Guest Post

The Deaths Are Pretend but the Bruises Are Real (Guest Post)

by Abby E.

So I did it. I joined a Viking re-enactment group, and holy cow do I have a lot to learn.  I still have to buy my own weapons, finish creating a character, and get some clothes ready. Also, I need women’s clothes for the village and men’s clothes for fighting demos. (Grrr.)  I may hold off on the public fighting demos and stick to the village for a while until I can accumulate all the necessary goods. In the meantime, I can still practice swinging that axe!

The first two times I went to practices, they were open to the public. Anyone could join in, try it out, see if they might want to be part of the fun. Now that I’m a member, though, I can go to the regular practices to work on things like fighting and dying in ways that will thrill the onlookers.

Recently, I attended my first closed practice, and it started off with a bit of unstructured sparring. When I arrived, several members were having an executive meeting on the spot, so there were only four of us fighting. we did a bit of two-against-two, and in this scenario you just fight until only one person “survives.” This process really doesn’t take that long. Those Hollywood movies are full of crap.

Once the executive meeting was done, people showed up on the battlefield one by one. With five people, we started working on the “circle of dishonour,” where it’s every fighter for themselves. Once again, you hack and slash until one person is left standing, but this time the killing is indiscriminate.

Now, I was busy using a big, long spear rather than the usual weapon (often sword or axe) and shield combo.  The spear’s length can give you some advantages in head-to-head combat, but if your opponent manages to get up close and personal, you start losing options fast. However, the spear is awesome in group combat, where the spear fighters can get behind the “shield wall” and pick off the enemy fighters from a protected position and help break through the enemy’s shield wall.  Just note that spearfighting requires you to really put your back into it. During the previous practice, I spent probably almost an hour or so fighting with a spear for the first time ever, and the lower half of my back was stiff for several days. In sparring, we keep our spears positioned relatively low (this is playfighting, remember – we don’t actually intend to smash each other’s faces in), and the motion is kind of like raking leaves, except that the leaves keep moving so you can’t kill them and they’re also armed and trying to kill you back.*

Later on, we started rehearsing “eights”, where you practice hitting or blocking hits from eight directions: shoulders, hips, knees (both sides), overhead swing, and torso stab. A spear isn’t a good weapon for this practice, so I borrowed a sword and one of the other members offered to take the spear. I made a crack about having a guy hold MY spear for a change, and the looks on the other guys’ faces were absolutely priceless.

Afterwards, we did a couple of rounds of fighting (sort of an endurance training exercise) and practiced the screaming and the limping and the dying for the pleasure of a bloodthirsty crowd. I died a lot. A LOT. I seriously need to do something about that dying thing, but I didn’t get disemboweled as often I did in my first practice.

Of course, dying dramatically often leads to hitting the ground fairly hard, and I certainly did my share of that. I have some bruising and a small cut on my left knee, and I didn’t feel either of those occurring, but that seems to be the norm. I always come home with bruises whose causes can’t easily be determined. And I’m cool with that.

Frankly, I was a little more embarrassed about the fact that my knees were covered in mud and I had to take the subway home. I wondered if some jerk would try to make gross comments to me, but I couldn’t easily get all the dirt off.  So I decided to prepare for possible harassment and was ready to respond to unfriendly remarks with “I got killed by Viking warriors AND IT WAS AWESOME. WHAT DID YOU DO TODAY?” but no one decided to try my patience. Dammit. The looks on their faces would have been priceless, too.

*This probably makes you want to never rake leaves again, but there’s  scientific evidence that says you shouldn’t rake leaves anyway because it’s better for the environment, and not getting murdered by armed leaves is probably better for your health anyway. Everyone wins.

We wear helmets to protect our heads, but those soft tissue injuries sure do smart.
We wear helmets to protect our heads, but those soft tissue injuries sure do smart.


Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She isnot a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.