'Yes, you killed me, let's fight again' - chivalry alive and well in the Barony of DragonsspineOnly by walking into the Westside Community Center gym on a Thursday night is it possible to find out the real rulers of this part of the world.
Yes, it's the Barony of Dragonsspine.
It's defined right there on the group's website -- a swath of zip codes across the middle of the state, titled “baronial holdings,” encompassing all of Colorado Springs, plus areas west to Leadville and east to Limon.
OK, so maybe a little imagination helps. A time machine would be ideal.
With roughly 150 participants, Dragonsspine is part of the Kingdom of the Outlands, which takes in most of Colorado, all of New Mexico and parts of Wyoming, Texas and Nebraska. The Outlands itself is one of 19 kingdoms in the international Society for Creative Anachronism, which has celebrated the era of pre-17th-century Europe since the SCA was started in Berkeley, Calif., in the 1960s.
The Dragonsspine website (an anachronism itself) welcomes new people to the group: “We extend an invitation to all gentles to come and join us and spend some time in the current middle ages. We are home to some of the best archers, artists, fencers, and heavy fighters in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Come join us at an event or practice to see why we are proud to be Dragonsspine." (The Dragonsspine website is dragonsspine.outlands.org.)
In the legendary tradition of medieval chivalry, fighters use an honor system, with no judges. Combatants know where the lethal spots are, and if one takes a “killing shot,” he admits it, explained Lothar Vom Bergenwald (Rich Cole), himself a former Dragonsspine baron. “Honor and chivalry are what the SCA is about.”
These are not simulated blows, either. Individuals swing as hard as they can at each other. But they also know that the opponent is protected and blows to the hand and wrist or below the knees don't count. Rules require protection of the head, neck, cervical vertebrae, elbows, knees, kidney and groin. The armor is similar to what soldiers wore during the first crusade, Lothar said. His helmet alone weighs 14 pounds.
“We don't want to hurt, just kill,” quipped fellow Dragonsspine member, Duncan Alister MacRae (Rick Nielson).
The practices are frequently one-on-one, but baronys often get together for group battles. “We divide fighters up evenly and go after each other,” Lothar said.
While barons are chosen through a social process, a man wanting to become king of the Outlands (a six-month term) must battle his way through a tournament with dozens of others vying for the crown. One of the Dragonsspine regulars, Albert von Dreckenveldt (Alan Tegen), has been king twice. He said the hardest part of the tournament was avoiding fatigue with all the one-on-one contests. So he developed a “gunfighter” strategy, looking for a single thrust to gain victory. He described such combat as “chess with a baseball bat.”
But his successes hardly left him feeling invulnerable. “You can only watch 'Conan the Barbarian' so many times to realize you wouldn't have lived very long back then,” he said.
Asked about his name, von Dreckenveldt grinningly said it means (in Yiddish) “foul, smelly fields.” This revelation led Lothar to elaborate on a simple rule for SCA participants: “You can be whoever you want, as long as it's not someone else's name.”
MacRae also has been king. But it was the idea of a family activity that initially got him interested. His daughter, 14 at the time (now 31), has stayed involved in the SCA, even though she's now living in another community. “These are some of the best people I've ever met,” he said.
Cole/Lothar offered a similar story, in his case going back about 30 years. "The fighting was what got me into it," he said, but there were also aspects to interest his wife and children (then young). "It was family-oriented, a good, healthy environment."
Starting in May, Dragonsspine will become more visible to the general public, with the weekly practices moving to Bear Creek Regional Park off South 21st Street. The group meets Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m.
Westside Pioneer article