by Clark Goldsberry
I saw a wet field of grass, with tall, dripping trees, and a blur of tunics, cloaks and chainmail darting through the trunks. As I approached, and my vision seemed to get worse, the Sun broke through the clouds, flashing on damp shields and swords as they spun and twisted and clashed in the rain. In those brief moments, I wasn’t in Utah and it wasn’t the 21st century.
I had stumbled onto combat practice for the Watchmen of Ered Duath, a realm within the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society. This realm, along with hundreds of others all around the world, endeavors to bring the Dark Ages to the light. Each member adopts a persona, dons period-specific garb, wields a foam-covered weapon and battles to win their guild favor among the expansive community of neo-Medievalists.
“Within our group there’s a spectrum,” said Thomas Baker, or Elwrath Blood Falcon, who joined the guild over a decade ago. Some are more intrigued by the imaginative aspect and others are intrigued more by the combat aspect, but most, like Baker, view the combat as a sport. “There’s no magic, no leveling up. It’s a game as regimented as football. There are legal and illegal moves, there’s an honor system and referees.”
But more than a sport, everyone agrees, it’s a community. The incredibly eclectic group is extremely cohesive. It offers much more than bruises and an excuse to hit people with foam-covered pvc pipe. Bruce Nash, or Nashova of the Forsaken, who has been fighting in the guild for over 14 years, mentioned some of the benefits of Medieval combat. “I had a real rage issue as a kid and I was depressed. When I first started coming to Belegarth in my teens I ran into supportive people who helped me get to a better place. And now I’ve been doing it for over half my life.”
Watching the group fight as the Sun dove into the hills, I saw people from every walk of life. Ages ranged from 14 to 40-somethings, and attire spanned the entire gamut from chainmail to Killswitch Engage t-shirts. Some wore tunics and cloaks, others wore basketball shorts and sneakers. As I watched, a Jeep filled with high schoolers sped by yelling obscenities at the group. And yet they kept fighting, completely un-phased. I couldn’t tell if they were oblivious to the profanity or if it was so commonplace that it no longer ruffled their feathers. Either way, I was impressed at their general lack of concern for the negativity that had been thrown at them. There was something magnetic about Belegarth that drew in a wide variety of people—and then kept them there.
The Watchmen of Ered Duath (or the “Watchmen of the Shadow Mountains” in Elvish) has been an active realm for over 20 years. Other realms in the surrounding area have come and gone, but the Watchmen have remained in full force. The exact recipe for a successful, cohesive realm is hard to pin down, but each member I talked to mentioned that the personalities within their group, although obscure, were warm and open to everyone. And if a group doesn’t meld socially, they said, it will split apart.
Personalities, in addition to a combined interest in Medievalism, are the binding forces in these realms. Baker summed up his 10 years of Belegarth experience by saying, “I used to love the combat, but now it’s the people that keep me coming. I’ve created a family.”
Their convictions rang in my ears as I walked back to my car, and back to the 21st century.