Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Tournament of Valor

As you might recall, a friend of mine traveled down from the Barony of Vatavia, out of Calontir, to go to Grand Assembly of Archers a few weeks back. Well, this was done, more or less, as part of a trade off. She came down to our event, and we would go up to her's. So about three weeks ago my wife, son and I packed up the car and headed out Friday afternoon for a relatively short drive (about 3 hours, if I recall correctly) drive across the border.

We got there after sunset, but setting up wasn't too much of a problem. We were traveling with a smaller tent that we usually use, and relatively speaking, had packed lighter. As soon as we checked in at Troll it became clear how many friends we already knew, and how many more were honestly eager to know us. It was hand shakes and hugs all around for some time as friends introduced friends, who introduced friends... and so on. I hadn't had that type of welcome since I was a newcomer thirteen years ago, not an unwelcome thing, I assure you.

Since I don't fight or do A&S, I know before I showed up that there were really only three things that I had on my plate for the extended weekend. The first was site heraldry (go figure), the second was bardic, and the third was the sumo competition (More on that later on).

So, Friday night, our host introduced us to Johann Steinarsson, the coordinating site herald (and the current Kingdom Bard of Calontir, as I would later learn). I walked up, and introduced myself...

"Hello, I understand you are looking for people who take sadistic glee in waking other up as ungodly hours of the morning."

Johann gave me worried look for a second. "I guess you could say that."

"Excellent! I'm just the man you're looking for."

When he realized I was volunteering to help, a smile came to his face. "Ah, well then, Glad to have you."

So, that was Friday night, lets move on to Saturday morning.  All of the site heralds doing morning wakeups were told to meet at the main hall at eight, and then we would all go out and start rousing the sleeping masses by eight thirty. When I got there, Johann was just sitting down with the other volunteers.

I really should point out that, after better than a decade of heralding for Ansteorra, Calontir makes us look like a bunch of amateurs when it comes to site heraldry. Each site herald had a carbon copy of the list of announcements, and we all sat down and talked about what each one said, meant, and what order they needed to go in before we ever set foot out the door.

And I need to point out, this conversation was had while sitting down, with most of us drinking either coffee or tea. It was a slow, methodical, and cordial chat, with everyone making sure they were on the same page. There were five of us, and the site was broken down relatively evenly between us.

After having far, far too many ad hoc site heraldry meeting where I had to get my instructions on the run, with no warning, and little time to write them down... This was about as close to heraldic Nirvana as I had ever gotten.

Now, with a lot of the normal stresses of site heralding not hanging over my shoulders, its fairly safe to say that I went out feeling rather... empowered.

"Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye... The sun is shining, the morning is bright, the air is cool and the day is calm. This last part must be remedied! Where is the revelry and rawkus energy of the famed Calontiri? Rise up! Rise up and give me tales to tell of my brethren in Ansteorra. Rise up, and embrace the morning! Give to Revelry what would normally be given to sleep, and enjoy this, the first day of Valor!"

The day itself was a lot like my early event in the SCA, with countless new faces, and a million new things to do.

I did meet up with  a local blacksmith, "Lenny the squid" (if memory serves me). After a quick lesson on how not to get myself killed or maimed, he more or less let me go to town on a piece of rebar. That was Saturday, and by Sunday I must say I was rather impressed with what I had managed to turn out. I made a self-handled knife, with a sharp, if irregular edge to it. A file and a lot of wire-brushwork will clean it up, but still, for what I put into it in the time I had, I was not disappointed in the outcome in the least.

I also managed to talk to one of our hosts, Lady Diedra and her camp. She was the one making food available for a number of us during the weekend. And a fabulous job she did at it. I can not say enough good things about her effort, or her cooking. She actually on cooked two meals, but smartly stocked her kitchen with food for the remaining breakfasts and lunches. A good balance, and a the two dinners were outstanding.

I think Diedra, my wife and myself hit it off well while we were there. we're all sort of type-A personalities in our own ways, but in that particular situation, we seemed to compliment each other well, and no one threatened to kill anyone else, always a good sign, right.

I didn't watch any of the heavy weapons tormenting, though that was more  a function of fatigue than any slight on the fighting. Between blacksmithing and watching my son, I was spent by early afternoon.

Skipping to Sunday morning for a bit, there was a second round of site heralding to be done as it was a three day event.
During the first morning, it was learned that Lady Ameline and I both had enough projection between us to clash rather harshly when we got within 50 yards of each other. Sunday, however, we decided to team up on the heralds, and work together. The results were actually pretty awesome. With the workload divided, and a script to work with, I got to "preform" and we both got a bit of a rest as we alternated down the very long list of announcements.

On a funny side note, during one wakeup cry, a trio of people dove into their tent and emerged with clubs slung over their shoulders. They advanced on Ameline and myself as we heralded. I turned to her between breaths and said "Back up!", but then kept announcing. She followed suit, crying as she walked backwards, but the trio was closing, so it I threw out "Walk faster!" Then, I added to my next announcement "If you kill the herald, you have to take over!" That one is an old line in Ansteorra, but evidently they don't use it as much in Calontir, because that brought the 'attack' to a dead halt as the three of them bent over laughing. The whole thing was done in good humor, and we all walked away laughing.

