HUDSON — Middle Earth has arrived in the middle of McLean County's Comlara Park, where orcs and ogres are doing battle against and sometimes with “pinkies” — otherwise known as humans.
Armed with foam-covered swords, shields, arrows and other weapons, members of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society have gathered for the Spring Wars this weekend.
Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings,” some people get fully involved in the role playing with detailed costumes and face paint or colored skin. Others wear basic tunics as uniforms for the combat sessions.
Jon Diley of Champaign, this year's event coordinator, expects about 300 people to participate, including some from as far away as Idaho and Pennsylvania. They began camping out on Thursday night.
“They are intimidating looking, but they are an excellent group to have here,” said Brad Wood, the park's operation supervisor. “The place is cleaner when they leave than when they got here.”
The battles tend to attract the most attention. They take place in an open area just south of the main picnic area at the park.
But the gathering is more than that.
A small tent city has sprung up in the park, with many flying medieval-style flags. There are people selling leather goods, weapons and attire, although many people make their own.
At night, they share meals and gather around campfires.
“I'm a history buff,” Diley said. “The 'safe violence' of the situation is a blast.”
While the simulated combat first got him involved, the friendships have kept him involved for 16 years.
“They've become family,” he said.
Danny Hoover of Normal, a member of the Twin City-based Wolf Pack of the High Plains, has been involved for 18 years.
“Some friends of mine saw them at a park wearing silly clothes and we went and tried it,” Hoover said. “I did it once and I've been hooked ever since.”
Danielle Marcoux of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who goes by the name of Moxie at the gathering, where she enjoys role playing.
“I am a goblin,” she said, explaining her green skin — courtesy of food coloring that will wash off after “one or two showers.”
She traveled to McLean County with her roommate, who “started out by taking video of me and making fun of me” but now is “an ogre,” fully involved in combat.
The rules of combat are simple, as Diley described them.
If you are hit in the arm in a battle, you can't use that arm. A hit to the leg means you fall to your knees. Once you have been hit in two limbs or once in the body, you're “dead” — until the next battle. Blows to the head are not allowed.
Although people are sometimes injured, Diley said, “it's no worse than playing football in the backyard.”
Nick Kelleher, a “monster” from Dubuque, Iowa, who described himself as a “hat troll,” agreed.
“We take really good precautions,” he said. “Were not looking to hurt each other.”
Kelleher admits its “a fringe thing,” saying, “We're a big group of nerds … but we're here to have a good time beating each other up.”
He wasn't the only one to use the word “nerd.”
Ashley Nelson of Nashville, Tenn., said she found out about medieval combat though a Google search of “nerd community” while trying to find a diversion from “a really boring, dry job” while her husband, Charlie, worked a late shift and weekends that kept them apart a lot.
Now in different jobs, they both participate in the events, wearing elaborate leather masks. Hers looks like a wolf; his is textured to look like “dragon skin.”
Ashley is an archer, going by the name Arshank. Charlie, known as Tandaar, sometimes uses a sword and shield, although his weapon of choice is an 8-foot pole called a glave.
Charlie yelled, “Don't shoot me,” after his wife was sent to the other team to even out the number of archers on each side. “They split us up a lot,” he said, but there are no hard feelings if one “kills” the other.