So teakettles and dragon scales! Off we go again on Part II of my incredibly belated Dragonfest 2021 recap. Let’s just pretend it’s going to be well worth the wait.
To set the scene (for those readers who have understandably forgotten):
It is October 31. I am at one of my favorite places in the known world, the grounds of a Renaissance festival. My violin is out, I’ve got my wool coat, my fingerless gloves, my fellow madcap heroes, and the second day of the festival is about to begin.
It’s also freezing.
It was cold enough most of the vendors and the Queen’s court huddled up in wool cloaks and scarves and hats and gloves, burrowing down into a burrito of fabric so only their eyes and the vague shape of a hoop skirt are visible. Everyone was lamenting the loss of the sun.
Except for me, of course, who was still out and about, even though there wasn’t enough blood in my cold fingers to play very nimbly. And the Frost Fairy, another wanderer character like me. I’m told that she was running away because everyone had been teasing and mock scolding her for how cold it was.
She wasn’t alone. One of the fire jugglers got booed because he was warm (handling live fire and all that) and his audience was shivering. So he ran off the stage and in front of the crowd at the end of his routine so they could warm their hands.
Still, I had a wool coat on, so it wasn’t too bad. I half thought it was a good thing, because I sunburned my neck pretty badly the day before. I was wearing a necklace on a ribbon, so when I took it off, I discovered a white stripe across the back of my neck.
Fun. But nothing a high collar and a steampunky dress couldn’t cover up.
It didn’t stay cold forever. After a couple of hours, just as I was wandering by the end of the tilting yard, playing away, the clouds parted and the sky opened up, honey-warm sunshine spilling back down on us again.
It was a good moment.
But since I’ve mentioned it twice already, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a huge thank-you to Morale Fiber for her Elf Coat pattern. It was just the thing for the faire and I got so many compliments on it with the giant radish-shaped hood, the corset lacing, and the pointy skirt panels. It kept me nice and warm the second day.
The only downside was everyone asking how long it took to make. I didn’t have a clue, so I just said “About the duration of listening to Les Miserables,” because it’s probably true. I think that’s what I was listening to as I was crocheting away. Green wool and realizing how little I know about battle strategy and Gavroche–but that’s the story for another day.
All this to say I love my coat. Go check out Morale Fiber. She’s got patterns for Tiefling hats and mushrooms and cool ponchos–what’s not to like?
I don’t have any good pictures of my coat (although people took a few of me) because I’m not supposed to have my “magic fairy box” out while I’m working. Otherwise I would gush over it more.
Anyway, the first thing I did on Day II was stop by the Goblin King’s again. The Goblin King is a wonderful character with one of the best Scottish accents I heard at the faire and, like any good Fae, spent both days eagerly welcoming “the shiny humans,” giving kids little pebbles and dyed peacock feathers, playing his character to perfection.
It’s also kind of funny to me that the King’s court and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s were at opposite ends of the faire…
After visiting the king, I stopped by the Raven Wing musicians’ area again, since that was where my case was hiding out. There were a few other musicians there too, and one of them made a sort of hasty apology. The day before, I’d turned around to find an older gentleman behind me, apparently listening to me play.
And then he said “I’m just going to follow you around.”
Cue me being slightly alarmed. Probably he didn’t realize exactly how that sounded to a young lady fiddler. Even then he explained that he loved music and just wanted to listen…I was still a little creeped out. He didn’t stick around long, and I didn’t see him after that.
Jump to the next day, and one of the musicians is apologizing because the gentleman was his dad, and turns out he just really likes music. From his explanation, “Dad, you can’t just follow her around,” “But she has music!” I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that he tackled his dad while I was busy being uncomfortable. I couldn’t help laughing. It was all really very sweet and just another way that everyone looks out for everyone at the faire–even when we don’t know each other’s real names, we call ourselves family.
I should also probably mention that I’m not endorsing any of the Dragonfest vendors because anyone asked me to. If I say something, it’s just because I really, really like their stuff.
