At least once a month, C.C. Nucker, who describes herself as "an ax-man," gets to pound on her friend Gaius. He pounds back, with a sword that hangs in a scabbard from his belt.
Gaius, rotund in a white Renaissance tunic and blue sweatpnts hiked up like knickers, explains that that's just his real name; he also has a "mundane" name, too: Rich Kizewski.
C.C. Nucker, whose real and mundance names are the same, works as a bank teller. "They tell us to take out our frustrations by stamping the checks real hard," she says. "I tell them I don't need to."
Kizewski and Nucker are players in the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia, a crowd of fantasy freaks who give themselves over to weekend wars and feats and dungeons and dragons to relieve the pressures of the workaday world.
Last weekend the Marklanders gathered at the University of Maryland for a celebration. Before the dancing and singing of ribald revelry began they took out time for an old standby -- a fratricidal war.
Of course, you can't lambast one another with axes every weekend. The previous Sunday the Marklanders had an offday. Instead of fighting they were busy working on their new warship -- a 32-foot replica of a Viking "vandersnek" or river landing boat.
But there was mayhem elsewhere.
The Marklanders' avowed enemies, the Dagorhirs, were staging a war outside the Rockville Civic Center.
About 50 Dagorhirs were scattered in a field, whacking one another over the head with cushioned hand-axes, pummeling their pals with foam morningstars and impaling their playmates with rubberized spears. All in fun, of course.
Braise Wiese, founder of the two-year-old, 120-member Dagorhirs, said his outfit prides itself on being safer than the 10-year-old Marklanders. "They wear chain mail, helmets, padding," he said. "Their weapons are much more dangerous.We're more for everyday people."
In Wiese's "wargames Scroll" -- the rules of the road -- he writes: "Many people ask me if their weapon is safe so I grab it from them, smash them in the head with it and ask them if they are hurt. If they are unconscious or say 'yes' then it's not safe."
What manner of recreation is this?
The Marklanders and the Dagorhirs are outcroppings of a strange phenomenon of the '70s.They take their recreation literally, getting their kicks by re- creating the sounds and sights and moods and paints of an age that expired 500 years ago -- "before gunpowder was invented," said Dagorhir stalwart Mary Dugan, an expert archer with foam-tipped arrows.
The Dagorhirs around her cheered.
The Marklanders came first. They emerged after Nucker and cofounder Bruce Blackistone got carried away with a fencing program at the University of Maryland. "We got into swashbuckling," she said. "While the basketball players were all jogging around Cole Fieldhouse we were slashing and smashing away with our swords, running up and down the staircases."
Swashbuckling wasn't enough. In October 1969, the pair decided to recreate the Battle of Hastings of 1066. They stood outside a hall on the university grounds recruiting warriors. Fifteen signed on and scurried off to their dorms to construct costumes. The Marklanders were born. Today they number 350, with units as far away as Seattle. Every year the Markland highlight is the fall recreation of Hastings.
The dagorhirs formed two years ago in much the same fashion, only they remain less structured, less formal and less deadly in their weaponry.
Both groups are overshadowed by the grand old monarch of medieval organizations, the international Society for Creative Anachronisms, whose members number in the thousands. Marklanders and Dagorhirs alike agree that the SCA has grown into a courtly crowd, more concerned with feasts and costumes than do-it-in-the-dirt battles.
"With the SCA," said a Marklander, "if you drop your sword in battle he'll act chivalrous -- stand back and let you retrieve it. A Marklander will wait for you to reach for it and stab you in the back."
Dagorhirs as a rule are younger than Marklanders and seem less captivated with historical aspects of their games. Marklanders have madrigal groups, elaborate costumes and fancy feasts.
The Dagorhirs, newer to the game, content themselves principally with wars.
Like the other weekend's.
The Dagorhirs were called to the civic center's field of battle by Wiese's war horn. Sides were selected and the two armies marched off to opposite sides 100 yards apart.
Then, on Wiese's second soundoff, they converged in wild, flailing attacks, padded arrows and spears flying through the rainy mist, clubs swinging, swords slashing.
"Hey!" came a cry from the field, "lie down, you're dead."
The war rules are hard. Weapons are festooned with different colors of tape to indicate their killing power.
An explanation from Wiese's scroll:
Any wound you receive stays with you till you go to Valhalla to get it healed, except if you get a yellow or blue hack to the torso and then get a blue hack 30 minutes later, you must die."
Or: "You are only allowed two reincarnations; in other words the third time you are killed you must go to Valhalla and stay there. You might want to leave your lunch at Valhalla."
Or: "The third time you get healed it counts as a death, using up one of your two reincarnations and giving the other team an extra point."
Neither Marklanders nor Dagorhirs deny that the principal attraction of their organizations is the opportunity to smack one another over the head with padded sticks and clubs.
Says Wiese: "Most of of our people weren't involved in organized sports in school, and they regard this as an athletic outlet. When we started out it was mostly just people smashing each other, but now a lot of us are taking it seriously and becoming expert. Some of us are studying fencing or archery. It's becoming a martial art."
But a strong secondary lure is the social attraction. Nucker and the others on the Markland boat work party said almost all their friends are other Marklanders. They sing together, fight together, cook and eat together, camp, make costumes, study, laugh and play games.
"There's no time for anything else," she said.