One hot summer years ago, I faced a choice between tourneying and answering the call to war with good friends. Never a fan of tournaments, always a fan of war and good friends, it was an easy decision. I packed Quinn, Otter, and most of my possessions into Gilos' newly retrieved black dragon, and bolted for the border. Crossing over vast distances of New Mexico--just like Texas but greener-- we determined that highway sign making is a lost art in that barren state.
Arriving at the Colorado site hours and miles later than planned, we were pleased to find a varied, large group of Amtgarders huddled around a fire. We set up camp and co-huddled for a while, and then retired to rain soaked beds to shiver till morning and the obligatory loud early risers dragged us reluctantly forth. Fortified with hot tea, donuts and bananas, we were off to war.
Contrary to expectations, the dunes were some distance from the camp. Loading our army on the back of the black dragon, we drove the mile or so to the sand and forded the small river bordering the dunes on foot. Splashing our way onto the squishy sand, we planted our flag and made ready for battle. Now I know how the Marines at Iwo Jima felt.
The scenario was the usual one: Home Team versus the Visitors. It's an obvious idea with a lot of merit, but I suspect it breeds more conflict between groups than unity within them. Whenever groups fight for the first few times, there are always disputes and often injuries. When the people you're arguing with are all of one "nationality", it's natural to blame the nation as well as the individual. Thus true wars are born.
The battle was exciting, but unfortunately one sided. Outnumbered by the army of the Iron Mountains, the combined forces of the Burning Lands, the Emerald Hills and the Golden Plains fought hard. One Burning Lander was brought down by injury, another by asthma. Nevron and Aegar took more knocks to the noggin than craniums ought to be expected to withstand. There were the usual rules disputes; strange interpretations of magic and class abilities that seem to be the penchant of new groups. Swords forged in the Iron Mountains seemed too thin for safety initially, but turned out to be fine-- although they bent like Yrkhoon whipswords at every blow. The throwing weapons were not safe. Four inch bean bags, they felt like a baseball when they hit. Torso shots were easily distinguished from headshots. People hit in the torso went whouff; people hit in the head just went down. I suggested they might assuage world hunger by dispensing with the beans and Filling the bags with rocks.
Many fine fighters inhabit the Iron Mountains, and they are excellent and prolific armorers. Wizards and Druids abound there as well. All magic in the Iron Mountains is yellow; fireballs, entangle balls, magic missiles, even lightning. We went into the first battle virtually magickless and lost it. In journeys past, it has been the habit of Burning Landers to play less combat effective classes when fighting new groups. Our advantage in experience and levels would usually overwhelm a new group, despite numbers. We played warrior, not healer; paladin, not wizard, etc. Eager for a rematch, we dug out scrolls and sashes and reviewed the rules of our more devastating classes. We vowed to win the next battlegame. But it was not to be.
We broke for lunch, and then tourneyed till feast time. I must honestly say that, while I watched the tourneys, I remember little of them. Tourneys bore me. I can say that the Burning Lands fared well. Argon won overall, Ahira placing a close second. Aegar won single sword. It seems that having a name beginning with "A" is a good start to winning tournaments-- at Arakis anyway.
Court was refreshingly brief, Rift setting aside the Baronial Coronet for a Ducal one. Just as darkness and the mountains' chill began to settle over us, we began the feast. The price was high--$8 in advance or $15 at the event for the feast alone, plus a separate site fee--but the food was delicious. Lamb, brisket, pot roast, ham, potatoes, carrots, salad and bread were served. After the feast, a very brief bardic was held, which I am sorry I missed. There was a simultaneous zombie battle in the surrounding woods, which didn't last much more than an hour before the rangers showed up demanding the 10 o'clock all-quiet. The rest of the evening was spent playing Hearts with cards and cloved oranges under the full moon's watchful eye.
This night was warmer, the beds drier, but we woke to a cold, windy morning with sprinkles of rain. Breaking our fast with pies saved from the feast, we warily eyed the black thunderheads pooled against the northern mountains. The Arakis game, planned for this morning, was discussed and discarded. Everyone began packing in the hope of outrunning the threatened deluge.
There was the familiar sadness of parting from friends old and new. Despite our differences, there is a similarity of spirit in Amtgarders everywhere. In spite of bickering, sniping, or unkind feelings, we are all a part of a giant family. Whenever I meet new Amtgard groups, I feel an eerie, deja vu sense of recognition, as if I knew them already. But I think it is only that I recognize the part of me that also resides in them.
Goodbyes said, we traveled with Andralaine and Aegar awhile. Eager to return to Falcon's Keep, we finally sped onward toward home alone. The roads of New Mexico are not so foreign once you have traversed them, that state not so vast when home is waiting on the other side. As Amtgard spreads, all the world will seem less foreign; more strangers will seem like lifelong friends. And the Burning Lands and home will always be here to welcome our return.
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