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.

"I love to fight. If I lose the other eye," he says, "I'll figure out a way to put beepers on the sword tips so I can keep fighting."
On October 14, Adria's local kingdom chose Pancho Nuez to be its ruler. King Aod Verbluten I, the one-eyed, and Queen Isabella, Nuez's wife, Debbie, will serve a one-year term.

Nuez knows that the SCA considers the use of real weaponry unsafe. But he argues that the Adrian Empire's use of live steel has forced it to adopt a higher level of safety.

Besides, he says, looking across Encanto Park at the rattan warriors at full tilt, "The SCA is a bunch of guys with bats beating the hell out of each other. That's scary, man."

"We have a better injury rate than high school football," says Howard Noble, 34, who builds suits of armor in his Apache Junction workshop.

The Noble Armory sits in a nondescript business park on North Idaho Road and isn't much bigger than a garage. Strewn around the cinder-block building are various tools for bending, cutting, shaping and fluting metal. Pieces of armor in various states of manufacture lie about, some on oddly posed mannequins. The effect doesn't quite transport one to the Middle Ages, but it is otherworldly.

Noble limps around, pointing out tools that he's fabricated from odds and ends and various materials that he transforms into weaponry. Leaf springs from automobiles become swords. Bowling balls are used for shaping shoulder pieces. And--in an ironic reversal of the Biblical plaint--there are plowshares that he reworks into breastplate forms.

The armorer rests his hand on an anvil to give his aching back a rest. His limp is a result of a pinched nerve he suffered when a fighter he was training got a little too aggressive and forced Noble over backward. His doctor has told him to quit fighting for a year to allow muscle damage and a compressed disk in his back to heal.

Other than a broken arm a few years ago, the pinched nerve is the worst injury he's sustained while fighting in armor. But it's only a temporary setback.

Noble constructed his first suit of armor in 1985, but after making a few pieces for friends, he began to pursue it more seriously. He was a commercial account executive at Orkin Exterminating at the time, and when the company downsized in 1988, Noble decided to make armor his full-time job.

He's been in Apache Junction for two years, selling armor to SCA and Adria fighters alike, as well as to collectors, museums and film companies.

"SCA people see me at Encanto with a few pieces to sell, but generally they don't know all the things we're into," he says.

Noble's single employee, Marty McKinstray, 33, cites as an example the live shows they put on at Electric Ballroom. On November 8, McKinstray and several other fighters will put on a choreographed battle set to the music of Josiah, a local rock band.

"Part of it will be choreographed," McKinstray points out with some emphasis, "but not the actual fighting. That's real fighting that people will see at the show." Normally, Noble would be part of the show, but he's sitting this one out for his back's sake.

Because he sells to fighters who use both wooden and real weapons, Noble builds all of his armor to the stricter Adria standards. "I don't know, when I sell to somebody, what he's going to use it for. So I assume it's for live steel," he says. Without special features such as reinforcing tabs, armor built only for rattan would crush under the weight of a real ax or sword. That makes it more expensive, but Noble says he gives medievalists every break he can.

"I charge the museums more so I can charge SCA people less. SCA people have no money," he says.

A suit of armor for rattan weapons runs about $500. For live steel, which means covering more of the body, a fighter faces a minimum of about $900. More elaborate designs, such as the later "Gothic" armor of the 15th century, can exceed $4,000.

"The prices sound high, but if you think about it, you can spend $500 for everything you need to go skiing, then spend another 100 bucks every weekend you want to go. In SCA, after the front-end costs, it's pretty cheap," Noble says.

He hefts a helmet to point out all the work that goes into one of his pieces. There's the 40 to 50 hours of research that can go into a single helmet, the custom fitting to make sure armor wears well, and the decorative touches to make each piece unique.

"After that," Noble says, looking into the pointed faceplate, "a helmet is pretty much bulletproof."
The ambulances are guided onto the battlefield by a courtly looking woman gesturing with one hand and talking into a walkie-talkie with the other. Behind her, the armies have taken a break from defending the dirt "castle" and relax as their fallen comrade is attended to.

The Baron's War taking place at the Pima County Fairgrounds has been undone temporarily by Sean Delaney's heart palpitations, but it's a welcome break considering the high heat.

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