Theme is 1580, give or take a century |

Theme is 1580, give or take a century

She was living a comfortable life in Burgundy when her husband decided to join the crusades. Not trusting any of his knights to keep her safe, she was forced to join her husband in the holy land.

It wasn’t so bad. At least not until he died, leaving her unprotected and alone in a foreign land in the early years of the 12th century. To survive, the Viscountess Nikki Bergstadt was forced to become Shada Samira Maisha. Her gentle woman skills paid off and she found work with a seamstress. She also learned to dance.

At the Valhalla Renaissance Festival Shada is an anachronism. She is a person out of time, living and dying well before the reign of Elizabeth I. But as a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism Shada, or Nikki Niebauer, fits right in.

“I wouldn’t be here,” Niebauer admitted looking around the festival grounds. “But for that matter that is true about a lot of characters portrayed here.”

The festival is suppose to be set in the year 1580 but the time periods of the costumes range. Overflowing bodices are side by side with outfits of a more Victorian nature, and one festival participant looked like she stepped off the set of Xena Warrior Princess. There are no history police here.

Society members tend to be a little more meticulous.

“You can put as much, or as little as you like into it,” Niebauer explained. “But many members have extensive libraries on medieval history and do a lot of research.”

The Society, or SCA, has been a part of the pageantry at Camp Richardson for the last several years. Members don armor and battle each other on the tournament field. Teachers, secretaries, and other professionals put on their “personas” and gather at the encampment, and in the process possibly interest new members.

Originating in Berkeley in 1966, the SCA has since spread across the United States and into Europe, the western Pacific and Australia. The nonprofit group is split up into kingdoms and then into principalities complete with kings and queens, princes and princesses. But you won’t run into Henry VIII or Richard the Lion Heart. Members can not steal identities. They must develop a personality who might have lived in that era. That is how Shada was born.

“Through research I deduced that it could have literally happened to a woman in that time period. Women taken on crusades were abandoned by the circumstances of war in the Middle East,” Niebauer said.

When she is not surviving the rigors of the 12th century, Niebauer works in the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office. She also teaches belly dancing at the Lake Tahoe Community College.

Dianne Karp, a teacher from Reno, or Shiobhan Ni Seaghdha said the attention to history and detail is part of what makes the experience real for SCA members. Last weekend she was defending her honor on the tournament field right along with the men.

“It is not widely known, but it wasn’t unheard of for women to fight alongside the men. Queens would lead their troops into battle and fight,” she said shedding her armor and revealing several old bruises.

Although the weapons used only simulate the feel of steel they can sting. Karp pointed at the bruises assuring everyone that they were only minor hurts. In fact they are proud to announce that no one in the society has ever been seriously injured in the tournaments.

Karp and others in the tent said they are bound together by a love of the Middle Ages and history, but when pressed none were terribly eager to go back in time.

“We re-create the middle ages as it should have been,” Niebauer said. “Not quite exactly as it was.”

The Valhalla Renaissance Festival continues at Camp Richardson this weekend. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Ticket prices are $9 for adults; $6 for seniors; $4 for children 6 to 12; children under 5 are free.

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