Musicians know that there are a few times of year that are really crazy for gigging. March is one if you’re involved in schools because of contests. December–because December (some of us still get a little twitchy if you mention “Sleigh Ride…” that wood block is…a lot. Especially if you sit near the back where it’s the loudest and you can’t see when it’s coming but you feel it there).
But when did October get added to the list?
Frankly, I have no idea, but things have gone from very quiet to “Hey, do you want to play this weekend?” all at once. If I make it to November 1 and can start my NaNoWriMo project from the cozy nook in the garrett, I’m going to be one very happy and sleepy little bard.
Speaking of which…
I’m off to Dragonfest 2022!
And since I’m cramming in the practice time, running off to do my first cosplay since before Ye Olde Plague descended on these lands and getting into a lot of other mischief I either can’t share yet or can’t think of because I am (yet again) editing a post after midnight–
Here’s my reactions right after submitting my Dragonfest performer applications back in the middle of August. I didn’t publish this until now because, well, just because you have a 99.99% confidence that you’ve got a gig, you don’t want to be wrong. I didn’t know for sure that I was going until the first week of September.
…yeah, I got no excuse for why I didn’t publish it in the intervening month.
It’s a bit of a ramble. I hope you can excuse that.
So I just submitted my applications for this year’s Dragonfest Renaissance Festival. Since I’ve been playing violin there…um…two or three years running (does this make four?), and they always seem to like me and invite me back, I was pretty sure the forms were just a formality.
Even if I can’t remember ever waiting quite this long to hear back from them before.
This particular festival gets a little more posh and polished every year. This time I actually had to send recordings of my music instead of just saying “I’m a bard. Can I come?” I mean, I can remember back when I just walked in and started playing and mocked my friends for having to wait in line and buy tickets.
Yeah. Probably better they upped the security since.
In case you don’t know (which most of you reading this probably do), Dragonfest is my favorite faire. It’s not the biggest. It’s simply the best.
No, I will not be accepting argument on this point. Unless you are offering me faire tickets to change my opinion. Bribery is great.
Back to the point.
I’ve been hanging around Dragonfest since it started, which just goes to show that it’s a very young faire that makes me feel weirdly old. Yes, I can remember the early days of contact juggling and pottery in the parking lot behind what I was informed was Elfindale.
No, seriously. That’s what it’s called. Brick manor, retirement home, and shopping center. Elfindale.
Like, I’m not saying this faire was destined for greatness, but…well, we’re here, aren’t we?
And we’ve moved out of the parking lot, by the way. In fact, Dragonfest officially has its own property now, instead of renting some field, and according to the updated website, they’ve named it Dragon’s Brook.
I am perhaps unreasonably happy about this development.
I mean, how many people can say, “Oh, I’ll be at Dragon’s Brook next weekend.” Seriously. With a straight face.
And I get to work there. How cool is that?
I won’t lie. I’ve had more than a few days this summer when I needed cheering up. Hard truth: sometimes life stinks. I get down; everyone does.
But then I get something like this. Call it an adventure. Search it out for ages, then it falls into my lap.
And I’m forced to remember how mad lovely my life really is.
I work with someone who owns a castle, guys. Dragon’s Brook, revisited. Joined a steel fighting gang. There’s a fencing club that meets down the street from the garrett–I don’t even know who they are. They’re just part of the landscape.
If I were writing myself as a fictional character, I’d have shelved it with all the other “unrealistic wish fulfillment fluff” a long time ago, because seriously, you’re probably sitting at home reading this and doubting me right now. Readers would shake their heads and say “unrealistic,” and that’s it for the story, game over. It’s fair. I don’t seem real. My chaotic bardic life does, I freely confess, sound a little too good to be true.
It is. For me, it is. And that’s why I love it.
And I think it’s especially interesting to remember now, right after I’ve gotten a glossy-gilded diploma in my claws. Remembering how ages ago, before all this started, everyone had a different idea about what I was going to be, what I was going to do, because they didn’t have a clue. You know–are you going to be a book editor, sweetie? An orchestral musician? Are you going to be–wow–even a smidgen–oh dear–at all normal?
While I can’t say it’s exactly the way I planned it–I think the argument’s settled that this wasn’t what anybody pictured me doing. Playing the local faires. Blogging the chaos. Getting narrowly out of trouble. Nobody, including me, has any idea what’s coming next.
It’s a delicious feeling, not knowing. You’d never realize how many castles there are around here, just out of view of the trees.
