Here at last is the story from Saturday of Hadrian’s Feld, Anno Societatis LI (being 2016 in the common reckoning). Before I get on to it I will say this is not my best writing. I wrote all 11,000 words of it over four days. It was a small NaNo, which I enjoyed partly because I won’t be doing NaNo this time. I have not edited it much.
Also, this is supposedly a writing blog, and so far I haven’t made a single post about writing, or done much with my books page. I intend to change that soon.
One more thing. All pictures are by my sister, Olivia of Windy Knoll Photography. Don’t expect to see many pictures in posts, as she’s busier than I am and doesn’t have a lot of time for getting them to me. I’d have had this post up on Thursday, but the pictures weren’t ready.
* * *
The Chronicle of Hadrian’s Feld
Before dawn on October first, fog settled thick around our house, making a solid grey wall at the edges of our property. By the time my sister and I were dressed and ready to leave, the patch of sky for roof had turned from gray to pale blue, and we knew, though we could not see it, that somewhere the sun had risen.
It was good weather to go adventuring in, I thought. We were going to Hadrian’s Feld, an SCA event two and a half hours from us, which is fairly local. It was a three-day camping event, but we were day-tripping it.
My sister, in keeping with SCA tradition, had finished her garb the day before, and was doing her hair in the car. This was her first event not borrowing from Jenny: she had recently settled on an Anglo-Norman persona, sometime in the first half of the twelfth century.
Our drive was fairly uneventful, compared with the precedent for my driving to SCA events, and we got only slightly lost. By the time we drove into the tiny town of Adrian, at ten o’clock, the fog had all burned off and clouds replaced it. We were rejoiced to see, propped against a stop sign, a green sign with the letters SCA in gold, and an arrow pointing to the right. Above the English letters were the Runic letters for the same.
Across the street was a gas station, and we had a little less than a quarter of a tank remaining. Instead of turning, therefore, I drove ahead to the station, and made Olivia get out with me. My garb, completed five days before Hadrian’s, was in the late Anglo-Saxon style, with a large wrapped veil, and boat-shaped sleeves: altogether not only unusual, but often leading me to be mistaken for a Muslim woman. Besides, I had a knife in my belt. Olivia’s wide-sleeved bliaut with side lacing and her ribbon-twined braids were only slightly less strange, but they had the advantage of looking much more like typical “medieval” clothes.
As we drove into the campground, somebody leaving waved to us, and we both nodded.
“I don’t see anybody yet, it’s all modern campers,” I said as I drove.
“Bear right,” Olivia said. “They’re probably farther back.”
I kept going.
“There she is — to the left. Left. She’s waving,” Olivia said. I looked, and saw in the distance a tiny person in green, waving with all her might.
We parked in the grass and assembled our gear. Besides Olivia’s belt bag and my shoulder bag (known as a “pilgrim’s bag” because pilgrims were often depicted with a very similar sort), we had a basket with Feast gear, our mugs, two loaves of bread, and cheese — the last our contributions to the potluck lunch our little group was having. I took my mug out and tied it to one of the ends of my belt, adding to the weight of the knife on my left side. Olivia put her camera bag over her shoulder, and we began making our way toward the tents.
Christiana was coming swiftly to meet us, with Derbail (and a leashed dog) beside her.
“Well met, friends — that’s an impressive veil,” she said.
“It’s actually a good veil day,” I said. “Not a good hair day, but that’s what veils are for, right?”
“Right. Let’s see those sleeves,” she said, turning to my sister, who obligingly held up her arm. “You and Derbail do have the same style.”
“We both have Sleeves of Doom,” Derbail said, flipping back the cuff of her left sleeve so her hand showed.
“And your lacing looks really good,” Christiana said, as my sister moved her sleeve out of the way for her to see. “Those eyelets are so small — I bet you learned from my blue one what not to do, right?” she said to me.
“Probably,” I said.
“How long did they take you?”
“About fifteen minutes each, I think. It wasn’t bad at all.”
“Hello,” said Lord Manfred, coming up behind Christiana. “Long time no see.” He held out an arm for each of us, and Olivia and I exchanged glances and said nothing as he hugged us. Sometimes coming home is just as weird as the alternative, I thought. Under what other circumstances would I let a guy I’m not related to hug me — or let anybody hug me, for that matter?
“Jenny, I believe you’re the only one who hasn’t met Amanda yet?” he said then, turning to her.
“No, I don’t believe so,” she said.
“Well then,” he said, gesturing to a woman in pink and white, who was standing beside him, “Jenny, Amanda. Amanda, Jenny. She’s come a long way since I met her.”
“Well, yes,” Christiana said, laughing.
“She’s come a long way since I met her,” Jean roared, and we saw now that he was sitting with a notebook at a picnic table nearby. How we hadn’t noticed him before I don’t know. Christiana turned away from both of them, covering her face, and still laughing.
“I can’t say she’s come a long way since I met her,” Amanda said.
“I was supposed to bring you garb?” Manfred said to Christiana.
“Yes, but Prahls couldn’t get it to you in time, so don’t worry.”
“Where do we go for Gate?” I asked.
“That tent there,” Christiana said, pointing behind us to the largest pavilion, in which I could see some people sitting. Others were at picnic tables beside it, and somebody had a fire going, which was smoking pleasantly. “I’ll walk you over.”
As we went by the tables I recognized a man I’d seen with the Moneyer’s Guild, as well as Ajax and someone else whose name I didn’t know, but had seen at several events. Several others were there whom I didn’t recognize, one of whom had a dog, and another who was sewing something green, using a single ply of orange yarn. What she was not using was coiled on the table in front of her.
“Have the newcomers arrived yet?” I asked.
“They should be here any minute now,” Christiana said. “I keep looking for a carload of lost college students to drive up.”
“Christiana,” my sister said, behind us.
“Yes?” she said, turning.
“Oh, yes. I didn’t forget it. I think it’s in the car still. Yes, let’s get you a proper belt.”
They went off together, and I went into the tent, nodding to the two gentlemen and the lady sitting behind the table. I pulled out of my bag the little pouch I’d made (naalbinding), and took out the bills, which together came to twelve dollars, that I’d brought to pay with. I had five gold coins in there too, just because, and when I went to shake out the quarters to make up the rest of the site fee, all the coins spilled onto the table.
“Whoa, she has really pretty stuff to pay with,” said the lady, whom I recognized. She was wearing a brown dress and a gray sideless gown, and I thought she might have been the spinner at the Ides. I separated the quarters and pushed them across to her, and she counted them and I was relieved when they came to the right amount.
I began to sign my name with my ordinary handwriting, and then crossed out the A I’d made and attempted it in Uncial with a ballpoint pen. I signed my mundane name in cursive and said goodbye to it for the rest of the day.
