Well, I’m back. I’m almost disappointed to say I came home unscathed, except for sore muscles and a combination burn/bruise on the inside of my left forearm. That came from shooting my bow. (Ah-ha moment: “That’s why archers wear those arm guards!” There was a time when I was younger when I shot with a bow quite a lot. I never needed a guard back then. It must be a function of aging).
It’s a six-hour drive to Elk Horn, Iowa, but I made it there ahead of the other Minnesota participants and checked in to the local motel. (If the original Vikings had had motels, they’d have slept in them too. They might not have paid their bills, but they would have used the nice dry beds).
On Saturday we played with Skjaldborg, the Nebraska Viking group that was hosting us. They set up an interesting exercise that worried me at first, but turned out to be a lot of fun.
The “gauntlet,” as it was called, involved first throwing a couple spears at a pile of straw bales. Then the subject grabbed a shield, pulled his sword, and ran (while being shot at with blunt, rubber-tipped arrows) to another man armed with shield and sword, fighting his way past him (for the purposes of this game, the subject never got “killed”). Then he had to fight past a guy with a spear who guarded a narrow, marked-off passage called “the bridge.” Finally, he had to fight two guys with shields and swords at once.
It was better than chocolate. Afterwards we did some group fighting, and later the guy from Missouri who’d brought up his Viking boat pulled it out to a nearby reservoir so we could do some sailing. Here’s a picture. Look like fun?
The boat’s a real beauty, built by a craftsman. Light to row and fast under sail.
As we put the boat back on its trailer, the weather began to turn Norwegian, and we spent the rest of the night enjoying authentic Viking cold rain. When I’d enjoyed as much of that as I could stand, I retired to my motel room.
The next day the other Minnesotans left early, but I stayed till around noon. We did the gauntlet again, but this time you had to “earn” your shield by actually getting your spear to stick in the hay pile. I suck as a spear thrower, so I had to do the rest with sword only.
Needless to say, the only way to handle a situation like that is to go on strong offense, attacking the defenders at a full run. I was completely winded and utterly happy when I was done.
Then some more group fighting, and then I packed up and drove home in a warm glow.
I am a mess as a human being. I am constantly hobbled and crippled by fears, neuroses and impacted memories. When I go to a reenactment event and set up my day shade, I remain a mess. I remain a mess while plans are made and instructions given.
But when the battle starts and the steel is in my hand, my complexes become simplex. I’m just a man among other men, with one thing on my mind. “In the zone,” “one with my weapon,” whatever cliche you like, that’s what I become.
It appears I have good instincts. The first time I ran the gauntlet, I faced a man with a spear for the first time in my life. I did what came naturally with my sword, and they told me afterwards it was a “textbook” parry.
It’s also play. I’ve never played much in my life, never done a lot of the rough stuff with other guys. To do it now, and know I’m not bad at it, bucks me up incredibly.
There’s a psychological technique called “play therapy,” isn’t there?
I think there’s a doctoral thesis in this, for some perceptive graduate student.
Today I’m wiped out. Tired and achy. Maybe I’m coming down with something. Maybe I caught my death in Saturday night’s rain.
Do you get a Viking funeral if you catch pneumonia in an encampment?
If so, I’d call it even.