Anyway. We were talking about this year’s Dragonfest.
I know I was a little keyed up, submitting the application, getting nervous the way I always do for auditions and stuff like that. But I think what really got me was the new video trailer for Dragonfest 2022. We always have some fun little phrase, “Come make merry!” “Something something Shakespeare” (no, that’s not a direct quote), “Live the fantasy!” etc. Just something to fill out the page, most of the time.
But this one, Dragonfest’s. It caught my attention.
Near the end of the video, it reads “Once Upon a Time is Now.”
I know what they meant by it. Come spend an afternoon in the fairy meadow, eat a turkey leg, talk in a funny voice, buy a shiny pebble. Forget about your troubles.
But it’s so much more than that.
I think I’ve mentioned before the James Riley quote from his mind-boggling Story Thieves series. If I remember the context right, Kiel Gnomenfoot grabs Bethany by the shoulders and says “Be more fictional” (you doubted me when I called him a brilliant idiot. Doubt me no longer).
It’s something that sticks with me. Be more fictional. That’s why we read some fiction, right? To glory in someone doing all the things we never have the courage to do? Jump off a cliff, fall in love, battle to the death, waltz with a nemesis (step 1, acquire nemesis, proves difficult for some), sail the seven seas, kiss the cold stars before you fall asleep, use galvanization to create life from raided corpses instead of going to college classes–erm, maybe not that last one.
Be more fictional.
It’s true there are a million things in life we can’t even begin to change. But please, why is it we’re choosing to be so boring? Why don’t we wear the mismatched shoes, walk in the rain, stay out late to look at the stars? Why do we follow all these rules that don’t matter, don’t make us happy?
We can make our own fairytales. We can fight to keep them.
I’m aware this is a bit of a ramble. Like I said, after midnight post. But I didn’t want to miss another Tuesday, and I figure if you’ve hung out with me this long, you know what you’re in for.
The weird. That’s what you’re in for. The weird.
You can watch the Dragonfest trailer for yourself if you want, but I warn you, if you’re searching for a familiar bard among the crowd, you won’t catch a glimpse in the video. Per usual, I’m flitting too much to get caught on camera. That is, of course, how I prefer it. There’s too much to see at the faire to stay in one place for very long or to even think of sitting still. It’s fairyland come to life for a day, and I’m always out to see every turn in the path and adventure there is within it.
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.
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.
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.
So I was in the news again. Not because I robbed a bank or anything, although I am wearing a mask that hides most of my face. A photographer happened to catch me and my violin in the company of a pirate. Sword-shopping, if you want to know.
It’s Dragonfest 2021 recap time, everyone.
So as you already know if you’re a regular around here, Dragonfest is one of my favorite Renaissance festivals. I’ve watched it grow from its very first season in a parking lot to the sprawling chaos it is now. I was devastated when Dragonfest 2020 had to be postponed for Ye Olde Plague. But this year was perfect–new location, not a drop of rain, two days instead of one, and everyone who had been cooped up practically exploding with energy because we got to see each other again.
And, of course, watch our favorite sport, where two grown men on horseback try to poke each other to the ground with a stick.
It’s not every day you get to hear one of the Knights of Mayhem bellow “Do you want to see some bloodshed?” and have the whole crowd scream yes at the top of their lungs.
Just so you know, I had a really hard time finishing this post because everything was so awesome how do I cut anything out, so you should settle into your nest of cushions for a long one. And it’s super chaotic because even though Dragonfest is small, well, I tried to tell someone where the D20 keyrings were and gave up, pointing up the hill and saying “I don’t know. I’ve lost all sense of direction.” Renaissance festivals are like a little tent city without any real order to their lanes and alleyways. Or at least that’s how I made it feel, even though ours wasn’t that big, going at it in little pieces, trying to make it feel endless, make it last forever until I was so successful I almost missed the rock booth entirely–
Okay. Enough preview. This year, from the top.
So Violin and I got to the new location on the morning of the 30th. Said hi to the organizer, who was, per usual, running in six different directions (and seemed to be talking to himself thanks to a new earpiece). Found a place to stash my stuff with the Raven Wing troupe. Greeted Her Majesty Queen E. And then I still had a few minutes before the faire officially opened, so I started playing.
It’s a weird feeling, the first notes of the faire. By the end of the day, when we’re all laughing and tired, it feels like I can do anything. But there’s always that first push, when my whole chest is full of butterflies and I wonder if all the notes will fly straight out of my head. I get so focused on sounding good for concert settings, sometimes I forget how to relax and just breathe.
