A "Typical" Event
Events vary from region to region, and it's hard to say there is a "typical" event, but the type you most often see is the "Tourney." We're going to explore this year's May Tourney, hosted by the Barony of Thor's Mountain. May Tourney is held at the Big Ridge State Park Group camp near Knoxville, Tennessee. The site usually opens around 5-ish, so we won't be arriving until early evening.
Our event begins here, at the Porter, or "troll." Her job is that of the check-in clerk. You hand her money and sign some papers. There are two types of papers: sign-ups and sign-offs. You'll need to sign a waiver giving informed consent to participate in the activities of the weekend. That's the sign-off. We display a slightly above average degree of law-suit paranoia around here.
She'll also give you two items: a site token, and a site flyer. The site token is worn by all attendees so that we can tell who's checked in, who's paid, and who hasn't. The site flyer is a list of activities for the weekend, none of which are mandatory. But the site flyer went to press several days ago. Check the postings at troll for changes. Now for the sign-ups. By this time, you've already made a couple of decisions: are you staying the weekend, or just for one day (daytrip)? Are you eating feast, or bringing your own food (on board/off board)? If you're on-board, you'll want to sign up for a space at feast. You'll also need to select a cabin and bed assignment if you're staying the weekend. We've got to hurry, though. Y'see, our car is blocking the driveway. As soon as we're checked-in, we need to unload and get settled in and get the car out of the way. Preferably out-of-sight.
This is our cabin. It's fairly typical of the accomdations you'll find at most Meridian events. It's got wooden half-walls and and is screened in. Thor's Mountain folk usually bring plastic and staple guns and secure the screens to keep the wind and rain out, and the heat in. Some sites are better, with shutters, or even windows, others are more primitive. Note: we have a little electricity. It's fine for electric blankets, fans, or a lamp, but no hot-plates, blow-dryers, or space heaters, please. The whole camp only has about 30 amps, and we have to share it with everybody. Please note, some events don't provide bed space at all. These are called camping events, and the facilities are usually much more primitive. We'll be sharing our little cabin with 6 other people. I've asked for a quiet cabin because it's very hard for me to get to sleep with a lot of noise around. Party cabins, also sometimes called loud cabins are also available. Usually they are designated before the event.
Okay, we're checked in and unloaded. It's time to get dressed. Everybody attending the event is required to make a "reasonable attempt" at pre -17th century dress. I know, you don't have any medieval clothes. That's okay. You're my guest, and I went to the local officer in charge of dressing our guests. She loaned me a few items for you out the loaner wardrobe that she maintains for newcomers. So let's slip into something a little less 20th Century, and we'll go mingle.
There are rarely organized activities on Friday night, because folks often travel distances of several hundred miles to attend an event, and can't get Friday off from work. So folks will be trickling in all night. Most of us take this opportunity to greet old friends and meet new ones. For example, this is our Autocrat and his lieutenant. Had we any special needs, such as wheelchair access or accomodations for a seeing-eye dog, we would have needed to contact him in advance. The Autocrat is the final authority for an Event, except for the owner of the site. All activites have to be approved by him in advance to get on the schedule. He negotiates with the owner of the site, pays the fees, and solicits volunteers who do all of the work.
Now we'll... what? You're hungry? Uh oh. I should have thought farther ahead. Friday dinner is not included in our site fee. We're on our own. Let's step back over to the troll and ask her if anyone's doing a traveler's feast. Some groups include a meal Friday night in the site fee, but many do not. That's why it's important to check the event flyer before you set out on one of these trips.
We're in luck. Lady Morgan is doing a small fund-raiser for Seasons, the Kingdom's Arts and Sciences newsletter. A couple of bucks each for a bowl of stew, a big hunk of bread, and all the tea we can drink. But we got lucky. Unless otherwise noted, Friday dinner is not included in the site fee, and there will probably not be any food available. We should have asked the Autocrat in advance, or brought our own food.
*burp* I love Lady Morgan's cooking.
I don't know about you, but I'm beat, and there's not gonna be much more than informal chat for the rest of the evening, so I'm gonna call it a night.
Good morning. Please do not throw that boot at the lady hollering outside of the cabin. She's the herald, doing wake-up call. Listen closely. She's also going to tell us if breakfast is on schedule and let us know the latest event news. (Like cancelled classes, or a broken shower.) Ah! Breakfast is on schedule. (It will probably be the last thing on schedule all day. When you have an all volunteer staff, you can't fire them for getting behind...)
Breakfast is included in your site fee. The menu will vary from event to event, but is typically some variant of down-home breakfast, with biscuits and oatmeal for the veggie-vores, and bacon, eggs, or pancakes for us meat-eaters. After we finish eating, we'll head off to the fighting field.
