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Game of Thrones IRL: I spent my Saturday dressed as a peasant

A king and queen adorned in hues of royal blue and gold were stripped of their leadership in front of hundreds of spectators Saturday. Black and crimson twin banners flanking them waved, signifying the dawn of a new reign. Omega V and his wife Etheldreda VI would soon be coronated as the new rulers of the East Kingdom.

With the passing of a crown, a promise to lead and the chanting of a crowd — “Long live the King and Queen!” — the new rulers had taken over.

Nope, this isn’t a recap of Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode. Our setting for this scene straight outta Chaucer: An auditorium in Media just outside Philly, where hundreds of people involved in local chapters of the Society for Creative Anachronism gathered for a twice-yearly coronation event where two new rulers are crowned.

The SCA members (some 3,600 paid members in just the East Kingdom which encompasses Delaware through Canada) attend events across the country all year where they dress in garb from the Middle Ages, feast on period food, act out court with rulers and come up with special names.

The 200-plus people who attended the event this weekend ranged from small children to teachers to lawyers. It feels a little bit like the Renaissance Faire (one’s taking place in Philly in mid-May), which has a robust presence in Pennsylvania. The location in Mount Hope sees upwards of 10,000 people a day during its major festival in the fall that has theater, music, food and crafts.

The SCA is smaller, more concentrated and adheres to its own schedule of events. In “court” in the morning, several people cried as the now-former king and queen bestowed new titles and awards upon them for exemplary service. Others told me stories of how the SCA became their family and had changed their lives in what they call “the modern world.”

And while I was sitting in the auditorium waiting for Royal Court to happen, even I was approached by an organizer and handed period garb — I was told it’d be a more authentic experience. So I put on a tunic, had someone help me slip on a belt and held my heavy mug.

Just call me Arya Stark.

‘Insane, wonderful people’

Baroness Ysmay de Lynn of Bhakhail (AKA Katy Lynn of Media) teared up Saturday as she talked about the beauty of the music and art she sees through SCA. As a singer, she said she feels intimacy and love each time she listens the old music, eats period food and experiences intricate clothing.

“It’s not just skill,” she said. “The joy, the love, the creativity that people bring to this is just amazing.”

The Society for Creative Anachronism, a group of more than 30,000 members across the globe, is dedicated to researching and recreating the culture of pre-17th century Europe through harnessing individual skills, whether they be fighting, scribing, singing or sewing.

It began in 1966 in Berkeley, Calif. as a graduation celebration in a backyard and has since grown to stretch from across the States through the world to Asia. It’s now a functioning 501(c)3 educational organization that attracts members ranging from young children to older professionals.

Dozens of people — entirely volunteers, I might add — dedicate hours every week to make SCA events a reality in our area. A quick scan of even just the local group’s calendar features several events every week that include fencing workshops, socials, business meetings and tournaments.

Iseaulte of the Clews, AKA Christine Zadlo of Lansdale, has been involved in the Society since she was 18 — she’s now 45 and specializes in spinning wool. This group of Middle Age fanatics is how she met her ex-husband, it’s where she found the inspiration to go back to college and it’s the place where most of her best friends in the world are.

Iseaulte of the Clews gets help adjusting her garb.

Mercedes Vera de Calafia (also known as Jody Livingston, a woman from central Maine who is one of the SCA’s top organizers on the East Coast) called the SCA her family. She said the kingdom lost a member to illness last week, and his friends from the SCA were in the hospital room with him.

“Just how hard people work and the time and effort and love that people put into this,” she said, “it amazes me.”

Zadlo has rheumatoid arthritis now and can’t attend some of the events she used to, but said the SCA has become a home for many people who have limitations. Some people fight and fence in wheelchairs. Folks doing sign language are present at many events.

“I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t have these crazy, insane, wonderful people,” she said.

Welcome to the Dream

It was those people who surrounded me over the weekend and took me in as if I was already one of them. I won’t lie — I was pretty overwhelmed by my surroundings in Game of Thrones-y auditorium.

I had absolutely no idea what was happening, didn’t know what to say when everyone was chanting and stuck out like a sore thumb at the beginning when I was donning jeans and a black sweater. Everyone else was so much cooler than me!

A look at the day’s food and festivities.

A couple very helpful people got me some peasant-y garb and Zadlo sat next to me throughout the Royal Court to explain what was happening: King Edward III and Queen Thyra II were about to be replaced, and on their way out, they were giving out awards and new titles to people who had volunteered time or skills to their reign.

They honored some with small tokens of jewelry and others with intricate pieces of art work complete with calligraphy and “illuminations” drawn by hand. Some were honored for their work in archery, others for their administrative prowess and others for their gift of music.

“Peter the Red” shows me prototypes of the thrones he built for the King and Queen.

There were people like Peter the Red, the archer who knelt and kissed my hand when we met and quickly corrected me when I said I liked his crossbow. It was a longbow, technically. Woops. There were others who knelt before their king and queen and were thanked for helping organize and attend events.

The awards correlate with titles, so people with crowns are often barons or baronesses. Other awards make people Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses, Counts and Countesses. Each position has a spot on the carefully-followed hierarchy that’s laid out in governing documents the SCA lives by.

Sometime in the middle of court, the herald announced that anyone who was attending their first, second or third SCA event was to come forward to receive a token. Everyone turned to look at me. Damnit.  

I protested a bit, but reluctantly grabbed the sides of my tunic, walked up to the front, maybe had help from someone going up the stairs (?) and I knelt before Edward and Thyra who grabbed my hands as they spoke to me. They thanked me for attending and gave me a small pin with a note that read: “Welcome to the Dream.”

As I left the stage, the herald said, “and for the new stewards who allow this society to grow” and the crowd of hundreds chanted the equivalent of “three cheers!” and I was thoroughly embarrassed, but appreciative of the kind people in the room who’d been so welcoming.

After the rest of the awards were handed out, Edward III and Thyra II took their final bows, making way for Omega V and Etheldreda VI, the prince and princess who would take over in charge for the next six months.

The new king and queen coronated their staffs and, with that, Royal Court had adjourned. The SCA members dispersed, some to go outside to practice fencing, others headed to “dayboard” where period food was being served.

As I was heading out, four different people pulled me aside to tell me they hoped I would return. And while I’m maybe not as interested in the culture of the Middle Ages as they, I see why they come back.

Crazy, insane, wonderful people.

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