It was like a staged train wreck at a county fair, or at least that is the way it sounded. There was more creaking and clanking and crashing and bashing and rending of metal than the Afrika Korps produced on its worst day.
It was Armageddon at the picnic grounds, with nearly 180 armored warriors crashing into each other, screaming like banshees, piling up in a deafening heap of flailing broadswords and pikes and axes and swirling dust. Five miles away in the Mexican border town of Tecate, they must have thought the conquistadores had returned.
And it all would have been pretty horrible, too, if it was not so . . . polite .
But that is the formula for a weekend with the folks from the Society for Creative Anachronism: When you are not being courtly, chivalrous, mannerly and scholarly, you are whaling the tar out of each other with big sticks. The idea of the society is for its members to periodically re-create, as accurately as possible, life in the Middle Ages. And, for a few hundred Southern Californians and others who gathered recently at Potrero Regional Park in San Diego County, that meant a little singing, a little dancing, a little revelry and a little war.
About two dozen of the nearly 100 Orange County residents who make up the Barony of Gyldenholt--the official name of the Orange County chapter of the society--showed up dressed to the nines, medieval style. They brought with them their own custom-made tents (they call them pavilions), their own authentically reconstructed armor and, as a reluctant concession to what they call the "mundane" world, Coleman stoves.
Members of the society refer to such a weekend as a war, but it is really a showcase for everything the society holds dear: a gathering of the court, displaying of homemade crafts and other wares, an opportunity to sing songs, tell tales, quaff a goblet, catch up with old friends, show off your newest lordly finery, and maybe storm a castle or two.
The Orange County chapter will be at it again Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Boysen Park in Anaheim, as part of its yearly anniversary tournament. Free to the public, the tournament will feature an opening and closing meeting of the court, medieval displays, costumes and demonstrations of single combat.
That sort of thing has been going on in Orange County's Barony of Gyldenholt since the chapter was organized 10 years ago, starting as kind of an offshoot of a chapter begun in 1971 at San Diego State. The society itself came into being in 1965 at UC Berkeley, the creation of a group of students who were fascinated with medieval life, history and culture, and wanted to get together occasionally to dress and act the part and slip back into the time of the Crusades with all the trimmings.
Actually, members of the society have a fairly broad historical period with which to identify themselves, roughly from 1000 to 1650. While many of the members opt for identification with the time of Richard the Lionhearted, and fashion their costumes accordingly, others decide to portray late period Vikings or Elizabethan courtiers.
The organization of the society is based on the feudal hierarchy of the Middle Ages. A nonprofit, worldwide organization, it is divided into regional "kingdoms" in the United States (the kingdom of Caid includes Southern California), baronies such as Gyldenholt and occasionally smaller divisions called shires and families. Officers in the society carry medieval titles (king, queen, baron, duke or knight) and every man and woman bears the title of lord or lady.
Members also take for themselves medieval names and coats of arms, which must be approved by a council that rules on their authenticity. At society gatherings, they leave their real--or "mundane"--names at home. Some members say that occasionally they actually forget the true names of their associates.
Members are quick to point out that the society has no religious or cult affiliations. Rather, they say, it is a unique group of people with a common fascination for nearly anything to do with the Middle Ages, from weaving to cooking to music, literature and history, and to heavily researched battle skills.
"My wife and I got involved in this about two years ago," said Ken Turlis, a maker of stained glass from Garden Grove. "And this is just our life now. There's something going on every weekend in Orange County. My wife got involved in the lace-making guild, and I'm in the stained-glass guild. I love it, but I don't get involved in the war. I'm not a fighter, I'm a wuss."
Which means that Turlis doesn't show up each Sunday at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley for the weekly clinic in the fighting arts. It is there that the barony's best fighters gather to work on their techniques with broadsword, battle ax, pike and mace.