Swords & Chivalry in the Heat of the Battle

EAST OF WOODLAND — Three armies stood tensely in the sun-dappled woods while the marshal shouted out the rules of honorable and “joyous” combat, and reviewed the point of the contest: to capture the monastery.

Then sounded the cry to fight. Suspense mounted as lines of heavily armored and men, and a few women, started creeping through the forest toward one another gripping fearsome spears, swords and battle axes. You could cut the rising tension with a rapier — but not with one of these weapons, which are made of rattan and wrapped in tape or rawhide. That’s one way lethal combat of the past is rendered non-lethal by the Society for Creative Anachronism, a living history group with chapters all over the world and hundreds of members right here in Clark County — or, as they prefer to call it, the Barony of Stromgard.


Swords and shields are drawn as combatants in "A Game of Thrones and StormGods" event spring into action to battle for control of the monastery east of Woodland on Saturday morning, July 28, 2018. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

The chaotic battle was joined! The combatants — around 50 fighters in all — crashed together, slashing and pounding with all the power and fury medieval soldiers can muster. The peaceful forest exploded with shouting and clanking, running and sweating, streaming dust and falling bodies.

Whence came a different sound: “You OK?” “Need a hand?” “I’ll stop, you get your spear back.” Meanwhile, another marshal advised non-armored media visitors to back deeper into their protected spot on the sideline. Those weapons might not have literal blades, he noted, but they’re still awfully long and strong — and it’s a jungle in here.

Earlier in the day, in a sun-baked field nearby, the same marshals urged sweating one-on-one combatants to take frequent breaks, drink lots of water and keep an eye out for symptoms of heatstroke. Those marshals are safety officers, not combat judges, and they’re empowered to order anybody who’s overheating out of the melee.


Daniel Rowland of Battle Ground, also known as Sir Lorencio, stays hydrated while taking a break from the action. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

But it’s entirely up to the combatants themselves to decide when the touch of a rival’s weapon amounts to a lethal blow.

“Are you dead?” “I’m dead,” said one fighter, and he exited the monastery through an escape hatch and stumbled off to the “res point” — where he’d get resurrected and rejoin the fray, good as new. Convenient, huh?

So there’s really no point in refusing to die after a good hit, according to Sebastian des Roseaux, the visiting Baron of Three Mountains, because your annoyed opponent will only kill you even deader. “We are here to compete honorably,” he said. “How hard do you need to get hit, anyway?”

The monastery — an open assemblage of drywall — changed hands repeatedly as fighters from the three baronies seized and defended its central pole while their adversaries killed them with kindness. It was a chaotic and quick-moving contest; then a marshal called “Hold!” and everyone made friends and rested up for the next bout.

“This is an excellent battle!” declared Baron Ivon Stomgard, aka Gerald Barber, with glee.

Hot and cool

Our local Barony of Stromgard and its neighboring Oregon baronies, Three Mountains (Multnomah and Clacakamas counties) and Dragon’s Mist (Washington and Clatsop), are famous across this flat, not-well-explored world (beyond which there be dragons) for their generally cool, rainy climate.


Gerald Barber of Vancouver, also known as Baron Ivon Stromgard, from left, and Lois Hale of Portland, also known as Hlutwige Wolfkiller, Baroness Stromgard, join the rest of the court during “A Game of Thrones and StormGods” outing. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

But it was nothing like that in late July, when the three baronies gathered for a weekend of festivities and tournaments on the historic Zumstein family farm, on the northern edge of Clark County. (“Sites are hard to find,” said Drifa in Rauða, aka Zumstein daughter Anne Taylor, who’s been a member since 2005.)

A long heat wave was lingering, with temperatures up in the 90s. Combatants were bundled  from head to toe in regulation-heavy metal helmets, mail and all sorts of padding: face protection, throat protection, kidney protection and groin protection for both men and women. Their “families” — some literal, others groups that have chosen one another — backed them up with cold water, orange slices, grapes and even ice packs or just-plain ice sliding down their suits.

The heat depressed attendance a little, but didn’t stop a total of 265 historical figures — 225 adults and 40 children — from showing up, the Baron reported later. Most arrived Friday night to erect authentic-looking medieval camps that would remain through Sunday morning; if you looked harder, you’d spot some modern conveniences — propane stoves, plastic water bottles, Tupperware — which were welcome but encouraged to be camouflaged, according to Thora, aka Kerry Beckett, the barony’s official chatelaine — that is, newcomer contact and chaperone.

