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When I was a student, I had friends who were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is “dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe.” I love premodern art and literature, but I never had an interest in re-creations as recreation. There’s plenty about those days that I would never want to bring back.

A step beyond the peaceful weavers and mead-brewers of the SCA are the medieval fighting enthusiasts. The sport is very popular in Europe, and according to this article, the rules are as follows:

The weapons are not allowed to be sharpened, while stabbing, stamping and horizontal strikes to the back of the neck are forbidden. Other than that, anything goes.

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A photo from the World Medieval Combat Championships in 2015. Click for source.

4. Short-Haired Girl

“Come on, Tab. All the other fighters have girlfriends who would never miss the chance to cheer them on.” Mark sounded hurt. “Is this because you don’t want to wear a medieval costume?”

Tabitha sighed and put down her fork. “If I get a job offer, I want to be in town so I can finalize the arrangements and tour the facility. I can’t be flying to Georgia right now. You know I never promised that. Besides, I can’t afford it.” She let the word “girlfriend” pass without comment, though she didn’t quite think of Mark as her boyfriend. Her peripatetic lifestyle had made committed relationships difficult, but she connected with Mark whenever she was in New York, and they had been dating steadily for several months now. He was a fitness trainer with a Bachelor’s in Medieval Studies from Boston College. A longtime member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, he had progressed from medieval re-enactments to full-fledged combat, and was training for a spot on the American Battle of the Knights team. He owned sixty pounds of protective gear, including a steel helmet. His sword was named Giantsbane.

“Well, at least give me one of your scarves so I can say I have my lady’s favor. I’ll tie it around my arm.” He hit her with one of his sweet smiles, the kind that made his brown eyes crinkle at the corners, then drained the rest of his Chimay Red.

“All right. I’ll give you my blue one, to match your surcoat.” Mark was the physical type she liked, a big man with muscular legs. He was forty, but only slightly older than the average full-contact fighter. Except for little things like naming his sword, he didn’t fit the stereotype of the nerdy historical re-enactor. Nobody could fault his courage; she’d seen him fight great hulking men who swung their swords with crushing impact. The Russians who dominated the International Games were vicious opponents. Their swords were blunt, but that didn’t always protect the combatants. In one of his bouts, Mark had lost two teeth, and mangled a finger in another. A colleague had sustained a serious neck injury, with partial paralysis. Mark admitted that when he went into combat, he liked to imagine that it was the middle of the tenth century, and that if he lost, he would die. Whereas if he won… he would kill his opponent. One time he had knocked a man unconscious. He said it was the most thrilling experience of his life.

They split the bill and left the Schnitzel Haus, a favorite haunt of Mark and his buddies. Tabitha was always at a loss to find anything tempting on the heavily meat-laden menu. Tonight she had settled for the spaetzle with gouda and the misspelled “Ceasar” salad.

“And my lady’s other favors?” asked Mark, putting his arm around her waist as they walked toward the Metro.

“Chivalrous knights are supposed to be satisfied with the merest touch of the hand,” she teased.

“I wouldn’t say no to that. You have beautiful hands,” said Mark gallantly, then ruined the effect by belching. Tabitha wondered whether this was something she wouldn’t mind, were she in love with Mark. She was fond of him, and enjoyed sleeping with him, but no more. Maybe that was all she could expect at this point. Aside from a painfully intense infatuation in her twenties with an older man who had turned out to be gay, she’d never been in love.

“We can go to my place,” she said. “and I’ll give you the scarf.”

Once at her apartment, their mutual need for sex took over. Mark was a confident lover, and he liked to inject variety into the proceedings, sometimes spending a great deal of time on foreplay, other times tearing her clothes off as soon as the door was shut, and wrestling her to the bed. Tonight was a gentle night, and they kissed for a while before undressing.

He lay back naked and beckoned to her. “Sit on me, Tab.” She lowered herself onto him and he handled her breasts while she rode him, enjoying the intimacy of looking into his eyes. She was just beginning to feel the urge to moan when he said, “If your hair was long, this would be so much hotter.”

Her pleasure ebbed, and she stopped moving. “Mark, we’ve been over this before. I like my hair the way it is.” Tabitha had black hair in a slightly choppy pixie cut, and most people said it suited her. But when they first met, Mark had told her he was most attracted to women with long hair down to their waists. It was a medieval thing, she supposed.

“Usually I wouldn’t date a short-haired girl,” he had said. “It’s kind of a rule of mine.” He’d looked her up and down, and finally decided, “What the hell. You’re so smart and sexy and pretty that I don’t care.” But he did care, and every so often, the issue came up. Usually he mentioned it right after she got her hair cut.

“I guess it’s your choice,” he said now, sounding a bit sulky. Then he grabbed her hips and thrust upward powerfully a few times. “You’re still hot when your tits bounce like that.” It sounded like he was trying to convince himself.

Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss

Notes: In this story, Mark recalls that he once knocked a man unconscious. He considers it “the most thrilling experience of his life.” This idea came to me from The Eclipse, written and directed by Conor McPherson and starring Ciarán Hinds, Iben Hjejle and Aidan Quinn. There’s a scene where Nicholas (a real jerk of a bestselling author) is being driven by Michael (mild-mannered literary festival volunteer). Nicholas finds out that Michael boxed in college:

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“You ever knock anyone out?”

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“Nope. More black eyes than medals.”

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“I did. Brutally satisfying, I have to say.”

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As we see Michael’s reaction in the rearview mirror, Nicholas continues: “Oh, I know sounds terrible. But it’s the truth.”

Conor McPherson has a real genius for male psychology.