Cathy Free: Swords clash in Salt Lake park

Published: Thursday, July 26 2007 12:08 a.m. MDT

Although it's likely that a few group picnics have erupted into fights in Sugarhouse Park over the years, one weekly gathering in particular has taken the clashing of egos and foreheads to a new level.

"We don't want to hurt our friends," says Dawn Travers with a smile. "We only want to kill them."

Dawn, aka Aurora de Portugal, watches in delight as a dozen of her friends unload heavy weaponry from their duffle bags. The sight of men in chain mail, circling each other with swords and shields, can only mean it's Wednesday — time for another Barony of Loch Salaan fight practice.

The sword play is one of the biggest reasons why several hundred Utahns have joined the Society for Creative Anachronism, a worldwide club devoted to bringing the Middle Ages and Renaissance to life.

"It's the whole knights in shining armor thing from when I was a kid," says Adam Furubotten, 33, a mortgage loan officer who prefers a heavy metal workout to running on a treadmill. "When I learned this group existed six months ago, I was in."

Curious to see why anybody would wrap himself in leather and body armor in 95-degree heat, I agreed to meet members of the Loch Salaan group for a Free Lunch chat at a recent battle practice. The local fighters belong to the Kingdom of Artemisia — an umbrella SCA group of five states.

"None of what we do is choreographed — it's all about defending yourself, trying to 'kill' the other guy," says Bob Woodruff, aka Robert Bedlam, a private detective from South Weber who wears a nobleman's burgundy doublet and slops (Elizabethan knickers) in the style of the 15th century.

But belonging to the kingdom involves much more than battles and titles, he says. "Not everyone wants to be king," says Bob. "Some people want to be musicians or jesters. As long as it relates to the Middle Ages, pretty much anything goes."

It's up to the king, though, to see that basic rules of the realm are followed. Tom Clayton, aka Ralph Bigod of Hereford, is the group's current leader, an honor he earned by hacking his way through numerous sword competitions.

Tom lives in the kingdom of downtown Salt Lake City with his wife, Kim, and son, Leo. He's used to firing up the barbecue by himself every weekend and taking out the trash. But at Loch Salaan gatherings, you can address him as "Your Majesty," thank you very much.

"It's a lot more work than I thought it would be," he says, as two assistants help him into his armor. "But it's also a lot more fun." One of Tom's duties is to conduct authentic knighting ceremonies when members work their way up in the ranks. A few weeks ago, he knighted somebody in Idaho Falls, which for some reason is full of medieval characters.

Women can become knights, too, says Tom. In fact, there is one in the Loch Salaan group who goes by Sir Leah.

Karen Houston, better known as Bengta Rolssotter ("Ralph's daughter"), used to enjoy a good battle until she needed a knee replacement. Now she prefers Nordic weaving. "It was fun to visit schools, bang on my shield, then pull off my metal helmet to shake

out my long hair," she says. Even at 60, "grandmas can wear medieval battle boots," she says.

In her other life, Karen works for the Internal Revenue Service, but don't make the mistake of calling her "Your Highness." "Mistress" or "Lady" will do just fine, she says.


Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to freelunch@desnews.com. You can also write me at the Deseret Morning News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.

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