A group of jovial folk gathered at an arena outside of Lodi on Saturday to enjoy a Medieval style tournament, complete with decorated horses, suits of chain mail and battles for the honor of becoming Equestrian Champion of the Western Kingdom.
Lords and ladies, bards and heralds and even knights and royalty were in the crowd cheering on the competitors. These are players of the Society for Creative Anachonism. The national group connects fictional kingdoms, principalities and local groups who meet up to act out their favorite Medieval hobbies. Many began playing as children or teens, and never stopped.
The Western Kingdom stretches from the Bay Area into Nevada, and up to the Oregon border. It also includes Japan and Alaska, though those participants generally stay local to their own principalities. Bonds are formed, oaths of fealty sworn, and ancient arts practiced and honored.
Members of the group practice a wide range of medieval arts, from embroidery to dancing, music and warfare.
“If you can think of it, someone is doing it,” said Merced Romero Jr., of Stockton. He plays Zaid Al-fallah a-hajji, and has been participating for 25 years.
Most make their own costumes, based on a wide range of historical periods from the year 600 to 1650. Romero’s costume is pulled from the Middle Eastern or Moorish styles of the Middle Ages.
Most players are drawn into society because of a love of history that goes beyond the textbooks.
“Here, we get to do something,” said Ruth Ann Van Vranken, who plays as Aurora Komnene wearing a delicate gown embriodered with golden thread and pearls.
Aine Ingen Fhinn, otherwise known as Margaret Thompson of Hilmar, observed the competition with eager eyes. She is the current champion, having earned her title last year.
Her job is to represent the kingdom in various affairs, and to arrange next year’s competition.
She began playing as an 11 year old with her family in Chico, and it has followed her through life.
“A lot of these people have become family,” she said. “You don’t find these kinds of connections in the outside world.”
That’s a good thing, since this group can end up spending nearly every weekend together at feasts, tournaments or other events.
One major draw of joining the society is, of course, the opportunity to fight. Players don armor made in historical designs, though the material may be leather, plastic or aluminum chainmail. Swords, battle axes, maces and spears are all fair game. But these are made of rettan, a solid bamboo material. They’re safer to use, and hold up longer than foam or plastic.
“Any weapon can pretty much be recreated with that stuff and a lot of duct tape,” said Aina.
There were no battles on Saturday, but there was a healthy sense of competition.
The riders are judged on elegance of movement, control of the horse and their skill in completing the task at hand. One stage ran the competitors through an obstable course, while another callled for them to pull rings off a stand then pick up a foam sheild, all while the horse was in motion.
Four finalists were selected: Catherine Goatherd, Gwedywn the Silent, Malyn Edwardis and Siobahn Seaopha.
After a final round of ring catching and shield stabbing on horseback, the judges assembled to make their decision.
The court gathered together, rising for the king and queen. Ingen Fhinn grew emotional when she made the announcment that would end her time as champion.
The Wester Kingdom’s Equestrian Champion was declared to be Gwendywn the Silent, or Kim Bulotki-Smith.
The court thundered their approval in a manner fit for the Middle Ages.
“Hip hip huzzah!”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.