Mead, kilts, fairy wings, fake British accents: It’s the Ren Faire, bitches!
“I have a request that might ruin our friendship forever,” I say to Sarah. “What?” she asks. “Will you go with me to Ren Faire?” I promise her a turkey leg, and after some begging, she agrees. We enlist our pal, Evan, to drive us.
Located on the grounds of the Mount Hope Estate and Winery (and the home of Swashbuckler’s Brewery), the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire has brought together pirates, magicians, drama geeks, furries and families for three decades. The trick to having a good time, I decide, is suspending your disbelief.
We park next to a Prius unloading a group of dudes in cloaks. Before we can even bust out the map, we see the games. There’s archery, knife, axe and ninja-star throwing, and a Jacob’s Ladder. I take advantage of the 13-tickets for $10 deal. Excuse me. Ten pounds. Thankfully, back in time the exchange rate is better. I try my hand at throwing knives. “We need drinks for this,” Sarah says.
I opt for the honey mead. Sarah gets the Swashbuckler’s Gold in a souvenir glass. Evan goes for the traditional sangria. My mead attracts swarms of yellow jackets, so I gulp down the sticky-sweet drink quickly. “We gotta find some giant turkey legs,” I tell my companions.
Our search takes us past Cafe Cortez, the Mexican food stand, and a young vendor speaking in a horrendous fake British accent. “Ladies love a man in a kilt—yes we do,” she tells a couple. “I’m going to get one,” says the man, “but she wants to get a tail first.” The hunks of fur attached to flowing skirts are ubiquitous. Her stand also sells devil horns and hobbit ears. Women in fairy wings and kids with swords push us out of the way as we stand to gawk. So do red-faced suburban parents, slow-moving grandmas and a woman in an Abercrombie shirt and furry boots. I’m not sure if she’s in costume.
Finally, we see another beer stand and the place with the turkey legs. We split up—they get two rounds and I buy the hunks of meat. As I try to balance the food and my Ye Old Diet Kola, a be-vested man tells me, “A glorious feast for such a lovely lady, your heartiness is mightily impressive.” I nod.
The turkey leg tastes like ham and I chug my first beer (Red Sea Amber) to make it go down more easily. Sarah takes a bite and drops it on the ground. We wander some more, stopping to chat with the Baron and Baroness von Staaken, who teach us how to curtsy without showing too much cleavage. His costume is period-perfect Henry VIII. Hers is “a little more modern,” and costs more than $1,000.
“Normal people look a little ridiculous here,” a teenager dressed like Cloud from Final Fantasy 7 tells us. We look around. He’s right. I try to ask his girlfriend about the tail thing, but it makes me feel creepy.
We start noticing the slip-ups. Vendors and actors start with accents that magically vanish. A man falls out of character to show us his horrendous rope-sandal sunburn. An employee tells us she’s been working at the Faire for 14 years—and she’s raised her kids here. One son is a juggler, another is the squire to the falconer. I declare I will have my children at the Ren Faire. Sarah rolls her eyes.
After my fourth drink I am ready to shoot arrows. I hand over some tickets and try to lift the bow, but I’m having a hard time. Floosh. The arrow hits the ground. I quit and head for the crossbow. More failure. I try throwing an axe like a Frisbee. From across the grounds we hear the cheers of the Ultimate Joust. “Let’s go!” I yell.
I can barely see over the crowds as two knights half-assedly charge at each other. A lance hits a shield and there’s a giant crash—I begin to suspect that the joust might not be real. My childlike wonder fades, and we leave to beat traffic. Five minutes into the drive, I pass out in the back seat.
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