THE FIGHTERS - Gawking at My First Heavy Weapons Tournament
Updated: Jan 10
THE TREBUCHET - A Siege Engine Knocks My Life 163 Degrees Sideways
THE SHIRE - Making Garb, Travel Plans and a Home in the SCA
THE FIRST NIGHT - Halfdan Was There
22 years old
They’ve set up an archery field between two lines of imposing pine trees. At the far end, hay bales have been erected and covered with paper targets. But these are not standard bullseye targets. Today, each poster contains the coat-of-arms of a fighter who will be competing in the opening tournament. Both archers and fighters have been divvied into two teams, and the results of the archery contest will determine how the heavy weapons tournament will begin. It's a sword-and-shield competition. (They call that "sword-n-board" which makes me grin. When I get home, I'm so stealing that for my Gladiatrix tales.)
If a poster is shot in its center, the corresponding fighter will be knocked out. A hit to either of the upper corners will require the fighter to begin the tourment without the use of that arm; a hit to a lower corner will eliminate the use of a leg.
It’s all jolly cutthroat sport as the archers try to knock out the best fighters, while the fighters and their supporters try to distract whoever is taking aim. The game changes when we all make our way to the roped off area--the tournament field. Any of the “wounded” fighters who have lost a leg pogo-stick-hop onto the field or use their swords as a crutch while dragging their "bum" leg behind them. Those who have lost an arm strut out shieldless, carrying only a sword. They put their "missing" hand behind their backs and grip their belt to keep it there.
To my disappointment, there are no shield-maidens among them.
Most who have lost a leg decide to start their match on their knees, but not all. “Yarrrrrr!” somebody heckles from the crowd. “Sir Vettorio be a pirate today! Where be yer parrot, good knight? Where be yer eye-patch?”
“Arrrrrrg!” The "one-legged" man in the yellow-and-blue tucks his weapon under an armpit so he can grab the long piece of red cloth hanging from his upper arm. He uses it to cover half of the bars at the front of his shiny helmet. “Me eye-patch be right heeeere!” His thigh-high white boots and jangling spurs make his hopping extra ridiculous.
I laugh and "yarrrrr" along with both sides of the onlookers.
James has explained that Vettorio is called "Sir" because he is a knight. We can tell this by his white belt and spurs. His opponent wears a red belt--a squire. There are only a handful of fighters that wear either of those colors around their waists. Most of the men belt their clothing with black or brown leather or a colorful sash that matches their heraldry--just not white or red. Those sashes are reserved for the fencers who hold the same rank as the armored knights and squires.
I keep having to uncross my eyes to keep it all straight. (1)
Because then you have the noble titles. And the royal titles. And the awards. And the heraldry, either personal or by location. You can either wear your own coat-of-arms if you’ve been awarded one, or you can wear the one that belongs to your household, or you can wear the symbols of wherever you come from. That could be your shire or a bigger place like a barony, or there are certain parts of your kingdom heraldry that anybody who lives there can wear. Oh yeah, or your principality.
So I could wear something to tell everybody I’m from the Shire of the Inner Sea. Or I could wear something from our principality--Northshield. Or I could wear something from our kingdom, the Midrealm. They’re all very different coats-of-arms with very different symbols and colors. I could make an entire rainbow just filling my closet with all that heraldry, even without getting my own personal standard.
This is something I can only do if someone recommends me for a Scadian’s first kingdom-level award, an Award of Arms. Then I have to make sure that it doesn’t conflict with anybody else’s registered heraldry.
Obviously Sir Vettorio and his wife have done this because their heraldry is splashed everywhere on their garb, their sunshade, and their retinue--the squires, ladies-in-waiting, men-at-arms, children, dogs, and other gentles of their household.
The red cloth that hangs from the knight’s arm is called a favor. It has a mate, which is still attached to the arm of his wife--his lady. Before he pogo-hopped onto the tournament field, he made a grand speech about how inspirational her beauty is and how honored he is to fight for her this day. She answered in equally grand words about his gallantry and prowess, and wished him luck by taking off her cloth arm band with its long, red strip that matches her gown.
She’s wearing a sleek, fitted number that flares out into wide skirting with a train. Half the gown is black and half is red, whereas the sleeves are the opposite--one red and one black, and the arm bands are opposite again--the red on the black sleeve and the black on the red sleeve. “Particolored,” James called it. (2)
Dammit. Maghnuis. I keep forgetting that. That’s his SCA name.
Sir Vettorio's wife has given him the red arm band. Her white crane is embroidered onto the dangling end. It matches the big white crane that decorates the bottom half of her gown. Her veil is also white, held into place by one of those special crowns Maghnuis told me about--a coronet with the six little balls, which means she is a Baroness.
