We had all known that it was going to rain that day. Even as I packed for the trip down to Gulf Wars the Friday before, there had been talk of rain in the middle of the week sometime. Back then, it was little more than an annoyance, another factor for me to chew on as a totally new chapter in my SCA career came to fruition. After my strong showing as a voice herald and coordinator two wars before, I had been welcomed to join the event leadership as a deputy department head over Cry Herald's (Site Heraldry) with an eye towards taking full stewardship of the role in the year to follow. Needless to say, my mind was full of such prospects, the challenges, and the adventure to come. The promise of rain later in the week was just something that I wasn't going to let bother me.
The four days between the trip itself and that night were a study in fatigue, adaptation, rest, and revelry. As was the case in nearly every Gulf Wars, my family was breaking in some new equipment with the usual campaign kit, and I was taking on a workload that had me moving around a lot more than my body was happy about. I started each day somewhat rested, but not fully recovered from the day before.
ThursdayBy Wednesday, I was fully invested in the goal of not only coordinating site heraldry, but also recruiting new heralds as our existing crop were pulled away for other tasks. Come Thursday, we were looking at skies threatening rain almost from the moment we woke up. Unlike last year, we weren't limiting ourselves to only part of the camp. Cries were going out at eleven and three each day, to all parts of the Gulf Wars site. Ideally, we would have three people, but by the time the afternoon came, rain came with it and with that came a more... aggressive plan to get words across site.
My voice had more or less given out earlier that week, but the need to teach those willing to do the task kept me moving. The final result, and little did I know at the time the final scene setting for Thursday night, was me walking a lot more than I had planned that day.
The Cry Heralds post closed at five each day, and I was glad for the break on Thursday, though I was wet, and cold, and tired as I took advantage in the break in the weather and made my way down Queen's Highway from the Five Points to the Mooneschadowe Encampment. My 'work day' was done, and I was looking forward to the Herald's social that-night, as well as another swing by Scribe's point. The rain had never stopped me before at an event, and this was nothing compared to come of the drenching I had muscled through in my younger days. It was going to be a cold, wet night, but I was prepared to push through and enjoy it all the same.
Dinner that night was loaded potatoes. I got to camp a little later than planned, so my food was cool, but I didn't complain. I needed the energy and was glad I wasn't cooking for myself. In the distance, we could see cloud formations that hinted at something vaguely cyclonic against a gray sky, and people were running around with their cell phones, checking, and confirming that we were, in fact, under a Tornado Warning, with conditions highly favorable for a cyclone to drop at any moment.
I accepted the declaration with my normal calm of someone who knew that panic over the uncontrollable was pointless. The campground offered no hard cover against even a modest tornado strike. We were out in the open and knew it the moment we left home five days before. Some time later, the warning lifted, and we watched as the cloud formation seemingly dissolved. The mood lifted, as I recalled just then, for a group of people who mundanely called Oklahoma home, this was another all-too-familiar brush with nature's most compactly violent feature.
My morbid humor flashed just then, and I turned to Alex, my niece's boyfriend and quipped "Wouldn't it suck for someone to get hit by lightning just now?" The big kid laughed with me, a defiant bit of humor that dared nature to try and take our defiance away.
Not long after that, a car rolled up next to the camp, and Aesileif climbed out from the back seat. Right on time, she was joining the war effort late after twenty four hours hopping buses from Mooneschadowe down to Gulf Wars, the last leg of the trip was covered when one of our own had driven out to pick her up from the town's makeshift bus station. It was her own adventure (and her's to elaborate on, if she ever wants to), but worth the trek in order to make the last half of the event with her friends and SCA family.
By now, I was tired, and the rain was threatening to finish soaking me after almost accomplishing the same that same afternoon while I was out. I headed over to my tent, a huge black and red oval pavilion that had served my family well for a decade and a half. Under its roof I knew I would find shelter and rest. Liliana joined me a moment later, looking to get out from under the huddle of the main camp tent and possibly rest herself.
