What happens when people try to recreate the Battle of Hastings, fought in 1066, more than nine centuries later?
A young woman, or wench, in a ground-length gown and flowing cape calls out, holding a bottle of 7-Up: "What am I supposed to do with this?"
A man in chain mail and sheepskin leggings to another in similar garb: "Baltimore TV is here -- did you know?"
Two men with colorful shields and vicious-looking metal battle axes chant as the Norman army spreads out before them: "Peace now! Peace now!" Then they lean toward each other and laugh.
One woman, breathless after the battle, to friends: "Did you see me die?"
Near her, a downcast young Saxon: "A wench killed me; a damn wench killed me?"
On Sunday, under a most un-English sun on the president's lawn at the University of Maryland, the invading Normans -- in what was said to be authentic gsrb of knee-length chain mail, tunics, tights, conical helmets and diamond-shaped shields -- routed a proud but doomed band of Saxons, identified by their shorter chain mail and round helmets and shields.
Once again, William of Normandy -- Mike Kozlowski of Beltsville -- had conquered the Saxon king, Harold, played by Chris Amigo of Columbia.
For the 12th straight year, the Maryland Medieval Mercenarie Militia and assorted medieval freaks hada rousing good time, as witnessed by about 200 onlookers dressed in latter-day costumes of blue jeans, inscribed T-shirts and fluorescent jogging shoes.
The militia's aim, according to its leader, Ruth Perks -- known exclusively in militia circles as "Greykell" -- is to recreate early medieval times with feasts, dance and musical activities and reenactments of battles.
Toward that end, the battle Sunday was fought with battle axes and, in some cases, swords -- by participants who had been tested beforehand to ensure they were skilled enough not hurt anyone.
Both "armies," each numbering about 50, kneeled before fighting and Bishop Odo, also known as Greg Canter of Greenbelt, blessed the Norman troops in Latin.
The wail of bagpipes played by Bruce Fahray (whose medieval alias is Fitz Erubyenraf, the mad piper) broke out over the field. Then, the Norman front line shot a bevy of cloth-wrapped arrows at the Saxons, who were poised on a hillock. The Saxons flung arrows back.
Jeers began: "Saxons eat Normans." "Your mother was a pig." Both forces beat on their shields, chanting "Harold" or "William," depending on their loyalties. One Saxon veteran of other battles counseled a newcomer: "If you accidentally kill a Saxon, no one will notice."
The fighting broke out. In separate attacks, the Norman center, left and right flanks advanced, chanting. With shields and swords, the Normans took about 20 minutes to send the Saxon defenders sprawling on the grass.
Said one downed Saxon to another, both in heavy chain mail: "I'm going to go back and die in the shade."
A Norman taunted one "dead" Saxon: "It's rough being in the king's army isn't it?" The Saxon intoned, "Especially when you're dead."
It was worked out before the battle who was to survive or die, and when This careful choreography led to some problems, however. At one point, a Norman yelled, "I got you -- you're dead," to a hapless Saxon who countered with, "But I'm not supposed to die till later on."
Soon after the rout, though, the flattened Saxons decided to chuck authenticity and take matters into their own hands. Crying, "Resurrect!" the Saxons swept over the reorganized Norman flanks and banged away at the Norman shields with their battle axes until the Normans fell to earth.
In other areas as well, the militia tends not to be overly strict about authenticity. Explained Bruce Blackistone, of Oakley, "There are certain anachronisms you just can't get rid of. A lot of people have to keep their glasses on to see if anybody is about to kill them."
Also, even though there was cavalry at the Battle of Hastings, members have found it too expensive to transport horses to the reenactments.
The militia was conceived in 1969 when a group of University Maryland fencers was seized with "the urge to swashbuckle, to run around and be dashing," according to Greg Canter, a founder of the militia.
So, in the same month in which college students staged a nationwide moratorium demonstration against the Vietnam War, 13 would-be Saxons and Normans clashed with swords and clubs in their first re-creation of the Battle of Hastings.
"We got some bad press," recalls Canter, a 30-year-old postal clerk who has been in so many reenactments that his chain mail is rusting. "They called us crazies, warmongers. We had to explain ourselves in the campus press quite often."
They find they often have to explain why they enjoy dressing up in strange and uncomfortable costumes and whacking on each other's shields with heavy weapons.
Members say they learn history from the battles and get quite a bit of exercise. Blackstone, a 30-year-old government worker and a founder of the group, is attracted by the "theatrical aspect" and points out that the battles are "sporting activities" that "require skill, finesse and stamina." He adds: a"Consider that it's another version of touch football -- we just touch a little heavier."
Ruth Perks, a University Maryland sophomore who calls herself a "rampant extrovert," says, "It's fun to stop being a student and just be a peasant." She adds enthusiastically, "It's really wonderful to get out your aggressions, to go out with a club and beat on somebody for a while and know that you're not going to hurt them."
Joe Marek, 25, a Rockville locksmith, observes, "It offers the opportunity to escape. It's been said that some people take their vacations in Ocean City, but we take our vacations in the 10th century."
The Maryland militia spread out to form a broad confederation of groups -- in Washington State and an area stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia -- called Markland, which group members say was the Viking name for North America.There are more than a dozen groups in Markland, with a total of between 500 and 600 members.
The groups recreate other medieval battles and fight without choreography in "fratricidal battles," using padded weapons. That means, says Perks, "we can bash each other -- and that shows more skill in fighting."