Sir Vettorio was wearing the same kind before he put on his helmet, which technically makes him Baron Sir Vettorio. Now a young boy holds his coronet for him on a velvet pillow under the big banner that is half red-and-black crane and half yellow-and-blue with his castle and waves.
This whole place is a sea of colors. Most of the fighters at least wear a long rectangle with a hole cut from the center for their head. They hang it down their front and back, then belt it tight. It’s called a tabard, and many of them have coats-of-arms appliquéd or painted across the chest.
Sir Vettorio doesn’t. Under his smooth, steel breastplate, he wears a fancy yellow coat with slashed, puffy sleeves. Bits of blue cloth peek out between the slashes, making him appear even broader than he is. (3)
All of his armor gleams in the sun, giving breath to that oldest of medieval cliches. He truly is a Knight in Shining Armor. When he does a spinning pirate-leg dance with his shield and weapon in the air, the slitted bottom lengths of his coat that hang beneath the breastplate bounce a little, further showing off the…
Well...there is an item protruding from between the coat's slits.
Sir Vettorio's hips and thighs are protected in layers of steel plate, but the armor in between is even smoother and rounder than his breastplate, fashioned in the shape of what it’s protecting.
Upon noting my huge-eyed blush-and-gawk, Maghnuis laughs and pats my arm. He names the item a “codpiece,” and explains that men whose personas hail from this era also wear padded ones off the field. (4) Apparently, these items can get quite lavish and…large. Decorated even, with tassels and trims and such. He says the most garish smartasses have been known to add googly eyes and snake-tongues.
Sir Vettorio’s armored codpiece is streamlined and modest in comparison to some of those descriptions. Instead, he reserves his outlandishness to his gleaming getup and his stage performance charm.
The man who strides out to face him is a completely different breed of fighter. Quiet. Understated. Succinct. His brown leather armor is made of scales similar to the ones Hal wore that first night I met him at the trebuchet demo, but this man wears black gauntlets and a fox-fur ruff around the steel cone of his helmet. A circular, black leather drape swoops down from the nose guard to cover his shoulders. His tabard is black, too, as are the puffy pants that cover up whatever leg armor he’s wearing. His boots are brown with black fur, and only reach his knees. He sports a single flash of color: the dark red of his squire’s belt.
Apparently, he took an arrow to the right arm in the archery contest, because he holds onto the belt behind his back and brandishes his sword in his left hand.
I say “sword” because that’s what everybody calls it, even though both men are hefting lengths of rattan wrapped with silver duct tape. They’ve marked the “bladed edges” using thin strips of colored tape--blue and black, respectively, to match their outfits. Only a strike with the colored edge counts. If they hit somebody with the silver part, it’s like hitting them with the flat of the blade. Loud, ouchy, but not anything that would hack off a limb or cut through armor.
When a third man steps out with a long staff wrapped in spiraling black and yellow tape, Sir Vettorio stops messing around and joins his opponent in facing the referee--the marshal. (5) We know that’s what he is by the black tabard with the crossed yellow swords. He also wears a broad straw hat to shield him from the sun.
He goes through a formal proceeding where he introduces the fighters and has them “do honor” to somebody in another coronet that I can’t fully see over the crowd. The fighters make their unique brand of salute. Next, they give similar honor to “the one who inspires you this day”--Sir Vettorio's wife and a lady who looks like she could be twice the age of the squire, Ardo.
Maghnuis explains that not all of the inspirational ladies are wives or girlfriends. Some are friends or political consorts, like this one is for Ardo.
After having the fighters salute their “honorable opponent,” the marshal steps away. The staff lifts as he yells, “Lay on!”
Ardo makes a fast jerk in like he’s about to charge--just a feint. It does its work. Peg-leg Sir Vettorio hops and swings his “sword.” Ardo darts sideways and smacks the knight’s extended forearm. He keeps moving and WHACK! A hard hit to the standing thigh.
Everybody around us groans because Sir Vettorio is on our team. Ardo's sword comes back around but he misses the third hit in his combo--the head--when the knight drops to his knees.
“Hold!” the marshal cries, thrusting his staff between the fighters.
Ardo backs off to give Sir Vettorio time to switch hands from where he lost an arm. The knight places his sword on the ground and shucks off the shield from his left arm. His own squire runs out to help him. The shield is exchanged for a half-gauntlet that fits behind the cage of bars surrounding his sword hilt; a full gauntlet protects the hand of his “injured” right side. He grabs his belt behind his back, too, then lifts the sword in front of his face and gets more comfortable on his knees.
Off runs Sir Vettorio’s squire, up stalks Ardo, and the marshal’s staff lifts again. “Lay on!”
We all cheer and scream, some of us for the severely disabled knight, some for the spry squire. Ardo prowls his foe’s periphery. My heart is in my chest. I know we’re supposed to be rooting for Vettorio but Ardo isn’t very big. He’s maneuverable and sneaky. He almost dances around his grand, bulky opponent, feinting, twitching in, gliding off--CRACK!
