What Would It Be Like to Wear Chain Mail?
Such an innocent question.
that's skipping ahead a bit...
I grew up reading the Greek myths, and once I had exhausted those, the Norse myths. When I was eight years old, my family visited Yosemite. In a little gift shop there was a
comic book on a rack. I wanted it badly,
but my parents were eager to see the park. My uncle felt sorry for me and bought it. Always had a soft spot in my heart for that small kindness.
I'll never forget the cover
(much like the one at right): Valiant the Viking prince was
straining at the steering board of a longship, desperately trying to
avoid the rocks on both sides of his ship while crashing waves sprayed him with seafoam. His scabbard had slung around, displaying the pommel, grip and cross-guard of his sword. His
masterful helmsmanship had saved the ship and crew; the bubble above him said, "By Odin's beard, safe!"
It's incredible how clearly I can remember that image from so long ago.
It was just the beginning of a love for history. Over the years, I collected historical reference books, while reading a lot of
history, science-fiction and fantasy. I built a plastic Viking longship model. I built a model knight in armor (Augsberg, 1560.) I built a plastic model of The Golden Hind, Sir Francis Drake's flagship. Some airplanes, ships and cars.
Viking movies, pirate movies, knight movies. My brothers and I dueled in the backyard with wooden swords. A lot.
Four years at the University of California, Berkeley (major:
Computer Science) and six years in the California National Guard.
A great wife and three great children. Fencing lessons.
When I joined Pacific Bell in 1971, a co-worker introduced me to
one of his friends who was into role-playing games. With a small group of
what are now my good friends I started playing Dungeons and Dragons
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
and then Warhammer
. Still do.
Growing up is so overrated.
After a few years, several of us decided to go to the Renaissance Faire at Black Point
near Novato. It never occurred to us to go in civilian clothes. It also never occurred to us to dress
in Elizabethan gear like nearly everybody else. We wore our best imitation of
Dark Age finery. After all, I had a new mail shirt to wear.
Since I had often wondered what it felt like to wear one, I had made
my own, with a little help from my friends. (Remember the
question I started with?) We went to the Faire nearly every year for over a dozen years.
1997, I contacted Kim Siddorn of Regia Anglorum, the UK Viking age
re-enacting group. I wanted a copy of the Valsgarde 7 helmet, a
pre-Viking Age beauty. He knew Ivor Lawton, the craftsman who made the replica (and was currently creating the British Museum's replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet.) It wasn't to be; the artist disappeared into the Black Forest and I had to live without the helmet.
Sometime thereafter, Kim connected me with Douglas, who was interested in Viking age re-enactment. Douglas
and I agreed to meet and drive up to Lake Camanche where a new Viking group was getting together. At that lakeside encampment, we met Kay and Tory. Douglas and I joined their group, called the
Vikings of Kyrbyr
, a household of an SCA spin-off called
The Empire of Chivalry and Steel
. Later, I invited Dan to join us; he was a friend from an Atari computer users
group we both belonged to.
After a couple of years, Kyrbyr (which means "cow town") meandered away from the ECS. We did a lot of Scottish and Celtic fairs and an occasional campout by ourselves. We provided fantasy warriors for a student film production,
The Epic of Wayhelm
. We joined Regia Anglorum. We created a web page.
In 2004, we were invited to provide Normans, Anglo-Saxons and props for a History Channel
production being filmed on Mt. Diablo. It was a
of the battle of Hastings,
fought in the year 1066 AD. We met a couple of experienced
re-enactors there named Henrik and Mike (who lives in
Phoenix, unfortunately for us.) A second opportunity followed in
2005 and we worked with Henrik and Mike again in Los Angeles,
filming the battle of Hastings for another History Channel
Through Henrik, we connected with some former and continuing SCA members, including Rick, Brian, Ed, Melinda and Steve.
The Vikings of Kyrbyr
attracted a number of other
re-enactors, including Annie.
We eventually decided to
form a new group and join the Vikings North America, recently split off from Vikings UK. We called
the new group The Vikings of Bjornstad
(the name was primarily Douglas's brainchild). For over a year, we were associated with both VNA and Regia Anglorum, but
eventually dropped the Regia connection.
Colin, Carolyn, John and others joined us. We've displayed our increasingly authentic Viking encampment at many Scottish games,
played hobgoblins in another student
performed in Douglas's Conan the Barbarian independent
became photo models for NASA Ames, visited a lot of schools and
Scandinavian heritage organizations and now attend an ever-increasing variety
of events. We even teach undergrads about Viking culture at a local
amazingly popular; it's visited over
a day with over 27,000 visitors a month.
And here we are. That may not be the way it happened, but that's how I remember it.
When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Jack Garrett is an Information Systems consultant and founder of Garrett Business Technology. He is co-author of Managing Supply Chain Technology
. He currently plays with the Vikings of Bjornstad, a dark ages re-enactment group.