All at once it seemed that a crowd of people had filled the tent and I was in the way. I saw my sister, Christiana, and several others I didn’t recognize — then one of them moved into the light and I knew him. He was a student I knew slightly at SMSU, and didn’t like at all. But it was not from any particular aversion to him that I got out of the way as quickly as I could and left the tent. As I left I heard my sister saying, “Waivers?” and the lady replying, “We keep them here for you to fill out,” and Olivia replying, “I have finished ones here with me.” The last thing I heard was the lady saying, “Oh, goody! It makes our work so much easier when people do them ahead of time.”
Christiana took the new folks off to find loaner garb, and Olivia and I wandered toward our group’s area. At the curve of the road someone had set up several banners: a gold one with a black raven, a swallow-tailed scarlet one with gold lions conjoined so they shared a head, and one quartered red and white with a stag’s head in one corner. On a wooden staff with a cross-piece, probably intended to hold a banner, somebody had also hung a yellow tunic with black cuffs and hem.
Across from us I saw a Viking camp — a kitchen, with a fire raised in a wooden frame off the ground, and a triangular tent. You could tell by looking at it that a lot of work had gone into making it. A woman in white and dark blue was moving about between the red and yellow curtain of the tent and her fire, making something.
“Take a picture of that camp, please?” I said to Olivia, and she got her camera out and did.
Jean was still at the table, which was covered with a red damask cloth I recognized as Jenny’s. He was writing something in his notebook. Olivia got there ahead of me, and he looked up.
“Good morning, my lady,” he said.
“Good morning, my lord,” she said, dropping a little curtsey, and grinning.
“You really don’t have to do that, you know,” he said.
“I know, I’m just teasing,” she said.
I came up and set our basket on the table, and Olivia took care of her camera bag.
“Oh, your camera matches your garb,” Jean said, as both it (now hung around her neck) and her bliaut were red.
Lord Eoin passed us, nodding, and we nodded back. Christiana rejoined us, having left the newcomers to get dressed.
“Now, names for you two,” Jean said. “Æschild, you’re good,” he told me, “but you,” he told my sister, “what’s your name? Like I said, I can document all of them, but if there’s one you really like —”
“I was going by Ivetta,” she said, “but sorry Jenny, I’ve changed my mind — I’m going with Ælfwynn, or Wynnie.”
“Wynnie,” he said. “I can see that. Okay then.”
The four newcomers drifted in our direction, and Jean enthusiastically introduced himself.
“What do we do now?” they asked.
“We can give you a bit of a tour of the place, if you’d like,” Lord Eoin said. “It looks like she’s cooking something over there” — pointing to the Viking camp — “so if any of you are interested?”
They nodded and shrugged and followed him. Presently Christiana, Derbail, Wynnie, and I followed them, on the lookout as we walked for tent ropes in awkward places. We caught up to them and found them in the middle of a conversation.
“You’ll find that SCA battles go much quicker than the ones you see in movies,” Lord Eoin was telling them. “Everything’s the same, except the swords aren’t real steel. It’s not the long-drawn out fights with lots of talking like what you see in the Princess Bride, for example.”
“I’ve never seen the Princess Bride,” said one of them.
“What!” said everyone at once.
“You should; it’s well worth seeing, and you’ll get half the jokes SCAdians tell, too,” Lord Eoin said. “ ‘Why are you smiling?’ ‘There’s something you should know: I am not left-handed.’ ”
“Except for those of us who are,” Christiana and I said, both raising our left hands.
“You are?” Lord Eoin said in surprise. “Both of you? That’s sinister.”
Most of us laughed, but the newcomers looked confused.
“Sinister is the Latin word for left, left-handed,” Lord Eoin explained. “Nowadays, you know what sinister means. That tells you what they thought of left-handed people. Dexter is right, if someone’s dextrous, it means they’re good at something. Ambi-dextrous, then, means two right hands.”
Christiana and I both held up our hands and looked at them. “I can’t imagine how much clumsier I’d be if I had two right hands,” I said.
Lord Eoin led us on to the kitchen, then.
“Good morning,” said the Viking woman when our flock approached her. She was not in the usual Norse garb, but in something quite similar to early Anglo-Saxon, with a knotted scarf covering most of her hair, except a few dark grey strands at her forehead and temples, and her sleeves were rolled up, those of her dark blue gown higher than the underdress’s, which were smeared here and there. She had kilted up her skirts in her belt, which I pointed out to my sister.
“Good morning,” said about half of us.
“We have some newcomers with us today,” Lord Eoin said, “this is their very first SCA anything.”
“Oh, very good,” she said, looking quickly at all of us, and deciding pretty quickly, I think, to judge by the loaner garb, who they were.
“We were wondering if you’d tell them a bit about your setup here, since it’s very nice,” Lord Eoin told her.
“Oh. Thank you. Well, it’s been several years in progress, doing a little here and there. Last year Eithni approved it for WW, and I’m going to ask her about it again. I try to keep it simple, keep all the obviously modern stuff out of sight or in the tent, use mostly period things for cooking. There’s still a surprising variety of stuff you can use.” She gestured behind her to the shed, where string bags of apples hung from the corner, and clay pots lined up on the shelves inside, one of them with something green sticking out.
“What are you making now?” someone asked.
“What’s in the pot is a lentil pottage,” she said, pointing with her spoon to a clay pot half-buried in the sand between us and the fire.
“So in period pottage is anything you put in a pot and let it cook for a long time, and from time to time throw in something, whatever you’ve got. So this one started with lentils, and it’s got carrots and something else in there, and you might toss in some green vegetables, or somebody’s carving up a ham hock and you throw the bone in — except I’m not going to do that, I want to keep this one vegetarian, and I’ll be cooking the pork later — and anything goes, really. And when it gets too old, you toss it and start over. So that nursery rhyme, ‘pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold’, this is what that’s talking about. Only I don’t know about you, but I don’t like my food nine days old, so I try to make sure it never gets that far. I’ll make some pork later, and vegetables — there’s not a lot of actual period recipes for vegetables, which leads some people to say, ‘Oh, they didn’t each very many’, but actually, depending on what social class you were, you might live mainly on vegetables and green stuff. Later I’m going to be making bread — I have some dough in here,” she said, taking a blue rag off a clay pot that was sitting on the shelf at the side of the frame, “and I don’t really know what I’m doing, so I’m calling it an experiment. So far it’s failing. It hasn’t risen at all. See that? It’s supposed to be twice that size already and outgrowing the bowl. I’ll probably turn it into flatbread. Do any of you have questions?”
None of the newcomers said anything. Some ash blew out of the fire on the smoke, and as I was standing downwind I put my hand out and caught it, and then rubbed it into the edge of one of my sleeves. A Norse woman who had come up and was standing a little to the side with her daughter (in bright pink), said, “Where’d you get the frame?”
