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 feeling many of her cohorts, such as longtime member Lynn Scott, share. Like other members who have played for many years, Scott seems defensive when she talks about the SCA. In the past, she says, the SCA has received some bad publicity.

"Every couple of years, people accuse us of being a cult. It's the church structure we have that seems to annoy some people. A Methodist minister helped found the structure of the SCA. And besides, you really can't study the Middle Ages without the occult and religion coming into play. Some find that upsetting," she says.

"We're not a cult. The mainstream churches that know about us realize we aren't a cult. In fact, we hold major formal affairs in church halls. But when a 'cult scare' happens in a community, we get a good looking-over."
Pastor Jim Henderson has rented the South McClintock Baptist Church for SCA events "two or three times."

"They were willing to meet the requirements we had about no smoking and no alcohol, and they paid the $500," Henderson says. "They're clean-living, decent folks. The ones I talked to all were Christians. I know everyone in the group isn't Christian, but you could say that about people in any organization. Or even all of the people in church on Sunday."
Countercultural appeal is important to many of the SCA's longtime players. Over the years, however, the SCA's elaborately layered orthodoxy has produced its share of dissatisfied subjects, and the large organization has produced numerous spin-off groups.

"Some people are disappointed when they join that they can't be king right off the bat," says Don Perine. He dismisses some of the smaller historical re-creation groups as simply disgruntled SCA players who couldn't cut it.

Maybe that's why there's an uneasiness between the Encanto Park warriors and the smaller group of medievalists working out on the field near the snack stand.

"That's Adria," Perine says with a look of irritation. The fighters he's referring to are clad in armor plate from head to toe, circling each other slowly. In their hands are real swords.

The Adrian Empire plays with "live steel," forgoing the use of wood in the name of realism.

The Adrian fighters circle each other cagily, swinging their swords at a speed that seems comically slow compared to the flailing of the wood-wielding SCA knights. But that slowness, and the sound of real swords hitting armor plate, does create a gripping realism.

If the SCA's play-acting is a little less realistic, it's something the members acknowledge with a philosophic shrug.

"They're crazy," says Perine. "We've got engineers in the SCA . . . [who] studied the use of wood weapons very carefully. They calculated that the tips of our swords get going over 90 miles per hour, that kind of thing. We've taken warfare with wood as far as it will go. But the Adrian Empire people and their steel weapons, they're still in the Dark Ages," he says without a hint of irony.

"I heard they gouged a guy's eye out."
Pancho Nuez is more than glad to talk about the accident that took away the sight in his left eye.

Outgoing and charismatic, the 25-year-old is an administrator in an insurance brokerage, and has been playing in the Adrian Empire for two years. On June 22, 1994, Nuez was "fighting Ren" at Encanto Park, which is fighting with rapier swords, the narrow fencing swords with protective tips.

Normally, Nuez would have used a standard fencing mask, but this night he was trying out a new helmet, one that had numerous openings. The openings were too small, however, to allow a capped sword to enter and strike the face.

When the fighting got intense, the sword of Nuez's opponent lost its protective tip. Neither of them realized it until the sword happened to go into one of the openings in Nuez's helmet.

"The sword tip hit me right here," he says, pointing at the spot above his upper lip on the left side, just beneath the nostril. "And my natural reflex was to pull my head back, which allowed the sword to go up my nose." Nuez remembers feeling an intense shot of pain in his left eye as he crumpled to the ground.

"Is my eye okay?" he asked the fighters who rushed to help him. "They told me my eye looked fine. But I couldn't see out of it. To this day I can't."
Unmarked, his face shows no sign of the injury.
Dr. Donald Miles, an eye specialist, treated Nuez at St. Joseph Hospital's emergency room. "He wasn't in much pain," Miles says. "The sword broke through the bony wall of the nasal area, then transversed into the eye socket." A bone chip had severed Nuez's optic nerve, leaving his left eye useless. "There's no repair for that," says Dr. Miles. The stroke was almost surgical in its precision.

"That's the amazing part; there was no loss of cerebral-spinal fluid, almost no blood, nothing. It was amazing." Dr. Miles estimates that if the sword had traveled another two inches, Nuez would be dead.

"I told him that I wouldn't [fight again]," Miles says. "But he says it was too improbable to happen again, and probably he's right."
Only three weeks after the accident, Nuez entered and won a live-steel tournament. He continues to fight regularly, chiding his friends to be careful or they'll lose an eye.

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