Anyway, there I was warming up, and this photographer runs up and says “Don’t move.”
I am slightly confused. He goes into that Master Photographer crouch in front of me, explaining that the tree behind me is changing colors and matched the orange of my dress exactly.
Artist people are so fun to watch when they get excited. It was a good way to start the morning.
The photo that wound up in the news came later in the afternoon. I’m getting used to that kind of thing when I’m in costume, so I didn’t think much about it, but my pirate friend isn’t as fond of having her picture taken. But somewhere on the internet, there’s a picture floating around of the two of us mock fencing, me with my bow and her with her sword…which is the thing I beg my little students not to do with their bows…but I’m an adult…I know how to be careful…yes, I know I’m a bad example.
It wasn’t until after the photographer had wandered off that my pirate goes “Why did we give our real names?”
I stood there, dumbstruck. We could have said we were anyone we wanted, and the reporter would have printed it.
It’s a normal thing at faires, not to use your real name. I’ve never had an alias that stuck besides “the Fiddler,” but I really, really want one. Some of my friends have two or three and change what character they play to match.
Which means I still have no idea what some of their “real names” are because we were introduced once and the rest of the time has been in character.
I should mention that this wasn’t an official Order event with my mercenary steel fighting buddies because they were busy resting up and getting ready for a big event…but about half of them showed up anyway. Mostly disguised as fabulous pirates. One didn’t recognize me until I started playing “Rains of Castamere,”–I was providing “boss music” for the LARP roleplayers who were happily pummeling our younger patrons with foam swords–and my Order acquaintance came running over to poke me.
The exception to this was m’lady Fleur, one of the chief members of the Order and seen throughout the day running across the fields (in a hoopskirt no less), waiting on the queen, making everyone feel entertained and comfortable, and causing general havoc wherever she went.
Playing for the faires is fun. But playing for the faires and doing it with Fleur? That’s another thing altogether. She talks fast and I don’t talk at all if I can help it, so it’s great fun to shadow her and be my usual mischievous self with whatever happens next. The first day we met at an event, she started speaking French and I dropped into German and we carried on a conversation all the way up the path into a convention building.
So when Fleur suggested doing a little quest for visitors, you know I said yes almost before we knew what we were up to.
For those unfamiliar with Renaissance festivals, the “quest” challenge works like this. You visit one of the players or vendors, and they ask you to go solve a riddle or talk to someone else, based only on their description. It’s a little like a side quest in a video game. I played one where a friend and I had to go find a plague doctor…of which there happened to be several present and we hadn’t a clue which was the right one. Of course that means we walked up to a random stranger and asked them cryptically about a quest…which is embarrassing, but that’s part of the point. Quests make you part of the world, and they make you go meet and mingle with the crowd instead of just browsing the vendors’ shops. It’s the whole point of the faire, to let go, to have fun, to be a little crazy.
But sending people on a quest? That I’d never done before, and I was more than eager to try.
Our game was simple. Fleur would send people my way and say if they could guess the fiddler’s tune, I’d give them a token, which they’d bring back to her for a prize. In this case, candy, because Halloween and also it wasn’t like we’d put a lot of planning into this.
Sounds great, right?
There happened to be one little troll (I use the term fondly, as in He Who Dares to Troll Me), one of Queen E.’s guards, I think, who happened to overhear our plotting. And he thought it would be funny (because it was) to pretend he couldn’t guess a single one and name a completely wrong song every time he heard me play. I caught on pretty quick, but…then he said “Thunderstruck,” and…
I’m a diehard 2CELLOS fan. I have been plotting, actually at the request of two young faire patrons, premiering their version of “Thunderstruck” at Dragonfest.
As in two years of plotting because of the cancellation.
So when the little troll said it, I gave him a look and heard the wicked little voice in my head say Go on. This is it.
Once in a while, people stop to listen when I play. Sometimes parents dancing with their little kids, little knots of people on their way to something else.
I have never had a crowd like I did then. Like, really. I’m not even sure where they all came from. It was just after the joust, so probably they drifted up from there, but as focused as I was on what my fingers were doing it was like half a dozen people materialized and encircled me like they’d been blown there on the wind.
It was enough to make me nervous, like I was onstage again. I don’t know where the troll got off to. But I played. I’m not sure I breathed, but I played.
Time does funny things when you’re a musician. It probably took me less than a minute to get through the verse and chorus, but it felt so much longer because I felt every note, wanted each one to ring clear, to be beautiful, because it was finally here, finally out in the air.
