by Owen Fletchyr (Colin Adams)
photos by Lady Constantina von Ravenna
Ahhhh, ten days at Pennsic, the biggest event for the Society for
Creative Anachronism, (or SCA) that there is. It is held in western
Pennsylvania, and this year had over 12,000 people in attendance,
all in completely medieval clothing. Many camps had enormous gates
around them, some entire wooden buildings, but most were canvas
pavilions. A sea of these pavilions stretched like a small city
for miles through winding paths in the oaks and lakes. But the camp,
while impressive, was not what was so exceptional. I came for the
parties... and the WAR!!
The Siege at Pennsic, Year of Our Lord 2001
For those of you who don't know, the SCA holds events all over the
US as well as the world, most of them centered around heavy armored
martial combat. Unlike a Renaissance Faire, these events are not
a commercial show for the public, but for people who love to recreate
the best parts of medieval culture. The fighting is done with heavy
rattan swords, a sort of solid bamboo that doesn't break to shards,
but is heavy as oak. Just imagine someone laying into you with a
shovel handle, and not just with their arm, but with martial-art
style force from within that dents metal and bruises through it.
There are required parts of armor, like for the joints, that get
inspected before every war, so few get hurt, surely less than football.
You know you are dead when you get a heavy blow in chest or head,
and trust me, you know, and in the honorable, chivalry based
society of the SCA, nobody really abuses that. You fall down dead
when you know you are beaten, or when that sickly smash in the back
of your kidneys makes your legs go weak, and bile rises to the back
of your mouth as you feebly mutter "good," then crumple to your
fighting this year at Pennsic was amazing, with some 4,500 armored
soldiers on the field. The open field battles were like something
out of Braveheart, with thousands of men clashing in a sea
of shields and helmets until only a few remained. There were siege
engines like catapults, trebuchets, and a ton of ballistas (like
a giant crossbow that shoots a javelin). The Castle, a permanent
wooden structure, is about 80 yards wide, 10 to 30 feet tall, with
turrets and crenelations, towers and a sally port with a horrible
killing pocket, an oak and iron gate, two tall towers above the
gate, and four banners flying high. When we laid siege to it, we
had sappers, battering rams, siege towers for archers, and a movable
ramp to run up over the wall with. Hard to describe it, but when
we finally got through, it was cinematic, hundreds of men swarming
in through the sides and gates. I climbed over the ten foot section
of wall with a boost and rolled into the castle shield first, hacking
my way up to the tall tower. As men poured over the ramp, I was
in the tower with five others, killing the crossbowmen and archers
and then hacking down to others from above. We lowered the banner
to half mast and went on killing. It was amazing.
"And now, we drink!"
The parties at night were epic too. We went to about four a night
or so, walking on sore Viking feet for miles through the night across
the dimly torch-lit encampment of 12,000 people, winding through
woods, fields, and the lake area. There was the Hell party, which
one entered through a gate with the word "hell" flaming above. Upon
daring to enter, one found a huge devil with hooves, whippings,
some bizarre glowing drink, and a wet chemise booth next to the
bar. We bribed our way in past a line of hundreds of people, and
why not? You should be able to bribe your way into hell.
The variety of parties was as staggering as the drinks served
therein. There was the Mardi Gras party, complete with beads for
bartering a flash of just about anything; the Kamikaze party at
the castle, which we were late for; this exclusive cigar and scotch
soiree; the disco party; the men-without-pants party, at which to
enter, men wore only their long tunics and had to run the "gauntlet"
of women who did what they wished. On top of a huge hill was an
entire Viking period gated camp, with an appropriately rowdy party.
There was the Bardicci party, a group who every year makes an entire
renaissance Italian villa complete with arches and ivy growing up
the columns, carpets and candelabras, a full bar of homemade meads,
a chapel and a priest, and exotic sweet delights that looked like
bowls of fruit, all of which was edible, and a model of the villa
in white gingerbread.
kingdom (Kingdom of the West) had the Iron Bartender party, like
the Japanese game show Iron Chef, where the Queen spun the wheel,
and six bartenders had to make a drink with the mystery ingredient
like gummy worms, creme de menthe, chocolate syrup, or instant oatmeal.
Not exactly a period set of ingredients, but period is for the day,
the parties are to drink off the day of battle.
We found a bar run by a bunch of paratroopers for the marines,
called the Black Rose. It was an invitation only full bar, for free
(as everything is at Pennsic) which had every bottle a regular bar
had, Guinness and Killians Red and other beers on tap (real bar
taps), a wooden bar top, complete with brass foot rail, and a charming
Scottish bartender named Gabriel. They went through over five kegs
of Guinness alone.
If you got the craving for breakfast at 2 am as one is prone to
have after drinking car bombs at the Black Rose, behind them was
the IHOP, or Icelandic house of pancakes, with pancakes, sausage,
spicy potatoes, and the whole deal, also for free. There was the
lobster feast for royalty, a Cajun feast for all comers, a chili
feast at midnight at one camp, parties at royal encampments for
all the Kingdoms in the known world. And these are just some of
the parties I made it to.
It took about four days to recover from it all, another three to
heal from all of the bruises, but the epic scale of the battles
will be in my mind for years. I have lay siege to a well fortified
castle, and held it too. I have hacked and hacked my way through
a sea of thousands of men, to stay standing in the end. And I bribed
my way into Hell and saw lady Eliska in a wet chemise... oh yeah.