07 January 2012

Twelfth Night -- My Day with the SCA

Today I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter to a SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) event, specifically "Twelfth Night."  I realize that technically twelfth night was a couple days ago, but I don't imagine it's very easy to get a bunch of people together around Thursday school and work schedules.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term "twelfth night," it's basically the twelfth day of Christmas like in that never-ending song we all know and love.  Many people today still sing the song without really knowing when the twelve days of Christmas actually are.  They start on Christmas Day rather than before as many believe, ending on January 5th before the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th.

Anyhow, my daughter has become very involved in the SCA over the last year.  She has long been interested in joining a group (though perhaps not as long as myself; I've just never had any groups nearby before now).  Also like myself, she has long enjoyed science fiction/fantasy; in her teens she became enamored of the author Tamora Pierce, particularly Pierce's book series about a girl knight named Alanna who happens to possess a very similar personality to my own danger girl.  Ever since reading these books she has harbored a less-than-secret desire to become a girl knight and, after becoming involved in SCA fight practices near her college, is well on her way to doing so.  In fact, she is due to become squired to her "knight" (also her fight instructor) next month, at which time she will receive a red belt designating her as such; she is so excited she is practically bouncing off the walls.

I myself must admit to a certain fascination with it all.  On the one hand, how many mothers would enjoy watching their only child--only GIRL child at that--running around in armor with a bunch of grown men twice her size and getting battered and bruised by rattan sticks?  Most people, especially women, prefer to avoid getting smacked about.  Even most men I know wouldn't do something that basically amounts to running deliberately into a brick wall (unless drunk), yet many of the Scadians do exactly that in the name of honor and glory (and geekery).  On the other hand, the girl clearly loves it and, while still inexperienced, is actually good at it.  SCA lights her up even more than gymnastics or Irish dance ever did.  In addition, she is quick to point out that kitting herself out with armor doesn't cost any more than her accoutrements for Irish dancing did.  And she does have a point, the little bugger.

Don't get me wrong; I like the SCA, and God knows I'm am a total geek myself.  When I was studying for my Master's in English, my specialties were the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and I've always been a sucker for anything related to Arthurian legend.  True, I've probably forgotten half of what I learned in the last 20-odd years as a stay-at-home mom, but my office shelves are still littered with books about those time periods and I still love reading about them.  I've loved making Medieval costumes for my girlie's youth madrigals every year.  I love the idea of going to SCA events while wearing historically-accurate costumes and learning crafty skills from eras long since past.  I've always been a crafty sort of person after all.  Still, even with my profound affection for the time periods in question, my first choice for the girlie probably would not have been to watch her getting bashed about by men and spending the week afterwards week all bruised and sore.  It all rather defies one's maternal instincts.  But she is now almost 20 (clearly I had her at age 12) and is more than capable of making her own decisions.  She is also the sort of person who would never put up with crap from anyone and can give as good as she gets, so I don't have to worry too much about men twice her age giving her a hard time about being a girl fighter.   Mind you, it doesn't hurt that the whole philosophy of the SCA revolves around honor and chivalry; from what I could see today she is treated with respect, which she says is true in her home kingdom as well.  And as her mother I appreciate that.

Nor can I deny that in many ways her experience with the SCA thus far has been great for her.  I've enjoyed watching her growing enthusiasm over making her own "garb" with which to outfit herself for the various events.  She's always wanted to learn to sew but until now has never been sufficiently motivated actually to do so.  Now, with the joy of SCA coursing through her veins she can hardly stop herself sewing, reveling even in advanced techniques such as patterning her own clothes and hand sewing them (she doesn't have a sewing machine in her dorm room).  She struggled a bit over the summer while trying to make her first gambeson (which is basically a quilted vest/coat one wears for additional padding under armor), though she did remarkably well all things considered.  She'd pop into my office regularly to ask me for advice, then would disappear back into the sewing room till the next issue arose.  Since her successful completion of this first garment, she has practically flown through several additional garments--in spite of taking 31 credits last semester--learning with a speed that is nearly astonishing even to me and I probably know her capabilities better than anyone else.   She made a second gambeson in short order before returning to school; once back in her dorm she also made a skirt and overdress to wear to local SCA events.  This week she made a kirtle and surcoat in anticipation of the Georgian Twelfth Night festivities.  I had to help her finish parts of both garments because of a slight miscommunication about them (I originally didn't realize she was making them for today so I unintentionally delayed her construction), but even so she finished them almost entirely herself.  But this is about more than just sewing.  She's always been one to stand up for herself, but I've had fun watching her confidence blossom even more as her fighting continues to improve, and seeing her increasing maturity in handling any problems both at school and at home.  While a lot of that would have probably developed just by being independent at college and/or through her faith, I know that much of it also derives from the skills she is learning through the SCA and its code of acceptance and respect of others.

