So to say there has been chaos in my home lately is an understatement.
There has been chaos. Understatement made.
But it’s also June! And for those of you who don’t know, June is the month when I read far too much, hunt for fireflies, and watch the Days, hours, minutes and seconds until next faire counter on the White Hart website tick slowly down to zero.
I love faire sites with the countdown timer. Makes it all so much more exciting.
But with the whole graduation thing and crashing and being sick for a couple of weeks, it slipped my attention until the calendar flipped to June and suddenly the faire is ten days away? That’s it?
I haven’t been to a faire since October (yes, read the post please, read the post), so I was very ready for this. And I am sentimental for White Hart. It’s one of the faires I went to as a kid, so it has a special place in my heart.
And since I went last year with my mercenary steel fighting buddies, I popped a message to one of them asking if we were on the crew again this year.
(Cue sounds of bookmarkedone being emotionally crushed).
I hadn’t actually realized how excited I was for White Hart until I realized the gang wasn’t going.
But that’s alright. Just because I wasn’t working the faire didn’t mean I couldn’t go to the faire. As myself. Just for fun.
And I haven’t done that since…oh…
…(whispers) cancelled for Plague in 2020…Dragonfest the year before that…uh…I didn’t even realize I’ve been doing this for that long…
Let’s just say it’s been a few years, okay?
And my pirate buddy (yes, the same one from the Dragonfest 2021 post) wanted to tag along, so before you say “turkey leg,” we had a plan to go as patrons.
In costume, of course. Like, seriously. How could you not go in costume?
So I gathered my buddies and counted my crew, hauled the long dresses and leather pocket-bags out of the closet and waited.
And listened to the end of Portents of Chaos and waited.
And checked the weather forecast three times and waited.
And I think it’s just an unspoken tradition or some kind of innate instinct in my family that one simply must be working on costumes the night before.
Okay, so technically it was the afternoon before, and it wasn’t really a costume thing because I have a cool steampunky dress that needs no more tweaking! But yes, I was making water bottle holders (is there a name for that? It’s like a macrame plant hanger except for a bottle) the day before going. They turned out rather well. A lady stopped us in a booth to say I should make them to sell, so…that’s a nice compliment to get.
Anyway, Saturday morning finally arrived and we all trooped out, maps, playlists, snacks, sunhats at the ready–
–and had to make a quick stop at the auto place.
Here’s where I should stop to explain a little feature of Ren faire/cosplay/concert musician culture. If you finished an event and are absolutely starving, it’s totally okay to stop at a little all-hours, hole-in-the-wall restaurant in garb. Especially if it’s late at night and/or you’re there with the crew (because if you bring an army of cosplayers, really, nobody’s going to question your actions. Here’s your waffles. Please leave a tip). Going for ice cream at 10:30 at night in tuxedos and black formal gowns? Totally cool. Even later and you’re dropping into Village Inn wearing a ballgown? They won’t ask. Waffle House at three in the afternoon in combat armor? I personally know people who have done it and reported no reaction. Breakfast before ComicCon with the crew all squished into one booth? You’re probably going to have someone take a picture, but hey, they’ll be subtle about it. And you can’t blame them. You all look great, don’t you?
How did this start? I have no idea. I think to some degree it’s innate–the Must Have Waffles instinct kicking in. It is not to be denied.
And this isn’t just something I’ve observed. Cue the Reddit post, please!
Do I believe an immortal Greek god runs a restaurant chain and thus attracts Ye Weirdoes to his abode? No. Do I believe that a spirit of weirdness, what cares, waffles and chaos inhabits late-night diners?
Yeah. That sounds about right. It’s pretty normal to show up in garb to a place like that, if anything we do can really be called normal at all.
But does an auto shop have that energy?
Um. No. No, that’s just an awkward silence and standing halfway behind people not in garb and pretending not to care until you can bolt out the door again like startled jackrabbits.
I’ve gone shopping for ice cream in a floor-length black dress. I should be used to it by now.
Anyway, it was a quick stop, and we were soon on the road again, laughing at people’s careful lack of reactions.
We didn’t quite get lost.
