The banner representing The Shire of Earngyld (Juneau) on the left, the Principality of Oertha (Alaska) on the right, and the Kingdom of the West in the middle.
The herald and noblewomen look out on the field of combat, as knights gird their armor.
The royalty of Kingdom of the West and the Principality of Oertha, preparing to welcome the fighters of Earngyld.
Story last updated at 1/19/2011 - 12:23 pm
JUNEAU - Last weekend, while many people in Juneau were getting ready to sink into the couch with some bulk Costco snacks and catch a football game, the denizens of the Shire of Earngyld were preparing for a very different kind of tournament. The local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), the international medieval living history organization, hosted the 2011 Oerthan Winter Coronet.
Through a series of courts, battles, dances and feasts at the JACC, the people of Earngyld rang in the new year with clanging armor, unique devices, and flowing gowns. Also in attendance was Queen Catherine (from California), head of the entire Kingdom of the West, as well as Prince Magnus and Princess Esperanza of Oertha (the geographical area of Alaska).
It was the first time with the SCA for Destiny Sargeant - or Catherine, horse breeder of the finest stock in the kingdom. She was brought in by some friends in the group and was already energized by the event.
"I'm very excited," Sargeant said. "It's fun, good camaraderie, good history learning."
Around her neck, Catherine wears an Aquitaine sundial ring, a medieval device used to tell time. A similar ring was purportedly given to Henry II by Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 12th century, and is engraved with the words "carpe diem" along the inside.
The "real" world is divided up into various kingdoms by the SCA. The Shire of Earngyld is the region for Southeast Alaska. It does not have its own presiding royalty, but instead is ruled by the populace. It is in turn a part of the Principality of Oertha (Alaska), which is of the Kingdom of the West, the oldest established kingdom in the SCA and covering parts of the western U.S. as well as the "Far West" (including Japan). So the Oerthan Winter Coronet is the rough equivalent of the "state finals" to decide upon a new prince and princess.
Though there was plenty of action - clinking armor and furious fighting - there is more to the SCA than just men (and women) "hitting each other with sticks" or slipping on a jerkin. There is an entire DIY culture bred into the hobby, with the members not only working on constructing some of their own armor and weaponry, but also other period items.
There is a great interest in technology, cuisine and, of course, alcohol of the period. Homemade meads, ales and cordials are a staple of any good reenactment.
Once you decide on a character to fill the role of, you aren't stuck with them for good. If you don't like your current persona, you can always kill them off in some violent death. One woman he heard about had been widowed seven times, said Earngyld Constable Hagar MacAndrew (in waking life known as Vince Anderson).
"Well, her last husband for some reason, he got drunk, he fell down the stairs and was stabbed by a spear seven times before he died," he said. "You make up your own stories as you want."
Anderson said that being able to don new personas and have fun with them is the best part of the gatherings. Even a newbie visitor dressed in a borrowed tunic can think about his options.
"You came into this SCA event as a, oh what the heck, a Mongolian spy," he said.
Anderson constructs items for use by the members, including thrones and supply boxes, all wood pegged and jointed by hand. He and his wife Charlotte have been involved in the SCA since 1994, though they changed kingdoms when they came north. Charlotte originally started out as "Patricia MacAndrew," but the persona didn't reflect the epoch she wanted to explore further. She became Lady Aneria verch Thomas, a bonny lass born in 1267 Welch parents on the Isle of Anglesey.
What will become of her previous avatar?
"Patricia will probably do an untimely death, I haven't quite figured that one out yet," she said. "Shipwrecked or massacred."
After the opening court, where everyone swore fealty to Queen Catherine, the competitors clanked along, picking their rivals, readying their weapons, and steadying their nerves. Anyone who has not seen SCA fighting live might be surprised at how fierce - while honor-bound, courteous and safe - the combat can be. The players don't mess around. Though protected with gear designed to take a hit, someone can get brought down hard if they're not careful.
The battles can be over quickly, especially with the more practiced fighters, who can quickly bring someone to their knees and disable their shield arm. Everyone helps their hapless victim up at the end of the day, and can be heard laughing and celebrating that they all live on for another day ... unless they decide their persona is growing stale. Then all bets are off.
Also, a word to the wise for any intrepid visitor traveling incognito amidst the royal court as a Mongolian spy: beware the Vikings. They're onto us.
For more information about the SCA and the Shire of Earngyld, visit earngyld.org.
Richard Radford may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.