The girlie has been encouraging me almost since she herself joined to become involved in the SCA, telling me how much I would enjoy the "Arts & Sciences" aspect of it all.  And no doubt she's right, though I've often felt rather awkward about the prospect of going to an event without knowing anyone ahead of time.  However, this seemed like as good an opportunity as any to go to an event and check things out.  Besides, she really wanted me to see her fight (as did I).   Unfortunately, in the press to get her own garb finished in time there wasn't adequate time left over to whip something up for myself, nor did I had anything even remotely period-like to wear to the event.  Instead of missing her fight because I had no attire, I decided to try throwing together a toga this morning.  While looking for an appropriate sheet, I had a sudden inspiration.  Sitting in the closet before me was a faded plaid king-size sheet.  I immediately thought "Wouldn't it be cool if I could make that sheet into a girl kilt?"  Even though we were getting ready to leave, I grabbed it anyway.  Why not?  I might as well at least try.  I folded the sheet quickly in half, put it around my waist and did some hasty finger pleating to see how big or small I'd have to make the pleats all the way around.  Next I ran up to my sewing machine and, using a basting stitch, rapidly pleated the sheet as I was sewing.  Although the pleats were by no account even, I somehow managed to estimate the size of each well enough that the skirt came out almost exactly the right length, with just enough overlap left to avoid the skirt's gaping open and to give me a place to stick my kilt pen.  I then folded up the bottom of the two edges and quick-basted a hem so the "skirt" wouldn't drag.  Ten minutes later, I had a fake kilt.  I took a matching pillowcase with me; while waiting for things to get started at the event, I pulled out my seam ripper (because I'm geeky that way) and started picking out all the stitching so I could turn the pillowcase into a shawl/arisaid of sorts.    Don't look at me like that...who doesn't carry a pocket seam ripper in her purse?  Men get to have pocket knives.  We all have our own weapons of choice--the girlie uses a sword and shield and I have my seam ripper and blog.

While I proceeded to plunder my pillowcase, the girlie changed into her fighting clothes.  Once I was vaguely garbed (newbies only have to make a "reasonable" attempt at pre-17th century clothing) in my handy-dandy plaid sheet, Celtic jewelry and very non-period glasses frames, I trundled off down to the field of battle to watch the fighting and to see what this passion of hers was all about.  The battlefield was placed down a hill behind the small chapel (which I found somewhat ironic) on the church grounds where the event was held.  Just outside the chapel were a couple of metal benches.  I turned one around and settled myself in for a long winter's watch.  When most of the fighters had finally arrived, the round-robin tournament began.  It was fairly easy to tell who were the more experienced fighters; they tended to have more speed and finesse.  One fighter was nicknamed the "Mace-breaker" because what he lacked in experience and skill as a newer fighter, he more than made up for in brute force.  Then there was the girlie.  She looked child-sized next to most of the men both because of her height and her slender build; she was a veritable pygmy on the field.  I fully expected to sit up on the hill, watching the entire time from between the fingers clenched over my eyes and wincing with every blow.  To my very great surprise, I didn't.

King-size candy bar vs. fun-size snack bar.

One by one the girlie took on her 11+ competitors in the tournament, all but two of whom were significantly taller than she and even those two were still a good bit wider.  Initially I thought she had vanquished her first competitor; while she did take out one of his legs, he still managed to defeat her before the match was over.  She did succeed in conquering one gentleman, however,  who later turned out to be the spouse of the woman I met while watching the combat.  The girlie was thrilled to win her first bout especially after fighting for less than a year.  Several of the ladies watching near me discussed her openly, not realizing we were related; they called her "ballsy" to be out there fighting with the men and were generally quite impressed by her, not the least because of her "stunning" armor.  I must admit it was rather gratifying to overhear my daughter spoken of in such glowing terms.  She told me later that several of the other competitors had been impressed with her fighting skills as well.  She then informed me that while she only won the one bout, she still came very near to taking out a couple of other fighters as well.  That's my girl...kicking butt and taking names!

