This past Saturday (the same day the 's "Special Wine Country Travel Issue" with cover story heralding "Napa: A City Reborn" landed with a glossy thump in my mailbox) a fierce battle was being waged between 300 armor-clad warriors in a rural Napa park.
This was the three-day Mists/Cynagua War conducted at by the Society of Creative Anachronism Kingdom of the West. Founded in 1966, it is the "founding kingdom" of an international organization (SCA) dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-seventeenth century Europe.
The "Principality of Mists" website is very clear about the weekend’s events at Skyline:
WAR, GLORIOUS WAR IS UPON US AGAIN!!! Rise up, Populace of the Mist and rally to your prince and help him protect our fair lands from the marauding horde of that foul black-feathered clan known as Cynaguians. We will flock to our strategic borderland in the Barony of Vinhold at Skyline Park and lay waste to the invaders. Her Highness sends the following invitations: "Members of the populace who choose not to take the field are warmly welcomed to join Her Highness Vittoria for arts and music activities on Saturday afternoon. All ages welcome!
I wandered onto a bridge fight just near the entrance to the Martha Walker Native Plant Garden. The marshal ceased all activity as I neared, yelling “hold!”
The participants wore head-to-toe armor complete with helmets, layers of leather and steel-chain cloth armor styled like that of the 16th-century period. Most had heavy steel swords (some had two) based on weapons of the period, but with blunt edges and taped tips.
They also had heavy shields (in one case the face of a small dog) to deflect the sword blows.
The battle tactics and strategy were played out by each side under rules of war closely monitored by marshals. The action was sometimes slow and deliberate lunges and parrys, other times frantic massive thrashing of swords.
Everything worked on the honor system. If you were tapped hard with the end of the sword or lance, or hit with an arrow or broad axe, you would be out. In "real life," you would be dead.
The rule of the honor system was mentioned by many of the participants I spoke with, who hailed from Sacramento, Martinez and Napa. One warrior commented that duelers would sometimes take their disputes aside to discuss whether certain blows with specific period weapons against specific period armor would be fatal.
These folks took this very seriously: Historical accuracy was paramount.
The bridge battle was stopped again as a group of day hikers and a 10-year-old on a bike passed safely over the bridge. As soon as they were out of sword-reach the battle resumed with more thrashing, lunges and parries.
At the top of the rise on the other side of the garden I came to the main castle battle. Hundreds of period-clad people were standing around a hay-bale castle mock up where the main battle waged.
You may have seen movies of pre-17th century European history, but nothing prepares you for the real thing when the battle kicks into high gear. One of the marshals warned me to step back just as the surge began, and I was happy to be well out of the way as more than 50 people in armor thrashed and throttled each other.
The battle and related events (arts, music and likely some ale drinking) waged on through Sunday.
According to the Kingdom of the West website, the next major battle is the Spring Offensive in the Barony of Selviergard (also known as Wasilla, Alaska).