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.

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.

Jose Rodriguez and Jose Luis stare in disbelief. The two construction workers sit on a low wall taking in the spectacle.

"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.

Smaller tournaments and skirmishes occur nearly every weekend, and on weeknights practices are held in several Valley parks. "In this kingdom," says Tempe resident Frank Eager, "you can fight just about every night of the week.

"SCA members point out that fighting is not the sole focus of what they do--there's "court" and its elaborate rituals, costume work, historical research, medieval arts such as heraldry and brewing, and the general partying of the feast. But it's fighting that attracts onlookers, and it's fighting that tends to bring in new members.

Unlike other forms of exercise, slaying knights with rattan weapons isn't the kind of activity that's likely to score points at the office. So some SCA members choose to be quiet about their involvement, maintaining a fairly strict division between their workaday lives and their chivalric identities.

Under the lights of Encanto Park, the knights, squires, merchants and ladies come out and put away their "mundane" selves.

If fighters ignore the people who show up to gawk, it's because for many of them the fantasy becomes so palpable that the 20th century and its denizens, if only for a brief moment, cease to exist.

Matthew Richardson became King of Arizona, Utah, Montana and parts of Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming in an elaborate ceremony held at South McClintock Baptist Church on September 2. Actually, the kingdom goes by the name of "Atenveldt," and it's one of 11 that divide up the United States.

Four months earlier, Richardson had won a tournament in Missoula, Montana, which is the SCA's way of selecting its prospective monarchs. He first heard of the SCA 21 years ago when he read about it in his Tucson high school's newspaper and realized that it was exactly what he wanted to do.

Even then, at age 14, he dreamed of being king one day.
Looking back over his ascent, Richardson is particularly satisfied at the historically accurate progression of his career. A squire at 14, he was made a knight at 21, and became Prince of the Sun (Arizona's principality) at 27.

After two decades of fighting, Richardson had finally reached Atenveldt's ultimate throne at the age of 35. The black-robed king strode majestically up the church's aisle with his queen--his real-life girlfriend, Kathy Callahan--as five musicians struck up a medieval arrangement of Darth Vader's theme song.

Richardson did not become king without some controversy.
Central to the SCA way of life and method of determining battle is the concept of honor. It's something that permeates the SCA from the meanest chore to the most r rarefied court procedure.

But when all that separates a fighter and the throne is a few more rounds in the crown tourney, the temptation to wave off an opponent's hit can be great.

Richardson's predecessor decided at the Montana tournament that the temptation had gotten out of hand.

"Rhino-hides, they're called," says Richardson, remembering the two fighters who had finished ahead of him in the crown tournament. "Rhino-hides are guys you can't hit hard enough."
In a rare move, the reigning king disqualified the two top finishers, effectively awarding Richardson the crown.

"Your personal honor has to outweigh your desire to wear the hat," he says. "What makes the victory better for me is knowing that I lasted that long and my honor was still intact."
Richardson inherits a realm of 1,800 members, about 600 of whom live in the Phoenix area. Known to his subjects by the imposing name of Mathghamhain (pronounced "Mayen"), Richardson works for KUTP, Channel 45, where he oversees maintenance of equipment.

Like most serious SCA members, he has no trouble separating the two halves of his life. "There are people who get so involved in it that they lose track of the modern world," he admits. "We've had a few people like that, but they generally go away."

Still, boundaries do blur. His subordinates recognize him as king, even when he's not wearing his crown.

"It's kind of strange to be bowed to in Mega Foods," he says.
It all started as a going-away party.
Friends of Diana Paxon, a recent college grad who had majored in medieval history, wanted to give her an appropriate sendoff before she began her stint with the Peace Corps. So they dressed up as knights and noblewomen, held a tournament at arms and started a new society.

Starting new societies was the thing to do in Berkeley in 1966.
"Afterwards," says Lee Forgue, a member of the SCA board of directors, "the whole party walked down Telegraph Avenue protesting the 20th century."
"That's a Berkeley tradition, you know," she says. "If you're going to start any kind of revolution, you have to walk down Telegraph Avenue."
The fledgling movement got its name a few months later when it reserved a park for an event. That meant filling in a form with the name of the organization, so Marion Zimmer Bradley, an original member who would go on to fame as a science fiction writer, came up with "Society for Creative Anachronism" on the spot.

Three decades later, 26,000 dues-paying members are scattered throughout the "known world," as it's called. The SCA's popularity among U.S. servicemen and women has helped spread it overseas.

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.

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.

"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.

"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.

As the November 4 crown tourney approaches, there are grumblings in the realms about the new king. Rumors that he has banned a knight from the competition and may ban others has some fighters concerned.

Richardson dismisses the talk as just that--talk."I remember I used to complain with my friends about the throne, and now that I'm on it, they're still complaining. It's changed my perspective."

He's still glad that he's achieved his 20-year goal to wear Atenveldt's crown. But now that he's been king for several weeks, he's finding that ruling 1,800 subjects can be a royal pain in the ass.

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