Facing down her first opponent of the tournament after "taking" his legs.
It's only a flesh wound after all.

And down she goes,  a giant grin on her face.

One skirmish before successfully taking down an opponent for the first time ever.

Travel-size vs. Economy-size, or "better off red than dead."
(Photo credit:  Jessi Moss)

"Might as well JUMP!"
[Ironically, "Jump" by Kriss Kross was the number one hit song during the week
of her birth.  Oddly appropriate, no?]  (Photo credit:  Jessi Moss)

The Baron and Baroness of Bryn Madoc chatting during the action with Illy.

During the battles, some of the church ladies came to clean poinsettias out of the chapel.  One stopped to ask a gentleman behind me what was going on and to take pictures of the action.  He explained about the event, telling her that they used rattan poles instead of actual swords because they have a realistic force but are flexible enough that they rarely give more than bruises.  "We hardly ever get broken bones!"  Um, thanks, dude--music to a mother's ears, that.  But it was funny.  He went on to mention that they even sometimes get lady fighters, directing her attention to the girlie.  Heh.

"Though she be but little, she is fierce."
Shakespeare, Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene 2.
(Photo Credit:  Jessi Moss)

When all was said and done, the fighters were pretty tired.  Eleven bouts is a lot of fighting to start, never mind when some random duke shows up late in the game and asks to fight each of the other combatants in turn after the main bouts are finished.  Duke Orlando went around the circle of fighters, taking each on in turn.  He lost a few of the battles, but mostly he won.  The entire time I was waiting for the girlie's turn with him, the words "there was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Orlandoooo..." kept running through my head.  Yup.  Because that's just how my brain works.  After the girlie's bout with Orlando, I headed back to the main buildings to get a late lunch of soup and bread and to take a much-needed bathroom break.  The girlie meandered up the hill a half hour or so later, grabbing her own bowl of soup after changing back into her normal garb.  While waiting on her I chatted more with Illy, the woman who was sitting by me during some of the fights and who seems to have a similar sense of humor to mine.  Illy introduced me to some of the other ladies, all of whom answered several of my questions about the SCA.  I then got to watch them work on some of craft projects such as knitting caps and mittens and a scarf that would ultimately become a bag after being felted.  A woman in a fantastic Elizabethan dress had a rather elaborate hand loom on which she was weaving some trim.  I asked how it worked and she demonstrated it.  Later, Illy showed me the illuminated scrolls on which she'd been working, after which she began to work on a needle case.  We all chatted for some time while other people strolled in and out of various arts and sciences classes nearby, such as those on sleeve or hood patterning, Italian mask making, music for beginners and the advanced, and baronial history. 

After her lunch, my girlie wandered off into the advanced music class for a while where she played a borrowed recorder and fife.  When I heard singing in the class, I wandered in as well.  A couple of people were playing various types of recorders and wooden flutes and the like while the leader played an interesting-looking harp.  Another minstrel showed up later and began playing the psalter.  At one point the local baron even joined in on a drum.  I sang a few madrigal-like canons with the group; the young man next to me (one of those fighting earlier) turned out to be a music student at UGA with quite a lovely voice.  I very much enjoyed singing with him and the girlie.

After the music class disbanded, the girlie and I went off to see the vendors' wares.  I told her that since Doctor F was unavailable to look at my problem toe today, she was welcome to stay for court and the feast if she wanted.  Because the fighting took rather a long time and had delayed several of the classes (though I gather that late starts are fairly common in the SCA), court was not due to start for another hour yet.  The girlie didn't feel obligated to stay for the local court since she was visiting from another kingdom; also, she decided that she was hungry from her earlier labors and didn't want to wait another couple of hours for dinner, instead opting to leave early.  She gathered her things and we walked out to my car.  I unpinned my minute-kilt and threw it in the back seat while she threw in her equipment, then we headed over to Applebee's for dinner.  More than a few heads turned when my girlie walked in wearing her garb, even though it was much less elaborate than many of the outfits I saw today.  I kinda wish she'd shown up in her armor, just so I could have seen everyone's reactions.  I'd still like to have seen the faces on the TSA agents when they ran her checked luggage through the scanners and saw her helmet show up on the screen (when she came home from the airport last month, she discovered a note in the bag holding her helmet, or "helm" as it's more commonly called, stating that the bag had been searched).  No doubt TSA thought she was illicitly transporting torpedo heads.  I would have paid good money to watch their jaws drop in a giant "WTF??" when her helm lit up the scanners.