Sir Vettorio shakes his head. “Tippy.”
Ardo’s shoulders hunch and he stalks harder.
I lean closer to Maghnuis. Without taking my eyes from the fight, I ask, “Tippy?”
Maghnuis also keep his eyes riveted on the combatants as he says, “It wasn’t a clean blow. He hit more with the tip versus the length of the blade. Not enough on it to have done damage if that had been a real sword. It probably slid off the smooth, rounded part of Sir Vettorio's helm.”
“Really?” I squeak. I would have thought that blow had rung the knight’s bell inside that clanging helmet. “Looks like Ardo doesn’t agree. Why doesn’t he ask the referee?”
“A marshal is not a referee. The fighter receiving the blow is responsible for determining if it’s clean and strong enough to be acknowledged. It’s all based on honor.”
“Oh...” I flick a glance from the corners of my eyes. “So is everybody honorable and honest?”
Maghnuis laughs. “We hope. But you’re bound to come across a rhino-hide here and there.”
“Rhino-hide,” I say, as the image comes barreling at me and settles.
Ardo rushes in with a flurry of light whacks and then stabs for the heart. This time I see what Sir Vettorio is talking about when he shakes his head again. “Slipped.” That was true--right off his equally smooth, rounded breastplate.
The squire nods and goes back to stalking. However, he never goes past Sir Vettorio's shoulder to jump behind him. Sometimes the knight scootches around to keep facing him, but there seems to be an unspoken code between them. No backstabbing.
I like that.
“Do you see the padded tips on both their swords?” Maghnuis asks me. At my nod, he says, “Those are called thrusting tips. They’re an authorization all their own, as is face-thrusting. You have to be very precise so that you don’t strike someone in the face too hard. You can really injure someone by cracking their head back like that.”
With how hard Ardo stabbed, I can see that. And I have noticed that every time he thrusts at the bars of Vettorio's helmet, it’s nowhere near as hard. As an image strikes my brain, my heart flip-flops. “Does anybody ever get accidentally stabbed in the face?”
“No doubt it’s happened at least a few times in all the history of the SCA. But the armor and weapon inspections are very meticulous. They have tools to measure the gaps in a helmet’s opening, to make sure that they are always smaller than the width of a thrusting tip and even an unpadded tip. As you say, accidents happen.”
“Huh.” That’s a relief. But still kinda scary.
Sir Vettorio sits far back on his heels, keeping his head as far away from Ardo as possible with his sword making little windshield wiper motions to deflect whatever gets thrown at him. He’s lasted way longer than I thought he would with no legs and a missing right arm. But I guess that’s why he’s a knight.
Ardo jumps back in. There’s another fast flurry. He’s all leather, fur, and flashing duct tape. Whack-clack-clack-CLANG! Straight on the side of the helmet. Sir Vettorio falls over “dead.” To my shock, so does Ardo.
A chorus of mixed up glee and groaning bursts out from both sides, followed by applause and cheers that drown out the marshal’s voice.
I blink hard. “Wait a second.” I glance at Maghnuis, look back at the two toppled fighters starting to pull themselves to their feet. “What…?”
“Well struck, sir,” Ardo says, pounding his gauntlet up under his own chin to indicate where he was hit.
Sir Vettorio dips his head and grins behind the bars of his helmet. “And you, squire.”
They lift their swords in front of their faces to salute each other, bow to the marshal, and walk toward their own people. Ladies hug them, a squire helps Sir Vettorio take off his helmet, Ardo wrangles out of his and chucks it on the ground. A flurry of low conversation ensues between him and a man in similar leather armor. Since he’s wearing a white belt, I guess he must be Ardo’s knight. The older man pounds his squire’s shoulder and says something in his ear. Ardo rolls his eyes and makes a motion like he’s moving in to strike.
I wonder if he’s talking about that tippy head strike. I wonder if he just called Sir Vettorio a “rhino-hide.” But both men shrug it off and Ardo slurps down water from a leather drinking skin. Sir Vettorio guzzles from a large, lidded silver tankard as his squire mops his face and his wife peels off an orange slice to push into his mouth the second the mug lowers.
Maghnuis reaches down for his own water flask and lidded tankard. After pouring a bit into his cup, he offers some to me. I grab the clay mug I found at the thrift store and hold it out. “Thanks,” I say, gratefully swigging down the dust from my parched throat. Even in the shade beneath the pines, it’s still incredibly hot and I am not used to wearing so many layers in the summer.
Normally, I’d be in shorts and a tank top. But today, I’m wearing my hiking boots, a long white skirt, a long sleeve shirt, and my raspberry ghost-tent dress. I really want to flap it about like making a breeze in sails, but I don’t think that would be appropriate amongst all these lords and ladies.
