Chronicles of a Modern Pict
July 4, A.S. XXXVI
The Quest for Tablero
I crossed into the southern border of An Tir with just enough time to check into a cheap Ashland motel before buying a ticket to the afternoon showing of The Tempest. My parents once lived just over the border in Yreka, and it was the summer highlight and my youthful ritual to frequent the live performances of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
In the morning under rainy skies, I had only a 3-hour drive remaining to reach the Barony of Adiantum, and the site of the An Tir West War! I wanted to attend my first out of Kingdom event in a nice place, one that would give me a diversity of experiences. I read that the An Tir West was a large war, situated on a beautiful site on the banks of the Willamette River in Eugene, Oregon, and offering the social equivalent of Estrella War with two major Kingdoms duking it out on the war field. After the encouragement of my friends Lord Donal O'Brien and Lady Qara Unegen, both veterans of this war, I packed my encampment into the Trooper and ventured north. I was actually a couple of days early, thinking that I could stop by the site and throw in my volunteer hand for whatever might be needed. I've learned in my short time with the SCA that our big Caidan wars require at least a couple of days of on-site preparation before the gates can open, and volunteers are always welcomed.
Arriving at noon, I stood looking over a locked gate at about a dozen cows placidly grazing between huge brambles of blackberry shrubs, close cropped pasture, and a heck of a lot of cow pies. According to my pre-registration directions, this had to be the place, but there was not a single person in sight, not a privy (or biffy as they called them up there), road sign, or evidence of anything to hint that in less than 48 hours there would be a war with over 3,500 people! Since the cows didn't need any help, and I was without computer to try to contact the local autocrats, I decided to continue north to rendezvous with friends in Corvallis, and would return on Friday morning for the opening of the war.
By 8 am there were about 300 cars aligned into 6 parallel rows, not dissimilar to a Grand Prix racetrack just before the checker flag gets waved. The rain had stopped the day before but the cloud cover and the moisture made it feel like those misty October mornings on Prado Lake. Numerous groups of people were talking, some were supervising kids with boffers, while others were playing chess on the hood of their cars, or just waiting in their seats for the gate to be opened. I waved across several rows of cars to Master James of the Lake when he and his Lady rolled into their place in the queue, while thinking that there will be a few folks attending from Caid that I know.
My truck was parked behind an old Volvo station wagon with Oregon plates, stuffed to the gills with gear, and overflowing its roof rack. I said hello to the owner, a tall and jovial fellow with thick curly brown hair that reached nearly down to his waist, thick glasses, and a great laugh. He wore a black T-shirt with a weathered picture of Darth Maul, stretched tight over a bulging belly, giving the evil Sith lord a decidedly 3-D look. I shared with him that I was an outlander from Caid, and a newcomer to the SCA, and being that this was my first out of kingdom event asked what I might expect. It turned out that Lord Adric of the Argent Flame was local to the Barony of Adiantum (Eugene), and that his household, the Argent Flame, was one of the many groups of volunteers who had been beating back the blackberry thicket that had nearly completely assimilated the old orchard that once stood in this place. The site was not much different than a labyrinth, with more than a hundred narrow tunnels leading to cleared out pockets large enough for small to medium sized encampments. The largest open spaces were reserved for the merchant's row and the Royal courtyard, while the remainder of the site randomly wove between trees and walls of blackberry brambles on roads that were paved in wood chips and sawdust. Without knowing the site, one could easily spend a couple of hours exploring all the possible spaces, while those in the know claimed their rightful territory. Suspecting that I was clueless about land grabbing, Adric invited me to take a 20' by 20' space adjacent to their campsite that belonged to his clan, and to of course participate in his household's fun and games. I reluctantly agreed, not really knowing what I was getting into, but instinctively feeling that it's better to make friends right off the bat when I am likely to already be way over my head. At 9 am sharp the gates were opened, and by sure luck I was in the first batch of the first row of vehicles to be allowed to enter. We wound our way past a huge field that was to become the parking lot, past an old and dilapidated barn, and to the constable's point where we were asked if we knew where we were going. I waved at the "traffic Lord" and pointed to Adric's Volvo and said, "I'm with him" wondering to myself if I was in fact a little crazy.
