Renegade Adventure: Reliving history for the first time in my life


Provided by Jeff Roper Jr.

Ambria King laughs at a joke while watching a battle during the second day of Great Western War.

Ambria King, Photo Editor

Back in May, a friend of mine invited me to a be a guest at a group that was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA. He told me that the group focused on historically accurate reenactments of Roman battle techniques and arts such as garb making and leather-working, and guaranteed me that it would be a ton of fun. I’m the first to admit, I am by no means a history buff. I mean, I think history is interesting to learn about, but at no point in my life have I ever had the desire to go back in time and try to relive it. (The fact that I’m a woman of color may have a little something to do with that.) Nonetheless, on a Wednesday evening in late May, I wandered into a practice for an SCA group called the Horsemen of Judgment Keep, and I’ve been nothing less than obsessed ever since.

As my friend promised, practices with the Horsemen are a ton of fun, but the purpose of all of those practices is to prepare for war. A war in the SCA consists of a number of different SCA groups coming together and putting all of the battle techniques that they’ve been practicing to the test. Fighters dress in full armor, ranging from leather to chain mail and everything in between, and meet on a field to bash the living daylights out of each other with weapons made from rattan coated in a thin layer of foam and duct tape. For those who aren’t quite so keen on taking blows, there’s arts and sciences (A&S) classes and contests to focus on.

On Oct. 5 I finally got the opportunity to attend my first war, and I have to say, it was nothing less than spectacular.

I left for the Great Western War on a Thursday. My friend Zion rode with me to Lake Buena Vista, where the war was held, and between the two of us, my tiny Nissan Sentra was packed to the brim. We knew we’d be camping out until at least Sunday night, and tried our best to find the perfect balance between having everything we might need and packing light. I took a chest of food that contained mainly dry and canned goods, (because I had zero intention of running back and forth to town all weekend to buy ice) a small grill, some coals, a few dishes and cooking utensils, and my suitcase, which was filled with my first feeble attempts at hand-made garb.

Driving into camp that afternoon was kind of like driving into another world. Or, better yet, another time. There were hundreds, if not, thousands of people who were dressed like pirates, gypsies, knights, kings, and queens. There was an area dedicated to nothing but merchants who sold everything from meat pies to weaponry.

Because I knew I’d probably spend most of my first day setting up camp and helping others set up, I made it a point to dress in clothes that I’d be able to work in. Roman chitons and long, elegant dresses with bell-sleeves are nice, but I’d rather not set up a tent while wearing one. Instead, I chose pirates garb for my first day, which was made by altering an off-white men’s dress shirt, throwing on black pants and boots, and adding some belts and sashes for effect.

After setting up, I headed out for my first bit of exploring at Merchant’s Row. I have to tell you, I’ve never seen so many beautiful pieces of clothing and jewelry all in one place. The fact that everything is handmade makes it that much more impressive, but also made it that much more expensive. I made it a point to head back to my car, which was parked pretty far away, and hide my wallet in the trunk to make sure that a more intoxicated version of myself didn’t come back and blow all of my cash later in the night.

As the sun set, I changed from pirate garb to a long dress and headed over to the area where people were “bobbling.” Bobbling is essentially gambling, except money isn’t allowed to change hands, so instead of cash, people bet small bits of jewelry and trinkets, or “bobbles.” Many of the people who were bobbling would make up an interesting story about the item they were betting on, which made the experience that much more entertaining. My favorite was a single pearl earring with thin, gold tassels that the gambler assured everyone had, in fact, been Cleopatra’s nipple ring.

My first night at war wound down without too much excitement. It was certainly fun, but the majority of it was spent getting a feel for the situation and drinking sangria around the campfire with the rest of the Horsemen. It was relatively quiet, which was nice, because the next day was the first day of war.

I was woken up 5 a.m. the following morning by the hushed, yet harsh whispers of some disembodied voice outside of my tent calling me to guard shift. Guard shift is not fun, but it’s required in the Horsemen. There’s a history of practical jokes in the SCA. Harmless stuff, such as stealing another camp’s flag or taking something of theirs and holding it for ransom. The Horsemen protect against this by always having someone on guard. It’s also the duty of those on guard shift to keep the fire going and tend to the camp.

