Yankees in King Arthur’s court

Two teams of armor-clad warriors wielding wooden sparring swords and shields faced each other across an open field at the Prince William County Fairgrounds, prepared for a medieval version of field hockey.

Four iron pikes, two stuck in the ground at each end of the field, were the goals.

The knights’ objective was to use their swords to bat a head-sized ball through the opposing team’s goal pikes.

The similarity to modern sport ended there.

Defense of the goal was brutal and any knight attempting to steal the ball was soundly whacked for his efforts.

Shields clashed, swords whooshed and good-natured epithets were hurled behind blows aimed at the armored heads, arms, legs and bodies of those who let their guards slip.

The knights, all members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, gathered to fight Saturday at the fairgrounds during the ninth annual Holiday Faire hosted by the Barony of Stierback, the local chapter of the society.

“Stierback,” by the way, is German for “Bull Run.”

The teams fought most of the afternoon, but stopped occasionally for water.

The men and women who played said the game hurt despite their leather and metal armor.

“It is painful,” said Greg Steele of Richmond.

“It is a wooden stick you’re getting hit with, it stings,” the graphic artist said.

There are some areas of the body that are more vulnerable than others during “battle,” Steele said.

“An arm shot is going to hurt, no matter what,” said Steele, as he stood on the sidelines waiting for the next game to begin.

While the knights battled on one field at the fairgrounds, archers practiced in an adjacent one.

Visitors to the faire wandered around and asked questions of all, and the archers gave the curious a chance to shoot arrows at downfield targets.

Allen Miller, who attends medieval fairs as an archer, said the point of the faires is to teach and learn.

He can tell you, for instance, that bows in the middle ages in England were generally made of yew or mulberry wood and carved from a single limb.

Bow makers always carved the bow so that the outside part of the limb, the part which originally held the bark, formed the front part of the bow.

“We’re interested in history and trying to learn a little bit about the middle ages,” the civil engineer said.

Mary Dameron, of Manassas, attended the faire with her daughter, who ran among the vendors inside the commercial barn hunting for things on a scavenger list.

It was their first trip to a medieval faire.

“What impressed me the most was the incredible manners and the love of history everybody showed,” Dameron said, as she browsed vendor tables bearing silver, amber, crystal and brass trinkets while her daughter tried to find carved birds, toads, gloves or any of several dozen items which matched hand-drawn pictures on a yellow sheet of paper.

“This would be a great thing to get your child involved in if they showed the least little interest in history,” Dameron said.

Historic facts and trivia are easy to come by at a medieval faire.

Those who attend can tell you that:

– Arrowheads in Europe during the middle ages were mostly made of iron. Steel was too expensive.

– The guillotine was invented to make executions speedier and more humane.

– The Vikings were some of the cleanest people in Europe. They bathed regularly and invented tweezers.

– Other Europeans bathed only as often as they got to a river.

– One percent of the population in the middle ages were clergy, one percent were nobility and the rest were serfs or peasants.

– The four-tined fork was invented in Italy during the reign of Phillip IV.

– Medieval Italians did not use tomatoes. Tomatoes came from the New World.

– Henry VII, the first Welsh man to become the King of England, outlawed Welsh as a language.

– Most people drank wine because the water might kill them.

– William the Conquerer’s body exploded during his funeral. He died in a hunting accident early in the summer. By time of the funeral, his body had lain in state too long and could no longer contain the expanding gases. Those in attendance saw the explosion as a harbinger of the apocalypse.

– Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets. Celts made helmets with horns on them, but modern archaeologists think that the helmets were largely ceremonial.

– People in the middle ages knew that they could get different-flavored honey from areas where bees harvested different flowers.

– Honey mead was, quite possibly, the first alcoholic beverage in Europe.

– Arpod the Great, the ruler of Hungary in A.D. 945, invented the shirt as we know it today.

– Medieval towns had communal ovens made of brick.

-People wore eyeglasses as early as the 11th century.

– People used wax tablets to learn to read and write because parchment was too expensive.

– Gothic armor is pointy and Milanese armor is smooth.

– Muy Thai, a form a martial arts, originated in Siam in the 1600’s.

“We’re a wonderful source of absolutely useless information,” said a sword vendor who would not give his name.

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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