Someone told me when I was small that you can’t have a good road trip without getting lost at least once, and it’s something I’ve repeated probably more than my fair share. It’d been a year since I headed up that way, and even with the maps, there’s a long stretch of country road that makes you bite your lip and think, “No, no, we really must have blinked and missed it somewhere back there.” You haven’t. You still haven’t.
It’s funny, the things I remember and the things I don’t. I remembered the sudden curve in the road (Go right. Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure. I remember this.), the shape of bramble thorns and brush bent into almost right angles by a fence or tree that is no longer there, the little white church (no, wait, there are two of them and you only see one if you really have gone the wrong way), even the shape of some of the hills, the way the oak trees shade the road a little no matter what time of day you swish past them.
I remembered where the drive was a second too late to turn into it, but hey. Nobody’s perfect, right?
And then it was just down the long, white-gravel drive to the wooden palisade, pennons fluttering in the breeze.
It was also really hot.
Renaissance festivals in June are their own kind of creature. You will burn. You will boil. You will sweat. You will swish your skirts to catch the breeze and buy fans from the vendors and grimly pity the jousting knights in full combat armor and yearn for the return of autumn and faires where you can wear a heavy cloak–and yet you will still have a fabulous time.
Maybe it’s the determination. Maybe it’s knowing that it’s so important to us to be there that we’ll come even in the heat to be together, to build this place, this thing, this moment.
Maybe we’re just crazy.
It’s like we all become family for the day, some strange sort of secret club, whether you’re in costume or you’re a patron coming for the first time. I hear it when people start telling me stories, a little haltingly as if realizing I’m a perfect stranger in a very nice sunhat, the way the vendors act as if they’ve known you for years even though you’ve never met. I hear it in my own voice, suddenly chirping and bright instead of burned-out tired, grinning before I run away again. It’s in the way we dress too, even if you didn’t come in costume. Little touches, a nerdy T-shirt, a bracelet with a Norse hammer amulet, the Elf ears with an otherwise normal outfit, earrings you just bought, a shimmer of this fairyland coating your skin–or maybe that’s just the sweat.
Whatever it is, it brings us together. One community, one group, one crowd, standing in the tents before the joust, screaming for blood.
That doesn’t sound–um–no, we actually do that. Hip, hip, huzzah, if it please the good sir to take the other man’s head off. Or, y’know, a cantaloupe.
Yeah, Sir Charlie and the Knights of Mayhem were back. I’ve been to a lot of their jousts by now (sometimes two or three times per faire), so I know the drill pretty well–two lances into a hay bale, a decapitation each, and then the full tilt, four lances (or as many as they have left at the end of the day) against each other until the painted wood is shattered to smithereens. I know Sir Charlie’s jokes, too, some of them funny, some of them bad puns, some even a little political or saucy.
I still go. Even if, I confess, I’d sometimes rather cheer for Sir Charlie’s opposition. And it’s fun this time too, because I know all the beats of their routines, it’s like I’m in on the joke. I can already be smirking at my friends, watching for their reactions by the time Sir Charlie delivers his punchline. And, I hope, bringing the crowd a little more to life.
We were all pretty limp fish in the heat by the one o’clock joust. There were even (amusingly) murmurs of dissent and revolution when Queen E. arrived to take her seat on the dais. Nobody curtsied.
But then in rode Sir Charlie, and, well. He knows how to play a crowd, in the way only a good performer can. One who can command his audience and amuse them at the same time. Before long, we were howling for both the nights, screaming as they charged, trying to keep track of who was ahead (as much as you can scream in a stuffy tent canopy, sweating so much you don’t even want to breathe).
Sometimes, I guess it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen a show, heard the same song. If it’s good, you can have a go again.
I know the pictures are kind of blurry, but I’m too giddily proud that I got the shot right as Sir Marcello was about to whack the melon. I’ve now seen the decapitation segment with cabbages, pumpkins, and now cantaloupes. Changes with the seasons, you know.