But I must say, being a ten-year veteran voice herald, I have a lot of respect for people who know how to project above and beyond the average, and Ameline is just such a person. Her low, solid alto carried wonderfully and clearly. It was easily on a par with my "mid-range" volume, which I was using regularly in the thickly forested site. It was a lot of fun working with her, and I hope to work with her again in the future.

I could talk for hours about Valor, and the people and sites of southern Calontir, and trust me, I want to. But Really, I think I should keep this post manageable and just cut to the highlight of the event for me.

Sunday night was "Mongol Mike's Casino", a huge fund raiser for the Kingdom travel fund, and the main event was none other than a Sumo tournament. Gambling was done with "ponies", "camels" and "elephants" (all ceramic tokens purchased ahead of time with cash). Some of the competitors were terrifying to behold, "Halftroll" was so tall that that looking straight out, my eyes were level with his collar bone. More than a few men out there looks like steel wrapped fireplugs. One young man named Yama ("山", literally the Japenese work for "mountain") looked every bit the part of a sumo wrestler in build, and said he weighed in just under my own weight, despite being several inches shorter than me. I spent most of the hour before the actual tournament psyching myself out so that I didn't lock up when the rounds actually started.

I do want to point out that the actual ring itself was an ornate reproduction of an actual sumo ring, in about 2/3rds scale, complete with the classic "ying/yang" simple drawn across the circle in light and dark dirt. Three women in Japanese garb even did a complete shinto (I think) blessing of the field before the tournament. The master of cerimonies even explained the foot stomps and hand claps that real sumo wrestlers did before each round. By the time we started the pairings, a lot of us were really into the spirit of the thing, and were going the extra mile to do it right.

For my first round, I was matched up against someone who looked formidable, but not quite as solid and heavy as me. Having never actually sumo wrestled before, I had no idea how to evaluate him, and was totally psyched out by the time we came up to the field.

First, we both stood there, dressed only in sweatpants, while the herald (none other than HL Adalya) hyped up the crowd and got the betting going. She introduced me as "a fellow Ansteorran" and invoked our kingdom's habit of dogged determination in combat, Finally reminding the crowd that I came from the same lands as the previous year's champion, none other than (then) Prince Owen Ap Aden.

Ponies traded hands as the crowd shouted and cheered, and then the Samuri MC closed the bets and ordered us to take our positions. Each of us took a wide step up, gave two wide stomps to "drive away any spirits", and then clapped our hands twice. With the ceremony done, each of us clenched our fists and pressed our knuckles into the ground as we hunched over like crouching predators ready to strike.

The samuri then shouted "Hajima!" (Or however it's spelled).

We both came off out marks with split second timing, and I have to say the hit I received when we connected was very solid. But his legs and arms never got purchase, and for all the impact, my body never stopped moving forward. Three seconds after I came off the starting line, I had shoved my opponent clean out of the ring, with the crowd roaring in the background the entire time.

By now, I was running on about 90% adrenalin, and was totally worked up over the win. The format for the event was single elimination, so the number of wrestlers was cut by half in the first round alone.

The next round, I was paired off against Yama, who had made even shorter work of his previous opponent.

As the competitors went through their matches, the fights actually got shorter. Mass and power made for quick, decisive fights, and the crowd was soaking up every minute of it.

Then came my turn again.  The energy in the air was almost tangible as Yama and I walked out to the outside of the ring. Once again, Adalya did the introductions, and with past fights behind each of us, I saw ponies trade by the handfull. I raised my hands into the air and let out an animalistic roar, like a caged lion demanding its freedom. I then turned to Yama, and across the distance I shouted a sincear "good luck" to him. The gesture was returned in kind.

The Samuri called up to the ring and closed the bets. We both did the ceremonial stomps and claps, and then took our positions, feet and clenches fists pressed into the ground, eyes locked on each other, faces intense.


We both came forward and connected with our shoulders, and to my shock, we both stopped dead in our tracks. I think there was an instant realization for both of us that brute force alone wasn't going to decide this one. We both exploded into a fury of shoves, grips and twists as we tried to get superior position on each other. It was a fast, furious and inelegant process of blind turns, hard shoves and frantic footwork. We wound up largely locking in rib breaking hugs as each of us turned to get to the other one's side and topple them.

Then, suddenly, I felt my center of gravity move out from over my feet.

The Landing wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been married to an additional 300 pounds of mass at the time of impact. Yama had gotten the angle and completely toppled me to the ground, but had held on at the same time, meaning that we went over as one unit of mass. I landed hard on my back, and thought my eyes were going to come out of my sockets from the explosive pressure on my chest.

Yama jumped up, and the first thing he asked was "Are you okay?"

Unfortunately, all I could do was look at the stars and gasp for air.

After a moment, I managed to get my breath back, and a few people helped get me to my feet. Once I was seated, I had people left and right telling me how much they loved that match. According to several people, we took between 17 and 21 seconds to decide the round, and the whole time people were on their feet cheering us both on. Almost everyone, even Yama and I, agreed that that was the favorite fight of the night, and the undisputed crowd pleaser.

I didn't win, and I didn't even make it to the semi-finals, but in terms of fun, we all walked away from that one first rate winners.

When I showed up to Valor, I think I knew maybe a dozen people there, and counted perhaps three or four of them as friends. By the time I walked away Monday afternoon, those numbers had better than quadrupled. You can bet that I am going back next year!

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