By Ld. Peregrine Fairchylde
Staff Writer, Pennsic Independent
The 25-odd rapier fighters who took the field this past Thursday had brought their blades, their bucklers, their cloaks, their masks, their rigid and soft parry devices.
But for what marshal-in-charge Lord Maximilian der Zauberben had in mind for the Early Bird Rapier Tourney, they needed one more item: A pen.
Lord Maximilian was determined the participants would take away more than a won-loss tally at the end of the tourney.
"The idea of the Early Bird is to get to know people," he announced to the combatants, while holding a shovel marked with black and yellow marshal's stripes. "I want talking, not just fighting . . . . You are to get one interesting fact about each opponent."
To that end, he produced worksheets for each duelist that included a space in which to write in some obscure fact about each opponent, eliciting a buzz of humorous speculation from the group.
"I smell like what?" one gentle suggested. "What if there's nothing interesting about me?" another joked.
"They're making us write? I can't believe we have to work," quipped Krieger from Tirnewydd in the Midrealm. "This is supposed to be just killing."
Yet as the fighters paired off on the field, it quickly became evident that each was taken up by the spirit of the tourney, as there was frequently as much talking as fighting going on.
"We tried this last year. My son tried running it," Lord Maximilian, who lives in the Barony of the Roaring Wastes, said. "We got mostly Midrealmers. This year we put it a little bit later in the day and hopefully we'll get a better cross-kingdom turnout."
The turnout included veterans of rapier fighting as well as relative newcomers. Krieger, who had been fighting for about a year, was enthusiastic about the format.
"This is incredible," he said. "This makes meeting people incredibly easy and darned fun."
Gillian de Whittemere of the East Kingdom found a bout partner and drew him to the picnic table under the pavilion.
"First the paperwork, then the bloodshed!" she declared.
With about six bouts happening at any one time, there was copious laughter and lots of conversation both on the field and off of it. Lord Maximilian, who was Midrealm Rapier Marshal last year and commander for the first rapier war point battle, said he wanted gentles in the rapier community to get to know the people behind the masks.
"You never know when you'll say, 'Hey, I do that, too!'" he said. "You recognize faces; this gives you the chance to put names to faces."
And that, he hopes, will reinforce the camaraderie and healthy rivalry that he has seen develop amongst rapier fighters across kingdoms, and encourage them to spend more time with each other off the field, as well.
For his part, Lord Maximilian said, an interesting fact about himself he'd share would be that he has an alternate persona, "Corporate Bob," a magician whose deadpan routine has been featured at the Coxcomb Academy's performances in years past.
Doffing his gear after declaring himself done for the day after a half-dozen bouts, Richard van Utrecht of the Midrealm had high praise for the Early Bird Tourney.
"I love the format, love the idea of having to go out and meet new people," he said. "It makes you think, especially in the heat."
One interesting tidbit he'd learned, he said, was that one of his opponents had made a helmet and entered it in an A&S competition, only to have the helmet go missing.
After 45 minutes of fighting, the tourney was called to a halt and Lord Maximilian sought to select a victor - which, he had warned in advance, might go to the person with the most victories, or the most opponents, or who had learned the most interesting fact.
And what had the fencers learned? "His house is full of Portuguese flags," one offered. "He single-handedly set back East Kingdom fencing five years," said another. "He's building a pagan community center," proclaimed a third, and a fourth proclaimed, "He was struck by lightning last year and was out partying the next night."
In the end, Phoebus Craythorne of the Shire of Mirage Forest in the Middle Kingdom was proclaimed the winner, and received a stuffed parrot for his efforts.
"I got the bird at Pennsic!" he exulted.