The clang of steel on steel rents the air, accompanied by the subtle grinding of hinged metal parts. Despite the heft of their suits of armor, augmented by layers of chain mail, the combatants move relatively easily as they aim their blows.
Just steps away, a Roman centurion prepares his next move, depending on his thick, molded-leather breast piece to shield him from his opponent. In the background, giant swan-shaped paddle boats rock gently as a couple on bicycles rides by, unabashedly staring at the sight of warriors from long ago duking it out on a hot summer evening in the middle of a public park.
But curious, sometimes disbelieving stares are nothing new to the members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. In fact, it's something you have to expect whenever you dress in medieval armor for a little weeknight swordplay.
SCA members laugh off criticism. They're having fun, so go ahead and laugh. Better yet, come over and ask a few questions and learn a little about times that may no longer seem so distant.
Members of the SCA have been stereotyped as geeky Renaissance fair actors, but for them, it's a matter of a shared love of history. And for a history lover, there's nothing better than pulling lessons off the pages of books and bringing them to life.
"It's people who are interested in researching, learning and finding out new things about history, but not just reading books, re-creating it," said Craig Waylan.
Members of the SCA focus on a broad expanse of time--600 C.E. to 1600 C.E. Individual members gravitate toward specific time periods, then explore history through experience. Whether it's making historically correct clothing and weapons, creating illuminated manuscripts, performing period music or studying the fighting techniques of the day, club members immerse themselves in history.
"We try to re-create every aspect," said local club leader Brad Wolf, quickly adding that they limit it to the fun stuff. "We leave out the plague and persecution."
They even develop their own SCA personas, picking a name, time, geographical area and a back story for themselves, which serve as a basis for their research. For Waylan, it's a late 16th century Spaniard named Gomez de Santander. For Rod Eggleston, the club's resident rapier marshal, it's a 16th century Venetian named Signoria Xeno Della Lama.
Both men's adopted personas allow them to explore their various areas of interest, whether it's sword fighting, manuscript making or tying nautical knots. Waylan and Eggleston both train to use the rapier, a long, thin flexible sword not used until the late 16th century, therefore their personas had to be from a specific time.
Eggleston's nautical interests led him to the port city of Venice, while Waylan, who calls himself a "Celtic mutt," wanted to try a different ethnic background, so he went Spanish, explaining his red hair as the result of half-Celtic parentage. Other club members prefer training with heavy medieval broadswords (think Braveheart), or Roman short swords, leading them to even earlier time periods.
"You can go as deep as you want to go," Waylan said as his armored comrades prepared for the weekly fight training evening.
As an organization, SCA has been around for 44 years with clubs across the globe. Clubs are organized by membership and location, with groupings forming kingdoms, which are subdivided into smaller regional groups, including baronies, shires, colleges or strongholds, depending on the size and nature of the group.
Idaho is part of the Kingdom of Artemisia, which encompasses Montana, western Colorado and Wyoming, and most of Utah. The Treasure Valley is in the Barony of Arn Hold, considered to be a large group with between 60 and 80 active members.
Local leaders are given the title of baron and baroness, currently held by Brad and Michele Wolf, or rather, Baron Karl Braden von Sobernheim (a 15th century German) and Baroness Giliana Attewatyr (a Londoner from 1315).
Club members find the SCA in various ways, and the club counts doctors, lawyers, engineers and businessmen among the ranks. Wolf, an engineer at Micron, followed his interest in music to the group, eventually not only performing period music, but also making his own instruments, then learning how to make clothing, embroidery and archery, among other pursuits. Michele, an engineer at Sensus, is a leading member of the pewter guild and often teaches classes on how to create intricate metal coins, jewelry and tokens, among other objects.
Waylan, who is retired from the Air Force, didn't get involved until he was invited along on an outing after moving to Boise. He drew from his high school and college sport fencing experience to lead him to rapier fighting.
Eggleston, an Army veteran, was a fencer as well, and joined the group in 1993. He has traveled extensively, teaching fencing to eager students, and occasionally has to explain why he is carrying a bag of swords through airport security.
The heavily armed club members known as heavy fighters often draw the public's attention since they are the ones found dressed in armor and protective gear.
"There's a lot of appeal to hitting people with sticks," Michele said with a laugh.
Apparently, it's a strong attraction, with a large group of fighters in the club. But archery is even more popular, with an "enormous" group of archers. The area is also home to one of the few active equestrian groups, and a children's program is in the works.
The Barony of Arn Hold is relatively active, with subgroups, or guilds, meeting regularly to study various aspects of history down to the intricacies of daily life. The group hosts various gatherings throughout the year, which are sometimes just a day- or weekend-long camping trip, but other times, clubs gather for massive wars. The largest, Pennsic, was recently held near Pittsburgh and attracted roughly 12,000 people to the two-week-long event.
The size and scope of the SCA provides a far-flung community for members, who often refer to each other as friends they just haven't met yet. For Eggleston, who spent 22 years in the military, the group provided an instant social network.
"I could always find someone to go do something with," he said, adding that the SCA has a strong presence in the military, including weekly fighter practice once held on the flight deck of the USS Nimitz and a rapier fighting group in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Sure, the group will turn out for a Renaissance fair, although members are careful to separate those events from their gatherings: Renaissance fairs are for the public, while the public is invited to SCA events.
One of the group's largest demonstrations will be at Idaho Historical Museum's event, Museum Comes to Life, on Saturday, Sept. 26, when history groups will gather in Julia Davis Park.
Just like learning a language is easiest by being surrounded by it, perhaps so too is history. So, maybe the SCA is just creating the next batch of history lovers, one educational sword fight at a time.