Pennsic XX (1991)
Glory On the Battlefield
by Mistress Gunhilda Adeleva Amberstar
This falls firmly into a category that is known as "no-shit-there-I-was" SCA war stories. Warriors must boast about their deeds, after all, but this one is really true, making it all the sweeter.
Pennsic is a huge SCA event/war held in Pennsylvania every year. I went to Pennsic XX (my first Pennsic) because our king that year was a man who I greatly admired and respected, also knowing it would be a huge "anniversary" event, with many more people than usual. Our king, Inman McMoore, was one of the best warriors, having won the most difficult tournaments again and again, and having defeated the best fighters from other kingdoms, as well. In my kingdom, Ansteorra, Inman was a living legend, known as the "Once and Every Other King" because he won our Crown Tournament so often. Suffice to say that, at that time, fighting for Inman at Pennsic War was the SCA equivalent of fighting for King Arthur in the biggest war in SCA history. Ansteorra fielded 80 people for the battles, including my SCA shield sister, Kat, and me. Kat was an up-and-coming lady fighter; I'd been around for a while.
The day before the field battle, I'd badly twisted my ankle in the woods battle. My foot was bruised from toe to shin, and my ankle was so swollen I could barely get my foot into my boot, but I wasn't about to miss my first Pennsic field battle. So I marched (or hobbled, more accurately) to the field with the rest of the army on the big day.
Both armies were about the same size, over a thousand strong, and the 80 warriors from Ansteorra were given the job of holding the left flank of our entire line. We were lined up opposite of the Calontir shield wall, the best shield wall fighters in the known world, but we were rather glad that we weren't facing the 200+ Tuchux who were also on the opposing side. The Tuchux are not really part of the SCA, being a group that recreates the "Gor" books by (I think) John Norman. They are known by most SCAers as a group that doesn't always play by the rules, and one could call them the Uruk-Hai of the Pennsic Wars...
Anyway, Kat and I were side by side on the front row, facing the Calon shield wall, awed by the size of the battle. I was wondering how in the world I was going to fight with a badly sprained ankle. King Inman was giving us an inspirational speech about how holding the left flank was vital for the battle strategy, and how we could expect our enemies to send their worst at us.
The tension was building as all the troops finally got into place, and the time for the cannon to sound approached. As we waited anxiously, we started to hear the battle chant of the Tuchux somewhere from behind the enemy shield wall. They had been reinforcing the center of the opposing line, but they sounded nearer now, even though we couldn't see them.
The cannon sounded... and 200 Tuchux came charging out from behind the Calontir shield wall at a full tilt. They were running at us full throttle, screaming at the top of their lungs. 200 against our 80; and I forgot all about my ankle. I didn't even feel it. We met them head on and turned them aside. Ansteorra destroyed them. At one point, Kat and I had our backs to what had been the Calon shield wall when a "hold" was called (holds are usually called when somebody has been hurt, and everyone goes down in place to one knee). Looking around, we realized the Great Dark Horde was advancing on our backs. We were caught between the remainder of the Tuchux and the Horde (another 100 fighters). To escape the Horde, we charged back through the Tuchux, then turned to face them all.
At another point, I got separated from Kat, and ended up with Duke Michael. It was just Duke Michael and me, facing an entire line of Tuchux and Horde when another hold was called. We looked around and counted 8 Ansteorrans still standing in our vicinity (including Kat). I knew it was going to get ugly, because I had four enemies facing me. But I was so pumped with adrenaline that when the battle started again, these guys couldn't touch me. It was such an awesome feeling - like they were moving in slow motion. Michael killed a few; I killed a few; and we retreated to join with the others. Eventually I was killed, but as I walked back to where the rest of Ansteorra was gathering, the bystanders were shouting "Ansteorra!" at me. They weren't even from our kingdom, but we had put on such an amazing show that they were cheering for us. I've never seen anything like it before or since. We'd given the Tuchux a taste of their own medicine, and the bystanders loved it.
I watched the rest of the battle from the sidelines with the other dead. I have such vivid memories of what I saw. There was Jordie with blood streaming down his face, and another fighter whose glasses had been broken. (We're not supposed to hit each other hard enough to dent helmets to the degree that they cause bodily injury, but as I said, the Tuchux don't always play by our rules). I remember Mahdi charging three of the Dark Horde and knocking them all off their feet he hit them so hard. He remained standing. He then proceeded to kill them once they got back up. I remember Bear, who is a giant of a man, wading into a group of enemies, killing a person with every shot he threw. Bam, bam, bam. Bodies were flying everywhere. It was glorious.
And when the battle finally finished, three Ansteorrans were left alive: Bear, Mahdi, and my shield sister, Kat. All the Tuchux were dead. All the Horde was dead. Ansteorra had held the left flank against over 300 enemy fighters. Our three survivors were greeted with a hero's welcome.
King Inman, the Once and Every Other King, held court right there on the battlefield of Pennsic XX. He gave Ansteorra's only (at the time) fighting award, a Sable Falcon, to Bear, Mahdi, and my shield sister Kat. I was unbelievably proud of Kat. And then, with another Sable Falcon in his hand, he began to talk about the valor and glory of the other fighters that day. He singled out one fighter in particular, speaking at length about how this fighter represented everything that was good about Ansteorra and the Ansteorran spirit. He described the fighter stopping an entire line, preventing the rest of Ansteorra from being flanked. The whole time he was talking, I kept thinking, "What a lucky SOB to have Inman saying all these amazing things about him on a day like today. What a lucky SOB!"
And then Inman called my name.
It was a glorious day.
So recorded by me, Mistress Gunhilda Amberstar, holder of the Sable Falcon of Ansteorra
- No shit, there I was, my first Pennsic, dressed in my finest court garb, enjoying an evening stroll through the torch-lit pathways. The sounds of joy and revelry wafting through the trees as I approached The Swamp. One camp caught my eye, I didn't look to see what it was called, but there were pirates and someone I recognized from the night before, so I went to chat. A stranger calmly asked the camp if there were any Pennsic virgins present, and because much fun was had earlier in the week by declaring as such, I raised my hand cheerfully. Suddenly, I found myself whisked away, led onto a stage, and presented to a tall woman in a large hat wielding a flogger! "All virgins must be flogged!" I was a deer in headlights. I whispered to her, "This is my court garb!" Nothing else was coming to mind at that point, and she winked and nodded. At that very moment, a downpour began, sufficiently soaking the crowd. The woman winked at me again, and loudly exclaimed, "Rain check!" - Meg Sterling