Sunday, May 26, 2013

This Post Was Written in 2013

I woke up to the sound of rain. Not the pleasant sort, the kind of background rhythm that makes you want to tuck into another round of sleep, but the angry kind. Outside my bedroom window the large King maple was writhing against high winds. And since I live on a swoop of a mountainside the hollers and moans coming from that wind were unnerving. I could hear the heavy rain and the roar from the usually calm stream, but noticed those were the only sounds. This is a bad sign. A normal morning on this homestead means animal sounds, and a lot of them. Horses are whinnying for their morning rations, sheep and goats are bleating, roosters crow and turkeys gobble. You couldn’t sleep in if you wanted to. But when the weather turns like this even their stomachs can’t force them to leave the comfort of dry straw bedding or wind-proof roosts. I get up right away.

In moments I am in a work kilt (read, stained with mud and milk and covered in goat hair) and favorite long-sleeved shirt. It’s cotton, an old and much loved. It’s not enough to protect me from the weather so I slip on a gray wool sweater that isn’t scared of getting dirty. My last two pieces of armor come from my friend Meredith, who mailed me her amazing wool socks and a hat. The hat is thick and brown and the socks are gray like the sweater. I have work them enough that they have felted into mini booties, wicking sweat and retaining warmth regardless of the weather.

I go about morning chores slower than usual. I spend the usual time milking the goats and feeding the pigs. Everyone is happy to see their breakfast delivered to them. The rabbits chew on fresh hay, and the geese are honking at me to leave their well-protected nests in the barn. I grab a few eggs and slide them into my sporran. They will be breakfast, scrambled with goat milk and seasoned with ground pepper.

The horses greet me at the gate of their paddock, wind whipping at their manes. Merlin nickers as he sees me carry up a few flakes of hay. I give him the grass and pet his thick neck. I think about the horse cart parked in front of the house and how I wish I had a day ahead of nothing but warm sunshine and cool wind at our backs. We would take the cart to visit friends. I could call the folks at Flying Pig Farm and pick up some leaf lard for pie baking. I could go visit Jon and Maria at their farm, or trot up to the Daniel’s to pick up some maple syrup. Merlin loves heading that way because he can flirt with their mares along the roadside, arching his head and stepping proudly as we pass along the winding road. But it isn’t a sunny day at all. I have to leave the farm in a few hours and head off to War Camp. I promised I would.

War camp happens several times over the course of the summer. It isn’t actual combat but combat training. Over the warm months archers, fighters, and equestrians from all over the East Kingdom get together at these gatherings. Each Shire or Barony takes turns hosting the rendezvous and hundreds of people attend. Tent cities with fire pits, lanterns, friendly dogs and horses are erected overnight. Come daylight all of us locals in arms are called to the fields in the name of practice, friendship, and fellowship. I’m an archer for the Shire of Glenn Linn and training to be a Field Marshal. Our Head Marshall asked me to make the trip to support the Barony of Concordia’s archer so I will go, even in this torrent. And I will be happy to go, too. War Camp is a blast. There are food, gear, and craft vendors and lots of people just as crazy as I am. I do wish it wasn’t so cold and wet outside, but it’s not called the Society of Comfortable Anachronists, is it?

I shower up and change into a cleaner work kilt and shirt. I slide on a heavy wool sweater for the trip south but in my leather gear bag, among the extra bow strings, bracers, and snacks I roll up a wool plaid and leather belt. I keep my hat on. Last thing I load for the hour and a half journey is a bottle of water and my bow and quiver. The man who sold me my bow, Joseph the Bold, will be running the gathering of archers today. I hope my shooting does right by him. The bow has won tournaments and been to Crown Events before I used it mostly for target practice and varmint hunting on my farm. I try not to think about expectation and double check I have some extra money in my pocket, just in case. I head south and the rain picks up. I am grateful for the plaid in the backseat.

When I arrive at War Camp I gear up. Walking to Troll (the entrance to the event where waivers are signed and fees are paid) I look like an archer alright. My bow is in my left hand and my quiver is over my back. My plaid is wrapped around me like an arsaid, tied in place by the leather belt. My boots are rubber and inside them are Meredith’s Magic Socks. I am comfortable and feel strong. I walk into Troll and a few people running the tables offer me smiles of pity.

“An Archer, huh?”

“Yes! Here from Glenn Linn!”

“Ah, yes. Lord T’mas is already out there but no one has seen Joseph yet. T’mas is shooting clout up into the rain. Now he’ll have company I guess.”

