queen. It's a constant effort to make a chivalric past come alive. They re-create the Middle Ages not as it was, but as it "might have been." No reason to bring back serfs, slavery and the plague.
For the fighters, months of practice pay off in the large wars that occur in the spring and the fall. At the Baron's War which took place in Tucson on October 7 and 8, more than 1,000 participants staged a two-day battle between baronies from New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California.