“WW, actually. I’d had my eye on them for a while, but I wasn’t planning to buy any yet, and then there it was, and — you know. My husband still doesn’t know about it — well I posted on Facebook about it, so he knows now — it’s been in the back of my truck for several months with no home. This is the first time I’ve actually used it. I’ll have to find a spot when I get back.”
“Oh, you know, with the other stuff,” the other Norse woman said.
“Yup, pretty much. I’ll find room, I always do, but this is not small.”
“What’s it made of?” asked one of our new folks.
“The base is welded steel,” she said, tapping it with her wooden spoon, “and the frame is all wood. You can actually set it up by yourself — I did that this morning — though I will say it’s a lot easier with two.”
“Is the sand hot?” asked one of the newcomers, one of the men.
“At the edge is still rather cold,” she said, patting it, “but it will warm up when I move some of the coals over here later to make bread. Right by the fire it is warm, it’s getting hot.”
She lifted the black metal rack that was sitting on some bricks in the sand and set it aside, took a pair of tongs, and scraped some of the coals over from under the burning wood to where it had been, blew on them, then replaced the rack. “I’m going to try something with this dough of mine,” she said. She poured a little oil from a jar onto the rack and spread it with a wooden spatula, then uncovered the bowl of dough again and took it out, and began to tear off pieces, make them into smaller balls, and flatten them on a wooden cutting board with the palm of her hand.
“What’s in the dough?” asked the other Viking.
“Some wheat flour, but mostly barley, you can see the barley because I couldn’t grind it fine enough, and salt and honey, and yeast, for all the good that did, and some ale.”
Emily, the only girl among our newcomers, took a step forward and looked into the lentil pot. “Here, stir that,” the Norsewoman said, handing her the spoon, and she did. “Interested in cooking?”
“I think so,” Emily said.
“What’s nice about the SCA is, pretty much any hobby you already have, you can translate to medieval things. Not that I do a lot of cooking at home, it’s mostly at events.”
“Another thing,” said Lord Eoin, “is that in the SCA we have almost a thousand years of history to play with, besides any country that had contact with Europe in period, so the possibilities are almost endless.”
“For example, I’m thirteenth-century Norse,” said the cooking lady, “so I’m interested in pretty much anything from that century and that place.”
“You’ll find that when people find their spot, they’re pretty proud of it,” Christiana said.
“You can go Viking or Roman or English or French or anything you want,” said the other Norsewoman. “I’m kind of a time-traveling gypsy, I’m interested in crafts and garb from all over the place, mainly early-period Norse, and Rus, and Lithuanian. I started out later, more like her” — and she pointed to Christiana — “and my first garb was a cotehardie — which was not very good — but now I make and wear all kinds of things I like. Today I’m Norse, but my chemise I actually also wear with my Lithuanian garb, so I made the neckline semi-period for both, so that it’s interchangeable. That way I have a base, so it’s not one set of garb here and another separate set over here, and I don’t have to make so much, because some of it transfers.”
The Norse cook finished forming the flatbreads and shook them off the cutting board onto the rack. One fell into the sand and she picked it up, wincing at the heat from the fire so close, and put it back on.
“It’s just sand, that never hurt anybody,” she said. “If you get into cooking, you’ll definitely want to invest in natural fibers, wool, cotton, linen, not something that’s going to melt and kill you.”
“That pattern on the tent,” somebody said, it might have been Lord Eoin, “that’s the fabric-painting they were talking about.” Emily went to see it, and the cook went with her to tell her about it.
We stayed and watched the bread cooking. When the cook turned them over, two jumped off and fell into the grass. Emily picked them up and held them.
“I’d say the five-second rule,” the cook said, “but I don’t know who’s been here. Put ‘em in the fire.” She did, and we watched them slowly turn black.
When the bread was done, the cook took them out with the spatula and put them back on the cutting board. “They may not be entirely done, but they won’t kill you, there’s no egg,” she said. “There’s butter and honey to go with them, in case anyone wants to try one.” We let the newcomers take first. Almost all of us tried one.
(That’s Derbail’s hand, not mine. We were both wearing blue and white.)
“Yay, people are eating my food!” the cook said in delight. “It always makes me happy when people eat the things I make.”
Jean came up behind us and took the dog’s leash from his wife’s hand. “What are you making?” he asked.
“Lentil pottage, in the pot, and flatbread that was supposed to be a loaf but didn’t rise at all,” she said. “Try one? There’s honey and butter to put on them if you want.”
Jean laughed. “Have you ever heard the Feast Song by Ken Theriot?” (He pronounced it Terio, which was odd, as I’d always pronounced it the way it looks, but I put it down to the difference between French and English.) He began to sing:
I’m never late for dining in the feast hall,
When dinner’s called I hasten to my seat.
It’s not that I’m assuming that the meal will be a treat,
But the first things on the table may be all I have to eat. . .
“Basically it’s him subsisting on bread and butter and cheese because all the period food is too gross.” My sister and I looked at each other and smiled.
I took one of the flatbreads, figuring that the ale had baked out of it, or at least the bad part had, and put honey on it. It tasted good, and was crunchy with the barley, and was filling.
“Where do you get your pots?” somebody asked.
“Oh, that depends. A while back I did some research and found out that based on the archaeological finds, clay pots were period for me and metal ones weren’t — they figure the cast-iron ones didn’t become common till the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and since I’m thirteenth, just a little before that, I went with clay. They’re almost as good as iron ones, really. They can be really durable, though they break down eventually, that’s why you find so many shards in the midden. Because it’s clay, it’s always trying to pull apart, to get back to its natural state, and eventually they’ll crack and you have to toss them. This one,” she said, picking up a dark brown, round one that was sitting beside the pot the bread dough had been in, “I keep as my example of what not to do with a pot. You can see here, on the bottom, how it’s starting to crack and pull apart there, that’s why it got retired. On the inside, those scorch marks, they’re what you get if your fire’s too hot or the pot’s too close to it and there’s not enough water in the food. Eventually with any pot you get the food baked in it, kind of, and a savoury pot will always be a savoury, and a sweet pot will always be sweet.”
A lady in black, with a small knife hanging at her back and her dress ending in a short train that trailed on the wet grass, joined us, and greeted Christiana by holding out a comb and saying, “Can you braid my hair? I know you’re good at it and it’s driving me nuts loose like that.” Christiana took the comb and started to do a French braid.
“How have you been?” the new lady (whose name I later learned was Eschina) asked her.
“Doing well, hanging out with the new folks,” she said. “Between those of us camping and the ones who are daytripping, we’ve got six — no, seven — help me out.”