And then it was over and I was curtsying and hiding under my hat a little because I still don’t know how to accept applause well and Lady Kiki ran out of her jewelry booth (I’m actually pretty sure she did materialize at my elbow) to gush over the 2CELLOS before darting back to business, and I was laughing.
The troll didn’t know what a gift he gave me.
And yes, I’m pretty sure he still teased me after that.
I played that piece at least one more time, as the Knights of Mayhem were entering the tilting field. It’s become a tradition that someone in the crowd starts chanting “We Will Rock You” before at least one joust. You need some kind of fanfare for what’s about to happen.
I was lucky enough, since I know Her Majesty and a few of the courtiers from previous faires, to sneak into her pavilion and watch the jousts from there. Everyone wants to see the jousts, so the benches were always packed. I had a good view and people to chat with, and nobody much minded I planted myself there.
I probably rubbed this in a little more than I should have when I parked some patron friends at the end of one bleacher and they asked where I was going.
Cue me grinning like the little imp I really am. I had the best view.
Argh, I’m sure there are so many other things I’m forgetting to mention. Playing for the Goblin King and Faerie Queen (they gave me a lovely green peacock feather. It’s one of the things you can’t help collecting if you stick around faires long enough, peacock feathers). The pet-a-unicorn booth. Wandering into the booth that had “cursed amulets” on their sign as an accepted form of payment (and glow-in-the-dark necklaces, seriously, could you be cooler?), so many things! And that’s only the first day of the faire!
But I want to keep this post a readable length, so it’s best I stop gushing here for now.
And in case you’ve caught on to me and are wondering why the festival was in October and I’m only getting around to publishing this in February…
Yes. I’m aware it’s embarrassing. Remember that part at the beginning when I said this post was chaotic? Fun fact! Chaotic little me is trying to get a diploma this May, and sometimes it’s hard just keeping my head above water. I’m at least good at pretending to be organized, but when it’s violin competitions and recordings and exit exams and my last solo recital blaaargh what am I doing, my chaos bubbles up.
When it’s a choice between write the blog post and run for the hills and climb a tree, I won’t lie. Sometimes the tree wins.
In the meantime, stay tuned for Part II of my Dragonfest adventures–I have more music and mischief coming.
I met the Goblin King today. And Queen Elizabeth I. And milady Fleur, whom we usually call the Squirrel. And the Knights of Mayhem, and at least four Plague doctors, and a giant crow (or was it a raven?), and a dragon named Lily and someone who looked like Robin Hood…
…there was also a unicorn accompanied by two camels…
Yep. It’s Renaissance faire season.
For those of you who don’t know, when I’m not reading a book or writing the next greatest unpublished novel, I play the violin. A lot. And one of my favorite gigs of the year is Dragonfest.
There is no possible way for me to explain my love of Renaissance faires. It’s an entire city of tents built overnight, a little piece of the world that doesn’t fit, it’s laughter, it’s nonsense, it’s all a whorl of color and sunshine and music, and somewhere inside the chaos, I’m there, in it.
There is also no possible way right now because I am very, very tired. And slightly sunburned. Wear your hats, kids. At least it didn’t rain.
And for the first year ever, Dragonfest is two days instead of one, so I’m going back tomorrow and posting about my adventures now would be a thing only half done.
I still couldn’t resist the lure of that list of things that are all impossibly true.
I hope at least once in your life you get to have magic and swords and gemstones and fighting and costumes and utter foolishness all on a sunny afternoon. I hope you get to feel what it’s like to step into a fairytale and live there for a while, next door to the mushroom house and three down from the dragon lair.
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.
I’ve started thinking in music. I have not the slightest idea what this means.
To be fair, I’ve always had a different relationship with music than most people. Music is as physical as it is auditory for me because I am a musician. I can feel the different places in my head, my throat, my chest, where the vibrations live when you sing. I hear the cadence of your voice as much as your words. Music is in the bite of metal violin strings in the fingers of my left hand, a weight on my shoulder like a living bird. It’s something you see on the page in a mass of black ink, hear in the air, feel in your hands. Like a living thing.
So if I think of music differently, I’m not often that surprised. Of course it’s going to take a different shape if you look at something upside-down.
But thinking in music?
It’s probably nothing at all. Like when you have dreams in a foreign language you’ve been studying, or at least you think you do, but when you wake up, it’s nothing but gibberish after all and you’re the same as you’ve always been.
