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Heavy metal makes a scene in Port Gamble

PORT GAMBLE — Shining like a gigantic C3-PO on steroids, he emerged and entered the ring of combat.

“Introducing the Mystery Knight,” the announcer yelled for the gathering crowd, which teemed with anticipation.

“Dun, dun, dun, dun,” a few judges added, chiding.

But after a few clashes that sounded like an Indy 500 race car hitting the wall and some well placed slashes with a make-shift sword, the powerful swordsman had his opponent on his knees before dealing a “death blow” to the head.

The man crumbled to the ground in mock demise.

It was all in a day’s work, for a knight.

Port Gamble was transformed into a pre-1600 village last weekend as the Society for Creative Anachronism’s Medieval Faire took the North Kitsap community back some 400 years to a time when western Europe’s kings and queens were more than just pieces on a chessboard.

“I enjoy it a lot,” explained lace and costume maker Ellen Fraiser of Keyport as she jotted down names and titles of the 34 fighters about to compete in the armored combat competition.

From time to time a metal clad man would clank on up to the table, stating his SCA name and whether he was a knight, squire, sergeant or even the king of the Barony of Dragon’s Laire — whose region of influence includes Kitsap County and Northern Mason County.

“We have everyone from his Royal Highness to a guy who’s only been fighting for about three months” Fraiser said, reviewing the list.

“They have to die twice. It’s double elimination,” said added, noting that fighters had to have their armor vigorously inspected prior to combat. “We want to kill our friends — not hurt them.”

To ensure this didn’t happen, the men-at-arms donned anywhere from 50 to 150 pounds of protective gear.

“It depends on the armor,” Darrell Shields of Tacoma said.

Weights can be reduced by carrying a shorter sword (basically a piece of rattan wrapped in duct and electrician’s tape) a lighter shield (Shields went with pickle barrel) and less apparatus.

“You can go as little as (protecting your) elbows, neck and knees, but most people wear a lot more armor than that,” Shields explained, pointing out that he not only had 16-gauge steel on his legs but that his helmet alone weighed close to 20 pounds.

Why? A good majority of the warriors can deliver a pretty mighty swing behind their rattan swords, sending shields and often opponents flying in a single strike.

According to Shields, despite the painstaking protective measures, a good blow can still result in a nice bruise or welt.

“It depends on who’s doing the hitting, how angry they are and whether or not you acknowledged their last hit,” he added.

Acknowledging hits is where sportsmanship comes into play.

With swords flashing and crashing in split seconds, judges cannot always catch every blow. Opponents, therefore, rely on the honor system and their reports of hits to the arms, legs, heads and torsos are as commonplace at the faire as seeing two skilled knights duel it out under the blazing spring sun.

“If you get hit in the leg, you lose (use) of the leg. If you’re hit in the arm you lose the arm,” Nestor Michka of Duvall explained. “If you’re hit in the head — you take the death.”

Approaching his next opponent, Michka — a 20-year veteran of sword play — welcomed the man to his first Medieval Faire.

“That’s Michka,” one onlooker remarked. “He’s good.”

The seasoned knight did not disappoint and within two clashes, delivered a winning death blow to the head.

But armored combat was just the tip of the sword in terms of history and heritage offered at the Society’s largest Dragon’s Laire gathering ever.

Archery contests, dancing, medieval craftsmanship demonstrations, knife and spear throwing, rapier duels, bardic melodies, arts and sciences also brought visitors and participants to Port Gamble’ Middle Ages encampment.

“We had a record-setting year,” said Brad Camp of Poulsbo. “It was amazing.”

Camp, who has been involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism for about eight years, said the group was planning on about 800 participants but had more than 1,500 attend. Likewise, crowds of visitors that usually number in the 8,000 to 10,000 range broke the 17,000 mark.

“People really came out for this thing,” he said, noting that the natural setting offered at Port Gamble was much more appealing than that of last year’s venue at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. “It was a beautiful weekend. Port Gamble’s a beautiful town — it had a really good feel to it.”

Over the weekend, the local SCA celebrated not only its 20th Medieval Faire but its increasing popularity as well.

“They started off with 35 participants and four vendors,” Camp said of where the local group was in 1982, before thanking the community of Port Gamble and Olympic Resource Management for helping everyone involved have a “really good time.”

Keeping the good times rolling on and off the field of combat is what SCA is all about, Michka agreed.

“It’s fun,” he said. “If it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t do it.”

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