Live Action Role Playing, known to some as LARPing, is a misunderstood sport. Some of this has to do with the fact that it’s played by those who look like they’ve been pulled right out of a fantasy book but it can also quickly become a lifelong passion. Each year, groups from all over the East Coast travel to the heart of the North Carolina to partake in the midsummer LARPing tournament where hundreds of teams compete in a 30 acre arena to claim the title of Champion.
Usually, only the bravest win, but this year the ruthlessness of one team dominated all others. Though they were new to the community, they were bold and cunningly aggressive. After narrowly escaping ambush set by this group, Steve, Arnold, and George ran for the woods but, being one of the last two teams standing, they knew they wouldn’t be allowed to hide for long. They scaled a steep slope and hid behind a large rock formation known as Kings Rock.
Breathing heavily as they braced themselves against the backside of the cool stone, Steve and Arnold nervously surveyed their surroundings. A soft wind blew and the pines danced around them, their rhythmic motion producing a hypnotic ambiance. Neither dared to risk peeking around the rock to see if the enemy was near. George looked at the trees.
“How the hell did they get the drop on us?” panted Steve.
“I don’t know!” said Arnold.
They kept a heavy hand on their crafted weapons made from PVC pipe. Every LARPer took pride in their weapon, tailoring it to their strengths and wrapping the “dangerous” parts in foam and duct tape. Arnold wielded a spear because he was nimble. Steve used a bow because he was the sneakiest of group. George wielded a sword for its simplicity and because it felt familiar.
“What do we do now?” Arnold squeaked.
“How would I know!?” hissed Steve, “They still have five people. The odds of us winning are slim to none.”
It was times like these where George found himself useful. Being an average build with unkempt hair, brown eyes, and pale skin; he was nothing impressive to look at. In fact, it was easy for him to blend into any group. He was shy, spoke softly, and his opinions rarely carried weight. However, when times were tough, the group expected him to point them in the right direction.
“We are still in this fight,” he said and pointed down the slope, “We have the high ground. That’s huge.”
When his friends saw this, their eyes lit up.
“You’re right!” said Steve, “Okay then, I will get on top of Kings Rock and you guys draw them up the hill. Once they are in range, I will pop up and start picking them off.”
It was a simple plan but it was all they were able to come up with before they heard the other team rustling though the woods below. Steve quickly scaled the rock, leaving Arnold and George looking at each other, still wondering what to do.
“What now, George?” asked Arnold.
Having already served his purpose, George felt his confidence wane. Arnold saw this and sighed.
“We’ll draw them to opposite sides of the rock and hope for the best, I guess.”
George wanted to say that it would be better to stick together and fight as pair but, before he could say anything, Arnold was off executing his plan. George watched him go. His heart racing at the thought of having to fight alone. It made his feet feel like they made of concrete. He started to run to his position but his foot caught on a root, throwing him forward into the rock wall.
The world around him faded to black and wind moving through the trees was the last thing he heard before his mind slipped away into darkness.
When he awoke, he lay in the shade of a large willow atop a lonely hill in the middle of vast open plain. He blinked but immediately felt like his head was caught in a vice grip.
“Ugh,” he moaned and went to rub his forehead but was surprised to fell that his hands were thick and calloused. He wobbled to his feet, standing a whole foot taller than he used to be, with a muscular frame that filled out his chain mail armor.
“Whoa there, Sir George. Not so fast.”
A man came from around the tree wearing the same red and gold tabard George wore over his armor.
“Where am I?”
The man cocked his head and stared for a moment.
“That pack of goblins must’ve hit yer head harder than I thought.”
“Yes, Sir George, goblins. A whole pack of them you slew. Nasty little buggers be terrorizing an entire town until you dealt with them.”
After a round of questioning, George found out that he was known across the land as Sir George the Bold and made a living traveling the country on horseback, slaying monsters and evildoers in the name of the King. The man before him was Turner, his loyal squire.
“Come now, Sir George. We must be on our way.”
“Where are we going?”
“Hobbsboro, of course. If we leave now, we can make it there by sundown. Now, if you please, the last time we were caught on the road after dark, we got ambushed by wolves and I almost lost a leg!”
