A young woman still wearing last night’s makeup hears a commotion over her Waterloo Park property fence.
She takes a sleepy glance.
Through crusty eyelashes she encounters a scene of wonder and bemusement – men and women, armed and armoured, yelling and charging, stabbing and sweating.
They are the Red Ravens, Palmerston North’s own medieval mercenary club, who meet every Sunday at Hokowhitu Scout Hall.
They have 20 members, most of whom kit up in authentic medieval garb.
They salute the Ravens flag and then take part in competitive battles and games.
There is display fighting too, where it is less about technique and more about creating a brouhaha.
Faint-hearted Ravens take part in archery, crafting and mead brewing.
Edrei Valath has been a member for roughly 10 years.
He looks like a film character and is struggling in the heat.
Valath lugs about 30 kilograms of armour around the battlefield.
He wears 11th-century replica chain mail, a helmet which took two years to make and materially accurate undergarments.
Only his shoes fail the authenticity test.
The authentic ones are sitting at home, he explains, torn at the seams from overuse.
‘‘At the start I came for the fighting but I quickly decided I wanted the gear.
‘‘I want to look the part.’’
Top of the line chain mail can cost more than $1000, but for members like Valath it is money worth spending.
‘‘I love it. It’s the activities and the variety that bring me back.
‘‘Nowhere else can you involve a bit of history, education, physical activity and dress up in one place.’’
Engraver and Red Ravens member John Flower’s pride and joy is his ‘‘perfectly-balanced’’ sword.
Flower loves to fight.
‘‘There is great scope here for developing skills or simply seeing how our ancestors used to fight.
‘‘You can read a book about what they did, or you can put it into action.’’
New members at the Ravens are introduced to basic fighting technique with wood weapons over a six-week introductory period.
Once they have passed their initiation ceremony the fun begins.
As well as club days there are inter-club camps anyone can attend, where battles take place over a weekend.
The Ravens’ own camp over Easter had 50 people at it this year.
Some camps get hundreds of people. Some get three.
Ravens captain Sef Embi has the job of organising his crew. It is volunteer work but he would not have it any other way.
‘‘It’s a huge social network – there’s rarely a weekend that goes by where we don’t end up at someone’s house drinking.’’
The club began ‘‘at least 13 years ago’’ and there have been a few changes over the years.
Four club members were in The Lord of the Rings and Embi thinks the movies have had an impact on club combat – particularly when they get students joining at the start of the university year.
‘‘We get a lot of newbies that come in and say ‘I saw this one move in a movie’ so we say ‘show us’.
‘‘What you see in the movies is display combat because it looks pretty. It won’t get you anywhere.
‘‘But if you have seen it in a movie and there is a historically accurate basis for it, we probably do it.’’
Embi says those who stop and watch what the Ravens do often believe it is more dangerous than it is.
The young woman watching has seen enough.
With a smirk she turns away and wanders back to her stereo.
Modern music begins to blast out from her speakers.
The Ravens carry on, fighting to the beat of a song made 10 centuries too late.
The Red Ravens meet every Sunday at Hokowhitu Scout Hall, 10am until 1pm. Contact Sef Embi on 021 134 9500 to join or to find out more.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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