It was very nearly like that, this thinking in music. Both times it was late and the game with insomnia had begun–oh yes, it happened twice. I wouldn’t have thought much of it if it had only been once. A fluke. A daydream.
I don’t know what I was thinking. The first time it was something that annoyed me, and the only response my brain could conjure was an entire section of violins screeching discordantly like a pack of flying starlings, as horrible as scraping a blackboard, but perfectly organized as if reading music from a page.
I had to remind myself that it was my brain and that I could make it stop. That’s how involuntary it was.
I remember still less what the second time was that prompted it. But suddenly there was a rich, rolling solo cello melody. Why? Because my mind told me that was the proper response, as much as saying “Indeed,” or “Thank you.”
Important note, here. It isn’t just sound. Both times there has been a meaning to it, a sensation or feeling if not a word, something so full and concise and vague at the same time that no word could possibly do the trick.
Thinking in music.
If I’m honest, it’s probably because of how I’ve been working the last two weeks. I’ve mentioned my Renaissance festival adventures before. I go as the fiddler. I don’t talk, if I can help it, but while someone’s being put in the stocks or something wonderful is happening or two armored mercenaries are punching each other to a pudding, I play. And I play what fits. Rains of Castamere, Love Theme from the Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean, sad fiddle tunes, happy fiddle tunes, different music for each of the fighters when they start to pummel each other, whatever I can think of. And often I have to think of it quick or the moment is missed. It’s like an eloquent joke if I do it well. But it would seem the process has had some unexpected side effects.
Umm…playing “Meditation” on my violin inside a castle chapel/great hall and listening to the fantastic acoustics as my music reached the painted clouds?
Serious, I wasn’t just daydreaming when I was reading. It was real.
The castle is called Chateau Charmant, and it’s smack in the middle of a patch of woods in the Midwest. Exactly the place for a castle, really. Up on a hill with a fantastic view from the catwalk.
And that echoing chapel…
If I’m honest, I find it a little amazing I happened to be there myself. The short answer is simple enough–the mercenary historical fighters I went to the nerd con with were going and invited me along, in hopes of finding a good Renaissance faire location.
But that doesn’t really sound like a simple answer, does it? To someone outside the loop, it probably sounded like absolute gibberish.
To simplify it still?
I followed the bumpy gravel road through the woods, past the gate with the lions, over the bridge and up the hill, and found the castle.
And when I asked very nicely, the owners of the castle let me take out my violin and play.
This is why I don’t think it sounds real, even to me. Even if I do have half a dozen swordsmen ready to vouch for it.
Even if it was just for today, I’ve got to admit, sometimes it really feels like there is fairy magic in the world after all.
So in between working on NaNoWriMo (I’m still alive after 18,000 words in 6 days! Ha!), here is the promised blog post about Grand Bookish Adventure no. 2: Dragonfest Renaissance faire. Even though it’s been a couple weeks since it happened.
As word of explanation, I am a strolling player at the festivals–wander around, wear cool clothes, and play music (this is actually my job description. Simplified, of course. Don’t be too jealous). If you want to come to Dragonfest sometime, feel free to poke around on the website. And if you like this little adventure, I’m having another performance mid-November, so keep your eye on the blog.
Otherwise, here’s the story!
If you missed my ranting about how awesome Dragonfest and Renaissance faires are in general…Life off the Page. It sometimes happens.
Anyway, some of you may remember I was hoping in terror it wouldn’t rain. Because the violin does not get wet.
And yes, I went anyway.
Probably not the most logical of my logicless decisions in the last week and a half (please note, most of this was written before NaNo–but the point stands).
And some little droplets of water got on the violin I take to faires.
(Sound of Strolling Player internally dead. Not dying. Dead.)
(Feel free to imagine here whatever wet squelching sound, dry banshee wailings or aghast poetry you like)
Of course I wiped them off as soon as I saw them and was as careful as I could be. And for those of you holding your breath, when I scrutinized it later, the worst damage appeared to be light smudges on the high-gloss varnish. Similar smudges have appeared before because my hands typically sweat rivers when I play. So. Probably no lasting damage.
Didn’t help other musicians were quietly judging me by politely commenting how surprised they were I had come.
Can’t blame them. I’d be judging me too.
Let’s none of us tell my concertmasters/former or current teachers/professors/friends/employers/anyone remotely related to my music career who knows anything about music anything about this, okay?
