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On a quest for fun and wonder at Santa Fe Renaissance Faire

September 16, 2018

The clang of axes on metal armor reverberated across the dirt lot at El Rancho de las Golondrinas as warriors whacked and socked one another with all their might.

Some left their fights with broken shoulders, others with heat exhaustion after spending hours in the 80-degree heat of a sunny, late-summer Saturday, burdened by layers of heavy metal and protective padding.

All the fighters, clad in historically accurate gear, left the lot covered in grime and dripping with sweat.

Among them was 5-foot-4 Elizabeth Escogne, a social worker, power production specialist and senior airman with the New Mexico National Guard, and an international medal winner for the Armored Combat League.

As Escogne beat on men — some far taller than she — her husband, Mark Elrick, shouted encouragement from the sidelines.

“The first time she took the field, she went up to this 6-foot-5 guy and punched him in the face,” Elrick said. “He put his hand on her head and crushed her like a beer can. But she’s fearless.”

Elsewhere at Las Golondrinas, there were kings and queens, jousters and pirates, mermaids and fairies and mystical creatures — even a unicorn.

Violence, history and whimsy abound at the annual Santa Fe Renaissance Faire, held each September at the living history ranch in La Cienega. Thousands flocked to the spectacle Saturday, clad in armor, gowns or leather steampunk get-ups, or barely clothed at all.

Keziah Baltz, 26, of Santa Fe showed her friend Audra Lovato, also 26, around the fair — Lovato’s first Renaissance experience. Baltz was a princess and Lovato her knight.

It was par for the course for the longtime friends, who have attended plenty of Narnia parties together and other literary- and fantasy-themed events.

“It just fit with our trend,” Lovato said.

“It’s so fun to be able to dive into your imagination as an adult,” Baltz said. “… We’re still dressing like children.”

Wacky sights were abundant throughout the ranch. Onstage, a man in a jester costume threaded a straw through his nasal cavity.

A “troll” guarded a bridge demanding jokes for passage; he wielded a giant whisk with a rat stuffed in the middle.

And, of course, Escogne smashed people with her ax.

“I love the fact that I can just, with wild abandon, hit my friends and they can hit me, and we can have a beer after and it’s all OK,” Escogne said between bouts.

Escogne and Elrick, a retired Albuquerque police officer, have been competing in the Armored Combat League for four or five years. Each has a set of well-worn, period-appropriate armor worth thousands of dollars — Escogne’s 14th-century English and Elrick’s 1360s English — and both have competed in the sport on an international level. Elrick said his wife was one of the first women to represent their U.S. league overseas.

It’s a brutal sport. Elrick, for example, sat out the last half of Saturday’s battles after suffering what he thinks is a broken shoulder.

But neither plans to stop.

Escogne hopes to fight “till I can’t anymore,” she said. “Then I’m going to train people.”

Bill and Janee Jones of Colorado are drawn to Renaissance festivals for other reasons.

They both started attending the fairs as children, before they met and started dating in high school.

“Before I knew him, I was going to the festival, he was going to the festival,” Janee Jones said, referring to the Colorado Renaissance Festival in Larkspur, a destination open on weekends from mid-June to early August. “… It was just happy coincidence.”

Now married and in their mid-20s, they have some four decades of Renaissance experience between them.

On Saturday, they stamped passports for children participating in a scavenger hunt. The kids had to find satyrs — the Joneses, dressed as half-human, half-goat mystical beings — as one of the tasks.

Asked why they attend the fairs and even play roles in the events, Bill Jones said: “For the wonder.”

“The wonder in people’s eyes when they see some mythical creature,” he started.

“They think we’re real,” his wife cut in.

“It’s amazing to see that,” he added.

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