NEW MEMBER'S DIARY 2011-2012
First Battle: 09th October 2011
I woke after a slightly warmer, if not more windy, night and before I knew what had hit me I was
in the main arena with a spear and shield. The Master-at-Arms examined my weapons, checking
the spear point and the shield rim for any sharp areas which might cause actual 21st
injury. After this I found myself facing a warrior in a bright red tunic — indicating that he was a more
wealthy individual than me, maybe even a thegn or a baron. This mattered now, he was the man
who would determine if I could fight in to-day’s battle. He started by saying two words:
I stabbed him in the stomach.
“Good”, he said, “again”
I stabbed him in the chest, then in the hip.
After a while of this he then started attacking me, we both acknowledged each other’s hits. After
no more than 20 minutes, he said that was enough, and confirmed to the Master-at-Arms that I was
I didn’t even leave the arena, but found myself in a loose shield wall advancing towards another
shield wall in a series of training sessions. Alan (or Ulf I suppose, since we’re now in character)
was our army’s leader, but I couldn’t understand a word he said. Some mumble meant Advance
another incomprehensible shout meant Weapons Ready
, I only knew what to do by mimicking the
I found myself facing a man with similar clothes as me. He too was armed only with a spear, but
something told me that this was no easy kill. Two of us faced him, as he seemed distracted by the
other I jabbed out, but he deflected my spear like shooing a fly. Before I had recovered, a jab from
a spear, maybe his, into my guts had me fall to the floor.
The next session followed in a similar vein, and it was only in my third session that I could claim
a “kill”. I’m still not sure that this was my kill, for the victim was cornered by three people, and as
I jabbed into his buttocks, two other spears from two other warriors stabbed his front and he fell
down a convincingly lifeless mass.
Another practice, I found myself alone and facing the backs of three warriors fighting off three
more. I approached, ready to stab them in the behind, when I suddenly realised that I didn’t know
whose side they were on. I hesitated, in what must have been obvious confusion, for the Master-at-Arms
yelled at me, saying:
“They’re on your side!”
But I didn’t know of whom he spoke, so just hovered there until one of the sides prevailed. Luckily
it was my side who won and I wasn’t then chopped to pieces.
Another time had me face, mano-a-mano, the same individual who I had faced before. He was
armed only with a spear, or so I thought, for as I jabbed at him, he dropped his spear, ran behind
me, grabbed me and sliced me across my chest with a sword in what must have been the most
visually pleasing kill of the day.
Soon, the thegn who had okayed me changed the game to a one-on-one combat. By this time,
the Master-at-Arms had joined the other team and he stepped into the arena with an obvious
confidence. Someone from our team stepped in, was stabbed, and had to withdraw. This
happened to about six more of our warriors, including Ulf. The Master-at-Arms as yet undefeated.
I didn’t want to be last, so stepped in thinking that maybe he’d go easy on a newbie like me. I saw
a grin on his face, and he adorned my shoulder with an extra bruise before I realised the combat
had even begun. I retired. No-one defeated him that round.
The final training session was an interesting one. We all paired up with someone, one had the
shield, and one had the weapon. I was with Ulf, and had the spear. This was the time when
I had my first undisputed kill, for as Alan held the spear of our opponents, I circled round and
stabbed them in the arse. I repeated this two more times before I was eventually felled. The next
two rounds saw us get disposed of very promptly, first by the backstabbing Westcentingas who
stabbed me in the back, and secondly by that same duo in more even combat.
The training was over, and I went back to the wyc for lunch. Soon would be the battle.
Lunch was soup, and a very nice soup too. Carole, wife of Alan and head of the wyc, had
prepared the soup during the morning practice and seeing it poured into a wooden bowl I’d
borrowed was a very welcome sight. Being in the year 1086, the soup was sans potatoes, but did
have orange carrots which I suppose can be forgiven — I just made sure I ate them before some
smartalec member of the public pointed out that carrots weren’t orange in 1086. This was a real
danger, as there were many members of the public who were curious enough to ask intelligent
questions. One question I was asked was why there weren’t any potatoes in my soup — too close
to the carrots for comfort!
Between our wyc and the neighbouring wyc of the Hæstingas, the Sussex Regium, Paul —
another Paul — spent the whole weekend lighting and putting out fires, which never failed to draw
a crowd. He started by striking some high-carbon steel against a flint to get a spark. Ordinarily
this microscopic sliver of steel would cool and disappear into the aether before its heat could be
harnessed, but Paul held a small square of charred linen, which caught and smouldered slowly.
Then he placed it in a bundle of dry grass and blew upon it until it burst into flames. All this time
he answered questions from the curious public, and he was the only person to draw a crowd from
amongst the 11th
-century population as well.
Half an hour before the battle, we mustered behind the row of tents. Here we had our weapons
checked once more by the Master-at-Arms and were then divided quite randomly into two groups
– one would fight for the previous English king — Eadgar II “the Ætheling”, whilst the other would
fight for the incumbent King William I “the Conqueror”. Or rather, one would fight for Thegn Eadric
and the other for Duke fitzAmos in a small skirmish forming part of
Eadgar the Ætheling’s last attempt to re-claim the English throne. I was very close to the spear
point which divided the two teams, but found myself in Thegn Eadric’s shieldwall.
