Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekend in Arcadia

The other weekend, I got together with friends from Goode’s Company/ Ravenrook/ Academia della Spada for a bit of fun camping and campaigning near Port Townsend, WA. Friend Nathan Barnett (the “Cpt. Goode” of Goode’s Co.) decided that since our local Renaissance Faire wasn’t happening this year (for various and sundry reasons), and we wanted to get folks kick-started for our School of the Renaissance Soldier in October, that it would be a grand idea to hold a little “prep” event in the mean time, thus “Arcadia” was born.

The site we used was quite beautiful, with woods and a large hayfield to drill on. Or so we thought. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to use the horses on the hayfield, as the actual owners of the site (as opposed to the folks who were long-term renters of the site, whom we were going through for the land use) declared that the horses were going to ruin the crop of hay. I call balderdash, but not my fight, so I stayed out of it, but in a way it turned out very well in the long run.

Among the participants in the event were a number of folks who were total virgins to the reenactment, as opposed to “Ren Faire”, scene. I think that many were quite interested in the idea of actually keeping all of one’s period clothing on during the event, rather than just wearing wool and heavy layers during the heat of the day and then changing into cotton jeans and “T” shirts for the evening. Some (who I imagine didn’t show) were astonished at the concept I’m sure, but there it is. I guess the difference between Ren Faire and reenactment is that one is playing, one is portraying. I’m not sure exactly how the semantics would fall out on which is which, but there it is. One is occupied with a portrayal full time all weekend, the other is only while the paying public is in sight, and pretty much only for them.

I had concluded some time early in the planning stages that the idea of my Horse being lancers wasn’t exactly a great idea, since the maximum number I figured I could count on was three. So rather than bother with that sort of thing, I packed carbines and pistols into the truck for Bev and I to use while portraying Harquebusiers, rather than our usual “Launtiers” of the late-16th Century. One of the advantages of this was that we didn’t have to wear armour if we didn’t feel like it, and considering the humidity of the weekend, we didn’t. So instead, it was our buff coats and felt hats, rather than steel for us! I also decided to slum by wearing my “2nd Best Suit” and boots, rather than my nice ones. Mostly it was due to the fact that it was going to be hot, and I didn’t want to wear my hot heavy lined top boots when I had a pair of perfectly serviceable boots made out of much lighter, and unlined, leather laying about that could also be easily turned down for more comfort yet. Add my old leather jerkin and “viola!” I was a Harquebusier!

The carbines we carried were ones made by Dale Shinn of Sacramento, California. I carried the wheellock rifled carbine, Bev the little flintlock. The wheellock had an interesting history. My then-girlfriend’s sister Jeannette had taken photos of Dale and his friends at the Frazier Park Black Powder Rendezvous back in 1976 or so and given them to me shortly thereafter. Dale and company were clothed in their best 1630’s outfits, with matchlock and wheellock firearms, and it drove me absolutely wild with envy to see the pictures (I still have them around somewhere). I had already seen Dale featured in a couple of “Guns and Ammo” magazine articles by Garry James (another member of the group in the pictures: I still have those magazines around too) and was very much in love with the idea of owning my own wheellock made by Dale. A few years later, after having met, and become fast friends, with Dale, he sold me the self-same carbine he had been carrying in the photograph. Being young and dumb at the time, I allowed my friend Roy to talk me out of the carbine, as “I had a wheellock and he did not.” Some years later Roy in turn sold the carbine to our close friend Carl Ontis (who had tried to con me out of it during the short time I had owned it), and then more years passed, and I acquired it for myself again. And there it shall stay! It’s a nice little carbine with one of Dale’s “1630” locks on it. They weren’t all that great, but he was trying for a production piece at the time, and it was fairly easy to make in large numbers.