I pulled off my hat, and sat at the end of the cot that served as half of my and my wife's camp bed, while Liliana stood next to her cot, shifting through her things on a set of hanging shelves. I don't remember what we talked about just then, but I recall that I was tired, had had to think about my words, had to think through the want to lay down and sleep. It wasn't a unfamiliar emotion for me, especially at war. I had long ago learned to work through it, and eventually I would get my second wind and be back on my feet. Just then, I was waiting for the food I ate to kick in.
I remember the rain first; a few drops really, a loud splattering across the tent roof. I looked up, unimpressed, and unworried. If this was the worst I was going to deal with, then my cloak and some hot chocolate would be the best protection I would need against the night.
But this time, I was wrong.
All in one second, the entire face of the tent surged inward, the open door flapping violently as a cacophonous rush of wind filled my ears. Outside, I heard screams and shouts, muted orders, and cries for aid as things shifted, slid, toppled and then crashed into each other.
I jumped to my feet, Liliana calling out "What's going on?" as we both moved towards the door, the tent shifting and moving around us like some living organism, threatening to fly away, or come down on us at any second.
I looked out the door, and saw what my mind feared the most; mayhem. People were moving in a dozen different directions. My eyes caught site of the main camp pavilion, several people were trying to bring it down in a controlled collapse. Someone was shouting "drop it! Drop it!" and a few others were screaming for help with the same over the winds. A second later a loud snap ended the conversation as the main ridge pole snapped and the whole thing dropped down on anyone who hadn't gotten clear yet.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw my wife pushed our ten year old son towards the ravine, the place we had talked about as the safest cover should the worst happen. The ravine offered the only low ground and likewise only protection against a tornado.
The First Decision
"Brace the tent!" I shouted over my shoulder at Liliana. "Grab a pole and hold it!"
The door to my tent was flapping violently. I stomped my foot down on it, and grabbed the closest pole, reinforcing whole structure by hopefully preventing the stakes from coming up from the ground.
"What's going on?" Liliana repeated urgently.
"The camp's coming down around us!" I shouted back.
With my foot still holding the door flap and hands still on two poles, I stuck my head back out into the driving rain. Tt was like looking into a garden hose with the water turned up to full pressure. My wife was nowhere to be seen, people were still scrambling in all directions, and the wind wasn't stopping for a second.
I saw Rosma running for the kitchen pavilion, calling for help to bring it down. Before anyone could get there to help, one of the ropes slipped its anchor and the camp kitchen was laid out into a soaking wet, muddy mess across the campfire, tables and storage bins toppling in the wind.
"What are we doing?" Liliana shouted.
I came back in, head, arms and shoulders soaked completely, cold water running down my back. "We have to keep this tent up! People are going to need shelter when this is over!"
In the back of my mind, I knew that wasn't the only reason. This was my home, damn it! I'd pitched and struck that tent for fifteen years, and I wasn't going to abandon it.
But pride wasn't my only motivator either. The cold on my back reminded me of the very real threats that could and would follow this moment. Even if the wind stopped then and there, we could have injuries, or just cold wet people coming off of an adrenaline rush a perfect situation for shock or hypothermia.
But the rain didn't stop. and the wind not only didn't stop, but it changed directions a moment later, slamming us from the other side. The walls shook and flapped, coming off of their hooks, and pouring water in here and there around the tent. The battery-powered lantern shook and spun from its mount on the metal ridgepole as the fabric walls surged and fluttered against the force of the onslaught. This wasn't just a storm, I realized, and for the first time that night I considered that I might be seeing the edge of an incoming tornado. Even a modest one, an EF-0, would have enough kick to take the tent down and send all of us flying with it if we took a direct hit. My blood ran cold at that thought, the unknown in that moment was the most dangerous thing.
And in the midst of it all, my hardest thought came to me, what of my wife and son? I looked outside again, but didn't see them, or anything that could be them. I had to assume they were safe. My wife was a capable person, her will to live was strong, and her will to act when needed had been demonstrated before.
At the same time, we had medications, clean clothes, essential medical supplies and the keys to the van in the tent, all buried away where I couldn't easily get them all and run for safety. If the tent went down, we could all very easily survive this only to face peril in the aftermath from lack of the very supplies we had with us.
We were going to stay, I decided just then. We were going to stay and keep the tent upright.
