I made it back from Iowa all right, thanks for asking. I came home physically beat, not only due to insomnia caused by sleeping in a strange bed (how strange I’ll explain further on), but because I’d slept badly all week leading up to the trip. So I figure I’m still about three nights in the red, even though I slept nine hours straight when I got back to my own mattress Sunday night (the first time I’ve slept that long at a stretch since… roughly 1995). I have massive swellings, like goggles (visible in my peripheral vision) around my eyes, making me resemble the British actor Michael Gambon even more than I usually do.
The weekend went fine. For those of you joining us for the first time, I made a six-hour trip to Elk Horn, Iowa for the Tivoli Danish Festival this past weekend. A Viking encampment has been part of the festivities for several years now, and I and a couple others from the Viking Age Society of the Sons of Norway joined a much larger group from Omaha in adding to the ambience by wearing our Viking outfits and whacking each other with blunt swords.
This year’s festival was more successful than last year’s. Saturday morning was rainy, but things cleared up and in the afternoon we had a creditable encampment going, and got some fighting in. In fact, I believe it may have been the largest Viking encampment they’ve ever assembled for that event. We were able to field two “armies” of eight men each for the group fights. That’s certainly the largest I’ve ever been involved in.
The good citizens of Elk Horn have allocated funds, (public and private, I believe) for the construction of a Viking house, next to the genuine Danish windmill they imported from the Old Country a few years back. Here’s how it looks right now:
It’s not completed inside, and that makes this the embarrassing stage, since a lot of cheating has gone into the construction. When it’s done it ought to look authentic, but a truly authentic house, aside from being expensive and time-consuming to construct, has a short life expectancy (they rot). The Danes of Elk Horn want a house that’ll last a while, and so concrete footings and plastic moisture barriers and plywood are much in evidence now. Here’s the interior:
That’s Sam from Missouri, who brought his Viking boat again and set up a crucible to cast commemorate pewter coins, which he sold for the benefit of the house project. He’s working on the casting in the picture. I expect he wouldn’t be delighted to be featured on a Christian blog, but on the other hand he’ll probably never know.
On the tallish bench behind him, in the space between the upright posts, was where I made my bed, by permission of John, the project honcho. That’s how Vikings generally slept—on fixed benches along the walls of their houses (although I’ve always thought of the benches as somewhat lower than this). My inflatable mattress fit almost perfectly in the space, as it happened.
We had fireworks on Saturday night, and they were impressive. According to what I was told, the spectacle wasn’t orchestrated by professionals but by the local pharmacist, who does it as a hobby. Perhaps he benefited by having explosives stored up, since the fireworks were cancelled due to weather last year. In any case he did not fall prey to the mistake many pyrotechnicians make, of shooting up a fancy rocket that does something nobody’s seen before, and then pausing to give the audience time to appreciate it and applaud. That slows everything down. This guy didn’t spare himself. He kept it moving and had the bombs bursting in air pretty much constantly. I’ve seen far less impressive spectacles done by much larger towns, and I don’t recall being more impressed even at Disney World.
We got some good fighting in. I felt extremely diffident the first day, observing how much better our hosts were than we were (they practice pretty much every weekend; our practices and our demonstrations are generally the same things). Also a couple guys from Canada were there to demonstrate their somewhat different system, which permits much nastier blows (but uses anachronistic plate armor protection). The second day felt better, although I never overcame my deepest sin as a warrior—I forget my discipline when the armies engage and break out of the shield wall. This, if you know your Viking history, is a capital mistake that caused big defeats at Stamford Bridge and Hastings, among other battles.
I have a nasty purple bruise on my left shoulder, and my neck is sore from falling over backwards on top of another warrior with my torso on the ground but my head on his stomach. All that’s OK. I like going away a little hurt.
Thanks to the people of Elk Horn, and to the Skjaldborg group, for a memorable and successful long weekend.