Few places provide as fantastic an escape from reality as EastWind Castle, Aiken's own medieval community.
Veteran Sherman Gills and his wife, Donna, are the owners of EastWind Castle, a 25-acre campground that they have transformed into a fantastical medieval village.
"The focus of everything has completely altered from its beginning," Sherman said. "Eight years ago we had a medieval Renaissance festival as a fundraiser for our group, but our group was just a small group aimed at studying knighthood."
The goal of the fundraiser was to build an entire "castle," but just one tower exists today. Sherman, who goes by the title King Keliance EastWind at EastWind, said the goal of the fundraisers changed over the years.
"The society of EastWind became the most important thing," Sherman said.
That society has grown over the years, and the village of EastWind is expanding as a result. New buildings like a great hall and a kitchen are slated to be built next year.
Sherman said that, now that the infrastructure has caught up, they are ready to double the size of EastWind.
"We have glow-in-the-dark Easter egg hunts," said Kaye Ferguson, who goes by Lavender Skymaine at EastWind. "We were expecting to get maybe 50-60 kids, and instead we had 400 show up."
This year, over 800 people came to the EastWind Glow Hunt.
In addition to teaching melee fighting and dueling, instructors also come to EastWind and teach women's self-defense at events.
"Anybody who comes out gets to learn," Karie Collins, another member of EastWind said. Collins' EastWind persona is Belle Goldenbow, and she is the Colonel of the Hearth Keepers at EastWind, and the lady's champion.
People who attend EastWind also get to learn skills like leather-working, smithing, fighting, brewing and archery.
"The events we do have mostly been fundraising," Sherman said. "We are now fully-active EastWind Castle LLC. We got so big ... We are moving forward in a professional manner."
Sherman, along with apprentices Robert Blanks and Shawn Collins, crafts and sells medieval bows, which can be purchased online at EastWind Armory.
Donna Gills leads EastWind Under Flame, a group of fire spinners that perform at various events throughout Aiken. Fire spinning is one of many skills taught at EastWind.
Donna, who goes by Queen Mysteria at EastWind, is also the general of the House of Archery.
There are three major games played at EastWind: Amtgard (foam fighting and magic), Dagohir (foam fighting), and Nukelanta, a post-apocalyptic game involving Nerf guns.
Upcoming events at EastWind include an Amtgard event on Sept. 28, and EastWind Halloween on Oct. 26.
For more information, visit EastWind Castle on Facebook.