The StormThe gusting slowed, but didn't stop. It could have been blowing for minutes, or just a few seconds, I honestly don't recall. A moment later, Aesileif pushed through the door, soaked to the core.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Yes." she answered.
"Grab a pole!" I shouted. "And help Liliana keep those walls hooked in place!" The other did as directed.
The wind surged again, and the tent lurched forward, pushing against me, almost sending me staggering back. I leaned into the pole on my shoulder, gripping the other closest one with my right hand, keeping my foot planted on the door flap's end.
The whole time the walls flapped and shook violently, the hooks that suspended them to the tent roof coming undone, water flying in like an errant garden hose. Liliana and Aesileif moved quickly around the tent, putting it back together as fast as the wind could try and take it apart, but only barely so. The floor, a tarp layered with picnic mats, was wet and getting wetter with the water flying around, though at the same time the beds and a large portion of our possessions were intact and dry.
"Is anyone in there?" a voice shouted from outside. I stuck my head through the door to see Jo standing there, soaked, the rain coming down around her and her bare arms and shoulders glistened with water running over her.
"Get in here." I said, pulling her in. "Grab a pole and brace it."
We worked, the four of us, against the shifting winds and driving raid for what seemed like forever, but would could have been a matter of minutes. Time's passage was both fluid, and irrelevant to me just then. We shifted this way and that, pushing and pulling, tucking and hooking, working to keep the tent upright as the wind buffeted and rocked us more and more.
"We just lost another rope." Liliana said. I looked over to see her straightening up one of the perimeter poles, now slack without the mention of the rope to hold it in plate. If we lost too many more there wouldn't be enough hands to keep the tent up.
Out situation was compounded by a particularly loud thunderclap just then. A reminder that the wind and cold weren't the only threats we were chancing with our all-or-nothing stand.
"Liliana! Do everything you have to to keep the tent up. I'm going out to reset the ropes and hammer down any loose stakes." I heard her acknowledge, and then turned to Jo. I called her over and showed her what I had been doing. Shorter than me by no small measure, she still looked level headed enough to stand up to the task.
I ducked out the door and into the maelstrom that was the rain and wind.
The camp was in shambles, items strewn across the ground, the main pavilion on the ground, some of the armor racks under it a heap of leather and metal, tables were on their side, contents spilled out in the mud. Two of the modern tents in the back were flapping against one or two remaining stakes, moments from tearing or flying away. The kitchen and its pavilion were even more of a mess then when I had last seen them.
I found our sledgehammer on the ground near the tent, probably where it had been since we pitched, I figured, but that was irrelevant just then.
Soaked to the core and shivering, I worked my way around the tent, tightening ropes, re-sinking any stakes that needed it, and moving a few to harder ground. The soil was beyond saturation point by then, and the ground was broken up by growing rivulets of water moving over the ground hard enough to take a foot out from under you if your footing wasn't true.
While I was out, I heard a man's voice shouting for Rosma. I looked up from the stake I was driving back into the ground and saw Caius, shirt gone, pants soaked, running around looking for Rosma. Not five days before, he had proposed to her on the same ground we were now facing the storm on, His eyes telegraphed a frantic urgency to find her that one would expect from any man in his position.
I ran over to him, grabbing his shoulder.
"Where is she?" he demanded. "I have to find her."
"Caius!" I shouted over to rush of wind and falling rain. "You need to get back with the others!"
"I have to find my Fiance!"
"Caius! Look, you have to trust that Rosma has a good head on her shoulders. She's not here. She probably ran for cover. Your friends need you here and now. We will find her when the storm breaks."
He looked furious, and I don't blame him in for a second for it. Behind the fear and anger, I saw a resentful acceptance of the fact that he could, in fact, do more good helping the others around camp. He nodded, and ran out of sight towards the sounds of orders being given. I figured the voice was probably Charles the Grey, rallying the rest of the group under whatever shelter was still standing, But I didn't have time to find out. I ran back to my tent and went back to hammering stakes.
By the time I got back in, I might as well have been swimming. My clothes were heavy with water, my skin was cold and my fingers were going numb. But the tent was markedly more stable, despite the still driving winds.
I stood there in the door, dripping water on the floor-mats, chilled to the bone, still having no idea where my wife was.