“Eoin, Leigh, you, me, Jean, those two” (and Derbail pointed to me and Wynnie) “one two three four new folks blank — eleven.”
“Yes, eleven,” Christiana said. “And that’s pretty impressive, considering this time last year we had all of three.”
“It’s fun looking around and seeing our group is half the people here,” Jean said.
“Oh, I bet. Do you guys have a name yet?”
“We’re working on it,” Christiana said, and Jean added, “It’s at Kingdom level now.”
“Have a flatbread?” the Norse lady asked, and Eschina took one.
“What’s in it?” she asked.
“It’s a bread experiment that was supposed to be a loaf but didn’t rise. It’s got some wheat flour in it, barley, honey, salt, yeast, not that it did any good, and some brown ale.”
“That crunch you’re getting is the barley not very finely ground. That was the best I could do in my coffee grinder.”
“Oh, at my house the coffee grinder is for flax, not coffee at all,” Eschina said. “I have a mill, too, that I got a long time ago, but I don’t eat a lot of wheat, and my husband doesn’t — well, he shouldn’t — so I haven’t used it much lately.”
“Where’d you get it?” the cook asked.
“Oh, I don’t remember — a homeschool thing. I’ve had it since before Dan was born, so it’s pretty old.”
The cook picked up a sack of fragments of charcoal that was leaning against a tree, shook some out onto her fire, and blew on the flames from different angles to wake them up again.
“That’s real charcoal,” Lord Eoin told the newcomers. “Not that pressed square stuff you buy nowadays. In period the charcoal-burner was a real job, and people would buy it from him.”
“I know that stool,” Christiana said, pointing to one in the shelter.
“The pale one?” the Norse woman said. “I call it George. All the stools looked alike, so I named mine. Not sure how that helps, but, you know.”
The newcomers presently followed Lord Eoin for a tour of the rest of the camp. Christiana, Wynnie, and I went to the bathrooms at the center of the circle to wash the honey off our hands.
“The grass is really wet this morning,” Olivia said as we went.
“Wet hems are period,” Christiana said comfortably.
“Hers is already dirty, ‘cause she got out with me at the gas station, and of course it was oily there — her chemise is long,” I said.
“I only got out because you made me,” she retorted. “It’s really full, which I like, but it kind of makes it hard to walk in it.”
“There’s a knack to walking in long skirts, it’s a learned skill,” Christiana said. “You kind of have to lift your foot and kick it out ahead of you — like this. And then you get used to walking that way, and go back to more modern skirts, that don’t have so much extra space, because they’re not made for doing things, and you have to learn how to walk in a skirt all over again. Also modern skirts are no good for chasing kids in, these are much better for that.”
We washed our hands and adjusted our hair and veils as necessary, and went out again.
“I brought stuff for tablet-weaving, but I have no idea what I’m actually doing,” I said. “If you have a moment, could you help me? I’ve cut some of the yarn, last night, but didn’t get all of it.”
“Sure,” Christiana said. “Let me get my calligraphy stuff, and we’ll find a spot where you can anchor yourself, and get settled.”
As we passed the Viking kitchen again, we saw the Norse lady sitting down and taking a wooden harp out of a bag. We thanked her for the bread again as we passed, and then we heard (behind us now) a few high notes from the harp-strings.
Christiana got her bag from the table as we went by it, and then we crossed the road to where Derbail and Lady Leigh (Lord Eoin’s wife) were sitting under a pavilion, both embroidering.
“Pictures?” Wynnie said to me, meaning that she should take pictures of me in my new garb.
“Any particular spot you have in mind?” I asked.
“Walk over in that direction, toward the tree, and turn around,” she said.
I set off across the grass, past the place where the archery target was set up. One man was shooting, standing about halfway up the roped-off lane, with his back to the target, nocking an arrow and then turning around (but not moving his feet) to shoot.
Farther away, another man was setting up something else involving ropes. He looked up and nodded, and I (feeling a bit silly, just walking to nowhere) nodded back. The deep nod was natural now: I didn’t do it by accident, as I did in mundane settings, and then feel crazy afterward. Here, it was just what people did.
As directed, when I reached the tree I turned around, and Olivia came closer and took pictures of my sleeves, and then we went back to the pavilion.
At the tables by the Gate tent several people were still sitting and talking, and smoke was still rising from their fire. I heard someone say, “But it’s still a rack,” and wondered about all the possible meanings of the term.
“Interested in archery at all?” Jean asked us. “I’m getting a longbow next week — that is, I’m ordering it, I don’t know that it will be here that soon.”
“Yes,” we both said.
“I was going to try some, if I could, today,” I said, “and I did bring a waiver in case I needed one.”
“There’s someone shooting over there,” Jean said, “you could ask to borrow his.”
“It’s as long as I am tall,” I said.
“Yeah, she couldn’t bend it at all,” Lord Manfred said, nearby, “she’d just twang it a little and the arrow would go — plop. Twang — plop. Twang — plop.” He started to grin.
“Olivia could do it — she throws hay bales around every year when we get hay,” I said.
“Ever thought of doing armoured combat?” Lord Manfred asked her, and she shook her head. “You’d be good at it. You’re small, but that just means you can move faster than all those big guys, and whack them when they aren’t looking.”
“No. . . I was a little interested in archery, but not actual fighting,” she said.
“There might be loaner gear somewhere,” Jean said, and rapidly disappeared.
“Leave it to the extroverts to get things done,” I said.
“I know, isn’t great?” Christiana agreed. “I can just tell him, hey, you’re our group herald, talking to people’s your job anyway, you go do the talking.”
But Jean came back with the news that the gentleman’s bowstring had just broken, and the archery marshal was not on site yet, nor expected till later.
I sat down at the end of the picnic table under the pavilion, and took the two balls of wool, one grey and the other brown, out of my bag. “I cut out eight pieces of yarn for each colour last night,” I told Christiana, “but I don’t know exactly how many I’ll need.”
“What pattern did you have in mind — anything?”
“I was thinking diamonds like the other belt I made.”
“Let’s see if I can duplicate that then. May I see it?” I took it off and put it on the table. “How long do you want it?”
“I cut the pieces as long as the belt plus a foot to allow for what will shrink,” I said.
“That’s good, because you know it will.” She picked up my belt and began counting threads. “You need forty-two of the base colour and twenty of whichever is the other,” she said at the end.
I took my scissors out and began measuring and cutting, measuring and cutting. Christiana was sitting at my right, trying to figure out what had happened to a knotwork border (for a scroll blank) that had started as two strands, developed a third, and then lost it again, to the chaos of the corners.
“If anyone’s going to do armoured combat, get ready now!” someone yelled.
‘Fighting today?” someone asked on the other side of the Gate tent, and Ajax said, “No; I didn’t bring my gear with me.”
