Standing on a grassy lawn at the Peterson Rock Garden on a sunny Saturday afternoon staring at vaulted canvas tents, arcane symbols emblazoned on banners flapping in the breeze and, most notably, a lot of oddly dressed individuals, I start trying to sort through all of the strangeness.
I am at the Corvaria Harvest Tournament and trying to figure out what, exactly, is going on.
Luckily, not two minutes after stepping foot on the tournament grounds, I'm intercepted by lady Oliva Magdalene DeHaro, the Chatelaine of Corvaria (a.k.a. the media relations person/tour guide/encourager of all new-comers). Vicomtesse Duana Treherne, who has served as princess of the Summits (our area's principality) three times, also approached me and reiterated the importance of Lady Oliva's company as I poked around.
The Vicomtesse, (a title denoting nobility) explained that aside from the obvious direction a tour guide could provide in such unfamiliar territory, the Chatelaine would also help clear up some common misconceptions about their gathered group, as they have received unfavorable press in the past - a fair point.
It's true that the participants make for an easy target. What they are engaging in is far from mainstream. Hell, it's barely fringe. But it is interesting and inspiring, especially once you come to understand the level of involvement, commitment and dedication that most members exhibit.
The men, women and children I am gawking at are all adorned with mostly handmade period clothing that makes them look like they belong in pre-17th century Europe. Which, come to find out, is precisely the point. All the participants are part of larger international community known as the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). This explains why they appear chronologically misplaced.
The SCA is a 30,000-member strong, 45-year-old organization that provides a well-organized platform for folks interested in recreating the life and times of medieval Europe. There are 19 kingdoms recognized by the SCA and Central Oregon is located in the Kingdom of An Tir, which encompasses most of Washington, Oregon, British Colombia and Alberta. Below kingdoms are (in order of greatest number of participating members to least) principalities, baronies and shires. The Shire of Corvaria includes Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties.
The members' dedication to historical accuracy is truly impressive. Lady Oliva's whole persona is based on a well-researched patron saint from northern Italy. Fearain ( pronounced Fair'n), a bard (storyteller) visiting from Central An Tir (Seattle region), spends months studying and writing research papers on the Norse Gods and heroes of the 12th through 16th centuries only so he can better weave a 15-minute tale to a captive audience.
When I met Fearain he was drinking from the horn of a bull, but I was disappointed to learn that it was Pepsi in his vessel and not mead.
"That comes later in the evening," he assures me with a laugh.
Lady Oliva gives me a quick tour of the area that contains the participant's camping quarters for the weekend-long event, the range for archery and throwing weapons practice, as well as the various smaller tents, which shaded women who were cooking, weaving or making other assorted crafts. Only half attentive, I'm already pretty keen to get back and catch the main attraction - heavy fighting.
In the middle of the festival grounds was a roped-off area marked more by the handful of armored warriors lumbering around it than anything else.
It was announced that the first round of fighting would include a big fellow named Lasse, who I'd met earlier in my first minutes bumbling around on the Harvest Tournament grounds.
Not 10 seconds after the Seneschal (basically the referee, mayor and chief of police all rolled into one) signals the beginning of the duel, Lasse chops off the left leg of his smaller opponent, Tryggrson-Youth Defender. Now with an even greater advantage, the older, more experienced fighter is able to quickly defeat his injured foe.
Lasse is an imposing figure with a large frame, long hair and a hardy beard streaked with gray. Outfitted in armor from head to shin, he goes to battle wearing an intimidating but beautifully made helmet of riveted steel and carries a wooden shield in one hand and a long sword in the other.
The sword doesn't have a sharp steel blade, but is instead made of rattan, a palm that resembles bamboo and strong, light and springy enough for mock fighting. It should also be noted that no one suffered any true dismemberment - the scene is merely part of a focused effort to recreate the arts, skills and traditions of the Middle Ages.
"Matches can last anywhere from 15 seconds to 5 minutes, depending on the skill of the fighters," said Carrick O'Ryan, the Seneschal. O'Ryan briefly explains that blows in heavy fighting matches can be broken down to kill shots (head or major body) or an appendage shot (which, after Lasse lopped off his left leg, is how the teenaged Tryggrson came to fight on his knees).
"They delight in showing you their bruises," offered Vicomtesse Duana, chiming in.
Carrick also helped me understand that the heavy fighting I had witnessed is very different and much more involved than the loosely organized foam-sword fighting exhibited by Live Action Role Players (LARP), often seen playing in Drake Park.
Meeting the princess, Lady Acacia Gryffyn, was particularly enlightening. Inside the principality pavilion, the one-time single mother passionately explained the rich community feel she receives from participating in regular gatherings with friends.
Tandi, her real name, first started attending the SCA demonstrations in part because they proved an easy way to meet other people. But she also feels that the near-weekly events were a comfortable, safe and healthy setting for her young children since there were so many other kids and watchful adult eyes about.
"I didn't feel like I was on my own all the time," Lady Acacia offered.
She admitted, however, that as a teenager and before her first SCA event, she told her anachronistically involved older brother, "I don't want to go hang out with your dorky D&D friends."
She went on to meet her now-husband over a weekend gathering. And it was his successful heavy-fighting championship run that boosted her into the princess' throne.
"Being princess is great," she says, "You get lots of presents, people bow to you, and you get to meet so many great people."
To learn more about the Shire of Corvaria, visit corvaria.antir.sca.org.