We held the poles for another while longer, winds buffeting and shaking the tent off and on throughout the time-span. The adjustments seemed to be holding, but some of the gusts were strong enough that I could see stakes close to the door starting to work their way lose.
Somewhere in there, I remember bowing my head and praying. While we had made it that long, my mind swam with worry that we would not be able to outlast the storm. Even if my wife and son were okay for the moment, what would follow? Another blast of cold rain, an actual tornado, lightning, shock, cold, fatigue... maybe someone would just trip on a piece of fallen debris and break something. The possibilities were like a poison to my thoughts just then, and while the wind wasn't getting worse, it wasn't letting up either. The cluster of us worked inside the shelter of my tent for a while, refastening walls, holding poles in place.
I don't remember when the wind stopped, but the relative quiet of the moment was almost as scary as the initial blast had been. I ducked my head out to see the rain falling down for a change, I looked at Jo again, "Here, take the pole one more time, I'm going to go look for my wife."
I dove out of the tent and ran in the direction I had last seen Lillias and our son running. As I came up to the woods I called out her name. A second later, I heard her shout back, "We're down here!"
The first person out of the thicket in the ravine was Zahava, Alex's mother. As I edged down the embankment to help her out, I saw Lillias pulling our son up along a rivulet of rushing water that had carved its way through the dirt. A moment later, Alex followed, carrying his younger brother.
"Our tent is still up, and dry. We're keeping it up against the winds." I explained as I grabbed my son and lead the four of them back to cover.
No sooner were we back inside than the wind picked up again. The second assault had started in earnest. The tent was getting crowded, but the rain and wind were still off of us. But by now we had worked out an informal system, of sorts. People understood where to go, what to do, and how to react to each lurch and twist of the tent. Alex, a hulking figure in his own right, was a good addition to the team, his brute strength and youthful energy help shore up our efforts.
"Alright," I remember calling out during a short lull. "I want everyone to do a self-check, fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms, legs. I don't want anyone working through an injury and not realizing it until its too late." My training kept running in my head; while the immediate threat of wind, rain and possibly lightning was still very real, the near-term threat of hypothermia, shock, or a twisted joint were just as real, and just as dangerous. Much to our good fortune, no one was injured.
Soaking wet, cold people kept sticking their heads into the tent, checking on us, looking for someone else, or asking if we needed anything. What we needed was for the winds to stop, but that was another matter. In the background, over the rush of wind and clatter of rain on the tent, we could hear the rallied Liondragon Guard shouting the marching cadence over the storm as they (we would later learn) held down the kingdom pavilion against the storm.
Alex would make several sorties out himself to both retrieve dry stores (mostly clothes) from his family tent, and to help stake down our pavilion as the wind continued to pull the stakes up from the increasingly softer and softer dirt. at the same time, several people took advantage of the chance to change into dry clothes, whole others would dive into the tent asking for space to drop a bag or purse in order to save it from the rain.
Close to this time, I heard a female voice calling out in the distance. I stuck my head out in time to see Rosma, soaking wet, and Cais collide in a tight embrace. With the wind blasting them, rain pouring down, and bit of debris flying around them, the scene would have been too corny to be real if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes. But there, in the moment, with very tangible relief on both of their faces, it was the embodiment of everything I believe love and hope embody. We'd later learn that she had run towards the sounds of other voices calling for help, another camp next door that was fighting to keep its pavilions up as well.
Finally, after how long, I don't know, the worst of the assault died, leading a cold rain in its wake.
The assault was over, and the tent was still standing.
While the storm may have passed, the situation was not over by any means. The floor of the tent was wet, groundwater running under the tent walls and over the tarp had soaked anything that was on the ground, including our shoes and some articles of clothing. The three towels we had were now soaked through as everyone has used them to pull water off of their arms and faces. Even if we could have worked around the wet floor, most of the cots we were supposed to sleep on were also wet, victims of the times the tent walls had come open.
Word came from Belgutei that hotel rooms off site had been reserved and that everyone was piling into cars and trucks to get off site.
