Sworded Behavior

Their idea of a good time is to dress up in medieval armor, stage elaborate battles and fight for a royal title. Any effort to unmask the fantasy would be feudal.

It's a nonprofit corporation with headquarters in Milpitas, California, but local kingdoms, principalities and baronies operate with considerable autonomy.

Atenveldt, the kingdom that includes Arizona, has a particularly powerful monarch whose "word is law," according to local players.

If the group has a countercultural past, its growth in recent years has steered it toward a more businesslike, establishment present. Events are planned far in advance and with a close attention to detail, and members like to point to the number of professionals--lawyers, doctors, businesspeople--who populate the ranks.

As its hippie origins fade, however, the SCA still contends with a perception that it's for outcasts and oddballs. "The SCA attracts the bright, literate misfits," admits Forgue. But she's quick to add: "It's a family organization. It's a really good place to raise your kids in."

Lady Ismania measures her opponent and then lets fly with a swing of the rattan sword in her left hand. She's one of the few female fighters at Encanto Park, and it doesn't take long for her foe to land a fatal blow to her helmet.

In the "mundane world," she's Michell Fulton, 24, a secretary who was planning her medieval-style wedding five years ago when she happened one night to drive by Encanto Park. She could hardly believe her eyes. She joined the Society for Creative Anachronism, canceled the wedding and, a year later, entered her first melee.

"You know that sound, that initial clash when a medieval battle starts in a movie? I always loved that sound, and it made me curious about fighting," she says.

She tried on another woman's suit of armor, liked it, and soon put together one of her own. "You can get a lot of hand-me-downs when you're first starting," she says.

But it's not easy being a woman in a sport dominated by men.
"You have to have a lot of heart to stay with it. At first it was hard. It's still hard. You have to be sneaky."
There's no segregation in battle. It wouldn't be "period." So except for an all-woman tournament that takes place at the largest annual SCA "war" in Pennsylvania each summer, women enter without regard to their gender. Fulton says it's rare that she's pitted against another woman in a tournament.

So she's learned to take on the men. And if they let up against her?
"Then they die," she says. "If they want to take it easy on me, I'll take advantage of it. On the other hand, I've heard people say that men hit women harder because they don't like women fighters. I don't think that's true. They hit me as hard as they hit each other."
So far, she's earned some respect from the men, but not a white belt. "There's not a woman knight out here," she says as she looks around the park. "I'd like to change that."

Her best result was reaching the fourth round of a tournament that produced a new prince. If she had won the tournament, it wouldn't have produced much of a gender crisis. "I'd be considered 'princess in her own right,'" she says. And her husband, Sir Kravon (William Fulton, 27), the one she met in SCA after breaking up with her previous fiance, would be considered "consort."

For an ancient order, the SCA is progressive that way. It has a reputation for being accepting, and that means a lot to players who can have a hard time finding tolerance in the mundane world.

Gay medievalists in particular extol the SCA's virtues.
"It's the most openly accepting group I've ever been a part of," says "Richard," whose homosexuality has "never been an issue" with his peers, he adds. A firefighter in real life, he asks for anonymity not for fear of what the SCA would think of his sexual orientation, but for what it might mean on the job.

Another gay player, "Anne," who is a prominent figure in the local organization, says that the play-acting nature of SCA encourages an acceptance of alternate lifestyles. "I've cross-dressed many times at SCA events," she says. "Sometimes I'm a male Viking, other times I'm a lady. I've always been 'out' in the society. I've had men fight for me. And I've fought championing a lady, but not in crown tourney."

It's a concession that the gay players seem very willing to make--if a gay or a lesbian fighter wins the crown tourney, he or she must still choose someone of the opposite sex to share the throne. In other words, a king couldn't select his boyfriend to be queen.

"To be able to put one of my female friends on the throne would be an honor," says Richard. "I accept the rules as they are," he adds. He says that gay kings have ruled SCA kingdoms in the past, and they will in the future.

"When you get to the peerage level, it's not just what you want, but what is good for everyone that you have to think about," says Anne. And that's something she's been concerned with for a long time in an SCA career that includes leading fighters in battle, peerage in service and the arts, and brewing the best beer at Atenveldt's largest war two years running. The thought of a New Times article about the SCA seems to thrill Anne at the same time that it makes her concerned.

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