But of course, Ren faire isn’t all jousting and chugging cold water while lamenting the heat from the shade of the oak trees. It’s also turkey legs and funnel cake (in Ye Non-Plague-Infested-Times), fencing, music (um, hello? Did you forget my job description?), costuming, vendors, the Rat Puck games, putting your friends in the stocks, posing with wanted pictures–anything one’s heart could desire, more or less. Queen E. was teaching a dance when we arrived. And although she was red-faced and completely out of breath when we stopped to say hello afterward, I confess to being a little envious that we were too late to join in.
We also got a tea shop booth this year. The vendor looked almost exactly the way you would expect a slightly mad tea shop proprietor to look–thick, frizzy hair, full costume, with a bright copper kettle hanging from her belt so it tangled in her full skirts. Perfect, in other words. She had either checkers or a tak board inside. I wish I could have stayed longer than I did. I think it was the same booth I darted in years ago to get out of the rain, refurbished but still rough and a little dark inside. A slightly creepy tea shop, then.
Then there was the potter, with all his mugs, quietly working away at his wheel on another while his wife sold their wares. It’s always a pleasure to watch him work, somehow both peaceful and startling. I have artist friends, so I have to appreciate the potter and exactly how good he is at what he does.
The answer to that is very, very good.
Who else was there? Hmm, there were the pirates I didn’t hang around because–well, I think we’d come to bardic disagreements. And I, without my instrument, was at a disadvantage.
There was the girl at the information booth yelling “Get your food! Get your T-shirts! Get your rat on a stick!” And when my pirate buddy and I were musing over which T-shirts we liked, “Skip the choice! Buy one of each.”
There were the mushroom hat cosplayers. There was the girl with the pink fairy skirt and her gothy friend in all black. There were the chainmail jewelry-makers, dancers, I think a fire-eater, but honestly I’m not sure, the man who runs the forge but didn’t most of the day because it was just too hot.
There was the lady with the rock booth with earrings, pendants, keyrings, polished crystal balls a little smaller than a baseball–and not just white crystal, either. Rose quartz, tiger’s eye–they were gorgeous. I had to pick one up just to feel its weight in my hand. She was a good vendor. She understood perfectly and let us touch and admire all the wares.
Including these, which I’ve been informed were her little daughter’s creation:
You knew I’d have to gab about my goodies eventually, right? I try to pick up some little trinket every year to remember the adventure by. I think the stone is real amethyst, and they just might be short enough that I can play the violin while wearing them.
If you have too-long earrings they bump against the instrument and scratch and buzz so why do all you lovely vendors keep making the coolest earrings that are two inches or longer arrrgh!
Anyway, the rock-booth-lady also had some pretty crescent moon shapes, and of course the little pocket size stones. They were all so gorgeous it took me a while to pick out the earrings. As I and several others teased her, we’d have happily bought out her entire stock.
Next stop was a little booth that at first glance, only had posters, frames, and prints. That’s great if you’re into the visual arts…which I’m not. But the Keeper of the Booth politely invited us in, and I’m very pleased she did.
I fell hard for her necklace pendants.
Aren’t they beautiful? We both gushed over them as she was wrapping them up for me. There was another little one with the night sky that struck my fancy, but someone bought it before I had a chance to make up my mind. It’s really for the best–I didn’t need to buy three new necklaces. I hope they’re very happy with it, whoever they are.
There are some vendors who are charismatic in their talk, the way they tell you the stories of their wares, have a scripted store of jokes to spice up the long day. But then there are vendors like her, who are simply sweet and charming because they love what they do and they’re delighted their crafts have found a home. It’s hard to say which I prefer, but I’m glad to have met both. She blew us a kiss as we left her booth with our treasures.
Last stop (which really, by logic, should have been the first stop), was a booth with all sorts of odds and ends–shawl pins, beads, wooden swords, pendants, juggling balls, and fans. It was so hot I decided to get a fan I could carry around the faire. I’d always skipped it before since my hands were busy with the violin, but I take breaks to chat with people, and then a little pocket breeze would be just the thing.
My pirate friend picked up a fan while we were browsing and tried to snap it open without much success. I waited a beat, then said, “Here. It’s like this.”
I flicked the fan open with one hand and started the “I’m a fancy lady at a glittering Victorian ball who would like to dance with a handsome gentleman but is probably also trash talking you in the most graceful way possible” flutter. You know the one.
