Fare Thee Well!

Monday, November 1, 2010

An archer with a full quiver on his back and colorful garb that would make Robin Hood blush traipses boldly down a college hallway, where bodies in jeans and t-shirts part to make way, and then turn and stare curiously.

"Good morrow, my Lord," says he. "What say you?"

It is a world of chivalry and baronys, clashing swords and lilting lutes.

"It's hard to describe - it is romantic and intoxicating. Let's face it, most of us don't get a lot of majesty in our daily lives," smiles Michelle Wagner, better known as the fair Lady Margaret inside this otherworld known as The Society for Creative Anachronism.

For a growing number of area residents, this old world society of Middle Ages and Renassance characters holds escapism allure; for others, it is the social or educational aspect of the recreationist events that draws them in.

"For me, it was the first time I was sitting in a court situation and the king and queen walked in with all the royal trappings - I was hooked," Michelle laughs. "It's impossible to just sit and watch - the more you get involved, the more of the timeless skills you begin to appreciate and learn for yourself. You realize how amazing and self-sufficient people were in this period of history."

Last weekend, Iowa members of the Society gathered up at Iowa State University's Memorial Union for the annual Fall Rush celebration. Outside on the lawn, warriors garbed in chain mail and knight-style shields whipped heavy broadswords through the air, the clanging of steel on steel drawing curious attention from students strolling by. Inside, a small band of merry-makers played delicate melodies of the time on handmade replicas of the traditional instruments. Others worked at weaving, taught the skills of an archer and the dancer, and conducted workshops on living in year-1000 European style.

Some 140 costumer characters took part in this gathering, but they are far from alone. Ther are now more than 30,000 members of the Society across the U.S., and in Canada, Australia, China, most of the European countries.

Their "known world" consists of 19 Kingdoms, each with its tournaments, ceremonies, feasts, crests and symbolism.

Their world is not all merriment, however. Members pride themselves on historical accuracy and work to research and recreate the crafts of a time lost in history. They are pleased when they get the opportunity to share or help educate young people - some members have in the past visited Storm Lake to offer demonstrations over Labor Day weekend.

Some kingdoms specialize in re-creating the cultures of ancient Persia, Asia or Eastern Europe. Each chooses its own king and queen, who are given all the respect that medieval royalty would deserve.

Iowans, along with members from Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas belong to the Kingdom of Calontir, self-described as displaying "exceeding prowess in the arts, science and on the field of battle. It is upright in honor and unparalleled in beauty." This Kingdom focuses on the 600-1600 A.D. era.

The Fall Rush is hosted by the Barony of Coeur d' Ennui - which in tongue-in-cheek French would roughly translate to "the heart of boredom." This group includes most of central Iowa. The Canton of Axed Root is the local Ames group, which in turn partners with a small group of ISU students who make up the Midieval Recreationist Club.

Some of the gatherers come for the fighting practice, others to polish skills at the feet of more learned members. For some, their pastime has spilled over into their everyday life, with hairstyles or beards of Middle Ages style staying with them year around.

"Everyone has their own area. For me, it's the dress. My character is an Irish lady, so my first outfit was based on what was work in Ireland at that time period. Since then, I've studied Renassiance fashions from around the world and come up with different outfits," Michelle says. "Today I'm in Italian."

At an event such as this the day begins at the "Troll Booth" where one must pay his or her fees to take part. A fighter may bristle with throwing knives, axes and spears as well as their sword, which are forged from carbon plow steel and brass. A herald will announce the beginnings of the various events. Meals are taken on wood or pewter dishes. Historic games such as chess, pente, backgammon pass the time of an evening. Courtesy is practiced always, helping a defeated sword-fighter up from his knees, or yelling out, "Be there anyone with us?" when entering a restroom to make certain a fellow lord or lady be not startled. Things wrap up with the ball, an ideal time to ask the lord or lady you have admired for a graceful branales circular spin on the floor.

New members are always welcome, and interested persons can acccess the information on a most un-Renaissance resource - the internet.

Colorful events abound around the region - the All Hallows Revel for Halloween, St. Columba's Gaire in Iowa City in November, Kris Kinder court in December, Twelfth Night in January, the Winter War Maneuvers, Melon Wars in Burlington in April, the St. George and the Dragon festival, Bardic Bedlam, Tournament of Falcons, whether the Lillies War, Feaste of Eagles, King's Companie of Archers, to name a few.

The region's recreationists will live as much of it as they can.

Your archer, on his way to change back into a mild-mannered modern day teacher or preacher or construction worker, would bow low and send you on your way in boomingly gregarious fashion.

"Tis most splendid! fare thee well."