Knights, ladies turn clock back during 'Gatalop'

Mobile Register, 10/26/03

Staff Reporter

Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island was filled with the sounds of men engaged in combat on Saturday, but it didn't have anything to do with the Civil War. These men were from a time 1,000 years earlier, when royalty held court, and knights bested each other with sword and shield.

The swords used Saturday were just wooden, but the participants sought to keep the rest of their costumes and lifestyle authentic. They wore specially designed metal helmets, chain mail suits and metal armor on their arms and legs.

Other aspects of medieval life were on display at the 20th annual festival called "Gatalop," but fighting was center stage. All over the fort's grounds, knights whapped each other with swords and deflected blows, looking for the one good hit that would bring the enemy down.

The best fighter there was a 12th century Norman by the name of Gareth.

His job in the modern world is in the information technology field, but at festivals like this, he is king. He earned that title by beating everyone else at another annual tournament held elsewhere. Gareth, or Dwayne Sisk, has earned the title six times.

He said he got into the medieval culture when someone saw him at a hobby store and asked if he wanted to be a fighter. "I said, 'Yeah, I want to be a fighter!'"

Most of Saturday's fighters wore several pieces of leather and metal armor, but Sisk wore less than most -- because he's quick and doesn't need much, according to one observer.

Noting the elaborate armor and dress on display around him, Sisk said the equipment has come a long way since he first taped carpet remnants together for armor and wore a Freon can for a helmet.

Sisk took on several opponents in the ring, each of whom would have died several times if he had been using a real sword. His trademark move, he said, is when he starts to swing his sword low, as if he's going for his enemy's leg, but then cuts up and knocks the opponent on the side of his head.

"They know it's coming, and still 75 percent of the time, it hits them," said Sisk, a tall, massive man who played football in college and has worked as a bouncer.

He was interrupted by a woman who said, "Excuse me, your majesty, I just wanted to see if I could get your van keys."

When people weren't engaged in tunnel battles or sieges, they lounged around their medieval-style tents. Some took courses on weaving or using herbs in medieval cooking.

For lunch, they ate food they said would have been served in Rome in the Middle Ages: a soup made of lentils, chick peas and barley; fruit; a feta cheese spread; and round loaves of bread.

The food was prepared by Lisa Blair of Mobile, who gets some of her recipes from the Roman poet Virgil. Saturday's bread recipe was from Pompeii, Italy, she said.

Most of the 300 or 400 people who dressed for the occasion are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group devoted to studying and recreating medieval times. The group was founded in the 1960s in Berkeley, Calif. Among the founders were fantasy writers, said Quin Rosenblath III, the president of the Mobile chapter.

Most of the participants focus on Western Europe, he said, but "we've got Mongols, Arabs, everything."

They'll all have to pack up by 10 a.m. today, when Fort Gaines will reclaim its Civil War legacy, and the participants will drive back to their homes in modern times.

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