Cue my pirate staring at me as if I were some sort of wizard. I laughed a little. I hadn’t even done the flick-and-flutter that smoothly, but then again, I guess I did know what I was doing. You pick up little skills like that in eccentric professions like mine.
Anyway, when I picked up one of the plain wooden fans, the three vendors who were chilling in the back started trying to get my attention.
This being a somewhat odd request, I made an effort to comply. It was probably an aromatic wood like olive, which I could not smell through the mask I was wearing.
So I asked, “What is it?”
“You can’t tell what it is?”
(Cue visible signs of bookmarkedone confusion). I shook my head. “No, I can’t.”
So apparently it’s common knowledge among Ren faire patrons what the scent of sandalwood is? As in “we think you jest if you say you don’t know it?”
That’s…not the most implausible thing I could say about us.
I took my time picking this one out, because I didn’t really want one with glitter or sequins or obviously plastic–nothing wrong with any of that, but I guess there’s a certain character I’m building when I play at the faires. A story, if you will, that’s not quite there. You have your lords and ladies, your pirates and your knights, goths, fairies, monks, rangers, D&Ders, and crafters–
And then there’s me.
When I was first starting to work at the faires, someone called me a “traveler” character. Someone who sees the world and carries a bit of all those places inside them. I think I like that explanation the best, fitting together my odd manners (still going to curtsy and say “sir” and “my lady,” but is not above playing the Rat Puck, running in a skirt, or hanging out with mercenaries) and the history, creating a character that probably never existed before but most certainly does now. And of course the costume reflects that, never as glitzy as the ladies in waiting, but never without attention to detail, either.
It’s more fun than sitting with the court. I get to be out where things happen as a traveler. I get to watch mischief and make more of it.
And music, of course. My music.
How was it, going to the faire without my violin?
Interesting. Lighter, I guess. I joked that it would be a lot of fun having both hands free to do things, although I’ve gotten very deft at one-handed maneuvers while I’m holding the violin in the other.
And after working the faires this long, it was fun pointing out (and occasionally getting noted) by people I knew. Queen E., of course, but also one of her guards (who stared at me a little too hard but couldn’t seem to remember before I’d slipped away), the fiddler I met officially at last Dragonfest (I was singing Scarborough Fair while walking down the main street as she was performing it for the queen. Nobody outside of my little crew even seemed to notice. Bungled the lyrics, of course, because I’m an instrumentalist and we don’t know what those are.), the Knights of Mayhem, ladies-in-waiting and patrons. I said I was there incognito, and without the violin, I kind of was. Even in costume, there was nothing to notice about me more than any other patron. No reason for anyone to guess that I knew these grounds so well
Well–at least, that’s what I thought.
We do this thing at the faires, where we send kids on quests. You go from one booth to another and ask a cryptic question, get a little coin or pebble, solve a riddle, have some fun, and maybe win a prize. I’ve played both sides, as the “NPC” and the adventurer, but what I didn’t expect was for a little fair-haired girl to come up and ask “Do you have a favor for me?”
I sort of blinked, wondering why out of everyone she’d picked me, before smiling and telling her I was afraid I didn’t and she went off with her dad. Probably she was just asking anyone, trying to solve her riddle, but–
My pirate friend leaned over and said, “So you’ve got a doppelganger.”
Whether it was from the description of the costume or character, the assumption was that I looked like whoever she was supposed to find.
Or maybe it was something in my manner, the way that I flowed so easily into the way the faire runs that I couldn’t quite hold up the illusion that I was just a visitor, incognito, enjoying myself for the day.
So now I’m home, and very tired. Drinking cold lemonade and listening to the wind make the tree outside my window creak. But I can’t quite call the adventure finished.
Tuesday morning, I got a message from my steel fighting friends. Because guess who got a short-notice invitation to perform at White Hart the second two weekends?
Yup. We did.
I’m already hoping to have some fun when I show up again with the violin and have people remember the odd little patron from the first weekend. Or, with my luck, not remember me at all.
So stay tuned! More mirth and mayhem might be coming.
In the meantime, happy reading.