Like Lady Jillian’s.
I seriously don’t know how I survived without knowing about hair sticks. And hers are absolutely wonderful. Not only does she have hair sticks, like the one I bought with the sworly marble at the end like a tiny planet, she has these clasps I’ve been unable to find anywhere else. I was determined to buy one of her gaudy ones to wear at orchestra concerts, and picked out one that I can’t get yelled at for wearing, since the beads are concert black.
Even if I could, I doubt I’d buy the clasps from anyone but her. Lady Jillian not only has the best, but she’ll help you find what size you need and will style your hair for you so you can see what the clasp looks like before you buy it. She did that the very first year I went to Dragonfest, when I was just a shy girl gaping at contact jugglers and laughing when I should have talked.
There’s also the happy memory from three years ago when I was browsing and had a good laugh at the two guys trying out the clasps in their beards. Lady Jillian was, of course, appropriately encouraging and pointed them in the direction of the clasps with spiders and skull faces.
Pirates know their fashion, right?
I’m going to interrupt myself here just for a little PSA. I try not to tell people what to do or read on my blog because you have a beautiful brain of your own–but this bothers me.
There was a guy with a booth shaped like a Hobbit house this year. He had a dragon outside his shop taller than I was and lots of witty lines, the kind of bantering vendor that is simply the best of all (I think the dragon’s name was Lili. Hailed from the distant land of Home Depot, as delicate on the outside as most people are on the inside–you get the idea. This guy knew his game and had fun with it).
I strolled by the first morning. His booth was full of wire tiaras like nothing I’d ever seen. Colorful rock crystals knotted in place like rows of rainbow crayons–it’s the kind of goblin-y thing a lot of people go crazy over, and judging by how busy he was, did.
I say this so you know he had good stuff. They weren’t just cheap trinkets. Expensive? Probably. Most things at the faire are a little pricey. The vendors handmake a lot of their stuff. It takes time. And they travel all over the country and spend their time in the booths when they could be at home–it’s a lot of work.
So what happened that morning really, really, gets under my skin.
A patron came up to the hobbity booth and tried to haggle with the vendor. Not like one or two “How much is this?” or even “Would you take less for this?” or “I’m going to buy six, can you cut me a deal.”
No. He trashed his goods. As in the “You want how much? I could make that myself for less.”
I was stunned. The vendor kept his cool and even sounded cheerful through the whole thing, although it went on much longer than it should have. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I don’t know if I thought it was going to escalate into something bigger, but really, it had gone far enough as it was. Why was this patron being so rude? It was embarrassing, and frankly, super insulting to the vendor. Eventually the patron left without buying anything, but I couldn’t get past it. First thing in the morning, on the first day of the faire, and we had an ugly reminder that we weren’t in the fairyland of our own creation after all.
Some vendors will give you a discount, usually if you buy a lot of something, if you come at the end of the day, etc. Some don’t put price tags on their things so you have to ask what they want for it. Some don’t. Pushing those that don’t want to play that game isn’t going to change their prices. And it’s really uncomfortable for everyone around you.
So please. Don’t haggle with the vendors. If something’s too expensive for your pocketbook (and sometimes it will be) and you’d rather make it yourself, sure. Go home. Do that.
Don’t be a jerk to the vendors. Don’t insult them for doing something you haven’t done, and for trying to make something good. We love this life, but it’s hard enough as it is.
Phew. Enough of me being grumpy. Back to the good stuff.
So the second day I avoided Lady Jillian’s booth reflexively, because my subconscious knew if I set foot in there again, I would buy more stuff because everything there is amazing. I didn’t even realize I was avoiding it until a friend asked me if I went back.
Where I did go was Lady Kiki’s booth. Lady Kiki sells handmade jewelry that is out of this world. Rings with clay roses. Earrings with pearls. Elf ears out of wire. And she makes the fastenings herself. I glimpsed it the first day, but someone always seemed to be there, so I didn’t have a chance to go in. And even though I showed up early on the second morning, most of her stuff was already sold.