George mounted his horse, Bill, and they traveled north along a single trail that cut through the grassy plain. Though he had never ridden a horse, George found that knightly skills came naturally to him; like his muscles instinctively knew what to do. They arrived at Hobbsboro before sundown and once word spread that Sir George the Bold was in town, people flocked from every household to catch a glimpse of him. Soon, the mayor came out to greet them.
“Sir George the Bold!” he shouted, “I see the King still sends his best.”
George looked around at the gathering crowd. The accumulation of their watchful eyes gave him a nervous chill.
So many prying eyes! What do they want from me?
George figured that if this was his new reality, he would have to start acting the part; just like he did while LARPing.
“Yes. Only the best for those in need.”
The mayor led them to the Inn where he ensured they were fed and their horses properly taken care of. While George slurped down a hearty helping of beef stew and devoured a loaf of fresh bread, the mayor explained that his daughter had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom by a band of thieves.
“If I pay them, the citizenry here will starve this coming winter but if they aren’t paid by the full moon, they’ll murder my sweet Amelia!” he said.
It was only after he said this that George realized the dangerous task at hand. His confidence waned. The mayor saw this and frowned. George’s heart sank. Here was a man who admired him as the greatest knight in all the Kingdom. The courageous Sir George who single-handedly slew twenty thieves to rescue a peasant’s wife and now, here he was, shaking in his boots. He took a long look at the mayor and knew he had a responsibility to do something.
“I will rescue your daughter,” he said, “That, I promise.”
The mayor gave a mighty cheer and then told him everything he knew about the thieves.
“Their camp is a two days ride from here, nestled in the middle of Duskwood. A fierce and ruthless bunch they are if they chose to live in that awful place but surely they are still no match for Sir George the Bold!”
Come morning, George and Turner mounted up and rode out of town. People lined up and watched them go, cheering as they passed. George couldn’t help but smile. He felt larger than life, that what he was doing meant something. They were counting on him and he would deliver.
They traveled east for half a day along a dirt path that led into a dark forest. At the entrance, Bill stopped suddenly, snorted, and stamped his feet. Turner’s horse did the same.
“Something is spooking them,” said Turner.
George did not like the look on his squire’s face and the thought of a faceless threat stalking him in the shadows almost made him abandon his quest; but the thought of letting down so many good people steeled his heart.
“Forward,” he commanded and Bill obeyed.
They traveled for many hours and, as the deepening shadows indicated night was closing in, they came across a small cottage. When they neared, an old woman limped out to meet them.
“Hello there!” she cried, “It is not every day I see people come this way. Please, grace an old woman with your company and I will make you a proper supper.”
Turner took one look at the eerie cottage and shuddered. George heard the word supper and his stomach growled.
“We would be honored,” he said.
The woman led them into her house and while George spoke of his travels, she prepared them a whole feast. Soon, her long wooden table was set with roast chicken, baked golden potatoes, and all colors of fresh fruits. As soon as she declared it ready, the group dug in without hesitation. After stuffing himself silly, George plopped down on a rickety chair, and was fast asleep.
He awoke some time later to the touch of a leathery hand on his shoulder. After blinking the sleep from his eyes, he saw a silhouette standing before him. In the near complete darkness of the cottage, it looked like the old woman but her figure was now crooked and bent over, with long fingers that protruded from her ragged cloak. A dark hood covered her face and she spoke with a voice that made George’s skin crawl.
“Your soul is not of this world.”
George tried to reach for his sword but his body did not move.
“Do not be afraid. Though I am known as the Witch of the Wood, I will not harm you.”
George relaxed and found that he could speak.
“If you know where I come from then can you tell me how to get home?”
“You were sent here to learn something that your soul has forgotten.”
“What have I forgotten?”
“In order to return to your time, you must remember.”
A deep sleep weighed heavily upon him.
In the morning, he awoke to find himself, his squire, and their horses in a small, grassy clearing with the cottage was nowhere in sight. After a very confused conversation, they decided to continue on with their quest, following the forest path for hours until Bill suddenly stopped, snorted, and stamped his hooves.
“Forward!” George commanded but Turner rode up beside him and whispered, “We are being hunted.”
