A little magic, honor in the battle for the cure

August 29, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Lord Tempest Blackthorn is your garden variety wizard, trudging onto a leaf-strewn battlefield armed with a long, slender staff and the ability to hurl spell balls at unsuspecting foes.

Trouble is, he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a boulder, let alone his little mystical weapons.

"I'm constantly teased about spell balls missing their mark," the Lord, ne Frank Dunbar says, resigned to his poor aim. "I'll end up missing horribly."

So instead of incapacitating opponents, the otherworldly weapons fizzle harmlessly to the ground and the good Lord is left vulnerable to the inevitable counterattack.



Situated a stone's throw from Jonathan Hager House at City Park in Hagerstown, nearly two dozen members of the medieval/fantasy role playing group Amtgard clash on the battlefield.

Talking rennaissance-era trash ("When was the last time you had a bath? I can smell you from here," shouts one combatant), padded weapons collide in a spongy thud reminiscent of whacking a couch cushion to rid it of dust.

Under a hot sun they march on, men succumbing to mock wounds and waiting for a healer to nurse them back to health.

A Sunday afternoon fixture at the park, the group is preparing for their autumnal gathering, the Feast of the Dead. But this year, the weekend gathering at Wilson Ruritan grounds west of Hagerstown could just as easily be termed the Feast for Life.

The Feast of the Dead Battle for the Cure, Celebration of Life will assemble two dozen of the finest warriors in all the land to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis.

Dunbar's wife and fellow Amtgard member Christine suffers from the genetic disease, which causes the body to produce a thick, sticky mucus due to poor transport of salt in cells that line organs including the lungs and pancreas.

"It's an extended family," says Angela Souders, a.k.a. Lady Squire Angela Mastersinger. "I enjoy the play, the adventure, the pseudo battles. It's all very exciting, but the main thing is the group is my extended family."

So helping a member of the family by raising money to combat her disease has become a crusade for the members of the Barony of Crystal Groves, the three and a half-year-old Amtgard chapter in Hagerstown.

Drawing 30 to 35 people weekly, the crew assembles for four hours of sparring and medieval merriment. Members create their own garb, fashion their own weapons and trade shots on the battlefield.

While Amtgard members will be camping at the Ruritan between Friday and Sunday, the time to see swords fly is between noon and 6 p.m. Saturday, when last chance qualifying takes place prior to the main battle at 4 p.m.

As Man at Arms, Dunbar is responsible for ensuring all weapons used in battle are safe. This weekend he will also serve as a referee during the battle, a daunting task considering these will be among the swiftest warriors in Amtgard.

Like the Society for Creative Anachronism, Amtgard members share a love for medieval history and customs. Unlike SCA members, the group takes a few liberties. Weapons are padded to prevent injury; garb worn by participants need not by historically accurate, just fanciful, and Amtgard incorporates fantasy characters into the mix, such as Tolkien's hobbits or dwarfs.

A veteran of Dungeons and Dragons role-playing games, Ann Vannoy - Azreal Blazenwood in Amtgard speak - says her family had been looking for an outlet like Amtgard before joining in March.

Like Dunbar and Souders, the game is just one of the allures of the group. All things being equal, she prefers the values of this organization.

"A lot of it is what people stood for at that time. There was much more honor and people were more real than these days," she says. "People were more honest about who they were, what they were about and were more apt to help others and weren't wrapped up in me, me, me."

An SCA veteran, Dunbar has been touched by the response to this weekend's battle, which is scheduled to draw participants from Ontario, Texas, Florida, Indiana, Colorado, New York and New Hampshire.

"We did not expect this. ... This is huge," Dunbar says. "I personally take it as if they've rallied around my wife."

With $2,000 already collected, there are still opportunities for visitors to donate. Souders hopes to have $3,000 by the end of the weekend.

Sitting in the shade on a hot, humid mid-August Sunday, knights, wizards and bowman fiercely engaged in the distance, Souders' voice catches when discussing Christine Dunbar's fight against CF and their small role in combating the disease.

"When we found out about her CF, it wasn't hard to decide what we needed to do," she says. "Crystal Groves is not just doing this for cystic fibrosis; we're doing this for someone we love. We're being totally selfish.

"The Battle for the Cure is the Battle for Chrissy for us."

If you go:

Battle for the Cure, an Amtgard fund-raising medieval and fantasy match to benefit Cystic Fibrosis

Saturday, Aug 31

Noon to 6 p.m.

Wilson Ruritan grounds

16204 National Pike

(500 feet from Huyett's Crossroads, on the right)

Free admission.

For information, go to or on the Web.

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