I still made off with a beautiful green ring in coppery wire. Somehow I always manage to buy rings too big, even though it was the smallest size she had left. We both had a lovely time, noticing how it matched the color of my Elf coat perfectly. And she picked up a little green ear cuff which she just gave me.
I wore that ear cuff to the violin competition I went to, my recording session, and every day I was at university classes for the rest of that semester and most of this one. I’m not saying it’s lucky, but carrying a tiny piece of Dragonfest with me every day does make me feel more like myself.
That and a sword umbrella. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I bought some beautiful earrings too, although I lamented the fact that I’d have to find an occasion other than violin-playing to wear them because they were so long and would go bonk against the instrument.
And here’s how amazing Lady Kiki is. She said she wished she’d brought more of her jewelry-making things since she saw how much I admired her pearl earrings.
Guys. Lady Kiki was ready to make custom earrings for me on the spot.
And did I mention she likes the 2CELLOS? Perhaps it’s unfair of me, but I find it hard to think ill of anybody who does.
I did go back to the rock booth. Because I, like all small children, corvids, magpies, and witches, have a great weakness for the shinies.
I’d almost missed it entirely the first day, and stumbled in to find little dishes full of semiprecious stones, all of them cut and polished to shine, smooth or sharp, little animals carved out of rock, pendulums, not for any jewelry, just to hold and enjoy.
In other words, goblincore paradise.
I picked out two, a little piece of pale green aventurine and one of jadeite, both just the size to nestle into my palm. And then I did a slightly cruel thing.
I asked the vendors what the particular stones I’d chosen meant and put them on the spot.
There’s a reason for this. What I didn’t tell them was that the two rocks I picked out already meant something to me. Regarding the first story I entered in the Writers of the Future contest to get an Honorable Mention. Since it’s unpublished, I won’t say much. But the two types of stone are both in that story, and when I saw they had them, I knew they had to come home with me.
I didn’t tell them that. I was going to say they reminded me of a friend (omitting the fact that this particular friend is fictional, eats Twizzlers, and recreationally jumps off rooftops), but I chickened out.
I also flustered the vendor. It was actually really cute, because she explained her husband was much better at remembering all the meanings, but she’d do her best, and then he reappeared in time to finish together, as if they’d planned it that way, and send me off well with my rocks in a little mesh bag.
I’m sure my fictional friend would be delighted by the entire adventure.
What else happened that day? Someone flirted with me, which frankly was a bold move when 80% of my face was hidden behind a mask and giant sunhat. I laughed for weeks about my “bewitching Elf eyes,” since that’s pretty much all that was visible.
In retrospect, he was probably crushing on my violin, not me specifically. That’s okay. I crush on my violin sometimes too.
Although I think I creeped him out by code switching to Ren faire dialect in the middle of the conversation. In my defense, there was an awesome Merida cosplayer walking by, and if you don’t shout “Milady Merida, good day to you!” what are you even doing with your life?
Yeah, hopefully I didn’t cause too much psychic damage.
After that I visited the wandmaker, who is exactly what you imagine him to be and who always invites me to “swish and flick,” when I come to his booth, and knows all the types of wood he uses in his wands. I was playing in the green after that when, lo and behold, I spotted another fiddler.
I didn’t chase her down, exactly. I was determined to meet her.
We had a delightful chat about violins. Hers was a lovely dark wood, very pretty. But after we parted ways again, the wandmaker, who had been apparently watching the exchange avidly, said “I thought I was going to see a violin duel.”
I grinned and admitted I’d wanted that too, but I also hadn’t wanted to scare the poor girl off–we had just met, after all. Next time, we agreed. Next time.
I should also mention that I didn’t just drag a pirate friend to the faire the first day. On the second day, Gandalf the Grey and a Hobbit lass tagged along as well. I dragged them to the jousts, asked what they’d seen, admired Gandalf’s purchase of yet another walking stick (he has several, and now one with a little owl carved in the top), and had any number of amusing situations arise from having Gandalf in my company.
