THE TREBUCHET - A Siege Engine Knocks My Life 163 Degrees Sideways
ENTERING THE ARENA - Gladiators Hijack My Life
GLADIATRIX: "Gladia-what?!" - Female Gladiator
STAMINA - Spectacled Book-Nerds Teach Me To Fight
...I did stick it out, and I did get my college diploma stamped with that groovy cum laude, in spite of all my drowning tomfuckery. I did not bother with commencement ceremonies, because I’d never really felt at home in that place. Not in the Theater Department. Not in the Foreign Language Department. I hadn’t even felt at home in the Dance Department, especially not after I started taking that “just-a-folk-dance” slut-dastardly obsession, belly dance.
No, it was only in the History Department that I felt truly comfortable and like I was with my own kind...
22 years old
I am about to watch a medieval siege engine in action!
Seriously, they’ve brought in a trebuchet for a demonstration, and our Medieval History class is required to attend. Required. Pssssh, as if anyone could keep me away from that.
Okay, fine, so the machine is a tiny demo version that launches tennis balls. I do not care. It’s a trebuchet!
Why am I all cheesed out about this?
Oh. Sorry. I suppose you were wanting more:
I would not want to be on the receiving end.
Just before 7:00 p.m. we congregate in the largest lecture hall on campus. The presenter's assistant is almost done erecting targets behind the podium. A section in the back rows of seating has been blocked off, and a table has been set up with something hiding under a sheet. The trebuchet, no doubt. As such, my classmates and I decide to sit in the back row so we can view the entire launch trajectory.
First there’s the slideshow and lecture about the machine's history, construction, and capabilities. The event culminates with the demo.
The trebuchet does not disappoint.
The lincoln log castle: KA-BLAM!
The tower of tin cans: KA-CLATTER!
The single can to demonstrate accuracy: KA-PLING! Clatter-rrrrrroll…
Polite applause arises from the general seating. We history nuts go crazy in the back. It is at that moment, with my mouth gaped wide in an obnoxious holler, that I spy him. Standing in the aisle to my left, towering over two smaller guys, is…
Well, there’s an armored medieval warrior in this room, and he’s whooping and hollering along with we history nerds.
I can’t help but gawp. Shining stainless steel helmet, body armor of waxed, hardened leather scales, articulated gauntlets, steel leg plates. His goldenrod tunic and its wide, embroidered trim peek out here and there. His brown, knee-high boots match his scaled armor. The boots look hand-made.
As the line forms to examine the trebuchet up close, I glance back and forth between the machine and the warrior. Thankfully, he doesn’t make my choice a difficult one. He gets in line behind us. The oohing, ahhing, and drooling ensues as we examine the little siege engine’s clean lines and nifty design up close. The presenter answers our hail-fire of additional questions like the obsessed nerd that he is. At last, we disperse with our faces alight and mouths moving a million miles a minute. My classmates disappear.
I, on the other hand, lurk in wait outside the lecture hall.
The second I catch a glimpse of the warrior, I pounce into his path. “Hi,” I blurt out. This word suffices for my entire greeting and introduction. Before he can respond I bombard him as though my mouth is full of twelve trebuchets and a ballista. “Okay, who are you, why are you all dressed up in armor, where did you get it, and is it possible for me to get some of my own?”
He and his friends burst into laughter and gather around me. The warrior extends a gauntlet in place of a hand. When I try to figure out how to get in there and shake it, he turns my hand over, shifting to take only my fingertips. The glove inside all that steel is made of soft, supple leather. It matches his grasp and the rumble of his voice. “Milady," he says with a bow. "Well met. I am Halfdan of the Shire of the Inner Sea.”
My eyebrows fly up toward my hairline. My eyes shift right, left, onto his friends. They both grin like they’ve seen him do this this a million times.
“Um…nice to meet you?” I return.
His eyelids crinkle behind the swooping eyeholes of his helmet. Upon releasing my hand, he unbuckles his chin-strap and removes the heavy thing, tucking it into his side, also with an ease that shows how often he’s done this. His dark auburn hair is matted with sweat and has gone wild in several spots. It only adds to the towering-warrior flavor, as does his beard. Yet the sparkle in his blue eyes speaks to the gentlemanly way he took my hand.
With a much more sedate dip of the head, he breaks from character like an actor stepping offstage. “My real name is Halden, but everybody calls me Hal, and this is the armor I wear when I fight in the SCA.”
