Some people watch, read or play Fantasy. We found Montrealers who live Fantasy every day. In gymnasiums or church basements, they are training their skills to be great members of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
7h42 invites you to discover Montreal’s chapter of this parallel society: the Barony of L’Ile du Dragon Dormant [Editor’s note: Sleeping Dragon Island].
“Archers to the waiting line!
You may knock’ em loose.”
The Marshal alerts the Barony’s archers that they can now shoot the arrows they have in their quivers. Safety measure. Nobody is allowed to before this command.
It may look like a military drill, but the archers are pretty laid back. Despite the strength needed to stretch their bow and the high level of concentration required to accurately shoot an arrow on the target. They tell jokes. They tease each other.
A bit like a reading circle or a knitting club. Only they’re shooting arrows. Dressed up in medieval costumes.
“Archers done, bows down!
You may retrieve.”
That’s when the 17 meters walk starts. They reach the targets and pull out each arrow one by one. Some of them penetrated the bull’s eye. Others lay on the floor. The safety net stopped them from hitting the wall.
More experienced archers amuse themselves by hitting smaller targets like ping pong balls or fake plastic crows.
“Archers to the waiting line!
You may knock’ em loose.”
The tune starts again. It will resonate loudly on the walls dozens of times through a practice night. It’s part of the official SCA Marshal’s Handbook. But each Marshal brings his own touch. Pronunciation speed or choice of words.
Three Marshals are here tonight. But only one is Captain of Archers: Aragorn. He is the successor to Ragi Warmbear, who only held the role for a couple of months.
“Fuck it I don’t want the job anymore. I’ll take the lousy job”, grunts Ragi, that everybody calls “RJ”.
Ragi makes his own bows. And for $500, he can custom-build one for any other member of the Barony. Those who cannot afford it can buy their bows in a specialized store. Or else, there are a couple of bows hanging on the shooting range’s side wall.
Your weapon’s choice is important. Style, era, length and weight.
The SCA is a medieval community. They cover all of the Middle Ages. This means more than one thousand years. That’s why it’s anachronistic. A roman soldier can socialize with a ninja or a Renaissance swordsman.
But a modern type bow, just like the ones we see in the Olympics—a carbon fiber compound bow—wouldn’t appear as legitimate in the SCA.
Ragi: “It’s a different style of bows. What they use is a very long, very stable. Recurved. They’re designed to be faster and more efficient. But it’s very low weight. And they use very light arrows. Because they want the maximum amount of speed. And they don’t care for penetration. They don’t care for how well an arrow will punch into their targets. Just as long as it gets there consistently.
I use a hunting weight bow and hunting weight arrows. Hard maple wood arrows. It’s got enough weight to drive in one side and out the other side of any animal I care to hunt. Even a bear. As long as you shoot it in the right spot.”
Ragi: “The bows that I make are, basically, wooden long flat bows. Modelled liberally after the remains of bows that were found in Scandinavia. Some of them 7 to 10 thousand years old. So I’ve taken the basic design and modified it to my own aesthetics.”
Aragorn is also looking for authenticity. As a young boy, he used to practice archery. Thirty years later, he starts looking for a place to renew his ties with his old passion. Before becoming a member of the Barony, he tried more standard archery clubs.
Aragorn: “Olympic or sports style is too rigid. People have these things hanging from their bows: bars, weights, pulleys… That’s kind of cheating. That’s not what I want.
I want something classic. Like real. True power.
You feel like you’re part of the process. Actually aiming. It’s you that has to be able to adjust yourself or make your aim better. Trying to do the same thing overtime to get your arrows close together all the time.”
Tonight, among the regulars, stands Austin, a recruit. He’s easy to identify because he doesn’t have a costume. Also, he’s standing aside, under the doorway of the church basement’s room that the Barony rents.
Austin: “This is my third or fourth time comin’ here. I come with my cousin all the time. I do it just in case there’s a zombie apocalypse. You never know when a bow will come in handy.”
I ask him if he wants to join the SCA, to become a member of the Barony. He confesses that he doesn’t know what that is: “It’s interesting, but… I don’t know if I would dress up like that. Until right now, I didn’t know this was happening today.”
I admit that, myself, found the SCA on an online survivalist forum. That they teach ancient knowledge that is still relevant. And that you didn’t need to be a member to participate. Nor do you need to embrace their reason.
Achievement unlocked: Dragon Archers Discovered!
The first one leads to a community center’s gymnasium, in Montreal’s Westmount Borough, where other members of the Barony are all dressed in leather and metal armors.
They are bashing themselves with wooden swords, battle axes and polearms. It makes a hell of a noise. Tonight, they’re praticing their fighting skills for the next tournament. Welcome to Dragon Knights.
The second one leads to the other half of that gymnasium, where two members of the Barony are practicing their fencing skills. Welcome to Dragon Fencing.