Like when I thought he was walking straight into the LARP archery range and he didn’t hear me calling after him, so I just yelled “Gandalf! We will not follow you into Moria!”
And then at the end of the day, when I lost track of them in the crowd and wandered around half asking people, half mumbling under my breath, “Has anybody seen Gandalf around here? Gandalf–where is my Gandalf…”
You wouldn’t think it would be that easy to lose someone in a giant pointy hat, but no, I did it, several times, in fact…
But skipping over far too much, we come to the end of the day. The final joust. The best part. In every way. And I nearly missed it. Gandalf & Co. wanted to leave a little early, but I managed to persuade them to stay. Last joust, after all.
Per usual, I was squeezed in the back of the Queen’s tent, soaking in all the details. Someone started singing “We Will Rock You,” with everyone joining on the chorus and like two people who knew all the words and someone in all-black wizardy attire thumping a walking stick up and down on the bleachers to keep the beat. It was good. We were ready.
We were also really tired. So as Sir Charlie rode out, bantered with the crowd, he asked permission to skip the stabbing of the hay bales and the chopping of the pumpkin (Halloween, after all) off an innocent patron’s helmeted head, and get straight to what we came for. The jousting. Two grown men on horses trying to knock each other off with a stick.
We were more than happy to oblige.
But you should know I’ve left out a very important detail. Somehow we wound up short a squire for the last joust. And m’lady Fleur, the troublemaker, the most terrifying fighter in the gang of mercenary steel fighters, still in her full court dress and hoop skirt from waiting on Queen E., happily volunteered. Sir Giles was supposed to be French, and she was playing a French courtier for the day, so the French stuck together at once.
Fleur is an agent of chaos in the very best way. So when what happened, happened…I had a hunch it was because of her.
What am I referring to?
Sir Giles coming out of nowhere not with a lance but with the final pumpkin we didn’t use and hurling the thing at Sir Charlie’s head.
There was a lot of screaming from the crowd. Me included. Even if he missed.
And since Sir Charlie always has to one-up whatever happens, of course his squire retrieved the pumpkin and he smashed it straight into Giles.
It was beautiful, really, sun setting behind the darkening trees, almost poetic, two chargers with men in steel riding, the spew of golden pumpkin guts spraying across the field and catching the light.
Lords and ladies, friends and foes, I give you the pumpkin smash, which happened only once, which poor Lady Robyn had no idea how to calculate into the score, and which was totally Fleur’s fault.
Okay. Maybe not totally. But when she finally got back to the spectator side of the field and I was like “The pumpkin was you, wasn’t it?” she thought it over and said, “Well. I guess, a little.”
Story goes that she had been chatting with Sir Giles, regretted that we now had no use for the lonely pumpkin decorating the front of the field, he said he’d throw it, and the plan was hatched. So while all of us watched the action, Fleur returned to the very front of the field, before our eyes, stole a full-size jack-o-lantern pumpkin with a little face scribbled on in Sharpie, and smuggled it away by hiding it with her hoop skirt.
And then had to consider when I asked her about it if she really was the force of chaos behind it all.
And that, I reminded Gandalf & Co., was why you always stay for the last joust of the day. Because when faire people get tired, wonderful, weird things happen.
So…yeah. That’s Dragonfest 2021, everyone. And just to show the achievement levels of procrastination I’ve unlocked, the season is technically starting up for me again because I’m going to see my steel fighting buddies today. I have waited through all the snowy weather to finish posting about my adventures. Cower before my procrastination grandeur.
But really, I’m just super tired. It’s after midnight as I’m posting, again.
So for the sake of my health and sanity, thank you for waiting (I mean, as if you had a choice) and for putting up with my poor quality photos of the faire trinkets (because my camera isn’t great but I really wanted to include pictures of the Coin of the Realm) and most of all for reading this ginormous 3,500-word post.
I’ll have more adventures on the way soon. And who knows! Maybe I’ll even be really daring and get back to blogging about books.