Cloaks are wonderful things, do you know that? You can hide an entire violin and bow underneath it when you feel the first raindrop on your nose and run for cover.
I spent most of the day doing that and playing for people under the various tents I’d taken up residence in. No one seemed to mind. In a way, you can make more sales if everyone is forced into your booth to get out of the rain. And you suddenly have free entertainment.
Everyone was super sweet about tipping me too. I know a lot of performers station themselves in one place and put out a jar/hat/open case. Not that I blame them; faire life full time can be expensive. But it’s not my style. I like to wander, browse booths, visit the Queen, walk as I play…no copper beggar’s cup. I am a mummer, not a beggar. No offense.
But people tipped me anyway just because they liked me playing. There’s one man who sells swords (ah, beautiful swords.) that tips me every year. A pirate asked if I knew the tune Katyusha, and after hearing Maria Lazareva’s version…well, that was a very good suggestion, indeed. He tipped with coins. I appreciated the authenticity but found them very difficult to put into my belt pouches one handed.
He wasn’t the only one to request music. Two boys early in the day wanted to try my violin, and yes, I did let them.
One reason for this– a story my mother never tires of telling. When I was a wee little girl myself going to the faires, I met a lady who played violin with a little band. Even that young, my genetic must play violin had already kicked into gear. Short attention span or not, I think I would have stayed planted in front of her all day long. Despite all the other magic of the faire.
She asked if I wanted to hold it.
Her violin. If I wanted to hold her violin.
Yes. Yes, I did.
She showed me how to hold it and play a note. And I can’t say I’ve ever completely forgotten her, or the violin that was easily three or four sizes too big for me.
So when two young lads came up and asked if they could play, I said yes.
I began to reconsider after they’d done it two or three times each during the day. Despite the happy faire memories, there is a darker, jealous side to musicians.
I have never heard it said better than Kvothe in The Name of the Wind.
Asking a musician to play his instrument is roughly the equivalent of asking a man if you can kiss his wife.
As best I can remember it. Don’t have a copy yet and can’t find the quote anywhere. Bother.
While he uses stronger terms than I would…he isn’t wrong. If I hand you my instrument, you can either conclude it isn’t my Precious, that I trust you very much, that I am watching your every move, or I am partially-brain dead or have no other options before the world goes up in smoke.
I was watching their every move.
I imagine watching them play was rather like skydiving. No, I’ve never done it. But it has that sensation of standing on the edge of a cliff with nothing under you.
From a few words and the way they clutched and crunched the bow, I soon learned they were both 2Cellos fans. Unusual, but approvable. Also explained their horrible form.
Don’t think I’m being cruel. Everyone has horrible form when they first pick it up. If they don’t…I suspect wizardry or the mythic Inherent Talent which I have yet to come across in full glory.
Eventually, I agreed to learn Thunderstruck for them by next year. Since they didn’t know how to play it themselves. And why not? I like 2Cellos. Maybe more than I should.
Between performing, I stopped by Lady Jillian’s booth and bought my very own LillaRose hair clasp, which I’d been meaning to do since the first Dragonfest. It has a dragonfly with Celtic knotwork designs. I am very satisfied. Next time I’ll buy one of the gaudy ones with trailing beads to wear to symphony performances.
There were also gentlemen who made me a bit too amused at the prospect of using the clasps to pin back their beards.
Yup, that’s still funny. I think they were pleased to have entertained me.
Also stumbled across a booth selling rings while I was there…so I bought one of stone and one of wood. I was thinking of Kvothe again, of course, with his rings of bone and fire and blood. They’re both a bit big for me, but most rings are. I have small hands. I don’t know why I picked the black stone ring. They had orange and jade-green and a brownish color…somehow I just felt like the black one.
Speaking of Kvothe, I did run into J. Christopher Wilson again, writer of Wards of Iasos. We have had a few tentative book discussions since Dragonfest Year 1.
I read Iasos. He reads George R.R. Martin. I therefore had no compunction in recommending The Name of the Wind. Well, very little anyway. If Game of Thrones is half of what I’ve heard as far as content…he’ll be fine.
My recommendation was somewhat solidified by a woman who appeared behind me while we were talking. As soon as she heard Rothfuss, she firmly seconded my opinion.
Then apologized for interrupting. A true bookworm, I presume.
Actually, as soon as she said Mr. Wilson should read the Rothfuss, her head swiveled to me and she said:
“Are you Kvothe?”
I burst out laughing. She shook her head and mumbled no, guess not.