“Is Nicole coming?”
“She was hoping to, but she had to work. She has all her fighting gear now except a gorget, which she’s borrowing from me.”
“So you have everything she needs to fight, except the fighter.”
“You know, Wynnie,” Jean said, and interrupted himself. “Wynnie. Sorry, that name’s going to stick. Some names are like that. You can change it still if you get tired of it — I was going to do that, with Jean, and then I saw it on my scroll, and I was like, nope, it’s staying. There’s something about seeing your name in writing that makes it so much more you. Not that I was expecting to get called up and all that, that had me floored. ‘Cause now people know me — scary thought — by that name anyway. But Wynnie is you, I mean that in a good way.”
“I was playing around in Chemistry lab the other day,” I told Christiana, who was busily erasing one side of the border, “and I think I figured out how to make period-looking, if not actually period, safety pins out of a paper clip.”
“Ooh, handy,” she said. “You’ll have to let me know if it works.”
“Just as a writer, and I mean this in a good way,” Jean said, laughing, “but when you said you were playing around in Chemistry, I didn’t think safety pins.”
“Well, I wasn’t concocting poisons,” I said.
“If you were, I’d want to be in on that conversation too,” Christiana said, “and so would some characters I know of.”
“That also wouldn’t be a conversation we’d have in a public place,” I said.
When the fighters, Lord Manfred among them, were all armoured up, and they entered the lists for the first round of the tournament, they were too far to the right for those of us under the pavilion to see them. Lord Eoin said, “Come over here so somebody can watch you,” and the marshals and the first pair of combatants moved. A tree was between me and one of them, but I saw Lord Manfred was the other.
“Do honour to the Crowns of Northshield,” the marshal said. The Crowns were not present, being at an event on the other side of the kingdom. Lord Manfred looked around and then bowed somewhere in the direction of the audience; presumably the other fighter did too.
“Do honour to the populace of Northshield,” and they bowed to us.
“Do honour to the one who inspires you this day,” and Lord Manfred bowed, appropriately, in the direction of Amanda. At the same time several people laughed, and someone said, “The squirrel!” Apparently the other fighter, lacking a lady, had chosen the animal for his inspiration.
“Do honour to your most noble and worthy opponent,” the marshal said, and the fighters bowed to each other.
“Gentlemen, are you ready?”
The knight who had been shooting earlier, now in armour, was standing to one side in the lists, near us, perhaps in the capacity of a marshal. His armour looked a bit Roman, but it was hard to tell.
Beside me, Christiana was figuring out her knotwork. People around us were talking, the fighters still going at it in the lists. What am I going to write about? I wondered. Nothing is happening. I answered myself, Sometimes things don’t need to happen, they only need to be.
“I figured it out!” Christiana said. “Derbail, I figured it out!”
“Figured what?” Jean asked.
“Oh, that’s right, you haven’t seen this. It’s a scroll blank I’m doing. With knotwork. I lost a strand somewhere and couldn’t figure out how to fix it. But I think I have.”
“And the final round!” the marshal interrupted. “Do honour to your most noble and worthy opponent!”
“Don’t you wish we settled things like this today?” I said. “Having to ‘do honour to your most noble and worthy opponent’ first would make things so much nicer.”
“Oh, politics would actually be fun, instead of the time of year where you hide from all the news,” Christiana said.
The tournament’s winner turned out to be Hagar Redbeard, and when the marshal announced this the populace clapped and his rivals beat on their shields, or pounded their chests, which made an impressive amount of noise. Hagar bent his head in the direction of the audience before leaving the lists.
The fighters took a break for a little while. Lord Manfred took his helmet off and came over to the pavilion to get a drink.
“What’s next?” Amanda asked him.
“Mêlée,” Manfred said, grinning.
“Where’s your sister — where’s Wynnie?” Christiana asked me presently.
“That’s a good question. I haven’t seen her in a while. She’s probably off taking pictures somewhere.”
She reappeared some time later. “What time is it?” she asked.
Christiana checked her hidden phone. “Twelve twenty-seven.”
“Really?” Jean said. “It’s not like two-thirty already?”
“No, sorry,” Christiana said.
“I had to get up at four this morning,” Jean said, “so I’ll probably take a nap soon.”
“I woke up at three, and stayed awake,” my sister said.
“Three? Why on earth?”
“I don’t know. I do that sometimes. I’m both a night owl and a morning person.”
“Well, how old are you?”
“Guess,” she told him.
“No, guess lower.”
“You’re not fifteen?”
“Really? Well, I give you another six years or so, and then you’ll start sleeping more like me. But you’re young, you’ve got time to do that kind of thing. Three o’clock in the morning!”
Wynnie turned to Christiana and said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Are we eating any time soon?”
“We probably should, it is that time of day. Derbail, are you hungry yet?”
“Oh, I could eat something. Alex — Jean, will you go get the hot dogs, and Jenny and I can move the grill?”
“How long will it take to cook them?”
“Ten minutes or so, it shouldn’t be long.”
“Then I’ll sleep after we eat,” he said.
“Where were you all this time?” Christiana asked Wynnie.
“You didn’t hear me?”
“I was playing harp. The cooking lady has a harp, and she let me play it while she watched her fire.”
Lord Eoin, hearing that we were going to eat, took several pounds of ham and turkey, and several more of cheese, out of their cooler. Lady Leigh sliced some of it — Muenster — with a little black knife that looked like a Norse pattern I’d seen, and put it on a platter. Derbail started cooking the hot dogs. I tied up my yarn, which I had finally finished cutting, and put it somewhere out of the way. I took the white dishtowel in which we had wrapped the two loaves of artisan bread that were our contribution, brought it to the tale where all the other food was, and unwrapped them.
“Whoa!” Jean said, seeing them tumble out onto the table in front of him. “Did you make those?”
“Our mother did,” I said. “I was at school and Wynnie was finishing her garb.”
“Can I have some?” he said.
“I’ll cut it,” said Wynnie, picking up the knife Christiana had just been using on her own bread. The knife was not serrated, and so made cutting the bread extremely difficult.
“The green knife is in the car,” she told me. “Go get it. Here’s the key.”
“I don’t need the key,” I said. “I left the door unlocked.”
“You need the key to get the knife,” she said. “Here’s the key.”
“Why do I need the key to get the knife if the door’s unlocked?” I asked.
“Just take the key,” she said, and I did.
Christiana had brought along plenty of loaner feast gear, and the newcomers each had their own bowl. Someone brought lentil soup, but as Wynnie and I had neglected to bring silverware with us, Wynnie put it on her bread.
Lord Manfred was sitting on the grass, eating lunch and telling his neighbours about how he had gotten into SCA heavy fighting, and the various kingdoms he’d traveled to — Atlantia, Artemisia, Meridies, and his homeland of Trimaris.