A large reptilian beast leapt from a nearby tree with its sharp talons and fangs drawn. Bill quickly leapt out of the way as the creature zipped through the middle of the group, disappearing back into the forest.
“It’s a reptilid!” shouted Turner, “To Arms! To Arms!”
The reptilid reappeared further down the path. Its serpentine body compressing back onto it’s sinuous, swept back legs as it poised to pounce. Its forked tongue flicked while it glared with large unblinking eyes.
“Your sword, Sir George!” Turner cried, “Draw your sword!”
George’s sword flashed out of its sheath but the beast saw how it trembled in his hand. It hissed, leapt off its hind legs, and charged. George stared at the reptilid, too fear-stricken to move. It lunged forward with its claws extended but before it could slay them both, Bill reared up and kicked the beast back. Unprepared for the sudden movement, George fell from the saddle and hit the ground, hard. The reptilid hissed and attacked again but Bill held it back with a flurry of vicious kicks. George looked up at his horse in awe.
He got back to his feet and breathed deep. Bill brayed excitedly. George held his sword tight with both hands and moved it to the ready. Giving a savage battle cry, he charged forward and, with one mighty stroke, severed the beast’s head from its body. The reptilid’s body fell to the ground in a quivering heap, muddying the ground with spurts of thick blood.
“Well struck!” cried Turner.
George smiled, wiped his sword clean on his trousers, and slid it back into the leather sheath at his hip.
“Let us continue on our quest!” he shouted.
He then patted Bill and leaned in close.
“Thanks for showing me how to be brave,” he whispered.
Bill neighed and stamped its left hoof triumphantly. George mounted up and they continued along the trail for a few hours until they came across the thieves’ encampment. When they saw him approach, five thieves quickly assembled in front of the camp with their weapons drawn.
“Well, Well, Well,” said their leader, “If it isn’t the King’s lackey sent to rescue another poor damsel in distress.”
A nervous chill crept up George’s spine. Turner stood close by, watching closely. He knew the next thing out of his masters’ mouth had to be brave or else risk emboldening the enemy. George eyed the thieves.
There are five of them and only one of me!
He wished to gallop to safety but then he thought of what the Witch of the Wood had said.
Remember what your soul has forgotten.
George straightened himself and in a commanding voice shouted, “I am Sir George the Bold! You will either give up the mayor’s daughter or I will slay you in the King’s name!”
Visibly shaken but not deterred, the thieves stood shoulder to shoulder and gripped their weapons tight.
“Very well,” George boomed, “Forward!”
Bill reared back, kicked its front hooves, and charged forward. George glared, his sword pointed directly at the leader. Seeing this heroic display, the thieves scattered and ran for their lives. The battle was over before it even began.
“Huzzah!” Turner shouted, “Well done!”
He rode up beside his master and gave a look of respect unlike any he gave before. The two of them then found the mayor’s daughter and freed her from her bonds.
“Oh thank you, Sir George,” she said, “Never had I seen such bravery!”
George smiled as she kissed him on the cheek. He opened his mouth to say something but, the world around him faded from view until he was but a singular conscience in a black void.
When he awoke, he was back at Kings Rock, with his aching head atop a rough pile of leaves.
“Help! Help!” Arnold cried nearby.
George was on his feet in an instant and rushed to his friend’s aid. Arnold stood alone at the top of the slope, keeping three enemy combatants at a distance with his long spear but was quickly losing ground. Further down, two bodies lay motionless, holding rubber arrows at their chests. A myriad of other arrows were scattered around them.
George charged. When the enemy saw him coming, he raised his sword and shouted, “I am Sir George the Bold! Surrender or I will slay you where you stand!”
The sheer confidence in his voice made the other team freeze, allowing Steve to take one of them out with a single thrust of his spear. George charged in and took care of the rest, his sword moving gracefully from one combatant to the next until they both lay motionless at his feet. George had just won his team the championship round.
“Where did that come from?” Arnold cried.
“That was amazing!” Steve said as he got down from his perch.
After everyone consolidated back at home base, George’s team was called in front hundreds of others to receive the championship trophy. Everyone cheered as George held the trophy high for all to see.
“All hail, Sir George the Bold,” they cried, “May he never forget the courage he showed here today!”