Scattered and conflicting reports were also coming in about what was to come with the weather. Those that had working phones were trying to get reliable news, and the rest of us were going on faith. The sky wasn't clear, the wind had died down but was decidedly not still, and the sun was gone from view, the night had set with black, ominous absoluteness.
The decision to abandon camp was not long in coming. Zahava had already decided that the first chance she got, she and her kids were heading home, and my wife quickly decided that we couldn't stay there with our equipment and clothing in the shape it was. No one, that I recalled, said anything about the possibilities of future storms, but we all knew that the weather took no heed of the people it could potentially flatten, and the skies certainly looked like they could usher in another round of storms at any minute.
Zahava and I agreed to make the trek across site, first to her car, and then she would drive me to the van we had come in. My wife, Liliana, and Aesileif would stay and pack as much of the tent as they could. Hailey and Alex (the other Alex) volunteered to take our son ahead to the hotel. Jo would go with Zahava, She had had enough of the event, and after shouldering a tent pole against the wind for nearly an hour, I didn't blame her.
I grabbed my car keys and my cloak, and set out across site with Zahava.
The walk from the Mooneschadowe encampment to the first lot was not a short one. The site still had power, but the pitch black sky left a lot of blind spots in the ground as we walked. From what we could see, some parts of camp had taken the hit head on, while others had been spared the worst of the onslaught. Cars were pulling out already, and volunteers were manning intersections with flashlights to keep traffic in some semblance of order. The rain was off and on, but not anywhere near as hard as it had been. As we came near Five Points, I swung by the Watch to see if there were any reports of tree or road blockages. There were, but no one could pin down specific locations when I asked. The fact of the matter was that the site was still in disarray, and news was trickling in slowly, and probably not as fast as it needed to be.
As we passed the cabins, we ran into Rosma again. She had run off to the Scribes' pavilion the first chance she had, moments after the storm broke -I later learned- to check on the scribes, the tent, and the scribal gear therein. As we passed her, she shouted a warning as us.
"Hurry up, there is another cell on its way right now!"
I remember my heart stopping when I heard that. Myself, I wasn't terribly worried for me, or even my stalwart traveling companion (nothing sort of an infantry battalion was going to slow her down). But the camp was still in shambles, people were still out in the open, and my family had no more shelter than what our pavilion could offer. Time was not on our side.
The walk through the densest part of site, skirting merchant's row and artisans row was early quiet and calm, and the phrase "the calm before the storm" echoed in my ears as I walked, dividing my attention between the wet, soggy ground at my feet and the black, threatening sky above.
We came out the other end of site, and out into the open, away from any real cover, We could see the stables and the edge of kennel-lands as we walked. The ground was firmer out there, more gravel and hard packed clay to slough off the water, but it was all still wet. My shoes sloshed with each step, water trapped in soggy leather. The wind was picking up, and the already cool air was getting colder still. I kept my cloak around my shoulders in case the storm broke again. Zahava's determination aside, if she went down from fatigue, we would both need cover immediately.
The whole time, she was moving forward with purpose, a daring determination that seemed to challenge even the sky itself to try and slow her down. I suppose neither if us was to be easily stopped that night, she had her two sons, I had my own. While neither of us openly speculated about it, I suppose it was an unwritten agreement that would would see each other through this trip, no matter was came of it. The last leg of the walk was through an empty patch of trees that separated out the parking lot. It occurred to me that if either of us were to fall injured there, we would be alone, isolated, and probably an hour from any medical help. A flash of lightning overhead punctuated the thought, and sent a shiver down my spine.
We found her van a short time later, and for the first time in days, I felt the security of hard shelter that I knew would shrug off anything short of a direct hit from a tornado.
Zahava put the van in drive and we made our way across the open grass lot and into the slow stream of cars making their way off site. It was slow going, and even though I knew we were most likely safe, I was still worried for the others back at camp. Another storm like the one that hit us could have finished off what we had kept standing so far.
A few hundred yards short of the main gate, we watched as an ambulance edged it way, lights off, against the flow of traffic. People were screaming at us from behind to move forward while Zahava and I sat there, unable to move at all. Stress levels rose until she saw an opening and edged the van off to the side enough to let the ambulance pass. I noticed the wind start to kick up just then, and my heat caught in my throat. We weren't even close to my car, and things looked like they could get worse any second.