Even Baron Stromgard himself had an electric fan whirring in his tent. Maybe that makes sense for a self-described “computer hardware guy,” who came to the umbrella Society for Creative Anachronism via his work at Sharp Microelectronics. That’s where he first noticed a poster for a medieval-flavored outing on a colleague’s cubicle wall. Twenty-five years later, inhabiting Baron Stromgard is the center of Gerald Barber’s social world; there are so many SCA people in this region, he said, it’s always possible to find summer weekend gatherings within a couple hours’ drive of here.

It’s undeniably good to be the Baron; as he strolls the pathways of Stromgard, his people bow and call, “Hello, your excellency!”

Authentically unreal

Who are all these living historical figures? Unabashed history nerds with deep curiosity and diverse interests. The Columbian kept running into local schoolteachers at the event — like Brand Raynersson, one of the marshals, whose real identity is David Hollingsworth, a fifth grade teacher at Hathaway Elementary School in Washougal, and Duke Tiernan, the outing’s architect, whose real identity is Todd Brothers, a history teacher at La Center Middle School.


William Tull of Battle Ground, center, also known as Vladimir, kneels before the court with fellow combatants at the start of "A Game of Thrones and StormGods" event east of Woodland. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

What inspired Tiernan to launch an SCA tournament of medieval combat at the Skamania County Fairgrounds in Stevenson, 18 years ago? “I just wanted lots of fighting,” he grinned.

If that’s what you’re into, this annual “Game of Thrones and StormGods” outing is the peak of your year. But other attendees love authentic sewing and costuming; games and stories; music and dance; cooking and feasting; metal- and woodwork; even calligraphy and illumination.

“Authentic” meaning what? Meaning drawn from true historical sources; the SCA and its subgroups guide newcomers to exhaustive lists of recommended readings — not just big-picture overviews of history, but authentic manuals and rule books that govern all the technicalities, from fighting to dancing to cooking.

One island of calm amid all that muscular combat was the family activities tent, where Annora, aka Alisa Myers, her daughter Maya, aka Bellatrax, and a handful of others were doing meticulous fingerwork with needles and threads in exactly the way women and girls would have done hundreds of years ago.

“It’s nice to get away from reality,” said Bellatrax, who’s also into archery and glukhaus (a game of odds, played with medieval dice) and Game of the Goose (played with dice and pieces moving around a board, probably dating from the 16th century). It’s even nice to get away from electronics and cellphones, she admitted.

“History” can mean just about anytime before this minute, of course, but the SCA has a rule about that too: it covers the period from 400 to 1600 A.D. Roughly speaking, the fun begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and hands off to William Shakespeare. The focus used to be entirely European, but the SCA world is now open to any and all appropriately historical peoples. There are SCA “aboriginal” native Americans and SCA Asian Huns — such as Stromgard’s baroness, Hlutwige Wolfkiller, aka Lois Hale.

Her people may have a reputation for sacking Europe 1,500 years ago, but Wolfkiller got into SCA to promote ideals such as “personal honor, and courtesy, and chivalry. I’m trying to be a better person every day,” she said.

All people welcome — magical beings, not so much

A Society of Creative Anachronism gathering may resemble a living version of Dungeons & Dragons or The Lord of the Rings, but group discriminates mercilessly against hobbits, wizards, giants, elves and other magical beings that seem like they ought to fit in. They don’t. This is seriously sourced human history; dragons are not welcome. Sorry, Puff!

But the SCA and the Barony of Stromgard do welcome all people, all abilities, all sexual identities and orientations. A weekend of medieval partying is no excuse for boorish behavior, Baron Stomgard said. Everybody got handed a printed program for the weekend that included a detailed “Zero tolerance” statement about harassment, bullying and other naughtiness, so you couldn’t possibly miss the point.

Fortunately, the Baron said, in an alternate reality that prizes old-fashioned honor, courtesy and chivalry, there’s a high degree of self-awareness. If you’re unaware, he added, you’ll be made aware quite quickly.

“If you are a man who makes women uncomfortable, you will be told about it,” he said.

—Scott Hewitt

On the web

Learn more about the Barony of Stromgard and the Society of Creative Anachronism at and

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525;;

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