|This originally appeared in Vol. 1, No. 2 of JUNK MAIL (June 1998) • Click here to peruse|
More often than not, a Revelwooder’s first Pennsic War can be a traumatic thing. Usually for those people around the Revelwooder. The Pennsic War, for those hearing about it, or considering going for the first time, is a collection of about 10,000 costumed people spending two weeks in the middle of a hot, humid August in an over-crowded, under-staffed, high-energy, low-tolerance mosh pit. It costs about $100 to attend, takes about seven hours to drive there and inevitably you get lost North of Pittsburgh. With me so far? Some of these costumed people carry a big stick wrapped in duct tape and are only too happy to hit you on the head with it. Sometimes they will bring a friend. If you’re lucky, the friend will hit you too. Or, you might find yourself being followed by a bard who insists on playing his newly purchased bodhran with extra knobby tipper, or bright shiny dumbeck, and singing some obscure 12th Century ode to the Black Death. A bard, by the way, is a musician that can’t get a band together. If you are real lucky, you will be assaulted by a Herald, who will stand next to your tent at 8:30 AM and shout out the morning announcements about the day’s gruel bake-off, or the tapestry-unraveling lesson, or the best person to be hit on the head by, and what time they’ll be available.
Your day will inevitably include a stroll up the Road of Woe. As the name implies, this is a difficult, painful, sometimes dangerous path that leads from the better campsites, to the merchants areas. It is difficult because it is a 45 degree grade, usually traveled when the temperature is in the upper 90’s, and the humidity even higher. It is painful because the road is paved with granite and quartz rocks the size of golf balls, cut by special dwarves who hate humans and know how to chisel them at just the right angles to pierce our flimsy medieval shoes and twist our un-supported ankles. It is dangerous because more often than not, some portly fellow has lost his balance and is rolling towards you like a cartoon boulder, bouncing and howling all the way. If he doesn't get you, the subsequent avalanche of slow reacting pedestrians will.
But the war can also be an exciting place. Nestled deep within the relative quiet of our Revelwood encampment, we have been witness to one hurricane, a forest fire, one tornado warning, five torrential down pours, innumerable flash floods, martini breaks, accidental strolls into the lake, one fat lady taking a mud bath and a naked albino violin player.
A typical day at the war, for the non-combatant, starts out quite late because of the way you carried on the night before. If you are fortunate enough to have avoided the herald, you will probably regain conciseness sometime in the late morning, or early afternoon. You will stumble about grumbling incoherently, and somehow recover your goblet or mug. You will then seek out some water. Usually, you settle for the run-off from the beer cooler. You justify the pine needles and other detritus as protein and drink it anyway. Actually, it’s roughage, and you will pay dearly later. But we’ll deal with that some other time. I would need a whole issue to describe the port-o-castles and the honey truck. Breakfast will probably be the furthest thing from your mind, what little of it you may have at that moment. Eventually, when you’ve regained the ability to speak, you will ask "Who wants to go to the merchants?" Inevitably, someone will, and off you will go. Heading straight for the Road of Woe.
The merchants are located about a mile away. All up hill. The fact that going back to camp is down hill is no consolation. Remember the portly fellow? When you reach the merchant’s area, you will be astounded at how many merchants there are. And that they all sell the same exact jewelry, weapons, drinking vessels, clothing, musical instruments, etc. Each claims to be an original, each hand made, each the lowest price available. Face it, this is fantasy land. And they do take American Express. You can also enjoy your afternoon's repast at this location. There are various medieval fast-food establishments, again, each selling greasy food. each with inadequate seating and each hosting a pan-handling bard. The bard is so you can consume your food, spend even more money and develop a migraine simultaneously.
that you have survived the day, you will begin to prepare for the evening’s
activities. If you were smart, you would have continued straight for the
parking lots and driven home. But smart has no place here at Pennsic. And
you will inevitably don your finest tunic, tie your mug to your belt, and
run to catch up with the Hot Irish Sausage. Oh well, that which does not
kill you, makes you stronger. Besides, next year, you get to frighten the