Sunday, November 28, 2010

Once More into the Meat Grinder: Reminiscences of a first time Pennsic Fighter

Colyne Stewart, Sep AS XXXVII

I had been to Pennsic XXX in my first year of being in the SCA, and I had watched all the battles. I was in training for armoured combat, and was an authorized Level One Scout. As such I couldn’t fight that war, though I was able to take part in the Woods Battle and see the fighting up close. It was amazing to see so many fighters in one place, and I longed to be amongst them.

So I traveled home and continued my training and finally authorized at War College six months later. Between then and Pennsic XXXI I joined the army of my Barony, the Isengesitha of Septentria, with whom I fought once. Luckily I had trained with one of the best shieldmen in Ealdormere, Lord Brandt das Lederwerker, and under his instruction my skill grew. I was praised by my Thegn at fight practices, for I actually knew enough to stick to my shieldmates. (You would be amazed at how often shieldwalls slip apart.)

So, with almost no war experience, I set out for the big one. Pennsic XXXI was hot, very hot and humid. I don’t deal with heat very well, and often found it hard to breath. To top it off, I had a very bad stomach flu at the time. I knew I likely wouldn’t be able to fight every day, so I decided on doing it every other day.

On the second Monday, Ealdormere and the Northern army met to practice together. My Lady and I armoured up and joined our countrymen on the field. The two armies were mixed together and divided up into four forces. I was in the pink army, under the command of Kaylah the Cheerful. The armies then fought a series of engagements two on two, rotating allies with each battle. I only managed to hang in for three engagements, and did fairly well. In the first battle I stuck to my wall but was killed fairly quickly. In the second I survived for quite a while until I tripped on a corpse and was struck by an enemy spear. In the third I did my best, even striking an opponent on the head, though he did not accept what I thought was a good blow. I ended up dying in this battle as well. The heat then did me in and I stripped off my gear.

To date, this was the biggest engagement I had been in. There were approximately three to four hundred people taking part in the exercise. Folks had been warning me that fighting in large numbers can be intimidating, but I was never nervous. I was also not hopping up and down with excitement. Rather, I tended to go into battle with determination to do my job, which was to defend those behind me.

On Tuesday I rested through the woods battle. When Wednesday came I pulled myself out of bed (did I mention I also have a sleeping disorder?) and trudged up the hill for the Hadrian’s Wall Battle. In this scenario, the field had been split in half by hay bails with five small gaps. In each gap was a hay bail, coloured red on one side and blue on the other. Our goal was the take the gaps and turn the bails onto the colour of our army (in this case blue, for we were fighting for the East). It was an hour and a half resurrection battle, which meant if you died, you went back to a certain point and could then reenter the fighting.

The Baronies of Ealdormere fought as one unit, that day under the leadership of Baron Brand of Ben Dunfirth (as I recall). We were lined up in a column and when the fighting began we were run into one of the gaps. It was a meat grinder. I watched as those in front of me were chopped to pieces and dropped to the ground. Then, suddenly, I was in no-man’s-land, on the end of a very short shield wall with a line of enemy spearmen bearing down on me and with no friendly spears behind me. From eyewitness accounts I just had time to look around bewildered before I was killed. I dropped to the ground and was soon buried under bodies. After a few minutes a hold was called and the dead left the field. I ended up having to go through the Middle’s lines, with my sword on my helm to show I was dead, and come off the sideline very far away from my resurrection point. I hiked up the incline towards our end, and heard my name called. Alaani, a member of my home canton, and a member of Septentria’s allied mercenary House, Mjolnir, watered me. Throughout the rest of that war she took very good care of me on the field. I then went to the res point, and reentered the fray.

Quickly I was grabbed and set in a column again and for the course of that battle all I did was run into the jaws of death to be killed within seconds. One time when I died I twisted my hip awkwardly and couldn’t get up right away when the hold was called. I finally crawled up a hay bail and limped off. That was it for fighting for me that day, as they were calling the last five minutes. I gave my shield to my Thegn and watched.

Due to a timekeeping error by our side we thought only those five minutes were left. It was actually seventeen. The East ended up expending all its energy on a big push far too early, and the Middle was rested and ready when it really came down to crunch time. The East ended up loosing this battle, though the fighting was hard.

As it turned out it was the only war point battle the Middle would take that war.

I don’t think a resurrection battle with small points of engagement makes for a good battle as all the conflict is localized in those few places, and people are just thrown in with no regard to personal safety, since everyone can just res and come back.

Thursday was the bridge battle, through which I rested. Then on Friday I marched up the hill again to partake of the field battle. As the armies gathered a bagpipe could be heard playing, and this really contributed to my enjoyment of the day. I find that musicians on the sidelines of battle add a lot to the experience.

This day the Baronies were under the command of Sir Baron Menken Brechen of Skraeling Althing. Unfortunately, everyone with a Crown, and some without, ended up giving us orders. It was a big mess. In the end we were again lined up in a column, about four or five across. First a row of shields, then spears, then shields and so on. When the cannon roared we pressed forward and quickly fell into a kill pocket. A hold was called and I gazed about, ascertaining this unfortunate fact. When the call to lay on came again a Middle soldier, on an adrenalin high, came smashing through our wall on his knees, accepting no blows until Menken soundly bashed him on the noggin.

Then the noose tightened. Our small group was pinched off from retreat and we were quickly overwhelmed. I fell to the ground dead and waited for a hold to leave the field. A group of Isengesitha had gathered, so I went over to them to watch as Syr Ed the Red’s banner flew across the field while he and our allies wiped out the remaining Midland forces.

All of our allied Kings then addressed the troops, and King Darius of the East was proclaimed Imperator by his troops to great cheering and clashing of shields.

So what feelings was I left with once the fighting was all over? Accomplishment, that I had actually done it. Pride, in myself and my countrymen and allies. They say that there is no love like the love between soldiers, and I can understand that now. I think our martial activities help pull us together, to make us feel like cousins, like brothers.

Fighting’s a good thing. (And its fun too.)

Permission is given to print this article in any SCA publication as long as the author is contacted by email in advance, proper credit is given and the author receives a copy of the newsletter. Please credit the author as Colyne Stewart (mka Todd Fischer), who can be reached at

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