Wednesday, May 15, 2013

History into Fantasy

Ah, Ren Faire…  Or, more properly, The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire.  It is a place of visual wonder and an almost palpable sense of enchantment.  For anyone who follows my Facebook page, it's clear I love the place, judging by the 30 Ren Faire pictures I've posted thus far.  I go at least once a year.  

It takes place annually at the Santa Fe Dam Rec Center in Irwindale, CA, and runs from the first weekend in April to the third weekend in May.  There are stage shows, jousting, trained falcons, a food court (I desperately want that to be a pun, somehow) and craft booths everywhere you turn.  And there's something so magical about being immersed in the Elizabethan era, surrounded by people dressed in both period-correct and fantastic costumes: fairies, assassins, pirates, nobles, commoners and steampunk.  Needless to say, it's inspiring!

This year, I spent a little extra time in the back of the Faire, at the St. Michael's military camps, at first enthralled by a blonde fellow attired in plate-and-mail armor.  He tended a storehouse of knowledge regarding weapons and fighting styles of the times, of military groups and tactics, and I found myself following his lead as he guided a group of us along the path through the camp.  We listened to a host of knowledgeable Elizabethan-era military historians.

Some highlights:
• The axe was so common, because it was a tool every plowman or farmer could also use as a weapon.
• Austrian mercenaries wore brightly colored uniforms to strike fear into the hearts of their untrained foes.
• The Zweihänder (two-handed) sword was used defensively, as well as offensively, and had seven killing points along its length.  It was used to parry and bludgeon, much more so than the foolhardy downward chop we currently see presented in so many fighting games (I'm looking at you, Nightmare from the Soul Calibur series).
• The prow-style helmet, while extensively associated with the Spanish conquistadors, was actually of English design.
• There was a breed of pony that could travel without being guided through the swamps of England,  They were so troublesome as used by Scottish mercenaries, that the Queen of England ordered them hunted to extinction.
• It cost a typical shopkeeper a year's wages to buy a sword; 12 years' wages to buy a greatsword.
• It was far more profitable to ransom a knight back to his family than it was to kill him.
• Pikemen got promoted by surviving battles.  The more you survived, the further back in the ranks you got to go, hence increasing your chances of survival.

In light of all this, I feel a completely new fantasy epic coming on!

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