Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Square Peg - Renaissance... Fair or Not?

Renaissance... Fair or Not?
Copyright S. Bradley Stoner


My old friend, Charlie Chainmail, called me up the other day. Charlie's into Medieval reenactment and Renaissance Fairs. He and I used to go to them when I lived in Manhattan, Kansas... the Little Apple. He was a mechanic when he wasn't making mail suits and armor. I worked for the Army at Fort Riley. I don't even recall how we met, but I suspect it was at a local Renaissance Fair. My lovely and I went to those to look at the arts and crafts done in true Medieval style with the old methods. Well, that's why she went. By the way... if you go, give the soap making demonstration wide berth... that stuff will blind you. Whenever I could get away, I checked out the weaponry and blacksmithing. I like weaponry.

In any case, Charlie told me there was a big Renaissance Fair near Houston starting in October and running for eight whole weekends. It's called the Texas Renaissance Festival. Apparently it's a big deal in Texas and draws people from all over the country. I told him I'd look it up. "I need you to help me get ready," Charlie said.

"Huh? What do you mean, 'get ready,' Charlie."

"They have competitions," Charlie said eagerly. "I want to enter the jousting and personal combat contests."

"So, you want to get knocked off a horse and then sliced and diced?" I asked. I remembered the last time Charlie and I practiced the art of skewering your opponent. "Did you ever fix the dents in your armor?"

"Got a new suit!" Charlie declared eagerly. "I made it last year! It's really fancy... engraved and everything. You ought to see my helm!"

That ought to be interesting, I thought. The last piece of headgear Charlie had looked like a giant soup can with eye holes plus breathing holes that made the thing look like it had a bad case of acne. I don't think he spent much time on that one... even the welds were a bit sloppy, and Charlie is a pretty good welder. "What did you do, rework that old can of a helmet?"

"Nah... I couldn't get that crease you put in the crown out. I made a new one."

Let me explain. The last time Charlie and I got together to practice, he showed up in full armor, carrying a big shield. He had a big, single handed broadsword and a dirk in the broad leather belt that secured his tunic over the plate armor. He squeaked when he walked, which I thought was more funny than intimidating. He had looked me up and down and frowned. I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers... no armor, no shield, just my wicked looking fantasy broadsword that my sweetie bought for me.

"You can't use that," he said. "It isn't regulation." He squeaked back to his car and brought his spare sword for me to use. It was a big, two-handed thing that weighed about five pounds. At least I was going to get a good workout, I thought. "I didn't bring a shield," he added, "you're on your own for that." Somehow, I didn't think I was going to need one.

We positioned ourselves on the field of battle (a.k.a. my backyard) and prepared to engage. I took a high guard. Charlie tried to position his sword, but had to stop and pry one of the lapped armor plates loose from another before he could proceed, but as soon as he looked ready, I swung that big broadsword. CLANG! A big dent appeared in the skirt armor and Charlie staggered sideways.

"I didn't say en garde, dang it! I wasn't ready."

"You looked ready," I replied.

"Well, I wasn't... you gotta follow the rules," he said, repositioning himself.

"There are rules in a sword fight? I just thought the object was to maim or kill your opponent... rules kind of go out the window when that's in play."

"This is tournament combat, there ARE rules," he assured me. "En garde!" he yelled and rushed me, the point of his sword aimed square at my midsection. Okay, it was more like he lumbered at me with the point of his sword kind of pointed down a little and wavering unsteadily.

I sidestepped and struck the top of his blade with mine, driving it down to the ground, where it buried itself, causing him to somersault over the hilt. I smacked on the butt with the flat of my sword as he arched in the air. He landed with a thud on his back and just laid there for a minute, gasping for air.

"Foul!" he cried when he finally got his breath back. "You can't hit a guy in the back with your sword, it's against the rules!"

"You're kidding! Who makes up these rules?"

"They're in the Tournament Combat Rule book. You can only attack from the front."

"You were attacking... I was parrying."

"Still... no hitting in the back."

'It was your butt, not your back,' I thought, but I shrugged, helped him to his feet, and we resumed. After the customary, "En garde," Charlie swiped at my side with his sword. From the high guard, I easily knocked it away, came around in a big loop and brought that big sword he'd loaned me crashing right down in the middle of his flat-topped helmet. Charlie sat down... hard. "Are you okay?"

"What?" Charlie yelled. I guess it gets noisy inside that helmet when you hit it with a big piece of metal. He removed his gauntlets and reached up to take off the helmet. He studied the crease down the middle and frowned.

"Charlie, I think we better stop before somebody gets hurt... and by somebody, I mean you."

He nodded and said, "Yeah... my helm is too damaged now. You kinda had an unfair advantage. You wouldn't be so fast if you were wearing a suit of armor."

When I had reminded him of that last time we had "practiced," the phone went silent for a while. "Well, I'm better now," he finally said. "So when can you come up?"

"To Kansas?"

"Well yeah... I don't have time to come down there... I'm still working. You're retired."

"And smarter," I returned. "Frankly, you'd be better off going as a blacksmith... or a jester. Nobody tries to beat them senseless with a chunk of steel. And I'm not driving to Kansas to prove the point."

The last fair I went to, a girl trounced a bunch of guys in the personal combat display. I think it was orchestrated though. No knight would hit a girl... would he? If I go to the Texas Festival at all, I'm going for the exhibits, to enjoy the food, and maybe buy another sword. Yeah... that's why I'd go.