My head tilts. “SCA?”
“Society for Creative Anachronism. It’s a medieval reenactment group, spanning 500 to 1500 AD.** We pick a time period and a place we want to be from and then study it, dress like what someone of that period would dress like, learn the skills they would have learned, do the activities they would have enjoyed for fun…”
Sounds way more than fun. It sounds absolutely fabulous! I’m not entirely sure I’ve blinked since we started talking.
“My persona is Viking,” he says. “I chose the name Halfdan—”
“Heh, Halfdan Leadfoot,” one of his buddies chimes in.
Hal pulls a face, then goes on, “I run the on-campus group, and the Shire has weekly meetings at a tavern down by the waterfront. There’s fighter practice every week as well, and other kinds of get-togethers.” Spreading his arms out wide, he announces, “We all hail from the Shire of the Inner Sea.”
I lift an eyebrow. An apt name for Lake Superior.
“At the actual events, we get together and camp out, medieval style. Some people use period pavilions, but you don’t have to. All the encampments have sections in the back for anybody in a modern tent. Same with food. We just ask that anybody who attends makes an attempt at period garb and uses period eating ware if they’re outside their tent.”
My face falls. “Oh. Where do you even get stuff like that?”
“Easy. You can always find feast gear and garb for sale at Merchant’s Row at any event. At some of the bigger events, you can find just about anything you could want. As for the clothing, I’m having a garb-making party in a few weeks. Do you know how to sew?”
My grin returns. “I do.”
“Well, great. We could help you make your first garb, if you want to come. The next event is in Eau Claire at the beginning of June. That’s plenty of time to get you garbed up. A bunch of us are camping together. You’d just need a tent, and then you could experience it all firsthand. There’s stuff to do there for just about anybody. We fight melee battles and have tournaments during the day. There’s also archery and fencing and a variety of arts and crafts. We sing bardic songs around the campfire at night. There’s dancing--”
“Dancing?” I say. “What kind of dancing?”
The guys share a grin with each other. They obviously know a perfectly set hook when they spy one, because they close in like smirking sharks. Hal explains, “There’s court dancing after the feasts, and then around the campfires there’s also belly dancing.”
“Belly dancing?” I squeak. Medieval warriors, medieval costumes, battle reenactment, camping, history, character creation, and my newest favorite obsession, all in one place?
“Do you belly dance?” Hal asks.
My other eyebrow flashes. “I do.”
A flush creeps into his cheeks, redder then his hair and beard. “Cool.”
One of the other guys says, “Just make sure not to wear a cabaret costume.”
“You know, sequins and beads. Flashy. Lots of skin.”
My eyes widen again. “Oh.” Sounds like every costume I own. After a lengthy discussion about my various articles of costuming, they finally bestow the stamp of approval, albeit reluctant, upon one mismatched outfit that will be close enough for my first event, especially if I can augment it with some pieces I find at this Merchant’s Row they’re so excited about. My midriff will be bare, but they assure me that I won’t be seen as a “jingle-bunny,” which I’ve come to understand is a very bad thing around the SCA bonfires.
“Oh, yeah,” Hal adds, donning his ornate helmet once more. “I made some of my armor myself, but not all. And yes, you could get your own there, too. We hail from the Principality of Northshield, after all, and Northshield needs shield-maidens.”
My grin has the range of that trebuchet. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to learn how to stand up for myself. I long to stop being a damsel in distress, forever tossed about in the storms of the violent and the cruel, knowing nothing beyond how to make nice and pray, run away, hide, or endure it until it's over. What crap. It’s long past time. I’ve been writing my gladiatrix obsessively since last summer, but to put on armor, to actually get weapons in my hands and learn how to use them?
For the second time tonight, I am positively drooling.
**The time period I was given when I first started in the SCA was AD 500 - 1500. In more recent years I’ve heard people say AD 600 - 1600.
**Even in our university setting, we used AD, and yes, this discussion mentions a curiosity that nobody was ever able to explain to me either, when trying to translate Anno Domini into easy English for non-Latin-speaking kids: “If BC stands for ‘before Christ’ and AD stands for ‘after death’ then what year was it when Jesus was 5?”
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: THE SHIRE - Making Garb, Travel Plans, and a Home in the SCA
--OR: if you want to know about my dancing adventures, you can find them all HERE.
MORE GEEKLICIOUS LINKS
--One of my obsessions: Ingenious Siege Weapons of the Ancient World