While today was a long day, particularly with my aching toe, it was a very enjoyable one.  I finally got to see a little of what the girlie does for "fun" (though personally my idea of "fun" does not involve getting hit with sticks); oddly enough I actually feel a little better about the whole fighting thing after seeing some of it for myself.  These guys may take it pretty seriously but they are clearly good-natured about it and the fighting doesn't look anywhere near as dangerous as I'd feared, even given the girlie's size.  Besides, she definitely acquitted herself well--though she did receive some bruises from being whacked a few times in the gap between her neck protection and the armor on one shoulder.  She also sustained one really good hit to her wrist, making it bruise and puff up noticeably.  Even so, sore and bruised though she was, when I asked if she'd had fun she replied, "SO much fun!!!"  Well, that's all right then.  Carry on, soldier.

I don't know yet whether or not I will get involved with the SCA.  Perhaps I will; I did enjoy myself.  We'll see how it goes--it partly depends upon my schedule.  I'm a little concerned about the time commitment.  If nothing else, perhaps I could become a garb vendor; I've always enjoyed making costumes.  I'd probably have to adjust to using more period techniques to make my work more authentic, but it could be fun.  At least now I've met some of the local group and can join if I like;  also, I can still go to some of the girlie's events (though I think I'll make an effort to improve on my sad, flannel sheet kilt if I do).  I know some people may think the SCA is full of weirdos (well, duh, that's what makes it great), but how can you not give mad props to a group of people dedicated to learning from history and to recreating a nearly lost code of honor, of which modern society is in desperate need?

SCA rocks.  Period(s).


  1. I am thrilled that you had a great time!!! I personally do hope you decide to come out and 'play' with us. We have local meetings, and we host 3 events throughout the year. One meeting is Tuesday (tonight) at the Fire Station off Prince on the way toward Jefferson. The next event our group is hosting is in April, and is being held at Hard Labor Creek State Park; just 30-45 min from Athens. :-) Have a great day!!

  2. I am thrilled to death to hear of your "girlie's" exploits on the field! She is good, to fare so well after less than a year of squire's training. It's as I've said, smaller warriors do have their advantages over larger ones as long as no wrestling is involved. Also, if she can afford it, it sounds like she can use a gorget to stave off those neck-gap bruises.

    Please give her my best, and mine to you as well, for supporting her in her wondersome ambition. I hope one day I'll get to see her on the field!

    Tammy Pierce, bubbly now with happiness

    1. Just so you know, seeing your comment on my blog was enough to set off the "Squee!" heard 'round the world. The "girlie" was beyond thrilled at the possibility that you might one day turn up to see one of her matches!

      Incidentally, she *does* have a gorget--in fact it was recently enlarged to protect her neck and shoulders more effectively, though there is still a small gap between its edge and her shoulder armor. Turns out her knight is quite a good armorer and has been assisting her in creating equipment to fit her small size.

      I should also tell you that she didn't just take inspiration from your character; she also discovered that the name "Alanna" was a period name and so took it for her persona as an homage to the character that first got her started. Thank you for making an already enthusiastic girl even more ecstatic!!

  3. Ah, I used to live in Æthelmearc! I was in Barony Marche (Pittsburgh) until I moved down to Atlantia for college.

    As far as internships go, she really only has to get 1 week of time off to go. Most people don't show up til the second week (War Week), since that's when the fighting actually happens. Be warned that around noon Saturday the longest line you've ever sat in in a car forms, so either try to get there early in the morning, or just wait til supper time when the line tapers off again.

    1. Thanks for the heads up, Mackenzie! I'll let her know that. Some of her fellow Thescorre fighters have already threatened to kidnap her for Pennsic this year!

  4. She's in Aethelmearc. And I've been hearing about Pennsic since about 15 minutes after her first fighter practice, lol. She wants to go SO MUCH. I don't know if she'll make it, though, because she's applying for internships for this summer. Thanks for the link; I'll definitely check it out!