“Probably the worst bruise I ever got,” he said, “was shortly after I’d gotten into two weapons — first dagger and sword, and then sword and axe — and I was fighting with a sword and an axe against somebody with a really long polearm. I went for his front with my sword and lifted my axe” — he demonstrated, raising his left arm above his head — “stupidest, stupidest move ever, leaving my side wide open, and he goes whack, right along my side, knocked me over. I had a big pink mark this wide right between my ribs for the longest time. It was very pretty.”
“Do you think Their Excellencies will come today?” Wynnie asked me while we were eating.
“I’m pretty sure Border Downs is their group, so they should be close enough,” I said.
“Who?” Jean asked.
“Toyaoka and Aethelflaed, who were King and Queen not long ago,” we told him. “They reigned just before Rhys and Gwenhwyvar.”
“Toyaoka and who?”
“Say it again?”
“Aethelflaed. What, can you Normans not pronounce that name?”
He laughed and said, “You got me there.”
We were mostly done eating when a car drove up and stopped, parking just a few yards from the pavilion. “I think that’s Their Excellencies,” Wynnie said. “That, or it’s Ajax, but I don’t think he left.”
The gentleman who got out was wearing bright orange Japanese garb, which left us in no doubt as to his identity. Aethelflaed, in her accustomed Kentish garb (and barefooted!), got out the other side, and they together unpacked two small boys and a baby in a carrier. A couple of people went to greet them, and one of them told His Excellency that he was in time for the mêlée.
“Then I’ll need to change,” he said, lifting a rubbermaid tub out of the back of the car.
“There are bathrooms, or you can use our tent,” said the lady (the same who had been at Gate).
“Bathrooms, good to know. Yes, ‘cause I need to change everything.” He opened the tub and took out an armful of stuff and left. The bigger of the boys, William, had already set up a tiny camp chair and a stool, and had put his stuffed black bear in the chair, and was himself sitting on the stool. Wynnie had immediately picked up James, and Aethelflaed was taking the baby out of its carrier.
“Come on, boys,” she said, “let’s set up a spot.”
“How old is he?” the lady asked, speaking of the baby.
“Just a couple weeks. He was due the day after Coronation, and was born the Thursday after — no, it was a Monday, so eight days after.”
“So this is his first event?”
When everyone had finished lunch, we put away our food (since Lord Eoin and Lady Leigh had brought so much cheese, our little block had not even been opened). Christiana handed me the green knife we’d used to slice the bread, saying, “Here’s your steel — your other steel.”
“My green steel,” I said, and Jean began singing, “And all my love was green steel” to the tune of Greensleeves.
After he had gone to take a nap and Derbail and some others went to throw knives and axes, Eschina and Christiana and I gathered all the dishes and went to wash them. Christiana filled a bowl with water from the pump halfway between her table and the Norsewoman’s kitchen, added soap, and rolled up her sleeves and washed. Eschina and I carried them to the pump, rinsed them, and set them on the table to air dry. The water from the pump splashed up mud and soaked the front hem of my cyrtel, and with my sleeves turned up I felt a little like a real Anglisc woman. As I left the pump with the last dish, the Norse woman was coming toward it with a pot swinging from her hand.
We crossed the road and saw His Excellency Toyaoka Katsuo, in partial armour, battling his eldest son with a foam katana. Christiana and I gave them plenty of space as we went around, and when the cars were no longer blocking our view we saw that he was on his knees, with his right arm behind him. His son was dancing about in front of him, waving a foam sword as long as he was tall, and saying, “You have to die! You have to die!”
“But you only took my arm,” his father said.
“Fall down dead!” his son insisted. “You got to fall down dead!”
His Excellency obligingly toppled over and sprawled out on his back. At this moment one of the fighters approached him, and, seeing him dead in front of him, stood over him undecidedly, perhaps wondering whether he should offer to help him up. Toyaoka rolled over and sat up. They exchanged greetings in the normal way.
The fighter continued to our pavilion and said to Christiana, “How’s Tam doing?”
“They’re still settling in. He’s been traveling a lot for work, and it seems they’re taking a bit of a break after their reign to get used to life again — they haven’t been very active in the group. Which is fine, I mean, they were King and Queen and then had a move, to a different kingdom — they’re allowed to rest for a bit in there.”
Christiana started helping me get the tablet-weaving cards threaded before going back to her illumination — this time, since she’d figured out her knotwork, to colouring in an oak tree border, with a vine twining around it. The Viking woman in dark green had brought her sewing over and was sitting to the left of the picnic table where Christiana and I had set up our things. Christiana was now on the end of the bench and I was in the middle, preparing to be anchored to the table for the next couple of hours.
Jean, seated now at the other table under our pavilion, told Wynnie, “Your garb looks pretty nice.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I finished yesterday.”
“What period are you again? Norman?”
“Anglo-Norman,” we said both at once.
“Oh, that’s right. You have the same kind of sleeves Derbail does — how’s it pronounced again?”
“Bliaut,” we said.
“Yes, that’s it. Only she’s Irish.”
“Is a liripipe period for you?” I asked, because he was wearing a bright yellow hood with a long yellow liripipe, and given the little I knew of men’s fashions, I wasn’t sure it was around in eleventh century Normandy.
“You’re right, it is not,” he said, “but it keeps me warm, so hey. They were around, sort of, in undeveloped form, in my period, but they didn’t get long like this till later. So what patterns do you use? ‘Cause I know there’s not a lot of real patterns left from period, but both your garb looks awesome.”
“There’s not a pattern, really,” I said. “My first one was a t-tunic, with gores in front and back as well as the sides, but when I made my second, my green cyrtel, I just made two really wide gores and put them in the sides, because it was easier that way, less sewing, and I didn’t have to make slits for the gores and hope the gores fit them. Besides that change it’s just a t-tunic, and it’s really comfy, though it does nothing for the myth that medieval clothes were all sacks.”
“Oh, there’s lots of those,” Jean said. “And the myth that they dumped spices on rotten meat, and they never washed, and there’s one that clothes were all really drab colours, which since getting in the SCA and seeing people’s garb I know that’s not true.”
“It’s easy to get bright colours with the right dye,” I said.
“But it’s kind of true that your clothes are sacks, just, really fitted sacks. What I really like about making garb — and I was only introduced to a sewing machine a couple weeks ago — is it’s all straight lines until you get into later period. Just straight lines, which is really nice and easy.”
“There’s a cutting plan in the back of Gale Owen-Crocker’s Dress in Anglo-Saxon England,” I said, “which I used for this cyrtel, and it has just the side gores and wastes barely any fabric. I like that it doesn’t need a lot of math either. But it’s not really a pattern.”
