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.

"Water? Water, m'lord?" is heard repeated again and again as women and children carrying soda bottles with water and Gatorade dart between the panting knights.

Delaney, 50, had been so grateful to get a drink of Gatorade from one of the water carriers that he'd forgotten he wasn't supposed to drink it. And he drank a lot of it. The diabetic felt pains in his chest and collapsed. He would spend the night in a hospital and be back at the war the next day.

After the ambulances drive away, the baronies realign their allegiances and begin fighting again.

It takes some imagination to consider the dirt pile a castle, but the violence of the conflict seems real enough. As the battle gets under way, the dead begin to gather at a distance to share their disappointment. It's no dishonor to be killed in battle, but it really bites to go out early.

As the outnumbered fighters attacking the castle's perimeter begin to lose the skirmish, the defenders come out and press their advantage. The intensity of some of the attacks is startling, and the noise is increased by the dead who are yelling encouragement.

"Open your fucking eyes!" one member of the corpse corps yells to a comrade who has gotten turned around and is attacking a teammate.

Then, suddenly, it ends. The castle has been successfully defended, and it's time for a dinner break.

"This is a good war to be at. It's a fun one," says John Pliska, who's escaped without injury so far. Between battles, Pliska and some of his fellow fighters from the Valley complain about "resurrections" that seem to be occurring. "How many times do you have to die to be dead?" Pliska asks.

A caravan of knight-laden cars drives back to the pavilions erected on the fairgrounds. Three armor-clad warriors rest in the trunk of a Cadillac as it raises red dust.

Near the encampment, the cavernous Old Pueblo Hall, all three acres of it, is filled with a medieval carnival. King Mathghamhain, Matt Richardson, strides majestically between booths which offer armor, garb, tarot readings and musical instruments. His subjects dutifully bow as he walks by.

It's turning out to be one of the most successful Baron's Wars ever, and attendance will even top 1,000. Sure, there's some tension with Caid, the Southern California kingdom, but that's always seemed to be the case.

"It gets tense in battle sometimes," says the king. "But after we fight each other, we drink together and chase each other's women and we're friendly again."
Nearby, Don Perine sits at a table and drinks tea from a goblet. He's wearing a magnificent black tunic with silver embroidery and high, glossy black boots. Behind him, a man with remarkable golden locks is singing period ballads to a crowd that shows its appreciation by putting beer tickets at his feet.

Perine reflects on the challenges facing the SCA as it continues to grow. He's worried about the "hill potatoes," the less desirable element that Encanto Park fighter practices seem to bring out of the woodwork. Whatever image problem the SCA might have, Perine thinks that it's the SCA's hangers-on, the ones who don't pay dues and don't contribute to fighting or service or the arts, who are responsible.

For Perine, the SCA is a serious mission with none of the countercultural allure that may have attracted its first generation of players. "The older crowd were disillusioned hippies who built something great," he says. "But there's a new crowd that's interested in making a change. I didn't join because I was disillusioned, I joined because I wanted to hit somebody."

He's still stung by the reaction of his mother, a strict Italian Roman Catholic, who was offended by what she perceived as the SCA's occultness. He seems intent on remaking the organization, and he knows the best way to do that is to become king.

Perine has won several recent tournaments, and the crown may not be far from his grasp.It might be the SCA's biggest paradox: that the leader of its polite society is chosen by brute force. And it's caused problems in the past.

Two years ago, a two-time former king was asked to leave the organization, a rare event that has left deep scars. Local players refuse to discuss it, and John Fulton, chairman of the SCA's board of directors, won't comment other than to quash rumors that a lawsuit had been filed by the ousted monarch.

The former king himself says he was simply too good a fighter. "A small faction manufactured evidence to kick me out. But really they just didn't like how I was running things. And if you fight better than everyone else, you get to run the club," he says.

Still bitter and embarrassed by the removal, he asked that his name not be used.

"You may not notice it when you're rising up the ranks, but there's really a lot of politics involved in the SCA," he says. "There's a lot of good people in it. But there are certain people who don't want it to change, who want to keep control. I still don't know what I did wrong."
The current monarch acknowledges that a vocal minority favors a different method of selecting the king and queen. "Some people would like to see a system where a potential king gathered support and then fought for the throne. Other than that, no one's come up with an alternative," Matt Richardson says.

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