I smile. T’mas is my Marshal. Of course Glenn Linn archers are the only ones stupid enough to drive several hours to shoot arrows into a storm. I ask for directions to the field and am directed to a map in my pamphlet. Then I am asked to pick Lancaster or York, a red or white rose, to wear on my person to show my side of this war camp. The event is called War of the Roses, after the historical war, and I chose red. Lancaster sounds like Lannister and I have a crush on Jamie. Red to me says passion and energy. White says purity. I’m red all the way.

I tie the rose to my chest strap on the quiver and head out into the rain along the half-mile of winding paths. I pass campsites where people are gathered out of the wind in heavy wool jackets and cloaks. They gather around campfires and blacksmith forges. When I get near the archery field someone hails me over to a nice canvas tent with several people comfortable underneath it. It must be a house of Concordia because everyone dresses enough alike under banners of the group. I then see a woman I recognize, it’s Joseph’s wife. I don’t know her name but she remembers me from last year and see’s the bow.

“How’s that bow working out for you?” She asks.

I am soaked out in the wind, and I take a question as an invitation. I walk up under the canvas canopy and can feel the warmth of the fire pit. These folks have made quite the camp. There is food and drink out, warm blankets, and the wind can’t get to their well-staked abode. I say the bow is great but could they direct me to the field? Then Joseph speaks up. I didn’t notice him wrapped up in a heavy wool plaid and a slouch brown, wool hat. He is in a great kilt, wrapped around his waist and up over his shoulder. He has on rubber boots a heavy leather jack over his shirt. His red hair and beard make him look ready to take on the storm. On his hat is an image of Epona. Horses are his symbol. His sporran has horse hair, black like Merlin’s and his quiver has a running horse on it. Crows are the symbol of my house in the SCA but horses are his house’s sigil. I like that I have friends who take sigils seriously.

“I didn’t set up the targets or the field yet. Are people heading there?” I told him I haven’t been there yet but I already heard at Troll that T’mas was out on the field. Joseph knew that meant his day of work had started. I don’t think he expected to see any of us due to weather, but he wasn’t dealing with city folks from Concordia today, the rural folks from my shire regularly hold practice in the rain. You better believe we’ll show up when we can shop and buy food too!

Joseph and I head over to the field and the rain starts to pick up, so does the wind. Joseph grabs for his wool hat, trying to keep it from blowing off. We make small talk and head out to the field where we can both see T’mas standing alone with his bow, covered in a thick wool short cloak. It covers his upper body, and the wind whips at his hood. I shout out to him.

“ARE YOU PROUD OF ME! HERE I AM! I MADE IT!”

He smiles, yelling back, “SOOOO PROUD!”

There is an instant bonding between all three of us. We are out in a storm, the leftovers of a tropical beast, and dealing with temperatures in the low forties in may. We are outside among the wind and rain in period clothes and longbows in an open field. And we are all smiling and laughing. Every looks great, feels strong, and that period rush fills me up. It’s that high you get when you can almost believe you are in another time.

Some people think of the SCA as a fest of socially inept dorks, obsessed with fantasy novels and about 100 pounds overweight. There is some of that, but out on the archery field today were three fit people. These are historians and athletes, farmers and teachers, hunters and parents. I am proud to be out with them on this bitter day, far from our fires and homes. We are going to shoot our bows and have a great time, weather be damned.

We set up staked targets and a tent to protect us from the rain. We have a table with sample bows and extra weapons in case some brave person decided to leave the tent cities to try their hand at the old art. As we are gearing up for the morning Erik and his wife Ruth show up, both in heavy cloaks. They are with our shire, not Concordia and are ready to take on their bows as well. Two more folks from Concordia walk over but only stay for a bit. I can’t blame them. If you’re not passionate about archery why put yourself through the ringer like we were?

In the rain the five of us shot at the targets. We talked bows and bracers, the right string tension and lengths. It was a combination of messing around and jokes and actual lessons in archery. We shared our own stories and techniques, aiming high for a target a couple hundred yards away. It was a fish in a barrel. T’mas hit the barrel and we cheered. Best shot of the day by far.

When the bows were unstrung and our party of archers was ready to head off for a lunch and a warm cup of coffee at one of the hospitality tents, Joseph took our picture with my phone. It’s 2013 and the photo was taken with an iphone but what you see is something from another era. All of us soaked and exhausted, bows and fletchings damp and in need of some serious TLC. But we are happy, we are a team. Before we left Joseph to his post he handed each of us a handmade broadhead. He made them out of glass bottles, in colors of blue, green and ale brown. It was an offering of thanks for coming out in the weather, and I looked at my arrowhead gift with awe. It was perfect craftsman ship. It made the entire day worth it, as if wasn’t already....

The next post is about why I am okay with sharing that I am a geek. Stay tuned.

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