I took a 3-day weekend to go to Border War in Ionia, MI. Border War was the first real event I ever attended in the SCA, and it’s still one of my favorites 17 years later, even though it’s almost always hot and humid beyond belief. At least it cooled off at night this year. Sometimes we don’t even get that. I packed up the truck after work on Thursday and headed out, getting on site just after dark and setting up the tents (mine and a friend’s) in the beams of our headlights. That was the first time I wondered, “Why do I do this?”. My idea of fun looks an awful lot like hard work, sometimes.
Went to sleep at dark-thirty-ish (midnight? sounds good) and awoke at light-thirty-ish (9AM?). So far, so good. Had a nice breakfast, went shopping for supplies for the remainder of the weekend (which involved air conditioning, which I was all in favor of). Then, rather than rest and relax on my Friday off from work, I accepted an invitation to participate in a “siege cookery” contest. So we packed a large portion of our kitchen supplies back into the truck, moved to the campsite of the contest, unpacked them again and set everything back up, with the expectation of reversing the procedure again later. I spent the next 6-ish hours doing menial kitchen tasks (stirring boiling pots, crushing garlic, etc). It was actually pretty fun at the start, but about halfway through it all, as the heat of the day peaked, and so did the heat of the charcoal oven, I wiped the pouring sweat off my brow and thought for a second time, “Why do I do this?”.
Finished cooking the meal and served it to the judges, then ate amazingly little of it myself as the heat had robbed me of my appetite. Packed all our stuff up into the truck, hauled it back to our campsite, unloaded, set it up (“Why do I do this?”). Went back to the competition host’s campsite to partake of a somewhat cold (but not unappreciated) shower, then back to my campsite for some beers, a little fire, chatting with more friends who arrived Friday afternoon… Watched some fencers fencing and watched the fighters have a torchlight tourney that I wanted no part of after finally being mostly cool and sweat-free. Also, I wanted to make sure my body was ready for the war. Campfires, beer, friends… this is why I do this!
Bed at dark-thirty-ish, rise at light-thirty-ish, breakfast, a quick run to town for some things we forgot and/or ran out of, and it’s time to haul myself and my armor to the field. Thankfully, I’m also playing chauffer to one of my handicapped friends, so I get a parking spot near the battlefield. Most folks are having to park quite a distance away. Thankfully the sky becomes overcast. It’s still hot (and humid), but at least there’s no blistering sun. I get armored up, inspected, and wait for the battle to start. The “war” is going to be best-of-three open field battles. I took a long polearm out to the field, and when the battle was started the unit I attached myself to barrelled forward and fairly well trampled the enemy line. I think I only got one kill, but that’s just because the front rank was mowing them down too quickly. Then something happened, and I have no clue how. A flanking unit came up on our rear, and pretty quickly picked us apart. I lost a leg, as did another polarmsman, and the flankers scattered and killed the rest of my unit. I was left to rot in the sun, legless, until one soldier came by to offer me a duel. Fortune, of course, favors those with mobility.
The second and third battles both went our way, though I personally didn’t fare any better. I did, at least, manage to do an equal or better portion of killing to dying. I had one spectacular moment, as well, where I dodged a thrust from a knight’s spear, and then ripped said spear right out of his hands. A disarmed opponent is almost as good as a dead one, and I’d disarmed somebody of far superior skill.
The Barony of Northwoods was victorious, and I did my part. Time for a break while they get ready to run some “unbelted champions” (which is to say, very good fighters who are not yet knights) vs. everybody else battles. I sat out all but the last of those, with sweat cascading from my head and (I’m told) not a lot of color in my face (why do I do this?). It’s one thing to run around in armor swinging a big stick of rattan, but to do it in weather like this really takes a toll on those who aren’t conditioned to it. That would be me. I took the last of those battles with a greatsword instead of my pole, and again managed to do an equal portion of killing and dying. Now there’s another break, while they set up some hay bales for the “300” style battle. The 20-30 best fighters on the field, defending a pass against everybody else. To make up for the lack of “everybody else” (we only outnumbered the best by about 2-1), we were given 2 ressurections per fighter. Due to what I see as a poor strategy, we almost didn’t take the battle. I think the best thing to do under those rules would have been to do a full-on charge headlong into the enemy ranks, killing as many of the defenders as possible on our suicide run. Then we would have had our entire army formed up again at the ressurection point, and the number of defenders would have been much smaller. Instead, we chose to fight it like a typical battle. The width of the pass didn’t allow our superior numbers to give us any real tactical advantage, and the skill level difference was pretty large.
My first time out, I didn’t do so well. I took a spear to my strong arm fairly early, and was of limited use without it. I took the first opportunity I had to fill a hole (made by somebody else dying) so that I could take a lethal shot and come back in my second life. That’s where I did my best work of the day. I used my pole from the far left side to harrass and (at least somewhat) neutralize an opposing spearman, and take what kills I might, including at least 1 kill during the charges and countercharges that brought the lines together, and beautiful stab through another spearman’s face. This is why I do this! That battle was a total blast. I did get killed a second time (can’t even recall how), and when I reached ressurection point and turned around, we had just won, but with very few people left. It looked like nearly all of us had been killed 3 times over.
Then I walked off the field and collapsed into a piles of sweaty armor bits. Got as naked as public decency would allow, and would have paid good money for a nice steady wind. With the help of non-fighting friends, I got the armor stowed and loaded back into the truck, went to a public hose on the campground, and got sprayed down with some very cold water. Ate lunch. Tried to nap on ground (to avoid getting bed sweaty), couldn’t get comfortable, drank beer instead. Sat in a camp chair until I fell asleep sitting. Woke up, relocated to ground, slept more. Woke up, showered, drank more beer. Ate dinner, drank more beer, started a campfire. Listened to bards singing across the field from us, drank beer. Eventually wandered over to the hafla (where the bards were singing) to watch the belly dancers. Wandered back to camp with beer, talked with more friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, wandered back to hafla. Hafla was pronounced closed (?!?) at midnight, so wandered back to camp with friends in tow. Drank. Talked. Laughed. This is why I do this!
To bed at quarter-to-light (4AM???), up again at light-o’clock (before the sun rose above the treeline is all I know). Break down camp, pack the truck, help friend break camp, pack her minivan. Pouring sweat. Why do I do this? Off to an air conditioned restaurant in our dirty sweaty clothes for breakfast. Probably stunk up the joint. Saw other SCAdians there too, also likely stinking up the joint. Slept most of the way back (bless the driver for not asking to switch off!) and then unloaded everything. I think I sweated more doing that than anything else all weekend long. Took a shower, enjoyed the central air, resisted the temptation to take another nap (need to get the body off that “going to bed at/past midnight” schedule), let Pizza Hut cook my dinner. I can’t wait until Siege of Talonval, to do it all again.