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Thirteen Kingdoms in Twelve Months: Burning Lands
[06/17/2010] [Randall]

It wasn't until after I visited the Burning Lands twice a few weeks back that I realized my trips were perfect for my travel expedition write-ups. After all, this wasn't Clan - it was a visit to one of their feasts, followed by a visit to their park in El Paso. That suited me nicely, since I really didn't want to do a kingdom write-up based on an event, so I've merged both of the visits together for this article, which will hopefully give you a bit of a sense of the oldest kingdom in Amtgard.

We often get visits from the Burning Lands - a couple of Saracens made the trip pretty regularly, and we even had Vinall and Giri drop by unexpectedly for one of our battlegames. It seemed to me that it had been awhile since I had returned the favor with a trip to their park, so I made a point to go to their coronation in May. Dragonspine attended a joint midreign in El Paso a few months earlier, so it wasn't that long between visits, but I really wanted to do the trip. At any rate, it was certainly longer than it needed to be considering our two parks are barely fifty minutes apart. With all of that in mind, Azrael-Jade and I got in our Jeep and drove to the Burning Lands coronation late in the afternoon of May 22nd.

The coronation wasn't in El Paso, which made it a little easier for us to attend. It was in Chapparel, which is a two-street town somewhere between El Paso, Las Cruces, and Alamogordo. Off the main road, there's a plot of land owned by an Amtgarder - Falena, I believe? - and she was really excited to be hosting the feast there. Azrael and I offered a little bit of help with set-up, but Firespitter and Iago arrived shortly thereafter and had everything well in hand, leaving us to catch up with Kurse and Verana. When Kurse traded his white belt for his squire's much shorter red one, I remembered the theme of the feast: sort of a Saturnalia, in which the nobles and knights traded places with their squires and pages. In practice, these seemed to apply mostly to the knights, who spent much of the event boggling at their white-belt-wearing squires, while running around themselves as squires or pages. I did more than a few double-takes at people during the moments when I forgot the theme as I tried to figure out when they had been knighted. Like the fairy-winged good versus evil feast from three months prior, it was something accessible that everybody got into enthusiastically.

The regular crowd shuffled in over the course of the next hour or so, after which we began to sit down at the tables they had set up outside. I did a bit of people-watching while we waited for the food. I've always been intrigued by Burning Lands feasts in that they attract a decent-sized crowd for the southwest - 35 people or so - but a lot of the people seem to not be regular Amtgard attendees. That makes me wonder at the extended social circles of the Burning Lands, and how they bring people into Amtgard for events like these. Those same social circles wrangled up a few people I hadn't seen in awhile, such as Gidget, who occasionally pops in at Dragonspine proper to see us. Once we were all there, they began serving the food, which (as always) was quite impressive in quality and amount. The Asian-style cuisine, a mix of foods, was very tasty and plentiful. They even had a birthday cake for Nikkoli, one of the Saracens, made up of black and red cupcakes in the shape of an S.

At this point, while it was getting dark - an impressive sight in the desert countryside, since all the stars come out - they started to get court going. Queen Artemis gave awards to several of the newbies at the park, which is always good to see. Someone was made a lord, and that provoked from our peanut-gallery table the familiar, but not quite as true as it used to be, amusement at the award death sentence of Lord-Squiredom. As the evening wound down, the new monarchy under King Kane was crowned, and then Kane - wearing the white belt he picked up earlier in the day in the role reversal - called the knights up to present Artemis with a scroll. Artemis was asked to read the scroll aloud, and in doing so learned that it was her knighting scroll in the Order of the Crown. After dubbing Artemis a knight, Kane, continuing to engage in the role-reversal theme of the feast, allowed the members wearing white belts to come forward to congratulate Artemis first, and then allowed the actual knights to form a line to congratulate her. I gave Artemis a chain and wished her good luck. After a little more conversation, and a few private congratulations to a few people, Azrael and I got back in our Jeep and went home.

The next week, on a whim, I decided I wanted to visit the Burning Lands park to do some fighting. Memorial Park in El Paso is easy to get to, just off Copia off I-10, and Azrael and I arrived in the mid-afternoon, having spent the last couple of hours at Dragonspine proper. They tend to start a little later in the day in the Burning Lands, and go a little later than we do too, so people who visit both parks will often do that - start in Dragonspine, then leave at about 2 pm or so for the Burning Lands.

When I arrived, there was some ditching taking place. Now, the Burning Lands calls itself the home of the ditch for a reason. In Memorial Park, there's a big stone bridge, and an actual, physical ditch runs under that bridge. That's where the fighting takes place, and it's called ditching because - hopefully, you've been paying attention - the fighting is in the ditch itself. There were about a dozen people on the field, so I strapped on a shield and waded in to lay some waste. The ditching was a tiny bit slower in the reset than I'm used to, since we tend to reset our ditches pretty quickly in Dragonspine, but not a lot of time was wasted between rounds. It was enough to get the blood pumping. I got to fight people ranging from newbies like Reanna (I assure you, she exists) to veterans like Firespitter and Kurse. During the ditch, I did all right, mostly dying due to mistakes like giving my shoulder up to a newbie. I learned that the newbies in the Burning Lands know how to exploit an opening. It was lots of fun, and despite wanting to preserve my ankles for fear that I might have hurt them before 'Rakis, I couldn't pull myself away from the ditch field 'til it was over.

After a brief rest, Azrael dropped some change on the dollar tourney Firespitter was running, buying me in. I wasn't paying attention, so I missed the start of the tournament while I was hanging out talking to Kurse a bit more. Once my name was on the list, I wandered down and got to fight a lot of people, rotating through newbies and more experienced combatants. With Kurse sitting out and Firespitter running it, I may have been the most experienced fighter in the tournament. I helped the Burning Lands earn a bunch of money from some of its newbies as they kept buying back in, eventually dying to Kitfisto after he figured out my feint. With my dollar expended, I went back up the hill to watch the rest of the tournament, and didn't do any more fighting for the day. It was getting pretty warm and sunny by that point, so Azrael and I called it a day, said goodbye to everybody, and drove home.

I noticed that the population at the park was much the same as what I had seen at the feast - perhaps about thirty people, many of them new and young, all of them excited to be at Amtgard. Notably, this was not the Burning Lands park I remember visiting as a teenager back in '93. Like all the groups of the southwest, the park was smaller, but that wasn't really the change: it was more welcoming, with the sharp edges filed down a little bit, making it a safer and more inviting place for young (and small) people to play. It's no wonder they have new members at their park, because they're working to make those people feel appreciated. At both the park and the feast, there were some signs of isolation - a symptom, perhaps, of a need for improved integration with the culture of the wider Amtgard community - but there were also the other, positive things you tend to see at young parks, such as eager, young, new officers, a general enthusiasm for playing Amtgard, and a large cadre of attached Amtgarders on the sidelines. I saw more women on the field then we see at our own park, and saw several families taking part together as well. The atmosphere was just generally fun and positive.

Next stop will be . . . I don't know. At this point, especially since I may be able to use a family reunion to hit up an Iron Mountains park in Nebraska, I'm not sure what kingdom the next article will target. We'll see what pops up. I've got the Emerald Hills, Golden Plains, and Burning Lands in the bag, and I'm gonna try to do the Wetlands, Celestial Kingdom, Goldenvale and Crystal Groves in trips later this year. Any thoughts on which park to hit up next? Desert Winds, maybe?

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