Setting up a period encampment involves about ten times as much work as pulling out one's dome tent, throwing in the sleeping bag, and hitting the food court. During the 3 hours it took for me to unload, unpack, and put up my two small pavilions, assemble furniture, roll out carpets, hang lanterns, organize the kitchen and shower, etc., I had time to contemplate the advice given to me by Donal before I departed, "they play a period game in An Tir called Tablero, which can be a lot of fun. Everyone plays it, and all you need to do is bring two bottles of beer, or mead, and they will teach you the rules. Of course you may not understand the rules after the drinking begins..." Tablero -- it sounded interesting, so while taking a break I asked my new friend what is was all about, and he started laughing as he reached for the medallion he was wearing around his neck and showed it to me. It was inscribed with the title of "Tablero Champion of the Principality of the Summits" and on the back of it was attached a permanent bottle opener. Somehow I had hit the mother load of Tablero knowledge, and he was camped right next door. I also realized that close proximity to Adric's household was going to be very interesting. Then he started laughing again and told me to come by at night, they would be playing.
Lady Acacia Gryffyn's beautiful Tablero board
What little sleep I had that night was interrupted by surreal nightmares of Lewis Carroll-like white rabbits dressed in tunics and raising shot glasses while screaming at the top of their lungs "TO THE QUEEN, TO THE QUEEN..." As I gradually regained consciousness the voices of the toasting rabbits morphed into the cries of a two year old child in the pavilion next door to mine. Down in the primal recesses of my reptilian mind a voice not un-like that of Darth Maul told me "NEVER play Tablero with ginger mead!" I will certainly heed that advice in the future.
It is amazing how the sound of my hand crank coffee grinder can resemble the tightening chains on a rack in the Tower of London. With each turn of the crank, agonizing bolts of pain shot through my brain as I considered abandoning this masochistic plan by crawling to the food court where someone can be PAID to administer a drip I.V. of double espresso. By some miraculous Herculean effort I got my brain reattached to my body, showered off the remaining residues of Tablero, and made my way to the war field.
If you are new to the SCA, and intrigued as I am by the fighting but reluctant to jump immediately into the fray, then I recommend becoming a marshal. You just can't beat the view unless you happen to be carrying a weapon. Someone on the Caid list mentioned that they party late in An Tir and everyone is slow to arrive on the war field. I took that to mean I could be 30 minutes late to the marshal's meeting, which was to commence at 9 am. By 10 am the marshal of the field and the two kingdom earl marshals finally showed up, and it wasn't until about 11 am that we actually began the armor inspections. Apparently there was a lot of Tablero going on last night!
simulated Barbie bolts
They do things a bit differently up in An Tir, having their own kingdom rules, as we do in Caid, concerning armor and weapons. Because this was a two-kingdom war, the marshals from their respective kingdoms were responsible for inspecting their own warriors. I looked around for a Caidan warrior who I could inspect, and as it turned out my friend, Duke Dietrich von Vogelsang was fighting for An Tir at the request of our Queen Kissa. I met Dietrich a little more than a year ago when he and I marshaled a field together at a Gyldenholt tourney, and he has always been a source of inspiration for me. While assisting the An Tir marshals with their inspections I noticed an archer pass by who was carry a rather unusual quiver of combat arrows. I asked the An Tir marshal I was working with, "Who was inspecting the archers today?" He said that since each combat archery war band could inspect their own troops if there was a senior marshal in their group they probably inspected their own people. So I walked over to the fighter and asked her if I could look at her arrows. Each arrow was tipped with the plastic head of a short shorn Barbie doll, each with color highlights that resembled the same hairstyle as the archer. I could easily pull the Barbie head off of the shaft, and there was no padding or glue to hold it in place. I showed the archer how Barbie could easily slide between the grill of a helm, and how dangerous it would be if one of the un-padded arrows made it through the face grill, with or without its warrior Barbie effigy. Fortunately the archer agreed that they were dangerous and would remove them from the field (please note that these arrows would not be legal in An Tir, or in any Kingdom for that matter) of course this was not the last time I'd see the little Barbie's from Hell.
