<bt>From either end of the field, they charged, with clubs, swords and lances, while the marksman shot errant arrows from the rear, hoping for a hit.
On the field in the Saratoga neighborhood of Springfield, the members of "Gestiguiste," a medieval troupe of warriors, battled it out in the name of fun and the occasional battle scar.
"Every once in a while, there's a bloody nose," said Anthony Hernandez, or "Trent," a Lee High School junior. "My eye got swollen shut. It was during a night fight."
"I chipped my tooth," said Patrick Sobolik of Dumfries, known on the battlefield as "Calasar."
Hernandez and Sobolik are members of "Dagorhir," medieval combat re-enactment gamers that look like a cross between outcast Dungeons and Dragons players and a who's who from "The Lord of the Rings." The name "Dagorhir" is derived from J.R.R. Tolkien's Sindarin Elven language and translates as "Battle Lords." Decked out in black outfits and outfitted with padded weapons of old, the gamers go at each other with vigor, swinging and thrashing the whole way.
Timothy Hanneman, a 1997 Lee High School graduate, discounted the magic and mysticism connected with Dungeons and Dragons and Tolkien's series.
"We don't have any theme like magic, it's just fighting," he said.
The combat does have rules, though. The weapons, which start as a piece of fiberglass or PVC pipe, must be completely padded. Then the arrows and spears have a colored impact point, so direct hits will be counted as kills.
"Every battle, we test it," said Matt Hall, another Lee High School junior, who started by playing Dungeons and Dragons years ago.
"My dad doesn't like it because we all wear black, but I convinced him it's not Goth," he said.
All the black outfits were emblazoned with a sign, like two backward G’s attached to a sword up the middle. That's their unit symbol.
"We made that about 1996," said Harry Dinch of Dale City.
Loudoun resident Laura Perich, aka "Rainae," slashes away with the guys. She is one of the seven or eight female team members. At full strength, the team has 46 members, although not everyone comes to every meeting and tournament. Perich is also associated with another team in Maryland. She's gotten a javelin to the nose, sword to the face, and arrows to the face.
"I've had black eyes from this game," she said.
The tournaments aren't just about fighting and scoring points. They provide an opportunity to socialize.
"This is an excellent way to meet a guy," Perich said, noting that she has gone out with different guys from the game at different times. Her ex-fiance introduced her to the game initially.
"We all like to hang out together anyway," Perich said. "The friendship does move out of character."
THE ANNUAL TOURNAMENT is called "Ragnarok," which is the Norse term for "the end of the world," according to Dinch. This national event takes place in Cambridge, Ohio, and is open to a number of teams. Last year, it attracted 522 battlers. Springfield resident Mike Boone, aka "Erekose," is the unit leader of "Gestiguiste." He's been playing for 19 years and is one of the founders of this team.
"In our last event, I won the war god tournament," he said.
In Saratoga, passersby look at their practice like a gang fight. Cars slow down, and walkers take a long look.
According to its Web site, Dagorhir was founded in 1977 by a bunch of college friends who shared an enthusiasm for Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and medieval history. The group performed demonstrations at Maryland's Renaissance Festival and gained popularity in the early 1980s until the first Ragnorok in 1986.
One of the founders, Sean "Dominus" Richey, summed up the motivations on the group's Web site. Team members even look at the historical aspect, when King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table wandered the earth.
"When you're playing, you find out just how long they [warriors] last," said Soholik.
"You can imagine real weapons," Hanneman said.
"Dagorhir allows us to build our fantasies into a shared reality. To experience Dagorhir is to grasp at the unobtainable. Dagorhir allows us all to realize our dreams beyond the mundane existence of everyday life."