We drive slowly. The overcast made the night inky black, headlights and flashlights the only offering the we had for guidance. Some time later, a few minutes, maybe ten, I don't recall, we came back to the main gate and turned in. I guided Zahava to the front lot where I was parked. The road got wetter and sloppier with every inch. Finally she stopped the van, refusing the drive any further. The road ahead was a heavy, thick looking swamp of mud and wet grass, looking ready to bog down anything that got to far into it.
I jumped out, closed the door behind me, and then shouted in the window, "keep your headlights on me as long as you can then get the hell out of here." Zahava nodded, and I turned. She had two kids of her own back and camp, and I knew given the choice she would leave me to my own devices in order to get back to them. Honestly, I was glad for it. Heroics too often preceded tragedy, and I was acutely aware of the stakes, both actual and possible that night.
The mud came up to the middle of my shoes as I slogged into the parking lot, unable to see any detail at all. I wandered for a few minutes, then was left in darkness as Zahava turned the car and drove away.
I stood there, in near total darkness, trying to see any recognizable sign of my vehicle from the flickers of passing, distant headlights. I was cold, and getting colder, and I knew that even with my cloak, I was not without a time limit. If I started to shiver, I knew I would have only a few minutes before I got too cold and risked slipping and falling. The problem was that even if I turned and started walking just then, I was probably a few minutes from anyone as it was, and the walk would not be fast.
I slowly walked around, nearly blind, in the parking lot, not even completely sure if I was on, or near the correct row of cars, unable to see anything more than the most vague shapes, and starting to feel real fear in my heart just then.
In an usually surreal moment, a lightning bolt split the sky just then, and perfectly illuminated the parking lot for a half a heartbeat. Just off to the right a few dozen yards away I saw the van I was looking for.
I had made it.
I climbed into the driver's seat and held my breath as I out my key in the ignition. This wouldn't be the first time a car had decided not to start on me. I turned the key, and the 8 cylinder came to life. It felt like a hundred-pound weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. As far as I was concerned the hard part was over.
I put the car into reverse and slid out of my spot. When my headlights were on the gate, I switched to drive and pressed the gas pedal.
I didn't move.
I fought down a panic attack as I tried to keep my head in the game. I looked at the dash board, the engine was revving, and the pitch told me it was carrying some sort of load. I looked out my window and realized I was stuck in the mud.
Quickly, I worked the transmission back and forth, trying to work my way out. Back had more luck than forward and I wound up retreating a few yards. I turned the wheel, trying to find firmer ground and drove forward again. I got about three feet and stopped yet again. It was right around then that I realized that the lot was on a slight incline, and that the exit was uphill.
For ten minutes I slid and shifted back and forth, sliding further and further away from the exit as I tried, increasingly more desperate, to get moving. I was about ten feet from backing into a parked trailer when my first left tire hit something... bit into it and the van lurched forward with a determined pace. It was a few more long, deliberate minutes, some of them with my wheels spinning, but I finally got out of the bog and got the tires on gravel.
Now I was officially moving. The word "relief" didn't even begin to cover it.
Once I was on the road, I was confident that the worst of the night should (at the very least) be behind me.
The drive back to camp took about twenty minutes. And to be clear, what I was driving into was a somewhat calm nighttime evacuation of the second largest event in the SCA. Roads that were never meant to handle that volume of traffic on an emergency basis were doing it now, at night, in the rain, with another storm possibly on its way. As I drove by, I saw volunteers managing traffic, directing people, and doing their best to keep everyone safe in a largely unsafe situation.
After far, far too long, I finally made the turn onto Ansteorra way, and slowly drove down to the edge of Mooneshadowe camp.
The last straw...
My wife, Aesileif, and Liliana and I worked in a controlled, but feverish pace for close to an hour throwing as much as we could into the van. We knew instantly that the tent was staying, at least for the night. Thanks in large part to the efforts of everyone who stayed and held fight to keep the tent up, most of our belongings were dry, or at least undamaged, but the floor was still sopping wet, and the ground under the tent saturated. There was absolutely no guarantee that the next storm wouldn't take it down on top of us. And the sky was officially pitch-black and the wind was just fast enough to let a storm fly in again.