The carbine Bev was carrying is of much later production, but also by Dale Shinn. He made it for me to give to my wife as a present, something she was less than impressed with I’m afraid, but Bev certainly likes it! It is very light, having a light 20-gauge barrel (as opposed to the heavy .50 rifled barrel of my wheellock), and the stock is configured so as to be quite handy to shoot one-handed. It has a very early style of flintlock on it, still retaining the “belly” of the wheellock. Both are of styles common in the early decades of the 17th Century, and both of the carbines are fitted with sling-bars and rings on the left sides, so are able to be carried by the swivel-snap on a carbine sling.

We also had my pair of Jacobean-lock pistols, plus our other wheellock pistols to boot. We were fairly well outfitted with firearms, for a change! And lucky for us, friend Rob/Raph showed up Saturday afternoon with his horses to play, so I outfitted him with a pistol, and he became our “horse-holder” for the event.

As noted above, we were ejected from the hayfield, so on Sunday of the event we had to make use of the woods instead. There were LOTS of nice trails through the woods, making for some rather interesting games. The basic plan was “we’ll see what transpires”. The pikes were tromping through the woods over trails, and we found them to be a most marvelous prey. There proved to be an old railroad levee cutting the edge of the property, which made a nifty “high road”, and we made the most of it by setting several “ambuscadoes” on it. Bev and I dismounted while Rob held the horses a few score yards up the road. Nice for the Foote to march by while we shot at them, I must say. Of course, they didn’t always notice (my pyrite wasn’t always properly contacting the wheel on my lock, thus several misfires), but we had fun dismounting, setting the ambuscado up, firing at the passing pikemen, then rushing off to mount and ride helter-skelter to the next spot. It was a hoot, and we got pretty wound up from it, but not as wound up as Bev’s horse Darshan. He REALLY got excited with the fun of running through the woods, up and over game trails, and chasing (and being chased) by the “Boggards” of the woods. When he got so excited that he started bucking, we figured it was about time for us to call it a day. Stinker. But it WAS his first real experience in doing woods work, where as my horse Woody and Gigi, Raph’s mare, were old hands at it. I guarantee that Darshan will get LOTS more experience of this nature!

We enjoyed the heck out of the “Forest Fight”, and gave me pause to consider the similarities with conflicts between “disciplined troops” and various forms of savages/irregular troops on the other hand. Setting ambushes, sneaking around and watching one’s foe come to you is exciting and interesting in a positive way, while marching into the unknown is exciting in a rather negative way. It was nice to be the irregular troops this time!

Another aspect was that we were finally doing “Light Horse” work. Usually at Elizabethan-era reenactments, when doing Horse, we portray much heavier gradations of the arm, usually in the form of Demi-Lancers, AKA cheveaux legĂ©r, who were well armoured and usually armed with a heavy lance. This time we got to be sans-armour, and with carbines rather than lances, and we dismounted to fight rather than charging into the mix. I suspect that the horses much preferred this idea, too. We definitely need to do more of this!

All photos, except the very first one, are by Byron Dazey and may not be reproduced without his permission.

Romance Writers of America: San Francisco Adventure

At the end of last month I had the interesting experience of being a presenter for a portion of the “Romance Writers of America” conference, held in San Francisco. The group I actually spoke for is “Beau Monde”, which specializes in Historical Romances (thus explaining why on Earth I was invited to speak there.) At any rate, it was an adventure to be sure!

Most of the endeavor involved getting myself and my “props” (which constituted some score or more muskets, rifles, pistols and revolvers, several swords and four saddles complete with tack) from the environs of Seattle to downtown San Francisco. I certainly wasn’t about to haul all of this inventory via airline, so drive I did. Fairly long drive, but at least this time I wasn’t hauling horses cross-country, as I usually seem to find myself doing. I spent the night before the event at friend Nick’s house in Berkeley, where of course we stayed up too late talking about “stuff”. Then it was off at 0-dark-thirty to beat the traffic into SF. Made it to the Marriot with no issues, and took the Valet Parking option. The joy of course was in hauling all of the aforesaid impedimenta from point “A” in the lobby to point “B” in the bowels of the hotel, without exactly knowing where point “B” was. That in itself was a further adventure, but I got there eventually.