After the sun came up, I chippered up a bit and jumped right into making breakfast. After scarfing down my spam and potatoes, I threw on some clothes and headed down to the battle field with the rest of the Horsemen.

During the battle, I served as a water-bearer. Water bearing isn’t the most exciting job, but it gives you a front row view of the fighting and gives you the opportunity to boss people around a bit. Many fighters, due to stubbornness, adrenaline, or a mix of the two, forget or refuse to hydrate during battle. As a water bearer, I pretty much had full permission to march up to people and demand that they drink. I’m not going to lie, I really enjoyed it.

Many people think of the fighting in the SCA as something akin to LARPing. While I understand how that misconception can be made, I have to say that war in the SCA is nothing like LARPing. I cannot tell you how many bloodied and broken people I saw on that first day. I saw everything from a high school kid who had the wind fully knocked out of him by taking a pike to the chest, to a fighter from the West with his eye swollen shut and covered in blood after taking a blow to the face. Battle in the SCA is a full contact sport, and people suffer real injuries. It’s brutal as hell, and amazing to watch.

After the fighting was finished, most of the Horsemen headed back to our camp for lunch and some rest. I set out for a bit more exploring and people watching, and waited for the sun to set. I had it in my head that Friday night was going to be a night of partying and getting to know people from camps other than my own.

Around 10 that night, a group of about 10 Horsemen and I set out to explore and party. I was given instruction by my sponsor to make sure that the group stayed together, and at the very least, that no one took off without an escort. I have to be the first to say that this task, while seemingly simple enough, was kind of like keeping track of a bunch of monkeys on LSD. The drunker people got, the more difficult it was to keep them together, and by the end of the night, the group had dwindled down to my friend Pollux and I. We found ourselves at a pirate camp that had a hookah lounge at one corner and a bunch of gypsies belly dancing around the fire. A full drum circle kept the beat for the gypsies, and in that moment, I couldn’t be convinced that I hadn’t somehow traveled back in time.

Pollux and I managed to befriend a pirate who went by the name of “The Boy,” who had driven out from Las Vegas for Great Western. This was his seventh year in the SCA and he made it a point to take Pollux and I under his wing, show us around, and make sure we had a genuinely good time.

First he took us back to his camp and filled our cups with grog, which is nothing more than a mix of rum, water, sugar, and lemon, yet instantly became my favorite alcoholic drink. Then he took us to a make-shift bar called the Cock and Bull. While at the Cock and Bull, I learned to play a dice game called Ship. I managed to catch a streak of ridiculous beginners’ luck and won quite a few back-to-back rounds. Which was lucky for me, since Ship is a drinking game. By the time I stumbled away, everyone, including Pollux and myself, was noticeably inebriated.

We headed to a few more camps, chatting up dozens of random people who, due to sheer number and a bit of intoxication on my part, all began to blur together. We headed back to The Boy’s camp to get more grog and noticed a small box at the bar that said, “tips, tits, or song.” Even at my drunkest, I’m not the type to go topless, and my wallet was locked safely away in the trunk of my car. I was gearing up to croak out something that might pass for a song, when Pollux, a music major, took over.

He began slowly, in a deep bass voice,

“we’re no strangers to love

you know the rules, and so do I …”

Knowing smiles seemed to be growing on the faces of the people around me. I was at a total loss. As Pollux got to the chorus, every person in the camp jumped in,

“Never gonna give you up!

Never gonna let you down!

Never gonna run around and desert you…”

It was the best Rick Roll I’ve ever experienced and my favorite moment of the entire war.

The following days of Great Western were all fun. There was more fighting, more parties, and a general mix of creativity, physical labor, and debauchery that makes me love being a part of this organization. Telling every tale worth telling from those five days would take another five pages, but to sum it all up, I watched a year’s worth of work pay off as two new Horsemen were sworn into the house. I watched one of our houses best fighters start on his path to becoming a knight. I watched a new fighter receive recognition from a different house for breaking the shield wall to run forward and pike a prince in the face. I watched friends, who are becoming closer to family, perform feats that I am immeasurably proud of, and I can’t wait for my next war.