I couldn’t help thinking–should I be offended? Flattered? I know where she got the idea, wandering minstrel just happening to recommend that book to someone.
Should I have been offended at the comparison to a blade-tongued musician who lies freely and spends far too much time noticing the appearance of young women?
And is also very handsome with bright red hair and one of the best musicians ever penned?
Am I okay with that?
Apparently I am okay with that.
Maybe. Sort of. Not like I’d go around telling people that. More like “Oh. I guess I’m Kvothe to you now. Okay.” I guess there are worse names. Maybe. Ish.
I should have said “One family,” the way all Ruh do, but I was too surprised to think of it in time. Anyway.
Whoever you were Bookish Lady of Dragonfest–you made my day. A deep curtsy to you and your library.
Of course, that’s saying a lot. Most of the day was fantastic (minus the rain).
There was a booth full of wooden wands where the carver said to “Feel free to swish and flick.” I was tempted, but holding my violin at the moment. They were about the prettiest wands I’d seen around.
The jousts were, as usual, very good. The final joust of the day a little girl in full armor came to watch. Of course one of the knights chose her as his Lady. I love that they choose little girls so often–you know it makes their entire year. Especially this little girl getting her yellow rose.
We actually had an unhorsing. The knight stayed still so long I actually started to hold my breath, worrying he’d gotten hurt. Then he bounced up light as you please and threw his arms in the air for applause.
He got it. You have to know that hurt. He also took two more passes in the lists at least.
We have amazing knights.
New steel fighting group The Order of the Red Boar this year. They are…intense. Very intense. To the point I hope they don’t actually decapitate each other. Historical martial arts groups are graceful, one hand disengaged, foil flicking like the tail of a cat. The Red Boar, with their broadswords and fury, well, they’re more like tipsy Vikings who grabbed the sword instead of the hammer. Expect much shouting, falling, and slamming.
They also invited me as resident musician…it is a highly tempting offer. And slightly flattering.
And for the last event of the day…you are now reading the narration of a minstrel who has officially played in the Rat Puck.
Somehow I missed mentioning this game before in my description of the faires. Not sure how.
The Rat Puck is a game I’ve never actually heard of outside of the Hartville faire. One of my distinctive early faire memories involves a woman and baby (both in garb) standing on one side of the road, gentlemen rat pucking on the other.
And when they pucked it in her direction, she belted out if they would be so kind to keep their rat on their side of the road.
Never blamed her for that, but after playing it and almost being whacked and whacking others with flying rats…woo, she was right.
The rules are simple. Everyone gets a hollow bamboo pole with an end chiseled to look like the mouth of a recorder (delicate rules regarding pole width I don’t fully gather). You are also bequeathed with a color coded felt “plague rat.” And it is your duty to wedge stick under rat and fling it halfway across the faire shouting “Cheese!” and hoping to be the first to get it to its wooden circle.
It’s rather like a bizarre game of golf.
Not sure why we shout “Cheese.” Apparently affects the accuracy of rat puck. Kind of cheese does not matter. Adding other food words to cheese does.
Not going to question that.
How did I do? Badly.
But it was all in fun, and I didn’t really care. I’d wanted to play the game for years, but thought it was gentlemen only (and I wasn’t there/didn’t have the nerve to ask/was probably smaller than the poles at that time). Whenever one of the seasoned players made a bad puck, they howled “Shame, shame, you are a shame to the clan” at each other. It was…highly amusing.
Also pucked rats over the main road that bisects the faire. At that point we were pucking rats toward people, even thought the faire was almost over.
Nobody got hit (that time), but I did hear about it afterwards.
One of Queen E.’s ladies had offered to hold my violin while I played, and when I hurried back to the court area, the Queen herself was holding it very carefully, like you would delicately rest a bare sword across the palms of your hands.
So undying respect to the Queen and her court. They understand a musician’s fierce-toothed possessiveness and how to handle an instrument properly.
So this month, I get to do one of my favorite things in the world.
No, I’m not spending three days locked in a closet with my laptop and a pile of snacks to get some writing done. Funny.
I’m actually going outside, in the crisp fall air, forgetting about deadlines, stress, and responsibilities, and instead spending the day playing my violin for anyone who wants to listen and wandering among swordsmiths, cloak-makers, nobility, knights, patrons, and people who love a good adventure story just as I do.