“You will find, now that you’re both making your own,” Christiana said, “that it’s good to keep your old pieces as patterns, once you make a set that fits you really nicely, you want to hang onto it. And your measurements too. And after that you never look at fabric the same way again.”
“Oh, no,” the Viking woman said, stopping sewing to feel the hem of her underdress. “This is linen gauze, and actually came from curtains in a thrift store. Way cheap to buy linen for, but it works.”
“The household section of a thrift store needs a new name,” Christiana said. “It’s yardage, is what it is. Though I have learned from experience not to make garb with drapes. It pulls out really fast. There’s no seam that will hold.”
“Can you at least keep it for a pattern?” the Viking asked.
“Eh, I can, but I have lots of others that fit me better and that I was happier with.”
“I wore it to my first event,” Wynnie said.
“Yes, you did,” Christiana said. “Now for a while as I was getting into the SCA I wore my Ren Faire things, but eventually I decided I needed something a little more historical, and started researching. I’m still learning things.”
“You always learn things,” the Viking said. “What is your period, exactly?”
“Fourteenth century French-English, right during what would become the Hundred Year’s War, so whether we were under a French or an English king varied by the day.”
“Can you fasten me?” Toyaoka asked, and Aethelflaed knelt beside him and laced up his armour at his sides.
“Does anyone have a hole punch?” he said. “I need another hole in my gorget, and I didn’t bring anything with me — well, I have a lot of things that can put holes in things, just not the kind of hole I need.” The fighter who had come over earlier offered his, and they went together to take care of it.
“So what were you Laureled in, if I may ask?” I heard Christiana say.
“Oh, a little bit of everything,” said the Viking woman. “The king who Laureled me said it was mostly for fiber arts, and for being fearless in everything I tried. I tried a lot of things, too. And I taught a lot of people, that was part of it.”
“What kind of fiber arts, or just fiber in general?”
“Oh, most anything. Weaving — my newest apprentice just started weaving, and I kept her first bit, so that someday when she says ‘I’m so bad at this!’ for whatever she’s doing, I can show her it and say, ‘See how much you’ve improved since then?’ — sewing, obviously, embroidery. I enjoy the research that comes with them, seeing how they would do things in my time. About the only thing I haven’t tried is naalbinding. I want to someday, I just haven’t yet.”
“You’ve done naalbinding, haven’t you?” Christiana said, turning to me.
“Yes, a little,” I said, as the Laurel turned to look at me. I stopped weaving to pull my money pouch out of my bag, which was sitting on the table, and gave it to Christiana to pass to the Laurel. Christiana wisely took the remaining five coins out, so that an inspection of the workmanship of the bag would not result in spilled gold.
“It’s very even and fine,” the Laurel said. “Do you use a needle, or —?”
“A metal darning needle,” I said. “The yarn is wool. It took quite a bit of trial and error before I could get it right.”
“Thank you for showing me,” she said, handing it back with a smile. I poured the money back in and returned it to the bag.
Toyaoka and another fighter were standing by the trees near the pavilion, James was trying to pick up a foam sword and wooden shield and kept falling over, Aethelflaed was talking to the “time-traveling gypsy”, and Wynnie was still holding Thomas. The old knight who’d been shooting earlier was chasing William and growling, much to the delight of both of them.
My ball of yarn went back and forth through the warp threads, and I turned the cards, remembering ‘four turns forward — four turns backward’, but somehow the pattern forming wasn’t looking like diamonds, though with a little imagination it might be leaves. It was uneven, too, and the yarn was so thick and I had so many cards that the threads were skipping, and as I’d been distracted, that didn’t help. But it was the beginning end of my second attempt at tablet-weaving, so I let it be and didn’t worry about it. I was enjoying a more relaxed event than most of my previous ones, and therefore thinking about it.
Time goes differently at events. It slows down, for one thing, because you don’t have the pressure to go places and do things at set times, and when the times are set — well, it’s SCA time, which means the proclamation “Evening Court at five” really means people will start getting read at half-past. You have a lot of different centuries and cultures bumping into each other — and for the most part it’s peaceable, until you get an eleventh-century Norman and a late Anglo-Saxon in the same group — but life is different. Fighting, working, eating, and talking: you’re living more like the people you’ve researched. Making the garb, learning about the culture, researching, researching: it’s all good and necessary, but getting it all together in one place, with people who are just as weird as you are, gives you the opportunity to live what you’ve learned, even if you don’t notice it at the time because you’re too much inside it. It’s truly living history.
Lord Manfred came and stood behind Jean, pulling his hood where it bunched in the back around the liripipe. “Nice hood,” he said.
“Yes?” Jean said.
“How well does it fit you?”
“Well, it was my first sewing ever, so it’s not perfect. It fits my face, it’s just tight, which is why I wear it back.”
“If it fits your face it will fit mine,” Lord Manfred said. “Can I borrow it for rapier?”
“I suppose,” Jean said, taking it off. Lord Manfred took it away, and when he came back he had it on over his rapier helmet. Since he was also wearing his red gambeson, the result was rather ketchup-and-mustard looking.
Then all the fighters moved toward the bridge in the middle of the field, and I stopped to watch them. They were six all told, and then the two marshals (Ajax was one of them, with a black and gold tabard over his tunica). Toyaoka got up on the wall and walked along it, using a spear to steady himself.
“It does give him the advantage of height,” I said.
“With the very big disadvantage of no balance,” Christiana added.
“There’s that too.” But he soon got off and took his position on the end nearer us.
A melee battle is chaos, I’d heard, and soon saw that it was, even with only three fighters on each side. It was hard to tell who was winning, even, and the marshals didn’t announce it. I saw only several soldiers ramming each other with spears, occasionally someone falling down (once a marshal asked one of them if he was all right, but he said he was and went back into the fight), and then it stopped and they sat down, some of them inside the bridge so they became almost invisible. After their rest they moved on to rapier, in the other side of the lists where we couldn’t see them well.
About this time two perfectly normal people, who had backpacks so they might have been hikers, passed through the field, throwing a Frisbee to each other.
“Frisbee golf,” Christiana said with a laugh. “I wonder if they’re going to try to do that hole,” nodding toward where the rapier combat was going on. “They might get in a little trouble if they do.”
We watched, but they didn’t, and though they did at first give us a few perplexed stares, soon turned to ignoring us, and never asked any questions.
The Viking cook walked over with a bowl in her hands and set it on our table.
“Ooh, what is this?” someone asked.
“Pork boiled with wine and vegetables, and then there’s a sauce to go with it. You can have some, but you’ll have to eat it as finger-food because I didn’t bring any forks.”
The newcomers got up the courage to try it, and declared it good.
“I have some vegetables that’ll be done later, to bring over too,” the cook said before departing.