Two other fighters take the field. Lord Berwyn is dressed in gold with purple accents. His belt is brown. His opponent is another knight, Sir Saeric. He’s also wearing gold, which seems to be a popular color, but his heraldry is some sort of red-and-black fiery motif. A comet, maybe?
“So…” I glance back at the sweat-soaked Ardo, still scratching my head about that fight. “Did Sir Vettorio get Ardo in the face just as he got hit in the side of the helmet?”
“That’s exactly what happened,” Maghnuis replies.
“Snuck it right up in there,” Robert says, thrusting his bladed hand up with a low, "Ugh!"
“Wow,” I say. “I totally missed that.”
It all happens so quickly. So does the next fight. There's a little bit of jockeying, some shifting and testing. And then Sir Saeric closes the distance. Even though he has no shield and begins with one hand behind his back, he still devastates Lord Berwyn in two blows. Thwip-WHAM! Straight down the front of the helmet.
Whumph. Another fighter “dead” on the ground.
When this tournament finishes, there’s a brief break. Maghnuis, Robert, and I stroll over to watch the fencing. Meagan is there in a long, navy-blue gown and corset, all covered by a facemask and heavy gloves. We watch her skewer her opponent, followed by a few more rounds, and it’s really nifty. But what I hunger to see is the heavy weapons combat when all the fighters aren’t just messing about after being mauled by the archers.
When they take the field for the second tournament, I get to see the difference. I also get to see the King’s Champion fight for the first time. As a prime target for the archers, they’d knocked him out from the start. Decked in showy armor and a white tabard with the Midrealm’s green dragon on a vertical red stripe, I had mistaken him for royalty before Maghnuis explained the significance of his heraldry.
The Champion doesn’t fight with a sword and shield. His weapons are long and pokey--a sword with a spear that he uses in place of a shield, or a six-foot staff with a long “blade” at one end and a stabby “tip” at the other. He’s very long himself, well over six feet tall.
If I’d thought Ardo danced, the King’s Champion puts him to shame. He’s only a squire as well, but his fluidity and precision makes me salivate. All I want is to get into armor and get out there.
Granted, not against the Champion. Or Ardo. Or Sir Vettorio or any of the other knights and squires out there.
No, I really want to stand before those highest-level fighters and learn exactly how they do it. By the time the tournament ends, I don’t take much notice of who wins. To me, that doesn’t matter. I loved every second of watching every one of them. Afterwards, some of the fighters pick up all their gear and head off to the showers. So does the majority of the crowd.
I will not be moved. There are still combatants on the field doing “pickup fights.” As some of them come over to slurp water, I can’t help rushing them to say, “Oh, my God! That was so amazing! I’ve never seen anything like that in person before. How long have you been doing this?”
An array of grins greets me, as varied as the number of years that the men answer. Some have only been fighting a couple years, one has been fighting for over ten. Another just started last fall.
“Wow,” I gush, certain that my eyes must be as round as one of those Viking shields. “So…” I glance around. “No shield-maidens.”
More grinning. More chuckling. “Not today,” says Lord Berwyn, the bearded man in gold-and-purple who got smoked by Sir Saeric. “But we do have a few around. Some of them are really good.”
A round of nods with murmurs of agreement.
Thank the heavens for Maghnuis’ mind reading ability, he introduces me to the fighters using the new persona name I chose this morning, Milady Arabella. Then he lets them know that this is my first event. “Heavy weapons is one of the things she has been the most interested in trying.”
“Well,” Lord Berwyn says with a sly grin. “Do you want to give it a try?”
“Of course!” I say. “I just have to figure out how to get my own armor.”
A few eyebrows fly up in surprise, but Berwyn says, “No, I mean right now. We could just throw you in my armor and then you could really see if you like it.”
Eyes: goggly, lopsided, as big as Jupiter and Saturn.
Grin: much like Saturn’s rings.
Speaking ability: vaporized.
Body: vibrating like hummingbird wings.
At last, I manage to squeak out, “Really?!”
They all chuckle. Someone pats my back. I think it’s Maghnuis but I’m not sure because I’m no longer legitimately on this planet anymore. Nope, I’m up in the clouds. In the stars! I’m soaring through the cosmos like Sir Saeric’s blazing comet.
Especially when the fighters convince the knight to teach me.
**It should be noted that some of the names and personal heraldry in this piece are fictionally concocted for the purposes of this tale. Then again, some are not.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: DAMSEL OUT OF DIS-DRESS - My First Time In Heavy Armor
--OR: If you want to know how I became obsessed with wanting to learn how to fight in armor, you can find that HERE.
--OR: You can find all my adventures in learning the Arts of Self-Defense HERE.
LINKS FOR YOUR GEEKING PLEASURE
3) Puff & Slash
4) The Codpiece