The presentation went fine, of course, entitled something like “Firearms of the Golden Age” or some catchy phrase like that which my host “Kalen Hughes” came up with. The room to which I was assigned was fairly small and packed full of rather attractive and better yet very attentive ladies. I can’t say that I was at all ill-disposed towards the situation. However, due to the exertions of getting everything set up, plus the poor air-conditioning (it was SF after all, they’re not used to heat) and that the room was full of bodies, I was sweating like a horse. I hope it didn’t show too much.

What I found most amusing was that, while I had gone well out of my way to ensure that I brought the coolest, most interesting and famous of the firearms I own to show off to these ladies, the one thing they were most interested in was of course the one that was the last minute “what the heck, I’ll throw it in” one. I should have known, of course. So among my wheellock horse-pistols, matchlock and flintlock muskets, Henry and Springfield rifles, Colt’s revolvers and the like, what were they interested in? The tiny little flintlock “Turn Off” pistol. Again, I should have known. It was made at some point during the Regency period or there-about, and they were quite popular not only as a pocket pistol but as a “muff gun”, to be secreted in the fur muff that was so fashionable in the period. In a day and age where casual violence was in fact much greater than it is today (contrary to modern mythology), carrying a small, handy “equalizer” was a smart thing to do. And, obviously, my audience somewhat appreciated that fact, thus their interest. I found it quite agreeable to have been fortunate enough to hit upon “just the right thing” for their interest, even if it was completely by accident.

My other presentation, later in the day, was as a member of a panel of speakers on the subject of historical horsemanship. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I can’t recall the names of all of my other co-panelists (I recall that one is a Veterinarian who is also a historical romance writer), but the lady who pretty much lead the discussion was a fine lady by the pen name of Sophia Nash. All of my co-panelists were quite knowledgeable on horses and especially on women’s roles with horses in various periods of history. I brought the hardware (saddles and tack) and discussed military horsemanship through during the past 400 or so years (briefly, as that’s a long time period to cover). Of course we went longer than the time allotted to the session, which was fine by me, as it gave me more license to pontificate, but alas, it eventually came to an end. I must admit that I enjoyed the lime-light, even with the stresses of getting things set up, torn down, and packed away again.

After the end of THAT part of the conference, and after having to haul my stuff over hill and dale (well, actually just up and down various floors: that place is huge!) my eldest daughter Elizabeth arrived on the scene. She’s presently working at an internship in the City during the summer while awaiting the start of her last year of law school at Golden Gate University. It was great to see her, and get a chance to wander around the hotel a bit to see what other things were going on with regards to the conference. There were LOTS of women there! As my old friend Steve Moffatt (who was there to give a presentation on armour) stated: “Man, this place is full of women! YIKES!”

Another nice thing was seeing many old friends from the Renaissance Military Society, from when we used to be a part of St. Michael’s Guild at the old Northern Renaissance Faire. Kalen, who was running the “Beau Monde” show, was an old hand from the RMS and had arranged it all, so it was old home week. Even Eyore Danny stayed to socialize! I was astonished…and pleased, to be sure.

I ended up going in to the Ball Room for the big “Signing” session. When I walked in, the sound resembled high-caliber hail on a corrugated tin roof! Lord, but was it loud in there! The ball room wasn’t exactly designed to suppress THAT much noise, I guess. Anyway, I managed to find both Kalen and Sophia in the press, and also one of the ladies who had attended my first class, Monica McCarty, so I bought their books for my wife to enjoy. (Check out her blog here on the subject of Romance Novels.) Eventually it was time to leave, though. I conned Elizabeth into doing the driving back to her bungalow in Oakland (she’s used to SF traffic), where her husband Jeremiah had dinner waiting for us. After a nice visit, it was hit the sack, then make the loooooong drive home the next day. Thank goodness I had the next day off to try to recover!