Guy of Castle Kirk's dozen warriors were taking a beating Sunday: Several had been felled by blows from their armored opponents, and the remaining stragglers were being picked off by an advancing horde.
But Guy Kirk of Visalia was still on his feet, and he swooped around from behind the enemy, unmercifully walloping several foes to the turf.
"Guy hits like a ton of bricks," Sir Yaroslav said, leaning on his sword and wincing at the recollection of a blow he absorbed from Kirk. "He's not a king for nothing."
It was not exactly a medieval battlefield, but for several hours Sunday, the knights, ladies and warriors of the Society for Creative Anachronism transformed a corner of Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley into a staging area for their pitched struggle. As puzzled onlookers paused to observe, wave after wave of men outfitted in homemade armor and chain mail beat each other with clubs, sticks and other weapons.
There were no injuries, and Kirk--the king of Caid, who describes himself as a "descendant of Achilles, son of Venus and brother of Joe Montana"--was pleased with the results.
"It looks good" he said, cradling his helmet under one arm and watching his soldiers line up for another round of combat. "We're getting a lot done."
His queen and their young prince agreed, though the prince, Clay Kirk, seemed more interested in finishing his Coke and getting back in the car to go home to Visalia.
According to the warriors gathered in the park Sunday, this weekend's battle practice was especially important because the honor of the Kingdom of Caid is about to be put on the line. Four hundred warriors from the kingdom--which includes Southern California, the Las Vegas area, Hawaii, and New Zealand--go up against their counterparts to the east in two weeks.
While most of the country celebrates Presidents' Day weekend, the soldiers of Caid will face an equally large contingent from the Kingdom of Atenveldt on an Arizona battlefield.
Wars like this one are the most dramatic events hosted by the 24-year-old society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of medieval culture. Once a small group of Northern California historians and science-fiction writers, the society has grown into a 14,000-member organization.
But despite the popularity of the society's military affairs, not all of its activities revolve around beating one another with homemade weapons. Sunday, most of the participants came to fight, but others said they are drawn to the organization by its devotion to the study of medieval arts, science, cooking and culture. Of the non-combat categories, beer-brewing seems to enjoy a particularly strong following.
The organization also does its share of community outreach, staging events for schools so that students can get a glimpse at medieval life. One terminally ill child was crowned "prince for a day" last month, after society members learned of his wish through the Make a Wish Foundation. The Kingdom of Caid held a day's worth of events for the youngster's benefit, and groups of warriors battled to uphold his honor.
"I love history," said Sir Yaroslav, who--under the name of Chuck Olynyk--teaches history at Edison Junior High School in Los Angeles. "And I love the society. It allows me to do a lot of the things I want, like reading about knights and learning about their culture."
As Olynyk spoke, a soldier who had just come out on the losing end of a clubbing ran over for advice on how to wield his weapon, a long stick with a crossbar near the base.
"I don't feel comfortable with it," he complained through his steel-plate mask. "I'm having trouble torquing my body."
Olynyk, who earned his knighthood partly because of his proven knowledge of battle techniques, grabbed the weapon and demonstrated several lethal-looking moves. Then he sent the warrior back into the field.
'You don't go out there alone," Olynyk shouted as the soldier joined ranks with his colleagues. "You go out with a buddy, and you watch each other."
For Olynyk and many other participants, the society's affairs become an abiding passion. They compete and participate for years, practicing their fighting and their crafts, and exhaustively researching their medieval identities. In the process, they have woven a tightly knit subculture of enthusiasts of medieval times.
"It's really like a big family," said Desla Kirk, queen of Caid, who wore the customary crown and observed Sunday's battling from a place of honor on the edge of the field. "It's a family, and I'm the den mother."