There are some in Regia who will never fight for a Norman, and a few of these people made
themselves known by walking to the English side of the spear. I personally see no problem in
fighting as a Norman, a Norseman or an Anglo-Saxon, you can’t re-create a battle with only
one side after all, but deep down I was happy that my first battle saw me amongst an English
We took to the field before the Normans, and marched up and down to please the crowd. Some of
us walked to the perimeter so the public could see our matériel, all as instructed by the Master-at-Arms,
who was in the rôle of Eadric and therefore our army’s leader.
We re-formed the shieldwall in good time for fitzAmos and his retinue to approach. The Duke was
riding a horse, but his retinue were infantry in a loose shieldwall like us. Thegn Eadric and the
Duke stepped forward to discuss the situation: the Battle of Hastings was 20 years ago and we
were berated for taking to the field. I was only 5 or so yards behind the Eadric, and held my spear
in a way that hopefully the audience interpreted as a loyal warrior ready to defend his master, but I
was more concerned with not startling the horse, so my actions were somewhat muted.
The parley concluded, the battle begun as fitzAmos rode back behind his shieldwall.
I had been told that the battle was comprised of three sections:
- 1st Mêlée — a weapon on shield action where no-one dies.
- 2nd Mêlée — another weapon on shield action where no-one dies
- 3rd Mêlée — the final competative action where people die if hit.
The shieldwall advanced with the heavily armoured troops on the left flank and us lightly armoured
warriors on the right. We soon found ourselves facing fitzAmos’ retinue, I thrust my spear against
the white shield of the warrior facing me as my shield was also hit. This continued until Eadric
instructed us to withdraw.
Us lightly armoured warriors withdrew in good order, but the heavier troops kept fighting and Eadric
ran out to restore discipline and had them reform some 20 yards from the Norman line, we then
withdrew a little further. The Norman Lord rode around us on his horse, but apart from that the
two forces stood motionless facing one another. Eadric walked up and down the line, telling us
the next mode of attack: the heavy troops would advance, with the light warriors following three
I counted to three and advanced, only to find myself facing the same white shield as before. I
turned momentarily to strike and a green, white and red shield to my left, and a spear got round
my shield and brushed my stomach. Ordinarily that would have been a kill, and I instinctively fell
back whilst yelling “argh” in recognition of the hit. I would have fallen to the ground and remained
a lifeless lump for the rest of the battle had I not realised that it was still Mêlée № 2, and hits didn’t
We fell back again and were about to advance once more into the fray. My heart was pumping,
I hadn’t had this much exercise since climbing hills in Scotland five months ago, and I felt I could do with a few
minutes respite. This was provided, I am thankful to say, by the Norman Duke who rode out in
front of Eadric and silently blocked our advance. Despite being on a horse, he would have been
an easy kill as his shieldwall was some 30 yards behind him, but this signified another parley and I
leant on my spear making the most of the rest.
Parley over (I don’t recall what was said — something about us all being hunted down like the
treacherous dogs we were), the mounted Lord retreated behind his shieldwall and the battle
This was it, this was the deadly battle. I heard Kim say something about weapons feeling heavy
in the hand, but I felt okay after that small break. This time I was on the right flank, and carefully
kept the line of the shield wall as I advanced. I fully expected to die, yesterday the Normans had
prevailed and everyone was saying how a newbie always dies in his first few battles. Right on cue,
as I faced a line of Norman shields and spear points, a spear thrust past my shield and struck me
on the thumb, continuing down to just past my wrist. Again I exclaimed “urgh”, but since that isn’t
the agreed target area, I continued fighting. I looked to the left of the line as we fell back against
the Norman onslaught, and saw one of the Westcentingas had fallen and was lying beneath his
distinctive kite shield.
Somehow I found myself one of three members pitched against a single Norman, I hadn’t even
properly registered this fact before he was felled by a forest of spears. The three of us then circled
round to flank the remaining Norman line, and found that only a couple remained. I advanced
toward them, approaching just as the final Norman soldier was felled not two yards from the
observing public. I looked around, expecting to see half the Duke’s retinue still fighting, or even a
trap which would see us all cornered and stabbed in the back. But the whole Norman army was
dispensed. Only fitzAmos himself remained, dismounted and locked into combat with Eadric. I
marched towards the two leaders, and soon I held one of many spears which surrounded him.
Eadric now gave him the chance to live, but it was not taken and he was dispatched with a sword
cut across the chest.
Eadric’s retinue was all-but intact. The whole of Sceaftesige had survived. It is practically
unknown for a newbie to survive his first battle but so overwhelming was our victory that my
survival seemed nothing special, although I wasn’t sure what had hit me. I mentioned to Alan
that I fully expected to be slain, and that I was slightly looking forward to the rest which dieing
The dead had arisen and the public were in the arena examining our weapons and armour. We answered
questions and let the curious spectators handle spears and shields; a kid asked to look at Alan’s sword;
Alan duly handed it across and was rewarded by a swift jab in the guts.
Once the public had dispersed, a simple deathmatch was initiated, and I faced Alan over the rim of
my shield. He closed the distance and shortened his spear accordingly, my weapon was useless
and he stabbed me in the buttocks. As I fell to the ground, I heard him say:
“Enjoy your rest”
Despite this, I was hailed as a lucky charm, a newbie who survived his first ever battle. For the
next few hours, “I survived” never strayed far from my lips as I made sure everyone in Lamerwic knew.