And I guess I should explain this, because while it’s second (or maybe first?) nature to me, I realize some people have never been and/or don’t realize how awesome they are. I remember talking to someone from the Kansas City area about a year and a half ago who had never been to the faire there–and it’s a pretty big one. Not my favorite, but big. If you live there and haven’t at least heard of it…well, no one should judge me for being a Hobbit and never coming out of my hole in the ground again.
If you’ve never been, there are two steps to this.
Listen to me when I tell you they are awesome. As Hazel from The Fog Diver would say, “three kinds of awesome.”
Go to a faire. Seriously. I can’t explain in words everything there is to see and do and fall in love with. Some things you just have to stumble into yourself. Make sure that you pick one with real jousting. Not this choreographed nonsense where the victor is predetermined. What nonsense.
Optional steps involve dressing up in costume, talking like a pirate, and participating in the games of strength or valor present in almost all faires. Because that’s half the fun of going.
And I also realize there might be more to my love for the faires than there seems to be at first glance. It’s a bit of a long story, so if you’re going to listen to the whole thing, make sure your dragon is comfortably settled with his tea and your kittens aren’t quibbling over the accuracy of nursery rhymes.
From the beginning, then.
Little children, when they are small, believe in Fairyland. Some of them. They read about it in books, they see beautiful pictures in glowing colors, softly beckoning them to a world that must be possible, a world they know is glorious and magical. Full of dragons and creamcakes and steamed plum puddings and happy endings and impossible feats of strength and valor and deep, dark forests that never end.
When I was a little girl, I didn’t have to just believe in Fairyland because I’d read about it. I knew it existed. I’d been there.
Several times, in fact.
Every spring, about at the beginning of April, my family made a trip to a Renaissance festival (Yes, I have cool parents. Very much so).
We went about every year when I was little. I met Queen Elizabeth, was made a lady of her court, cheered jousts (to this day, it’s one of the few sports I’m actually fanatical about), still have a blue stone a fairy gave me, listened to stories from wizards, I think first tasted funnel cake, watched magicians, and met a wonderful woman who let Little Me hold her violin and play a note or two. Highlight of my young life, as yearning for violin seems to have been in my brain and blood since birth.
Sometime as the years spun by, we stopped going to the faires. I don’t really know why–moves, changing interests, forgetfulness, something. But I never really forgot about them. I mean, really, how could I? I’d watched men swallow fire and knock each other off huge horses galloping at each other at full speed (in retrospect, this could be why I’m not easily impressed by things these days…conversation for another time). And I got bored. Or something.
So the shoe got on the other foot, and I dragged my family to the faires. Hartville in the rain, Kansas City for a burning hot weekend, to the very first Dragonfest. Most of the time, they had to coax me away.
After all, what child would willingly leave Fairyland? When there are dragons and juggling and adventures to be had?
Last October was my first chance to actually be a part of Dragonfest as something more than a patron. I’ve been spending most of my time since counting down the days until I could go back again.
Which leads us to this month. Or the next two weeks, specifically. October 19, 2019.
I’m going to be the Strolling Player of Dragonfest.
And Knights of Valor are going to be there in all their glory (best joust I’ve seen in some time!) J. Christopher Wilson with his Wards of Iasos book (review another time, don’t worry), Lady Jillian who is absolutely amazing when it comes to hair (seriously, she had mine in a French twist within minutes using only two pins that must be magic. There’s no other way I would have been able to keep all my hair up like that), and so many others with cloaks, little books, cold cider and all the glorious faire trinkets for sale I have terrible weaknesses for. Last year there were blacksmiths who kept time for me as I was fiddling, whether they realized it or not. And Queen E. and her court, of course. I’m actually quite fond of everyone in the court. Yes, including the Goblin King.
But the stories from last year, from the jousts to the gypsies singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You” (no joke) to the Goblin King getting a small gourd sliced off his head by Knights of Valor–I can’t begin to fit them all in this post. I could make a full post of each of them and still wonder if I’d left something out.
So for now, I’ll just have to satisfy myself with crossing off the days until Dragonfest and hoping, hoping, hoping, that it doesn’t rain. Because even though faires are rain or shine, the violin, I am afraid, is not. So I’m hoping and praying for a day as perfect as last year.
Because I really do live for the faires.
But not yet weary are our feet, Still round the corner we may meet A sudden tree or standing stone That none have seen but we alone…
Home is behind, the world ahead, And there are many paths to tread Through shadows to the edge of night, Until the stars are all alight.
Tolkien, J.R.R. “Upon the Hearth, the Fire is Red,” The Fellowship of the Ring. Allen & Unwin, 1954.