“In SCA circles,” Lord Eoin said, “if you leave without a full stomach, it’s your fault.”
Lord Manfred was sitting on the ground by Amanda and Eschina, telling them stories about various fighters he knew.
“Dan, one of Rivenwood’s heavy fighters, who isn’t here today,” he was saying, “was fighting at Warriors and Warlords one year, and got really into it with his opponent — they were both really concentrating — and it took four marshals yelling ‘Hold!’ three times to get their attention before they stopped. The real question is,” he said, addressing himself now to Eschina, who is Dan’s mother, “is he planning to fight in Crown any time soon?”
“I don’t know about soon,” she said. “It’s definitely a goal. I don’t think he knows just when, and of course he has to have someone to fight for, first, and he doesn’t yet.”
The Laurel asked Jean something I didn’t catch (I couldn’t pay attention to everything) to which he replied, “I directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream this summer with community theatre, and we had to make all our own costumes. Jenny — Christiana did a lot of it, but a lot of it was Lady Leigh’s work, and she turned out some really amazing Elizabethan-style stuff on a lot of limitations, some of it SCA-quality. She does all her husband’s garb, too — he’s late-period. He went to Fall Coronation, she made his garb from a portrait of Henry the Eighth, and it was amazing.”
“Oh, how nice to have a garbie doll,” the Laurel told Lady Leigh.
“A what?” that lady asked, puzzled.
“A garbie doll — your own someone you get to make clothes for and dress up.”
“Garbie doll!” Jean laughed. “I like that.”
“Do you have any of your work here you could show me?” the Laurel asked, and Lord Eoin obligingly got up and left, returning wearing something I can only call a sleeveless coat, for lack of knowledge of the proper term. It was black, or a very dark brown, which contrasted well with the dark blue shirt he was wearing, edged in not one but two kinds of trim, and fur to finish it off.
“Oh, very impressive,” the Laurel said. “You must have so much fun with it.”
“I do,” Lady Leigh said. “It’s not very complicated patterns, but the fabric and trim that really makes it.”
Lord Manfred passed us, stopping just behind Christiana to place his hand right beside her ribs.
“Not while she’s using a very small brush!” I protested, as she was colouring in the oak leaves, which had been giving her trouble.
“That’s the point,” Lord Manfred said, smiling. Christiana froze, her brush safely above the paper, and waited. But he walked on without poking her.
Aethelflaed was shepherding James around near the pavilion, and Jean went to introduce himself to her.
“I’m Jean de Liseux,” he said, “at your service, Your Excellency.” He held out his hand and she shook it.
“Aethelflaed,” she said.
“How do you pronounce it?” he asked.
“Ae-thel-flaed.” I couldn’t help smiling.
“My first event was your Coronation at which you stepped down, this spring,” he said. “I have to say I was really impressed. And I got my AoA just a couple weeks ago, when Rhys and Gwen stepped down, which was really special, and quite a surprise.”
“Oh? Yes, that doesn’t happen often,” she said.
Two mundanes, a tall boy and a small one, came walking along the drive, tossing a football. Seeing us, they slowly left the gravel and inched along the grass, curious, half-afraid.The tall boy reminded me at once of one of Jenny’s characters in her latest NaNo, in which a SCAdian schoolteacher introduced her students to the SCA in order to teach them some much-needed lessons about honour and chivalry. Perhaps it was because he was so tall, and looked about full-grown, but his arms were round and not with muscle, and his eyes were squinty (not because of the sun) with the look of a boy who thinks he’s a man.
They stood watching the fighting, which had started up again in the lists, for a little while; then a white-bearded man in a light green tunic with gold trim, whom Jean had earlier said was a Viscount, approached them.
“Enjoying what you see?” he asked.
“So is this what people really did back — a long time ago?” the boy asked.
“Very like it,” the Viscount said. “We make all our own armour in the style of whatever century we’re portraying, so it’s real, and we use the same moves and things, the only difference being that the swords aren’t real steel. We use rattan, which is like bamboo, so it has much the same force and effect in a blow without cutting you open. All the bruises are real. Now, you see him, on his knees there — when someone gets in a blow to your leg, you’ve lost that leg, and you go to your knees. Realistically if someone cut your leg off in a battle, you’d lie there on the ground making noises and hanging on to it and hoping your friends would come pick you up before you died. Here, the idea is, we’re heroes, we fight on.”
“So can just anyone fight, or do you have to be — knighted, first?” the boy asked.
“You can fight if you have a certain amount of protection, we usually have some loaner gear, and sign a waiver in case you do get hurt. It takes a long time fighting, and other things besides, before anyone can be knighted.”
“Pork?” the Norse cook asked them, walking by at that moment.
“No, we’ve eaten,” the boy said. The Viscount took a piece, and she walked on to offer it to some of the fighters who were standing by the Gate tent.
“We have practices on Sundays in the park,” the Viscount said. “Drop by sometime if you’re interested.”
“Maybe we’ll see you on Sunday,” the boy said, before he put his hand on the little boy’s shoulder and they walked away.
Wynnie came to me with the phone in her hand. “Time to start leaving,” she said. “I’m going to go call Dad and ask for directions out of here, so we don’t get lost again.” She went off away from the camp, and I packed up a little, and did a little more weaving while I waited.
When she came back, it was to fetch Christiana to take pictures of her, as she couldn’t really take pictures of her own garb while she was wearing it.
I stood up from the table and looked out over the lists to a knot of fighters by the picnic table on the other side. Ajax was demonstrating something to an armoured fighter.
“Mhhmmm,” said someone, and I looked, and saw Manfred on the other side of the rope, pointing to me. He had his helm on, with only a horizontal slit for his eyes, which explained why his voice was muffled. He waved and beckoned.
“Me?” I said.
I took a few steps in his direction.
“Leavin’?” he said.
“Here.” He held out both his arms this time, one of them still holding a sword. I resigned myself to yet another hug. Afterward he went back to fighting.
I leaned against a tree, savouring these last moments, and watched as Toyaoka got onto the top of the picnic table in order to be at eye level with another fighter, and gestured and waved, presumably measuring or explaining something.
Wynnie and Christiana came back, and we divided our bundles between us, said our last goodbyes, and set off reluctantly for the van, which was parked quite a distance away.
As we reached the first in the line of cars, I tripped on a hidden lump and my knife fell out of my belt, still in its sheath, onto the grass. I picked it up and turned for one more look at the camp, raising my knife in a last salute.
As we drove out of the campground into the road by the gas station, we saw a semi-truck parked in its lot. The side of the truck was sable, with a golden creature on it — a dragon, to judge by the wings and tongue and tail, but so stylized it almost passed for the Northshield griffin.
“Farewell to Northshield,” I said aloud as we passed it.