"The flails are the worst," Elizabeth the Dryad told me. We watched as a warrior strolled past us along the battlefield with said weapon draped over his shoulder. "It stings like crazy."
This man was just one of the many soldiers that had gathered that day for a Belegarth battle. Everywhere I looked, there were people lingering around the wide grassy area, gripping handcrafted weapons and wearing knightly uniforms. The "battle" that day, was simply a get-together throw-down with Belegarth players. Belegarth, according to its official website, "is a fun, safe, and inexpensive sport where participants wear medieval or fantasy-themed clothing and fight with foam-padded weapons" and is a world-wide sport that began around 1979 ("Welcome to Belegarth.com"). When put that way, Belegarth sounds like a pretty fun activity. However, when watching grown men pummel their ferocious opponents with foam swords, Belegarth takes on a whole new level of intensity.
Amy, a friend of mine, had become involved with Belegarth when Nate her boyfriend introduced her to the sport. She had shown up at my house multiple times with bruises on her arms and legs, telling us the crazy tales of fighting Belegarth knights and monsters. At first it had been fun to laugh at her bruises and crazy stories; however, things quickly got serious when I eventually found myself on the front lines of a Belegarth army.
Before I went to Belegarth that fateful Saturday morning, I knew I had no desire to do so. It was not like I was afraid of a little pain getting hit by a foam sword. In fact, that part sounded like a blast. I was just not sure if I had the energy to interact with strangers in such an intense sport for several hours. I am one of those people who would rather spend their free time reading a book at home. Unfortunately, a paper about my reading experience would not exactly possess the same level of excitement as an epic sword battle would.
Nonetheless, I made the appropriate preparations. Dressed in completely authentic medieval thrift store wear, I went to the park, where the battle was to take place. It took a bit of driving around, but when I eventually spotted the large crowd that looked like they belonged on the set of, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I knew I had found them.
Funny enough, it seemed strangely appropriate that there was also a baseball game going on beside the battlefield. Those young players and parents probably had no idea that they were going to be neighbors to these Belegarthian fighters. As I passed them, I noted the chatting parents sometimes glancing towards the battlefield with amused and puzzled expressions. I could not be sure what they were thinking, but I was pretty confident it was something along the lines of, "why are these grown adults and teenagers dressed like the knights of the round table?"
The Belegarth set-up consisted of two armies attacking each other in the middle of the battlefield. A rest area with foldable chairs, tables, and canopies stood on the right side. After surveying the fighters, I quickly determined that my friend Amy had not arrived yet. I decided to wait for her before getting involved with the fighting, so, I settled down on the grass and watched the Belegarth battles unfold before me.
The first thing I observed was the costumes; they were amazing. There were people with dragon emblems on their chests, orange and purple checkered uniforms, gold and black helmets, and even samurai armor. A handful of people even wore different colored face paint, which I came to learn later, symbolized that they were a monster. The shields were unique as well; some had colorful flower designs, plain colors, some featured a majestic animal, and others were extremely personalized (ex. one had HORDE printed on the shield in large red letters with a black background).
I also noticed the weapons. Much to my surprise, there was a larger diversity in weaponry than I was expecting. Long poles swayed in the wind as players trudged back to their starting positions. Swords and flails rose high in the air. The two armies converged upon each other. A man in a purple and orange uniform with a bow and arrow hung back, watching the fight. When an opportunity presented itself, he quickly drew back a foam-padded arrow and released it at his chosen victim. The battle quickly drew down to only a few warriors left standing, who quickly disposed of each other in a fierce, well-skilled fight.
There was one fighter, that was particularly entertaining to watch. He had one of the most intriguing shields there, probably the most detailed. It resembled the wing of a large red bird, with textured feathers carved into the shield and a dark and light shading on the surface.
After various conversations with different members of Belegarth later, I learned that this particular individual was considered one of the best, if not the best fighter in this district. After watching him, I could see why. He was quick, and struck down challengers with swift precision. He even broke out moves one would expect to see in a movie. At one point when he was battling someone, he suddenly performed a twirl while sidestepping and raising his shield behind him to protect his back. Then, with a smoothness of that transition, he struck his opponent's exposed side with a cold ferocity. It was quite a spectacle to watch.