“Huzzah!” exclaimed the baron of Madrone as the opposing knight fell to the ground after being struck in the head by a two-foot stick.
Across the field, dust filled the air as knights in leather, chainmail and medieval helmets jousted as their armor glistened in the afternoon sun. The twang of lutes rose from white tents strewn around the field, softening the gallops of horses and the clang of swords hitting armor.
Such was the scene at the Emprise of the Black Lion, an annual meet up in Kent, Washington hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA.
‘We’re really hitting each other’
SCA is an international organization with some 30,000 members who are really into the Middle Ages. SCA members are not just people who have seen the movie “Braveheart” a hundred times; they are people who have seen “Braveheart” a hundred times who can also tell you the historical inaccuracies in the movie and can probably fight in armor better than Mel Gibson.
Brian Weiser is a 35-year-old machinist. But at the SCA, Weiser is known as Sir Duncan MacKinnon, a Scottish nobleman.
“When I was 15, I got involved in LARPing (live-action role-playing),” said Weiser. “About five years later, I got tired of that and went to the big leagues and started full-armor fighting.”
Weiser has been knocked out twice and sustained many bruises in the 11 years it’s taken him to become a knight. In order to be knighted by the king, a member must meet certain requirements like dressing in period-appropriate apparel, being a good community member and, of course, possessing knight-worthy fighting skills.
The fights are quick and intense, lasting only a few minutes. A fight resembles a boxing match; the two parties pace around until one sees an opening and strikes. Every fight is self-governed by the fighters and is based on chivalry. If a fighter is struck in the head or chest, he loses. If an arm or leg is hit, the fighter can no longer use that limb.
“This fighting is full-armor fighting; it’s not choreographed,” said Weiser.” We’re really hitting each other … It’s really fun to fight this ferociously.”
‘I thought, ‘Those are my people’’
The SCA is a form of cosplay (short for costume play), LARPing a la Renaissance fairs. Members take on personas, names and skills, all of which are historically referenced from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
“I used to go to the great Texas Renaissance festival every year when I was a kid,” said Jenny Craig, a 21-year member of SCA who goes by the name Temetgen de Worde.
Craig discovered SCA at an activity fair in college.
“There were these young women in cloaks looking vaguely uncomfortable, and I thought, ‘Those are my people.’ And that was it,” said Craig.
Craig has moved all over the country since, and has always found a local SCA chapter to become a part of.
“It’s kind of like having instant friends when you walk in,” said Craig. “It’s universally friendly.”
‘This society is not a democracy’
The SCA is divided geographically into kingdoms. Washington falls into the Kingdom of An Tir (which means “our land” in Old Gaelic) along with Oregon, northern Idaho and the three western Canadian provinces. Each kingdom has a king, who is chosen every six months through combat tournaments.
Wearing a large gold crown, Kevin Hodges, an emergency physician “in the modern world,” rules as the king of An Tir, a kingdom of some 5,000 SCA members.
“This society is not a democracy, so all the decisions have to be made through me,” said Hodges, who was crowned in July. “It’s pretty substantial. Most of it’s fun. I get to give out awards and recognize people for doing good things.”
Hodges recently honored Alyssa Harding, a web developer who plays Alyssa Dubois, a royal retinue, with the Green Leaf. The service award consists of a hand-painted scroll bearing a large wax stamp.
Being king is a role Hodges enjoys, but he admits he was surprised to learn how much work it requires.
“During the normal work week, I’ll spend 20 hours doing administrative work for the kingdom,” said Hodges. “My physician group has been giving me a little bit of time off, so I can pursue this particular hobby.”
For members only
Unlike a Renaissance fair, SCA events are not for the public.
“Our events are not set up as a demonstration,” said SCA member Lisa Woodings. “There is no audience.”
Members hold classes for each other on archery or armored combat. One such class takes place every Wednesday under the 65th Avenue Park and Ride in Greenlake where SCA members can learn and improve their armored-fighting skills.
To the uninitiated, the practice sessions may be alarming at first glance. Illuminated by the dim glow of streetlights, armor-clad members practice sparring.
For new fighters, the sessions offer a chance to hone techniques and receive feedback from veteran fighters. In between fights, members discuss the less violent aspects of life in medieval times, like brewing mead or making armor at home.
Kingdoms at war
Every year, the SCA holds events for which kingdoms travel across the country. The group’s largest event is called the Pennsic War, which takes place every August in Pennsylvania.
“It could be 100 to 1,000 fighters on the field at one time,” said Woodings. “Somebody sets off a cannon blast, and they head towards each other and fight until one side is all dead.”
According to Woodings, sometimes SCA members will reenact the battle multiple times a day.
“Officially Pennsic started as a fight over which kingdom got Pittsburgh,” Woodings said. “At this point, it’s just history, and they fight because it’s fun.”
‘You’ve got to just be in the moment’
New knight Noah Callaway is still working on his persona name. In the meantime, he’s going by Marcus Caelinus. He began fighting five months ago after hearing about SCA through a friend, though he’d never imagined getting involved in this sort of thing.
“I would watch movies like ‘Braveheart’ and think that would be fun to do, be in a medieval battle, but that was about it,” he said.
But Callaway, who plays rugby and football, found knight-fighting to be an enjoyable physical challenge.
“It’s just you on your own. You’ve got to just be in the moment,” he said. “The fighting’s been a lot of fun, and the learning about thee historical stuff has been a lot of fun, too. I didn’t see myself getting into some of that, but it’s been really interesting.”
‘When you get to live your life like that, it’s kind of addictive’
Edward Carthell, a structural designer at Weyerhaeuser, has been a part of SCA for 32 years. Through the SCA, Carthell got into horses, and he and his wife now own three.
“My lady and I have now been doing equestrian [games] for 27 years,” said Carthell. “What’s nice about the SCA is our fighting is the focal point, but there are so many other aspects of it. People can get involved in journal-making, cooking, costuming, leatherworking — any activity they do can be involved in the SCA.”
The club holds classes through which members share ideas and skills from the medieval times.
“We get together and share that knowledge. The SCA is so rich in things for people to do … and it makes a community,” Carthell said.
“It’s a lot of what my life is,”added Sean Bjers, the baron of the Barony of Madrone who fights several times a week. “It’s [what] the ideals of chivalry and honor represent as a group … When you get to live your life like that, it’s kind of addictive. You learn to love it.”