It was sort of like getting your birthday twice in a year. I hadn’t expected to make it to any fair this year, and here I was, out of the blue, going to two, one after the other.
The week in between? I’ll admit it, there wasn’t the same giddy adrenaline shock of the first one. Of course, even I found that first fair a little ridiculous in terms of nerves. I’d completely forgotten I used to do this, but when I was a kid getting ready for performances, I’d hum or even just think “I Whistle A Happy Tune” from The King and I. Hoping some of Anna’s magic would rub off and I wouldn’t have so many butterflies. And there I was, years later, hands too jittery to tie back my hair, and it popped in my head.
I thought it was weird, since I hadn’t seen it in years…and then there was that moment of oh. That’s why I do that thing…
Honestly still not sure if it helps. Can’t hurt, right?
Anyway, waiting for the second fair was totally different. I knew I was going, so there wasn’t the should-I-dare-I-can-I-might-I tension. I had work to smash my way through so I could get the weekend off. I was tired. Some weeks are just like that.
But we had a family movie night before I headed out. Knight’s Tale. It’s pretty much what I would point to as a “That is renfaire,” movie, with maybe a few extra dashes of Monty Python in the background.
And before I get too far ahead of myself…
Please take a moment to appreciate this absolutely gorgeous Futhark rune box that I got at the first fair. I am of the opinion that you should always pick up a little trinket or two each year so when you’re wandering through your book lair on a rainy afternoon you can remember every adventure just by seeing them. I have so many little glass marbles and rings, leather-bound books…my hobby is slowly taking over my décor.
No complaints there.
The next morning, putting on the garb, getting on the road, sun above, squishing the violin case in the passenger seat with me–and everything was perfect. On to meet the steel fighters and play all the music I wanted!
Okay, a slight mishap. On our road trips, we all have our role to play regardless of how many people are in the car. I am, invariably, the navigator. If you get the reference to Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, even better. I keep the map.
About half an hour down the road…
…yeah, we had no map.
Still, we’d been there before, so we made it without mishap. It’s more easy than you think to hide a modest castle in the woods. Although to be fair, we did get lost on the way back. My fault. I said we should go left, and left led us straight to a washed-out dead end that could probably have passed for a river tributary.
Yeah, sorry about that. Apparently we were supposed to go right.
Anyway, I wasn’t lying about there being a castle. There is. We adore it. It’s at the summit of a hill in the center of acres and acres of oak forest, set so you can’t see it until you’re on the drive going up the hill, and then, through a gap in the trees, there it is. Waiting for you. In all its white splendor.
Of course, with all the people there for the fair, we couldn’t just drive up like we had when it was just the gang. Another irreplaceable part of Renfaire: parking on the grass in slightly crooked lines of cars and trying not to bite your tongue in half over the bumps.
Then it was just a hayride up the hill and into the fair itself.
Fun fact, though. Of the three or four people on the haywagon with us, all of them were talking about my steel fighting gang. About seeing them before, when the fight was going to be, even who they liked to watch.
I had my badge on my belt. We all have them, the same colors and figures marking us out in the crowd. Gets you past the ticket booth in a hurry. But I sometimes have a gift of going unseen. And I hadn’t been there for a year, after all.
I didn’t say anything. Just bit my lip and grinned behind my mask. Listened to every word. Of course I told the steel fighters about their fans after I was up the hill, like the good little spy I always have been.
Another fun thing about the fairs you might not know–each one has its own nobility. Kansas City, last I was there, has King Henry VIII and Catherine (which one, I’m honestly not sure. Howard? Aragon? Parr?). Most fairs choose Queen Elizabeth, but this one had Spanish nobility. I didn’t catch the full title. I hope it doesn’t mean a war between the fairs to mirror history since the one we were at before is ruled by a lovely Queen E. Unless there’s a naval battle. I could have some fun playing sea shanties…
Anyway, I discovered this about the reigning majesty because the mercenary steel fighters were summoned to a ceremony inside the castle.
We didn’t really know that’s what was going on, but we bumbled through the side door like the obediently distracted herd of goats we are.
The hall of that castle. Ooh. The other musician and I were all but vibrating with the need to play music and feel the acoustics. I’d done it once before…but I was quite ready to do it again.
Perhaps I should have felt a little more guilty about how disorganized we were. The king formally thanked our lieutenant for our services (free entertainment of bashing each other’s faces in plus music), and we all stood and clasped fist over heart (or violin) as one (more or less) out of respect.
Yeah. Distracted herd of goats. It wasn’t like we’d rehearsed.
I lingered a little afterward, hoping the hall would clear out so I could play without getting scolded for it. The violin’s a loud instrument and…I’m a bookworm. I don’t really like yelling over everyone else’s conversations, and that’s about the volume level.
And then, what would you know, but the lieutenant called my name.
The castle’s proprietor had asked him to ask me if I would play.
Asked. If I would.
Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha!
Yes. I’d be happy to do that.
So I played “The Wellerman.” It’s super simple, and as everybody went perfectly quiet in the hall and my adrenaline spiked, I knew I’d probably chosen wisely not to pick something more complicated.
I never know what to do when they all applaud. What do I do? I just played–did what I do–every day–like breathing–I should be so much better–
So I curtsied. It’s fun to do in a good skirt and that way I don’t quite have to look anybody in the eyes. I still can’t express how awkward I feel when it happens. In a good way. I think.
A little while after that, half a dozen of the sword-fighters were standing in a little knot, singing to fill the whole hall. Me personally, I have a high girl’s voice. I can sing Christine Daae’s arias from The Phantom of the Opera without really trying. This was about the perfect opposite of that.
You know I had to ask.
Would they sing “Misty Mountains” from The Hobbit, please?
It was a gorgeous moment. I didn’t see exactly how it happened, but the king, who had been on the dais behind us, suddenly materialized beside me as if hearing the song had made him fling himself down the stairs in a straight line to join in.
Okay, so maybe we broke character a little bit. We made a new friend. And I got my wish. Unbeknownst to them, I am fully prepared to persuade the gang to sing again. Often.
I could go on. There are always a thousand little things at the fair that would take a lifetime to describe and a second to experience. The miniature sheep. Top hats with goggles. A little girl paying to put her dad in the stocks, the latter of which grinned and threw her over his shoulder and carried her, screaming aloud, on our entire march. The patron outside the ring of the final fight who somehow got a butterfly to land on his arm and stood there, very still, as if it were some kind of delicate, magical falcon on his wrist.
There are some things that just can’t be described.
And the longer I stay, the less afraid I feel. The more comfortable I am to just walk and play. Because there, it doesn’t matter if I mess up. I can make as many mistakes as I want, play the Sherlock theme because nobody’s going to stop me, experiment, turn one theme into another, make the heralds laugh at what I pick as they threaten those in the stocks with torture, I can talk, I can not say a word, I can just be.
You know I’m counting the days until the next time we meet.