Night Crawler

Past Perfect

The tournament itself is fast and furious: one-on-one combat, with double elimination. There are two playing fields within the eric, marked by the heraldic colors azure and vert, and no less than three marshals to oversee each field. The marshals are surprisingly redundant for, although the swords are not real, the chivalric codes of honesty and sportsmanship are genuine. Fighters inflicted with blows sacrifice the use of smitten limbs; fighters thinking their blows not sufficient to warrant the sacrifice disclaim the stroke before resuming battle; and a blow to the head or body, even with a rattan sword, is ample to send the losing side of the encounter sprawling across the field in spastic death throes. Most of the battles between seasoned fighters (knights are designated by white belts) and new challengers are quick to end, but even quick fights, under the weight of armor and the heat of an unseasonably hot sun, are enough to cause great exhaustion.

After winning her first fight and losing her second, Duchess Elina of Beckenham sits under a sun shade attended by Duke Stephen of Beckenham, her beloved consort and real-life husband. The titles of duke and duchess are afforded those personages who have held the title of king or queen twice, and, with her lionlike eyes, battered armor, and crimson fighting surcoat detailed with a gold griffin, the duchess is regal in every aspect. In her mundane persona, 33-year-old Tobi Beck is a former captain of the Army military police and author of The Armored Rose, an in-depth study of how and why men and women approach combat differently. In her everyday life, Beck has been sent to Cuba, Panama, Honduras, and Somalia in times of need; as a member of the SCA, she has fought thousands of battles and ruled in two kingdoms. Both lives are points of pride.

"You learn about history here by trying it on," says Duchess Elina. "The best way to learn is always by doing." And clearly, the battles don't hurt.

SCA Jousting Championship.
Paul Trapani
SCA Jousting Championship.
Kelly Long aka Viscount Thurfinn Magnissin.
Paul Trapani
Kelly Long aka Viscount Thurfinn Magnissin.

By late afternoon, only Viscount Thurfinn Magnissin and Sir Brion of Bellatrix remain. Margrethe Astrid Ravn, otherwise known as Meg Heydt, the "autocrat" who organized today's event, is not surprised.

"Brion is the princess' champion, and Thurfinn was prince of Cynagua," says Ravn. "They are both strong fighters."

During the final match, the whole of the court seems to hold its breath. Thurfinn, in red, and Brion, in blue, square off. The attack is fierce, the blows deafening; sod flies under the noblemen's boots, and their armor shudders with strain. Brion fights with two swords and no shield, in Florentine style, and brings Thurfinn to his knees -- but Thurfinn is triumphant. The fallen knight is given wine and the royals attend the field, welcoming their new heir and bestowing on him a crown of laurel, with a crown of roses for his absent consort, who is attending a wedding elsewhere.

Behind his pavilion, seated on a leather chair brought by his squire Shastan, Thurfinn looks every bit the victorious hero of myth, his armor gleaming, his face sanguine, his long hair matted with sweat, and his mouth set with intrepidity as he speaks of his lady love, Duchess Cyneswith aet Caldhaefen.

"I am very excited to make my lady princess," says Thurfinn. "I've always wanted to do something like this for her. The last time I was prince, I shared my reign with a very good friend. It was a wonderful reign, but something was missing, that romantic quality I wanted. I swore I'd never fight again for someone unless I was in love with them. Now I am, and this will be perfect."

Thurfinn, 29-year-old Kelly Long, met his lady while she was queen and he captain of her guard. They fell in love, and he has won her a crown. At home in Santa Clara, Long works in a cafe. Here, he is Thurfinn, Lord of the Mists, a 21st-century Lancelot, and people bow.

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