The one saving grace in all of this was that my wife had arranged for our son to grab an empty seat on one of the first rides out of camp. He would be with friends, and safe after an already harrowing experience.
For what was probably an hour... give or take... we worked quickly to fold down the cots, stuff things in the totes and move everything to the van as fast as we could. With the additional rider (we were Aesileif 's ride home from the event), space was at a premium, even without the tent in the equation.
With the last few things going in, I hopped into the driver's seat to turn the heat up, we were all cold and wet. When I sat down, I noticed the engine wasn't on.
I brushed it off, not the first time something had stalled. I turned the key.
I remember stopping, forcing myself to not panic, and take a deep breath.
I turned the key again.
The engine wasn't turning over.
By now, the wind was starting to pick up again, and the rain was intermittently sprinkling, like the weather was threatening us with what might yet come. I knew from the damage pattern that we hadn't been hit with an actual tornado, but a decade and a half in Oklahoma had also told me that that didn't mean a thing.
I jumped out of the van, running my hands through my hair in frustration. First the fight to keep the tent up, then the walk across site to the parking lot, then the stream of cars heading out into pitch blackness and oncoming emergency vehicles, then the slippery mess that was trying to drive my car out of its lot...
And now this!
I was running out of tricks and patience, and for all of my cumulative training over the years auto repairs was not in the mix.
Zahava and I worked on the car for ten minutes, even grabbing a pair of jumper cables, and trying to start it, but all to no avail. I was at my wits end when the reality of the situation suddenly dawned on me. The gas tank was showing empty. That didn't make sense, as it was at 1/8th of a tank twenty minutes before. Then, as I got out, I realized my mistake. The car was on a gentle downhill slope. Whatever was in the tank was now pulling away from the gas pump.
Zahava, who still had her own family to worry about, finally made the decision she had to, and told me she was packing up and driving out. She didn't want her kids in the path of another storm any more than I wanted them there. As a family, they had done as much as anyone could ask, and I would later learn that her oldest, Alex, had continued to help my wife and friends with the emergency packing effort while I was seeking out the van. They had done more than their part, and they needed to get to safety.
Bordering on panic, I started asking around for help, but a lot of people had problems of their own. it wasn't that they didn't have time for me, but a stalled van with an effectively empty gas tank was not a problem someone was going to fix with their pocket knife or tool box.
By happenstance, I bumped into His Excellency Andrew Turnbull on the road as I walked up to Queen's Highway. I blurted out my situation, wondering what, if anyone, he or anyone in his group could do to help.
Andrew didn't hesitate. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. "Go, find my wife and she'll tell you where my truck is. If it comes to it, you can try and use it to pull the van out."
And with that... he turned and continued on with whatever mission had brought him that way.
So there I was, in the middle of a pending rain storm, wind all around me, with a dead car, and a friend's keys in my hand, and no real assurance of how all of this was going to come together. After all, walking to the parking lot for another vehicle could be another hour.
Out of the corner of my eye just then, I saw a flicker of light. Looking over, A cluster of Namron campers were restarting their camp fire. Hoping for the best, I walked over to them and explained myself. "So, right now, if we can, I'd like to see if we can push the van up to the road where it's level." I said by way of ending.
Everyone there looked shaken, tired, and just a little miserable. The camp looked like it had taking the storm better than some, but wasn't without damage. I'd imagine that if something else, everyone was more than a little burned out from the shock of it all.
"Okay, let's go!" someone said. And to my shock, everyone there just hopped up and started over to the Mooneschadowe camp with me.
It took us a few minutes to organize ourselves, and I was in no rush. We were talking about pushing a fully loaded (large frame) minivan up and muddy incline, at night, with no real assurance that it would start once we got it up there.
Everyone got on the front end, Liliana took the wheel. I made sure no one was exactly in the middle of the bumper. If something went disastrously wrong, we didn't want anyone under the car as it rolled forward.
"Alright, on three!" I shouted.
"One"... Everyone leaned against he van.
"Two"... Feet settled into the ground, finding purchase.
