Last week, as the dispute over the Debateable Lands to the north once again threatened to flame into war, the nobility of the Barony of Lochmere assembled to consider what to do.
Ladies in fine gowns rehearsed the songs they would sing at court. Knights skirmished fiercely, practicing the tactics they would use in the coming conflict.
Their cars lined up on the parking lot, waiting patiently, as other vehicles traced ribbons of light across the distant highway in thedeepening twilight.
Wait a minute. Cars? Highways? What is this?
It's no time warp, merely the local branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group founded 25 years ago in California to studyand adapt the best part of the medieval and Renaissance eras for theeducation and enjoyment of enthusiasts and others.
Known as the Barony of Lochmere, the group meets every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Arundel High School in Gambrills. Since the school is closed for the summer, they convened on the lawn facing Route 175.
Its members are known as Scadians, from the initials of the society -- SCA. They meet regularly to study and demonstrate the combat, courtesies and cultures of western civilization's formative years -- roughly the fall ofRome to the year 1600.
Scadians meticulously create period identities for themselves and assume these characters during special events. One key difference from other historical enthusiasts is the way theSCA has woven the best qualities of the distant past into ongoing
fictional scenarios, which they enact with great enthusiasm.
Sponsored until recently by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks, the local group has traveled throughout the county to demonstrate the various cultures and lifestyles of the period.
TheSCA extends far beyond the county. It includes some 18 so-called kingdoms and principalities in North America; three in the Pacific -- inHawaii, Australia and New Zealand; plus the Far-West Kingdom, or eastern Asia; and Europe, also known as the Principality of Drachenwald.
With about 50 members, the Barony includes Anne Arundel and Howard counties and the city of Laurel. It is part of the kingdom of Altantia (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and parts of Georgia).
The Barony draws its membership from a variety of well-educated enthusiasts, such as computer programmers, linguists, military personnel, government employees, artists, homemakers, students and lawyers.
The common bond is a deep interest in history, so much sothat members can expend considerable effort to reproduce the crafts,lifestyles and social mores of the times.
The group was practicing for the national society's biggest event, the 20th annual Pennsic War, which takes place Aug. 12-18 at Cooper's Lake Campground in Pennsylvania, also known as a part of the Kingdom of the East. This territory includes the coastal states up to the Canadian border.
The Debatable Lands that are the subject of this year's "discussion" betweenthe kingdoms of the East and the Middle (portions of the midwestern United States) are known to the rest of the world as Pittsburgh.
Originally, the loser of the war took over the city, but that reason has since fallen into disuse. Nowadays, the occasion is as much an annual festival celebrating the arts, sciences and crafts of the period as it is a chance for some friendly fighting.
Beth Morris of Laurel, business manager of the local chapter, is also known as Keilyn Fitzwarren, the Seneschal, or the person in charge of running a nobleman's castle. She and Debra Appel, or the Baroness Siobran O'Riordain, also from Laurel, talked about the SCA.
A computer professional like her colleague, Appel said one of the things she likes about the SCAis that "you can really relax and give up all the worries and the pressure of the 20th century.
"When we go off, say, for a weekend, and re-enact the medieval times, I don't think about (modern things). That's not a part of anything that's going through my head because I become a lady of the 12th century and that's just fine."
One of the most noteable aspects of SCA life is the fighting, which looks ferocious but is actually quite safe. There are numerous rules that govern the combat, for the protection of the fighters, and combats are tended by referees known as marshals.
The weapons are heavily padded rattan wooden sticks, of various sizes. A mixture of materials ancient and modern are used to create armor that, built to certain set standards, protects most of the body and stands up to some pretty heavy pounding.
Because of this and other precautions, Appel said, "It's a pretty safe sport. We like to say we have fewer injuries than high school football, and it's pretty much true. We try to emphasize chivalry and honor, two of the best parts of the Middle Ages."
The Baron of Lochmere, Tryggvi Grabradr, or Maj. Tom Olsen, USMC, is a Severna Park resident. A member of the society for almost five years, Olsenjoked that he was attracted to the "violence. I get to hit people with sticks. But more than just the martial arts facet of it all, I've been a history
buff for as long as I remember. This is as close asI can get to the actual history."
Government employee Bob Estey, or Sir Volodir, from Montgomery County has been with the movement about seven years. A warrior, harpist and singer, he came to the SCA from a similar group, based at College Park, called Markland, or the Maryland Medieval Mercenary Militia.
"The quality of the fighting is much better in the SCA," he said. "Markland is more into battle recreation, or fake fighting with real weapons. The SCA does more of the martial sport, or real fighting with fake weapons."
He also applauded the society's traditions of service, both to their own education and to the community at large.
One member of the Barony, the Lady Isobel, or Laura Sims of Glen Burnie, has a closer handle to the period than most of her colleagues. She's originally from London.
Not only that, she has some legitimate blue blood in real life. "My mother's cousin is an earl and they live in a huge manor house in the country where I used to spend weekends as a child, so I'm fairly used to it."
Asked what she thought of the ex-colonial fascination with thetrappings of the time, she said she found it funny, sometimes, but "rather nice. It's a terrible idea to loose sight of one's heritage and (the medieval and renaissance periods are) part of the American heritage."