The fighting field, or "list field," or just plain "lists" is where the actual tournament is going to take place. (You might also hear someone refer to it as the "Eric." Don't ask me why...) We're here in time for armor inspection. And we're alone. Like I said, breakfast is probably all we're going to see run on time. The fighters probably stayed up too late last night and... ah, here comes the Knight-Marshall. The Knight-Marshall is our local officer generally in charge of combat in our local Barony. He'll be conducting last minute inspections of folks' armor to check for any safety violations. SCA combat is a martial art, and it can be a rough game. There's a whole bunch that I could tell you about our armored warriors, but here's the short of it: We wear real armor, made of metal or leather (or sometimes plastic and fabric) and use weapons made out of rattan. There is a standard "right good blow" that you learn to recognise in training. When you are hit with a right good blow, you announce that you are hit, and retire from the field. The tournament will be double - elimination style, like a karate tournament.
This is going to take a while. There's no public seating, but I'm an apprentice puppeteer, and my master is over there, under the Big Yellow Tent. I'm sure he'll let us sit under his tent. We'll watch the fighting and have a little lunch. This is Claire, my sister-apprentice. She is also apprenticed to Master Saher. Normally, as an apprentice, I would be attending to my Laurel as he fights in the tournament, but since I'm showing you around today, Claire has agreed to attend our Master today. She's also laid out lunch for us. This time I planned ahead. Lunch isn't usually included in the site fee.
Now that we've eaten, the tourney is still grinding on, so we'll wander up to the Great Hall and see what's going on. This nice lady is our Minister of Children. She provides a limited number of children's activities during the day for very young folks. At many events, parents who take advantage of the Minister of Children's activities are expected to spend an hour or so helping ride herd of the little ones. But we don't have any children, so we can escape.
There are also classes going on. We've had classed on crafts, like spinning, weaving, armor making and cooking. We've also had classes on less hands-on activity, like Great Naval Distasters of the 16th Century, Finding the REAL King Arthur, and Byzantine Architecture. We can sit in on any that interest us. You want to sit in on the spinning class? No problem, although we'll probably have to give Lady Marina 2 bucks to cover the materials cost of the class.
It's getting late. I'll bet the tournament is winding up. Let's hustle back to the field and see if we can catch the final bout.
With the end of the tournament, we'll want to hurry back up to the camp and get a shower. Why? Look at all those warriors, peeling out of 80 pounds of sweaty armor each. If we don't grab a shower fast, they'll use all the hot water! Now we change into our best clothes for Court.
This is the Baronial Court of her Excellency Mistress Godelind of Windemere, Baroness of Thor's Mountain. She is the Head of State for our local group. With her are her baronial guards, called thiegns, the baronial yeoman, who commands her archers, and the captain of her guard. Baronial court will consist of official recognition of excellent performance in the arts of combat, service, and scholarly achievement. There will also be little skits and playlets about our barony and kingdom.
After court, there will be brief break. You'll have to excuse me for a few minutes. I've volunteered to help the hall steward, and we've got about 45 minutes to turn that throne room in to a feast hall.
Hokay... feast time. You and I are fortunate in that we don't have any particular dietary restrictions, although I hate fish. If we had something more serious, like a lactose intolerance or other food allergy, or perhaps were vegetarians, we'd have wanted to call the head cook (feastcrat) ahead of time. Most of the time they are willing to try to accomodate special dietary needs, but you have to ask in advance. These are mostly the members of my household, and a few friends we've invited to join us. As you can see by the size of the crowd why I made such a point of making sure we got feast seating when we "trolled-in" yesterday. Here we will see a four course meal, plus dessert and drinks. (Alcohol, while very medieval, is strictly bring-your-own, and make sure the site owners permit it.) We may see strolling minstrels, have a sing along madrigal tune or two, or hear a story-teller.
Once we've eaten all we can hold, it's time to clear the deck for late-period dancing. These dances are similar in form to contra dances or line dances of the 19-th and 20th century. Don't worry, they'll go through each dance slowly once for the folks who haven't seen it before, and folks like me who are more than a little rusty. But first, we have to turn the feast hall into a dance floor.
Now, there's folks who can do this all night, but it wears a little thin on me after a while. What say we head down to the bonfire? Here you'll find story tellers, singers, dancers, and drummers from all periods of history. It's another party, but less formal than the one in the hall.
Whoa. 3:00 AM. Where did the time go? Let's call it a night!
Sunday morning breakfast. Another down-home meal, with feast-leftovers to fill it out. One last pass by the merchants as they pack up, and I'll help you load your stuff to head home. I'll have to say good - bye here. I volunteered to help with site clean-up, so I'll be one of the last ones to leave. Thanks for coming, and I hope to see you an Pennsic!
E-mail: mcnutt -at- pobox.com