With a giant heave, the van lurched backwards, and to my shock, it kept moving. With about a dozen people working at it, we actually got it up to a good clip, and rolled it all the way up the shallow incline to Queen's highway, with was level ground. Liliana turned it on the road, and put the car in neutral.
I tossed her the keys and she put them in the ignition.
I remember saying a prayer just then. I was out of options, out of resolve, our of confidence, and out of patience. Whatever was left would be God's to province, because, even with the Almighty's help, if the van didn't start, I had no idea what to do next.
Lilian turn the keys...
And the engine started right up.
Just about everyone within earshot of the van cheered at the sound.
I almost broke down in tears from the relief. We were going to make it out of there ahead of any storms that were coming.
Before I hopped into the driver's seat, I ran over to Kyna and handed her her husband's keys.
"Wait! What the hell are you doing with Andrew's keys!?" She blurted out in total shock.
I laughed. "He heard I had some car trouble and tossed them at me. Said to use the truck if I needed it."
"Oh." she said, suddenly calm. "That totally sounds like something Andrew would do."
We laughed in agreement, I thanked her, and told her to pass my thanks to Andrew, then I turned and ran back to the van.
The war was over the moment the storm hit, or at least effectively so. Days later, word of a small, subdued known world party trickled out from the event, but most of us, fully nine tenths of the people on sight, made their exit that Friday after the storm.
Injuries were few, but not unheard of. I learned later than a small cadre of people, all volunteers, had pooled their resources and converted the Green Dragon into a makeshift first aid center to evaluate and tend to the injured. At least one person was transported off-site by EMS, and reports of several others traveling under their own power to Hattiesburg for medical treatment started circulating later in the day.
Anything that even looked like a "Car port" pop-up tent on site looked like it had lost a fight with a ogre. Outdoor carpets and flooring were either destroyed by the rain, or left behind because they were soaking wet and too heavy to move. Period pavilions, arguably the toughest of the fabric structures there, did not escape unscathed. Mooneschadowe's main pavilion had snapped its ridgepole and one center strut, and the heavy canvas had torn open in the collapse. The Calontir Kingdom pavilion was destroyed outright, and multiples walls, doors, and other sections of fabric from around the site had been gobbled up by the wind, not to be seen again. In terms of a material, the event was a mind bruising for the society and its people. Not a devastating loss, but one that would be talked about for a good time to come.
The truth of the matter was that, at least for me, the real cost of the night was the fear that we all felt when we didn't know who was where, or if anyone was injured. Several tents were crushed under falling limbs or trees. All of them were empty, but that was a matter of chance over any real design. Several of the injuries could have been a lot worse, and per a few, were only inches from being life altering, But chance and the Divine being what they are, "close" was the worst that most of us actually came to serious harm.
There wasn't any followup storm activity that night. The truth of the matter is that if we had been stuck there we would have been safe (if cold), not that there was any way to known that at the time, even if my cell phone had worked.
Most people had flocked to hotels after the storm, including my family and I. We'd come back to a camp that had been beaten down, but not broken in spirit. In the midst of chaos, people were laughing at the defiant chorus of the marching cadence they were singing in the face of the storm. Tired, we were all still helping each other with what energy we had left, though that wasn't a lot.
So, for us, Gulf Wars XXV ended on Friday, around 4 pm, or so, as part of the slow, wet exodus from site.
There was easily a week's worth of soaking wet laundry in the van. And just as easily a month's worth of stories. The worst of it hadn't erased our spirits, or even dulled them. And in the midst of it all, rather than turn on each other, as the modern age as warned us about, I saw, first hand, that people banded together, and saw each other through it all.
Gulf this year was the twenty fifth year of the event, an argent year, And as with every SCA war, it is a trial to be endured by those who would embrace it for what it was. Sometimes it was a trial of heat, others a trial of strength. For me, in times past, it was one of character, and of endurance.
But this year, it was definitively a trial of wind and water.
A trial where friends banded together to hold up a tent against driving winds.
A trial where friends rallied to each other's sides.
A trial where trust was as much a weapon against despair as any sword in a fight.
A trial where fear was bested with courage and determination.
I dare say that after being weighed and measured in this trial, the Society for Creative Anachronisms was found worthy of the honor I know it holds dear to its heart.
His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"