King Davin of An Tir
The castle in the center of the war field was impressive to behold! Constructed out of wood and painted to resemble a rock wall, the two large towers were connected by an archway that could handle the weight of several people. Surrounding the "rock work" was the traditional hay bale walls and keeps, bridge, and a clever moat made from blue tarps. When the call to arms was made and all of the warriors assembled in front of the castle, the two Kings, Davin of An Tir, and Fabian of the West, climbed into their respective turrets and began an interchange that was quite hilarious. Eventually their majesties got around to describing the complex war scenarios, but during this time I couldn't keep my eyes off of their crowns! We are not talking just crowns, but CROWNS ON STEROIDS. After the discussions on the Caid list about Duke John's beautiful new Caidan crowns, and the questions as to why the old ones were not good enough, I gazed upon two different crowns that blatantly demonstrated why our old Caidan crowns just had to go.
The An Tir forces basically annihilated the forces of the West, which I understand is not always the case, since it was often mentioned that An Tir is considered the underdog Kingdom. After two rounds of open field butchery, the next scenarios involved a bridge and keep battle. These scenarios were complicated by a storybook war, random and lucky draws, and secret battle plans. Having little experience with these forms of tactics I felt a wee bit clueless. I was lucky that two of my fellow marshals were knights, and one a duchess and baroness from the West, so I was assisted in my attempt to grasp the strategy. While one particular bridge battle was in progress, an unusually loud "thwack" sound was heard and an immediate call of HOLD rang out. Another voice yelled, "Look at the Castle!" Our group of marshals was shocked to see an arrow stuck into the wooden wall! There was no blunt or padding of any kind, and the shaft was sharp enough to stick into the castle wall. From the distance that I stood to the castle wall, the arrow looked vaguely familiar. The hold was followed by a recall of all lights weapons from the field except for tennis ball cross bows, and then the scenario was resumed. Fortunately no one was injured. Later that afternoon, I discovered a decapitated Barbie head near the castle wall and reported this to the Marshal of the Field.
War is Hell, and as the saying goes this one was no different. The hot sun and high humidity took its toll, and by days end we were all, fighters, marshals and water bearers included, ready to call it quits and cool down. An Tir was victorious, and the King of the West led the final battle until he was summarily shot in the head by an An Tir archer -- long live the King! There was a lot to do that afternoon, what with court, nearly 100 merchants, exploring encampments, or taking a quick dip in the Williamette River.
The An Tir sun does not set until just nigh on 8 pm, and twilight persists for another hour and a half. There was plenty of time to make a late dinner, attend court, and prepare for a night of activity that would blend without stop until dawn. Sitting in my camp after dinner, sipping a delicious apricot mead, I could hear across the land six distinct drumming circles, perhaps two pipers, and the echoing toasts to the Queen from the evening's first Tablero games. My list for the night included attending the Bardic competition, joining a drum circle, exploring the events taking place in several of the huge households (including a kissing slave auction in a pirate camp), and eventually ending up at Adric's Tablero table!
The drum circle I chose was close to my encampment and on the way to Dark Wood, the primary stronghold of the Westies. The eight drummers were extraordinary (as were the dancers), and it took me quite a while to gain the confidence to merge my beginners experience into their far more advanced renditions. As it was, my coordination was greatly enhanced by the Celtic couple that kept filling my goblet with their home brewed barley wine. The surprise of the circle occurred whilst in the middle of a complex melody a piper appears out of the firelight and begins playing a traditional Scottish tune all the while remaining in rhythm with our decidedly Middle Eastern style. Scotland meets Baghdad, An Tir style!
The ebb and flow of energy of the An Tir West war has become an intoxicating experience, and one I will sorely miss. There is a lot I cannot remember, but what remains are vivid memories of new-forged friendships, clean air and verdant landscape unmarred by mundane artifice, and an overarching sense of primal medievalism and timelessness. There is no doubt in my mind that my worldview of the SCA was greatly expanded by this experience. HUZZAH!