Just a few days ago, Steve Canfield was in his classroom at Mississippi State University, teaching courses in Web Development and Microcomputers and Networks.
But this week, he’s not Steve Canfield. He’s Duke Caillin MacLeod: fighter, former King of Gleann Abhann and one of about 3,000 participants at Gulf Wars XXVII in at King’s Arrow Ranch in Lumberton.
“I have been to every day of every one of (Gulf Wars),” Caillin said Tuesday. “This is where my family is. I’ve been doing this so long, and this is where all my friends are.
“It’s a great social organization, and I get to meet all kinds of like-minded people.”
Gulf Wars, which this year runs until Sunday, gives participants a week-long opportunity to recreate and experience the events, lifestyles and cultures of pre-1600s Europe. Billed as “A War With no Enemies,” the event was established in 1991 by the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international “living history” group dedicated to studying the skills and arts of the Middle Ages.
Gulf Wars is attended by members of about 20 SCA kingdoms from the United States and Canada, including Gleann Abhann, Ansteorra and Trimaris. While at Gulf Wars, the vast majority of the knights, kings and other medieval figures refer to each other by their SCA names, rather than their real-world “mundane” names.
“What’s most fun is the camaraderie of the whole thing,” said Duke Jon the Tall of Gleann Abhann. “You meet friends, and even though you might live thousands of miles apart, when you come back here it’s like family and a fellowship.”
Most observers know Gulf Wars for the battles and fighting, and there are certainly plenty of those to go around. Throughout the week, members of the different kingdoms will match up in jousting, field battles, sieges, archery and other forms of combat.
Fighters use a wide variety of weapons, from rapiers and swords to heavier weapons like pole arms and axes. For safety reasons, many of the weapons are made of rattan and plastic, and metal weapons such as rapiers are blunted and tipped to prevent injury.
Each fighter also must be in proper defensive garb before entering any battles or matches.
“Each kingdom is a little different, with the society minimums that we have to go by,” said Jon the Tall, who helped to score Tuesday’s rapier tournaments. “But starting with the head, the protection must be fencing-masquerading helmets so there’s no injury to the head.
“Also, there has to be hoods that come down to cover the back of the head, so that’s got to be puncture-resistant. And the torso must be heavily armored with puncture-resistant material, including the armpits.”
Fights with heavier weapons can be ended by a “killing blow” to the body or head, while a strike to the arm or leg requires a fighter to stop using that limb.
“A lot of the tournaments that we do are based on the actual tournaments of the Middle Ages,” Caillin said. “And they weren’t trying to kill each other – they were competing in sports tournaments. They would get injured, but they really weren’t trying to permanently hurt anybody.”
The fights are just one part of the vast world that is Gulf Wars. Right around the corner from the battlefields is Artisan’s Row, where participants can take classes in courses such as European dance, woodworking, period cooking and chainmail weaving.
“This is kind of the fun thing that we enjoy doing in the SCA,” said Master Conall O Caindealbhain, who is spending part of his week at Scribe’s Point teaching classes on paint-making, typesetting and calligraphy, among other arts. “Obviously the talent and skills also are kind of the reason that we do what we do here.
“For others, it’s because they’re not sure exactly what they want to do, and they’re just kind of feeling their way and testing the waters with different arts and sciences. When they find their niche, that’s kind of where they stay for the most part.”
There’s also Merchant’s Row, which features vendors offering everything from medieval-style food to period-appropriate clothing, jewelry, metalworks and weaponry.
And for verification of the vast knowledge and expertise of the artisans and merchants, look no further than Bayan the Hammer, who spent part of Tuesday afternoon using heated anthracite coal to make a flaring drift to fix his smoking pipe.
“(Anthracite coal) was used in period times when they could find it, but it typically occurs very deep,” he said. “All of the surface deposits of anthracite coal in England, for instance, were exhausted by the time the Romans got there.
“So the English didn’t use it again until … the 1700s. The French had a similar situation, whereas in the Middle East, it was plentiful. Litmus coal, lignite, peat and charcoal were generally the fuels they used.”
But no matter their station at Gulf Wars – whether merchant or teacher, royalty or fighter – each participant leaves their own special experiences and stories.
“The greatest thing for me, serving as queen, was to give awards,” said Muirgen of the Mist, who formerly served as Queen of Gleann Abhann. “Especially to see the faces of those that are new and getting their Award of Arms, which is the first level of service to the kingdom where you’re called a Lord or Lady.
“They’re actually kneeling in front of you, and they have no idea why they’ve been called into court. So to see their faces when they realize that they’re being honored this way, it’s unbelievable. For me, that was the thrill.”